Quaker Roots

Friday, October 07, 2005

An Introduction: This blog is the online companion to my senior thesis on the 17th century Quaker Anti-slavery movement in Germantown, Pennsylvania.

A quick background on me: I am a senior at Columbia University in New York, originally from Philadelphia. I am currently completing a double major in Religion and Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures, but for my thesis I've decided to do research on a topic a bit more close to home--literally. From 2nd-12th grade I attended Germantown Friends School, a Quaker school founded in 1845. The school was established by the Germantown Monthly Meeting, which has a much longer history. Quakers arrived in Germantown in 1683 and the Germantown Meeting (at that time a subset of the larger Abington Monthly Meeting) was founded the same year.

Just five years later, in 1688, four Germantown Friends--Garret Hendericks, Derick up de Graeff, Francis Daniell Pastorius and Abraham up den Graef--wrote a protest against slavery, which was delivered at the Abington Montly Meeting later that year. The motion, which was deemed "too weighty" for the Monthly Meeting, was deferred to the consideration of the Quarterly Meeting at Philadelphia, where it was again deferred for the same reasons, this time to the Yearly Meeting. At the Yearly Meeting, the petition was "adjudjed not to be so proper for this Meeting to give a Positive Judgment in the Case, It having so General a Relation to many other Parts, and therefore at present they forbear it."

My thesis research will focus on the creation of--and reactions to--this document, which played an important and fascinating role in the history of the Quaker tradition and the American anti-Slavery movement. It is a highly-cited document, but scholarly research on its creation, authors and direct consequences have been minimal. So I hope my research may add to the current understanding of the roots of the Anti-Slavery movement in America, and its relationship to the Quaker community, which later became synonymous with anti-slavery sentiments. I will ask, among others, the following questions:

-Who are the authors of the 1688 Anti-Slavery protest, and where did they come from? What is their connection to the Quaker tradition? Are they Quaker converts? Were they accepted by the wider Philadelphia Quaker community? When did they immigrate to Pennsylvania and why? What else have they written? (Note: It is my understanding that the authors are all German or Dutch immigrants, who were closely connected to the Mennonite church. I am thus interested in exploring the German/Dutch-American connection, and perhaps translating relevant German documents; also, I presume there were probably questions about the authors' place in the Quaker community, both in terms of their ancestry and previous religious affiliations. How accepted were they? Was the "Quakerness" questioned? How was "Quakerness" or, in a more general sense "Americanness" (if there was such an emergent identity) posited in this place populated virtually only by immigrants?)

-What rationale do the authors use to defend their anti-slavery position? What type of language to they use? Do they appeal to Christian ideals? How do they frame their position?

-What were the reactions from the Quaker community to this document? What reverberations did the discussion of slavery have within the Quaker community, and how did the anti-slavery movement eventually become an ideal synonymous with the Quaker tradition? (Note: In order to answer this question I will be examining the minutes from the Abington and Philadephia meetings, where this issue was discussed.)

-How has this document been used throughout history to provide a narrative for the American anti-slavery movement and the Quaker tradition at-large? It is often hailed as evidence of the first anti-slavery sentiment in America. As such, it can be utilized as a celebratory point upon which to build a larger, comprehensive history. Over the years, have certain aspects of the petition been emphasized or supressed? What can these evolving histories tell us about how the same text can be used selectively through time? (Note: The original document opposes "Christians" and "Turks." Turks are posited as the accepted exampe of immoral action, but the authors then argue that Christians have actually done worse than the Turks, in bringing "negers...against their will and consent..." This is a time-specific construction, and I wonder how later readers reacted to, or ignored, this aspect of the document (or whether they read the document at all; had it just become a point of reference?). I am also interested in how Quaker history was constructed. As I wrote before, this anti-slavery petition was initially rejected by the Yearly Meeting, but the Quakers later became associated with the anti-slavery movement. Do Quaker historians ignore the initial rejection of anti-slavery action in favor of a less complex narrative? How do later Quakers tell the story of their tradition's anti-slavery past?)

Overall, I hope this blog will serve two function:
-first, to help me organize my thoughts, compile my resources, and construct a comprehensive and useful thesis.
-second, to provide a resource for other people interested in Quakerism in America or Anti-slavery history (or people who are just curious). I will post links to relevant websites and documents, so browsers can follow my narrative and create their own.

Additionally, I welcome any comments or suggestions from anyone, particularly if you know of resources that I have yet to discover!


  • The writers of the protest came to Pennsylvania and then Germantown in 1683, not the"mid-17th century".
    They were led by (Francis) Daniel Pastorius and were all "convinced" Quakers from the village of Creshiem. I have some articles which give a good general history of the founding of Germantown and will help wth some of the questions you are asking.

    your old Lax coach- Bob

    By Blogger Bob Miller, at 4:43 PM  

  • Hey KT-

    what a great thesis topic! I'm so excited to read it



    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:59 AM  

  • katie,

    good start. some Q I'd like to know answers to are

    1] Did these original settlers come from a place in Germany at a time when their neighbors might have owned slaves? Or was slavery a novelty to them upon arrival?

    2] what were the justifications for slavery in the place they left? In the place they came to?
    special creation?
    colonial right?
    great chain of being?
    right to one's "property?"

    3] in Germantown today,what would you say are the political/religious issues that generate a sense of injustice that cuts across the presumptions of your neighbors, the way this manifesto against slavery must have cut across the English and Dutch neighbors of these Quakers?

    4] Are there similar documents emerging from the time, but from English Quakers?

    5] Did William James, a great admirer of Fox, know of this manifesto, and did he use the resistance to slavery as an example of a "religious experience?"

    6] What were the nature of the relationships these Quakers had with the citizens of the local native American tribes? Were they consistent with their position on slavery?

    By Blogger bob Pollack, at 5:46 PM  

  • Dear Katie--

    I know of two books which you might find especially useful. One is Jean Soderlund, Quakers and Slavery, and the other is by Gary Nash and Jean Soderlund, Freedom by Degrees. (Indeed, anything by either of thse two authors is good.)

    As you surely know, Pennsylvania Quakers in 1776 were the first religious organization in world history to condemn slavery and to proclaim holding slaves inconsistent with membership. Soderlund points out that that there was already substantial anti-slavery sentiment in the Society of Friends in the early 18th century. If Friends had voted they could have condemned slavery earlier. But they do not vote. And to vote would have produced a schism. By laboring with recalcitrant slaveholding Friends consensus was produced. But the slaves had to wait fifty years. The inner light extracted a price.

    And schism is exactly what occurred in other denominations. The second largest religious organization is the US is the Southern Baptist Church. Southern because sourthern Baptists wouldn't relinquish their slaves. You might want to look into some Baptist history here. You could use the Baptists as a "control" (in the sense that scientists use a control in their experiments). Was the Quaker experience with slavery typical or atypical. (Cheryl Wade, an official of the Northern Baptist Church, could help you here.)

    And by the way, William James thought that George Fox was nuts. He didn't exactly put it that way, but that is the gists of his remarks.

    Feel free to ask me questions. Your thesis sounds great.

    Michael Mini
    (Florence's husband)

    By Anonymous mmini@mc3.edu, at 1:23 PM  

  • Hi Katie,

    Your mom told me about your blog and I was so excited. Would you mind if I posted a link somewhere on the GFS website? Right down some of the seventh grade students are doing research on Germantown so I might show them this too. Great blog!


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:15 AM  

  • rhonda-- of course! i'd be honored.

    By Blogger kt, at 5:14 PM  

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