Ohio History Journal

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Ohio Quakers

and the


Freedmen --

"A Field to Labor"

by Thomas H. Smith

During the American Civil War the Ohio Yearly Meeting of the Society

of Friends (Orthodox) was one of several religious sects that found use of

warfare to maintain national unity repugnant. The Friends, however, were

not callous to the many sacrifices their neighbors had made, and they

did not remain idle during time of national crisis. Instead of responding

to the nation's martial needs, this small group applied its energy and

financial resources to the education and rehabilitation of free black Ameri-

cans. Their objectives were to prepare the former slaves for freedom and, at

the same time, to make them useful and independent citizens within white

society. It was in the area of Freedmen education and welfare that the

Ohio Yearly Meeting found "a field . . . opened in which we are loudly

called to labor."1

That the Ohio Friends were interested in the condition of the American

Negro during and after the war was only natural since they had been

long identified with those forces in the North that were dedicated to the

abolition of slavery. For example, Benjamin Lundy, as early as 1815, had

organized Ohio's Union Humane Society in St. Clairsville, and two years

later Charles Osborn founded the antislavery newspaper, The Philanthro-

pist, at Mt. Pleasant. Many Ohio Quakers had been active in assisting fugi-

tive slaves on their trek across the state to freedom in Canada. On several

occasions between 1825 and the outbreak of the war in 1861, Quakers

had received small groups of manumitted slaves from the South and had

provided for their settlement near their own communities.2 For these