Excerpt from Carter Godwin Woodson, The Education of The Negro Prior To 1861: A History of the Education of the Colored People of the United States from the Beginning of Slavery to the Civil War (Washington, D.C. : Associated Publishers, 1919) 17-19.



More effective than the efforts of other sects in the enlightenment of the Negroes was the work of the Quakers, despite the fact that they were not free to extend their operations throughout the colonies. Just as the colored people are indebted to the Quakers for registering in 1688 the first protest against slavery in Protestant America, so are they indebted to this denomination for the earliest permanent and well-developed schools devoted to the education of their race. As the Quakers believed in the freedom of the will, human brotherhood, and equality before God, they did not, like the Puritans, find difficulties in solving the problem of enlightening the Negroes. While certain Puritans were afraid that conversion might lead to the destruction of caste and the incorporation of undesirable persons into the "Body Politick," the Quakers proceeded on the principle that all men are brethren and, being equal before God, should be considered equal before the law. On account of unduly emphasizing the relation of man to God the Puritans "atrophied their social humanitarian instinct" and developed into a race of self-conscious saints. Believing in human nature and laying stress upon the relation between man and man the Quakers became the friends of all humanity. Far from the idea of getting rid of an undesirable element by merely destroying the institution which supplied it, the Quakers endeavored to teach the Negro to be a man capable of discharging the duties of citizenship. As early as 1672 their attention was directed to this important matter by George Fox.[1] In 1679 he spoke out more boldly, entreating his sect to instruct and teach their Indians and Negroes "how that Christ, by the Grace of God, tasted death for every man."[2] Other Quakers of prominence did not fail to drive home this thought

In 1693 George Keith, a leading Quaker of his day, came forward as a promoter of the religious training of the slaves as a preparation for emancipation.[3] William Penn advocated the emancipation of slaves,[4] that they might have every opportunity for improvement. In 1696 the Quakers, while protesting against the slave trade denounced also the policy of neglecting their moral and spiritual welfare.[5] The growing interest of this sect in the Negroes was shown later by the development in 1713 of a definite scheme for freeing and returning them to Africa after having been educated and trained to serve as missionaries on that continent.[6]

The inevitable result of this liberal attitude toward the Negroes was that the Quakers of those colonies where other settlers were so neglectful of the enlightenment of the colored race, soon found themselves at war with the leaders of the time. In slaveholding communities the Quakers were persecuted, not necessarily because they adhered to a peculiar faith, not primarily because they had manners and customs unacceptable to the colonists, but because in answering the call of duty to help all men they incurred the ill will of the masters who denounced them as undesirable persons, bringing into America spurious doctrines subversive of the institutions of the aristocratic settlements.

Their experience in the colony of Virginia is a good example of how this worked out. Seeing the unchristian
attitude of the preachers in most parts of that colony, the Quakers inquired of them, "Who made you ministers of the Gospel to white people only, and not to the tawny and blacks also?"[7] To show the nakedness of the neglectful clergy there some of this faith manifested such zeal in teaching and preaching to the Negroes that their enemies demanded legislation to prevent them from gaining ascendancy over the minds of the slaves.

Accordingly, to make the colored people of that colony inaccessible to these workers it was deemed wise in 1672 to enact a law prohibiting members of that sect from taking Negroes to their meetings. In 1678 the
colony enacted another measure excluding Quakers from the teaching profession by providing that no person should be allowed to keep a school in Virginia unless he had taken the oath of allegiance and supremacy.[8] Of course, it was inconsistent with the spirit and creed of the Quakers to take this oath.

The settlers of North Carolina followed the same procedure to check the influence of Quakers, who spoke
there in behalf of the man of color as fearlessly as they had in Virginia. The apprehension of the dominating
element was such that Governor Tryon had to be instructed to prohibit from teaching in that colony any
person who had not a license from the Bishop of London.[9] Although this order was seemingly intended to
protect the faith and doctrine of the Anglican Church, rather than to prevent the education of Negroes, it
operated to lessen their chances for enlightenment, since missionaries from the Established Church did not
reach all parts of the colony.[10] The Quakers of North Carolina, however, had local schools and actually
taught slaves. Some of these could read and write as early as 1731. Thereafter, household servants were
generally given the rudiments of an English education.

