Quaker Roots

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Thesis Draft: Introduction and Chapter One

**This is the first draft of my introduction and first chapter. Chapter One focuses on the historical, political and socio-economic influences of the petition authors. (note: my footnotes did not copy here, so you can ask me if you'd like the references. Also, any comments/suggestions are greatly appreciated.)**

Introduction: The 1688 Petition Against Slavery

On April 18th, 1688, four Quakers in the new settlement of Germantown signed a petition “against the traffick of mens-body.” Despite its rejection by the meetings of Abington and Philadelphia for being “too weighty,” this public protest against slavery was the first of its kind on the American continent and preceded the official Quaker abolition of slavery by 92 years. Over the past three centuries, it has reached iconic status in abolitionist and Quaker narratives. William Hull, a historian at Swarthmore College during the early 20th century, calls it “the memorable flower which blossomed in Pennsylvania from the seed of Quakerism.” Samuel Pennypacker, a 19th century Philadelphia judge and meticulous historian, writes, “a mighty nation will ever recognize it in time to come as one of the brightest pages in the early history of Pennsylvania and the country.” Indeed, since its rediscovery in 1844, the petition has served to strengthen the Quaker abolitionist identity and provide the anti-slavery movement with deep roots in American history.

The petition demonstrates moral and revolutionary conviction that defied the well-established slave trade and called into question economically based social norms. It asks the reader to “doe to all men, licke as we will be done our selves: macking no difference of what generation, descent, or Colour they are.” With language that anticipates the rhetoric of the Declaration of Independence (though not, unfortunately, the Constitution), the petition is both revolutionary and inspiring.

But its story is not so simple. These revolutionary ideas emerged from the minds of real people: people who worried about what to eat, how to earn money, and what to wear. They were people who fought with their neighbors, disagreed with politicians and argued with their children. They were also people who chose to leave behind all they knew for the promise of an imagined place. Departing from their homelands in Germany and Holland, they found themselves in the wilderness of Pennsylvania with little shelter and little warmth. When Francis Daniel Pastorius arrived in Philadelphia in August of 1683, he wrote home that “Alles ist nur Wald”—all is only forest. When the Krefelders landed two months later, 20 of them squeezed into Pastorius’s “cave”—a small cabin built into a mount of earth. From this beginning, they worked to carve new homes for themselves, forging a new existence through hard work, difficult conditions and persistence.

This was life for Gerhard Hendricks, Dirck op den Graeff, Francis Daniel Pastorius and Abraham op den Graeff, the four signers of the anti-slavery petition. And it is this life that needs to be imagined in order to more adequately contextualize their petition. Prompted by religious persecution in Europe and equipped with idealistic conceptions of the rough—but pure—wilderness of Penn’s woods, these settlers arrived in a new world and found themselves under the power of an English-speaking government and often marginalized by the English Quaker population. The political situation in Pennsylvania was less than harmonious. In the 1690s, founder and governor William Penn was displaced by Benjamin Fletcher and the Philadelphia population was divided in its opinion and support. Nor was the relationship between Quakers or Germantowners without schism. The early history of Germantown is wrought with disputes between Quakers and Mennonites in realms of worship and government. The Quakers themselves were divided when George Keith began preaching against “orthodox” Quakerism at the end of the 17th century. The four petition signers split on whether to support “Keithian” or “orthodox” Quakerism, and the controversy led to vicious disagreements within the Germantown and Philadelphia communities.

These socio-economic and political factors must be taken into account within any kind of historical analysis of the anti-slavery petition. It must be remembered that none of the Germantowners owned—or had ever owned—slaves. Neither did their friends: they had neither the means nor the precedent. As skilled weavers and craftsmen, their trades were self-sufficient while the livelihood of many of the richer English Quakers of Philadelphia did depend on slavery. Of the Germantowners, only Pastorius had a more wealthy and educated upbringing and ironically, Ruth (1983) points out that he actually agreed to be the proprietor of slaves for the Frankfurt Company in 1683.

Still, this socio-economic analysis is just one lens through which to understand the petition. The petition is also a text. And as a text, it can be examined as part of a literary genre that was culturally defined for a specific purpose: to declare a position and create social change. There were other “petitions” written at the same time and discussed within the Philadelphia Quaker community. How does the anti-slavery petition compare to these categorically similar texts? What literary and philosophical patterns were common to the genre of “petition,” and how were these put to use by Pastorius, Hendericks and the op den Graeff brothers?

