Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition o.

The oldest abolition society, being a short story of the labors of the Pennsylvania society for promoting the abolition of slavery, the relief of free negroes unlawfully held in bondage, and for improving the condition of the African race online

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Online LibraryPennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition oThe oldest abolition society, being a short story of the labors of the Pennsylvania society for promoting the abolition of slavery, the relief of free negroes unlawfully held in bondage, and for improving the condition of the African race → online text (page 1 of 1)
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The Oldest Abolition Society




Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition
of Slavery, the Relief of Free Negroes Un-
lawfully Held in Bondage, and for
Improving the Condition of
the African Race,

Philadelphia, Pa.



Pennsylvania Aboliaon Society

Two Early Presidents — Dr. Benjamin Rush,
Dr. Benjamin Franklin


President^ Henry W. Wilbur, 140 North T5TH
St., Philadelphia, Pa.

Vice Presidents, Alfred H. Love, Joel Borton

Secretary, Elwood Heacock, 2027 North Col-
lege Avenue, Philadelphia, Pa.

Treasurer, Howard Roberts, Norristown, Pa.


Members may be proposed at any meeting of the
Board of Managers. After being elected, the pay-
ing of an annual fee of $1.00 constitutes the only
requirement. For further particulars apply to any
of the officers.

The Oldest Abolition Society

When the war for independence began, and while
the Continental Congress was busy considering the
rights of man, and was formulating axiomatic state-
ments about liberty and equality, ten thousand
slaves were held by Pennsylvania task-masters, and
a half a million of our black brothers and sisters
were bound to service in all of the American colo-
nies. Slavery existed at that time in every one of
the original thirteen states, which a Httle later
helped form "the more perfect union."

It is true that many of the patriots of the colo-
nial and the early constitutional period, both in the
North and in the South, regretted the presence of
the peculiar institution, and hoped for its future
disappearance. Among this number were many
slaveholders, such as Thomas Jefferson and Patrick
Henry. As an offset to this nominal anti-slaverv
sentiment, was a collection of vigorous and united
men from what later became the "cotton states,"
who noisily and belligerently contended for the
maintenance of the institution They secured the
constitutional guarantees for slavery, and were the
sires of the men who pressed the issue to the final
effort to overthrow the Union.

In more ways than one the year 1775 stands out
boldly as an epoch in the development of the abo-
lition movement. During this year Warner Miff-
lin, a Delaware Friend, manumitted his slaves, and
on the 14th of Fourth month a small group of men,
mostly members, of the Society of Friends, organ-
ized the "Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the
Abolition of Slavery, the Relief of Free Negroes
Unlawfully Held in Bondage, and for Improving
the Condition of the African Race." The long
name adopted by the Society contained a broad
commission, and afforded ample reason for its con-
tinued existence.

The Society had a fitful and feeble existence for
a few months, and temporarily suspended on ac-
count of the excitement and exigencies of the revo-
lutionary period. It remained unknown and inac-
tive until Tenth month 2nd, 1784, when it was
reorganized, to uninterruptedly exist until the
present time. The Society was legally incorporated
in 1789.

During this year what is now the Philadelphia
Yearly Meeting sent a memorial in behalf of the aboli-
tion of slavery to the infant United States Congress.
Within a few days. Second month 12th, a petition
of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society, signed by
its venerable President, Benjamin Franklin, ap-

eared in the Congress. This was one of the last

official acts of the celebrated philosopher and diplo-
mat, as in a few weeks Franklin passed away.

This petition was almost a prophetic document.
Its initial paragraph was aHve with the spirit which
inspired and characterized the Declaration of Inde-
pendence. We quote:

!- ' ''From a persuasion that equal liberty was origi-
nally the portion, and is still the birthright of all
men, and influenced by the strongest ties of hu-
manity, and the principles of their institution, your
memorialists conceive themselves bound to use all
justifiable endeavors to loosen the bands of slavery
and to promote a general enjoyment of the blessing
of freedom. Under these impressions, they ear-
nestly entreat your serious attention to the subject
of slavery, that you would be pleased to counten-
ance the restoration of liberty to those unhappy
men, who alone in this land of freedom are de-
graded into perpetual bondage, and who amidst
the general joy of surrounding freemen, are groan-
ing in servile subjection ; that you will devise means
for removing this inconsistency from the character
of the American people; that you will promote
mercy and justice towards this distressed race, and
that you will step to the very verge of the powers
vested in you, for discouraging every species of
traffic in the persons of our fellow men."

