Quaker Roots

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Who were the authors of the 1688 Anti-slavery Petition?

Were they Quakers? Mennonites? What was the relationship between Quakers and Mennonites in early Germantown?

One text I've just read by H. Frank Eschelman, "Swiss and German Settlers of Penna.," (pub. 1917) makes me wonder. He writes, "Kaufmann tells us in his book and page 127 that in 1688 the Mennonites of Germantown sent their protest against slavery to the Friends quarterly meeting. This was the first known public protest in America against human slavery. It is not improper to notice that in 1712 the Assembly of PA moved by a big petition passed an Act against slavery. How different might have been the history of America if these early protests of the Mennonite Brethren and the pious pioneers of Pennsylvania had been heeded."

This passage questions some essential assumptions that I, (and as far as I know, most Quakers) have made about the 1688 Petition: that the authors were "convinced Friends," working within the context of a Quaker meeting. Eschelman frames the history in a different context: the German Mennonites were a distinct non-Quaker entity, and the 1688 petition derived from Mennonite, and not Quaker, minds.

Yet there are other important questions one must ask about this passage: 1. Who is Kaufmann? (and where does Eschelman get his infomation?) and 2. Who is Eschelman? What is his background? He is obviously partial to the Mennonites, and counts them as his "brethren," implying that he, too, is a Mennonite and that this book may be intended to illustrate the glorious past of his "people." A passage from the Introduction reinforces this supposition: "It may be very truthfully said that the pioneer Swiss and Germans...have done as much for America and have lived as nobly, and have upheld the pure religion and gospel, of our nation as faithfully as the "witch-burning" Puritans ever did...They were looked upon with jealousy by other people settled among them..." A rather shocking statement! (At least to me...)

So obviously, Eschelman's intentions must be noted and taken into account, but his information should not be discarded-- just balanced with other sources. He also writes some interesting information about the relationship between the Mennonites and Quakers in Germantown.

Take into consideration this next part:

"1693: The Germans Adhere to Fletcher; and do not side with the Quakers. Because the Quakers would not heed the demands from Great Britain to organize a military in 1692, William Penn's Government was taken out of his hands and Benjamin Fletcher of New York was made military Governor of PA. While the Germans were against anything warlike as well as the Quakers, they were glad of an opportunity to take sides against the Quakers when they had a chance, because the Quakers put them to much inconvenience and expense on account of being foreigners...Francis Daniel Pastorius, the leader of the German colony, accepted the office of Justice of the Peace and showed his willingness to break away from the Quakers and help Fletcher. These and other events show that the Germans took the opportunity of Fletcher's presence to show their dissatisfaction with the Quakers."

Again, Eschelman emphasizes the difference between Mennonites and Quakers, and illustrates their relationship as ideologically similar, but practically antagonistic. Yet what do other sources say? How is the Quaker-Mennonite relationship described and identified by other historians?

One text that provided a less opinionated account of this period was "The Life of Francis Daniel Pastorius" by Marion Dexter Learned. Written in 1908, it is based on primary sources--texts written by Pastorius or legal texts from Pennsylvania and Germany. It documents Pastorius's before and after he founded the colony of Germantown. It also shows the progressively intertwined relationship between Quakers and Mennonites.

Learned writes that William Penn made trips to Holland and Germany in 1671 and 1677, and that Quaker missionaries such as William Ames, William Caton, Stephen Crisp and others were "quietly winning new believers in Holland and Germany by making more or less systematic propaganda among the Mennonite communities" (104). In 1981, Penn made an offer to all Quaker and Mennonite communities of Holland and the Rhine to move to his newly acquired territory in Pennsylvania. On April 2, 1683, Pastorius was officially given "the care and Administration of all their Estate, lands and Rights which they lawfully obtained there of William Penn." In May/June 1683, Pastorius bought 15,000 acres of land for the Frankfurt company (110) and sailed for Pennsylvania on June 6, 1683, ahead of most German immigrants.

This early beginning shows the Mennonites as being connected to, but separate from, the Quakers. But what happened in the new colony of Germantown? Who lived there? Only Germans, or English as well? Certainly not very many people--they would have all known each other very well, and been familiar with each other's beliefs and backgrounds. My next posting will go more in depth about the makeup of Germantown in 1683-1688 based on Learned's text, keeping in mind the questions that began this posting: what did it mean to be a Quaker or a Mennonite at this time, and what was the relationship between the two groups?


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