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The following represents the full text of the “Historical Sketch” in A Guide to the Microfilm Publication of The Papers of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society at The Historical Society of Pennsylvania by Jeffrey Nordlinger Bumbrey (1976). The text was lightly edited to meet HSP's current finding aid standards, but the original grammar and formatting remains intact throughout.
The Pennsylvania Abolition Society had its origins in early anti-slavery activities of Philadelphia Quakers. The exhortations of John Woolman and Anthony Benezet had convinced many Friends that the egalitarian and humanitarian doctrines of the Quaker must be extended to include the enslaved black man. It was Quaker conscience, rather than civic consciousness, that led Friends to form an abolition society in 1775.
Friends were not alone in voicing this concern. During 1772 and 1773 “the Clergy of the church of England and Dissenters,” according to Anthony Benezet, “freely joined” Friends in petitions to the Pennsylvania Assembly against the importation of slaves. The Assembly responded by appointing a select committee on February 4, 1773, to draft an act that would perpetuate the £20 duty on slaves. But the passage of the act was hardly the victory that Friends and their allies sought. Later that year they faced another, more immediate, challenge that gave direction to their anti-slavery efforts.
In 1773, Benjamin Bannarman, a resident of Virginia, purchased an Indian woman named Dinah Nevil and her four children from Nathaniel Lowry of New Jersey. Bannarman arranged for his newly-acquired slaves to be delivered in Philadelphia. However, on their arrival, Nevil protested publicly that she and her children were “free people.” She apparently found sympathetic support, for the mayor of Philadelphia intervened and transferred her and the children to the city’s Work House to await legal hearing on the case. Under the leadership of Israel Pemberton, a group of Quaker citizens entered a suit on behalf of Dinah Nevil, requesting the court to void Bannarman’s claims. This case occupied the attention of Friends and the courts for two years, at the end of which the court declared Dinah Nevil and her children were slaves.
The court’s decision and the increasing incidence of similar cases involving blacks who claimed to be free prompted ‘several citizens…to meet and forme themselves into a Society…the relive others that might have Legal Claime to Freedom and were deprived thereof.”
The newly formed Society met periodically during 1775, continuing in its attempts to release Dinah Nevil, and intervening in similar cases involving free blacks. In November, however, formal meetings ceased. Because sixteen of the original twenty-four members were Quakers, the Society decided that Quaker pacifism might discredit or render ineffective the Society’s anti-slavery testimony. Philadelphia was a small city in 1775; nearly everyone knew the religious backgrounds of the members of the Abolition Society. After Lexington and Concord, few could comprehend or respect the peace testimony of the Quaker minority. The Abolition Society itself might have been tainted by the views of some of its members. And, within the Society of Friends, neutrality became a more vexing question than slavery. In the face of confiscations and exile, most Friends withdrew from all public service. The Abolition Society languished in consequence.
Between 1775 and 1784, some programs initiated by the Abolition Society were continued by a few members acting as individuals. Although most historians note that the Abolition Society had no part in securing passage of the Pennsylvania Gradual Emancipation Law in 1780, Anthony Benezet waged a strong campaign in its favor. The new statute, flawed as it was, was to provide both the impetus and framework for much of the Abolition Society’s work for the next two decades. The law provided that no child born in Pennsylvania should be a slave, but that children born of slave mothers should be bound servants until the age of twenty-eight. Persons already enslaved were to be registered by their masters before November 1780; unregistered slaves were to be set free. The Abolition Society worked tirelessly to ensure that this newly-created class of bound servants would receive their legal rights. The Act also stipulated that blacks, whether free or slave, were equal before the law. To be sure, a slave could not be a witness against a freeman, but blacks were now legal persons whose rights had to be protected. Despite its weaknesses, the Act encouraged Benezet and other members of the dormant Abolition Society to continue their efforts. In 1781 they secured the freedom of Dinah Nevil. Thomas Harrison, secretary of the Society in 1775, into whose care Nevil and her children had been committed, purchased the family with his own funds and manumitted them. Continued opposition of the courts to Nevil’s claims left Harrison no alternative, but he and the others realized that individual efforts would be costly and ineffective. The aging Benezet tried several times to revitalize the Society between 1781 and 1783, but to no avail. Even after the effective end of hostilities between Britain and the colonies in 1781, Pennsylvania Quakers were uncertain of their future. Many were attempting to recover confiscated property and most were dismayed at finding themselves disfranchised by the new state government’s test act.
