John Beltin O’Neall, as we have seen, encountered the worst behavior that slavery enabled, but he kept insisting that slavery need not be inhumane. He noticed the anti-slavery principles of Quakers, but did not agree with them, The Quakers were not always anti-slavery; anti-slavery sentiment grew among them, not only in the North but in the South.
In the beginning, Friends were slave owners in South Carolina. They however soon set their faces against it, and in their peculiar language, they have uniformly borne their testimony against the institution of slavery, as irreligious. Such of their members as refused to emancipate their slaves, when emancipation was practicable in this State, they disowned. Samuel Kelly, who was the owner of a slave or slaves in ’02, when he came from Camden, refused to emancipate his, on the grounds that he had bought and paid for them: they were therefore his property; and that they were a great deal better off as his property, than they would be if free. He was therefore disowned.
His brothers’ children manumitted theirs. Some followed them to Ohio; others have here free, it is true, but in indigence and misery, a thousand time’s worse off than the slaves of Samuel Kelly and their descendants. For the far-seeing old gentleman took good care in his last will, that the bulk of his slaves who were left to his widow, should not be emancipated, by giving her the power to dispose of them at her death, provided it was to some member among his family.
Was it true that free blacks in the South were worse off than slaves held by humane masters? It might be; but it does not seem that freed slaves ever sought to sell themselves into slavery again.
It is also interesting to note that Quakers practiced church discipline in both marriage affairs and political matters. The Inner Light was not simply an individual matter; the community as a community was also guided by the Inner Light.
An individual might decide that the Inner Light informed him that he might own slaves or be a soldier; but the community buy its discernment by its Inner Light would expel him from the meeting.