Charles Wetherill

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.

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It is with no wish to cast reproach upon the respectable Society of Friends that the fact is recorded that at the commencement of the differences between the American colonists and the home Government, and until the event of war settled the points at issue in favor of the cause of freedom, the sympathies of those who controlled the public action of that society were with the Crown.
The leading members of that society were men who had grown old in the habit of loyalty, and had been rewarded therefor by dignities and wealth. Their government of the colony had always been peaceful; the spirit of resistance threatened war; and war was not only a subversion of their religious principles, but it threatened ruin to their worldly fortunes. With the habitual caution of men advanced in years, they looked with disfavor on the hot-headed young patriots who declared themselves supporters of so radical a change as the establishment of an independent government.
The calling together of the first Continental Congress was an act of heroic patriotism from the American standpoint, but was mere treasonable plotting in the royalists' eyes.
Accordingly, we find that at the General Yearly Meeting of Friends, held in Philadelphia in 1774, a letter was formally approved and ordered to be sent to all Meetings of Friends in America, warning all members of that Society not to depart from their peaceful principles by taking part in any of the political matters then being stirred up, reminding all Friends that under the King's government they had been favored with a peaceful and prosperous enjoyment of their rights, and strongly suggesting the propriety of disowning all such members as disobeyed the orders issued by the Yearly Meeting. This letter was generally respected and obeyed, and most Friends took no part in the war for freedom.
But this was not so with all: among the younger members many took an active part. These held that as they should render duty to their Government of willing obedience, so also they owed it their active support when threatened by invasion. While agreeing with their elders as to the wickedness of aggressive war and needless strife, they took the ground that it would be inconsistent to accept the support of the Continental Congress and armies, and refuse to aid them by every means possible. These men had to resist the prejudices which they had been educated in and by which they were surrounded. They had to meet their brethren before they went forth to meet the enemy; but they stood their ground without wavering. They served actively in the armies on the American side, they appeared in the Committee of Public Safety, they were seated in the Legislature, they were concerned in the printing of the Continental money. They gladly gave to the cause out of their purses and stocks of goods. Nor was it only by the men that these services were rendered, the women attended their husbands to the wars, and it is still remembered that during the battle of Trenton the wives of the Quaker soldiers helped on the battlefield to bandage the wounded, and the first flags that were carried by the American armies were made by a Quaker woman.
While this was being done, however, the Friends were not idle. They took prompt notice of the warlike propensities of their younger brethren, and the curious student of history who examines the records of Friends' meetings of that period will find a great number of entries like these:
"Isaac Howell of this city who has made many years profession of the Truth with us the people called Quakers, and we believe has been convinced of that divine principle which preserves the followers thereof from a disposition and conduct tending to promote war, has notwithstanding so far deviated therefrom as to manifest a disposition to con'' tend for the asserting of civil rights in a manner contrary to our peaceable profession and principles, and accepted of and acted in a public station, the purpose and intention of which has tended to promote measures inconsistent there'' with. It thereupon became our concern to treat with him, with desire to convince him of his error, but our labour of love not having the desired effect, and as the testimony of Truth has suffered by his means, and he doth not shew a disposition to condemn the same, We are under the necessity in order to support our Christian Testimony to declare that he hath separated himself from the Unity and fellowship of our Religious Society. Yet it is our earnest desire that he may become sensible of his deviations so as to manifest a just sense of his error, and by a due concern for the testimony of Truth, manifested by a suitable acknowledegment, become restored into membership."
Which entry means that Isaac Howell having disobeyed the precept of Yearly Meeting of 1774, and also having fallen away from correct following after Quakerism by accepting office under a government in rebellion, and by serving in a military capacity, was thereupon disowned and excommunicated by the Philadelphia Meeting of Friends.
This action of Friends was not confined to the meetings in Philadelphia; the following is a copy from the minutes of the meeting at Wrightstown, in Bucks County:--
"From our Monthly Meeting of Friends, held at Wrightstown, the 4th day of the 11th month, 1777:-
''Whereas, John Wilkinson hath had his birth and education amongst Friends, but hath so far disregarded the peace of society as to have served as a member of the Assembly, in the present unsettled state of affairs, contrary to the ad'' vice of Friends; and, although repeatedly admonished on the occasion, doth not manifest a disposition to make the Meeting a proper acknowledgement for his outgoings: therefore, for the clearing of truth and our Society, we give forth this, our testimony, against such practices, and can have no further unity with him, the said John Wilkinson, as a member of our Society, until he come to a sense of his error, and condemn the same to the satisfaction of Friends, which that he may we desire for him. Signed in and on behalf of our said meeting by
J. CHAPMAN, Clerk."
The disowned members occasionally made vigorous protest against the action of their Royalist brethren. The testimony of the Wrightstown meeting against Thomas Ross, Jr., and his testimony against the meeting which disowned him, are an example of this, as the following copy will show:--
"From our Monthly Meeting held at Wrightstown, the 7th of the 12th month, 1779:--
"Whereas, Thomas Ross, Jr., having had his birth and education amongst Friends, but having so far disregarded the testimony of truth against wars and fighting as to pay a fine demanded of him for not associating to learn the art of war; and Friends having treated with him in order to [P14] bring him to-a sense of his misconduct, yet he continues to justify himself in so doing: therefore we give forth this as a testimony against such practices, and can have no further unity with him as a member of our Society, until he comes to a sense of his error and condemns the same to the satisfaction of Friends, which he may do is our desire for him. Signed in and on behalf of our said meeting by
J. CHAPMAN, Clerk."
When the clerk had finished reading the above testimony, Mr. Ross stood up and read the following declaration to the meeting:--
"Whereas, the Society of the people called Quakers, in North America, in several important particulars, both in theory and practice, have departed from their ancient creed, and inasmuch as, in their ecclesiastical decisions and transactions, they are become extremely partial, inconsistent, and hypocritical, I do therefore give forth this my testimony against their present practice and innovations, and can have no further unity with them as a member of their Society until they shall add to a profession more consistent with the doctrine of Christianity or practice more agreeable to their profession. Signed on behalf of himself by
And this course was persisted in by the Quakers until near the close of the Revolutionary War. Here is a certificate dated in 1780:--
From our Monthly Meeting held at Buckingham, the 3d day of the 1st month, 1780:--
"Joshua Ely, Jr., hath had his birth and education among the people called Quakers, and made profession with them; yet he has been so unguarded, in this time of commotion and unsettled state of public affairs, as to take a test of allegiance and abjuration; and although he hath been labored with to convince him of the inconsistency thereof with our [P15] peaceable profession, so as to contemn him in so doing; but it has not had the desired effect, he endeavoring still to justify his conduct: therefore we do give forth this our testimony against him as a member in society with us until he comes to a sense of his error and makes satisfaction to the meeting, which he may is our desire for him. Signed by order and on behalf of our said meeting by
On June 13, 1777, the Legislature of Pennsylvania passed a law commanding all residents to forthwith appear before the justices or other officers qualified to administer judicial oaths, and take oath or affirmation of allegiance to the State of Pennsylvania and the United States, and abjure forever all allegiance to the King and Government of Great Britain. This brought the issue fairly and fully before the Society of' Friends; the leaders of that Society stood firm to the letter of the Yearly Meeting of 1774, and generally failed to comply with the law. There can be no doubt that some, fearful alike of disownment and of the punishment for treason on the one hand, and of the penalties of the new law on the other, took the oath of allegiance secretly, but some young Friends, more earnest and candid than their brethren, attended publicly before the justices and openly and willingly complied with the law. Among these was Samuel Wetherill, Junior, who was a minister or public speaker at the meetings of Friends, and also a very active man of affairs. He was great grandson of Christopher Wetherill, one of the first settlers of Burlington, in West Jersey, and one of the Council of Proprietors which originally governed that colony.
Samuel was born in Burlington in 1736, and while a boy came to Philadelphia and was apprenticed to Mordecai Yarnall, who was an eminent and pious preacher among the Friends, and also a house carpenter. Like the good apprentice of Hogarth, he married his master's' daughter, and by attending diligently to business gained a good standing in the city, and by his earnest and devout attention at meeting, was much respected by the Friends. Just before the time we now speak of, in 1775, he joined with Christopher Marshall and several other enterprising men in founding the first factory for weaving cloth in the American' Colonies, and when the war broke out this factory was in active operation. Not only did Samuel Wetherill publicly take the oath of allegiance, but his public speech and ready pen were very actively enlisted for the American cause.
