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«PHILADELPHIA: Printed for the Author. 1737 This is an annotated text of All Slave-Keepers That keep the Innocent in Bondage, Apostates, published by ...»

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That keep the Innocent in Bondage,


Pretending to lay claim to the Pure & Holy Christian Religion; of what Congregation so

ever; but especially in their Ministers, by whose example the filthy Leprosy and Apostacy is

spread far and near; it is a notorious Sin, which many of the true Friends of Christ, and his pure Truth, called Quakers, has been for many Years, and still are concerned to write and bear Testimony against; as a Practice so gross & hurtful to Religion, and destructive to government, beyond what Words can set forth, or can be declared of by Men or Angels, and yet lived in by Ministers and Magistrates in America.

The Leaders of the People cause them to Err.

Written for a General Service, by him that truly and sincerely desires the present and eternal Welfare and Happiness of all Mankind, all the World over, of all Colours, and Nations, as his on Soul;

B E N J A M I N L A Y.


Printed for the Author. 1737 This is an annotated text of All Slave-Keepers That keep the Innocent in Bondage, Apostates, published by its author in Philadelphia in 1737. Original spelling, punctuation and page citations have been retained; minor typographic errors have been corrected.

This electronic edition has been prepared for the Antislavery Literature Project, Arizona State University, a public education project working in cooperation with the EServer, Iowa State University. Digitization has been supported by a grant from the Institute for Humanities Research, Arizona State University.

Editorial annotation by Joe Lockard. Digitization by Noel Borde, Mahesh Bhutkar, Nilesh Ralbhat, Manoj Salvi, and April Brannon. All rights reserved by the Antislavery Literature Project. Permission for non-commercial educational use is granted.

[blank page] Introduction Benjamin Lay (1677-1759) was a Quaker merchant who, together with Ralph Sandiford and Anthony Benezet, was one of the earliest public opponents of slavery in colonial America.

He was born in England, lived ten years in Barbadoes, and moved to the Philadelphia area. Lay attracted great attention during the 1730s in Pennsylvania and New Jersey for his vociferous opposition to slavery and slave-owners within the Quaker community. His physical appearance reinforced this public notice, as he stood only four feet seven inches, had a severely hunched back, and a very large white beard. He was physically ejected from meetinghouses where he vehemently denounced slavery and was disavowed by the Quaker community, although he considered himself a Quaker throughout his life.

Lay had a theatrical talent that accompanied his antislavery rhetoric. On one occasion he threw off his Quaker garb in meetinghouse to reveal a military uniform, denounced slaveholders as men of war, and stabbed his belt with a sword to pierce a bladder containing red fluid. On another occasion he stood barefoot in the snow in front of a meetinghouse to protest slavery.

Once he kidnapped the son of Quaker slaveholders to demonstrate how Africans felt when their children were kidnapped; he returned the child when searchers came to his house.

All Slave-keepers that keep the Innocent in Bondage, Apostates (1737) was Lay’s only published work. His friend Benjamin Franklin printed the work. All Slave-keepers is not only one of the earliest antislavery texts of colonial America, but one of the most vehement ever written. Lay viewed slavery as quintessential moral corruption and condemned it as such. Most of the text argues that slavery constitutes a social evil that offends divine justice, although the latter sections contain vast and visionary jeremiads against all forms of worldly evil. Lay’s antislavery writings were frequently viewed as quixotic but had a more pervasive influence on the development of American religious antislavery thought than they have been attributed.

–  –  –

Impartial Reader, THESE Things following are so far from offending or grieving my very dear true and tender Friends, called Quakers, who love the Truth more then all, that it is by their request and desire that they are made publick; for I can say in the Truth before the Lord, that I love them in & for the Truths sake, and covet their sweet Unity, and pure Fellowship in the Gospel, more than my natural Life, and all things in the World, without it or them, my record is in Heaven.

