William Ellery Channing House

Benevolence and Success in the Era of Slavery: Duchess Quamino and William Ellery Channing

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 lifelong 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
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