The cloth woven by his factory was also supplied to the army, and it is said that a timely shipment of these supplies to the little army of Washington, at Valley Forge, saved it from disbanding. He met his reward, the following entry in Friends' Meeting Record attesting the same:--
"Whereas, Samuel Wetherill of this city hath many years made profession of the Truth with us, and we have grounds to hope he hath been convinced of the nature and excellency of Christian union and fellowship, but not being sufficiently attentive to the Divine principle of Gospel peace and love, which leads and preserves the followers of Christ out of contention and discord, has deviated from our ancient Testimony and peaceable principles, by manifesting himself a party in the public commotions prevailing, and taking a test of abjuration and allegiance, and hath also violated the established order of our Discipline by being concerned in publishing or distributing a book tending to promote dissension and division among Friends: It therefore became our care to labour to convince him of the hurtful tendency of his conduct, but our brotherly concern and endeavours for him not being effectual, he persisting to vindicate his sentiments and proceedings in opposition to the united sense and judgment of Friends, we apprehend ourselves under the necessity, in support of our Christian, testimony, to declare that he hath separated from fellowship with us and become secluded from membership in our religious Society:--Nevertheless, we are sincerely concerned for his welfare and restoration, with desires that by his humble attention to the illumination of Divine Grace he may become so sensible of his deviation and errors as to be rightly restored into membership with us. 8th month, 1779."
What the book was that Samuel Wetherill published and distributed is not now known: other literary works of his have survived to the present time, mostly on religious are very forcibly expressed; and upon those points in which he differed from his brethren he probably expressed himself with great clearness and vigor. Whatever their reply may have been, the only answer that has come down to us is the above entry.
Not only in Philadelphia and its vicinity, but elsewhere in the colonies, notably in Maryland and Massachusetts, many were disowned for their service in the cause of their country.
In considering the effects of disownment on those who thus disowned, it must be remembered that the Quakers were, as they still are, an exceedingly religious people. Their religion was not to them a mere external habit of devotion, exhibited to other men on the First day of the week and laid aside until the following First day. They meditated on it daily; it accompanied them in their round of duty and business, the Bible was read and studied constantly, and their meeting was far more to them than their place of worship.
The Philadelphian of to-day has many places of amusement and instruction which our ancestors of the Revolutionary time were without. In that little city, where the woods began at Fourth and Pine Streets, extending to the Schuylkill River, where the State House on Chestnut Street and the jail at Sixth and Walnut were almost out in the country, there were no theatres or concerts or lectures on subjects of popular interest, and-no clubs or societies of a social kind, or at least very few. In that day the meeting was not only a place of religious worship, it was to Friends the chief place of social concourse as well, and he who was disowned for political cause was lonely indeed; for such a man was, in his heart, as truly a Quaker as any who disowned him. The services of the Established Church were as distasteful to him as they had been to Fox and Penn, so Christ Church had no attractions for him, and the bells of the little Swedish Lutheran Church of the Gloria Dei, ringing over the meadows of Moyamensing, called him in vain.
His heart yearned for the meeting, and its associations were none the less dear to him that he had been disowned, as it seemed to him, unjustly. As the Revolutionary War went on and the number of disowned Friends increased, they became something of a feature in the city, and the more devout among them began to meet together and compared views. It .seems that they first met in small numbers in the autumn of 1780, at the houses of Samuel Wetherill and Timothy Matlack, and after a number of meetings for religious worship, the propriety of forming a meeting of their own was discussed among them. Several favored this action, and on the twentieth day of February, 1781, the new Society held its first meeting for business. The first minute book has been preserved, and it speaks of the Society as "The Religious Society of Friends, by some styled the Free Quakers."
A full list of the original members cannot be given, as some attended irregularly and failed to register their names, but among the members the more conspicuous were the following:--
Timothy Mallack, who was a colonel in the army and a member of the Committee of Public Safety. Later he was a member of the State Legislature, and was a very active patriot.