Not until 1784 did the few remaining members call a meeting for the reestablishment of the society. Their motivation was a cause célèbre involving two free black men accused of being runaway slaves. In the summer of 1783, while awaiting trial in the Philadelphia work House, these men unsuccessfully appealed to several influential citizens to act on their behalf. With no hope for assistance or a verdict in their favor, both men committed suicide rather than live as slaves. The immediate reaction in Philadelphia, especially among Friends, was one of shock and anger. None was more enraged by these events than Benezet who, in the last few months of his life, publicized the circumstances behind the suicides, which prompted Thomas Harrison, James Starr. Thomas Meredith, and seventeen others to call a meeting of the society after nine years.
One of the Society’s first acts was to organize its Standing Committee whose members devoted particular attention to manumission, indentures, and petitions to the Confederation Congress.
Reasons why they found it necessary to reorganize and broaden the Society’s membership and appeal remain unclear, but they nevertheless approved a new constitution on April 23, 1787, just a few weeks before the Federal Convention began its deliberations in Philadelphia.
From the moment of its reorganization the Society took on the pragmatic, nonsectarian cast that has characterized it since. The reorganized Society invited a number of non-Quakers to join and elected Benjamin Franklin, the president of the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania and member of the Constitution Convention, as president. The broadened membership later included such well-known individuals as Tench Coxe, Thomas Paine, John Jay, Noah Webster, Dr. Benjamin Rush, and the Marquis de Lafayette. The new members brought not only credibility but a new, more pragmatic program to the Society. A modern historian, Winthrop Jordon, has argued that the enactment of the several gradual emancipation statues in Pennsylvania (1780), in Rhode Island and Connecticut (1784), and in New York (1799) blunted the anti-slavery thrust of the PAS and its sister societies. It seems, rather, that the PAS redirected its efforts to meliorative ends; in 1787 it changed its name to the Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery and for Improving the Conditions of the African Race. Thus, in a 1789 Address to the Public the Society noted that the newly emancipated black was “poor and friendless,” and that “under such circumstances, freedom may often prove a misfortune to himself, and prejudicial to society.” Thus the Society intended to
instruct, to advise, to qualify those who have been restored to freedom, for the exercise and enjoyment of civil liberty, to promote in them habits of industry, to furnish them with employments… and to procure their children an education calculated for their future situation in life.
Although the reorganized Society sought support within the Philadelphia community for their efforts, the members clearly thought of their organization as an instrument of relief, instruction and social control; there were to be no free or emancipated blacks amongst its members for two generations. It seems probable that to some members of the Society such memberships would have been unnecessarily radical; after all, in 1787 Richard Allen, Absalom Jones, and other prominent blacks had organized themselves into the Free African Society.
Located in Philadelphia, soon to be the seat of the Federal government, and with such prominent members as Franklin and Rush, the Abolition Society had become the model for similar organizations elsewhere: in 1785 New Yorkers formed a manumission society, followed in quick succession by the banding together of abolitionists in Wilmington, Delaware (1788); Washington County, Pennsylvania (1790); Maryland (1790); and Connecticut (1790). By 1792 abolition groups were scattered from Massachusetts to Virginia, and the Society maintained an immense and constant correspondence with them. The Society corresponded, too, with such foreign organizations, as the Society Instituted for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade at London (1787) and La Société des Amis des Noirs a Paris (1788).
