Here in London, many people are making a pretty big deal out of the 200th anniversary of an act passed by Parliament in March 1807 that outlawed the involvement of British ships in the slave trade. Just a block or two from where I’m staying, the British Museum has a lot of special events relating to this bicentennial (e.g., this one, today.) The movie Amazing Grace, which is based on the life of the abolitionist MP William Wilberforce, is about to be released here. I see the British Quakers have put together an interesting little online exhibition to mark this bicentennary, featuring some texts and other items from the collections of Friends House Library.
I think it’s excellent to remember this anniversary, and to find ways to reconnect with the strong ethical and religious sense of all those who worked and organized to end the transatlantic slave trade, which was outlawed by the US Congress in 1808. However, the enslaved persons in the Americas were the first slaves since the days of the Romans whose condition of bondage and status as chattel was passed down from parent to child; and in a cruel irony, as the transatlantic trade in enslaved Africans died out the price of the slaves who were already in place, working under horrendous conditions in the US, many Caribbean islands, and some South American nations, merely rose… And there was thus a strong incentive, until the whole institution of slavery was outlawed in the United States, which took several further decades, for slave-“owners” to try to breed their slave-stock as much as much possible, a matter to which many white men in slave-owning communities made a big personal contribution.
If you look at the (US Census Bureau-derived) demographic table in this section of the relevant Wikipedia page, you can see that between 1810 and 1860 the number of enslaved persons in the US rose from 1.2 million to nearly 4 million.
Imagine how many enslaved women were raped by white men and boys as part of that “breeding” program…
Earlier, back in the first half of the 18th century, many, many portions of the white settler community in the US had been heavily involved in the institution of slavery… including some portion of just about all the many Christian denominations that had proliferated in the settler communities by then– and yes, that included the Quakers– and also a portion of the Jewish settlers. As far as I know it was only the Mennonites, among the Christians (and perhaps the other Anabaptists?) who had never participated in the owning or trading of enslaved persons. But many Quakers certainly had.