Cover image for Freedom by degrees : emancipation in Pennsylvania and its aftermath
Freedom by degrees : emancipation in Pennsylvania and its aftermath
Nash, Gary B.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Oxford University Press, [1991]

Physical Description:
xvi, 249 pages : illustrations, map ; 23 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
E445.P3 N37 1991 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
E445.P3 N37 1991 Adult Non-Fiction Black History Non-Circ

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During the revolutionary era, in the midst of the struggle for liberty from Great Britain, Americans up and down the Atlantic seaboard confronted the injustice of holding slaves. Lawmakers debated abolition, masters considered freeing their slaves, and slaves emancipated themselves by runningaway. But by 1800, of states south of New England, only Pennsylvania had extricated itself from slavery, the triumph, historians have argued, of Quaker moralism and the philosophy of natural rights. With exhaustive research of individual acts of freedom, slave escapes, legislative action, andanti-slavery appeals, Nash and Soderlund penetrate beneath such broad generalizations and find a more complicated process at work. Defiant runaway slaves joined Quaker abolitionists like Anthony Benezet and members of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society to end slavery and slave owners shrewdlycalculated how to remove themselves from a morally bankrupt institution without suffering financial loss by freeing slaves as indentured servants, laborers, and cottagers.

Author Notes

Gary B. Nash was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on July 27, 1933. He received a B. A. in 1955 and a Ph.D. in 1964 from Princeton University. He has taught colonial and revolutionary American history at the University of California at Los Angeles since 1966. He won the University of California Distinguished Emeriti Award and the Defense of Academic Freedom Award from the National Council for Social Studies. He is the author of numerous books including Quakers and Politics: Pennsylvania, 1681-1726; Red, White and Black: The Peoples of Early America; The Urban Crucible: Social Change, Political Consciousness, and the Origins of the American Revolution; Forging Freedom: The Black Urban Experience in Philadelphia, 1720-1840; and The Forgotten Fifth: African Americans in the Age of Revolution.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Pennsylvania was first among the states south of New England to end slavery. Most historians have attributed the early success of abolition there to the influence of Quaker moralism and to the strength of natural rights philosophy in the wake of the American Revolution. Nash and Soderlund, however, demonstrate that much more than ideological commitment was at work in bringing an end to slavery in Pennsylvania. Their meticulous research into manumission records, court records, runaway slave advertisements, and other primary sources shows that abolition was a complicated matter in which economic interests played an important role and slaves themselves were more involved than was formerly understood. Nash and Soderland establish that masters often gave up their slaves reluctantly and worked shrewdly to replace slavery with a system of long-term indentures. The authors do an excellent job of tracing the efforts of defiant runaway slaves who worked to bring about change by joining with Quaker abolitionists like Anthony Benezet and the Pennsylvania Abolition Society. The book is clearly written, closely researched, and thoroughly documented. The authors are superbly qualified and their analysis is nicely crafted. Highly recommended for all college and university libraries and for public libraries with strong American history collections. -R. Detweiler, California State University, Dominguez Hills

Table of Contents

Introductionp. ix
1. Slavery in the "Best Poor Man's Country"p. 3
2. The First Emancipatorsp. 41
3. Slavery and Abolition in the Revolutionary Erap. 74
4. Dismantling Slavery: Institutionsp. 99
5. Dismantling Slavery: Peoplep. 137
6. After Freedomp. 167
7. The Legacy of Antislavery Reformp. 194
Notesp. 207
Indexp. 237