Eulogy of George Washington (1799)

On Sunday, December 29, 1799, former slave Bishop Richard Allen delivered the eulogy of George Washington to the congregation of Philadelphia’s African Methodist Episcopal Church. Within this gathering were free and enslaved African Americans, including William “Billy” Lee. Of the 317 people enslaved by Washington, Lee was the only one freed upon Washington's death.
Richard Allen
Grade Level

This text is part of the Teaching Hard History Text Library and aligns with Key Concept 3.

At this time it may not be improper to speak a little on the late mournful event—an event in which we participate in common with the feelings of a grateful people—an event which causes “the land to mourn” in a season of festivity. Our father and friend is taken from us—he whom the nations honoured is “seen of men no more.” 

We, my friends, have particular cause to bemoan our loss. To us he has been the sympathising friend and tender father. He has watched over us, and viewed our degraded and afflicted state with compassion and pity—his heart was not insensible to our sufferings. He whose wisdom the nations revered thought we had a right to liberty. Unbiased by the popular opinion of the state in which is the memorable Mount Vernon—he dared to do his duty, and wipe off the only stain with which man could ever reproach him. 

And it is now said by an authority on which I rely, that he who ventured his life in battles, whose “head was covered” in that day, and whose shield the “Lord of hosts” was, did not fight for that liberty which he desired to withhold from others—the bread of oppression was not sweet to his taste, and he “let the oppressed go free”—he “undid every burden”—he provided lands and comfortable accommodations for them when he kept this “acceptable fast to the Lord”—that those who had been slaves might rejoice in the day of their deliverance. 

If he who broke the yoke of British burdens “from off the neck of the people” of this land, and was hailed his country’s deliverer, by what name shall we call him who secretly and almost unknown emancipated his “bondmen and bondwomen”—became to them a father, and gave them an inheritance! 

Deeds like these are not common. He did not let “his right hand know what his left hand did”—but he who “sees in secret will openly reward” such acts of beneficence. 

The name of Washington will live when the sculptured marble and statue of bronze shall be crumbled into dust—for it is the decree of the eternal God that “the righteous shall be had in everlasting remembrance, but the memorial of the wicked shall rot.” 

It is not often necessary, and it is seldom that occasion requires recommending the observance of the laws of the land to you, but at this time it becomes a duty; for you cannot honour those who have loved you and been your benefactors more than by taking their council and advice. 

And here let me intreat you always to bear in mind the affectionate farewell advice of the great Washington—“to love your country—to obey its laws—to seek its peace—and to keep yourselves from attachment to any foreign nation.” 

Your observance of these short and comprehensive expressions will make you good citizens—and greatly promote the cause of the oppressed and shew to the world that you hold dear the name of George Washington. 

May a double portion of his spirit rest on all the officers of the government in the United States, and all that say my Father, my Father—the chariots of Israel, and the horsemen thereof, which is the whole of the American people. 

This text is in the public domain. Retrieved from http://oieahc.wm.edu/wmq/Jan07/newman.pdf.
Text Dependent Questions
  1. Question
    How does the author depict George Washington?
    He depicts him as a sympathizing “friend and tender father.”
  2. Question
    Why was it necessary to have an “affectionate” farewell from freedpeople for the first president of the United States?
    Honor and patriotism were at the crux of these remarks.
  3. Question
    What does the author say Washington accomplished for freedpeople?
    He says Washington “undid every burden … provided lands and comfortable accommodations for them.”
  4. Question
    What about this eulogy strikes you as important, given the racial tensions at the time it was written?
    Answers will vary.
  5. Question
    In what ways, if any, does this eulogy resonate with your previous thoughts about religious expression among freedpeople?
    Answers will vary.
Reveal Answers