Introducing: George Keith’s An Exhortation & Caution to Friends Concerning Buying or Keeping of Negroes (New York, 1693)

This 6-page pamphlet, the first protest against slavery printed in America, was from the press of William Bradford (1663–1752), and was among the earliest of his New York imprints. As discussed elsewhere at this website, Bradford apprenticed with and was the son-in-law of the London-based Quaker printer Andrew Sowle (1628–1695), and he was the brother-in-law of Tace Sowle Raylton (1666–1749), with whom he partnered in importing various works published in England (especially by the Sowle press) for sale in colonial America.

William Bradford was the Pennsylvania colony’s first printer, and was based in the Oxford township, near Philadelphia, from 1685 until 1693 when he moved to New York.

As holder of a contract with the Quakers, Bradford was expected to be in the service of the dominant political establishment, led by Thomas Lloyd and his supporters in the yearly meeting of Friends. Bradford, however, came to align himself with a heterodox Quaker, George Keith, in his criticism of the establishment, publishing some of Keith’s broadsides and pamphlets. In August 1692 Bradford and his distributor John McComb were tried and eventually gaoled by the quarter sessions court for printing works without an imprint, a violation of the same Licensing Act of 1662 as had bedevilled Bradford’s old master, [Andrew] Sowle. Bradford’s press and type were seized during his arrest but they were returned to him after he had completed his sentence on his petition to the provincial council in April 1693. Meanwhile, Bradford, reading the political climate of Pennsylvania correctly, had applied to be, and received appointment as, public printer in New York that same month. As in Pennsylvania, he would become the first printer in the colony and settlement, then only a small Anglo-Dutch village. He lived first in Pearl Street in Manhattan; from 1698 he was resident in Stone Street.

(Calhoun Winton, ODNB entry for William Bradford, n. pag.)

Bradford would continue his affinity with Keith, both of whom later split with the Quakers and returned to the establishment Anglican church. Bradford, who started New York’s first newspaper, the New-York Gazette, in 1725,

was appointed public printer of New Jersey in 1702, concurrently with his New York post, and in 1710 became clerk of the New Jersey assembly. Meanwhile his New York printing office turned out a steady stream of job work, session laws, almanacs, and religious tracts, some of considerable interest—such as the Book of Common Prayer in the Mohawk language, for the use of missionaries. By 1700 Bradford had returned to the Anglican fold and he became a vestryman of Trinity parish in 1703. His Quaker friend George Keith had also converted to the Church of England and, as a representative of Dr Thomas Bray’s Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, he engaged in an energetic campaign to proselytize Friends in the middle colonies, with publications printed by Bradford. Bradford maintained cordial relations with English Quakers ... In 1713 Bradford’s son Andrew, having learned the trade in his father’s office, returned to Philadelphia to open a printing establishment there. When Benjamin Franklin, aged seventeen, left Boston in 1723 to seek his fortune with William Bradford, Bradford introduced him to the two printers then operating in Philadelphia, his son Andrew and Samuel Keimer.

(Calhoun Winton, ODNB entry for William Bradford, n. pag.)

George Keith (1638?–1716), a Scot by birth, converted from presbyterianism to Quakerism after reading works by the Cambridge Platonist, Henry More (1614–1687), mentor and friend of the natural philosopher, Anne, Viscountess Conway (1631–1679), who also converted to Quakerism. More, a lifelong Anglican, was not sympathetic to the Quakers, whom he regarded as sectarian extremists, and had tried to dissuade Lady Conway from conversion; he was also displeased to learn that his writings had anything to do with Keith’s own conversion. While in London during the 1670s, Keith

befriended Henry More, who liked Keith and called him “the best Quaker of them all” (Conway Letters, 307). He was also part of Lady Conway’s circle at Ragley, and spent time there with Francis Mercury von Helmont, the German philosopher–mystic. He and von Helmont speculated about the possibility of the transmigration of souls.

(J. S. Chamberlain, ODNB entry for George Keith, n. pag.)

