Some observations written 1718 by William Burling—now living, for aught I know, on Long Island—concerning slavekeeping, taken from his writings. [The same year I was convinced of the same heathenish practice, I then living in Barbados. —Benjamin Lay.]
An address to the elders of the church, upon the occasion of some Friends compelling certain persons and their posterity to serve them continually and arbitrarily without regard to equity or right, not heeding whether they give them anything near so much as their labor deserveth.
My dear, beloved Friends and elder brethren, whom, as it behooves me, I would entreat as fathers:
A weighty concern from the Lord is and hath been at times for many years on my spirit, in consideration of this un-Christian liberty being indulged in the church—for it is in itself none of the least of the world’s corruptions [no, say I, but the greatest that ever the devil brought into the church in America]—and indeed the Lord by his Spirit manifested the evil to me before I was twelve years of age, and since from time to time, I have had drawings in mind to reprove and testify against it. Nor have I been altogether silent, although much discouraged by reason of its being practiced by so many Friends—yea, elders too. And though I have formerly thought it strange that the church did not exclude it by her discipline and fix the judgment of Truth upon it, yet now I am sensible such a thing is not easily done or accomplished, there being so strong opposition in many, that it cannot be brought to the test and judgment brought forth into victory in the cause at present without danger of much strife and disorder in the church—which is generally hurtful wherever it prevaileth, therefore to be carefully avoided.
However, I hope we are all unanimous in our judgment that whatever Friend hath anything from the movings of the Spirit of Truth to communicate to his brethren either by word or writing concerning this or any other matter, ought to be allowed and received in his testimony, and borne with by his brethren, so long as he keeps to the counsel and direction of the Holy Spirit and therefore delivers nothing but what is according to Truth—although it happens to be never so contrary to the interest or inclinations of the readers or hearers.
Now I would such Friends as practice or plead for the abovesaid sin, evil, or liberty to consider solidly what hardship they impose on such as are concerned to bear testimony against it. For awhile so many Friends continue in said practice, no one can reprove it and give it that deserved character which is agreeable to its nature, without implicitly condemning many of his brethren [ministers and all, say I: for they are the worst enemies in this case the church has to war with, or that hell itself or devil can procure in this case. (This is very pinching, Benjamin Lay, canst thou prove thy allegations? If not, what will become of thee?) Never fear, Friend: fear surprises thou knows who, but the Truth is stronger than all the powers of hell. Blessed forever is the God of Truth, the Truth of God, the Truth which is God. So be it, saith my soul.].
Brethren and elder brethren, as transgressors in this thing which is very hard to do: yet if the Lord require such a thing or testimony of any Friend, he is necessitated so to judge his brethren or quench the Spirit in its motions in his own heart—for the case admits of no medium. Again I entreat those who slight and disregard the testimony of any whom the Lord concerns to appear against this fleshly liberty to consider whom they oppose and withstand, and the inspired apostle speaking concerning the Lord’s instruments whom he was pleased to make use of. “He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not men, but God, who hath also given unto us his holy Spirit.” (1 Thessalonians 4:8) O! That I could prevail so far with all my dear brethren, that none would anymore plead for or endeavor to defend the aforesaid unjust practice, neither endeavor to shield it from the judgment of Truth. We may do well to remember the devil is the author of all sin, and sin is the transgression of the Law.