During the lapse of nearly a century and a quar-
ter since this document was formulated, it is doubt-
ful if the major and controlling public opinion of
the country has caught up with the ideals voiced by

Franklin and his associates for dealing with the
colored people.

Both the Quaker memorial and the AboHtion
Society's petition were debated vigoriously in Con-
gress. Some of the ultra Southern brethren were
rather severe in referring to the ''disturbing" char-
acter of both documents. One representative con-
temptuously remarked that the Quakers had ap-
peared in Congress "to meddle in a business in
which they had nothing to do." This utterance
contained all the venom in solution which finally
characterized pro-slavery oratory and literature.
It has to be said, however, that the memorial and
the petition were referred to the proper committee,
by a substantial majority, and were finally reported
back to the House. The report was properly
spread on the records as a sort of historical mile-
post, no other action being accorded either the me-
morial or the petition. There is little reason to be-
lieve that at any subsequent time for three-quarters
of a century even that much consideration would
have been shown an anti-slavery petition by the
National Congress.

Another forward movement was taken by the Ab-
olition Society in 1789. A committee of twenty-
four members, divided into four sub-committees,
was to give attention to the following concerns:

''ist. A Committee of Inspection, whose duty

should be to superintend the morals, general con-
duct, and ordirary situation of the free negroes, to
afford them advice and instruction, and protect
them from wrongs."

"2d. A Committee of Guardians, for placing out
children with suitable persons, that they may learn
some trade, or other means of subsistence by regu-
lar but reasonable apprenticeship."

3d. A Committee of Education, who were to su-
perintend the school instruction of the children and
youth of free blacks. This branch of the commit-
tee was also charged to procure and preserve a reg-
ular record of the marriages, births and manumis-
sions of all free blacks."

''4th. A Committee of Employ, who were to en-
deavor to procure constant employment for those
free negroes who are able to work, the want of
which would occasion poverty, idleness and many
vicious habits."

Pennsylvania having enacted a gradual emanci-
pation law in 1780, in 1791 a bill was introduced
in the Assembly, which if made a law would have
permitted officers of the United States Government
to hold slaves in this state. The Abolition Society
organized and conducted a vigorous opposition to
the bill, which was subsequently defeated. The
Society thus scored its first substantial legislative

In 1 813 the Society opened a school in a building
erected for the purpose on Cherry Street, for the

education of colored children. In 1 8 1 5 , by resolution
of the Society, this building was named Clarkson
Hall, in honor of the English Abolitionist, Thomas

There are frequent references to memorials to the
Legislature and Congress on various phases of the
Abohtion question, but the Society had its period
of ups and downs, the gradual emancipation in
Pennsylvania rendering its local work less necessary.
The general apathy which seemed to come over the
whole country after the invention of the cotton gin,
and the enlarged financial interest thus conferred
upon the institution of slavery, had its effect upon
the Society.

In 1818, when the colonization movement was
inaugurated, the Society gave some attention to the
matter, but with no very active sympathy in the
movement. It seems to have, in the main, ap-
proved the position of the American Anti-Slavery
Convention, that emancipation should precede col-

It co-operated by resolution and otherwise in the
futile attempt to make the territory of Missouri a
free state.

In 1820, the Society memorialized the Legisla-
ture for the immediate abolition of all slaves in the
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, who were still

held in bondage under the provisions of the grad-
ual emancipation act.

In 1823, the state of Maryland by legislative res-
olution, entered a complaint against the difficulty
of recapturing fugitive slaves in Pennsylvania who
had escaped from the state of Maryland, audit was
suggested that this state prohibit the settlement of
people of color within its borders. A committee of
the Abolition Society replied somewhat vigorously
to this strange suggestion on the part of the state
of Maryland.

In 1823, resolutions were adopted in condemna-
tion of South Carolina for its treatment of free col-
ered people coming into the state from outside its
borders. It was provided by statute that any free
person of color entering the state on a vessel or
otherwise, should be committed and detained in jail
until the departure of the vessel, and if the expenses
connected with the detention of such person were
not paid, they would be sold into slavery.

