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Author ORCID Identifier



Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program


Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Barry Levy

Second Advisor

Barbara Krauthamer

Third Advisor

Robert S. Cox

Fourth Advisor

Manisha Sinha

Subject Categories

African American Studies | African History | European History | Genealogy | History of Religion | Intellectual History | Labor History | Women's History


This dissertation re-contextualizes the Quakers’ history as anti-slavery pioneers by exploring the crucial economic role that the slave-based economies of the British West Indies played in establishing the Quakers as a powerful sect in the seventeenth and eighteenth century Atlantic world. Quakers were driven by their faith to foster a spirit of equality inside and outside of their meetings. They were among the first European religious sects to allow women to preach, to oppose violence and war, and, beginning in the middle of the eighteenth-century, to ban the practice of enslaving other human beings within their membership. Yet the Quakers were also consummate capitalists, a role they took on to gain money and power to protect themselves from persecution by Anglicans and Puritans and to create for their children cocooned environments where spiritual fostering and growth could take place. These conflicting aspects of Quaker culture created competing desires among individual Quakers: to treat all peoples as God’s children, but also to gain the forms of earthly economic security needed to survive as members of a fledging religious sect. This study argues that Quaker founder George Fox’s decision to build upon the “natural” hierarchy of the family to create a paternalistic approach to class division enabled the early Quakers to appeal to upper-class converts and build a culture in which elite Quakers used their resources to protect and nurture the less-resourced Quakers in their Meetings. The early Quakers' appeal to wealthy converts acted in synergy with the concurrent emergence of the sugar-based economy in the British West Indies, enabling Quaker missionaries from England to convert planters in the Caribbean and to give the sect the opportunity to reap the enormous profits of the sugar boom. By the eighteenth century, the Quaker-led colonies of Pennsylvania and Rhode Island were economically viable in large part because of their connection to the West Indies and the slave-based production of sugar and molasses.