Germantown Protest, 1688


First Protest Against Slavery

In the document the Quakers use the Golden Rule to argue against such inhumane treatment of their fellow man regardless of the color of their skin, “we shall doe to all men like as we will be done ourselves; making no difference of what generation, descent or Color they are.” Seeing the injustices of the slave trade they courageously took a stand against slavery based on their religious and moral beliefs.

“Pray, what thing in the world can be done worse towards us, then if men should rob or steal us away, & sell us for slaves to strange Countries, separating husband from their wife and children. Being now this is not done at that manner we will be done at, therefore we contradict & are against this traffic of men body. And we who profess that it is unlawful to steal, must likewise avoid to purchase such things as are stollen, but rather help to stop this robbing and stealing if possible.”

Dublin Monthly Meeting took this protest under consideration and sent it the Quarterly Meeting who also considered the matter and resolved “it being a thing of too great a weight for this meeting to determine.” The four Germantown Friends were advised to present it to the Yearly Meeting. The Philadelphia Yearly Meeting at Burlington responds to the protest in their minute records, (Vol.A2, p.18) “It was adjudged not to be so proper for this meeting to give a positive judgment in the case, it having so general a relation to many other parts; and therefore at present they forbear it.” More Friends began to speak out in opposition to slavery and the slave trade. 88 years after the initial Germantown Protest the Society of Friends officially denounced slavery.

This powerful document has twice been considered lost. The protest first reappeared in 1844 and was published in The Friend, XVII (1844), 125 by Nathan Kite. More recently it was rediscovered in 2005 at the Arch Street Meeting House. It is now at Haverford College Special Collections who along with Swarthmore’s Friends Historical Library jointly hold the records of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting.

(Editor’s Note: The colloquial speech used in this powerful was common among Quakers in 1688.)