The Society was energetic in memorializing Con-
gress in behalf of the abolition of slavery in the
District of Columbia. It also gave substantial sup-
port and encouragement to Benjamin Lundy when
he began his abolition propaganda by the publica-
tion of 'The Genius of Universal Emancipation."

With the perfection of the aboHtion of slavery in
the state of Perms vlvania, verv manv free colored

people were subjected to annoyances, and were not
infrequently kidnapped. The Pennsylvania Abo-
lition Society was energetic in petitioning the Leg-
islature for a redress of these grievances.

It may be conceived that the Pennsylvania
Abolition Societ}'^, was, in the main, a conservative
institution, standing firmly in favor of gradual
emancipation, but when the full-fledged emancipa-
tion of slavery appeared on the scene, it gave sup-
port to the question of immediate emancipation
with dignity and positiveness.

In 1837, a concern arose in the Society for a
more close investigation of the condition of colored
people, and a committee was appointed to visit
such persons in their families, public meetings and
other institutions, and to gather statistical infor-
mation in regard to the same.

With the intensification of the slavery question,
the Pennsylvania Society more and more lined up
with the ideals contained in its name, and antici-
pated in its charter. Its roll of members contained
the names of a number of the most strenuous aboli-
tionists in our own and other lands, not confining
its members to citizens of Pennsylvania. From
outside the United States, Thomas Clarkson, Gran-
ville Sharp, William Pitt, and William Wilberforce,
of England, and L'Abbe Raynal, of France, were
members. At home, such non-residents as Joshua

R. Giddings, William Lloyd Garrison and Freder-
ick Douglass, were on the roll, and at an earlier
period John Jay, of New York, first Chief Justice
of the United States, was not ashamed to be asso-
ciated with the men belonging to this Society.

Among the well-known Pennsylvanians who be-
came associated with tbe Society, and famous as
aboHtionists, were Passmore Williamson, Isaac T,
Hopper, Daniel Neal, James Mott and Edward
Hopper. Going back to the colonial and early con-
stitutional period, we find Dr. George Logan, grand-
son of Penn's secretary, and for six years United
States senator, among the members. In the Hstof
ot^cers given further on in this story, will be found
not a few famous Pennsylvanians.

During the period from 1835 until the abolition
of slavery, the Abolition Society was more or less
effective in most of the efforts looking towards
emancipation. In the "petition" campaign, for-
warded by the venerable John Ouincy Adams, this
Society took a considerable part.

After the passage of the fugitive slave law by
Congress in 1851, there was consternation among
the colored people of Philadelphia, for fear that the
law would annoy the free men and women of the
race, as well as imperil the fugitives from slavery
who might be resident here. To allay these fears
the AboHtion So.'^iety published an address counsel-

iiig forbearance under the accumulated wrongs in-
flicted upon the race. This address was distrib-
uted by the Society's Visiting Committee in person.

The Acting Committee of the Society did a large
amount of work in the period from 1849 on to the
coming of the Civil War, in attempting to secure
justice for free negroes who were harrassed by kid-
nappers, and in securing the liberation of such of
them as were actually stolen by kidnappers. It
also made a successful effort to procure the release
of three free men who were confined in jail at Nor-
folk, Virginia, in consequence of an attempt of a
sea captain to sell them into slavery. Many of the
efforts of the committee were crowned with success.

It is interesting to note that in 1852, the Society
disbursed $5,378.12 in its various activities, the
larger part being for educational purposes.

In 1856 the Society issued a report being a sta-
tistical inquiry into the cordition of the colored
people in Philadelphia. Tl e report was prepared
by Benjamin C. Bacon, and published by order of
the Society. This is an exceedingly interesting com-
pilation, especially so in view of the fact that there
were a number of private schools conducted at that
time for the benefit of the colored people. There
were in the Sabbath Schools of the city, 1,677
colored children, and at that time 9,000 adult col-
ored persons over twenty years of age residing in

Philadelphia. About one-seventh of them were
able to read and write. More than one-third of
them were born in slavery, and one-eighth of the
number had been manumitted. There were i,6oo
and over engaged in work as skilled laborers. The
report went quite extensively into the criminal sta-
tistics of the city, showing that the colored people
represented seventeen per cent, of the criminal pop-
ulation in the Eastern Penitentiary.

