Slavery in the Quaker World

Christian Slavery and White Supremacy

Engelse Quakers en tabak planters in Barbados (English Quakers and tobacco planters in Barbados). Print, 1726. Image courtesy of New York Public Library.


Quakers have long been hailed as heroes of the abolitionist movement. Friends like Anthony Benezet and John Woolman worked tirelessly to convince other Whites to abolish slavery and embrace liberty for all. Fourteen years ago, when I began research for my book Christian Slavery, I wanted to understand this abolitionist history better. I started with the “beginning”: the first antislavery protest in North America, written by German and Dutch Quakers in Pennsylvania. But as I quickly learned, this was only part of the story when it comes to Quakers and slavery.

The 1688 Germantown Protest, as it is often called, was the first document in North America to denounce slavery. It is an extraordinary document. 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 worth lingering on the following passage:

There is a saying, that we shall doe to all men like as we will be done ourselves; making no difference of what generation, descent or colour they are. And those who steal or robb men, and those who buy or purchase them, are they not all alike? Here is liberty of conscience, w[hi]ch is right and reasonable; here ought to be likewise liberty of ye body.

For the seventeenth century, this is a very unusual statement. It is a document that Quakers⁠—and all Americans⁠—can be proud of. I was excited to write about it. 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. As it turns out, I had passed the site of its creation hundreds of times as I traveled to school down Germantown Avenue.

Examining the origins of Quaker abolition, I thought, would serve multiple purposes. 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. As I looked closer at the 1688 Protest, however, I became less interested in the petition itself than in the last line⁠—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. The first line reads:

Detail of the Germantown Protest against slavery. The original is held in the Haverford College Quaker and Special Collections.


We having inspected ye matter, above mentioned, and considered of it, we find it so weighty that we think it not expedient for us to meddle with it here.

Below that follows:

A Paper being here presented by some German Friends Concerning the Lawfullness and Unlawfulness of Buying and keeping Negroes, It was adjudged not to be so proper for this Meeting to give a Positive Judgment in the Case, It have so General a Relation to many other P[a]rts, and therefore at present they forbear It.

While the language is opaque, the conclusion is clear: The Philadelphia Quakers rejected the antislavery 1688 Protest.

I had intended to study Quaker antislavery, but I felt that this was more important. What it revealed is that while a very small minority of Quakers rejected slavery in the seventeenth century, most did not. I had more questions: What did it mean that slavery had “so General a Relation to many other P[a]rts?” What “other parts” were they talking about?

The author, Katharine Gerbner, giving a lecture on slavery and Quakerism in seventeenth‐century Barbados, CSpan3, April 10, 2019.

I decided to ask different questions. Instead of reading Quaker abolition back in time, I thought it was important to understand how these slaveholding Quakers fit into their own time.

Slavery in the Quaker World

I began to dig deeper into the seventeenth‐century Quaker world. At the time—I was surprised to learn—slavery was accepted and common among the English Quakers who were in political control of Pennsylvania. And that was not all: Quakers were also involved in the slave trade. As it turns out, many of the Quakers in Philadelphia immigrated not from England, but from the Caribbean island of Barbados.

Pennsylvania may have been the first “official” Quaker colony, but it was not the first Quaker community in the Americas. There was a large Quaker presence on Barbados, where thousands of Friends lived. In the 1670s, it was called the “Nursery of Truth” because it was so filled with Quakers.

When Pennsylvania was founded in 1682, William Penn and others used their Quaker connections in Barbados to purchase enslaved Africans. As Pennsylvania’s social and economic structure developed, ties with the West Indies and other trade outlets flourished. The trade with Barbados was a source of pride and a symbol of prosperity for many English Quakers who considered slavery to be necessary for economic development.

I realized that I needed to tell this story. Like other stories that are shameful or embarrassing, this one had been largely suppressed in the Quaker histories that I read. Much of the scholarship about Quakers and slavery in the seventeenth century acknowledged that Quakers owned slaves, but they focused on finding the “seed” of abolition in these early Quaker records.

