Sunday, December 2, 2012

Brycchan Carey's "From Peace to Freedom"

Brycchan Carey is currently reader in English literature, Kingston University, London. He is the author of British Abolitionism and the Rhetoric of Sensibility: Writing, Sentiment, and Slavery, 1760–1807.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, From Peace to Freedom: Quaker Rhetoric and the Birth of American Antislavery, 1657-1761, and reported the following:
From Peace to Freedom tells the story of how Quakers, first in Barbados and later in Pennsylvania, came to question slavery and later to outlaw it within the Society of Friends, as the Quakers are also known. Appropriately, therefore, page 99 discusses the somewhat strained relationship between Friends in those two places, showing how Barbadian and Philadelphian Friends corresponded over the slavery question in 1698, and how Friends in the more northerly colony requested that those from the Caribbean send no more slaves to Pennsylvania. This was one of several similar moves by Quakers in Pennsylvania that, on first sight, look like statements of antislavery but which on closer inspection emerge from less noble motives; page 99 concludes with the observation that “the reason given in 1698 was neither the Golden Rule nor the assertion of African humanity, but merely that Philadelphian Quakers felt that slaves ‘are too numerous here.’ Opposition to slavery was not always motivated by the purest humanitarianism.” This, sadly, would prove to be true on several other occasions.

The most visible feature of page 99 is the long quotation in the middle of the page. This is a substantial portion of the text of the letter sent in 1698 by Friends in Philadelphia to those in Barbados. This long quotation is not unusual. Throughout the book I have quoted generously from sources that are not easily accessible to the general reader. On other pages, one can find the full text of the 1688 Germantown Protest Against Slavery, plentiful minutes of debates in Quaker meetings which reveal that Friends were not above arguing with one another, lengthy extracts from pamphlets by pioneering antislavery Quakers such as John Hepburn and Ralph Sandiford, and a full report of what the eccentric Quaker Benjamin Lay actually said when he famously spattered the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting with fake blood in 1738.

All in all, page 99 is representative of the book as a whole in that it shows that early Quaker antislavery was tentative and often rather self-serving at the same time that it was intercolonial and international. The page also displays my method of quoting extensively from primary texts. On this occasion, Ford Madox Ford’s test holds good!
Learn more about the book and author at Brycchan Carey's website.

--Marshal Zeringue