John Woolman: Some Considerations on the Keeping of Negroes

(1754)

Explanation and Analysis of the Document

Written in 1754, Woolman’s short treatise against slavery raised objections that were both strategic and forward-looking. He appealed to the self-interest of slave owners by documenting the negative impact that bondage had on whites, and he prefigured more contemporary debates about the socially constructed nature of race.

“The General Disadvantage Which These Poor Africans Lie Under”

Following a scriptural invocation, Woolman begins his original Considerations (1754) by acknowledging that the conditions under which slaves live depended in large part on the particular circumstances and attitudes of their masters. Thus, it might be completely possible that some slaves were treated well, better even than freed people who could not claim an owner as protector. Nevertheless, even good treatment belied a deeper problem with the institution itself, namely that it placed the souls of slave owners in jeopardy. Equating slave owners to “Men...

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Defeat of General Braddock in the French and Indian War (Library of Congress)

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