"ye Quackers doe here handel men": Confronting Slavery within the Society of Friends, 1676-1776
The Society of Friends is rightly known for being the first corporate body in North America to fully condemn slavery, for its long and tireless efforts to abolish the African slave trade, and for its involvement in promoting the economic, educational and political well-being of the formerly enslaved. What is less well known is that many Quakers themselves owned slaves and the eventual unified stance against the practice was not easily achieved and came at a severe price. Early anti-slavery proponents found their objections ignored, or worse—cause for disownment from the Society. And once deemed worthy of emancipation, African Americans would not soon be welcomed into the religious community either. Before taking on a public role in the battle to end slavery, before establishing abolition societies and risking lives to move slaves through the underground railroad, Quakers were involved in an internal conflict over the immorality of slavery that put their own actions squarely at the center of the debate.