As nearly as we can ascertain from the records
and published statements of the Society from time
to time, it is evident that at the beginning and for
the major part of its existence, it was purely a men's
organization. It is less than a generation ago that
the names of women appear on its roll of members.
For an organization at the beginning, and all along
the line, so largely composed of Friends, this ignor-
ing of women seems, to say the least, strange.

It should be remembered that it was not until
some time after the civil war, that colored people
were accorded transit privileges on the Philadel-
phia street cars. In the effort to remove this re-
pressive rule, and permit colored persons to be pas-
sengers on these public service conveyances, the
Abolition Society bore an honorable part.

From time to time the Pennsylvania Abolition
Society has received certain bequests, the proceeds
of w^hich it has distributed according: to its best

judgment for the improvement of the people of
color in Philadelphia and elsewhere.

In 1894, in addition to its other obUgations, this
Society became the trustee of the Laing School at
Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina. This relation was
created at the request of the late Henry M, Laing.
The Society holds trust deeds to all of the school
property at Mt. Pleasant, occupied by the colored
school managed by Abby D. Munro. It also holds
and administers the endowment fund of the Laing
School, paying the proceeds to the manager of the

For a number of years the distribution of its own
income, and the administration of the Laing School
fund, has constituted the bulk of the Society's la-
bors. That its work under its title and charter
could be very much enlarged, admits of no doubt.

From various statements in the past literature of
the Pennsylvania Abolition Society, the assertion
seems warranted that it was the first regularly or-
ganized society in this country formed with the
purpose to produce the elimination of the institu-
tion of slavery from the United States. With an
honorable but quiet record for 136 years behind it,
if one were writing prophesy rather than history,
the temptation would be strong to suggest an in-
crease of the resources, and an enlarged activity of
the Soc'ety. It might well become the clearing

house for calm and orderly efforts to remove race
prejudice, and increase humane efforts in behalf of
justice, in the midst of the condition of the
race question.

The following list contains the names of the offi-
cers, excepting Vice Presidents, from the founding
of the Society down to date:


John Baldwin,
Samuel Richards,
James Whiteall.
Thomas Meredith,
Dr. Benjamin Rush,
Jonathan Penrose,
James Pemberton
Dr. Benjamin Franklin
Dr. Casper Wistar. Jr.
William Rowlc

William Wayne, Jr.
Thomas Shipley
Edward Needles
Dr. Joseph Parrish
Dillwyn Parrish
Passmore Williamson
1 William Still
Howard M. Jenkins
Samuel S. Ash
Henry W. Wilbur


Nathan Smith
Benjamin Williams
Joseph Parker
Abraham L. Pennock
James Mott, Jr.
Rlakey Sharpless
Thomas Ridgway
Samuel Mason, Jr.
Edward B. Garrigues
Dr. Edwin Atlee
Fdwin Walter
James R. Wilson
George Griscom

^The only colored man who ever served as President.

Thomas Harrison
John Todd
Tench Cox
John McCree
Joseph Parker Norris
Joseph Sanson!
James Todd
Benjamin Kite
Walter Franklin
Timothy Paxson
James Milnor
Samuel Harvey
John Bacon

Secretaries, (Continued)

Benjamin C. Bacon Haworth Wetherald

William C. Betts Edward Lewis

Edward Hopper Passmore Williamson

Lewis C. Gunn Joseph Healey

Dr. Joshua Rhoad* Joseph M. Truman, Jr.

Daniel Neall, Jr. Amos Hillborn

William D. Parrish William Heacock

Joseph Lindsay Lukens Webster
Ellwood Heacock


James Starr Caleb Clothier

John Evans Henry M. Laing

Thomas Phipps John P. Townsend

Henry Troth William S. Ingram

Peter Wright D. Henry Wright

Howard Roberts

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Online LibraryPennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition oThe oldest abolition society, being a short story of the labors of the Pennsylvania society for promoting the abolition of slavery, the relief of free negroes unlawfully held in bondage, and for improving the condition of the African race → online text (page 1 of 1)