White Matlack, brother of Timothy.
William Crispin, who was commissary in General Washington's Army.
Colonel Clement Biddle, a member of the well-known family of that name, who was disowned as early as 1775 for "studying to learn the art of war," he having raised a company of soldiers composed largely of Quakers. He afterward served as Quartermaster-General in the Revolutionary Army under General Gates, at Valley Forge and elsewhere.
Owen Biddle, his brother, who was a member of the State Legislature.
Benjamin Say, who was a well-known physician at that time.
Samuel Wetherill, Jr., who was the preacher and clerk of the meeting.
Christopher Marshall, who was a well-known patriot and an active member of the Committee of Public Safety. His diary has been published.
Joseph Warner, who served in the army and was at the Battle of Trenton.
Peter Thomson, who was employed by Congress to print the Continental money.
Nathaniel Browne, Isaac Howell, Moses Bartram, and Jonathan Scholfield were also prominent members.
Among the women who were members the most famous were Lydia Darragh and Elizabeth Griscom, widow of John Ross, who afterward married John Claypoole. Lydia Darragh's house was used by certain British officers as their headquarters while their army occupied Philadelphia, and she accidentally overheard them plan a surprise, by night, of Washington's army, then encamped at White Marsh. She escaped from the city and conveyed news of the intended attack to the American army, and thus probably saved it and the American cause from destruction.
Elizabeth Claypoole lived in a small house on Arch Street, below Third, and was poor, supporting herself by her needle, and it is quite certain that the first American flags used in the army were made by her in June, 1776. The order of Congress directing her to be paid for this service has been preserved. The meeting of which she was a member disowned her for making the flags, and she, with her husband, who was a lieutenant in Colonel Eyre's regiment, joined the Free Quakers. She was of very gentle and amiable disposition, and it is gratifying to note that she lived to see the flag of her country, of which she made the oldest specimens, honored and respected all over the world. She was much loved by those who knew her, and was familiarly known as "Betsey" Claypoole. She outlived all the original members, dying at a very advanced age in 1836.
The Society was not a large one, the first meeting for business being attended by eight persons.
They and those who acted with them, feeling, no doubt, that in forming a new religious organization they ought to publicly make known their cause of so doing, prepared and published an address to those of the people called Quakers who have been disowned for matters religious or civil. This was printed in what was then called "broadside" form, on a single sheet of paper. It bears date "Philadelphia, 24th of the 4th month, 1781," and a copy will be found in the Appendix. This, the first public, printed utterance of the Society, should be carefully studied, and when it is remembered that at this time the American cause seemed almost hopeless, the Congress without money or credit, and our armies defeated and discouraged, the patriotic language of this and the other early documents of the Society is worthy of particular note. It calls upon those who have been disowned and feel the need of religious worship to join with them in discharging their religious duties to themselves and their children and families, and reminding the disowned that many of them have been turned away from the Society in which they were educated "for no other cause than a faithful discharge of those duties which we owe to our country;" it assures them that "we have no new doctrine to teach," nor "any design of promoting schisms in religion,".... but "mean to pay a due regard to the principles of our forefathers. We have no desire to form creeds or confessions of faith, but humbly to confide in those sacred lessons of wis'' dom and benevolence which have been left to us by Christ and His apostles contained in the Holy Scriptures, and appealing to that divine principle, breathed by the breath of God into the hearts of all, to leave every man to think and judge for himself, according to the abilities received, and to answer for his faith and opinions to Him who 'seeth the secrets of all hearts,' the Sole Judge and Sovereign Lord of Conscience." The faith of the new meeting, therefore, was the Quaker faith in which they had been brought up. The same simplicity of life, the same Christian belief, the same trust in the Bible as the Word of God, the same appeal to "a divine ,, principle directly sent from God into the hearts of all men," which has been the constant claim of the teachers of that faith from the beginning, was asserted fully and emphatically in this characteristic address. The differences indicated were not of faith, but of practice; but they were so original as to be very remarkable. The Free Quakers were fighting for the same liberty in matters of religion that they had contended for, and were in the act of winning politically. They had faced the power of England, they were in the act of establishing a republican government for America. They also wished to form a Church in which its members would be as free from the tyranny of bishops and ruling elders as they sought to be free from the despotic rule of a foreign and distant King. The first point with them was that in the new meeting no man who believed in God, in a supreme, wise, and benevolent Ruler of the Universe, and who joined with them', should be disowned or excommunicated for any cause whatever. It was charged against them that under such lax discipline dangerous new doctrines might be preached. It was answered, "better to suffer the dangers of freedom than the coldness of repression," and if any is clearly wrong, better to advise with him kindly than to turn him away. It was charged that such a discipline left it in the power of one member to pronounce opinions at variance with those of .all the rest of the meeting. It was answered that such a single member might be in the right and his brethren in error. It was charged that the new Society might be disgraced by the possible immoral conduct of its members if such were not disowned. It was answered that the Church is a moral and spiritual hospital, wherein measures ought to be taken to heal the diseased, and that the more sinful a member seemed to be, the more evident is the necessity of laboring for his reformation, and that if any supposed disgrace attended on companionship with offenders, that inconvenience was more than repaid if they could be thereby brought to reform and sin no more.