Because of its varied contacts, the Abolition Society was often called upon to act as guardian for manumitted blacks unprepared to live as free men. For example, hundreds of freed slaves were once sent by their former masters from the West Indies to Philadelphia under the sponsorship of the Society. The first such instance occurred in 1795. David Barclay, a prominent English Quaker, received thirty-two slaves in Jamaica in discharge of a debt. Barclay initially intended merely to manumit the slaves, but white Jamaicans feared that the freed might become public charges even if they did not become public nuisances. Instead, arrangements were made with Barclay’s friends, James Pemberton, President of the Society, and Thomas Harrison, Chairman of the Acting Committee, that those blacks willing to emigrate should be transported to Philadelphia and placed in the care of the Abolition Society. In all, twenty-eight of Barclay’s manumitted blacks came to Philadelphia and were put out as apprentices. The success of this venture was repeated in 1800 when the United States Admiralty Court placed 126 African survivors from two captures schooners, The Prudent and The Phoebe, under the supervision and care of the Society. Like the Jamaican blacks, these people were also placed as bound servants. Despite the happy solutions in both of these cases, no one in the Abolition Society believed that Pennsylvania alone could furnish asylum for large numbers of liberated blacks without greatly antagonizing the local white community, and increasingly in the early nineteenth century the Society found itself compelled to refuse help to unwanted manumitted blacks from other states.
During the last years of the eighteenth century, the Pennsylvania Abolition Society mounted an attack against the slave trade, and against slavery itself. In 1787 they memorialized the Federal Convention in Philadelphia requesting the termination of the slave trade. In the following year they petitioned the Pennsylvania Legislature to stop the traffic in slaves from Philadelphia. Despite the fact that neither appeal brought the immediate relief they sought, the Society continued to work toward its objectives within the legal system in a quiet, persistent, orderly fashion. For the members of the Society sought to correct the imperfections of the existing social order, not to create a new one.
If lobbying and memorializing failed to produce a needed law, justice was sought by the strict enforcement of existing laws. The Acting Committee, established in 1787 by the Society, gathered information on kidnappings, alleged slave schooners, and especially compliance with Pennsylvania’s abolition laws of 1780 and 1788; the clause which required slaves to be registered was often ignored or carelessly fulfilled. Such technical violations were frequently used to the advantage of blacks; members first recorded them and then brought the violations to the attention of the Society’s lawyers. So varied did their practice become that in 1793, in conjunction with the Acting Committee, the Society’s attorneys compiled the earliest collection of Pennsylvania's slave legislation.
In 1789 members of the Society had moved again to place the business of their organization on a more orderly footing. They secured a charter of incorporation from the State as The Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery, for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully held in Bondage, and for Improving the Condition of the African Race.
In the following year they acted upon the promise contained in their new title. The growing number of uneducated poor among the city’s free black population led them to appoint a Committee for Improving the Condition of Free Negroes.The committee took over the job of the old Committee on Education and, in 1794, established a school for black males. They also directed a census of the city’s black community in the same year.
The several successes of 1794 and the presence of the Federal government at Philadelphia prompted the Abolition Society to issue a call to its sister organizations to join in an “American Convention of Delegates from the Abolition Societys [sic] established in different parts of the United States.” Nine organizations sent twenty-five members who, in the words of Winthrop Jordan, “proceeded to memorialize everyone, including their own membership.” In large measure the Convention was the creature of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society and, as such, never really captured the enthusiasm of all of the societies whose local, particular needs militated against a strong national organizations. The Convention continued to meet, off and on, until 1838.
Reasons for the failure of the Convention are not hard to find: after 1798 the New England societies sent no delegates, and within a few years the Maryland and Virginia societies became moribund. By 1804 the Convention had accomplished much of its stated purpose: every state north of Delaware had enacted gradual emancipation laws or had outlawed slavery in their constitutions. And in the South the development of the cotton gin, the reorganization of Southern agriculture, and the availability of new lands in the Deep South and West hardened already established regional feelings against abolitionism.
Thrown back on itself, the Pennsylvania Abolition Society busied itself once again with its Philadelphia constituents. In 1813 they erected a school building on Cherry Street, Clarkson Hall. In the 1820s the Society cooperated with the newly-formed Free-Association and, more importantly, conducted a second census of the city’s blacks and expanded educational facilities for their children. Indeed, throughout the antebellum period, the Society continued to carry out its program of manumission, legal protection, and education of blacks in order to facilitate their assimilation by the larger society. Thus, in 1843, they founded the Lombard Street Infants School as an aid for working parents.
