Celebrate Black History Month 2022!

By Charles Roberts, February 4, 2022

Link to full William Ellery Channing / Dutchess Quamino Story

CHARITY “DUCHESS” QUAMINO (c. 1739 – June 29, 1804)

Charity “Duchess” Quamino was a formerly enslaved woman who worked as a nanny and cook in the household of attorney William Ellery. Duchess was also a talented baker, a wife and mother, and a rare entrepreneur in the Era of Slavery, becoming well known as the “Pastry Queen of Rhode Island.” William Ellery Channing’s was the founder of “Unitarianism” and as an abolitionist may have been influenced by Duchess Quamino’s presence in his early life as his nanny and their life-long friendship thereafter. Charity “Duchess” Quamino was born into a family on the Gold Coast of Africa, in Senegal or Ghana, and was taken captive, sold into slavery, and transported on the slave ship Elizabeth to Newport where she became the property of William Ellery and his wife. Quamino grew into an entrusted nanny and excelled in baking, a skill that would sustain her in later years. She converted to Christianity while enslaved and was an active, pious, and prominent member of Ezra Stiles’ Second Congregational Church. In 1769 she married John Quamino (enslaved by Captain Benjamin Church of Newport) and they had at least four children— Charles (born 1772), daughters Violet (1776), Katharine (1779) and Cynthia. John later purchased his freedom with the earnings from a winning lottery ticket, and left Newport to attend the College of NJ (now known as Princeton University). In 1779 Duchess became a widow when John, who had enlisted as a privateer in the Revolutionary War, died in battle.

By 1780 Duchess Quamino is said to have secured her own freedom and that of her children with the financial success of her baking business. She remained working in the Ellery household as a paid servant, and cared for the family’s newest member, William Ellery Channing, born in 1780.

WILLIAM ELLERY CHANNING (April 7, 1780 – October 2, 1842)

Dr. William Ellery Channing became the foremost Unitarian preacher in the United States in the early nineteenth century and one of Unitarianism’s leading theologians.

His Father William Ellery was one of 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence in 1716. Dr. Channing Sr. was known for his articulate and impassioned sermons and public speeches, and as a prominent thinker in the liberal theology of the era. He served as the minister of the prestigious Federal Street Church in Boston from 1803 to 1842. His religious philosophy and sermons were among the chief influences on New England Transcendentalists, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.

His espousal of the developing philosophy and theology of Unitarianism was displayed especially in his “Baltimore Sermon” of 1819 given at the ordination of the theologian and educator Jared Sparks (1789–1866) as the first minister of the new First Independent Church of Baltimore. Slavery has often been called America’s original sin. Yet, white American Unitarians, like most white Americans, were slow to speak out against slavery as an immoral institution. The Unitarian minister William Ellery Channing was no exception. Yet by 1835, Channing published the book Slavery, condemning it as an “unspeakable evil,” and began advocating publicly for the gradual abolition of slavery. His book affirmed the human rights of slaves and argued that slaves “have the same rational nature and the same power of conscience” as those who are not enslaved. Slavery was a sin against God, in Channing’s view, because it prevented both slaves and slave-owners from following the ethical teachings of Jesus and perfecting their human nature.

This view met strong disapproval from the powerful Bostonians in Channing’s congregation. The matter came to a head in 1840 when abolitionist Charles Follen, a close friend of Channing, died and he was asked by the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society if a memorial service could be held at his church. When the congregation’s Standing Committee rejected Channing’s request, he resigned. His last public address was on behalf of emancipation, before his death in 1842. Quamino established an independent household by 1782 near the Channing home on School Street. Quamino still used the Channing’s large oven for her baking enterprise and often expressed her gratitude by hosting members of the family for tea in her own home. When Quamino died at age sixty-five. Fittingly, it was William Ellery Channing wrote the effusive epitaph carved on her gravestone, which still stands in Newport’s Common Burial Ground in God’s Little Acre today. “In memory of Duchess Quamino, a free Black of distinguished excellence; Intelligent, industrious, affectionate, honest, and of exemplary piety; who deceased June 29, 1804, aged 65 years.”

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