These are the questions I will address in my analysis of the famous 1688 protest. Beginning with a historical, political and socio-economic overview of the years leading up to and following the petition (Chapter One), I will continue with specific histories of each signer (Chapter Two). Chapter Three will examine the specific text, analyzing both its philosophical content and its literary structure as a “petition” in comparison to other petitions published at the same time in the Philadelphia Quaker community. Chapter Four will consider the reasons for the petition’s rejection by the larger Quaker community while the final chapter will analyze the place of the petition today. The petition, I argue, continues to mold and define the modern Quaker identity. Its role has shifted from community disrupter to community cohesive over the past three centuries as the cultural landscapes shifted, but its social currency remains alive and important.

Chapter 1: Germantown, 1683-1688

In 1688, no more than 44 families lived in Germantown, a small village near Philadelphia. The majority of them were skilled craftsmen, and several were linen-weavers. Where did they come from? Why did they leave their homeland? And what prompted four of them to write a petition against slavery? An investigation into the Germantowner’s lives in Europe, their struggles through the turmoil of the post-30-year-war era, their motivations for starting a new life and their experiences in their new world illuminate the context within which their initially rejected—but eventually cherished—protest against the “traffick of mens-body” was written.

The Old World: Krefeld and Krisheim

With a few exceptions, the earliest Germantowners hailed from small towns in present day West Germany: Krefeld and Krisheim. Over the past two centuries, scholars have disagreed over the ethnic, national and religious identities of these original settlers. While Pennypacker (1899), Eschelman (1917) and Learned (1908) cite the Germantowners as German Mennonites, Ruth (1983) calls them ex-Mennonite German Quakers while Hull (1932) argues that the Germantowners were Dutch Quakers. What must be taken into account is that ethnic, national and religious boundaries were not defined as they are today. It is clear, however, that the Krefelders spoke Dutch and the Krisheimers spoke a Dutchified German and that Pastorius, a German, referred to them as “Hollanders,” although Ruth (1983) points out that some Krefeld families had German-speaking ancestors.

The political history of the Krefelders and the Krisheimers was tumultuous and complex, but Ruth (1983) gives a good overview of the situation in the Lower Rhine/Palatine region during the 17th century:

"…this small (some seven acres) walled and militarily neutral town had proven by 1640 to be unusually tolerant of religiously nonconformist families in this so-called “lower Rhine” region, “in the borders of Germany and Holland.” The predominantly Catholic rulers of this area participated zealously in the Counter-reformation after the end of the Thirty Years’ War (1648), with the result that expelled Mennonites fled both up the Rhine to the Palatinate and to Krefeld, a Protestant-controlled island of toleration under the ruling House of Orange. This rapid Mennonite influx doubled the number of families in the town and raised apprehensions especially among Reformed neighbors, whose fellowship, as in the neighboring town of Kaldenkirchen, had had its own lengthy persecutions from the Catholic regime. But the new Mennonite inhabitants brought with them an entrepreneurial diligence…that was to lead toward the establishment of Krefeld as a major European nexus of the textile industry…The newer Mennonite population which had flooded in from neighboring Höfe and towns after the Catholic persecutions (ca. 1630-50) also brought doctrinally less precise attitude…The modified atmosphere that resulted among the Krefeld Mennonite community of textile workers and handlers also proved more than usually receptive to the preaching of…the Society of Friends…"

As Ruth explains, Mennonites in the 17th century were forced to flee from their homes in response to various political situations. The experiences of Wilhelm Lucken, father of Germantowner Jan Lucken, demonstrate the individualized effects of these social trends. Wilhelm Lucken was born and married in 1620 in Dahlen, but was expelled, along with other Mennonites, in 1652. He moved to Wickrath, where he lived until 1678 when the ruler was “urged” by the Archbishop of Cologne to make the Mennonites leave his domain. Wilhelm fled to Rheydt and soon after, his son Jan converted to Quakerism and departed for Pennsylvania, where he hoped to gain religious freedom. Wilhelm himself was forced to move again in 1694, when the Mennonites were again expelled—this time by the Duke of Julich.

During this time of political upheaval, Quaker missionaries arrived in Holland and Germany. Quaker William Ames came to Krefeld as early as 1657, where Quakerism took root in the Mennonite communities. By 1979 a Quaker congregation was founded in Krefeld. Two years later, the Quaker community in Krefeld was consciously modeling its customs according to Quaker precedent. One surviving document from the period is the marriage certificate of Derick Isacks op den Graeff and Nöleken Vijten. Issued by the Krefeld Monthly Meeting, the marriage was conducted as a Quaker ceremony and followed the guidelines presented at the London Yearly Meeting of 1675. The marriage certificate is signed by (among others) Derick Isacks op den Graeff, Herman Isacks op den Graeff, Abraham Isacks op den Graeff and Tünes Kunders. Derick and Abraham were, of course, co-authors of the anti-slavery petition that was signed in the house of Tünes Kunders. Nearly all the other certificate signers would also immigrate to Germantown. This document gives a clearer picture of who these Krefelders were: a tight knit Dutch-speaking Quaker community in the Rhineland who followed the developing rules and rites of the larger Quaker population.

