Click here for Part 1 of Daniel Williams's story.
Click here for Part 2 of Daniel Williams's story.
Before we take up Daniel's story again, a brief photographic interlude! Back in Part 1, I mentioned the Schuylkill Fishing Company, an exclusive men's social club (drunken pseudo-Masonic frat) which Daniel Williams was a member of from at least 1760. According to their wiki page, they erected a monument on the banks of the Schuylkill River in 1947, so on a whim, Matt and I stopped on the way home and found it. Spoiler: from the road, it kind of looks like an electrical junction box, to be honest. And the elements have not been kind to the engraving, which reads:
This is the Original Site of the
COLONY IN SCHUYLKILL
Instituted May 1st
After the War of Independence
The Name was changed to the
STATE IN SCHUYLKILL
The Organization is Still in Active Existence
After an Unbroken Record of Over
Two Hundred and Fifteen Years
This Tablet was Placed Here in
Daniel Williams was not always one of these people. In July of 1763, as the executor of an unmentioned estate, a number of slaves came under his care, and he immediately brought the issue to the Arch Street Monthly Meeting, who recorded the matter in their minutes and assigned no fewer than seven Friends to consult with him and bring about the most moral conclusion. The next month, they gave their report, although the precise details of the solution were not recorded:
I'm not absolutely certain what this means. Did Daniel Williams keep the slaves entrusted to him? The language is weaselly enough that I almost wonder if they are suggesting that it's acceptable to keep slaves as long as one doesn't sell them; it reminds me of laws for decriminalized banned substances that allow for possession but not dealing.The Friends appointed to consider the matter requested by Daniel Williams Report that they met the next day & took under consideration the Circumstances of the Case, from whence it appear'd to them that there was no absolute necessity for him to sell the Negro Slaves under his care, and gave him their advice accordingly, and pointed out to him the method for him to Act whereby they apprehended he might safely avoid deviating from our testimony against the practice of dealing in Slaves.
Six years later, in the 1769 Tax and Exoneration lists for Southwark and Middle Ward, Daniel Williams's entry lists among his possessions, along with his land, two horses, one cow, one (presumably white indentured) servant, and three Negroes. Were these the same slaves mentioned in 1763? I have no way of knowing or confirming.
In 1775, even with the Revolutionary War looming and dozens of young Quakers being disunited for joining the army, the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting made slavery a special priority. They called for investigations into Friends who owned slaves, which produced this letter from Isaac Lane and Samuel Clarke:
Daniel Williams has a Molatto Slave under 30 who has been beyond Sea for some time past, till last fall he returned, he has receiv'd none of his wages for the time of his absence, but has been in advance for him since his return, One Negro man with a wooden leg unable to get his living, & an old negro woman about 50 years old, he complains they are a dead weight on his hands, that he disapproves of the Slave trade & its not with any lure of gain he keeps any.—I am guessing these are the same three slaves listed in the 1769 tax records. Here we see for the first time the justification that Williams continued to use for years to come: that these slaves were old and practically useless, implying that he was doing them a favor by keeping them in bondage. It's the same damaging, self-serving, slimy paternalism more famously employed by Southern slave-holders in the following century when arguing against emancipation.
Nothing is done about this for three years. At some point during those three years, Jane and Daniel, now in his sixties, leave their Chestnut Street house, and move onto their farm on Turner's Lane in what was then known as the Northern Liberties (Turner's Lane no longer exists; the approximate location of their L-shaped 15-acre farm was just west of Broad Street above the Temple University Performing Arts complex.)
Then in 1778, only a few months after the British pulled out of Philadelphia, the Quakers started to take action, according to the minutes of the Arch Street Monthly Meeting:
In October, two Friends, Isaac Lane (who co-wrote the 1775 letter to the Yearly Meeting) and Jacob Shoemaker were dispatched to visit him.
In November, they reported they were unable to meet with him.
In December, they reported that they met with him, but it didn't go well, and they resolved to try again.
In January of 1779, the case was continued.
In February, two women Friends, Mary Armitt and Mary Pleasants, were also recruited to speak to Jane Williams, and the men and women resolved to labor further with the couple on the issue.
In March, the case was continued.
In April, a report was given that Daniel "still persists in rejecting the Advice of the Yearly Meeting respecting the Slaves he holds," but the Quakers resolved to try again before preparing testimonies that would lead to disunion.
In May, one of the Friends sent to meet with Daniel and Jane was out of town, so nothing was done.
In June, Jacob Shoemaker reported that a visit was made to the couple, and they again rejected the advice of the Yearly Meeting to give up their slaves. The Committee decided to prepare the testimonies mentioned in April.
In July, it was reported that the testimonies had not yet been prepared, and that "the friends under appointment thereon are desired to attend to the conclusion of the meeting divers times expressed on the minutes."