I decided to ask different questions. Instead of reading Quaker abolition back in time, I thought it was important to understand how these slaveholding Quakers fit into their own time. None of them would have predicted the demise of the slave trade or slavery. So if I really wanted to understand them and the relationship between Quakers and slavery, then I needed to take a different approach.

Why did Quakers accept slavery in this period? How did they justify slavery within their theological worldview? How did their views compare to other European Christians who encountered slavery? I also wanted to think about what Christianity might have meant to enslaved and free Black men and women who joined the ranks of the Quakers as well as other denominations. When and why did they convert? These became the questions that fueled my research.

I started by taking a closer look at Barbados. Barbados was the most important English colony in the seventeenth century. It was settled in 1627, and colonists soon began to plant tobacco and then sugar. While English colonists initially relied on a joint labor force of European indentured servants and African slaves, by the 1650s enslaved Africans had become the majority of the labor force.

Quakerism started to flourish around the same time. Two Quaker missionaries, named Ann Austin and Mary Fisher, landed on the island in 1655 and successfully converted—or “convinced” in Quaker parlance—several island residents. Two decades later, there were thousands of Quakers living on Barbados, all but four of whom were slave owners.

By the 1670s, Quaker founder George Fox decided to visit the Quaker communities in the colonies. Barbados was his first stop. There, he became deeply concerned about the practice of slavery but not for the reasons we might hope. While he did urge Quakers to consider manumission, he did not call for an end to slavery as a practice. Instead, he did something else: He urged Friends to worship with the enslaved people in their households and to introduce them to Quakerism. In many ways, this is disappointing. And in fact, much of scholarship about Fox’s visit to Barbados debates whether his remarks were “proto‐antislavery” or not. But again, when we focus on antislavery, we miss an important distinction.

The crucial point has to do with the reaction of other colonists on Barbados. In 1675, a few years after Fox’s visit, English colonists discovered that a group of enslaved men was planning a rebellion. In response, the English colonists took drastic measures: They executed the enslaved rebels, tortured others, and rewarded the informants. They also did something rather unusual. They passed an act that forbid Quakers from worshiping alongside enslaved men and women. This act asserted that enslaved people had “been suffered to remain at the Meeting of Quakers as hearers of their Doctrine, and taught in their Principles, whereby the safety of this Island may be hazared [sic].” If, the act continued, any enslaved person was “found with the said People called Quakers, at any time of their Meeting, and as hearers of their Preaching,” the Quakers would have to pay a fine. 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.”

This sequence of events is puzzling. Why would Quakers be blamed for slave rebellion when they had a peace testimony? I have learned, in doing historical research, that when something doesn’t seem to make sense, you need to dig in. It is often these incongruencies that reveal something fundamentally important about a particular place and time.

Rethinking the History of Slavery, Race, and Abolition

Seventeenth‐century Quakers, I came to understand, were radical but not because they were abolitionists. Instead, Quakers like George Fox were radical because they suggested that Blacks and Whites should meet together for worship.

Quakers were not the only Christians persecuted for meeting with enslaved people. As I began to investigate this issue further, I looked beyond the Quaker records to the archives of Protestant denominations⁠: members of the Church of England (Anglicans) as well as other smaller denominations, like the Moravian Church. As I did so, I realized there were some intriguing similarities in their experiences.

In each case, English slave owners attacked Protestant missionaries and enslaved Christians for meeting together. On the island of Saint Thomas, for example, Moravian missionaries and Black converts were beaten and attacked by White colonists. Slave owners stole Bibles from enslaved Christians, and they burned Moravian books.

“Marotta to the Queen of Denmark” (1739). Image Courtesy of the Unitätsarchiv der Evangelischen Brüder‐Unität, Herrnhut, Germany.


The above photo shows a letter either written—or more likely dictated—by a free Black Moravian woman named Marotta, who wrote to the Queen of Denmark to ask her to support Black Christians. In it, she asks the Queen to support the Black women “of Saint Thomas,” because the slave owners would not allow them to “serve the Lord Jesus.” The petition was first written in Marotta’s native West African language (on the left) and then translated into Dutch Creole (on the right). Marotta’s appeal was accompanied by another letter written in Dutch Creole and also signed by several other Black Moravians on Saint Thomas. This letter went into more detail about the problems facing enslaved Christians: The White planters “beat and injure us when [we learn] about the Savior,” they wrote. “[They] burn our books, call our baptism the baptism of dogs, and call the Brethren beasts.”

