Historical Markers
First Protest Against Slavery Historical Marker
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First Protest Against Slavery

Philadelphia and its Countryside/Lehigh Valley


Marker Location:
5109 Germantown Avenue, Philadelphia

Dedication Date:
October 8, 1983

Behind the Marker

 "These are the reasons why we are against the traffik of men-body... Is there any that would be done or handled at this manner? ...There is a saying, that we shall doe to all men, like as we will be done our selves: making no difference of what generation, descent, or colour they are. And those who steal or rob men, and those who buy or purchase them, marker are they not all alike?".
                                       "Germantown Friend’s Protest Against Slavery," 1688.
This is to ye monthly meeting hold at Rigert Warrells. these are the reasons why we are Against the traffik of men-body, as followeth: Is there any that would be done or handled at this manner? viz., to be sold or made a slave for all the time of his life? How fearful & fainthearted are many on sea when they see a strange vassel. being afraid it should be a Turck, and they should be tacken, and sold for slaves into Turckey. Now what is this better done, as Turcks doe? yea, rather is it worse for them wch say they are Christians, for we hear that ye most part of such negers are brought heither Against their will & consent and that many of them are stollen. Now tho they are black, we can not conceive there is more liberty to have them slaves, as it is to have other white ones. there is a saying that we shall doe to all men licke as we will be done ourselves; macking no difference of what generation, descent or Colour they are. and those who steal or robb men, and those who buy or purchase them, are they not all alicke? Here is liberty of conscience wch. is right and reasonable; here ought to be likewise liberty of ye body, except of evildoers, wch is an other case. But to bring men hither, or to robb and sell them Against their will, we stand Against. in Europe there are many oppressed for Conscience sacke; and here there are those oppressed wch are of a Black Colour. and we who know that men must not comitt adultery, some doe comitt adultery in others, separating wifes from their housbands, and giving them to others. and some sell the children of those poor Creatures to other men. Ah! doe consider well this things, you who doe it, if you would be done at this manner? and if it is done according Christianity? You surpass Holland and Germany in this thing. This mackes an ill report in all those Countries of Europe, where they hear off, that ye Quackers doe here handel men licke they handel there ye Cattle. and for that reason some have no mind or inclination to come hither. And who shall maintaine this your cause, or plaid for it? Truely we can not do so, except you shall inform us better hereoff, viz: that christians have liberty to practise this things. Pray, what thing in the world can be done worse towards us, then if men should robb or steal us away, & sell us for slaves to strange Countries, separating housband from their wife and children. Being now this is not done at that manner we will be done at, therefore we contradict & are Against this traffic of men body. And we who profess
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First Protest Against Slavery in the New World, Germantown, PA, 1688.
In 1688, only seven years after William Penn received his the charter for his "Holy Experiment" based on religious freedom and tolerance, four German Quakers, none of whom had been in the colony for more than five years, issued the first formal protest against slavery in Pennsylvania; indeed, the first anti-slavery protest issued anywhere in Britain’s North American colonies. The men who signed it were among the first great wave of German immigrants drawn to the colony by William Penn’s direct appeals to religious dissenters in Europe, and like Penn, they believed that the inner light of God was present in all people.
 John Woolman, front page  Some Considerations on the Keeping of Negroes
John Woolman, front page Some Considerations on the Keeping of Negroes, Philadelphia,...
Envisioning a utopian society, Penn included a bill of rights in his 1682 "Frame of Government of Pennsylvania." Despite this framework, Penn, however, failed to ban slavery. Faced with acute labor shortages, some of the English Quakers who settled Pennsylvania, and William Penn himself, purchased and owned enslaved Africans, the first 150 of whom arrived in 1684 to help clear ground for the new colony.
Four years later, Francis Daniel Pastorius and a small group of German settlers met at the Germantown home of cloth dyer Tunes Kunders and there wrote a protest that employed a broad range of anti-slavery arguments both principled and practical. First drawing on the golden rule, they argued that slavery was un-Christian; that liberty of body was as much a right as liberty of conscience; that slavery was hypocritical; that the need to suppress a rebellion of enslaved people would violate Quaker pacifism; that it gave the Pennsylvania Society of Friends and the colony a bad reputation; and that it would prevent the immigration of the Germans and Dutch who abhorred the practice.
Declaration of the Anti-Slavery Convention. Philadelphia, December 4, 1833.
The protest first went to the local Weekly Meeting of the Society of Friends. Deeming it too important—and controversial—an issue for the meeting to address, the Weekly Meeting sent the protest to the Dublin Monthly and then to the Quarterly Meeting at Philadelphia, with the same results. In July 1688, the petition reached the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, which chose not to act on the protest, deciding not to pass judgment either against or in behalf of slavery.
Anthony Benezet, Observations on the Inslaving, Importing and Purchasing of...
The issue, however, did not die. The next protest came only five years later, made by an anonymous group of Quakers in 1693. This was followed by other protests and by the growing number of slaves in the colony, some 4,000 by the mid-1700s. The Quaker crusade against slavery took its next leap forward in the 1750s, when New Jersey Quaker John Woolman published Some Considerations on the Keeping of Negroes (1754), an extended and impassioned argument against human slavery.

Pressured by Woolman, Anthony Benezet, and other abolitionists, the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting in 1758 condemned the importation, holding, and buying and selling of slaves and took steps to remove slaveholders from leadership positions. Slave buyers and sellers now faced disownment by the Yearly Meeting, which called for members to report all those refusing to free their slaves to the next Yearly Meeting. Monthly Meetings then organized committees to visit slave owners in the attempt to obtain manumissions for all slaves.

Ambrotype portrait,head and shoulders.
John Greenleaf Whittier, circa 1860.
As the American Revolution approached, the contradictions between their own demands for freedom and liberty from English tyranny and the simultaneous enslavement of people of color was driven home by loyalists, when it was not apparent to patriots. Thus, anti-slavery sentiment fueled the founding in 1775, by Anthony Benezet and nine other Quakers, of the markerSociety for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage. The movement for abolition continued to grow, and on March 1, 1780, the Pennsylvania Assembly passed a marker law calling for the gradual emancipation of slavery . The new law, the first of its kind in the United States, failed to free slaves already held in bondage. The children of slaves remained in indentured servitude until the age of twenty-eight. The law did, however, prevent the enslavement of future generations.
Gradually abolished by most northern states soon after national independence, slavery expanded in the American South and gave birth to a new abolition movement in which  markerLucretia Mott , markerThomas Garrett ,   and other Pennsylvania Quakers played important roles. In 1844, Philadelphia Quaker and antiquarian Nathan Kite rediscovered the long forgotten Germantown protest and published it in The Friend: A Religious and Literary Journal.

Remembrance of the Germantown Protest came to life again when celebrated American poet John Greenleaf Whittier in 1872 made Pastorius the hero of his narrative poem, “The Pennsylvania Pilgrim.” A Quaker-born abolitionist, Whittier directly addressed the meaning of Pastorius’s long forgotten legacy, ending his poem with the following words:
For, ere Pastorius left the sun and air,
God sent the answer to his life-long prayer;
The child [John Woolman] was born beside the Delaware,
Who, in the power a holy purpose lends,
Guided his people unto nobler ends,
And left them worthier of the name of Friends.
And lo! the fulness of the time has come,
And over all the exile's Western home,
From sea to sea the flowers of freedom bloom!
And joy-bells ring, and silver trumpets blow;
But not for thee, Pastorius! Even so
The world forgets, but the wise angels know.
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