Free Produce Movement History

“Many slaves on this continent are oppressed, and their cries have reached the ears of the Most High. Such are the purity and certainty of his judgments, that he cannot be partial in our favor.”John Woolman

This month has been Fair Trade month and it is exciting to learn to regard those who first decided to work towards boycotting slave-made items.  It is time to talk about the Fair Trade founding fathers.  These were men who truly believed that all men were born in the image of God and had the ability to live as free men.

The Free Produce movement was a boycott against slave labor goods.  Many who advocated for the movement tried to find ways to create jobs for those rescued from slavery.  The movement went on during the 1790s-1860s.

New Jersey Quaker John Woolman was a tradesman in his mid 20s.  He took a stand against someone who included slaves as part of his will.  He was appalled and implored the wrongness of treating a man as property.  He was able to convince the man to set the slaves free under the act of manumission.  He continually spoke to his fellow Quakers to set their slaves free, and many times they were very sorry for owning other humans and obeyed.  As a trader, he understood that many materials like silver and metals were probably dug by slaves, so he started to seek simplicity and sought to live out life with less possessions in order to not work towards using slave-made products.  Those who refused to give up their slaves, Mr. Woolman asked to at least work along side their slaves and treat them with kindness.  He hated the oppression he saw around him.  He stated, “The only Christian way to treat a slave is to set him free.”

Anthony Benezet, a Frenchman who moved to PA and became a Quaker, started a boycott against items from the British isles and other places. He became a teacher and created the first US girl’s public school, and then went even further by creating a school to seek education for freed slaves in Philadelphia in 1770.  He truly cared for those who were in slavery.
In 1775, Mr. Benezet created the very first abolitionist group in the US called Pennsylvania Abolition Society For the Relief of Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage, which had 24 members including Thomas Paine.  This organization continues to thrive (though the name is now just The Pennsylvania Abolition Society).

An actual a news clipping from the Free Produce Movement!

Benjamin Lundy, also a New Jersey Quaker, worked on an anti-slavery newspaper in Ohio in the early 1800s. He opened a store that only sold items made by free people and created his own Abolitionist group with over 500 members.  Lundy traveled to Mexico, Haiti, and a Canadian refugee slave colony that was named after William Wilberforce.  He was hoping to find places of refuge for the slaves to go to once freedom was found for them.  He was a public speaker and traveled many times on foot from state to state to speak about the atrocities of slavery with the people. He was brutally attacked in 1827 by a bitter slave-trader who had denounced Lundy’s paper for years.  Mr. Lundy is said to be the first to give lectures against slavery in the US.

In the 1820s and 30s there were many Abolitionist groups of freed African men and women in Pennsylvania who would work and create their own freely produced items, many times creating grocery stores to sell them in.  One of these men was William Whipper.  He was an advocate for sustainable farming and even made his own lumber yard that grew great success.  His sister had lived at the end of the Underground Railroad in Canada where many of his goods would go to help the slaves who found freedom.  He provided actual train cars for them to stay in as his sister would help them out.

It is important that today, knowing how deeply consumed our culture is with consumerism, that we work towards purchasing fairly grown/made items. We can bring an end to the demand of slavery.

2 responses to “Free Produce Movement History

  1. Hi Victoria,

    Loved your article on the Free Produce Movement.

    Great job. Interesting and informative.

    Love, Gail

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