The practical experience and philosophical commitment of most members of the Society to gradual assimilation was first challenged in 1818 by the creation of the American Colonization Society. The Society’s minutes show that although colonization proposals came before the membership, they were certainly not supported. Nor, unfortunately, do they appear to have been condemned. More serious challenges to the Abolition Society’s leadership in anti-slavery movement arose in the 1830s. On October 29, 1835, the Tappan brothers of New York issued a call to anti-slavery sympathizers of all stripes to convene in Philadelphia on December 4. The presidency of the convention was offered to one of the Society’s members, Roberts Vaux, who declined. Vaux’s decision, undoubtedly supported by his fellow Abolition Society members, threw the convention into some confusion but they soon reorganized and chose William Lloyd Garrison with two others to draft a “Declaration of Sentiments” for the new American Anti-Slavery Society. It is easy to comprehend Vaux’s and the Abolition Society’s aversion to the immediatist appeals of the Anti-Slavery Society; the half-century of the Abolition Society’s experience had been predicated on gradualism and assimilation from free blacks into a whole society, not the creation of a new social order.
But with the creation of the America Anti-Slavery Society, leadership in the Abolition movement passed from the PAS. The immediatist message of the anti-slavery advocates unfortunately hardened public opinion against the anti-slavery societies and the Abolition Society’s headquarters, Pennsylvania Hall, causing some members of the Abolition Society to examine their consciences. Some deserted the Society for more immediatist organizations, while others agreed with William Rawle’s reaffirmation of gradualism:
The objects of this association were temperate, legitimate, and correct—they were substantially confined to the limits of our own state—much good was done—colored people suffering by reason of fraud or unlawful violence were relieved—the pursuits of them by persons falsely claiming rights to their services were judiciously repelled—their youth educated—their industry assisted—in sickness they were aided—and in the hour of death they were solaced and supported. In all this no offense was given to the citizens of their other states. Their boundaries were respected, and their laws and constitutions not attempted to be violated. A belief was entertained that an abhorrence of slavery would gradually work its way, and that it was the duty of the Society [to] await the event.
Withdrawal from the mainstream of the American abolition movement did not render the Abolition Society insensitive to the problems of slavery nationally. The Acting Committee continued its caseload as much as it could, investigating kidnappings, informing blacks of their legal rights, and securing counsel for those unable to afford it. As a group, members subsidized the printing of anti-slavery tracts for national distribution, and cooperated with such organizations as the Young Men’s Anti-Slavery Society, the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society, and the Junior Anti-Slavery Society. Memorials were sent to the U. S. Congress to protest slavery in the District of Columbia in 1835 and in 1848, the annexation of Texas in 1842, and the Compromise of 1850 which strengthened the Fugitive Slave act. In 1854, it demanded the admission of Kansas as a free state and sent numerous petitions to Congress asking for an end to the interstate slave trade. In Pennsylvania, the Society organized a powerful lobby in the state legislature against a move to disfranchise free blacks in 1838, and consistently demanded a repeal of all state laws upholding the rights of nonresident slaveholders.
During the years immediately preceding the Civil War, the Abolition Society, again increasingly Quaker, occupied a delicate position. With the rising tide of Northern resentment against abolitionists, membership declined sharply and meetings were frequently cancelled because of threats of violence. The outbreak of the war further weakened the Society and brought considerable dissension within the ranks over Quaker principles versus the northern war effort.
Between 1860 and 1865 the Society made few official refernces to the Civil War. However in 1863, members voted unanimously to enter the full text of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in the official records. Despite a seeming aloofness to events occurring about it, the Society did become involved with problems caused by the war. As early as 1861, the influx of black refugees into Philadelphia became a matter of concern for municipals officials. Little was done to help them in resettling until 1862 when the Society created a Committee of Employment to secure jobs and homes for as many of the refugees as possible. By 1865, the financial burden of such a large undertaking became apparent, and the Society joined with the Pennsylvania Freedman’s Association and two Quaker groups to form the Freedmen’s Employment Agency. This Agency lasted until 1867 and provided employment for hundreds of freedmen throughout eastern Pennsylvania.
