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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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