As I looked closer at these and other sources, I began to understand why English slave owners found the prospect of slave conversion so threatening:

  1. When enslaved people became Christian, it challenged the justification for slavery, which was religious difference, i.e., it was considered legal to enslave “heathens” but not to enslave Christians.
  2. In some cases, missionaries taught enslaved people to read the Bible and to write. This was very unpopular among slave owners.
  3. When enslaved Christians met for worship, White colonists feared they were plotting slave rebellion.

This helps to explain what happened in Barbados: When Quakers started to include enslaved people in their worship meetings, English slave owners reacted aggressively. 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.”

In the seventeenth century, the concept of race, as we know it, did not exist; the concept of “Whiteness” had not yet been created. So slave owners created the ideology of Protestant supremacy, which used religion to justify slavery.

Protestant Supremacy

These documents reveal some misunderstood aspects of colonial slavery. 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. As a result, they excluded most enslaved people from Protestant churches.

I felt that this was an extremely important aspect of early colonial slavery and that it had not been fully recognized. So in my book, I gave it a name: Protestant supremacy. Protestant supremacy, I came to understand, was the forerunner of White supremacy. White supremacy uses racial designation to create inequality. But in the seventeenth century, the concept of race, as we know it, did not exist. And most significantly, the concept of “Whiteness” had not yet been created. So slave owners created the ideology of Protestant supremacy, which used religion to justify slavery.

I turned to the legal archives to understand this better. I read through all of the laws passed on the island of Barbados in the seventeenth and early‐eighteenth centuries. In the earliest slave laws, I found, colonists didn’t call themselves “White”; they called themselves “Christians.” Protestant slave owners constructed a caste system based on Christian status, in which “heathen” slaves were afforded no rights or privileges while Catholics, Jews, and nonconforming Protestants were viewed with suspicion and distrust but granted more protections.

This is why it was so controversial for Quakers and other missionaries to introduce enslaved people to Christianity: because it threatened to undermine Protestant supremacy. So the next question is, how did this change? How did Protestant supremacy become White supremacy?

From Protestant Supremacy to White Supremacy

We’ve already seen how Protestant supremacy was challenged. It was challenged by missionaries, including the Quakers, and by enslaved and free Blacks, who wanted to become Christian: people like Marotta.

But in each case, it was challenged differently. I’ll start with the missionaries. Quaker, Anglican, and Moravian missionaries responded to Protestant supremacy by trying to argue that Christianity and slavery were perfectly compatible. Protestant missionaries drew on biblical descriptions of slavery as well as the ideal of the “godly” household to encourage slave owners to allow enslaved people to convert. They noted that Christian slavery had a long and well‐established history in Europe and the Catholic American colonies. Missionaries also tried to defend slave conversion by arguing that enslaved Christians would be more docile and harder working than their “heathen” counterparts.

For an example of this, we can return to the Quaker William Edmundson, who is often thought of as one of the first “antislavery” Quakers. But when he was attacked by the Governor of Barbados for worshiping alongside enslaved people, he responded by saying: “[i]t was a good Work to bring them to the Knowledge of God and Christ Jesus, and … that would keep them from rebelling or cutting any Man’s Throat.” The implications here are clear: Conversion would make slavery safer; it would make enslaved people less rebellious.

Enslaved Christians fought Protestant supremacy in a different way. As we saw in Marotta’s letter, they tended to argue that they had a right to practice Christianity, to read the Bible, and to worship together. Over time, more and more enslaved and free people of color fought their way into Christian churches, influenced by theological, practical, and social motivations.

