JOHN WOOLMAN (1720–1772), fourth child and eldest son of a family of 13 in colonial New Jersey, set a high standard for antislavery witness through his antislavery essays and writings. His eloquent and searching Journal , published posthumously in 1775, has never been out of print. At age 19 Woolman was asked by another Quaker to write a bill of sale for an African American woman....
items tagged with slavery
Was there a charity he didn’t have a hand in?
IN 1855 a spectacular slave rescue occurred in Philadelphia, with Quaker Passmore Williamson playing a central role. Williamson rescued a slave woman, Jane Johnson, and helped her and her two sons to depart aboard a ferry from the Philadelphia harbor. From Philadelphia African American activists spirited Johnson and her sons into seclusion, hoping to escape her closely pursuing master—United States ambassador to Nicaragua and North Carolina plantation owner John Hill Wheeler.
Nineteenth-century Quakers indeed held deep convictions on the...Read More
MR. YOUNG [a devout Methodist] never was known to flog one of his slaves or sell one. He fed and clothed them well and never overworked them. He allowed each family a small house to themselves with a little garden spot whereon to raise their own vegetables; and a part of the day on Saturdays was allowed them to cultivate it.
In time, he became deeply involved in debt, and his property was all advertised to be sold by the sheriff at public auction. It consisted of slaves, many of whom were his brothers and sisters in the [local Methodist]...Read More
WILL THE LORD SUFFER THIS PEOPLE to go on much longer, taking his holy name in vain? Will he not stop them, preachers and all? O Americans! Americans!! I call God—I call angels—I call men to witness that your destruction is at hand, and will be speedily consummated unless you repent.”
The words of David Walker, the Bostonian son of a free mother and slave father, were as much a threat as they were a jeremiad. His 76-page pamphlet, Walker’s Appeal . . . to the Colored Citizens of the World (1829), marked the beginnings of a new...Read More
IN THE 1400s, Europe began discovering the great mass of Africa beyond the vast Sahara. At the end of the century, it also discovered the Americas. Little did it know that the two land masses would become so inextricably bound.
For the next two centuries, European superpowers planted a chain of European colonies from New England to the West Indies to Brazil. Such places seemed to have an inexhaustable supply of sugar, tobacco, silver, and gold. Visions of great wealth danced before the superpowers’ eyes—provided they could find the labor to...Read More
WILLIAM WILBERFORCE regarded slavery as a national crime for which all Englishmen were responsible. In 1818 he wrote in his diary, “In the Scripture, no national crime is condemned so frequently and few so strongly as oppression and cruelty, and the not using our best endeavors to deliver our fellow-creatures from them.”
Wilberforce and his friends engaged in an antislavery public opinion campaign unprecedented in English history. In 1814 they gathered one million signatures, one-tenth of the population, on 800 petitions, which they...Read More
IT WAS CONSIDERED the next most severe punishment after execution to be given a life sentence in the galleys. Since Knox and the Castilians [those Protestants who had resisted at St. Andrews Castle in 1547] had not been sentenced by any court, they did not know how long their torment would last. Torment was the word Knox used to describe his situation, as well as affliction. Yet he wrote surprisingly little about his time in the galleys. It must have put iron in his soul as well as his wrist.
A French galley around this time was between 100...Read More
WHEN GEORGE WHITEFIELD first journeyed through America’s southern colonies, he was deeply disturbed by how slaves were brutalized by their masters. In 1740, in an angry, open letter to three southern colonies, he wrote: “Your dogs are caressed and fondled at your tables; but your slaves who are frequently styled dogs or beasts, have not an equal privilege. They are scarce permitted to pick up the crumbs which fall from their masters’ tables. . . . Although I pray God the slaves may never be permitted to get the upper hand, yet should such a...Read More
W HEN DAVID LIVINGSTONE landed in the Cape Colony in 1841, he did so in the midst of British anti-slavery euphoria. Britain had abolished slavery throughout the empire only eight years earlier, and as his ship sailed down Africa’s coast, he saw the patrols—a sixth of the great British navy—scouting the Atlantic in search of slave smugglers.
Those smugglers who made it through, mainly bound for Cuba, Brazil, and the southern U. S., still carried 60,000 slaves annually, but the number was down by over half from a few years earlier. Although by...Read More
BY THE EVE OF THE CIVIL WAR, Christianity had pervaded the slave community. Not all slaves were Christian, nor were all those who accepted Christianity members of a church, but the doctrines, symbols, and vision of life preached by Christianity were familiar to most.