I say for the Truth, and Friends sake, these things are exposed, and I my [page 4] self likewise, although not without some fear and trembling, for fear I should hurt Truth’s cause, which is God’s cause, I being and seeing myself so very unfit almost everyway, as a Man, yet I can truly say as a Christian, I believ’d it my Duty, but made not haste, for the lord my good God, the Truth knows, that I have prayed unto him earnestly, many Days and Nights, with great concern of mind, that he would be pleased to raise up and concern some worthy Friend or other, of more repute and Esteem amongst Men; for I know my self to be so very mean and contemptible in the sight of Men, almost in every respect, so that I might and do much question the Event, but shall leave that to the Lord, to whom faithfulness and obedience is required; and no true peace without it. For I have found long ago, the saying of Truth verified, He that loves anything more than me, is not worthy of me: I have often thought of Moses’s Prayer, and Gideon’s request, when the Lord was about [page 5] to send them to deliver his People from Captivity, and many other worthy Men, a, and Women too, which are mentioned in Holy writ, and many Thousands more no doubt, which we have no Account of there, for it is believ’d, we have but a very small part of what have been written, and yet full enough, if we will but be faithful; my dear, tender and well beloved Friends, I beg, I pray, and beseech us, let us be more faithful I intreat, in bowels of Love, let us be faithful, let us be faithful to God in all things; and then I know blessed be his pure Name, which is the Truth, that when the Scourge shall come, he will secure us in Life or in Death; and that will be enough for us, so be it, saith my soul, and is in humble request.

–  –  –

Some Observations written 1718, by William Burling, now living, for aught I know, on Long Island, concerning Slave–keeping, taken from his Writings. [The same year I was convinced of the same Hellish Practice, I then living in Barbadoes. Benjamin Lay.] An Address to the Elders of the Church, upon the occasion of some Friends compelling certain Persons, and their posterity, to serve them continually and arbitrarily, without Regard to Equity or Right, not heeding whether they give them any thing near so much as their Labour deserveth.

[page 7] My Dear Beloved Friends, and Elder Brethren, whom as it behoves me, I would intreat as Fathers, a weighty concern from the Lord, is and hath been at times for many Years on my spirit, in consideration of this unchristian Liberty, being indulged in the Church, for it is in itself none of the least of the Worlds Coruptions, [no, say I, but the greatest, that ever the Devil brought into the Church in America;] and indeed the Lord by his Spirit, manifested the Evil to me before I was 12 Years of Age, and since from time to time, I have had drawings in mind to reprove and testify against it, nor have I been altogether silent, altho’ much discourag’d by reason of its being practiced by so many friends, yea Elders too, and tho’ I have formerly thought it strange, that the Church did not exclude it, by her discipline, and fix the Judgment of Truth upon it, yet now I am sensible such a thing is not easily done or accomplished, there being so strong opposition in many, that it cannot be brought to the Test, and Judgment brought forth into Victory in the cause at present, without danger of much strife and disorder in the Church, which is [page 8] generally hurtful where-ever it prevaileth; therefore to be carefully avoided; however I hope we are all unanimous in our judgment, that whatever Friend hath anything from the movings of the Spirit of Truth to communicate to his Brethren, either by word or writing concerning this or any other matter, ought to be allowed and received in his Testimony, and borne with by his Brethren, so long as he keeps to the counsel and direction of the Holy Spirit, and therefore delivers nothing but what is according to Truth, altho’ it happens to be never so contrary to the interest or inclinations of the Readers or Hearers.

Now I would such Friends as Practice or Plead for the abovesaid Sin, Evil or Liberty, to consider solidly what Hardship they impose on such as are concern’d to bear Testimony against it; for a while so many Friends continues in said Practice, no one can reprove it, and give it that deserved Character, which is agreeable to its nature, without implicitly condemning many of his Brethren, [Ministers and all say I, for they are the worst Enemies in this case the Church has to War with, or that Hell itself, or Devil can procure in this case. (This is very pinching, B. L canst thou prove thy Allegations?) if [page 9] not, what will become of thee? Never fear, Friend; Fear surprises, thou knows who; but the Truth is stronger than all the Powers of Hell. Blessed forever is the God of Truth, the Truth of God, the Truth which is God: So be it, faith my Soul.