It was in the settlements of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York that the Quakers encountered
opposition in carrying out their policy of cultivating the minds of colored people. Among these Friends
education of Negroes became the handmaiden of the emancipation movement. While John Hepburn, William Burling, Elihu Coleman, and Ralph Sandiford largely confined their attacks to the injustice of keeping slaves, Benjamin Lay was working for their improvement as a prerequisite of emancipation.[11] Lay entreated the Friends to "bring up the Negroes to some Learning, Reading and Writing and" to "endeavor to the utmost of their Power in the sweet love of Truth to instruct and teach 'em the Principles of Truth and Religiousness, and learn some Honest Trade or Imployment and then set them free. And," says he, "all the time Friends are teaching of them let them know that they intend to let them go free in a very reasonable Time; and that our Religious Principles will not allow of such Severity, as to keep them in everlasting Bondage and Slavery."[12]

The struggle of the Northern Quakers to enlighten the colored people had important local results. A st
moral force operated in the minds of most of this sect to impel them to follow the example of certain lea
who emancipated their slaves.[13] Efforts in this direction were redoubled about the middle of the eighteenth century when Anthony Benezet,[14] addressing himself with unwonted zeal to the uplift of these unfortunates, obtained the assistance of Clarkson and others, who solidified the antislavery sentiment of the Quakers and influenced them to give their time and means to the more effective education of the blacks. After this period the Quakers were also concerned with the improvement of the colored people's condition in other settlements.[15]


[Footnote 1: Quaker Pamphlet, p. 8; Moore, Anti-slavery, etc., p. 79.]

[Footnote 2: Ibid., p. 79.]

[Footnote 3: Special Report of the U.S. Com. of Ed., p. 376.]

[Footnote 4: Rhodes, History of the United States, vol. i., p. 6; Bancroft, History of the United States, vol. ii., p. 401.]

[Footnote 5: Locke, Anti-slavery, p. 32.]

[Footnote 6: Ibid., p. 30.]

[Footnote 7: Quaker Pamphlet, p. 9.]

[Footnote 8: Hening, Statutes at Large, vol. i., 532; ii., 48, 165, 166, 180, 198, and 204. Special Report of the U.S. Com. of Ed., 1871, p. 391.]

[Footnote 9: Ashe, History of North Carolina, vol. i., p. 389. The same instructions were given to Governor Francis Nicholson.]

[Footnote 10: Ibid., pp. 389, 390.]

[Footnote 11: Locke, Anti-slavery, etc., p. 31.]

[Footnote 12: Ibid., p. 32.]

[Footnote 13: Dr. DuBois gives a good account of these efforts in his Suppression of the African Slave Trade.]

[Footnote 14: Benezet was a French Protestant. Persecuted on account of their religion, his parents moved from France to England and later to Philadelphia. He became a teacher in that city in 1742. Thirteen years later he was teaching a school established for the education of the daughters of the most distinguished families in Philadelphia. He was then using his own spelling-book, primer, and grammar, some of the first text-books published in America. Known to persecution himself, Benezet always sympathized with the oppressed. Accordingly, he connected himself with the Quakers, who at that time had before them the double task of fighting for religious equality and the amelioration of the condition of the Negroes. Becoming interested in the welfare of the colored race, Benezet first attacked the slave trade, so exposing it in his speeches and writings that Clarkson entered the field as an earnest advocate of the suppression of the iniquitous traffic. See Benezet, Observations, p. 30, and the African Repository, vol. iv., p. 61.]

[Footnote 15: Quaker Pamphlet, p. 31.]

 

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