Manumitted: The People Enslaved by Quakers launched in the summer of 2021 with the intention to aid genealogists, community members, and scholars in learning about the history of slavery and Quakerism in the Mid-Atlantic. This ongoing project combines archival research and writing with digital scholarship to create and support those interested in exploring the manumissions held in Quaker & Special Collections. These manumissions offer vital information on the lives of those enslaved in the 18th century, Quakerism, and Quakerism’s changing sentiments towards slaveholding. We encourage interested genealogists, community members, and scholars to explore and analyze our website, data, and visualizations.
Our goals of this project are the following:
The manumissions in our collection come from the following meetings: Abington, Exeter, Gwynedd, Haverford, Philadelphia, Northern District, Southern District, and Blackwater. Over time, some of these meetings and their members have merged into other meetings, which we have listed below:
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The Society of Friends or the Religious Society of Friends, Quakers, were founded in the Mid-17th century in England. In 1688, the Germantown Quaker Petition Against Slavery occurred. It was the first protest against the enslavement of Africans made by a religious body in the Thirteen Colonies. It is important to note that the monthly, quarterly, and yearly meetings did not act on the petition, it passed through the hierarchy without any meeting approving or rejecting it. In fact, many of the protesters were met with heavy resistance and social stigma. In fact, due to the disappointment of the meetings' inaction, many protesters ended up leaving Quakerism. Many of these protesters had originally been Mennonites in Germany but found community in the Quakers of Germantown and became Quakers. After finding out that Quakerism supported slavery, many decided to return to being Mennonites. In 1754, the Philadelphia Quarterly Meeting and the Yearly Meeting published a paper declaring slavery a sin. This epistle was then sent to many other meetings. In 1758, the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting passed a minute denouncing engagement with the slave trade but not with slaveholding. While the minute passed, there was debate until 1774 over whether the minute suggested slave trading as a disowned offence. Disownment is a formal statement by a monthly meeting that states that a member is not in unity with an essential element of its faith and practice. Disownment results in that member’s name being removed from membership lists, barring them from holding certain official positions within the meeting and resulting in social stigma, but the disowned member can still worship with the meeting. In 1776, the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting agreed to prohibit slaveholding among its members, making it a disownable offense. However, no members were disowned until 1778.
While the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting was the first American yearly meeting to speak out against slavery, and to prohibit slave trading, the New England Yearly Meeting and the New York Yearly Meeting denounced slaveholding in 1770 and 1774, respectively. Other meetings also began to disengage from slavery. In 1756, the London Yearly Meeting denounced the slave trade. In 1760, Maryland Friends denounced the slave trade. Narragansett Friends began to disown members who partook in the slave trade by 1762 and those who were slaveholders by 1770. In 1773, the New England Meeting declared slaveholding a disownable offence. North Carolina followed suit in 1776, also declaring slaveholding a disownable offence.
For further resources on the subject, see this research guide on materials in Quaker and Special Collections & our Quakers and Slavery site.
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'Manumitted' is a collaborative project of the Haverford College Libraries. The project has largely been supported through the efforts of Haverford College's Quaker and Special Collections and Digital Scholarship teams.