In 1684,

Keith was appointed as the surveyor-general of the colony of East Jersey. Though his life in America was much more tranquil than that in England and Scotland, he succeeded in stirring up controversy there as well: the boundary line he established between East and West Jersey was bitterly disputed and successfully challenged. Further, Keith could not resist railing against a sect of Ranters, or even criticizing the new generation of Quakers, who were, he believed, in danger of departing from orthodoxy because of their careless disregard of doctrine and teaching. He also tried to goad the Boston clergy (Cotton Mather, Samuel Willard, James Allen, and Joshua Moody) into debate, but they would not take their cue from him. Thus thwarted, he finally published a repudiation of their doctrines in The Presbyterian and Independent visible churches in New England and elsewhere brought to the test (1689). In 1689 he accepted a position as schoolmaster in Philadelphia, but did not stay long in this position. He was evidently preparing to leave the New World soon after, when he precipitated a new controversy that would eventually end in his repudiation of Quakerism altogether. Keith had decided that it was important for Quakers to develop a creed that would place them within acceptable bounds of Christological orthodoxy, and tried to foist such a creed on his brethren, but they baulked since this was contrary to Quaker tradition and practice.
   Whether it was a long-brewing dispute or a short-term conflict is debated, but at the yearly meeting of Quakers in Philadelphia in 1691 a row occurred that caused much acrimony between Keith and his Quaker brethren. William Stockdale, one of the early Quaker settlers, accused Keith of heresy, of preaching two Christs because he overemphasized the two separate natures of the Saviour. The issue arose because of Keith’s public dispute with a Rhode Island physician, Christian Lodowick, who claimed that Quakers did not recognize the human Christ. In his reply to Lodowick, The Christian faith of the people of God called Quakers, vindicated from the calumnies of Christian Lodowick (1691), Keith had emphasized that Quakers accepted the historic, physical Christ. This led Stockdale to criticize him for advocating a dualistic Christology. Keith was, as always, ready for a fight, and he struck back with counter-charges against Stockdale. He demanded that a series of Quaker meetings be held to establish whether he or Stockdale was the heretic. The meetings, however, failed to arrive at any definitive answer.
   At the January 1692 monthly meeting in Philadelphia, Keith discovered that a new charge was levelled against him for ‘denying the Sufficiency of the Light’ within (G. Keith, Some Reasons and Causes of the Late Separation, 1692, 8). This charge was taken seriously, but was not proven. But the episode exacerbated the acrimony, and polarized the Quakers into two hostile groups. In the spring Keith’s opponents secretly changed the meeting time and locked him and his followers out of the meeting-house, an action which Keith maintained was the cause of the schism (ibid., 15–16). Keith also published his account of the controversy in Some Reasons and Causes, thereby making the dispute public, and was more and more vociferous about the errors of the Friends. The issues were taken up again at the yearly meeting of 1692. Though approximately a quarter of those present backed Keith, the meeting officially branded Keith a schismatic and condemned him in strong terms. Keith was livid and vowed to appeal to the London yearly meeting. He had one more trial to endure in Pennsylvania before he returned to England, however: he was accused of libelling Quaker magistrates who had found it necessary to send an armed expedition against a group of pirates. Keith maintained that Quakers should stay out of government because they inevitably would have to act contrary to their beliefs. For his intemperate speech, Keith was fined.
   While this was going on, Keith and his adherents managed to keep meeting with the other Quakers, but they were relegated to the rear of the meeting-house. But Keith could not be clearly heard from this vantage point. His followers, therefore, built a gallery that raised him off the floor and made it impossible for him to be ignored. Eventually, a group of Friends who were piqued by this insolence tore down the gallery. From this time on, Keith and his followers met separately, distinguishing themselves as ‘Christian Quakers’. Keith had previously used the term to emphasize the fact that the Quakers were true Christians, but now he began to use it to designate his splinter group.

(J. S. Chamberlain, ODNB entry for George Keith, n. pag.)

Keith’s An Exhortation & Caution to Friends Concerning Buying or Keeping of Negroes was “given forth” at the Quakers’ monthly meeting in Philadelphia on 13 August 1693, and was printed soon after by Bradford, who had newly moved to New York. Keith also left Philadelphia in 1693 and returned to London, having by that point created a divide within the Quakers on both sides of the Atlantic.

