We Stand Against

On April 18, 1688 four men carried a petition to the Quaker Germantown Meeting in Pennsylvania. This petition is recognized as the first formal protest against slavery and the slave trade in North America. It was drafted by Francis Daniel Pastorius and signed by himself and three Quakers living in Germantown – Gerret Hendericks, Derick up de Graeff, and Abraham up den Graef.

photo credit: Labor History in 2:00

Edward Bettle in his Notices on Negro Slavery as Connected with Pennsylvania (1826: 365) wrote that "to this body of humble, unpretending and almost unnoticed philanthropists belongs the honour of having been the first association who ever remonstrated against negro slavery."


This petition was the first of its kind to reject “the assumption that any human being could be held as property.” [1]


The signature of Francis Daniel Pastorius on this document is what connects me to this story. I read the words and see the power they carry today.



"There is a saying, that we shall doe to all men, licke as we will be done our selves; 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, which is right & reasonable; here ought to be lickewise liberty of the body.”


“To bring men hither, or to robb and sell them against their will, we stand against.” [2]


This statement of protest was presented at all three levels of the Pennsylvania Quaker Meetings who neither accepted nor rejected it, explaining that it was “of too great a weight for this meeting to determine.”



Should we call it a failure that this petition did not reach consensus within the Society of Friends? Damaged by time, yellowed and ink-stained, this document remains a testament to a hard truth. Racism, inequality, and racial discrimination exist today just as they did three hundred years ago.


This dark history reminds us that in 2020 we must reflect, listen, learn, and as the men of Germantown did, speak the words - We Stand Against.


[1] The Francis Daniel Pastorius Reader – Writings by an Early American Polymath. Edited by Patrick M. Erben; Alfred L. Brophy and Margo M. Lambert, Associate Editors. University Park, Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2019.


[2] Lost and recovered twice, this 2 page document was most recently re-discovered in 2005 at the Arch Street Meeting House. It is now at Haverford College Quaker and Special Collections, the joint repository (with Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore College) for the records of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting.