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Anti-Slavery Leader Was Omitted

Interesting and informative as I found the article about the Underground Railroad [in the January Bulletin] I was surprised that no reference was made to John Woolman (1710-1772), the Quaker whose leadership on the evils of slavery had considerable influence on 18th-century Quakers.

As was noted in The Journal and Essays of John Woolman, he “was concerned for the Society of Friends and its mission of fostering the eternal well-being of all men. He was distressed that participation in slavery by church members tended to prejudice slaves and other sensitive spirits against the faith, and to hinder their religious growth. …”

As a traveling minister, Woolman visited Quakers, many of them slave owners, in their homes. He engaged his fellow Quakers in conversations about slavery and his conviction that it was inconsistent with the “purity of the Christian religion.” His writings on the subject were widely distributed, and his essay of 1746 played a critical role in deliberations both at Philadelphia and London Yearly Meetings during the 1750s. In 1758, a minute of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting urged Friends to free their slaves and excluded from the business affairs of the society anyone who continued to buy or sell them. In 1776, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting forbade the ownership of slaves. London Yearly Meeting condemned the slave trade in 1758, Woolman’s influence thus also contributing to the significant role Quakers played in the movement to abolish the British slave trade.

In the context of Swarthmore’s Quaker Hicksite foundation it is noteworthy that Elias Hicks, himself a leading anti-slavery activist, was deeply affected by Woolman’s anti-slavery views.

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