William Penn’s Promise

A year after a congregation was founded in Krefeld, six Quakers, including Herman Isaacs op den Graeff, were driven into exile. William Penn, another English Quaker missionary, heard of these abuses and wrote a letter to William of Orange about the treatment of Quakers. The next year, Penn was the recipient a large amount of land in 1681 in the American forest in repayment of a debt owed to his father by Charles II. Soon after, he wrote his “Account,” inviting Quaker and Mennonite communities in Holland and the Rhine to his land in the New World—Pennsylvania.

Penn offered 5,000 acres of land for 100 pounds and guaranteed freedom of worship to all: “all Persons living in this Province who confess and acknowledge the One Almighty and Eternal God to be the Creator Upholder and Ruler of the World, and that hold themselves obliged in Conscience to live peaceably and quietly in Civil Society, shall in no ways be molested or prejudiced for their Religious Persuasion or Practice in matters of Faith and Worship, nor shall they be compelled at any time to frequent or maintain any Religious Worship, Place or Ministry whatever.”

Within a year, in March of 1983, three Krefelders purchased a total of 15,000 acres of land from Benjamin Furly, Penn’s agent in Amsterdam. This purchase established "an economic framework for the famous contingent of mostly Quaker emigrants from Krefeld to Pennsylvania." In addition to these larger purchases, Govert Ramke (Mennonite, never emigrated) purchased 1000 acres, Lenart Arets and Jacob Isaac van Bebber purchased 1000 acres each and the op den Graeff brothers bought 2000 of Telner's 5000 in June 1683.

This offer was appealing not only to the Mennonite-Quakers of Krefeld and Krisheim, but also to a group of Frankfurt Pietists. The Frankfurters, later known as the “Frankfurt Company,” hired a young lawyer named Francis Daniel Pastorius to organize their purchase of Penn’s land and their emigration to Philadelphia. Pastorius bought 15,000 acres of land for the Frankfurt Company before sailing to Philadelphia in summer 1683. Pastorius’s account of the proceedings demonstrate his great desire to leave the turmoil of Europe for what he saw was a pure and holy new world. “This begot such a desire,” he writes, “to continue in their Society and with them to lead a quiet, godly & honest life in a howling wilderness.” At another point he wrote that he left with “the confident expectation that by fleeing hither from Europe…we might escape the disturbances and oppressions of that time, and, likewise, transport other honest and industrious peoples in order that we might lead a quiet, peaceful, Godly life…”

“Alles ist nur Wald”: Arrival in Pennsylvania

With this motivation, Pastorius sailed for Pennsylvania and arrived on August 20, 1683 with four man servants, two maids and two children. Upon arrival, he described Philadelphia: “the Metropolis (which Brother-Love they call,) Three houses, & no more, could number up in all.” There he met William Penn and drew up designs for the makeup of a new town which he named “Germantown” or “Germanopolis.” When the Krefelders arrived on October 6, 1683, they choose a location for their new town and began to build a settlement. On October 12, William Penn issued a warrant for the Krefelders and Frankfurt Company for 6,000 acres on the East Side of the Schuylkill River. This land was divided equally among the two parties, but to Pastorius’s dismay and dissapointment, his Frankfurt Company never arrived.

During these first weeks, Pastorius and the Krefelders saw many new faces. Herman op den Graeff wrote in a letter home that he encountered “blacks, or Moors” as well as Swedish farmers and Indians. In March of the next year, Herman reported that things were going well and that the Indians had been friendly.

Life in “Germanopolis”

n 1683-4, the Krefelders began to build their town. During this time, Pastorius stayed in his “cave” in Philadelphia before moving to Germantown in 1685. Germantown at once proved to be industrious and successful, as the Krefelders continued their work as skilled craftsmen. On February 12, 1984, Herman op den Graeff wrote home, “Most of us already have our own habitations; and every day more good houses are being built.” Pastorius recorded that Germantown had twelve houses and forty-two people in 1684 and that the cellars of sixty-four houses were being laid in 1687.

Pastorius also wrote about the professions of the Germantowners in a letter: “The inhabitants of this town are for most part handworkers (craftsmen) Cloth, Fustian and linen weavers, tailors, shoemakers, locksmiths, carpenters, who however, all are acquainted with agriculture and cattle breeding.” This description of Germantown is repeated by Richard Frame, in his poem entitled “A Short Description of Pennsylvania,” published by Wm. Bradford in 1692: “The German Town of which I spoke before, / Which is, at least, in length one mile and more, / Where lives High German People, and Low Dutch, / Whose Trade in weaving Linnin Cloth is much, / There grows the Flax, as also you may know, / That from the same they do divide the Tow.”

