Instead of reading Quaker abolition back in time, I thought it was important to understand how these slaveholding Quakers fit into their own time. Things could have developed differently. “[They] burn our books, call our baptism the baptism of dogs, and call the Brethren beasts.”. There was a large Quaker presence on Barbados, where thousands of Friends lived. And in fact, much of scholarship about Fox’s visit to Barbados debates whether his remarks were “proto-antislavery” or not. Two decades later, there were thousands of Quakers living on Barbados, all but four of whom were slave owners. I knew that Friends held slaves, but I did not know the depth of it. Quakers began denouncing slavery as early as 1688, when four German Quakers started protesting near Pennsylvania. I started with the “beginning”: the first antislavery protest in North America, written by German and Dutch Quakers in Pennsylvania. Cuffee, who was probably born into slavery, was baptized on September 9, 1677, in an Anglican church in Barbados. Here is liberty of conscience, w[hi]ch is right and reasonable; here ought to be likewise liberty of ye body. a line that was added not by the authors of the Germantown protest, but by the Quakers who represented Abington (Dublin) Meeting and Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. George Fox wrote about Black and Indian slaves from as early as 1657. Anyone who has studied the antebellum period knows that slavery violated Quaker principles and that some Quakers participated in the Underground Railroad. And most significantly, the concept of “Whiteness” had not yet been created. Rights assumed to be acquired by winning military battles against Indigenous peoples. Those Philadelphia Quakers in 1688 knew that the mercantile system, based on the unpaid labor of enslaved people, worked quite well for everyone else. Lands appearing to be empty based on European standards were open to discovery. As it turns out, I had passed the site of its creation hundreds of times as I traveled to school down Germantown Avenue. Indian title or Native title. One of the descenda 4. I teach in North Carolina, History among several things. I have been thinking about the topic of Quakers and slavery for some time now. who hath attained to the full Age of One and Twenty Year, and hath Ten Acres of Freehold . – After discovery indigenous nations and peoples based on European law, lost their full property rights and ownership of land. This is such a wonderful essay and so important at this time in history. Assumed European superiority and directed by God to bring civilization, education, and religion to Indigenous peoples. English slave owners thought of Christianity⁠—and especially Protestantism⁠—as a religion for free people, and they worried that a baptized slave would demand freedom and possibly rebel. But as I quickly learned, this was only part of the story when it comes to Quakers and slavery. It is comparable perhaps to the French and other Resistances to Hitler in WWII. Since then, I’ve continued a similar quest to yours. Christians are “superior” in that we are called, chosen, and saved. of these people are in work. In response, the English colonists took drastic measures: They executed the enslaved rebels, tortured others, and rewarded the informants. Takes a hard look at how 20th and 21st century Friends have hidden behind the legacies of braver ancestors … represents a challenge for us all. – Learning from the past, learning from our mistakes seems impossible for humanity. These became the questions that fueled my research. Why would Quakers be blamed for slave rebellion when they had a peace testimony? 3. We can and should remember those abolitionist Quakers and learn from them. As I began to investigate this issue further, I looked beyond the Quaker records to the archives of Protestant denominations. Christians are known by their fruit. Now, with the benefit of your scholarship, it makes much more sense. Contiguity. In other words, we need to acknowledge that individuals made decisions that led to “Protestant supremacy” and to “White supremacy.” If we don’t recognize this history, we risk repeating the injustices of the past. Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment. In the 1670s, it was called the “Nursery of Truth” because it was so filled with Quakers. This translated to statements like these in the Charter given to Lord Baltimore in 1632 for the future Maryland: …in a Country hitherto uncultivated, in the Part of America, and partly occupied by Savages, having no knowledge of the Divine Being,…, ”XII. As I did so, I realized there were some intriguing similarities in their experiences. ” ….. there is an epistle he wrote in 1657, ‘To Friends beyond the sea, that have Black and Indian slaves’ in which he highlighted the importance of equality in the Quaker faith. The Quakers were the first whites to denounce slavery in the American colonies and Europe. https://www.pbs.org/wnet/african-americans-many-rivers-to-cross/history/who-led-the-1st-back-to-africa-effort/, https://www.brown.edu/news/2017-02-15/enslavement, © 2020 Friends Publishing Corporation. When the Quaker William Edmundson visited Barbados in 1675, for example, he was attacked by the governor for “making the Negroes Christians, and [making] them rebel and cut their Throats.”. I had intended to study Quaker antislavery, but I felt that this was more important. Instead, Quakers like George Fox were radical because they suggested that Blacks and Whites should meet together for worship. We can and should remember those abolitionist Quakers and learn from them. Sadly enough, she, like so many American historians seems to consider the slavery issue as Negro. Perhaps they lent money to ambitious farmers or sailors to increase their yields. Seventeenth-century Quakers, I came to understand, were radical but not because they were abolitionists. members of the Church of England (Anglicans) as well as other smaller denominations, like the Moravian Church. Soderlund details the long battle fought by reformers like gentle John Woolman and eccentric Benjamin Lay. I wanted to show how something as important as abolition had a history, and how we could learn about social justice by studying the past. It declares, among other things, that the authors are “against the traffick of men-body.” It goes on to explain that slavery cannot be a Christian practice and that it is against the Golden Rule. It is in Quaker records that we have some of the earliest manifestations of anti-slavery sentiment, dating from the 1600s. The 1688 Germantown Protest, as it is often called, was the first document in North America to denounce slavery. It was Quakers who though not permitted to hold a seat in Parliament in Britain because they refused to take an oath of allegiance who orchestrated the end of slavery through the same Parliament. Quakers, or the Religious Society of Friends, was founded in England in the 17th century by George Fox and played a key role in abolition and women’s suffrage. What we see here is the codification of Whiteness as a legal category that was specifically intended to exclude free Black Christians from the full rights of citizenship. (US Supreme Court later declared that Indigenous people had lost rights on discovery as if they had been conquered in a ‘just war’) Early Friends were not immune to the tragedy of slavery. The British & Foreign Anti-Slavery Society was founded in 1839 and continues to this day as Anti-Slavery International (ASI). Even if it turns out slaves were not used in the direct building of the schools and meeting houses, surely the money their work earned for the Friends who owned them was. Many (most?) Thank you so much for this amazing article. I have been trying to understand how my Quaker ancestors could have justified slave ownership ever since I discovered that my 4x great grandfather left his slaves to his son who promptly freed them. 10. I used to work at Pomona Hall in Camden, NJ. But you, Ms Gerbner, teased it out of the records. I began to dig deeper into the seventeenth-century Quaker world. Later, while preaching in Barbados, Fox witnessed the realities of slavery, leading him to call for the better treatment of slaves. I also felt a personal connection to the Germantown Protest: I grew up in Philadelphia and attended Germantown Friends School, which is just a few blocks from where the 1688 Protest was written. Within a year, a Friend named Ralph Fretwell was “prosecuted for 80 [enslaved people] being present at a Meeting in his House,” and Richard Sutton was taken to court “for 30 [enslaved people] being present at a Meeting.”. In turn, I have sent her a link to your article. Learning that Barbados was a haven for Quakers helped me put that piece in place. European (implied white) supremacy was already well entrenched. Quakers have long been hailed as heroes of the abolitionist movement.

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