Reference Entry

Parrott, Russell

Lois Kerschen

in Encyclopedia of African American History, 1619-1895: From the Colonial Period to the Age of Frederick Douglass

Published in print January 2006 | ISBN: 9780195167771
Parrott, Russell

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Russell Parrott was prominent in Philadelphia's black circles in the early 1800s. A lay reader at the historically important Saint Thomas Episcopal Church, Parrott became an assistant to the pastor in 1812. Parrot was a close ally of James Forten's, and these two members of the Philadelphia African Institution were both notable activists of their day. Parrott saw the colonization of America as a desire for gain and believed that this greed had led to the slave trade. Parrott's writings were filled with vivid descriptions and strong phrases that illustrated the conditions of slavery. He decried the emotional scarring that resulted from the brutal capture of Africans and their voyage to America, the tragic separation of families, and the cruelty of the slaveholders. In 1812, in an address at the traditional New Year's Day celebration of the abolition of the slave trade, Parrott expressed sympathy for the blacks still in slavery. This address was revised and repeated on 1 January 1816 before the African Benevolent Societies and later published at their request. A member of the Benezet Benevolent Society, Parrott argued that although the condition of slavery made blacks appear inferior, they would become good citizens if provided the opportunity. In September 1814 Parrott helped mobilize 360 black Philadelphians to aid in the fortification of the city against the British. He also promoted the commercial ventures of the black seaman and merchant Paul Cuffe, including Cuffe's resettlement of blacks in Sierra Leone. However, Parrott was opposed to the American Colonization Society's plan to move American blacks en masse to Liberia. In January 1817 Forten chaired a meeting of three thousand free blacks unanimously opposed to this project; Parrott was appointed secretary. They subsequently published Resolutions and Remonstrances of the People of Colour against Colonization to the Coast of Africa, and a black national identity based on inherent rights began to take shape. Parrott and Forten also wrote “An Address to the Humane and Benevolent Inhabitants of the City and County of Philadelphia” in August 1817, which addressed the local problems of free African Americans and made the case that blacks, as good citizens, should also enjoy the benefits of American life. However, when the African Fire Association wanted to form a fire and hose company, white firefighters vociferously objected. A meeting was held at which, once again, Forten was the chair and Parrott the secretary. It was agreed that the situation was too divisive to risk pushing the issue, and the idea of a black firefighter company was dropped. As the leader of the African Literary Society, Parrott was a proponent of education for the masses. He participated in the opening of the first black school in Philadelphia in 1822 and worked with church leaders in the Augustinian Society to provide higher education for the black clergy. Forten tried hard to get an appointment for Parrott as pastor of Saint Thomas when the position became vacant, but the situation became complicated and Parrott, in poor health, was not selected. At the time of his death from tuberculosis in September 1824, Parrott was only thirty-three years old. He left a wife, Sarah, and two children. See also American Colonization Society; Benezet, Anthony; Black Nationalism; Cuffe, Paul; Education; Episcopalians (Anglicans) and African Americans; Forten, James; Free African Americans to 1828; Identity; Literature; Slave Trade.

Reference Entry.  639 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History

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