- Quakers and Abolition ed. by Brycchan Carey and Geoffrey Plank
Some of the best-known Quaker abolitionists in literature are to be found in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852). In chapter [End Page 253] 13, “The Quaker Settlement,” idealized members of the Society of Friends in Ohio, Rachel and Simeon Halliday, share a meal at the same table with escaped slaves Eliza, Harry, and George Harris, before aiding them in their flight to Canada. Of this memorable moment, Stowe writes, “It was the first time that ever George had sat down on equal terms at any white man’s table; and he sat down, at first, with some constraint, and awkwardness; but they all exhaled and went off like fog, in the genial morning rays of this simple, overflowing kindness” (Boston, 1852 ). Stowe partially modeled her literary Quakers, the Hallidays, on a radical antislavery Friend, Thomas Garrett, of Wilmington, Delaware, who was an active member of the Underground Railroad. In A Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1853), Stowe refers to Thomas alternately as “John Garret,” who was heavily fined for conveying a slave family five miles in a wagon. Stowe published an 1853 letter from John Garret in A Key, in which he exclaims, “I am called an Abolitionist; once a name of reproach, but one I have ever been proud to be considered worthy of being called. For the last twenty-five years I have been engaged in the cause of this despised and much-injured race, and consider their cause worth suffering for” (161). The details of the trial, of his accomplice John Hunn, and of the dollar amount of the fine match details of Thomas Garrett’s life. While Stowe’s book helped establish a mythology of Quakers, the 2014 edited collection Quakers and Abolition moves well beyond mythical portraits to examine the various roles historical Quakers played in the transatlantic abolition movement, revealing the range and diversity of their involvement.
Brycchan Carey and Geoffrey Plank have assembled a transatlantic cadre of contributors, including scholars from the United States, the United Kingdom, and France. Written in accessible, well-edited prose, this book contains an introduction and fourteen essays divided into three parts: “Freedom within the Quaker Discipline: Arguments among Friends” (five essays), “The Scarcity of African Americans in the Meetinghouse: Racial Issues among the Quakers” (five essays), and “Did the Rest of the World Notice? The Quakers’ Reputation” (four essays). Literary scholars will find mention of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Frederick Douglass, Olaudah Equiano, Stowe, Mark Twain, John Greenleaf Whittier, and William Wordsworth in a book that focuses on the historical contexts of the abolition movement.
In their introduction, Carey and Plank detail the growth of Quaker abolitionism [End Page 254] out of extensive early-seventeenth-century Quaker slaveholding, first in the Caribbean, and then in the American colonies, and note that antebellum Quakers were involved in debates over slavery, including “wide-spread opposition within Quaker meetings to secular abolitionist efforts in the decades leading up to the Civil War” (5). Friends actively participated on both sides of related debates over bans on importing slaves, colonization, and the future of slavery in the southern states, and the authors call for an end to a simplistic “celebratory” perception of Quakers’ roles in the movement. Part 1 of the book, subtitled “Arguments among Friends,” directly addresses this question by exploring the passionate debates among members of the sect over slavery.
Ellen Ross, for example, depicts the fervor of the eighteenth-century Quaker Joshua Evans (1731–98), whose journals detail his evangelism against slavery. In another essay, Thomas D. Hamm profiles the antireform Quaker minister George Fox White (1789–1847), a fierce opponent of abolitionists who once remarked, “I had a thousand times rather be a slave, and spend my days with slaveholders, than to dwell in companionship with abolitionists” (48). This part establishes the range of responses Quakers had to slavery and abolition, with contributions by J. William Frost, analyzing the single historical period (1758–1827) in which Quakers approached...