Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER IV. - The History of the Abolition of the African Slave-Trade, vol. 1
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CHAPTER IV. - Thomas Clarkson, The History of the Abolition of the African Slave-Trade, vol. 1 
The History of the Rise, Progress, and Accomplishment of the Abolition of the African Slave-Trade by the British Parliament, 2 vols. (London: L. Taylor, 1808). Vol. 1.
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Second class of forerunners and coadjutors, up to May 1787, consists of the Quakers in England—of George Fox, and others—of the body of the Quakers assembled at the yearly meeting in 1727—and at various other times—Quakers, as a body, petition Parliament—and circulate books on the subject—Individuals among them become labourers and associate in behalf of the Africans—Dilwyn—Harrison—and others—This the first association ever formed in England for the purpose.
The second class of the forerunners and coadjutors in this great cause up to May 1787 will consist of the Quakers in England.
The first of this class was George Fox, the venerable founder of this benevolent society.
George Fox was cotemporary with Richard Baxter, being born not long after him, and dying much about the same time. Like him, he left his testimony against this wicked trade. When he was in the island of Barbadoes, in the year 1671, he delivered himself to those who attended his religious meetings, in the following manner:—
“Consider with yourselves,” says he, “if you were in the same condition as the poor Africans are—who came strangers to you, and were sold to you as slaves—I say, if this should be the condition of you or yours, you would think it a hard measure; yea, and very great bondage and cruelty. And therefore consider seriously of this; and do you for them, and to them, as you would willingly have them, or any others do unto you, were you in the like slavish condition, and bring them to know the Lord Christ.” And in his Journal, speaking of the advice, which he gave his friends at Barbadoes, he says, “I desired also, that they would cause their overseers to deal mildly and gently with their Negros, and not to use cruelty towards them, as the manner of some had been, and that after certain years of servitude they should make them free.”
William Edmundson, who was a minister of the Society, and, indeed, a fellow-traveller with George Fox, had the boldness in the same island to deliver his sentiments to the governor on the same subject. Having been brought before him and accused of making the Africans Christians, or, in other words, of making them rebel and destroy their owners, he replied, “that it was a good thing to bring them to the knowledge of God and Christ Jesus, and to believe in him who died for them and all men, and that this would keep them from rebelling, or cutting any person’s throat; but if they did rebel and cut their throats, as the governor insinuated they would, it would be their own doing, in keeping them in ignorance and under oppression, in giving them liberty to be common with women, like brutes, and, on the other hand, in starving them for want of meat and clothes convenient; thus giving them liberty in that which God restrained, and restraining them in that which was meat and clothing.”
I do not find any individual of this society moving in this cause for some time after the death of George Fox and William Edmundson. The first circumstance of moment, which I discover, is a Resolution of the whole Society on the subject, at their yearly meeting held in London in the year 1727. The resolution was contained in the following words:—“It is the sense of this meeting, that the importing of Negros from their native country and relations by Friends, is not a commendable nor allowed practice, and is therefore censured by this meeting.”
In the year 1758 the Quakers thought it their duty, as a body, to pass another Resolution upon this subject. At this time the nature of the trade beginning to be better known, we find them more animated upon it, as the following extract will show:—
“We fervently warn all in profession with us, that they carefully avoid being any way concerned in reaping the unrighteous profits arising from the iniquitous practice of dealing in Negro or other slaves; whereby, in the original purchase, one man selleth another, as he doth the beasts that perish, without any better pretension to a property in him, than that of superior force; in direct violation of the Gospel rule, which teacheth all to do as they would be done by, and to do good to all; being the reverse of that covetous disposition, which furnisheth encouragement to those poor ignorant people to perpetuate their savage wars, in order to supply the demands of this most unnatural traffic, by which great numbers of mankind, free by nature, are subject to inextricable bondage; and which hath often been observed to fill their possessors with haughtiness, tyranny, luxury, and barbarity, corrupting the minds and debasing the morals of their children, to the unspeakable prejudice of religion and virtue, and the exclusion of that holy spirit of universal love, meckness, and charity, which is the unchangeable nature and the glory of true Christianity. We therefore can do no less than, with the greatest earnestness, impress it upon Friends every where, that they endeavour to keep their hands clear of this unrighteous gain of oppression.”
