Calls for abolition
's 1775 article "African Slavery in America" was one of the first to advocate abolishing slavery and freeing slaves.
The first Americans who made a public protest against slavery were the Mennonites of Germantown, Pennsylvania. Soon after, in April 1688, Quakers in the same town wrote a two-page condemnation of the practice and sent it to the governing bodies of their Quaker church, the Society of Friends. The Quaker establishment never took action. The 1688 Germantown Quaker Petition Against Slavery was an unusually early, clear and forceful argument against slavery and initiated the spirit that finally led to the end of slavery in the Society of Friends (1776) and in the state of Pennsylvania (1780). The Quaker Quarterly Meeting of Chester, Pennsylvania, made its first protest in 1711. Within a few decades the entire slave trade was under attack, being opposed by such leaders as William Burling, Benjamin Lay, Ralph Sandiford, William Southby, and John Woolman.
Slavery was banned in the Province of Georgia soon after its founding in 1733. The colony's founder, James Edward Oglethorpe, fended off repeated attempts by South Carolina merchants and land speculators to introduce slavery to the colony. In 1739, he wrote to the Georgia Trustees urging them to hold firm: "If we allow slaves we act against the very principles by which we associated together, which was to relieve the distresses. Whereas, now we should occasion the misery of thousands in Africa, by setting men upon using arts to buy and bring into perpetual slavery the poor people who now live there free." The struggle between Georgia and South Carolina led to the first debates in Parliament over the issue of slavery, occurring between 1740 and 1742.
Within the British Empire, the Massachusetts courts began to follow England when, in 1772, England became the first country in the world to outlaw the slave trade within its borders (see Somerset v Stewart) followed by the Knight v. Wedderburn decision in Scotland in 1778. Between 1764 and 1774, seventeen slaves appeared in Massachusetts courts to sue their owners for freedom. In 1766, John Adams' colleague Benjamin Kent won the first trial in present-day United States to free a slave (Slew vs. Whipple).
The Society for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage was the first American abolition society, formed 14 April 1775, in Philadelphia, primarily by Quakers. The society suspended operations during the American Revolutionary War and was reorganized in 1784, with Benjamin Franklin as its first president. Rhode Island Quakers, associated with Moses Brown, were among the first in America to free slaves. Benjamin Rush was another leader, as were many Quakers. John Woolman gave up most of his business in 1756 to devote himself to campaigning against slavery along with other Quakers. One of the first articles advocating the emancipation of slaves and the abolition of slavery was written by Thomas Paine. Titled "African Slavery in America", it appeared on 8 March 1775 in the Postscript to the Pennsylvania Journal and Weekly Advertiser.