Quakers in the World

Quakers in the World

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.

Benjamin Lay (1677-1759) and John Woolman (1720-1772) campaigned primarily for abolition amongst the Quaker community. Woolman was deeply principled and operated with love and concern for all parties as his means of coercion. Lay was an eccentric, “a hermit prone to action-statements against slavery”. Neither was a comfortable guest to Friends who were in any complicit in slavery.

Anthony Benezet (1713-1784), authored books on conditions in Africa. Granville Sharp used his volume published in 1762, and Thomas Clarkson credited his book on Guinea (1771) as drawing him to the anti-slavery cause, as it had also helped John Wesley.

William Savery (1750-1804), was a passionate Philadelphian Abolitionist who petitioned  Congress to abolish slavery as early as 1783.

The Quaker Five were  key members of the 1787-1807 British national campaign committee - James Phillips (1745-1799), Joseph Woods (1738-1812), George Harrison (1747-1827), William Dillwyn (1743-1824) (who was born in the USA) and Samuel Hoare (1751-1825) They were businessmen and bankers. The chair of the committee was Thomas Clarkson. He was not a Quaker himself, but was much influenced by their ideas.

John and David Barclay were surprised to acquire 32 slaves in Jamaica from a debt.  They went out to see the situation for themselves, then shipped their slaves to Philadelphia in 1801 to be free and gave them vocational training to enable them to earn their livelihoods.

Elizabeth Heyrick (1770-1831) and Anne Knight (1786-1862) were both fiery woman activists who berated the gradualist male leadership in the 1820s, and demanded immediate abolition and compensation for the slaves. Heyrick is credited with founding 70 female anti-slavery societies.

William Allen (1770-1843), was a leading chemist, who founded “The Philanthropist”. He was very active in ecumenical campaigns for Abolition. He personally abstained from taking sugar in his tea for 49 years.

Joseph Sturge (1793-1859) was a wealthy young businessman, an Abolitionist who visited the West Indies in 1836/37.  In 1834 an Apprentices scheme for recently freed slaves had been introduced in the Caribbean, and he saw this in action.  His book “The West Indies in 1837” made a major impact, as it gave first-hand evidence that the  Apprentices scheme was not working or improving the ex-slaves’ lives. He therefore purchased property there to help freed slaves to settle independently. He took a prominent role in founding the British & Foreign Anti-Slavery Society in 1839.

Elizabeth Fry (1780-1845), and her brother Joseph John Gurney lobbied British and European monarchs and decision-shapers.

Lucretia Mott (1793-1880) in 1833 organised the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society, having been barred as a woman from speaking at the 1840 Anti-Slavery Convention. She and Anne Knight (above) were equally committed to the cause of women’s rights.

Levi Coffin (1798-1877) and Thomas Garrett (1789-1871) were two of many Quakers (and others) who “operated” the illegal Underground Railroad up to Canada in defiance of The Fugitive Slave Act. Levi Coffin, a merchant of Cincinnati, was called its “president”, and helped about 2,000 ex-slaves escape. This was perhaps the first example of direct action or civil disobedience in campaigning.

John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-92) was a hymn-writer and poet. He wrote the pamphlet “Justice & Expediency” in 1833and “Voices for Freedom”, a volume of abolitionist poetry in 1846. He founded “The Pennsylvania Freeman”.

Henry S. Newman (1837-1912) and Theodore Burtt (1863-1944)established an industrial mission on Pemba Island (now Tanzania in East Africa) to show how plantations could be run with free labour, rehabilitating the slaves who had been declared manumitted in 1897.

Michael Rendle Harris (1923-2009) served as Chairman of Anti-Slavery International during a key period of regeneration, in the 1980s and 90s. This re-established its distinctive leadership role as a modern campaigning NGO.

Kevin Bales is an academic, and author of “Disposable People” and “Ending Slavery”. He founded “Free the Slaves” in the USA in 2000. It is a sister organization to Anti-slavery International.

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Further Reading and Credits

The picture shows the first anti-slavery convention, held in London, in 1841, and organsied by Quakers William Allen and Joseph Sturge.