Quakers & Slaves

Believe it or not the Quakers owned slaves. It may be hard to believe because the Quakers were the first documented to protest slavery in the Americas, they are the founders of the first anti-slavery/abolitionist society, and are generally seen as the peace loving peoples. However despite this narrative, which is still told to this day, the ugly truth remains. One famous example is that of Olaudah Equiano aka Gustavas Vassa* who was owned by Robert King.

King was a Philadelphian trader with connections to the Caribbean islands. He purchased Equiano in 1763, two years after the Quakers banned the owning of slaves. King, who now lives on the island of Montserrat still connects with Philadelphia through his trading ships, which Equiano helps manage. He does so well that he is able to save and purchase his freedom from King.


Another slave owning Quaker was James Claypoole Jr.. Claypoole, was a well known Philadelphia portrait painter and glazier. It is worth mentioning that requested that his African slaves be, “reliable and pliable” and that he wanted to avoid, “bad negroes'(1)

220px-james_claypoole_sr-_c-_1783 James Claypoole Jr.

Yet another Quaker to own slaves was Jonathan Dickinson. Dickinson, was born in 1663 in Jamaica to a family of plantation owners. He was well known for his published journal account of being shipwrecked with his family, slaves, and crew members in Florida. While making their way up the florida coast, four of Dickinson slaves died of exhaustion and exposure.


* The language regarding the Ibo and slavery is troubling. No doubt there were many native africans who were held as captives by warring tribes, however compare this with the trans-atlantic slave trade can be troubling.

(1) James Claypoole to Edward Claypoole, 23 September 1682, published in Jean R. Soderlund et al., eds., William Penn and the Founding of Pennsylvania, 1680-1684: A Documentary History (Philadelphia, 1983)


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