The abolition of slavery and the growth of free educational institutions for blacks achieved two goals of the Society. Consequently, its membership dwindled but did manage, however, to remain moderately active in the 1870s. In conjunction with the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society, support was voiced for the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870. The Society also campaigned against the exclusion of blacks from Philadelphia’s streetcars, and conducted surveys to determine whether discrimination existed in the public school system. The year 1875 marked the centennial anniversary of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society. By this time, it was the only anti-slavery organization still in existence. The demise of its various schools and the legal expenses incurred by the Acting Committee released a sizeable amount of funds which could be used elsewhere. Initially, appropriations were given to black colleges and grammar schools just being started in the South. The result of this policy was an avalanche of requests from institutions in financial need. Besides giving substantial aid to Howard University, Hampton Institute, and a secondary school at Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, projects in Philadelphia were subsidized, such as a black orphanage and a YMCA in a block neighborhood.
By the end of the nineteenth century, the Society increasingly became a source of funds for organizations and institutions that worked for the relief and education of blacks. It had always supported a number of worthy causes and institutions, but from 1880 on it fell into the custom of regularly funding the Laing School in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. With each appropriation the Society became more involved with the school’s administration. In 1894, a deed of trust to all the school’s property was given to the society, and two years later it was appointed by the court to be a trustee for an endowment fund given to the school. These developments embroiled the Society in controversies over how to administer the school and its funds for nearly fifty years. In fact, the Laing School and its problems became the main reasons for meetings.
In 1940, the Society ended its trusteeship of the Laing School; the school’s property and $10,000.00 were deeded over to the local school board. Without a major goal to justify their continued existence as an organization, members seriously considered disbanding. Instead, it was voted that the group’s yearly income would be employed in subsidizing programs that otherwise might languish, actively to attract new members, and redefine its concern to concur with present-day needs. It was in keeping with these resolutions that an arrangement was made with the Committee on Race relations of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Society of Friends. In return for one half of the Society’s income, to be used to improve race relations, fifteen members of the Committee were to join the Society. Unfortunately, this unusual agreement never worked out, and the Society was forced further to reduce its schedule of meetings.
Though faltering itself, the Society continued to make grants to various projects and individuals filling several critical needs. In the early 1950s, an appeal from the Mercy-Douglas Hospital in Philadelphia brought a contribution allowing that institution to purchase much-needed surgical instruments. Numerous black graduate students were encouraged with stipends to continue their education in social works. High school graduates were brought from the South and sponsored for their entire four years in college. Other grants were given to local Philadelphia organizations, such as the Friends Neighborhood Guild and the Friendship House.
As the civil-rights movement gathered momentum in the late 1950s and 1960s, other organizations again eclipsed the Abolition Society. Individual members were active in advancing racial integration, but the emergence of strong black leadership and organizational efforts clearly made the civil rights movement self-contained. The Society returned to its habit of involvement in areas being neglected. It was the first organization to advance strongly the idea of museum of black culture and history in the Philadelphia school system. In 1970, the Society committed the bulk of its income until 1973 to the Library Company of Philadelphia for the cataloguing of the Vast Afro-American history collection of that institution. And in 1975, in celebration of its own bicentennial, the Society subsidized the microfilming of its records and papers on deposit at [ed: now gifted to] the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
In its two-hundred-year history the Pennsylvania Abolition Society has been undeniably pragmatic, but its commitment to “Improving the Condition of the African race” has been consistent. Dedicated in its earlier years to the education and employment of blacks, the Society has now taken upon itself an even more staggering task: education a whole society about the black experience in America.
The records of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society (PAS) span over two hundred years of the society's history. They comprehensively document the society's many activities, particularly those that occured throughout the late 1700s and the 1800s, though there are records that cover the 20th century as well. The collections consists of administrative records that the society produced and collected during its regular work. Much of the collection is locally or regionally focused in scope, but the records move well beyond the PAS's work in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania, especially when they concern PAS's larger ventures, such as its work with the American Convention and the Liang School in South Carolina. The collection also documents the activities and beliefs of the society as a whole rather than those of its individual members, though some information in that regard can be gleaned from various items in the collection, particularly the correpondence. Additionally, the collection also strongly hightlights abolition and anti-slavery practices of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The manumissions and indentures alone demonstrate well the laws that were then in place concerning former slave oweners and manumitted slaves.
The PAS records have been processed into five series: Minutes and reports (Series 1), Correspondence (Series 2), Financial records (series 3), Manumissions, indentures, and other legal papers (Series 4), and Miscellaneous papers (Series 5).