Keith’s Exhortation, with its radical claim,

Therefore, in true Christian Love, we earnestly recommend it to all our Friends and Brethren, Not to buy any Negroes, unless it were on purpose to set them free, and that such who have bought any, and have them at present, after some reasonable time of moderate Service they have had of them, or may have of them, that may reasonably answer to the Charge of what they have laid out, especially in keeping Negroes Children born in their House, or taken into their House, when under Age, that after a reasonable time of service to answer that Charge, they may set them at Liberty, and during the time they have them, to teach them to read, and give them a Christian Education.

(G. Keith, An Exhortation & Caution to Friends concerning Buying or Keeping of Negroes, 1693, 2–3)

created such a stir that it was singled out for special comment by Gabriel Thomas, a Quaker who lived in the Province of Pennsylvania between 1682 and 1697, and then returned to England where he wrote and published An Historical and Geographical Account of the Province and Country of Pensilvania; and of the West-New-Jersey in America (1698). Thomas chose to close his Pennsylvania narrative with an exhortation of his own, warning all Quakers about the perils of turning from experience and direct revelation to the temptation of “great Outward Learning” (doctrine). In Pennsylvania, he concludes,

The way of Worship the Sweeds use in this Country, is the Lutheran; the English have four sorts of Assemblies or Religious Meetings here; as first, The Church of England, who built a very fine Church in the City of Philadelphia in the Year 1695. Secondly, the Anabaptists: Thirdly, the Presbyterians, and two sorts of Quakers (of all the most numerous by much) one Party held with George Keith; but whether both Parties will joyn together again in one I cannot tell, for that Gentleman hath alter’d his Judgment since he came to England, concerning his Church-Orders in Pensilvania, by telling and shewing them Precepts that were lawful in the time of the Law, but forbidden under the Gospel to pay Tithes, or Ministers to Preach for Hire, &c. As also to sprinkle Infants; and he tells the Presbyterian Minister, That he must go to the Pope of Rome for his Call, for he had no Scripture for it, and that Water-Baptism and the Outward Supper are not of the Nature of the Everlasting Gospel; nor essential Parts of it, see his Truth Advanced page 173. He gives likewise a strict Charge concerning plain Language and plain Habit, and that they should not be concern’d in the compelling part of the Worldly Government, and that they should set their Negroes at Liberty after some reasonable time of Service; likewise, they should not take the Advantage of the Law against one another, as to procure them any Corporeal Punishment: These Orders he tells his Followers, would make Distinction between them and Jews and Moral Heathens, this was in the Year 1693. in Pensilvania: But now the Year 1697. since he came to England, his Judgment is chang’d, for he tells his Disciples, that Water-Baptism is come in the room of Circumcision; and by so doing, they would distinguish themselves from either Jews, Pagans, or Moral Heathens: He keeps his Meeting once a Week at Turners-Hall in Fill-Pot-Lane, London, on Sundays in the Afternoon; he begins between Two and Three of the Clock and commonly ends between Four and Five.
   Friendly Reader, by this thou mayst see how wavering and mutable Men of great Outward Learning are, if the Truth of this be by any Body question’d, let them look in the Creed, and the Paper against Christians being concern’d in Worldly Government, and the Paper concerning Negroes, that was given forth by the Appointment of the Meeting held by George Keith at Philip James’s House in the City of Phildelphia, in Pensilvania; and his Letter also in Mary-Land against the Presbyterian Catechism, Printed at Boston in New-England in 1695. with the Answer to it bound up together in one Book and in Truth Advanced, page 173. And for what relates to him since in England, let them look into the Quakers Argument Refuted, Concerning Water-Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, page 70. And now Reader, I shall take my leave of thee, recommending thee with my own self to the Directions of the Spirit of God in our Conscience, and that will agree with all the Holy Scriptures in its right place; and when we find our selves so, we have no need to take any Thought or Care what any Body shall say of us.

