A Powerful Petition

By: Deja Edwards

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” We can act like we haven’t been told time and time again by our parents and our grandparents to treat others the way we want to be treated. Francis Daniell Pastorius, the founder of Germantown, Pennsylvania, used this single idea, coined the Bible’s Golden Rule, to petition the Dublin Quaker Meeting in 1688, urging them to abolish slavery. Pastorius, Gerret Hendericks, Derick up de Graeff, and Abraham up den Graef demanded everyone to be treated equal, regardless of skin color, ethnicity, or belief. (Mueller, 2008.) In 1688, the Germantown Quaker Protest Against Slavery stood alone with its message, making it the first organized protest against slavery in North America.

The document utilized a variety of arguments directed towards equality and human rights for all. In the petition the men write, ”we shall doe to all men like as we will be done ourselves; making no difference of what generation, descent or colour they are. And those who steal or robb men, and those who buy or purchase them, are they not all alike?” (Walton, 1687.) Pastorius and the three other men asked why Christian’s deemed the act of enslaving another person not to be sinister or wrong. “Pray, what thing in the world can be done worse towards us, then if men should robb or steal us away, & sell us for slaves to strange Countries, separating housband from their wife and children.” (Walton, 1687.) The four men say engaging in slavery is participating in theft and forced adultery, seeing as though the slaves were stolen from their country and forced into involuntary servitude, breaking them away from their families and forcing them to create new bonds and relationships.

The men asked the Quakers, who were the pacifist of the time, what they would do if the slaves revolted and forced them into slavery. Would the Quakers then revolt and fight against their new owners, seeing as though the tables have now turned and they are the ones being mistreated and forced to do things they did not want to do? Would those in other countries want to move to a colony where people were being treated like they were animals and lesser beings? People were coming to the colonies to escape persecution and to freely practice their religion, seeing no contradiction in enslaving blacks after escaping from the horrors of their old countries. (Nash, 1991)

Being a native of Pennsylvania and a proud Pennsylvanian, I felt had to choose the Germantown Quaker Protest Against Slavery Petition as my cultural artifact. In elementary and middle school, I was always taught that Pennsylvania was home to the Quakers and Mennonites who hated slavery and fought to abolish it. I always thought the north was innocent, in a sense, from the harsh dealings that came from slavery. I only recently learned that this was not true. This petition made me happy to know that those who cultivate the place I call home did their best to help my ancestors who were victims of slavery. Having grown up with Quakers and Mennonites, it makes me happy to know their ancestors helped make motions to help relieve the oppression felt by my ancestors.

Although this was not the single document that abolished slavery, it was key in abolishing slavery in Pennsylvania, leading other northern colonies to follow. The petition took a stand that no other document had previously done, and I believe if it wasn’t for this petition many whites who were against the enslavement of blacks would have kept mum and quiet, possibly resulting in the continuation of slavery. Pastorius and his men took the first step, which helped everyone else who felt slavery was wrong step up and speak out.

The 1680’s marked the introduction of racial slavery. Black’s were becoming a dominant source of labor on plantations during the late 1600’s, just after the Uncertain Century. (Pittman, 2015) Slave Codes and different laws were beginning to surface, displaying the racism and segregation to come between blacks and whites. Virginia was restricting slaves from assembling, having weapons, leaving plantations without written permission, and having any sort of physical contact against a Christian. (Pittman, 2015) African Americans had no rights, therefore what they were saying was not heard or acknowledged. They needed someone to speak for them when their voice couldn’t be heard, and Francis Daniell Pastorius, Gerret Hendericks, Derick up de Graeff, and Abraham up den Graef were willing to go against the grain and be those people for the enslaved blacks.

Although it took 88 years for slavery to be abolished in Pennsylvania, the Germantown petition of 1688 sparked a great movement towards the abolition of slavery and the fight towards equality and fairness in Pennsylvania, as well as other colonies. The petition was forgotten about until 1844 when it became a staple document towards the abolitionist movement.(Morgan, 1696) The petition also spoke about the institution created by slavery and the immense power it gave slave owners. The Germantown petition of 1688 is still relevant today as its statements about torment and slavery being a total institution are similar to those used to explain the struggle felt by many people in countries today.  Minorities and women, whom the Quakers also fought for, often suffer from the inequality presented by the power of the economic progress. (Morgan, 1696) The Quakers wanted equal rights for all, which is something the country still finds difficulty in providing today.

With white support, blacks had a slight chance of reaching some sort of equality and being freed of this heinous institution. The Germantown petition of 1688 connects to things we learned in class because it further emphasizes the impact and involvement the north had in slavery, both positively and negatively. Similar to when we were learning about the effect Ivy League Institutions had on slavery, the Germantown petition shows that the north was just as involved as the south in the beginning of slavery, if not more involved during the start. (Wilder, 2013) Pennsylvania was thought of as a “safe haven” during slavery. It is the place Harriet Tubman escaped to after running away from her plantation, making her a free woman. (Pittman, 2015) But, this petition shows that Pennsylvania, like each of the colonies in the north, had its hand and role in slavery, as well.

The Germantown petition was a powerful introduction to anti-slavery thoughts and the abolitionist movement. Without people like Pastorius and his followers, thoughts against slavery may have been kept mum as abolitionist waited for someone to speak up. Looking at the platforms used to end and abolish slavery, the immense amount of abolitionist, both black and white, helped lead America to emancipate its slaves.(Pittman, 2015) The Quakers showed that not only did African Americans feel they were being mistreated, but some whites felt the same way and wanted to do something to change it. With whites standing up for the mistreatment of slaves and the inhumanity of slavery, in general, the movement and push for slavery to be abolished became much more powerful. The Germantown Petition of 1688 now sits in the Haverford College Special Collections, taking its position as the leader of the fight against slavery and as the document that went stood out and wasn’t afraid to be unique and fight for what was right!

Bibliography

Walton, Joseph, ed. Incidentes Illustrating the Doctrines and History             of the Society of Friends. Philadelphia: Friends’ Book Store, 1897

Haverford College Special Collections, manuscript collection 990 B-R,2 pages.

Mueller, Anne Moore. “Early Protests.” Quakers & Slavery :. Bryn Mawr, 2008. Web. 17  Nov. 2015.

Pittman, LaShawnDa. (Oct. 08, 2015). Emancipation & Reconstruction  [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from http://canvas.uw.edu/courses/986700/files/folder/ Course%2520Lectures?preview=33370314

Wilder, Craig S. “The Edges of the Empire.” Ebony & Ivy: Race, Slavery, and     the Troubled History of America’s Universities. , 2013. Print.

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