The Quakers were among the most prominent slave traders during the early days of the country; paradoxically, they were also among the first denominations to protest slavery. The denomination's internal battle to do so, however, took over a century. Their fight began in Pennsylvania. There, in April 1688, four Dutch members of "The Society of Friends," as it was then known, sent a short petition "against the traffick of men-body" to their meeting in Germantown.
The 1688 Quaker Meeting, however, ducked the petition of its Dutch members, as they found the matter "so weighty that we think it not expedient for us to meddle with it here." The petition was filed away, to be discovered again and published in 1844, 156 years later. While previously, English Christians such as George Fox and William Edmondson, both Quakers, and Richard Baxter, a Presbyterian, had criticized slavery and called for reforms, the Germantown petition may well have been the first direct protest against the system of slavery itself.
- Contributed by Stephen Angell, Earlham School of Religion