One of these individuals was named Charles Cuffee. Cuffee, who was probably born into slavery, was baptized on September 9, 1677, in an Anglican church in Barbados. The minister of the church noted that Cuffee had recently been “freed,” making him the first free Black man to be baptized on the island. In 1689, 12 years after his baptism, Cuffee brought two children to the baptismal font: Thomas, aged ten, and Mary, aged five. The minister noted that they were the “son & dau of Charles Cuffee free Christian negro.” By joining the Anglican Church, Cuffee was making a claim for himself: As a free Christian man, he had acquired most of the markings of a freeholder. According to Barbadian law at the time, he would be eligible to vote in elections and, at least hypothetically, run for office if he could acquire enough property.

It was in response to free Black Christians like Charles Cuffee that English slaveholders began to create White supremacy. Soon after Cuffee brought his children to the baptismal font, Barbadian lawmakers wrote a new law, redefining citizenship to include the word “white” as well as “Christian.” This was one of the first times that the word “white” was used in the legal records. The law declared that “every white Man professing the Christian Religion … who hath attained to the full Age of One and Twenty Year, and hath Ten Acres of Freehold … shall be deemed a Freeholder.”

Twelve years later, lawmakers refined their definition of Whiteness further. A 1709 law clarified that a “white” person could have “no extract” from “a Negro,” thereby establishing the “one‐drop rule” as the definition of Whiteness and laying a new foundation for slavery and social oppression that made race seem like a natural category⁠—something that was innate.

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. We often take “Whiteness” as a given, but it has a very specific history. We assume that race is a biological reality when it is actually a political category. Slaveholding politicians actively created the category of “Whiteness” as part of a political strategy to protect slave ownership and restrict the voting rights of free Blacks.

With the creation of Whiteness, slave conversion became less threatening. Whiteness, rather than religious difference, became the new way to justify and enforce slavery.

A hardcopy edition of Christian Slavery: Conversion and Race in the Protestant Atlantic World, by the author, Katharine Gerbner, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018.

Whiteness, rather than religious difference, became the new way to justify and enforce slavery.

Combating White Supremacy

As our society becomes increasingly aware of the lasting effects of White supremacy, it’s important to think about where Whiteness comes from. Most people think that race is biological, but this belief is very destructive. It naturalizes race and allows us to forget that Whiteness was created in order to legalize and justify inequality. 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.

It’s also important to think about the many different meanings that religion had in slave societies. We see in Protestant supremacy that religion could be a source of oppression. But that’s certainly not what it meant to the enslaved men and women who fought hard to be baptized. Our histories need to keep those two facts in balance, and especially not allow the oppressive regime of Protestant supremacy to desensitize people to the experiences of enslaved and free Black Christians.

For those of us who identify with the Quaker tradition—as I do—this history invites us to think about what it really means to combat oppression. This also means confronting the uncomfortable aspects of Quaker history. When we relegate the blame for slavery and oppression to people “in the South,” for example, we are actively erasing Quaker complicity in, and support for, slavery not only in Barbados but also in Philadelphia and elsewhere in the North. This is an uncomfortable past, but it’s a past that needs to be brought into the light.

Looking carefully at this Quaker past can teach us a lesson about social justice. It shows us that it’s not enough to be radical; we also have to be vigilantly aware of history and the complexities of inequality. It’s not enough to have good intentions. We must be critically engaged with the past to understand the influence it continues to exert in the present.

Finally, history is never inevitable. Things could have developed differently. As we all know, Quakers⁠—as well as many evangelical Christians, both Black and White⁠—played a central role in the abolitionist movement, showing that Christianity, and Quakerism in particular, could be used to support emancipation. We can and should remember those abolitionist Quakers and learn from them. But we can’t whitewash our own history, or we risk repeating it.

Watch our author chat interview with Katharine Gerbner:

Katharine Gerbner is associate professor of history at the University of Minnesota. She grew up in Philadelphia, Pa., and graduated from Germantown Friends School. She currently attends Twin Cities Meeting in Saint Paul, Minn.

Posted in: Features, September 2019

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26 thoughts on “Slavery in the Quaker World

  1. Jules Rensch says:

    City & State
    A profound truth such as this from the Quakers needs to be shouted from the rooftops!

