Quakers in the World

Quakers in the World

Quaker organisation and Anti-Slavery campaigning

 Nowadays the determination and leadership of Thomas Clarkson (a deeply sympathetic non-Quaker) is credited with the success of the 1787-1807 campaign, of which he was its Secretary. He and the chair of the campaign, Granville Sharp, were both members of the Church of England, and were well-connected with the political establishment. Most significantly, they were able to enlist the support of MP William Wilberforce, who became the crucial public face of the campaign. Quakers were not well-placed to do this, as they were not allowed to be Members of Parliament. They could be more effective by playing a key part in the work behind the scenes.

However it is clear that Thomas Clarkson considered Quaker support and organisation to be of vital importance. In his diary he attributes the pre-existence of a completely dependable network of Quaker meetings throughout Britain as a key reason for his decision to commit himself to such an unprecedented and awesome task.

In the 1780s there were 50,000 Members with a network of 150 Correspondents. When the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade was set up in 1787, nine of the twelve members of its national committee were Quakers, including printer James Phillips, bankers Joseph Woods and Samuel Hoare, and businessman George Harrison. They were all relatively wealthy and had access to the burgeoning Quaker business community. They met in James Phillips printing shop from where the key literature was produced prolifically and as a priority. They printed and (in London) hand-delivered what may have been history’s first direct mail fundraising letters. Two thousand people contributed from 39 counties in most of which the contact person(s) were Quakers. The Abolitionist movement did not lack money.

Quaker organisation also played a key part in the collection of petition signatures, the distribution of literature, the organisation of public meetings and the provision of premises. The signing of petitions was organised with considerable efficiency, and the results were frequently raced down to London to support political actions in Parliament. Thus Quakers gave generously of their organisational and financial resources.

Apart from wealth and conscience, the network had two additional advantages: gender equality within Quakerism, and the international link between the prominent Quaker communities in the New World and Britain, both of which are evident in the consumer boycotts which developed.

British Quaker women (the 'Saccharists') promoted a  consumer boycott of West Indian sugar. Three to four hundred thousand people were involved, and this had a considerable effect on  demand. In a similar way, North American Friends, led by their women, supported  broader Free Produce” committees, whose purpose was to boycott all goods produced by slave labour. When the abolitionist movement faltered in the mid 1790s and the late 1820s, the women’s Anti-Slavery Societies were credited with keeping the movement alive. Some women, such as Elizabeth Heyrick and Anne Knight, were also more radical and impatient than many men, calling for complete abolition immediately, and for compensation for the slaves. Elizabeth Heyrick was said to have inspired the setting up of 70 women’s anti-slavery societies. In North America, Lucretia Mott founded a similar society, and was a prominent campaigner.

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