07: Many Worthy Men Have Borne Testimony against This Foul Sin: Ralph Sandiford and Others

Many worthy men have borne testimony against this foul sin—slave-keeping—by word and writing, some of which I have noted elsewhere. But especially Ralph Sandiford, amongst many others, has writ excellently well against that filthy sin, far beyond what I can or do pretend to, being a man of so very mean a capacity, and little Learning. But as I firmly believe it to be my duty in the sight of God, I endeavor to do what I can, and leave the event to the Lord.

And as for any slave-keepers, who are not impartial in the case, to say that Ralph Sandiford writ in a spirit of bitterness or that he did not end his life well: As to the first I have read his book carefully with attention, and I do not remember a word in it contrary to truth or any such sharp invectives as may easily be found in Holy Scripture, both Old and New Testament;  although I have, it’s true, because I believe in my very soul the cause does require it, for the nature of those beasts is in those men which do trade in slaves and much worse.

As to the second objection, that he, Ralph Sandiford, did not end well: Let such be entreated to remember the man of God that was sent by the Lord from Judah, to declare against the altar or that of Bethel, and the miracles wrought by him: the king’s hand withering and restored by his prayers, the altar splitting, and since that his prophesy fulfilled of men’s bones being offered or burnt thereon.

And yet this man of God never came to the sepulchers of his fathers, by reason an old lying prophet leading him out of the way. So was slain by a lion Judah’s prophet, [who] had but one hypocritical lying old prophet, that we read of, to lead him out of the way. But Ralph Sandiford had and we now have abundance of old and young pretended prophets and prophets to lead us, poor creatures, out of the way.

And so they will many unwary souls; except the Lord our God be pleased to open our eyes, to see the hellish cheat and devilish delusion by which many of our poor Friends have been seduced and lead aside in the hellish darkness or smoke of the bottomless pit, for whom my very soul is grieved. God almighty is my witness.

Benjamin Lay
Eighth Month [October] 1736

Ralph Sandiford, above-mentioned, having great perplexity of mind and having oppression which makes a wise man mad—by which he was brought very low with many bodily infirmities long before he died. As his book largely set out, read without partiality or prejudice—which is always blind or very short sighted—and you may excellent weighty matters find in it. He was a very tender-hearted man before he came amongst Friends, as well as after, as I have heard from many honest Friends that had much dealing and intimate conversation with him for many years, which are now living. But before he died, by reason of his sore affliction of mind concerning slave-keeping as in his book largely appears and infirmity of body, he fell into a sort of delirium. However I do believe if he had lived he would have overcome it, for I went to see him several times a little before he died. I am not ashamed nor afraid to write it, although I be censured for it, as I have been with some others for going to see him—although in affliction: the only time for visiting, as I humbly conceive, if we go in a right mind.

But O! say the slave-keepers and must confess in their hearts that book, The Mystery of Iniquity, as it is called and titled. It tells tales to the world, sets forth to the world’s people what a parcel of hypocrites and deceivers we are, under the greatest appearance and pretensions to religion and sanctity that ever was in the world. We’ll censure him, and his book too, into the bottomless pit, if we can, though we can’t disprove a word in it, for it is undeniable Truth, and so unanswerable. For we never understood that anyone ever attempted it or so much as spake of it. But what of that, brethren? If it be sinful we are in the iniquity, in the practice of slave-keeping. And our children, by our means, encouragement, and appointment, not only so, but our fathers before us, worthy men in their generating work, and some of them ministers and elders, withal men of renown. They found the sweetness of it, and so do we, and we will continue in it. Let who will or dare say nay. We’ll condemn Ralph in his grave and his book and all that favor it or promote its being spread abroad or being read. That exposes us, and we’ll expose that or especially him that writ it by calumnies and slanders and surmises and by insinuating all that ever we can hear or think of against him, now he is in his grave. Especially we did it before, but now more safely, for he can’t contradict or oppose us now. So that if we can but render him odious in his character, his book will be invalidated in course with us that hate it, although we cannot disprove a little of it, especially with our brethren in strict unity in this iniquity and soulless of sins: the Negro trade.

If this practice can be proved to be the greatest of sins (as may easily be done) considering its root and branch and all the sad fruit it brings forth, yet we read Christ died for sinners and he can forgive the greatest, as well as the least.

It is true some may say, Christ in his great love hath forgiven sins committed in time of great darkness and ignorance. But if we should commit the grossest of evils now in the clear light of this Gospel day, continue in them, and plead for it too, we should withstand spiritual Moses, and our damnation would be just.