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Quakers and Abolition

Brycchan Carey

Publication Year: 2014

This collection of fifteen insightful essays examines the complexity and diversity of Quaker antislavery attitudes across three centuries, from 1658 to 1890. Contributors from a range of disciplines, nations, and faith backgrounds show Quaker's beliefs to be far from monolithic. They often disagreed with one another and the larger antislavery movement about the morality of slaveholding and the best approach to abolition. Not surprisingly, contributors explain, this complicated and evolving antislavery sensibility left behind an equally complicated legacy. While Quaker antislavery was a powerful contemporary influence in both the United States and Europe, present-day scholars pay little substantive attention to the subject. This volume faithfully seeks to correct that oversight, offering accessible yet provocative new insights on a key chapter of religious, political, and cultural history. Contributors include Dee E. Andrews, Kristen Block, Brycchan Carey, Christopher Densmore, Andrew Diemer, J. William Frost, Thomas D. Hamm, Nancy A. Hewitt, Maurice Jackson, Anna Vaughan Kett, Emma Jones Lapsansky-Werner, Gary B. Nash, Geoffrey Plank, Ellen M. Ross, Marie-Jeanne Rossignol, James Emmett Ryan, and James Walvin.

Published by: University of Illinois Press


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Title Page, Copyright Page

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The editors would like to thank Bryn Mawr College, Haverford College, Swarthmore College, and the McNeil Center for Early American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania for jointly hosting the conference that led to this volume. At the McNeil Center, we would in particular like to...

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Brycchan Carey and Geoffrey Plank

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pp. 1-12

In the early 1760s, William Boen was held as a slave under a Quaker master in western New Jersey. In 1762 or 1763, one of his neighbors, another Quaker, told him that his master was considering offering him his freedom. Boen had been legally owned by the same man since his birth in 1735. He said...

Part I Freedom within Quaker Discipline: Arguments among Friends

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1. “Liberation Is Coming Soon”: The Radical Reformation of Joshua Evans (1731–1798)

Ellen M. Ross

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pp. 15-28

Eighteenth-century Quaker reformer Joshua Evans, although little known today, was an important voice in Quaker antislavery, Indian rights advocacy, and American peace history. Recent transcriptions by Jon Peters and Aaron Brecher of all known extant manuscripts of Evans’s journals...

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2. Why Quakers and Slavery? Why not More Quakers?

J. William Frost

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pp. 29-42

Quakers have had a good press for their responses to slavery in spite of the pervasive racism within and outside the meeting.1 Nevertheless, before 1750 and after 1830, a Friend could be disowned for vigorous, public opposition to the meeting’s position on slavery. Neither Quakerism nor...

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3. George F. White and Hicksite Opposition to the Abolitionist Movement

Thomas D. Hamm

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pp. 43-55

On March 25, 1839, Deborah Ferris Bringhurst, a weighty Hicksite Friend, was sitting in meeting in Wilmington, Delaware, when she heard an unfamiliar voice break the silence. “I listened to one of the most extraordinary sermons I ever heard. It was ‘glorious in holiness’ & lucidly clear in opening...

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4. “Without the Consumers of Slave Produce There Would Be No Slaves”: Quaker Women, Antislavery Activism and Free-Labor Cotton Dress in the 1850s

Anna Vaughan Kett

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pp. 56-72

This chapter demonstrates the ways in which dress can be used as a powerful interpretative tool, in understanding how the Quaker family, and especially women, engaged with antislavery activism in the 1850s. It takes as a point of departure a pair of unique photographs, dubbed here the “free-produce...

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5. The Spiritual Journeys of an Abolitionist: Amy Kirby Post, 1802–1889

Nancy A. Hewitt

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pp. 73-86

Clearly Quakers as a group were among the most committed advocates of abolition in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. They were also well represented in the woman’s rights movement, prison reform, campaigns for Indian rights, and a host of other efforts aimed at progressive...

Part II The Scarcity of African Americans in the Meetinghouse: Racial Issues among the Quakers

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6. Quaker Evangelization in Early Barbados: Forging a Path toward the Unknowable

Kristen Block

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pp. 89-105

Many historians of the Society of Friends are now aware that the island of Barbados was the Quakers’ first American “Cradle of Truth.” Beginning in 1656, and throughout the 1660s, missionaries such as Mary Fisher, Anne Austin, Henry Fell, and Richard Pinder brought their simple...

