Gest Fellow Katharine Gerbner is a Ph.D. Candidate in the History of American Civilization at Harvard University. Her research is on Protestantism and Slavery in the early Atlantic World.
During my month at Haverford, I have examined the early Quaker stance on slavery. Quakers—renowned abolitionists by the late eighteenth-century—were deeply conflicted about the significance of slavery in the seventeenth-century. Hundreds of slave-owning Friends lived on Barbados, the sugar-rich British island in the Caribbean, and most found no contradiction between owning slaves and preaching equality. In Pennsylvania, Quaker merchants were active participants in the slave trade and a number of Quaker families held slaves.
Using the resources at the Haverford Quaker Collection, I have sought to understand and contextualize seventeenth-century Quaker views on slavery. My primary sources include Meeting Minutes from Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia, as well as epistles and books of discipline. In these documents, I have examined not only Quaker slavery and antislavery, but also other contemporaneous debates and controversies within the Quaker community. By comparing debates on slavery to debates on other topics, I have developed a better sense of the cultural and political context that accompanied seventeenth-century Quaker slave owning.
Having the opportunity to spend a month studying Quakers and slavery at Haverford has been both productive and fascinating. I am very grateful to the staff at the Quaker Collection for welcoming me so warmly and offering such excellent advice about how to proceed with my research!