On one other point they differed radically from the older Society, and that was as to the right of offering forcible resistance against warlike invasion. The' Quakers had always held that resistance was sinful, and so they adhered to an absolute peace, under all circumstances, suffering violence to themselves, their families, and their country rather than offer any resistance or serve in the army, even going so far as to refuse to pay taxes where the money was being raised for military purposes. The Free Quakers held, admitting the necessity of government, that all government is essentially a defensive war for the protection of public peace, and that when the government is threatened by domestic treason or foreign invasion, it then becomes the plain duty of every man to join in the public defence by all means possible, and that war, while an extreme measure, is in such instances not merely justifiable, but right and proper, and, as is shown above, the founders of the Society showed their sincerity in this matter by serving their country, with their very best exertions, at the time of its utmost need. On the same ground they held, contrary to the discipline of Friends, that a man, might forcibly resist any bodily violence offered to himself or to any one to whom he owed the duty of protection. While their views as to warfare and resistance were precisely the same as that of nearly all Christians, they were in such striking contrast to the well-settled doctrines of the Friends that they were commonly known, and are still sometimes spoken of, as "fighting" Quakers.
These views they very firmly adhered to and very forcibly set forth at their meetings for worship by the preaching of Samuel Wetherill, who about this time or probably a little later--flor the work bears no date--wrote and published a small pamphlet entitled "An Apology for the Religious "Society called Free Quakers in the City of Philadelphia," in which he argues very strongly that all Churches who excommunicate act inconsistently with the Gospel, and in which he also states with great strength and clearness the views of the Society on the doctrine of non-resistance. The book is very interesting, as showing clearly in what points they differed from their Orthodox brethren.
Among other things he says (pp. 34, 35):--
"Those who believe the Society of Friends are the Church of Christ, and that disowning necessarily implies an exclusion from Heaven, are, according to the ancient principle laid down by Barclay, the true and orthodox Quakers. The others who do not suppose the Society are the pure Church, who do not pretend to binding and loosing in heaven and on earth, are most catholic and modest. But let me ask those friends: supposing a number of men were forming themselves into a religious society . for the purposes of improvement in piety and virtue, would the present discipline of Friends be the most proper rules to produce this effect? Would they agree that no one among them should marry a person of any other Society, though ever so amiable, under pain of being expelled from the body, nor even a member of their own Society, unless they accomplished their marriage agreeable to one particular form? That no man should defend his own life, nor the life of his friend, nor the government under which he lived, nor pay taxes for military purposes, nor a fine for not complying with the laws in certain cases? That no man should publish a religious or political treatise without consent of the Society, under the penalty of being expelled from the body? Can it be supposed that any number of men of sound understanding would, in the present day, lay down such a plan, and make a compliance with those rules the test of Christian fellowship? If, then, it is impossible to suppose such a case, are they wise who make those rules the test of Christian fellowship, merely because they were made the conditions of fellowship by their ancestors? How much more reasonable would it be in them "to say: the design of this institution is, that we may be, mutually instrumental in promoting the temporal and eternal felicity one of another? We feel the importance of a ,virtuous life, we will, therefore, use all the means with which divine providence may favour us, solely for this end. If, then, a brother should be overtaken in a fault, we will , endeavour to restore such a one in the spirit of meekness, considering ourselves, lest we also be tempted; but in no case whatever, shall any one be expelled from the Society, lest it should prove his ruin. How greatly preferable would such a system of church government be ? * * * Such, then, is the plan of the Religious Society of Free Quakers in the City of Philadelphia."