The first series contains a mix of bound minute books of the PAS and its various standing and sub committees along with loose minutes and and some loose papers that were removed from the minute books. Primarily, these material cover from the PAS's founding through the mid 1800s, but there is a handful of items dating from the early to mid 20th century.
The second series is comprised of the society's incoming correspondence along with a small amount of outgoing correspondence and third-party letters. The matters covered in these letters vary widely, from political and business issues to personal dealings. Along with formal letters, also in this series are postcards, circulars and form letters, memos, telegrams, and notes. Most of the papers are loose in folders and boxes, but there are two letterbooks dating together from 1789 to 1809. Ranging from the late 1700s to the 1930s, these materials often differ in content and amount. The bulk of the letters date from the nineteenth century, with some gaps. The loose correspondence is arrangened chronologically into incoming and outgoing groups, with undated papers being placed at the ends of those groups.
The third series represents a collection of financial documents produced and collected by the PAS generally and by its committees between the 1790s and the 1930s, with most of the items dating from the ninteenth century. There are bound volumes such as receipt books, ledgers, and subscription books, as well as loose bills, checks, receipts, reports, subscription lists, expense sheets, and letters.
The fourth series consists of volumes, legal documents, and papers pertaining to the society's efforts to assist enslaved and free black people in a myriad of ways from the 1780s to the 1860s. Manumissions and indentures make up the bulk of this series, however there are also court documents; lists of slave ships; birth, marriage and identification certificates; employment permission slips; copies of laws and statutes; legal opinions; materials on unregistered slaves in Pennsylvania; and other documents.
The fifth and final series is made up of a wide array of papers spanning from the 1760s to the 1970s that relate to the PAS and other anti-slavery and humanitarian organizations. Here reserachers will find general member lists, addresses, memorials, and printed matter from the PAS, along with materials pertaining to the various schools and educational institutions initiated and supported by the PAS, such as the Lombard Street Infant School, the Clarkson Institute, and the Laing School. This series also contains census data and records, educational and employment records and statistics, and papers from various organizations such as the American Convention for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery, and Improving the Conditon of the African Race, the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society, and the Young Men's Anti-Slavery Society, among many others.
The Society's records were originally maintained by its officers and members, but were then gathered together at Clarkson Hall in 1839, where they remained until the building was sold in 1863. Ten years later they were placed with the Friends' Historical Association where they remained until the 1920s, when they began to come to the Historical Society. Because the officers and members of the Abolition Society frequently held positions with other ameliorative organizations, fragmentary records of other organizations are frequently found among the Abolition Society's records. The Society's records were reorganized on archival principles in 1976, in preparation for the comprehensive microfilm of the records completed that year. The collection was formally made into a gift in 2015.
The collection is available on microfilm: call number XR572.
Gift of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society, 1992, 2001, 2015.
In preparation for the collections' microfiliming in the 1960s, the collection was processed into its current state of five series. Each series contained varying sets of loose papers and volumes. The volumes were given call numbers based on the cataloging methods that were then used by HSP's librarians. When the collection was revisted for further processing, the choice was made to retain the current arrangement of documents and volumes, including the volume's numbering scheme, and clarify that arrangement in a new finding aid. This finding aid is based off of the printed guide to the microfilm (avaible in HSP's library), and it contains a small number of addition to the collection that were donated to HSP from PAS after the original guide was published.
- American Convention for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery and Improving the Condition of the African Race.
- Clarkson Institute of Pennsylvania.
- Laing School (Mount Pleasant, S.C.).
- Lombard Street Infant School..
- Philadelphia Female Anti-slavery Society.
- Abolitionists--New Jersey
- Abolitionists--United States--Sources
- Antislavery movements--New Jersey
- Antislavery movements--Pennsylvania--Philadelphia--History--18th century
- Antislavery movements--Pennsylvania--Philadelphia--History--19th century
- Antislavery movements--United States--History--Sources
- Charitable organizations--Pennsylvania--Philadelphia--20th century
- Pennsylvania Abolition Society
- Quaker abolitionists--History--18th century
- Quaker abolitionists--History--19th century
- Quaker abolitionists--Pennsylvania--Philadelphia--History
- Quakers--Charitable contributions--History
- Slavery, abolition, and emancipation
- Slavery--Pennsylvania--History--18th century
- Slavery--Pennsylvania--Philadelphia--History--18th century
- Historical Society of Pennsylvania
- Finding Aid Author
- Finding aid prepared by Timothy Dewysockie, Megan Sheffer Evans, Cary Hutto
- Finding Aid Date
- ; 2016.
