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Anecdotes and Memoirs of William Boen, a Coloured Man, Who Lived and Died Near Mount Holly, New Jersey. To which is Added, the Testimony of Friends of Mount Holly Monthly Meeting Concerning Him
Philadelphia: Printed by J. Richards, 1834.

Summary

Outside of the Anecdotes itself, little biographical information about William Boen has been published. According to the Anecdotes, Boen was a Quaker and "coloured man, who resided near Mount Holly, New Jersey" and who "was from his birth held as a slave" (p. 3). Born into slavery in 1735, Boen "had very little opportunity of acquiring useful learning" but "by his own industry and care, he succeeded in learning to read and write" (p. 15). From a young age, Boen displayed an interest in spirituality and came to feel "within him . . . the existence of a Supreme Being" (p. 15). At the age of twenty-eight, Boen became emancipated by means that the text does not disclose. He also married a woman whom the text does not name. At an unknown date, he applied for membership in the Society of Friends and was rejected. In 1814, he re-applied and was received into membership. Boen died in his sleep on June 12, 1824.

The Anecdotes is an eighteen-page, two-part document published in 1834. The first part is drawn from an interview between Boen and an unnamed Quaker. This interview is said to have taken place during Boen's eighty-sixth year of life. In it, Boen's responses to questions about his life and faith are printed along with the author's commentary on Boen's responses. The second part of the Anecdotes transcribes verbal testimony about Boen's life and faith, which was given at a monthly Quaker meeting in Mount Holly, New Jersey, on November 6, 1828. It was later repeated at a monthly Quaker meeting in Chesterfield—in an unknown state, presumably New Jersey—on November 25, 1828.

Both sections of the Anecdotes present Boen as an exemplary figure, a man of great faith whose life serves as a good example to all Quakers. The first section narrates Boen's conversion experience in the first-person. Boen describes how, as a boy, the threat of attack from nearby Native Americans makes him consider for the first time that he will one day die. "A thought then came into my mind, whether I was fit to die," Boen says. "It was showed me, and I saw plain enough, that I was not fit to die. Then it troubled me very much, that I was not fit to die; and I felt very desirous,--very anxious that I might be made fit to die. So I stood still, in great amazement; and it seemed as if a flaming sword passed through me" (pp. 4-5). The author of this first section then goes on to explain to readers that the flaming sword Boen experienced is the "grace of God, the Light of Christ, within," and that the "Divine Light in [Boen's] soul [that] showed him the way in which he should walk, in order to become fit to die" (p. 7, p. 8).

The second section of the Anecdotes is written entirely in the third-person and details the extraordinarily virtuous life that Boen lives after coming to faith. For example, the text mentions that Boen bears "testimony against things in which many of his white brethren indulge, particularly in regard to slavery; refusing to wear, or use in any shape, articles which come through that corrupted channel" (p. 16). Another reason that the author of the Anecdotes holds Boen's life up as a "weighty example" of piety is Boen's "great concern . . . to keep his mind easy, believing that right and wrong actions would result either in peace or pain within; hence, his great care was to 'try all things by the mind,' as he expressed it, or the light of Christ" (p. 16).

The Anecdotes is far more concerned with the example of Boen's piety than it is with using his enslaved status to protest slavery. Still, there are some hints of pro-abolition sentiment in the text. Just before his death, Boen says that "he had thought he was alone with regard to his testimony against slavery" but nevertheless believed that anti-slavery sentiment "would grow and increase among" the Quakers (p. 17).

Harry Thomas

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