Their meetings for worship were at first held in private houses, generally in the house of the clerk. Afterwards, they met in one of the rooms of the college building of the University of Pennsylvania.

At their meetings for business, their first work was to formulate a Discipline, or plan of organization, and in order to obtain the assistance of all such disowned Friends as might wish to join in the work, they issued on the fourth day of the sixth month, 1781, a second broadside or public printed letter to "Our Friends and Brethren in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and elsewhere," stating that they "conceived it to be a duty which we owe to ourselves, our children, and families to establish and support among us public meetings for religious worship, and to appoint stated meetings for conducting the affairs of the Society, upon principles as liberal and enlarged toward one another, as those adopted by the State are toward all, and inviting the advice and assistance of all who may kindly afford us their counsel." This letter will also be found copied at length in the Appendix. Having sent out this epistle to their friends, they continued their work on Discipline, and on the sixth day of the eighth month, 1781, at their meeting for business, unanimously agreed to it. The document has been printed, and a clearer or more forcibly expressed work of the kind could hardly be imagined. It is so filled with a manly spirit of patriotism, mingled with Christian devotion, and also showing a due sense of order which has always characterized the Friends, that this work would not be complete unless it be transcribed in full.
This, then, is

Unanimously agreed to in their Meeting for Business, held in Philadelphia on the Sixth day of the Eighth Month, 1781.

The Creator of man, having bestowed upon individuals greater and less natural abilities, and opportunities of improvement, a variety of sentiments respecting the duties which we owe to him, necessarily arises among us, and it becomes essential to our happiness, that we may perform those duties in that way which we think most acceptable to him. And therefore, when we contemplate the long continued and earnest contest which has been maintained, and the torrents of blood which, in other countries, have been shed in defence of this precious privilege, we cannot but acknowledge it to be a signal instance of the immediate care of a divine providence over the people of America, that he has, in the present great revolution, thus far established among us governments, under which no man, who acknowledges the being of a God, can be abridged of any civil right on account of his religious sentiments; while other nations who see and lament their wretched situation are yet groaning under a grievous bondage. But governments established upon those liberal, just, and truly Christian principles, and wisely confined to the great objects of ascertaining and defending civil rights, in avoiding the possibility of wounding the conscience of any, must unavoidably leave some cases unprovided for, which come properly under the care of religious societies. Hence we are not only left at liberty to act agreeably to our sentiments; but the necessity and obligation of establishing and supporting religious societies are increased and strengthened.
"We acknowledge the kindness of providence in awakening us to a view of the deplorable situation in which we have been. Disowned and rejected by those among whom we have been educated, and scattered abroad, as if we had been aliens in a strange land, the prospect of our situation has indeed humbled us. But he whose mercy endureth forever has preserved us, and induced us to confide that he will care for us. And being made sensible of the indispensable necessity of uniting together, we have cast our care upon the great preserver of men, and depending upon him for our support, conceive it to be a duty which we owe to ourselves, our children, and families, to establish and support among us public meetings for religious worship; to appoint stated meetings for conducting the affairs of the Society, upon principles as liberal and enlarged toward one another, as those adopted by the state are toward all, and paying a due regard to the principles of our forefathers, and the spirit of the wise regulations established by them, to fix upon such rules as may enable us to preserve decency and good order; and among other things, to agree upon, and make known a decent form of marriage, which may at once secure the rights of parents and .of children; and a mode of forming and preserving records of marriages, births, and burials.
"Wherefore after mature deliberation it was unanimously agreed as follows, to wit :--

"First.--Meetings for public worship shall be established and kept up. The time and place of holding them shall be ordered and directed by the meeting for business. And it is earnestly recommended, to all who come to our meetings for worship, or meetings for business, to attend precisely at the time appointed.
