Hope and perseverance are the themes in Webber’s new book

SHARON — In 1827, at age 19, illiterate and scared, James Pennington escaped from slavery — and soon became one of the leading voices against slavery in the United States prior to the Civil War. The life of this Yale-educated minister is chronicled in a new book, “American to the Backbone,” by the Rev. Christopher L. Webber, a Sharon resident.Webber, who is happy to be called Chris, said he wanted to write about Pennington and his life as a way to inspire contemporary African-American teenagers and offer them a positive role model. Webber said he wants today’s youngsters to learn that — even when faced with the worst circumstances — personal desire and a positive attitude can help one fulfill dreams and aspirations. The lesson of “American to the Backbone” is that hope and perseverance can overcome the most challenging circumstances.“After escaping from slavery in the South,”Webber said, “Pennington slowly made his way north, often being sheltered by the underground railroad, until he was safe in Pennsylvania.” Pennington eventually ended up in New York, Connecticut and then Europe. Though he was illiterate, he had a thirst for knowledge. In addition to being self-taught, Pennington attended night schools and within five years became a teacher. Within another five years he became an ordained minister. He also became an international leader of the abolitionist movement.When asked where the idea for “American to the Backbone” came from, Webber said, “I discovered Pennington while doing research for the book ‘A Year with American Saints,’ which the Rev. G. Scott Cady and I wrote.” Webber said it took four years to write this book, on a part-time basis. He did much of the research at Yale and Wesleyan universities. Officially retired as a full-time Episcopal priest in 1994, Webber currently serves a congregation in Bantam on a part-time basis. “After 12 years of retirement, I missed the pulpit and serving congregants,” he said. “That’s who I am.”Webber said he has published more than 30 books. “American to the Backbone” is his second secular book. All his others had Christian religious themes, including “A Year with American Saints,” “An American Prayer Book,” “An Anthology of Anglican Prayers” and others.“American to the Backbone” was released on May 31. Between now and the end of September, Webber will make at least two book promotion appearances every week, including one at the Smithsonian Museum. In October his next book, “Welcome to Christian Faith,” will be released and he expects several other of his books to be published in the near future.Webber and his wife, Meg, a former travel agent, live in the Sharon home they built more than 20 years ago. They are parents of four children and have four grandchildren. In addition to his pastoral role in Bantam, his family, his research and his writing, Webber said he delights in taking care of his vegetable garden and orchard.

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