Observations on the Slavery of the Africans and Their Descendants and on the Use of the Produce of their Labour
Second edition (1814) of a tract by Quaker religious leader Elias Hicks, advocating a consumer boycott of slave-produced goods. Digitized by the Antislavery Literature Project.
Elias Hicks (1748-1830) was a New York farmer, Quaker leader, and the most important schismatic figure in the history of North American Quakerism. He converted to Quakerism in his early twenties; by age 27 rose to influence within the Quaker community as a travelling speaker. His doctrines emphasizied the worldliness of Jesus Christ, the paramount value of an individual's 'inner light', and participated in the quietistic tradition of John Woolman. Beginning in the late 1820s, the 'Hicksites' and Orthodox Friends divided and conducted separate meetings. The schism continued long after Hicks' death in 1830. For a biography, see Bliss Forbush, Elias Hicks: Quaker Liberal (New York: Columbia University Press, 1956). His major work, Journal of the Life and Religious Labours of Elias Hicks (New York: I.T. Hopper, 1832), was published posthumously. Hicks' numerous sermons and letters were collected in Letters of Elias Hicks (Philadelphia: T. Ellwood Chapman, 1861).
Part of Hicks' critique of the Orthodox Friends lay in their approach to slavery, the more urban and commercially-minded congregations being reluctant to involve themselves in issues of slavery and relations to slaveholders. Observations on the Slavery of the Africans was important not only for the antislavery movement, but also for defining differences between Quakers. Hicks published three editions of this tract during his lifetime (New York: Samuel Wood, 1811 & 1814; Philadelphia: Rakestraw, 1823) and two were published subsequent to his death (Philadelphia: T.E. Chapman, 1839 & 1861).
In calling for a boycott of slave-produced goods, this tract anticipated the Free Produce movement by many years. Beyond the Revolution-era call for a boycott of British tea and other goods, this is possibly the first significant call in the United States for a consumer boycott to support a social cause. It adopted some of the moral-cause arguments of the anti-sugar campaign conducted by British abolitionists during the 1790s, and preceded the establishment of free produce stores by Benjamin Lundy and Lucretia and James Mott. See Lawrence Glickman, "'Buy for the Sake of the Slave': Abolitionism and the Origins of American Consumer Activism," American Quarterly 56 (2004) 4:889-912.
- Joe Lockard