London, England

1765 Edition of Robert Barclay’s Apology – Stokes Family Collection

In 1786,  prosperous London merchant David Barclay, one of the founders of Barclays Bank, acquired as a result of a debt the Unity Valley Pen in Jamaica, and, being a Quaker philanthropist, set about liberating the 28 enslaved African heritage people who lived there.

Barclay was the son of Scottish banker and merchant David Barclay of Cheapside and grandson of Robert Barclay an early Quaker theologian and author of the 1678 seminal work “An Apology for the True Christian Divinity.”  Before the American Revolution, Barclay is an active business partner with Benjamin Franklin in Philadelphia in the linen trade business.   Barclay is also a close associate to Abolitionist William Wilberforce and Josiah Wedgwood who designed the seal for the United Kingdom Anti-Slavery Society.

David Barclay
Image Courtesy of Humphrey Barclay

In 1787 Benjamin Franklin is selected President of the “Philadelphia Society for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage” or more commonly known as the Abolition Society.  The Abolition Society was the first of its kind in America and the group focused not only on abolishing slavery but also in “Negro” education, moral instruction and employment.

David Barclay becomes a member of the Abolition Society in 1790.  By 1795, Barclay would developed a plan for the enslaved at Unity Valley Pen to provide for a form of reparations – for the personal suffering placed upon enslaved Africans by the owner class of Europe and the Americas.

In accordance with his Quaker convictions Barclay joined American Quakers to developed a plan to not only free the Unity Valley Pen African-Jamaicans, but to remove them to Philadelphia, with his stated aim of:

“Having been a Slave Owner, and much dissatisfied in being so, I determined to try the experiment of liberating my slaves; firmly convinced that the retaining my fellow creatures in bondage was not only irreconcilable with the precepts of Christianity, but subversive of the rights of human nature.”

In 1795 they were freed, with many of them given the name Barclay, and taken to Philadelphia where they were cared for, taught trades and eventually set up in lives of their own. One of them was an eight year old boy called October and renamed Robert Barclay.