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James W. C. Pennington

Jim Pembroke's story, The Fugitive Blacksmith, is one of the great slave narratives of American history. In his narrative, Pennington describes his early life on the Rockland estate and his escape from slavery in Maryland. Published in 1849, it went through three editions in eleven months, selling over 6000 copies. After his escape from his owner’s Rockland estate in Washington County, MD, at age 21, Pembroke changed his name to James William Charles Pennington, and, against all odds, became one of the most distinguished nineteenth-century African American leaders. He became a minister in Presbyterian churches in New York and Hartford, was elected a delegate to several international abolition conventions, wrote in 1841 one of the first histories of Africans in America, lectured widely, led the struggle to desegregate New York City’s public transit system, fought for the right of blacks to vote, and remained active in the Underground Railroad. In 1849, the University of Heidelberg awarded Pennington a Doctor of Divinity degree in honor of his achievements. Pennington was able to rescue a brother, threatened with sale south, for attempted escape.