Both sides of the Germantown Quaker Petition Against Slavery

"The two sides of the The 1688 Germantown Quaker Petition Against Slavery after conservation in 2007. It was written in iron gall ink and has substantially faded. The document was the first public protest against the institution of slavery, and represents the first written public declaration of universal human rights. The original document is 9" x 14". The Signatories are Francis Daniel Pastorius, Garret Hendericks, Derick op den Graeff and Abraham op den Graeff"

Detail map of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States Overview map of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States

A: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States

The First American Public Document to Protest Slavery and One of the First Written Public Declarations of Universal Human Rights


The 1688 Germantown Quaker Petition Against Slavery, drafted by Francis Daniel Pastorius and signed by him and three other Quakers living in Germantown, Pennsylvania, on behalf of the Germantown Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, was the first protest against African-American slavery made by a religious body in the English colonies. It was also the first American public document to protest slavery and one of the first written public declarations of universal human rights. The signed document was forwarded to the monthly, quarterly, and yearly meetings of the Religious Society of Friends without any action being taken on it. 

"Some of the early English settlers of Philadelphia and its surrounding towns were wealthy and purchased slaves to work on their farms. Although many such slaveowners also had immigrated to escape religious persecution, they saw no contradiction in owning slaves, because serfdom, slavery and servitude had existed in Europe since the Middle Ages. Although serfdom was abolished in northwestern Europe by 1500, servitude was ubiquitous in Europe, sometimes under harsh conditions. Many immigrants to the new colony were indentured servants, working for several years in exchange for being carried on a boat to the new colony. Slaves were widely owned in the colonies and local slave markets made purchasing slaves easy. The slave trade was protected by the British crown and some thought it necessary for economic growth in the colonies. It was justified by racism and intolerance towards what many British saw as 'uncivilized' cultures. Many ship owners and captains made large profits carrying slaves from Africa to the Caribbean islands and the mainland colonies. William Penn oversaw the economic progress of his colony and once proudly declared that during the course of a year Philadelphia had received 10 slave ships.

"The first settlers of Germantown were soon joined by several more Quaker and Mennonite families from Krisheim, also in the Rhine valley, who were ethnic Germans but spoke a similar dialect to the Hollanders from Krefeld. Some out of pragmatism attended the local Quaker Meetings held in the newly built homes of immigrants, becoming involved and accepted in the Philadelphia Quaker community, and eventually joining as members. However, in several ways they felt themselves outsiders, which allowed them to see and question what the English could not. Some attended the Quaker Meeting temporarily while they waited for a Mennonite minister to arrive, and then helped to build the first Mennonite Meetinghouse. The town prospered and grew, and a Quaker Meeting was organized at Thones Kunders's house, under the care of Dublin (Abington Meeting). By 1686 a Quaker Meetinghouse was constructed near the current site of Germantown Friends Meeting.

"The German-Dutch settlers were unaccustomed to slaves, although from the shortage of labor they understood why their British neighbors relied on slaves for prosperity. Slaves and indentured servants were a valuable asset for a farmer because they were not paid. Yet the German-Dutch settlers refused to buy slaves themselves and quickly saw the contradiction in the slave trade and in farmers who forced people to work. Although in their native Germany and Holland the Krefelders had been persecuted because of their beliefs, only people who had been convicted of a crime could be forced to work in servitude. In what turned out to be a revolutionary leap of insight, the Germantowners saw a fundamental similarity between the right to be free from persecution on account of their beliefs and the right to be free from being forced to work against their will" (Wikipedia article on Germantown Quaker Petition Against Slavery, accessed 11-03-2013).
The Germantown Quaker Petition Aginst Slavery is preserved in the Quaker and Special Collections at Haverford College.

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