The Germantown Protest (1688)

Posted on February 22, 2013

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germantown-protestThe first (White) discourse against slavery in the American colonies.

In 1688, some settlers from the Rhine Valley, fleeing persecution in their homeland, looked at the institution of slavery as practiced by some of their fellow settlers, and identified that as persecution as well.  We would not wish this done to us, they said, which was (theoretically) the Christian rule of thumb for deciding how to act toward others.  They questioned whether being Christian gave them the right to keep slaves, or whether it was just to enslave someone simply for their ethnicity or colour.

Thus did the idea of freedom—as a principle of society rather than as a personal goal—enter the American consciousness.

Germantown was a Quaker settlement founded in 1683 which has since been encompassed by the city of Philadelphia.  Some of the settlers from the Rhine Valley were also Mennonites.

The Germantown Protest (1688)

This is to the monthly meeting held at Richard Worrell’s.

These are the reasons why we are against the traffic of men-body, as follows.

Is there any that would be done or handled at this manner? viz., to be sold or made a slave for all the time of his life? How fearful and faint-hearted are many on sea when they see a strange vessel — being afraid it should be a Turk, and they should be taken, and sold for slaves into Turkey. Now what is this better done, as Turks do? Yea, rather is it worse for them which say they are Christians, for we hear that the most part of such Negroes are brought hitherto against their will and consent, and that many of them are stolen.

Now though they are black we cannot conceive there is more liberty to have them slaves, as it is to have other white ones. There is a saying that we shall do to all men like as we will be done ourselves; making no difference of what generation, descent or colour they are.

And those who steal or rob men, and those who buy or purchase them, are they not alike? Here is liberty of conscience which is right and reasonable; here ought to be likewise liberty of the body, except of evil-doers, which is another case. But to bring men hither, or to rob and sell them against their will, we stand against. In Europe there are many oppressed for conscience sake; and here there are those oppressed who are of a black colour.

And we who know that men must not commit adultery — some do commit adultery, in others, separating wives from their husbands and giving them to others; and some sell the children of these poor creatures to other men.

Ah! do consider well this thing, you who do it, if you would be done at this manner? and if it is done according to Christianity?

You surpass Holland and Germany in this thing. This makes an ill report in all those countries of Europe, where they hear of, that the Quakers do here handle men as they handle there the cattle. And for that reason some have no mind or inclination to come hither.

And who shall maintain this your cause, or plead for it? Truly we cannot do so, except you shall inform us better hereof, viz., that Christians have liberty to practice these things. Pray, what thing in the world can be done worse towards us, than if men should rob or steal us away, and sell us for slaves to strange countries; separating husbands from their wives and children?

Being now this is not done in the manner we would be done at, therefore we contradict and are against this traffic of men-body. And we who profess that it is not lawful to steal, must, likewise, avoid to purchase such things as are stolen, but rather help to stop this robbing and stealing if possible. And such men ought to be delivered out of the hands of the robbers, and set free as well as in Europe.

Then is Pennsylvania to have a good report, instead it hath now a bad one for this sake in other countries. Especially whereas the Europeans are desirous to know in what manner the Quakers do rule in their province — and most of them do look upon us with an envious eye. But if this is done well, what shall we say is done evil?

If once these slaves (which they say are so wicked and stubborn men) should join themselves — fight for their freedom, — and handle their masters and mistresses as they did handle them before; will these masters and mistresses take the sword at hand and war against these poor slaves, like, we are able to believe, some will not refuse to do, or have these Negroes not as much right to fight for their freedom, as you have to keep them slaves?

Now consider well this thing, if it is good or bad? And in case you find it to be good to handle these blacks at that manner, we desire and require you hereby lovingly that you may inform us herein, which at this time never was done, viz., that Christians have such a liberty to do so. To the end we shall be satisfied in this point, and satisfy likewise our good friends and acquaintances in our native country, to whose it is a terror, or fearful thing that men should be handled so in Pennsylvania.

This is from our meeting at Germantown, held the 18 of the 2 month, 1688, to be delivered to the Monthly Meeting at Richard Worrell’s.

Garret hendericks
derick up de graeff
Francis daniell Pastorius
Abraham up Den graef

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Note: I have altered and modernized the language usage of this document for readability.  The original may be found at the following website:

http://www.yale.edu/glc/aces/germantown.htm