    1. Miriam Yagud says:

      City & State
      England UK
      I totally agree.
      Quaker “Whitewashing” of history is a Quaker institution of lies that must end!

  2. Roger N. Kirkman says:

    City & State
    Winston‐Salem, NC
    This is a topic in which I have an avid interest. Although this introduction names only Fox and his contemporaries, you know well the work of numerous subsequent Quakers, as Benjamin Lay, John Woolman, and Elihu Coleman. My own reading has prompted me to think that the words of Elihu Coleman resonated in the hearts of Nantucket Quakers, who emigrated to Guilford County, NC, in the early 1770s.

    Below is a link to the initial article on the North Carolina Manumission Society:


    Since then, I’ve continued a similar quest to yours. If you would like, I can email a PDF of the first chapter from a book on the anti‐slavery societies in North Carolina. At their height, there were more than 50, most of which were formed at the urging of Benjamin Lundy. As specifics revealed themselves, it became clear that this group made up almost half of the anti‐slavery societies nationwide in 1826, membership of the aggregate was estimated at 2,500 (all able to vote, representing about 1/3 the vote for John Quincy Adams in the 1824 election, and freed as many as 3,500 slaves.

  3. Joy Rising says:

    City & State
    Tauranga, New Zealand
    Thank you, Katharine, for your research on the problem of slavery. You give us a different way of thinking about the history of slavery, especially on Barbados.
    I’m sure that this book will be of great help to people who are interested in how Quakers could be slave owners.

  4. Jolene C Curry says:

    City & State
    Thank‐you so much for this article, so well written, and researched! It helps to identify where we have drawn our political and social boundaries, to further our power and control over others, and helps to educate us on how to do better! Thanks so much for the light you are bringing to this important issue.

  5. Mercy Ingraham says:

    City & State
    Newtown, PA
    This is such a wonderful essay and so important at this time in history. I used to work at Pomona Hall in Camden, NJ. One of the descenda
    nts, Marmaduke Cooper–of the founding Cooper family of Camden–owned slaves in the 1780’s and was read out of meeting when he refused to sell them. When I first read this I could not understand why this was so. Now, with the benefit of your scholarship, it makes much more sense. Thank you for this important perspective.

    1. Luis Eduardo Dottin says:

      City & State
      Cutler Bay miami Florida
      I have been reading for a long time Barbadian history,trying to find answers to my family searc.
      Was also thinking they could has been Quakers.
      I know y the end 1700 they were against slavery,even left Barbados for such reasons.
      I’m a DOTTIN
      Think been related to those DOTTIN from the 1600 to the middle 1800 in Barbados.

  6. Sharon Ann Holt says:

    City & State
    Dear Dr. Gerbner,
    Thanks for this brief, clear, and powerful history. It occurs to me, reading your essay, that Benjamin Lay (subject of a recent biography by Marcus Rediker) seems to have been radicalized about slavery over several years in Barbados. I was surprised that Lay himself went to Barbados in the first place, given its centrality in slave‐based sugar production. Learning that Barbados was a haven for Quakers helped me put that piece in place. That Lay was as disappointed in Philadelphia’s slave‐owning Friends as he had been in Barbadian Friends, becomes clearer also.

    Do you know the book, Fit for Freedom, but Not for Friendship? 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.

    From Trenton Monthly Meeting of Friends (PYM)

  7. Keith Stokes says:

    City & State
    Newport, RI
    How can you talk about slavery in the Quaker world and not include Newport, Rhode Island?

  8. Anna says:

    City & State
    New Bern, NC
    Slavery and Quaker faith are relevant to my ancestry, who were slave‐holding Quakers here in Carteret County, NC (and surrounding environs). Having said that, my understanding is that as time went on, fewer Quakers supported slavery, which led to them feeling uncomfortable here in pre‐Civil‐War North Carolina, and led to their migration.

  9. Jim West says:

    City & State
    What an utterly fantastic essay!

