Antislavery in Print: The Germantown Protest, the "Exhortation," and the Seventeenth-Century Quaker Debate on Slavery
- Early American Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal
- University of Pennsylvania Press
- Volume 9, Number 3, Fall 2011
- pp. 552-575
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"Antislavery in Print" reexamines the first two North American antislavery petitions in terms of colonial print culture and Quaker politics. It also argues that there is an authorial link between these two important texts. The first antislavery protest was composed in 1688 by German-Dutch immigrants in Germantown, Pennsylvania, and was circulated in manuscript form within the Quaker community. The second document, the Exhortation and Caution to Friends concerning Buying or Keeping of Negroes, was published by William Bradford in 1693 and has been widely attributed to George Keith, a schismatic Quaker who was expelled from the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting in 1692.
This essay argues that the Exhortation should not be ascribed solely to Keith. It was a communal effort that should be attributed to the Christian Quakers, the splinter group founded by Keith. The Christian Quakers were nonelite English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh, German, and Dutch Quakers, a number of whom were directly involved in the creation of the Germantown Protest. Keith himself never expressed radical antislavery sentiments, either before or after the publication of the Exhortation, but he did play an important role in arranging for its publication. Once printed, however, the Exhortation lost credibility within the orthodox Philadelphia Quaker community because it became part of a polemical print war that George Keith was waging against the orthodox Quakers.