QUAKER-ROOTS-L ArchivesArchiver > QUAKER-ROOTS > 1998-09 > 0906735209
From: Candy Roth <>
Subject: Re: Quakers and Slaves
Date: Fri, 25 Sep 1998 10:53:29 -0400
This is from a dissertation presented for a doctorate by E. Leonard Brown at
Michigan State University and, I think, most informative....
..."The Slavery Issue:
During the colonial period in America nearly everyone condoned slavery as an
economic necessity. The only significant group to speak out against the
practice was the Religious Society of Friends. Their unified stand, in
opposition to slavery, created a divisive feature between Southern Friends
and their neighbors. Not only did this lead to social tension, it also
cuased political barriers to be erected. These were an attempt, on the part
of southern states, to block the emancipation of slaves and to avoid the
possibility that 'free' negroes would become numerous. There was a rather
common belief that slaves would be less manageable if large numbers of
former slaves were allowed to reside in the southern states. Both Virginia
and NC had colonial laws which made removal a part of emancipation. These
laws placed a heavy financial burden on Quakers inclined to free their
slaves. VA dropped this requirement in 1782 but NC did not. Friends living
there were forced to make a corporate move regarding slave ownership to
protect the individual members.
In NC negro or mulatto slaves could not be freed unless the owners received
county permission, and if freed they must leave the province. As their
political petitions to the state legislature asking for a legal redress
concerning this issue were not effective, the Yearly Meeting felt forced to
take a unique position. The Institution itself became a slave holder.
This movement began in 1808. The Yearly Meeting of that year appointed a
committee of seven to have under care all suffering cases of people of
color. Thus the corporate body became the slaveholder, a custom repeated
no where else in America. They continued this practice until the Civil War.
In addition to the legal and governmental barriers, the Quakers were under
considerable social pressure to adopt the more common pattern of the larger
society. Some Quakers who owned slaves persisted in this position, usually
urging economic need. Even for a group with their highly developed social
consciousness, the witness agains slavery was hard for some members to
accept. This struggle within the Society lasted over a hundred years. Some
refused all urging and were disowned by their respective meetings.
This internal struggle over the proper attitude toward slavery, combined
with external harassment because of their position on the slavery issue
probably strengthened the group. however, in time it also led to the
migration of many of the members of southern meetings. Slavery thus becamse
a crucible for the Religious Society of Friends."
The main thrust of this dissertation is to show how the issue of slavery was
one of the forces directing some migration patterns by Quakers from the
southern states, but some interesting historical facts are presented re: this
I have more than a couple of my Quaker ancestors who are enumerated with
slaves - also the records of their emancipation....it seems important to
understand that instead of violating a code or law, etc...some practices
were in place prior to the issues creating the guidelines. I've heard it
quoted that 'a man is not known by the problems he has, but rather how he
handles the problems that he has' -- I think it could well be said of
religous and politcal groups as well. That the Quakers labored for the
cause of freedom, suffered for it and were steadfast in doing their best to
promote the cause is well documented. That they were part of society prior,
and leading up to, slavery as an issue in that society is also true. That
there were Quakers who weren't 'perfect' in the following of their doctrine
is certainly also true - as with all the rest of us of any religous or
social group. The labors of the Quaker community to oppose slavery depict
the dedication to doctrine that so impress - even in the face of suffering
for those labors.
The Quakers and the other groups whom we trace today leave us a legacy of
character strengths, as well as human foibles - I consistently wonder if I
would have the courage of my ancestors when faced with their nation-forming
bravery and dedication.