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7. Anthony Benezet: Working the Antislavery Cause inside and outside of “The Society”

Maurice Jackson

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pp. 106-119

More than any other individual’s work in the eighteenth century, that of Anthony Benezet served as a catalyst, throughout the Atlantic world, for the initial organized fight against slave trade and the eventual ending of slavery. His written work, which combined Quaker principles and...

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8. Aim for a Free State and Settle among Quakers: African-American and Quaker Parallel Communities in Pennsylvania and New Jersey

Christopher Densmore

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pp. 120-134

Over the past several years, I have given a fair amount of “public history” talks to local historical societies, cultural organizations, conferences, and meetings. With public audiences, the questions and discussions inevitably turn toward contemporary concerns about race relations. The discussions are...

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9. The Quaker and the Colonist: Moses Sheppard, Samuel Ford McGill, and Transatlantic Antislavery across the Color Line

Andrew Diemer

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pp. 135-148

in February 1849, in a letter to a man named Samuel McGill, a Baltimore Quaker named Moses Sheppard shared his thoughts concerning slavery, the law, and individual conscience. Sheppard asserted his belief in the validity of the law of slavery, provided that an individual may be allowed...

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10. Friend on the American Frontier: Charles Pancoast’s A Quaker Forty-Niner and the Problem of Slavery

James Emmett Ryan

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pp. 149-162

American Quaker views concerning slaveholding evolved over many decades until the nineteenth century, when opposition to slavery became firmly established among the Quaker faithful. This broad consensus, however, was fraught with disagreements over how Quakers should oppose...

Part III Did the Rest of the World Notice? The Quakers’ Reputation

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11. The Slave Trade, Quakers, and the Early Days of British Abolition

James Walvin

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pp. 165-179

The rise of British popular support for abolition of the Atlantic slave trade after 1787 was rapid and totally unexpected. In its origins and during its early days, Quakers were pivotal. They were the pioneers of demands for ending the slave trade, and their influence and assistance proved vital...

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12. The Quaker Antislavery Commitment and How It Revolutionized French Antislavery through the Crèvec-Brissot Friendship, 1782-1789

Marie-Jeanne Rossignol

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pp. 180-193

J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur’s Letters from an American Farmer was long seen as the first expression of American literary consciousness.1 Ending with a letter titled “What Is the American, This New Man?,” the first three letters in a book that contains twelve could understandably be seen as praising the...

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13. Thomas Clarkson’s Quaker Trilogy: Abolitionist Narrative as Transformative History

Dee E. Andrews and Emma Jones Lapsansky-Werner

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pp. 194-208

Who was Thomas Clarkson? In his lifetime, he was the abolitionist par excellence, an advocate of social justice in a cause whose founders—the Committee for Effecting the Abolition of the African Slave Trade—fit inside one small printing-house office. By the end of his life, abolitionists’ regard led...

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14. The Hidden Story of Quakers and Slavery

Gary B. Nash

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pp. 209-224

The story of Quaker leadership in the abolition movement has been known and proudly recounted by Friends and friends of Friends for two centuries. Though only a miniscule fraction of religionists in America, Quakers were indisputably in the forefront of the crusade to end slavery, just...

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pp. 225-244

This bibliography gathers together selected printed sources from all the chapters contained in this collection. For ease of reference, the material has been organized into two sections: contemporary sources printed up to 1900 and recent historiography and critical reception printed after 1900. For information...


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pp. 245-250


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pp. 251-264

Publisher Notes

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E-ISBN-13: 9780252096129
E-ISBN-10: 0252096126
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252038266

Page Count: 264
Publication Year: 2014

OCLC Number: 884725833
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Quakers and Abolition

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Subject Headings

  • Quaker abolitionists -- United States -- History.
  • Antislavery movements -- United States -- History.
  • Slavery and the church -- Society of Friends -- History.
  • Slavery and the church -- United States.
  • Quaker abolitionists -- History.
  • Antislavery movements -- History.
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