Quakers Tell Slaves Not to Disturb Peace

Dateline: Philadelphia, 11 July 1693. Black slaves met together in Philadelphia on the first day (Sunday) of the week and apparently disturbed the peace. How did the Quakers clamp down?

William Markham is the Lieutenant Governor in place of William Penn, who had left Philadelphia to go back to England. The Councilors were Andres Robeson, Esq.; Robert Turner, Esq.; and Patrick Robinson, Secretary and Esquire. By the early 1690s, the Council had been taken over by trained lawyers. “Regular” Quakers, like William Clayton, had long since been squeezed out.

Modern transcription begins:

Upon the request of some of the members of the Council that an order made by the Court of Quarter Sessions for the County of Philadelphia the 4th July Instant (proceeding upon the presentment of the Grand Jury for the body of the said county) against the tumultuous gatherings of the negroes of the town of Philadelphia on the first days of the week, ordering the constables of Philadelphia or any person whatsoever to have power to take up negroes, male or female, whom they should find gadding abroad on the said first days of the week, without a ticket from their Mister or Mistress or not in their company, or to carry them to jail, there to remain that night and that without meat [food] or drink and to cause them to be publicly whipped next morning with 39 lashes, well laid on, on their bare backs, for which their said Mister or Mistress should pay 15d to the whipper at his delivery of them to their Mister or Mistress and that the said order should be confirmed by the Lt. Governor and Council.

The Lt. Governor and Council, looking upon the said presentment to proceed upon good grounds and the order of Court to be reasonable and for the benefit of the inhabitants of the town of Philadelphia, and that it will be a means to prevent further mischiefs that might ensue upon such disorder of negroes, do ratify and confirm the same and all persons are required to put the said order in execution.

Transcription ends.

Quakers did not abolish slavery in their community until 1761.

Whipping is found in the Old Law (Deut. 25:2-3). Even white servants were whipped for things like theft or fornication. In this case, it looks like the whipper has a financial incentive to find as many blacks as he can, and the master and mistress has the same incentive to keep their slaves calmed down (as the owners defined the term).

But what was the disturbance on the first day of the week (Sunday)? A noisy church meeting? Or just a noisy gathering to let off steam? Whatever the case, the Quakers shut it down. They like silence and maybe feared a revolt (i.e. “hidden mischiefs”), but it seems there may not have been enough slaves to launch one. So who knows?.


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Wilbourn Slaves

Slaves of Wilbourn-Related Family Lines

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Minutes of the Provincial Council, vol. 1, 1683-1700, (Jo. Severns and Co. 1852), pp. 380-81.

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