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Quakers and the Birth of the Antislavery Movement

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Quakers and the Birth of the Antislavery Movement

Evening Lecture/Seminar

Tuesday, June 13, 2023 - 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. ET
Code: 1M2264
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The Quakers have always been different. As members of the Religious Society of Friends, Quakers in colonial America manifested their radical sense of equality in what they wore and how they acted. They dressed in plain, unadorned clothes, the men choosing distinctive black hats that they refused to remove when they were among powerful figures. Quakers also refused to swear allegiance to any authority, even a king, to maintain their strongest possible allegiance to God. 

It’s not surprising, then, that 18th-century Quakers were the first group of white Christians in America to confront slaveholding as a religious problem that demanded social action. But that was not a foregone conclusion. For much of the colonial period, many Quakers were slaveholders themselves—including members of William Penn’s family. It took tremendous energy and effort on the part of a small number of activists within this faith group to disrupt that status quo in the decades before the Revolution and steer their church towards an outspoken commitment to Black freedom.

Historian Richard Bell recounts this untold story, focusing on the dramatic antislavery crusades and wildly different tactics of three 18th-century Quakers: Benjamin Lay, a hermit; John Woolman, a shopkeeper; and Anthony Benezet, a schoolteacher.

Bell is a professor of history at the University of Maryland.

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