Indeed, Germantown was very much industrial rather than agricultural. As Stephanie Grauman Wolf argues in Urban Village, this gave the sparse town an unusually cosmopolitan aspect: “To the European eyes of the 18th c. Pennsylvanians, Germantown was a village, despite Pastorius’s vision of a city in the wilderness and his attempt to popularize the name “Germanopolis” for the community…much of its sociology was, indeed, distinctly urban, and its inhabitants unconsciously underscored this character when they erected and maintained for generations a market building that was not really needed or used (Tinkcom, M: “Germantown’s Market Square”). Although never successful and frequently abandoned, the Germantown market stood asan ancient urban symbol of a community’s ability to accumulate a surplus.”

Germantown was an unusal combination of idealism, skilled craftsmanship, a rural environment and strong religious conviction. This did not, however, always make for peaceful, cooperative living. When Pastorius wrote back to the Frankfurt company, he requested that the Company send German families to Pennsylvania rather than “Hollanders” for “as sad experience hath taught me” the latter were not “so amiable, which in this country is a highly necessary quality.” He requested people with skills in farming, carpentry and tanning with a disposition to work.

Religious Practice in Germantown

Until a church was built in 1686, worship meetings took place in the house of Thones Kunders. Before then, Mennonites and Quakers occasionally worshipped together and some Mennonites signed Quaker marriage certificates. Initially, Jan Lensen and his wife Mercken were the only Mennonites in Germantown, and it was not until more Mennonites arrived that a separate congregation could be formed. In 1686, after the arrival of Jacob Isaac van Bebber, Mennonites gathered in the van Bebber house where Dirck Keyser would read to them.
This situation was described in a letter written in 1690 about Germantown, "I came to a German village near Philadelphia, where among others, I heard Jacob Telner, a German Quaker, preaching. The village consists of 44 families, 28 of whom are Quakers, the other 16 of the Reformed Church, among whom I spoke to those who had been received as member of the Lutherans, Mennonites and Baptists, who are very much opposed to Quakerism, and therefore lovingly meet every Sunday when a Menist, Dirck Keyser from Amsterdam, reads a sermon from a book by Jobst Harmensen.” As this note says, the relations between Quakers and Mennonites in Germantown was not always cordial. The Mennonites increasingly separated themselves from the Quaker congregation, and appointed their own minister and deacon in 1690.

Politics: Philadelphia, Germantown, Quaker

Religious life could not be separated from politics in 17th century Pennsylvania. While Penn’s “Holy Experiment” may have given individuals religious freedom, this freedom did bring about tranquility or peace. On the contrary, as we have seen, the diverse religious and cultural backgrounds in Philadelphia “proved quarrelsome and disorderly.” In 1691, Pastorius wrote in a letter back to Germany, “I sincerely wish that the dissension and strife which, alas! are all too rife, may be entirely erased from the hearts and minds of the people of Germantown…”

Indeed, it was not only the Quakers and Mennonites in Germantown who quarreled, but also English and Germans in Philadelphia. In Historic Germantown, H and M. Tinkcom argue, “the famous Protest against slavery issued from Germantown in 1688 is another case pointing up the different outlook upon a common problem held by the Dutch-German and the English settlers. In fact, throughout the eighteenth century, one important phase of the Germantown story is the history of the “Americanization” of an alien group.”

The cultural differences between the English and Quakers certainly played an important role in Germantown politics and the protest against slavery can be understood as an attack against the English and their customs. While slave holding was well-established among the English immigrants, including Quakers, it was unusual for Germans. This difference in national slave-holding patterns is illustrated in the first American census of 1790. Hildegard Binder Johnson reports, “the practice differed not only according to geographical circumstances but also according to different nationalities…It is significant that the smallest proportion is shown by the Germans who even at the early period were obviously opposed to slave ownership. Had the proportion of slaves for the entire white population of the United States in 1790 been the same as it was for the German element the aggregate number of slaves at the First Census would have been but 52, 520 instead of 700,000.” As this later census shows, slave holding was clearly a nationally-influenced phenomenon. But it was also undoubtedly a class phenomenon, and the Quakers of Germantown were not as wealthy as their English neighbors. Thus the petition can also be seen as an assertion of power in the realm of class relations. By declaring their moral superiority, the Quakers of Germantown were also declaring a kind of subversive power over the otherwise more important and wealthy English Quakers.

Overall, it is clear that the political, religious, socio-economic and historical factors contributing to the petition were both important and complex. The authors built upon their experiences as persecuted peoples in Europe and their theological belief that all men are of God while also making the most of their social situation in Philadelphia with wealthier and more powerful English rulers.


Post a Comment

<< Home