"Secondly.--A meeting shall be held monthly for conducting the business of the Society, in which any member may freely express his sentiments, on all business which shall there be determined or considered. In this meeting unanimity and harmony ought to prevail, and where any difference of sentiment may appear, charity and brotherly condescension ought to be shown to one another. Minutes of all the proceedings shall be kept, and for this purpose a clerk shall be appointed, and be under the direction of the meeting. At the opening of each meeting, after a solemn "pause for worship, the minutes of the meeting next pre~ ceding shall be read.
"Thirdly.--Persons intending marriage may, either in person or by a friend, inform the meeting for business there of; but where it may conveniently be, it is recommended, "that the parties proposing marriage do attend the meeting before which the proposal is made. Whereupon a committee shall be appointed to enquire concerning their clearness of other marriage engagements, consent of parents or guardians; and such other matters as relate to the proposed marriage, and report thereon to the next meeting. No reasonable objection appearing, and the parties as aforesaid signifying the continuation of their intentions, the marriage may be allowed of, and two persons appointed to attend the decent solemnization thereof, and to have the certificate of the same recorded in the book of marriages.
"The marriage may be solemnized at a public meeting for worship; or at the house of either of the parties; or at the house of their parents or friends, as the parties may choose: but it is recommended that the same be preceded by a solemn pause, and worship to God. As cases may probably happen, in which it will be inconvenient to postpone marriages so long as from one monthly meeting to another, in such cases an adjournment of the meeting may be made, the report of the committee received, and the marriage be allowed of as aforesaid.
"The solemnization is recommended to be after the following manner, to wit: The parties standing up and taking each other by the hand, the man shall declare to this import: 'That he takes the woman, naming her name, to be his wife, and will be unto her a loving and faithful husband until death shall separate them. And the woman, on her part, shall declare to the import That she takes the man, naming his name, to be her husband: and will be unto him a loving and faithful wife until death shall separate them. The certificate whereof may be to the following import, to wit: Whereas, A. B., of C., (expressing also his title or occupation,) son of C. D., of E. and F. his wife, and G. H., daughter of I. K., of L., and M., his wife, having laid their intentions of marriage with each other, before the meeting for business of the society of Friends, styled by some The Free Quakers, held at N., the same were allowed of, and on the ---- day of the ---- month, in the year of our Lord (inserting the day, month, and year), the said parties appeared at a meeting appointed for the solemnization of the said marriage (or otherwise as the case may be), and taking each other by the hand, the said A. B., did, in a solemn manner, declare that he took the said G. H., to be his wife, and promised to be unto her a loving and faithful husband until death should separate them: And the said G. H., did in like manner declare, that she took the said A. B. to be her husband, and promised to be unto him a loving and faithful wife until death should separate them. And in confirmation and testimony of the same, they the said A. B. and G. H., she assuming the name of her husband, did then and there to these presents set their hands. And we, whose names are also subscribed, being present at the said marriage and subscription, have, as witnesses to the same, hereunto set our hands, the day and year aforesaid. "Fourthly.--Records shall be kept of all marriages, births, and burials among us. And as these records may be of great importance, and the recording of births and burials will greatly depend on the care of individuals, in giving an account thereof, it is earnestly recommended to all, to give an early account of both, mentioning the child's name, parentage, and day of its birth; and the name, parentage, title or occupation, age, and day of decease, as well of those who die abroad, when the same can be ascertained, as of those who die among us.
"Fifthly.--Persons desirous of joining with us in Society, signifying the same to the meeting for business, and appearing to be of good character, may be admitted. Whereupon they may give in the names and ages of their children, to be recorded. Should any choose to go from among us, a minute thereof may be entered among our proceedings.