In August, an essay of testimony was presented and approved:
"Daniel Williams late of the City of Philadelphia now of the Northern Libertys, who was Educated and made Religious Profession with Us the People called Quakers, hath been long treated with in much Love, and advised to Release several Negros whom he holds in Bondage, but not manifesting a Disposition to take the Advice of his Friends, but persisting in the Unjust detention of them the said Negros in Slavery notwithstanding much Gospel Labours and patience hath been extended towards him, It is therefore become a Religious Obligation on Us to Testify that he has disunited himself from Fellowship with Us until he complys with the Rule of our Discipline, and does what the Nature of the Case requires, and as his Wife Jane vindicates her Husbands Conduct respecting the Negro's, we testify that she hath also seperated herself from Membership with Us, until by giving Way to the Instructions of Divine Grace she is brought to see the Error of her Conduct and makes such Acknowledgm't as the Case Requires which is our desire for them both.—"David Bacon and Hugh Roberts were appointed to deliver this testimony to Daniel and his wife; Quaker procedure was that such a testimony had to be presented to the Friend in question and an opportunity for appeal given before disunion could occur.
In September, although the Friends assured the Meeting they "had not been unmindful of the service," they also claimed they had not yet had an opportunity to deliver the testimony. The Women's Meeting appointed Mary Bacon and Margaret Elliott to accompany the men and give the same essay to Jane Williams.
Finally—FINALLY—in October of 1779, a full year after the first mention of the matter, the testimony was confirmed as delivered to Daniel and Jane. The Friends who made the delivery reported that Jane "continued to justify her husband's conduct."
The thing that strikes me about this extended episode is how, if you read between the lines, the Friends appointed to confront Daniel and Jane seem to be dragging their feet like crazy. I guess it's worth remembering that, as reprehensible as slavery was to the Quakers, Daniel and Jane were clearly not just Friends, but real friends of these people—and pillars of society to boot. They had been faithful and involved Quakers their entire lives, and had attended the Arch Street Monthly Meeting since before their wedding 33 years previously. Their ten dead children all lay in the Arch Street Quaker burial ground. Daniel was a witness and executor on multiple Friends' wills. To compare: it took the Arch Street Quakers only five months to disown Ennion Williams for fighting in the Revolutionary War, and two of those months were a delay because Ennion was out of town, you know, warring. But for Daniel and Jane, the Quakers tried for a year to change the slave-holders' minds, and begged several continuances of the Committee. In these minutes, concise as they are, I can hear the tension between Quakers who rightfully demanded that action be taken to make Daniel face the consequences of his slave ownership, and Quakers reluctant to force such long-standing and respected members out of their church.
Ten months later, on August 8th, 1780, Jane Williams died. She was interred in the Friends Burial Ground; Quakers often allow non-Quakers or disunited Quakers to be buried in their cemeteries.
Daniel carried on, but his life was winding down. On April 3rd, 1781, an advertisement appeared in the Pennsylvania Packet confirming he had closed all his merchant businesses:
Philadelphia, March 1, 1781Whereas Daniel Williams, of
the city of Philadelphia, Merchant, carried on business several years under the Firm of Daniel Williams and Sons, and under the Firm of Williams's and McCaskey, at Amwel, East Jersey, also, under the Firm of Williams's and Bready, at St. Johnston, in Kent county on Delaware. These are to request all persons who have any Demands, against all or either of the above Firms (though long discontinued) to call on said DANIEL WILLIAMS for Payment: And all persons who are Indebted to either of the aforesaid Firms, are desired to make payment to me only, or to my particular order.
In 1783, while still living on and working his farm, sometimes with his son Ennion, Daniel leased out both his Chestnut Street house and his Front Street store, and sold several of his other properties, including 103 Callowhill Street, which was bought by blacksmith Adam Stricker. The Tax and Exoneration lists of 1782 and 1783 continued to include "3 Negroes" among Daniel's possessions, although in 1783 an odd descriptive note appeared next to the entry: "(old)." Presumably these three "old" slaves were also occupying and, let's be real, working as best as they were able on the Northern Liberties farm.
But the 1785 tax list did not show the slaves. And in 1786, when Daniel was 68, he applied to be reunited with the Quakers.
|Letter from Daniel Williams to the Arch Street Monthly Meeting, 6th March, 1786.
Daniel was not letting go of his excuse that the slaves were old and disabled and keeping them was an act of welfare, but this is such a weak argument—he kept them working on his farm until they were even older before eventually setting them free (and furthermore the "Molatto" mentioned in 1775 was said to be under 30 at that time, so he could hardly have been elderly). These slaves worked for his gain for at least 16 years, and possibly as many as 22. And there's no mention of what happened to them after they were manumitted. Had they been provided for? Where did they go?
It would even be nice just to know their names.
Despite this, since he did free his slaves and expressed opposition to the practice of slavekeeping and "the African trade," Daniel's letter was accepted, references were provided as to his good character, and he was reunited with the Society of Friends.
In the last years of his life, he sold his 15-acre farm and his properties on Chestnut and Front, and lived in a more modest home at 55 Vine Street—just around the block from 103 Callowhill Street. There's a parking lot there now, right across the road from One Water Street.
He died on November 29th, 1794, aged 77, and was buried in the Merion Meeting House graveyard, close to where he grew up. In keeping with the Quaker tradition of plainness, his grave is not marked with a headstone. He left money to his children, to the poor funds of the Arch Street and Uptown Meetings, and to "Old Daffney (a servant)."
Cyberstalk complete, for now. It's pretty amazing to contemplate this long, privileged, distinguished, flawed, and very human life, hundreds of years later.
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