- Access Restrictions
The collection is open for research.
Series 1, Minutes and reports, contains the following: minutes of the General Meetings, 1775, 1784-1979; minutes of the Acting Committee, 1784-1842; minutes of the Electing Committee, 1790-1826; Committee for Improving the condition of free Blacks, minutes, 1790-1803; Committee of Guardians, 1790-1802; Board of Education, minutes and reports, 1797-1865; Committee on the African Slave Trade, minutes, 1805-1807. Also present in this first series are loose and draft minutes and committee reports.
Item-level inventory written on folder.
Item-level inventory written on folder.
Item-level inventory written on folder.
Item-level inventory written on folder.
Series 2, Correspondence, contains letters on a variety of political, social, and personal subjects. Correspondents include most of the anti-slavery organization in the United States as well as a number of anti-slavery advocates including Jacques-Pierre Brissott de Warville, Condorcet, William Wilberforce, Benjamin Lundy, Lucretia Mott, and others. The correspondece dates from 1789 to 1979, with the bulk of it dating from 1789 to the late 1800s.
Series 3, Financial records, contains, among other materials, the following: Treasurer's accounts, 1792-1840, 1937-1949; Board of Education (Committee of 24), 1793-1812, Subscription books, 1813-1821, 1813-1825, 1835-1837, Clarkson School tuition accounts, 1819-1822, 1838; miscellaneous bills, receipts, audits, 1795-1972.
Series 4, Manumission, indentures, and other legal papers, contains a range of documents dating from 1785 to 1865. The majority of these materials have their origins with two committees of the Society: the Committee of Guardians, 1790-1803, recorded manumissions and indentures as they occurred under the Pennsylvania law for the gradual abolition of slavery (1780); the Committee of Inspection safeguarded the legal rights of Blacks, 1790-1803. After 1803, the Acting Committee assumed both roles. The manumission are contained in eight volumes, 1780-1853. Other records present in this series includes indentures for manumitted slaves, legal papers concerning efforts of the several committees to secure the release of Blacks brought into Pennsylvania, transcriptions of the laws regarding slavery in Pennsylvania, Virginia, New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Georgia, 1750s to 1790s.
Folder found empty 04/18/2016
Filed under last name of holder.
Series 5, Miscellaneous papers, contains the following: lists of officers and members, 1784-1819; memorials to both houses of Congress and several state legislatures regarding slavery, 1788-1860; records of related institutions, including: Lombard Street Infant School, roll book, 1849-1850; Clarkson Institute, Constitution, 1832, minutes, accounts, and reports, 1829-1837; Committee to Visit Colored People, Census Facts collected by Benjamin Bacon and Charles Gardner, 1838; Facts on Beneficial Societies, 1823-1838. Present, too, are extensive materials on the American Convention, which met irregularly in Philadelphia, 1794-1836, arranged by year: minutes, credentials, lists of members, committee reports, treasurer's accounts.
Also present in this series are the papers of organizations to which Abolition Society members belonged: Philadelphia Anti-Slavery Society, minutes, 1833-1870, incoming correspondence 1834-1853; Young Men's Anti-Slavery Society, committee reports, 1836-1837, incoming correspondence, 1834-1837, treasurer's accounts, 1835-1838; South Mulberry Ward (Philadelphia) Anti-Slavery Society, minutes, 1837; Junior Anti-Slavery Society of Philadelphia, constitution and minutes, 1836-1846; Bache Institute, accounts, 1851-1852; Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, Committee on Requited Labor, minutes and correspondence, 1837-1839; American Free Produce Association, correspondence and circulars, 1838-1840; Philadelphia Anti-Slavery Society, constitution, 1839; Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society, minutes, 1838-1846, executive committee minutes, 1846-1870, accounts, 1847-1849, Vigilance Committee of Philadelphia, accounts, 1854-1857, "Journal C of Station No. 2 of the Underground Railroad," William Still, agent, 1852-1857; 13th Ward Republican Club of Philadelphia, constitution and minutes, 1856-1859.