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Exploring the dark side of Quakerism

The Religious Society of Friends, commonly known as the Quakers or Friends, is often seen as shunning the wages of sin, war and human exploitation. But the group's record isn't entirely spotless. Recent histories have shown that Quakers profited during the American revolutionary and civil wars by selling grains and other crops to military officers. Now Quakers have a darker historical blemish to admit to-several prominent Friends were slave owners in 19th century America.

Rokeby Museum in Ferrisburgh will open for the season with a program on "Quakers and Slavery" on Sunday, May 24, at 2 p,m. Historian and Friend Betsy Cazden will present her research on Quaker ownership of slaves in New England.

Yes, Quakers did own slaves at one time. Today, we associate the Religious Society of Friends with anti-slavery, but wealthy Friends owned slaves in the 17th and most of the 18th centuries and that includes ancestors of the Robinson family, who lived at Rokeby for nearly 200 years. It began with one or two speaking out against the sin of slavery, but eventually Quakers were forced to choose between their religion and their slaves. Cazden received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities to research this history and will share what she's found.

Rokeby Museum is a 90-acre historic site and National Historic Landmark designated for its exceptional underground railroad history. It is located on Route 7 in Ferrisburgh and will be open from May 24 to Oct. 11. Guided tours of the house are available Thursday through Sunday at 11, 12:30, and 2.

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