In February 1688, my granddaughter’s 10th great-grandfather Abraham op den Graeff, a Quaker immigrant to Pennsylvania, was one of the four men who signed the first American petition against slavery.
She’s only two years old now, but someday my granddaughter will read the petition and know that she, too, can stand fearlessly against wrong. She has inherited the responsibility to be on the right side of history. She’ll say what she knows is right and reasonable, and she’ll say it before others who should be leading have enough courage to take up the cause.
The first organized protest against slavery in the Americas began with these words:
These are the reasons why we are against the traffick of men-body, as followeth. 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 doe? Yea, rather is it worse for them, which say they are Christians; for we hear that ye most part of such negers are brought hither against their will and consent, and that many of them are stolen. Now, tho they are black, we can not conceive there is more liberty to have them slaves, as it is to have other white ones. There is a saying, that we shall doe 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 robb men, and those who buy or purchase them, are they not all alike? Here is liberty of conscience, wch is right and reasonable; here ought to be likewise liberty of ye body, except of evil-doers, wch is an other case. But to bring men hither, or to rob and sell them against their will, we stand against.
Full text and image of original:
More of the story:
Four for Freedom: America’s First Abolitionists, an excerpt from The Mayflower Murderer & Other Forgotten Firsts in American History by Peter F. Stevens