The Quakers hitherto, as appears by the two resolutions which have been quoted, did nothing more than seriously warn all those in religious profession with them, against being concerned in this trade. But in three years afterwards, or at the yearly meeting in 1761, they came to a resolution, as we find by the following extract from their Minutes, that any of their members having a concern in it should be disowned. “This meeting, having reason to apprehend that divers under our name are concerned in the unchristian traffic in Negros, doth recommend it earnestly to the care of Friends every where, to discourage, as much as in them lies, a practice so repugnant to our Christian profession; and to deal with all such as shall persevere in a conduct so reproachful to Christianity; and to disown them, if they desist not therefrom.”
The yearly meeting of 1761 having thus agreed to exclude from membership such as should be found concerned in this trade, that of 1763 endeavoured to draw the cords still tighter, by attaching criminality to those, who should aid and abet the trade in any manner. By the minute, which was made on this occasion, I apprehend that no one, belonging to the Society, could furnish even materials for such voyages. “We renew our exhortation, that Friends every where be especially careful to keep their hands clear of giving encouragement in any shape to the Slave-trade, it being evidently destructive of the natural rights of mankind, who are all ransomed by one Saviour, and visited by one divine light, in order to salvation; a traffic calculated to enrich and aggrandize some upon the misery of others, in its nature abhorrent to every just and tender sentiment, and contrary to the whole tenour of the Gospel.”
Some pleasing intelligence having been sent on this subject by the Society in America to the Society in England, the yearly meeting of 1772 thought it their duty to notice it, and to keep their former resolutions alive by the following minute:—“It appears that the practice of holding Negros in oppressive and unnatural bondage hath been so successfully discouraged by Friends in some of the colonies, as to be considerably lessened. We cannot but approve of these salutary endeavours, and earnestly entreat they may be continued, that, through the favour of divine Providence, a traffic so unmerciful and unjust in its nature to a part of our own species, made, equally with ourselves, for immortality, may come to be considered by all in its proper light, and be utterly abolished as a reproach to the Christian name.”
I must beg leave to stop here for a moment, just to pay the Quakers a due tribute of respect for the proper estimation, in which they have uniformly held the miserable outcasts of society, who have been the subject of these minutes. What a contrast does it afford to the sentiments of many others concerning them! How have we been compelled to prove by a long chain of evidence, that they had the same feelings and capacities as ourselves! How many, professing themselves enlightened, even now view them as of a different species! But in the minutes, which have been cited, we have seen them uniformly represented as persons “ransomed by one and the same Saviour”—“as visited by one and the same light for salvation”—and “as made equally for immortality as others.” These practical views of mankind, as they are highly honourable to the members of this society, so they afford a proof both of the reality and of the consistency of their religion.
But to return:—From this time there appears to have been a growing desire in this benevolent society to step out of its ordinary course in behalf of this injured people. It had hitherto confined itself to the keeping of its own members unpolluted by any gain from their oppression. But it was now ready to make an appeal to others, and to bear a more public testimony in their favour. Accordingly, in the month of June 1783, when a bill had been brought into the House of Commons for certain regulations to be made with respect to the African trade, the Society sent the following petition to that branch of the legislature:—
“Your petitioners, met in this their annual assembly, having solemnly considered the state of the enslaved Negros, conceive themselves engaged, in religious duty, to lay the suffering situation of that unhappy people before you, as a subject loudly calling for the humane interposition of the legislature.
“Your petitioners regret that a nation, professing the Christian faith, should so far counteract the principles of humanity and justice, as by the cruel treatment of this oppressed race to fill their minds with prejudices against the mild and beneficent doctrines of the Gospel.
“Under the countenance of the laws of this country many thousands of these our fellow-creatures, entitled to the natural rights of mankind, are held as personal property in cruel bondage; and your petitioners being informed that a Bill for the Regulation of the African Trade is now before the House, containing a clause which restrains the officers of the African Company from exporting Negros, your petitioners, deeply affected with a consideration of the rapine, oppression, and bloodshed, attending this traffic, humbly request that this restriction may be extended to all persons whomsoever, or that the House would grant such other relief in the premises as in its wisdom may seem meet.”
This petition was presented by Sir Cecil Wray, who, on introducing it, spoke very respectfully of the Society. He declared his hearty approbation of their application, and said he hoped he should see the day when not a slave would remain within the dominions of this realm. Lord North seconded the motion, saying he could have no objection to the petition, and that its object ought to recommend it to every humane breast; that it did credit to the most benevolent society in the world; but that, the session being so far advanced, the subject could not then be taken into consideration; and he regretted that the Slave-trade, against which the petition was so justly directed, was in a commercial view become necessary to almost every nation of Europe. The petition was then brought up and read, after which it was ordered to lie on the table. This was the first petition (being two years earlier than that from the inhabitants of Bridgewater), which was ever presented to parliament for the abolition of the Slave-trade.