The religion of the slaves was both visible and invisible, formally organized and spontaneously adapted. Regular Sunday worship in the local church was paralleled by illicit, or at least informal, prayer meetings on weeknights in the slave cabins. Preachers licensed by the...Read More
EARLY IN 1862, chaplain James Marks pondered how to help the soldiers of the 63rd Pennsylvania Regiment. Bitterness after the defeat at Bull Run gripped the army. Homesickness and boredom were rife, and cold, wet weather depressed generals and privates alike. Marks made up his mind to lift the soldiers out of their unhappiness and bring their thoughts to a higher, religious plane. Purchasing a tent to hold worshipers, he began a revival season that lasted until the spring. Hundreds of men soon were “born again.”
A “Tide of Irreligion”
MANY SOUTHERN CHRISTIANS felt that slavery, in one Baptist minister’s words, “stands as an institution of God.” Here’s why.
• Abraham, the “father of faith,” and all the patriarchs held slaves without God’s disapproval (Gen. 21:9–10).
• Canaan, Ham’s son, was made a slave to his brothers (Gen. 9:24–27).
• The Ten Commandments mention slavery twice, showing God’s implicit acceptance of it (Ex. 20:10, 17).
• Slavery was widespread throughout the Roman world, and yet Jesus never spoke against it.
• The apostle Paul...Read More
American Slavery As It Is, published anonymously by Reverend Theodore Weld in 1839, sold one hundred thousand copies in its first year. Scholar Dwight Lowell Dumond has called it “the greatest of the anti-slavery pamphlets; in all probability the most crushing indictment of any institution ever written.”
What made it so powerful? Weld gathered over one thousand eye—witness accounts of slavery’s brutality—not only from shocked northerners, but also from reports in southern newspapers. Here are samples.
From Weld’s introduction: Two million...Read More
SLAVE SONGS typically consisted of four-line stanzas alternating with four-line choruses. Within that structure, solo verses alternated with refrains.
Stanzas most often took the aaab form (three repeated lines and a refrain) or aaba form (two repeated lines, one new line, then a repeat of the first line). Occurring less frequently was the abcd form (no repetition of text).
As the following spiritual illustrates, stanza and chorus were linked through the recurrence of refrain lines common to both:
We’ll run and never tire, (a)Read More
We’ll run and...
NAT TURNER seemed to have imbibed deeply all the best elements of evangelical southern white religion. He did not use tobacco or liquor, he seemed to live a perfectly disciplined life among men as well as women; by and large, he caused no real trouble for the keepers of the status quo.
Indeed, around 1821 the young black man had vividly demonstrated to whites the exemplary advantage of his high standing among the other Africans by returning voluntarily to Samuel Turner after having run away for about 30 days. Therefore whites could never...Read More
IN 1831, a Kentucky slave named Tice Davids made a break for the free state of Ohio by swimming across the Ohio River. His master trailed close behind and watched Davids wade ashore. When he looked again, Davids was nowhere to be found. Davids’s master returned to Kentucky in a rage, exclaiming to his friends that Davids “must have gone off on an underground road.” The name stuck, and the legend of the Underground Railroad was born.
There were no tracks on the Underground Railroad, or even any designated routes. Neither did anyone hide or...Read More
THEY WERE THE MOST HATED MEN AND WOMEN in America. All across the South, rewards were posted for their lives. Southern postmasters routinely collected their pamphlets from the mail and burned them. In the North, these radicals were mobbed, shouted down, beaten up. Their houses were burned, and their printing presses were destroyed. For thirty years, to the very eve of the Civil War, the word “abolitionist ” was an insult.
Why Are They Forgotten?
After the Civil War, abolitionists were lionized. Then, soon, they were forgotten. They...Read More
PETER RANDOLPH, a slave in Prince George County, Virginia, until he was freed in 1847, described the secret prayer meetings he had attended as a slave.
"Not being allowed to hold meetings on the plantation,” he wrote, “the slaves assemble in the swamp, out of reach of the patrols. They have an understanding among themselves as to the time and place. ... This is often done by the first one arriving breaking boughs from the trees and bending them in the direction of the selected spot.
“After arriving and greeting one another, men and women...Read More
TODAY ONE OF HIS FULL PORTRAITS HANGS IN A PUB. Another in the same town, Cambridge, hangs in a hotel. Another still, in his old college, St. John’s. In each he peers at the world quizzically through small, bright eyes over a long, upturned nose. He was said to be “the wittiest man in England, and the most religious” (Madame de Stael), and one who possessed “the greatest natural eloquence of all the men I ever met” (William Pitt). When he spoke, another quipped, “The shrimp became a whale” (James Boswell). Historian G. M. Trevelyan called...Read More
On the evening of March 15, 1796, the streets adjacent to the Opera House of London thronged with carriages carrying the wealthy and powerful. Excited conversation buzzed beneath wrought-iron streetlamps. It was the premiere of the opera season. Vignoni, the noted Italian singer, was the lead in a new comic opera, I Dui Gobi—his first London performance since France had declared war on Britain in 1793. There was every reason to think that the night would be a triumph—and it was. True Briton reported that the premiere had been attended by “a...Read More