  10. Debra Penna-Fredericks says:

    City & State
    St Louis, MO
    Thank you for your work on the topic of Quakers and slavery and the history of white supremacy. Your article brought up some interesting connections and offered a good read to anyone with an interest in the topic. I look forward to reading your book.

    I have been thinking about the topic of Quakers and slavery for some time now. I have had on my mind whether Quaker slave owners used slaves to build meeting houses and schools. I expect that did happen and I have been left wondering what, if anything, the meetings and schools are doing to recognize it? Are their attempts at reparations? For example, are the descendants of the slaves being offered scholarships to the schools?

    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. That is certainly a lesson we cannot forget.

    I have not yet read your book. I am confident it will elaborate on the points you wrote about in your article and I am hopeful some of these topics I brought up might be covered as you elaborate on the complex way slaves were used to build Quaker wealth.

    1. Mackenzie Morgan says:

      City & State
      Silver Spring, MD
      Baltimore Yearly Meeting has a group investigating the possibility of reparations. One task on the list is to figure out which of our buildings were built using enslaved people’s labor. A lot of our records aren’t so detailed, just dates and deeds, so we probably can’t figure it all out. We *do* know of one meetinghouse built that way, though.

      I don’t believe we (BYM) have any schools old enough for that, though. As far as I know, all our schools were founded in the 20th century.

  11. Virginia Combs says:

    City & State
    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. My ancestors were early settlers of an area of Bristol County, Massachusetts, that was originally part of the Town of Dartmouth but is now known as Westport. I had contacted a woman who works for the Dartmouth Preservation Group after she had written a blog that described a book recently written by Kathryn Grover. The book is: The Fugitive’s Gibraltar, Escaping Slaves and Abolitionism in New Bedford, Massachusetts. In turn, I have sent her a link to your article. I still find it difficult to wrap my head around this whole idea of slavery, but it is interesting to see the issue from a different perspective. Thank you for posting this article. There is also an article that I just found online about Paul Cuffee, a man born on Cuttyhunk Island, off the coast of Massachusetts, who was one of 10 children of a freed slave who became the weathiest black man in America. I’m not sure if he was related to Charles Cuffee at all or if the surname is purely coincidental. Here is a link to that article: https://​www​.pbs​.org/​w​n​e​t​/​a​f​r​i​c​a​n​-​a​m​e​r​i​c​a​n​s​-​m​a​n​y​-​r​i​v​e​r​s​-​t​o​-​c​r​o​s​s​/​h​i​s​t​o​r​y​/​w​h​o​-​l​e​d​-​t​h​e​-​1​s​t​-​b​a​c​k​-​t​o​-​a​f​r​i​c​a​-​e​f​f​o​rt/

  12. Robert Sokol says:

    City & State
    I am impressed with the truth, always.

  13. Brian Humphrey says:

    City & State
    Wilton Manors FL
    This essay reminds me of our complicated heritage. -
    African‐Americans were not the only slaves in the New World. -
    For example, in colonial days, Native Americans were sometimes sold into slavery as well. -

    Reference: “Colonial Enslavement of Native Americans Included Those Who surrendered Too” –

  14. Fidelia Onyuku-Opukiri says:

    City & State
    London, United kingdom
    How wonderful, it is to know the truth, especially about the Quakers involvement in slave Trade and how the race supremacy started. It is written, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” Probably free from all the present World Hypocrisies. Thank you for a highly informative essay.

    1. City & State
      Charlotte, NC
      I was riveted to the words of your essay.

  15. Cossy Ksander says:

    City & State
    Oak Park IL
    “New England Bound: Slavery and Colonization in Early America,” Wendy Warren, 2016. Professor Warren’s book taught me that whether or not my colonial ancestors held slaves, they profited from the Atlantic slave trade. Perhaps, they grew crops or fished to feed the slaves of Barbados. (Most food was imported. The sugar crop was much too precious to devote any of the land to food.) Perhaps they built ships to move enslaved people between New England and the islands. Perhaps they lent money to ambitious farmers or sailors to increase their yields.
    Those Philadelphia Quakers in 1688 knew that the mercantile system, based on the unpaid labor of enslaved people, worked quite well for everyone else. They could not honestly afford to tamper with success.
    Reparations are certainly necessary, and they will not negate our historical complicity.