But the Society did not stop here; for having at the yearly meeting of 1783 particularly recommended the cause to a standing committee appointed to act atintervals, called the Meeting for Sufferings, the latter in this same year resolved upon an address to the public, entitled, The Case of our Fellow-creatures, the oppressed Africans, respectfully recommended to the serious Consideration of the Legislature of Great Britain, by the People called Quakers: in which they endeavoured in the most pathetic manner to make the reader acquainted with the cruel nature of this trade; and they ordered two thousand copies of it to be printed.
In the year 1784 they began the distribution of this case. The first copy was sent to the King through Lord Carmarthen, and the second and the third, through proper officers, to the Queen and the Prince of Wales. Others were sent by a deputation of two members of the society to Mr. Pitt, as prime-minister; to the Lord Chancellor Thurlow; to Lord Gower, as president of the council; to Lords Carmarthen and Sidney, as secretaries of state; to Lord Chief Justice Mansfield; to Lord Howe, as first lord of the Admiralty; and to C. F. Cornwall, Esq. as speaker of the House of Commons. Copies were sent also to every member of both Houses of Parliament.
The Society, in the same year, anxious that the conduct of its members should be consistent with its public profession on this great subject, recommended it to the quarterly and monthly meetings to inquire through their respective districts, whether any, bearing its name, were in any way concerned in the traffic, and to deal with such, and to report the success of their labours in the ensuing year. Orders were also given for the reprinting and circulation of ten thousand other copies of ‘The Case.’
In the year 1785, the Society interested itself again in a similar manner. For the meeting for sufferings, as representing it, recommended to the quarterly meetings to distribute a work, written by Anthony Benezet, in America, called, A Caution to Great Britain and her Colonies, in a short Representation of the calamitous State of the enslaved Negros in the British Dominions. This book was accordingly forwarded to them for this purpose. On receiving it, they sent it among several public bodies, the regular and dissenting clergy, justices of the peace, and particularly among the great schools of the kingdom, that the rising youth might acquire a knowledge, and at the same time a detestation, of this cruel traffic. In this latter case, a deputation of the Society waited upon the masters, to know if they would allow their scholars to receive it. The schools of Westminster, the Charter-house, St. Paul, Merchant-Taylors, Eton, Winchester, and Harrow, were among those visited. Several academies also were visited for this purpose.
But I must now take my leave of the Quakers as a public body* , and go back to the year 1783, to record an event, which will be found of great importance in the present history, and in which only individuals belonging to the Society were concerned. This event seems to have arisen naturally out of existing or past circumstances. For the Society, as I have before stated, had sent a petition to Parliament in this year, praying for the abolition of the Slave-trade. It had also laid the foundation for a public distribution of the books as just mentioned, with a view of enlightening others on this great subject. The case of the ship Zong, which I have before had occasion to explain, had occurred this same year. A letter also had been presented, much about the same time, by Benjamin West, from Anthony Benezet before mentioned, to our Queen, in behalf of the injured Africans, which she had received graciously. These subjects occupied at this time the attention of many Quaker families, and among others, that of a few individuals, who were in close intimacy with each other. These, when they met together, frequently conversed upon them. They perceived, as facts came out in conversation, that there was a growing knowledge and hatred of the Slave-trade, and that the temper of the times was ripening towards its abolition. Hence a disposition manifested itself among these, to unite as labourers for the furtherance of so desirable an object. An union was at length proposed and approved of, and the following persons (placed in alphabetical order) came together to execute the offices growing out of it:
The first meeting was held on the seventh of July, 1783. At this “they assembled to consider what steps they should take for the relief and liberation of the Negro slaves in the West Indies, and for the discouragement of the Slave-trade on the coast of Africa.”
To promote this object they conceived it necessary that the public mind should be enlightened respecting it. They had recourse therefore to the public papers, and they appointed their members in turn to write in these, and to see that their productions were inserted. They kept regular minutes for this purpose. It was not however known to the world that such an association existed.
It appears that they had several meetings in the course of this year. Before the close of it they had secured a place in the General Evening Post, in Lloyd’s Evening Post, in the Norwich, Bath, York, Bristol, Sherborne, Liverpool, Newcastle, and other provincial papers, for such articles as they chose to send to them. These consisted principally of extracts from such authors, both in prose and verse, as they thought would most enlighten and interest the mind upon the subject of their institution.
