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Africans in the Quaker image: Anthony Benezet, African travel narratives, and revolutionary-era antislavery

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This article compares Anthony Benezet's influential 1771 antislavery tract, Some Historical Account of Guinea, with the sources from which he gleaned his information about Africa and the slave trade, the narratives published by European travelers to West Africa. Benezet, a Philadelphia Quaker and humanitarian reformer, cited the travel literature in order to portray Africa as an abundant land of decent people. He thereby refuted the apology that cast the slave trade as a beneficial transfer of people from a land of barbarism and death to regions of civilization and Christianity. However, Benezet employed the travel narratives selectively, suppressing contradictory evidence as well as controversial material that could have been used to construct an alternative depiction of African humanity. Nonetheless, Benezet's research shaped the subsequent debate over the slave trade and slavery, as antislavery writers incorporated his depiction into their rhetorical arsenal and proslavery defenders searched for a rebuttal.


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