(G. Thomas, An Historical and Geographical Account of the Province and Country of Pensilvania; and of the West-New-Jersey in America, 1698, 51–5)

In a curious coincidence of history, the very same year that George Keith delivered his radical Exhortation to his Philadelphia brethren, and had William Bradford print it, Keith’s old antagonist, Cotton Mather (1663–1728), crafted a very conservative set of Rules for the Society of Negroes, a Christian society for slaves, presumably established at Boston c.October 1693.

Nine numbered rules for the Society were written down by Cotton Mather. Eight appear in his diary for October 1693. The ninth, which mentions his work Negro Christianized (first published in 1706), was obviously written later, and the 9 Rules were printed for the Society of Negroes sometime after 1706:

facsimile of late-17th-century American broadside

^ Facsimile of broadside sheet (marred by staining and creasing) giving the Rules for the Society of Negroes. 1693. as drafted by Cotton Mather in October 1693.

Ascribed to the press of Bartholomew Green (at Boston) and dated between 1706 and 1713 by one scholar. However, the copy in possession of the American Antiquarian Society includes a MS. note by Samuel Sewall on verso: “Left at my house for me, when I was not at home, by Spaniard Dr. Mather’s Negro; March 23. 1713–14.” This suggests that the broadside was probably printed in 1714 (new-style dating).
   Printed area measures: 27.3 x 12.3 cm.

The text of the broadside reads:

We the Miserable Children of Adam, and of Noah, thankfully Admiring and Accepting the Free-Grace of GOD, that Offers to Save us from our Miseries, by the Lord Jesus Christ, freely Resolve, with His Help, to become the Servants of that Glorious LORD.
   And that we may be Assisted in the Service of our Heavenly Master, we now Join together in a SOCIETY, wherein the following RULES are to be observed.
   I.  It shall be our Endeavour, to Meet in the Evening after the Sabbath; and Pray together by Turns, one to Begin, and another to Conclude the Meeting; And between the two Prayers, a Psalm shall be Sung, and a Sermon Repeated.
   II.  Our coming to the Meeting, shall never be without the Leave of such as have Power over us: And we will be Careful, that our Meeting may Begin and Conclude between the Hours of Seven and Nine; and that we may not be unseasonably Absent from the Families whereto we pertain.
   III.  As we will, with the Help of God, at all Times avoid all Wicked Company, so we will Receive none into our Meeting, but such as have sensibly Reformed their Lives from all manner of Wickedness. And therefore, None shall be Admitted, without the Knowledge and Consent of the Minister of God in this Place; unto whom we will also carry every Person, that seeks for Admission among us; to be by Him Examined, Instructed and Exhorted.
   IV.  We will, as often as may be, Obtain some Wise and [Good Men ?] of the English in the Neighbourhood, and especially the Off[i]cers of the Church, to look in upon us, and by their Presence and Counsil, do what they think fitting for us.
   V.  If any of our Number, fall into the Sin of Drunkenness, or Swearing, or Cursing, or Lying, or Stealing, or notorious Disobedience or Unfaithfulness unto their Masters, we will Admonish him of his Miscarriage, and Forbid his coming to the Meeting, for at least one Fortnight; And except he then come with great Signs and Hopes of his Repentance, we will utterly Exclude him, with Blotting his Name out of our List.
   VI.  If any of our Society Defile himself with Fornication, we will give him our Admonition; and so, debar him from the Meeting, at least half a Year: Nor shall he Return to it, ever any more, without Exemplary Testimonies of his becoming a New Creature.
   VII.  We will, as we have Opportunity, set our selves to do all the Good we can, to the other Negro-Servants in the Town; And if any of them should, at unfit Hours, be Abroad, much more, if any of them should Run away from their Masters, we will afford them no Shelter: But we will do what in us lies, that they may be discovered, and punished. And if any of us, are found Faulty, in this Matter, they shall be no no longer of us.
   VIII.  None of our Society shall be Absent from our Meeting, without giving a Reason of the Absence; And if it be found, that any have pretended unto their Owners, that they came unto the Meeting, when they were otherwise and elsewhere Employ’d, we will faithfully Inform their Owners, and also do what we can to Reclaim such Person from all such Evil Courses for the Future.
   IX.  It shall be expected from every one in the Society, that he learn the Catechism; And therefore, it shall be one of our usual Exercises, for one of us, to ask the Questions, and for all the rest in their Order, to say the Answers in the Catechism; Either, The New-English Catechism, or the Assemblies Catechism, or the Catechism in the Negro Christianized.

