Epistle... Concerning the Buying and Keeping of Slaves

SLAVERY   |   Anthony BENEZET   |   John WOOLMAN

Item#: 126502 We're sorry, this item has been sold

Epistle... Concerning the Buying and Keeping of Slaves
Epistle... Concerning the Buying and Keeping of Slaves


(WOOLMAN, John) BENEZET, Anthony). An Epistle of Caution and Advice, concerning the Buying and Keeping of Slaves. Philadelphia: Printed and Sold by James Chattin, 1754. Small octavo (4 by 6-1/2 inches), contemporary plain wrappers, saddle-stitched, contemporary ink manuscript title to front wrapper; pp. (ii), 8. Housed in a custom chemise and clamshell box.

First edition, issued anonymously, of Benezet's extremely rare "first treatise against the slave trade." A revolutionary work by "the foremost antislavery fighter of the 18th century… one of the first white intellectuals to forcefully make the argument that Africans were indeed human beings." One of the earliest abolitionist works published in America, in contemporary wrappers, from the library of James Moon, Bucks County Quaker abolitionist, with his ownership signatures.

Anthony Benezet was "universally recognized by the leaders of the 18th-century antislavery movement as its founder… his dream was to create a transatlantic antislavery movement… and to educate whites both about their complicity with slavery and about their obligations to Blacks, their duty to humankind… What set Benezet apart from others of his era was his great imagination in developing new methods not just to disseminate other people's antislavery ideas but also to develop a new ideology of antislavery rhetoric… and to organize antislavery political activities" (Jackson, Let This Voice Be Heard, xiii).

Historian Garry Wills called Benezet "the one unquestionably authentic American saint" and ranked him with Lincoln for combining "the best elements of both head and heart in our religious tradition" (Head and Heart). "Benezet was the first who embraced, as a matter of public policy, the banning of the slave trade,… monetary compensation to Negroes for the years they spent in bondage and equality under law for those of African descent" (Crosby, Complete Antislavery Writings, 1). "The foremost antislavery fighter of the 18th century… he had a transformative influence on Franklin, turning a former slave owner into the president of the Abolition Society… [and] Wilberforce quoted Benezet (without attribution) at length in the great 1792 Parliamentary debates on ending the slave trade… In truth, Benezet was one of the first white intellectuals to forcefully make the argument that Africans were indeed human beings" (Jackson, x-xii).

In 1754, as a key "member of the Overseers of the Press for the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of Friends… Benezet facilitated publication of John Woolman's Some Considerations on the Keeping of Negroes… this effort led to Benezet's drafting his first treatise against the slave trade, An Epistle of Caution and Advice, Concerning… Slaves " (Crosby, 6). This modest document, issued anonymously, "had an explosive impact… it was a double blow to Aristotelian and Lockean ideas of slavery, using religious and benevolent ideas of liberty and equality and asking 'how then can we who have been concerned to publish the Gospel of universal Love and peace among mankind, be so inconsistent with ourselves, so as to purchase such who are Prisoners of War'" (Jackson, 53).

This exceedingly rare Epistle demonstrates Benezet's brilliance and passion as he highlights two seminal Quaker principles. He took the Quakers' "denial of any 'just war' and the assertion of human equality before God—and combined them into a comprehensive attack on slavery. The Epistle made it clear that buying and selling of human beings for slavery, whether they were 'prisoners of war,' taken captive, stolen, or bought, was not a benevolent act, and could no longer be perceived as an excuse 'for your private gain'" (Jackson 54). "Benezet set a standard for sustained energy and respect for people regardless of ethnicity and gender that few social activists emulated then or since" (Soderlund, "Anthony Benezet"). At a time when "other reformers talked of stopping the importation of enslaved Africans, Benezet was already talking about emancipation" (Crosby, 7). Authorship of this pamphlet has been contested in the past, with George S. Brookes attributing it to Benezet (Friend Anthony Benezet, 1937), and Janet Whitney attributing it to Woolman (John Woolman, American Quaker, 1942). Jean R. Soderlund further contested Whitney's claim in 1985, while Irv A. Bredlinger summarizes that "While there is disagreement about the authorship of the Epistle of 1754, it is probably the work of Benezet; however it reflects the spirit and cooperation of both" (To Be Silent… Would Be Criminal, 2007, Chapter 5, p. 30, see note 83). First edition, issued anonymously: "Benezet's role is clearly outlined according to the meeting minutes" (Jackson, 53). Printed by James Chattin, who earlier managed "Benjamin Franklin's New Printing Office in Lancaster, PA." At the time of this work's publication, Chattin's own print shop was in Philadelphia's Church Alley. In 1756 he moved "to Market Street, just down the street from Franklin's shop, and called his shop the 'Newest Printing Office,' in a direct challenge to Franklin" (Crosby, 251). Title page imprint with "and Sold" crossed over, as seen in other copies. Sabin 22695. Evans 7201. ESTC W20271. Smith, Friends' Books, 761. Hildeburn, Pennsylvania, 1359. From the library of James Moon, Bucks County Quaker abolitionist, and with his ownership signature on verso of front flyleaf, and head of title-page, recto and verso. Title in manuscript on front wrapper, presumably by Moon, additional small old ownership initials on same ("JHM" possibly another Moon). James Moon (1713-96) was the eldest son of Roger Moon (1679-1759) and Ann Nutt Moon, and grandson of English Quaker from Bristol, James Moon (1639-1713), who immigrated to Bucks County, Pennsylvania in 1682, purportedly alongside William Penn in the Welcome. A noted nurseryman, James lived on a farm in Middletown Township, now known as Woodbourne, for the majority of his life, but is known to have traveled extensively along the East Coast, keeping a highly detailed journal of his travels and Quaker associations. He married three times: first to Hannah Price (d. 1738) in 1737; Elizabeth Lucas (d. 1748); and to Ann Watson. He had five children in all, three of whom survived to adulthood.

A fine copy of this very rare and desirable early pamphlet, with excellent contemporary Quaker abolitionist provenance.

add to my wishlist ask an Expert

Author's full list of books

BENEZET, Anthony >