Quakers became concerned about slavery very early on. The notion of ‘that of God in everyone’ leads naturally towards egalitarian thinking and the testimony to equality. That one human being should own another is completely incompatible with this.
A fundamental belief in the equality of all people has led Quakers to campaign actively against racism in many parts of the world.
Anti-Slavery in Britain
Quakers were prominent in the abolition of the slave trade and in the abolition of slavery throughout the British Empire. They remain active as individuals in efforts to alleviate modern forms of slavery.
Anti-Slavery in North America
Quakers in Philadelphia stated that slavery was immoral in 1688. Slavery was finally abolished in the United States, in 1865. In that time Quakers gradually rooted out slavery within the Quaker community, and campaigned for its general abolition. Many broke the law by assisting runaway slaves. American Quakers, with many others, work against modern forms of slavery.
Anti-Slavery in the modern world
When historic slavery was officially abolished in the nineteenth century, Quakers’ initial focus was on supporting newly freed slaves and also ensuring that abolition really happened. Later, in the 20th century, Quakers were part of a growing awareness of continuing forms of slavery. With others, they began to campaign against these.
Anti-Slavery: Addressing Slavery Practised by Quakers Themselves
In the early days of Quakerism, there were Quaker slave owners and Quaker slave traders. As the unacceptability of slavery became clearer, the first step for Quakers was to root it out within their own communities.
Anti-Slavery: Pioneering Aspects of Modern Campaign Methodology
The historic anti-slavery campaigners pioneered some of the key features of modern campaigning methodology - campaign logos, produce boycotts, direct action/civil disobedience, and much else.
Anti-Slavery: Quaker Administrative Structure, Network and Resources
Quakers in Britain quickly developed a strong network that linked meetings together. This network was a great source of strength in anti-slavery campaigning.
Anti-Slavery: Raising the Issue and Giving it a Moral Voice
Many Quakers wrote well-informed and moving books and articles about the evils of slavery, and its immorality, and many others spoke movingly about it.
Anti-Slavery: Some Quaker Leaders
This list of Quaker men and women illustrates the variety of Quaker contributions to the abolition of slavery - organisational, financial, academic and activist. Whatever their input, all of them shared a deep concern to right the terrible injustices of slavery. The work still continues, as slavery persists in modern forms.
Anne Knight (1786 - 1862) was an abolitionist and a feminist. She was impatient with the slow progress being made with abolishing slavery, and was vehemently against any compensation for slave owners. She campaigned for universal suffrage in Britain, so that women could vote.
Anthony Benezet (1713 – 1784) was an educational reformer and influential abolitionist who did much for the beginning of free education for African Americans.
Benjamin Lay (1681-1759) was an important campaigner for abolition amongst the Quaker community in 18th century Philadelphia. His methods were often dramatic 'action statements' such as standing barefoot in the snow to illustrate the conditions under which slaves lived.
Boycotting Goods Produced by Slaves
Quakers were at the forefront of the movement to boycott goods produced by slave labour. In England they were very active in the boycott of sugar from the West Indies. The "Free Produce Movement" was promininent in America. It was hoped that these actions would make people realise that slavery should be abolished.
Britain, Ireland and America in the Seventeenth Century, and the Beginnings of Quakerism
The seventeenth century was a turbulent time in Britain and Ireland, with civil war and great political, religious, and social change. It was also the century when British colonisation of North America and the Caribbean took off, and the transatlantic slave trade with it. This was the context in which Quakerism began.
David (1729 - 1809) and his brother John Barclay opposed slavery. David belonged to the Meeting for Sufferings Committee on the Slave Trade which met from 1783 to 1792. They received land in Jamaica in payment of a debt. There were 32 slaves who lived on the land that were included in the payment. They set about freeing them.
Elizabeth Fry was a Quaker philanthopist and prison reformer. She was particularly interested in women in prison and worked to improve conditions for women and children in Newgate Prison, London.
Elizabeth Heyrick was influential both in Britain and in the United States in the campaign for the Abolition of Slavery. She was also a feminist and philanthopist.
Friends Industrial Mission, Pemba, Zanzibar
In 1890 Britain took over the protectorate of Zanzibar, where slavery was widespread. In 1897 British Quakers established an industrial mission on Pemba Island, which lasted in various forms until 1963. They met with many difficulties, but are credited with liberating about 1000 slaves, and for providing education and employment for many.
John Woolman is thought by many to be the central figure of 18th Century Quaker faith and social reform. He was an abolitionist, reformer, writer and minister and was very influential in the abolitionist movement in America.
Joseph Sturge was a British activist and philanthropist in Birmingham. He worked for peace, abolition of slavery, education and temperance. He helped revive the Adult School Movement.
Levi Coffin (October 28, 1798 – September 16, 1877) was an American Quaker, abolitionist, and businessman. Coffin was deeply involved in the Underground Railroad in Indiana and Ohio and his home is often called "Grand Central Station of the Underground Railroad". He was nicknamed "President of the Underground Railroad" because of the thousands of slaves that are reported to have passed through his care while escaping their masters.
Lucretia Mott campaigned vigorously against slavery. She founded the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society, and spoke publicly on many occasions, despite much opposition. She and her husband sheltered many runaway slaves in their home, and boycotted items produced by slave labour. She was also a strong proponent of women's rights, and co-organised the first women's rights convention in the US, in 1848.
Mission in colonial Maryland, Virginia, the Carolinas and Georgia
(1656-1783) The first Quaker missionaries came to Maryland and Virginia in 1656-7 and were followed by many others. In 1672 mission work began in Carolina. Maryland and Carolina were tolerant, open colonies, where Quakers could minister freely. Virginia was more restrictive. Quakerism took root in parts of Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina.
Quakers in Germany 1657 – 1918
Quaker missionaries first came to Germany in 1657. Many German Quakers emigrated to Pennsylvania, over the next two centuries, and some were key players in the early antislavery campaign. In Germany itself several meetings grew up, the most significant of which was at Bad Pyrmont in Saxony. They suffered greatly during the nineteenth century wars with France, but there were still small groups of Quakers in Germany at the end of World War 1.
Quakers in Jamaica and Barbados
The first phase (1655 – 1750) was bound up with Britain, colonial America, early Quaker mission work, and the slave trade. By 1750, there were few Caribbean Quakers left, and Quaker involvement was mainly associated with anti-slavery campaigns. The second phase (1881 -) originated with mission work on the part of US Friends.
The Quaker Five in the 1787 national Abolition Committee
Five Quaker businessmen were prominent in the 12-member 1787 Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade. Four were British - Joseph Woods, James Phillips, George Harrison, and Samuel Hoare. The fifth was William Dillwyn from Pennsylvania.
Thomas Clarkson, although not a Quaker, was greatly influenced by them in his work for the abolition of the slave trade. He was a member of the Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade
Thomas Garrett (1789-1871) was an abolitionist who helped 2,700 runaway slaves to reach to freedom. He worked on the underground railroad for forty years and was known at the "station master" at Wilmington, Delaware.
(c1670-1742) Thomas Story was an early Quaker missionary. He travelled in Britain, Ireland, the Netherlands, Germany and colonial North America, and worked for William Penn in Pennsylvania for several years. He had an abiding love of trees and brought many specimens back from his travels.
The Underground Railroad is a term used from about the 1840s to describe an informal network of secret routes and safe houses used by fugitive slaves in the United States of America on their journey north to “Free States” or Canada. It spanned twenty-nine states, as well as Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean. Quakers played an active part in it, along with many others.
(1770 – 1843) was an eminent scientist, and pharmacist, and built his Allen and Hanbury business into a large concern. He was a generous philanthropist and activist, supporting many causes such as anti-slavery, poverty, emergency relief, and education. He travelled extensively throughout Europe and Russia, in connection with these.