Cyrus Bustill (1732-1806 AD)

Cyrus Bustill was an early American patriot, entrepreneur, abolitionist, educator, and leader of the African American community, born enslaved in Burlington, NJ in 1732.  He was the son of an enslaved African mother and a white colonial lawyer father named Samuel Bustill. Samuel Bustill sold his enslaved son Cyrus to a Quaker named Thomas Prior, but after seven years, Cyrus was manumitted and freed by Thomas in 1769.  Once freed, Cyrus Bustill started a successful baking business; and during the Revolutionary War he baked bread for General Washington’s Continental troops, hauling “wagonloads of bread from his Arch street bakery (in Philadelphia) to George Washington’s army in Valley Forge.” (Philadelphia 1639-2000, Charles Blockson, pg 13).

In Philadelphia, Cyrus became an important leader within the black community, and helped to establish some of the earliest free-African institutions.  In 1787, along with James Forten, Absalom Jones, and Richard Allen, he was one of the original founders of Philadelphia’s Free African Society, a mutual aid organization.  In 1792, Cyrus contributed funds for the establishment of the first black Episcopalian parish in the United States, St. Thomas’ African Episcopal Church. To provide a quality education for free-African youth, Cyrus opened a school for African American children in 1803, and became its schoolmaster.

Cyrus Bustill married Elizabeth Morrey on August 6, 1773 in Christ Church, Philadelphia. Elizabeth, who was a servant girl for several years, was the mixed daughter of a Native American mother and an influential white father, who happened to be the son of Humphey Morrey, the first mayor of Philadelphia.  Cyrus and Elizabeth had eight children together, and instilled in them a deep appreciation and loyalty for their country, along with a strong committment to fight against racial injustice.  As proponents for the abolition of slavery, the Bustills and their children were actively involved in the Underground Railroad in Philadelphia, and served as instruments of freedom helping their enslaved brethren escape bondage.

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