Brethren and Elder Brethren, as Transgressors in this Thing, which is very hard to do, yet if the Lord require such a Thing or Testimony of any Friend be is necessitated so to judge his Brethren, or quench the Spirit in its Motions, in his own Heart; for the case admits of no medium. Again I intreat those who slights and disregards the Testimony of any whom the Lord concerns to appear against this fleshly Liberty, to consider whom thy oppose, and withstand; and the inspired Apostle speaking concerning the Lord’s Instruments, whom he was pleased to make use of, faith I Thess. iv. 8. He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not Men, but God, who hath also given unto us his Holy Spirit. O! That I could prevail so far with all my dear Brethren, that none would any more plead for or endeavour to defend the aforesaid unjust Practice; neither endeavour to shield it from the judgment of Truth. We may do well to remember, the Devil is [page 10] the Author of all Sin, and Sin is the Transgression of the Law.

No greater nor no better Law, say I, than to love God above all, and all our Fellow-Creatures as ourselves; these two contain Law, Prophets and Gospel, do to all as we would be done by. No greater Sin Hell can invent, than to prophane and blaspheme the pure and Holy Truth, which is God all in all, and remove God’s Creatures made after his own Image, from all the Comforts of Life, and their Country and procure for them, and bring them into all the miseries that Dragons, Serpents, Devils and Hypocrites, can procure and think of; these things are carried on by Christians, so called, and Ministers too, in the very greatest appearance of Demurity and Sanctity in the whole World, that ever I read or heard of; God which is the Truth, faith we shall not eat this cursed Fruit; our Ministers say we may eat, and lawfully too; which shall we believe?

We pretend not to love fighting with carnal Weapons, nor to carry Swords by our sides, but carry a worse thing in the Heart, as will I believe appear by and by; what, I pray and beseech you, dear [page 11] Friends, by the tender Mercies of our God, to consider, can be greater Hypocrisy, and plainer contradiction, than for us as a People, to refuse to bear Arms, or to pay them that do, and yet purchase the Plunder, the Captives, for Slaves at a very great Price, thereby justifying their selling of them, and the War, by which they were or are obtained; nor doth this satisfy, but their Children also are kept in Slavery, ad infinitum; is not this plainly and substantially trampling the most Blessed and Glorious Testimony that ever was or ever will be in the World, under our Feet, and committing of Iniquity with, both Hands earnestly? Is this the way to convince the poor Slaves, or our Children, or Neighbours, or the World? Is it not the way rather to encourage and strengthen them in their Infidelity, and Atheism, and their Hellish Practice of Fighting, Murthering, killing and Robbing one another, to the end of the World.

My dear Friends, I beg, I would intreat, in all Humility, with all earnestness of mind, on the bended Knees of my Body and Soul; willingly and with all readiness, sincerely, if that would [page 12] do, that you would turn to the Lord, the Blessed Truth, in your Hearts, for Direction, for Counsel and Advice; that you may quit your selves like Men, honourably, of this so Hellish a Practice.

Especially, you that have the Word of Reconciliation to preach to the Children of Men; and if you have any true tenderness of the Love of God in you, as I right well know, blessed be the Name of the Lord, all true Ministers have, you my dear Friends, consider waightily of these important concerns, and quit yourselves of yourselves and Slaves; for a good example in you might do a great deal of good, as a bad one will do, and has done a very great deal of mischief to the Truth; for the eyes of the People are upon you, some for good, and some for Evil.

And my Friends, you that have Slaves, and do minister to others in our Meetings, consider I intreat and beseech you concerning this thing in particular. What Burthens and Afflictions, Bondage, and sore Captivity you bring upon your dear and tender Friends, and keep them in, which cannot touch with this vile and Hellish Practice, but are constrained to bear Testimony against it, is one the greatest [page 13] Sins in the World, all things considered; And against you too in some sort, as being in the practice yourselves, of that which is directly opposite to your own Pretensions, and a very great stumbling Block in the way of honest, godly Inquirers, which want Peace to their Souls.

What a great Strait these tender hearted mourning Souls must needs be in, think ye, betwixt Love and Duty; they love you dearly for the Truth sake, and yet think it their Duty absolutely in the Fear and Love of God, to testifie against the Sin, and you for continuing in it.

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