In the year 1784 they pursued the same plan; but they began now to print books. The first was from a manuscript composed by Joseph Woods, one of the committee. It was entitled, Thoughts on the Slavery of the Negros. This manuscript was well put together. It was a manly and yet feeling address in behalf of the oppressed Africans. It contained a sober and dispassionate appeal to the reason of all, without offending the prejudices of any. It was distributed at the expense of the association, and proved to be highly useful to the cause which it was intended to promote.
A communication having been made to the committee, that Dr. Porteus, then bishop of Chester, had preached a sermon before the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, in behalf of the injured Africans, (which sermon was noticed in the last chapter,) Samuel Hoare was deputed to obtain permission to publish it. This led him to a correspondence with Mr. Ramsay before mentioned. The latter applied in consequence to the bishop, and obtained his consent. Thus this valuable sermon was also given to the world.
In the year 1785 the association continued their exertions as before; but I have no room to specify them. I may observe, however, that David Barclay, a grandson of the great apologist of that name, assisted at one of their meetings, and (what is singular) that he was in a few years afterwards unexpectedly called to a trial of his principles on this very subject. For he and his brother John became, in consequence of a debt due to them, possessed of a large grazing farm, or pen, in Jamaica, which had thirty-two slaves upon it. Convinced, however, that the retaining of their fellow-creatures in bondage was not only irreconcileable with the principles of Christianity, but subversive of the rights of human nature, they determined upon the emancipation of these. And they* performed this generous office to the satisfaction of their minds, to the honour of their characters, to the benefit of the public, and to the happiness of the slave† . I mention this anecdote, not only to gratify myself, by paying a proper respect to those generous persons who sacrificed their interest to principle, but also to show the sincerity of David Barclay, (who is now the only surviving brother,) as he actually put in practice what at one of these meetings he was desirous of recommending to others.
Having now brought up the proceedings of this little association towards the year 1786, I shall take my leave of it, remarking, that it was the first ever formed in England for the promotion of the abolition of the Slave-trade. That Quakers have had this honour is unquestionable, Nor is it extraordinary that they should have taken the lead on this occasion, when we consider how advantageously they have been situated for so doing. For the Slave-trade, as we have not long ago seen, came within the discipline of the Society in the year 1727. From thence it continued to be an object of it till 1783. In 1783 the Society petitioned Parliament, and in 1784 it distributed books to enlighten the public concerning it. Thus we see that every Quaker, born since the year 1727, was nourished as it were in a fixed hatred against it. He was taught, that any concern in it was a crime of the deepest dye. He was taught, that the bearing of his testimony against it was a test of unity with those of the same religious profession. The discipline of the Quakers was therefore a school for bringing them up as advocates for the abolition of this trade. To this it may be added, that the Quakers knew more about the trade and the slavery of the Africans, than any other religious body of men, who had not been in the land of their sufferings. For there had been a correspondence between the Society in America and that in England on the subject, the contents of which must have been known to the members of each. American ministers also were frequently crossing the Atlantic on religious missions to England. These, when they travelled through various parts of our island, frequently related to the Quaker families in their way the cruelties they had seen and heard-of in their own country. English ministers were also frequently going over to America on the same religious errand. These, on their return, seldom failed to communicate what they had learned or observed, but more particularly relative to the oppressed Africans, in their travels. The journals also of these, which gave occasional accounts of the sufferings of the slaves, were frequently published. Thus situated in point of knowledge, and brought up moreover from their youth in a detestation of the trade, the Quakers were ready to act whenever a favourable opportunity should present itself.
[* ]The Quakers, as a public body, kept the subject alive at their yearly meeting in 1784, 1785, 1787, &c.
[* ]They engaged an agent to embark for Jamaica in 1795 to effect this business, and had the slaves conveyed to Philadelphia, where they were kindly received by the Society for improving the Condition of free Black People. Suitable situations were found for the adults, and the young ones were bound out apprentices to handicraft trades, and to receive school learning.
[† ]James Pemberton, of Philadelphia, made the following observation in a letter to a Friend in England:—“David Barclay’s humane views towards the Blacks from Jamaica have been so far realized, that these objects of his concern enjoy their freedom with comfort to themselves, and are respectable in their characters, keeping up a friendly intercourse with each other, and avoiding to intermis with the common Blacks of this city, being sober in their conduct and industrious in their business.”