  16. Elizabeth Gold says:

    City & State
    New York, NY
    This is so interesting and important. I just read Mrs Dred Scott and was surprised that Dred Scott’s owners were Unitarian.

  17. City & State
    Minneapolis MN USA
    So grateful for this article, yet I want to lift up the *many* American Quakers of African descent who have been ministering to us white Friends for **years** about racism and white supremacy among us. Why does it take a white person, a scholar, to tell us (white people) the same history—and even more recent racist events— that Friends of color have shared, and yet we give such weight to the words of this white scholar?

    If white readers haven’t already done so, please let’s look at the Oct 2014 issue and the Jan 2019 issue of FJ and (re-)read them, now that we have this author’s research to (re-)frame our understanding. I think there are other fairly recent FJ issues dedicated to race/racism as well.

    We white Friends must come to terms with the whitewashing of our own faith tradition’s history, and our part in maintaining the abolitionist/white savior myth: before Friends were abolitionists, a majority of Friends enslaved other human beings—and resisted freeing them or telling the full truth of our flawed condition at the time and thereafter.

  18. Andrew Weatherly says:

    City & State
    Thank you. I teach in North Carolina, History among several things. I knew that Friends held slaves, but I did not know the depth of it. Thank you for educating us.

  19. John Knox says:

    City & State
    Quakers came on the scene 1647/8 and found the institution of slavery.

    It was completely legal, moral and ethical.

    It had existed for millennia.

    The Trans Saharan Slave Trade was particularly brutish.

    It was out of this that the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade begun.

    In less than two centuries, it was outlawed atleast in Britain and its colonies and no longer thought of as moral or ethical.

    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.

    After 1807, the naval power of Great Britain ended slave trading even though in America with the invention of the Cotton Gin in 1795, the blockade was evaded.

    Wilberforce, an evangelical Christian, became the spokesman for the Clapham Sect (mostly Quaker) in Parliament and is recognized as being responsible for the abolition of the slave trade through Parliament.

    Clarkson and others carried on the fight to end slavery itself.

    Clarkson’s book on Quakers is a good read.

    Slavery still exists today but it is no longer considered moral or ethical and is an offence under the laws of most if not all countries.

    We should deal with what we have the power to deal, We can’t change the past.

    The early Quakers, though persecuted, lived within the system and ultimately overcame the system.

    It is comparable perhaps to the French and other Resistances to Hitler in WWII.

    There can be found some (most perhaps) members of these resistances who operated on both sides with the aim not only to survive, but also ultimately to overcome.

    Schindler perhaps is an example?

  20. John Knox says:

    City & State
    How does one become a Christian?

    Isn’t it a matter of individual and personal choice?

    How and why would a slave become a Christian?

    What did Quakers in the 17th century believe about Baptism?

  21. James Lehman says:

    City & State
    Sandy Spring MD
    The past is oft forgotten, even erased, as it can sometimes be troubling. embarrassing, make one to think (when one would rather not). Learning from the past, learning from our mistakes seems impossible for humanity. Learning from other peoples’ mistakes , not just our own, is especially hard.
    That Quakers, even those of us who find agreement with George Fox’s revelation, should have a hard time overcoming their love of making money is not surprising, and , definitely, slavery was/is about making money. That that other person is a human, equal in God’s sight to ourselves, is therefore a hard thing to accept. That such acceptance did finally come is a wonder, after all. Wilberforce, Lay, Woolman, Cuffee, Dred Scott, Frederick Douglas, all must be remembered and studied. Martin Luther King Jr. said it well, “they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” I had never considered the idea of “Protestant Supremacy”. But you, Ms Gerbner, teased it out of the records. An excellent article, I must try and read the book.

  22. City & State
    Wow! What an important piece of information that has been left out of our Quaker history tellings! This is important not just for Quakers to read, but for everyone, in order to understand more deeply the roots of “whiteness,” and its connection to Protestant Supremacy in the colonies. Thank you!!!

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