The contrast with Keith’s abolitionist Exhortation couldn’t be starker. Both documents have been linked together — for “showing a commendable interest in the condition and welfare of their negro slaves” (Moore, 265) — but their religious sensibilities, approaches and aims, especially for the institution of slavery, are worlds apart.


Chamberlain, J. S. “Keith, George (1638?–1716), Quaker schismatic and Church of England clergyman.” Oxford dictionary of national biography. Online edition, Oxford University Press, Oct. 2005.

Hutton, Sarah, ed. The Conway letters: the correspondence of Anne, Viscountess Conway, Henry More, and their friends, 1642–1684. Edited by Marjorie Hope Nicolson. Revised edn. Oxford: Clarendon Press; New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.

This revised edition of Marjorie Hope Nicolson’s earlier work (see below) includes new primary source material: more 17th-century letters that Nicolson, for some reason, chose not to print before. Hutton also adds an introduction updating the state of scholarly research on More and his milieu, plus explanations & footnotes situating Nicolson and her pioneering research within the developing field of history-of-science studies.

Keith, George. An exhortation & caution to Friends concerning buying or keeping of negroes. [New York: Printed by William Bradford, 1693].

Mather, Cotton. Rules for the Society of Negroes. 1693. [Boston: Printed by Bartholomew Green?, 1714?].

Moore, George H. “The first printed protest against slavery in America.” The Pennsylvania magazine of history and biography 13.3 (Oct. 1889): 265–270.

Nicolson, Marjorie Hope, ed. Conway letters: the correspondence of Anne, Viscountess Conway, Henry More, and their friends, 1642–1684. Collected from manuscript sources and edited with a biographical account. 1930; rpt. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1934.

Thomas, Gabriel. An historical and geographical account of the province and country of Pensilvania; and of the West-New-Jersey in America. The richness of the soil, the sweetness of the situation, the wholesomness of the air, the navigable rivers, and others, the prodigious encrease of corn, the flourishing condition of the city of Philadelphia, with the stately buildings, and other improvements there. The strange creatures, as birds, beasts, fishes, and fowls, with the several sorts of minerals, purging waters, and stones, lately discovered. The natives, aborogines, their language, religion, laws, and customs; the first planters, the Dutch, Sweeds, and English, with the number of its inhabitants; as also a touch upon George Keith’s new religion, in his second change since he left the Quakers. With a map of both countries. By Gabriel Thomas, who resided there about fifteen years. London: Printed for, and sold by A. Baldwin, at the Oxon Arms in Warwick-Lane, 1698.

Tryon, Thomas. Friendly advice to the gentlemen-planters of the East and West Indies in three parts. I. A brief treatise of the most principal fruits and herbs that grow in the East & West Indies; giving an account of their respective vertues both for food and physick, and what planet and sign they are under. Together with some directions for the preservation of health and life in those hot climates. II. The complaints of the negro-slaves against the hard usages and barbarous cruelties inflicted upon them. III. A discourse in way of dialogue, between an Ethiopean or negro-slave, and a Christian that was his master in America. By Philotheos Physiologus. [London]: Printed by Andrew Sowle, in the year 1684.

Tryon, Thomas. The planter’s speech to his neighbours & country-men of Pennsylvania, East & West-Jersey, and to all such as have transported themselves into new-colonies for the sake of a quiet retired life. To which is added, the complaints of our supra-inferior-inhabitants. London: Printed and sold by Andrew Sowle in Shoreditch, 1684.

This title is available as an original Roses digital edition.

Winton, Calhoun. “Bradford, William (1663–1752), printer.” Oxford dictionary of national biography. Online edition, Oxford University Press, 2004.

ornament (quill, at rest in inkpot)