^^1 iiliiiliiiiiliiipPiiipi|«^^ LIBRARY OF CONGRESS DDDD1745bDfl^-, a"V ^*> ' • • • - V >5^"-. "=0 A V->>.. '<^ aV^.. ^V"^' v^ 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 Un- lawfully Held in Bondage, and for Improving the Condition of the African Race, Philadelphia, Pa. PUBLISHED FOR THE SOCIETY 1911 Pennsylvania Aboliaon Society ORGANIZED IN 1773 Two Early Presidents — Dr. Benjamin Rush, Dr. Benjamin Franklin PRESENT OFFICERS 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. CONDITIONS OF MEMBERSHIP 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 victory. 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 Clarkson. 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- onization. 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 school. 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 prese.it 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: Presidents 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 Secretaries 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 Treasurers 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 54 ^ <p^ •.;«' ^^"^ • < o ^> ^«. .^^ *^ %y -i'. ■«■ ,V«-^-"- ^- ^^^ '.* J>"'^^ ', *u.. . 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