I: INTRODUCTORY--COLONIAL PERIOD
Wetherill, Charles. History of The Religious Society of Friends Called
by Some The Free Quakers, in the City of Philadelphia. Philadelphia:
Printed for the Society, 1894, Number 3 of an edition limited to 800 copies,
signed by Charles Wetherill.
This Document is on The
Quaker Writings Home Page.
I.In considering the history of any Society, it is of the first importance
to note its origin, and if it is a branch, or formed out of an older Society;
then the antecedent history of the parent organization should be examined
for that purpose.
As the Free Quakers were originally Orthodox Friends, their history
will not bee complete without some consideration of the nature of the Quakers
and their peculiarities of faith and practice, for before the Revolutionary
War the societies were identical. This is now briefly to be done, at the
risk of repeating what has been better said before.
The organized followers of the religious teachings of George Fox called
themselves "Friends," for they professed themselves to be friends, not
merely of each other, but of all mankind. Their more common appellation
of "Quakers" was applied to them in derision by their enemies.
Their belief was based upon this idea: They conceived it to be their
duty strictly to follow the Divine commands, as contained in the Bible,
according to their understanding thereof, and from this they made the further
deduction that where God's command and human law seemed to them to be in
conflict, they obeyed what seemed to them to be the Divine command, and
willingly suffered the consequences, whatever they might be. They understood
the Bible to contain an order to all men "to swear not at all," from which
they inferred not only that profane swearing was forbidden, but also that
the oath taken by witnesses and jurors in judicial proceedings is equally
immoral and wrong.
They read in Holy Writ that "all men are equal in the sight of God,"
and they therefore spoke of and addressed men of all ranks by name and
not by title, and refused to show any mark of respect to any earthly magistrate.
They read the Divine command, "so far as possible to live at peace
with all men," and interpreted this to mean a total prohibition of all
war or strife, offensive or defensive, and they thereupon refused to serve
in the army, or to make or trade in any munitions of war, or even to pay
military taxes laid upon them, with their fellow subjects, by lawful authority.
They read that the Apostles "left all they had to follow the Lord,"
and were mostly poor and unlettered men, enlightened directly by the Spirit
of God. They thereupon concluded to lead lives of extreme simplicity, and
separate themselves from the vain follies of the world, and that the Gospel
ought .to be taught freely to all men, and that not by a priesthood supported
by the government, or separated from the ordinary avocations of mankind,
but by, any person who felt impelled by the working of the Spirit within
him to bear his testimony; also for this reason they refused to pay all
tithes or taxes levied for the support of the lawfully established Church
of England. Another consequence of their objection to a priesthood or ministry
was, that, as there was no one to officially conduct or solemnize marriages
among them, the marriage ceremony of the Quakers is a solemn contract signed
and entered into by the parties themselves in the presence of witnesses,
without the intervention of any priest or magistrate.
The result of the formation of a small sect earnestly devoted to such
doctrines, in the times of Charles the Second, in England, might easily
be foreseen by any one acquainted with the bigoted, yet dissolute, spirit
of that period.
They were received wherever they appeared with derision and scorn by
the gay and polite courtiers, on account of their simplicity of manners;
with contempt by the soldiers, by reason of their peaceful principles,
and with stern disapprobation by the orderly and law-abiding, who viewed
with dismay their irregular conduct and doubtful marriages. They were attacked
alike by the corrupt, who found them an easy prey on account of their principle
of non-resistance, and by the clergy, whose services they disturbed, and
to whom they refused to pay tithes. They were also punished by the royal
Government for their non-payment of taxes, their failure to conform with
the lawfully established religion, and their refusal to serve in the army;
and they received but scant comfort in the courts of justice, where they
steadfastly refused to be sworn either as jurors or witnesses. The elements
of respectability and conservatism united with those of disorder and corruption
to punish and persecute them with all possible rigor -- and this they bore
with the courage and constancy of men filled with religious enthusiasm.
But when, after enduring these sufferings for a number of years, William
Penn was enabled to afford them the opportunity to emigrate to West Jersey
and Pennsylvania, it was thankfully accepted by many, and a colony largely
composed of Friends was speedily formed. Their most important at first
was in Burlington, in West Jersey, where the first yearly meeting was established
on the third First day the Sixth month, 1681, but the superior advantages
of Philadelphia soon attracted to it a large number of settlers, both Friends
and others, and made it the chief town of the British colonies.
While many of the original colonists were not Friends, as, for instance,
the Swedes, of Tinicum, and the German followers of Pastorius, in Germantown,
yet the Friends were by far the most numerous and influential members of
the new settlement. In their new and peaceful surroundings, the religious
sentiments and belief of the Friends remained the same as before their
emigration, yet some remarkable changes took place. Far removed from the
tyranny of royal and priestly authority, and living in a country where
there was no one to contend against them, they soon laid by the extravagant
outbursts which had brought them into disrepute in England, and from being
one of the most active and eccentric of all the religious sects, they soon
became the most conservative and meditative, and the informality of their
devotions soon by force of habit attained to a regularity almost ritualistic.
Their thrifty and industrious habits were soon rewarded by the accumulation
of wealth, and although their plainness of speech and dress continued unchanged,
prosperity engrafted upon their simple manners an aristocratic and dignified
bearing, and the care of their large earnings gradually introduced among
them a spirit of caution and conservatism.
They still, on principle, avoided the courts of justice, and each community
or "Meeting" settled the disputes of their members by the arbitration of
a Committee. The Committee in each Meeting soon assumed great power and
authority, and under their leadership the private lives and concerns of
their members were regulated in their most important and also in their
most trivial details, with a strictness which in some particulars may have
been necessary, but which was often exercised in a harsh and undiscriminating
manner. For persisting in the use of worldly gayety of dress or household
ornament, for marrying a person not a member of Meeting, for hasty violence
of language, or striking any one, even in self-defence or in the defence
of one's family, the same punishments of reprimand and disownment were
decreed as if the offender were found guilty of the most disgraceful and
immoral conduct, and from these sentences there was no practical appeal
to any higher authority than those who pronounced them; for the appeal
allowed to Quarterly and Yearly Meetings hardly availed the appellant,
in Philadelphia, at least, where the Committee of the Monthly Meetings
were also influential in the meetings to which the appeals were taken.
While they were most benevolent in their works of charity to all men who
needed help, whether they were Friends or not, there was but little kindness
shown to Friends who disregarded the discipline laid down by the meeting.
Whatever feeling of discontent there may have been among members of
the Religious Society of Friends in America at its rather severe discipline
and occasional harsh enforcement, there was no open organized opposition
to the system during the colonial period, but with the Revolution a more
aggressive spirit arose. The war for freedom caused a great awakening of
intellect in the American community; invaded by an overwhelming force,
threatened with utter destruction, and thrown suddenly on their own resources,
its sturdy, manly, Anglo-Saxon spirit rose nobly to the needs of the emergency.
It not only produced the military genius of Washington and the soldiers
who served with him, it warmed the eloquence of Henry and Adams, it enlivened
the philosophy of Jefferson, it roused the varied talents for science and
diplomacy of Franklin, it strengthened alike the infidelity of Paine and
the Christian devotion of Bishop White. It stirred the intellect and heart
of the whole community to their very depths. And to relate the effect on
the rich, peaceful, conservative Society of Friends is the object of this