George Richardson Lecture 2015

 

Until the 1760s, few authors dedicated entire volumes to the question of slavery, the slave trade, and their possible abolition. Those that did, such as Ralph Sandiford and Benjamin Lay, were mostly American Quakers, writing for Friends in Pennsylvania and New England. Before 1760, most discussions of slavery available to English non-Quaker readers took place in the pages of natural histories, geographies, travellers’ tales, and plantation management manuals, often tucked away inside observations about Caribbean flowers, African river systems, or advice on manuring sugar cane. In the seventeenth century, travel writers and natural historians were often alarmed by the cruelties of slavery. During the first half of the eighteenth century, they became increasingly hardened to it, until the tables began to turn after the London Yearly Meeting’s antislavery minute of 1761 encouraged Friends to turn against slavery—and to persuade others to join them. In this lecture, Brycchan Carey examines two key moments in the development of a wider literature of antislavery. Visitors to seventeenth-century Barbados included the Anglican Richard Ligon, the Quaker George Fox, and the Puritan Thomas Tryon. All left important statements about slavery, but Tryon’s Friendly advice to the gentlemen-planters of the East and West Indies, which blended agricultural, medicinal, and nutritional advice with a moral argument against slavery, was perhaps the broadest attempt to persuade both Quakers and others to abandon slavery. Nearly a century later, the Philadelphia Quaker Anthony Benezet collated a hundred years of geographical and scientific writings about Africa, the Caribbean, and slavery into Some Historical Account of Guinea, which became the handbook of both British and American abolitionism for a generation. Between them, Carey shows, these two texts bounded what has been called a century of ‘antislavery without abolitionism’, but were themselves essential documents in the origin of the British and American movements to end slavery and the slave trade.

 

Brycchan Carey is Professor of English Literature at Kingston University in London. He is the author of From Peace to Freedom: Quaker Rhetoric and the Birth of American Antislavery, 1658–1761 (Yale University Press, 2012) and British Abolitionism and the Rhetoric of Sensibility: Writing, Sentiment, and Slavery, 1760–1807 (Palgrave, 2005). He has published numerous essays and journal articles on the literature and cultural history of slavery and abolition, as well as editing three essay collections including Quakers and Abolition, co-edited with Geoffrey Plank (University of Illinois Press, 2014). He was a founder and the first president of the Literary London Society, and from September 2015 will be chair of the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment (UK and Ireland). He is currently writing a book on the relationship between slavery and natural history as well as co-editing books on Early Caribbean Literary Histories (with Nicole Aljoe and Tom Krise) and Birds in Eighteenth-Century Culture (with Sayre Greenfield and Anne Milne).

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