"Sixthly.--In cases of controversy respecting property, a reference to disinterested men, either of our own or some other Society, and a compliance with their judgment, may be recommended, as the most expeditious and least expeditious mode of terminating such disputes, and tending to peace and harmony, but, it shall be a perpetual rule among us, as a religious society, that we will not otherwise interfere in controversies between one man and another. This rule being contrary to that of our ancestors, in this case we think it necessary to observe, That however blameable or even "shameful" it might have been in the Apostle's day, "for brother to go to law with brother before the unbelievers," in the present day, when the State, of which we ourselves are members, appoint men eminent for their abilities and integrity, to judge of all controversies, and those judges being themselves Christians, are aided by juries of Christians: there does not appear any just cause for prohibiting appeals to them: on the contrary, to us it seems to be indecent and unjust to speak of these Christian courts, as the Apostles spake of those of the unbelievers, and as the Society who have disowned us have affected to speak of the courts of justice, even when themselves were the officers, jurors, judges, and legislators. "Seventh.--As brethren each may counsel and advise an other in the spirit of love and meekness, as he may see occasion, remembering always that he also may be tempted: but leaving guilt to be punished by the laws of the land, and commending those who err to the grace of God, no public censures shall be passed by us on any. Neither shall a member be deprived of his right among us, on account of his differing in sentiment from any or all of his brethren."
This paper is as remarkable in its utterances as in its omissions. One searches through it in vain for any creed or protestation of faith; and the Discipline would be almost as suitable, in its simple arrangements, for a society of ancient Greek philosophers. The society was from its origin devoutly and earnestly Christian, but they were Quakers, and their disownment having been only for civil or political cause, and not on any ground of religious difference, their belief on all main points was already so clearly understood that no publication of it was deemed needful or advisable.
The Discipline however points clearly to the main grounds wherein they differed from Friends. The closing statement "Neither shall a member be deprived of his right among us on account of his differing in sentiment from any or all of his brethren," is an assurance of religious freedom which no other Christian sect has ever given to its followers.
These publications attracted considerable attention at the time, especially among Friends, and members of that Society in other States who had suffered disownment began [P33] to organize and meet in the same manner. In Chester County in Pennsylvania, at West River in Maryland, even as far as Massachusetts, Free Quaker meetings began to spring up, and a regular correspondence between these Friends and the Philadelphia meeting seems to have existed.
Meanwhile the Society in Philadelphia was much inconvenienced for want of some suitable place in which to hold their meetings for worship and business. Application was made to the Friends who had disowned them for leave to use one of the meeting houses of that Society, but this was refused. The Free Quakers consulted thereon, and, holding that their expulsion had been mainly caused by political differences, with which a religious sect as such had nothing to do, and as they had been disowned for simply obeying the laws and devoting their lives and property to the service of their country, they conceived that their disownment for such causes gave their orthodox brethren no right to exclude them from the joint use of the meeting houses and burial ground of the Quakers. In this view many persons who were not of that Society agreed with them, for the Whig Quakers, or Fighting Quakers, as they were called, had the sympathies of the people with them. Thus cheered, they prepared a formal printed letter, "From the Monthly Meeting of Friends, called by some the Free Quakers, held by adjournment at Philadelphia, on the ninth day of the seventh month, 1781: "To those of our Brethren who have disowned us," which states the differences that had arisen and proceeds: "We think it proper for us to use, .apart from you, one of the houses built by Friends in this city for those purposes;" * * * * "and therefore we thus invite you to the opportunity of showing what degree of kindness and brotherly love toward us still remains among you. [P34] We also mean to use the burial ground whenever the occasion shall require it; for, however the living may contend, surely the dead may lie peaceably together."
The original letter was presented by Timothy Matlack, Moses Bartram, and White Matlack, to the Monthly Meeting of Friends in Philadelphia, on the twenty-seventh day of seventh month, 1781. On the back of the letter is a memorandum, evidently made by some member of the Meeting to whom it was delivered, of the proceedings of the Quakers thereupon and the verbal answer which it was agreed should be made to Timothy Matlack or either of the persons who attended with him, and which was done accordingly. Probably by some mistake, the original letter was returned, together with the endorsed memorandum, so we know just what the verbal answer was. It ran as follows:--
"We have considered the contents of the paper presented to our last meeting by Timothy Matlack and others, and are of the judgment that it is improper to be read in the Meeting, of which we think the parties concerned will have grounds to be convinced, on a cool and dispassionate reconsideration, of the requisition they make." [For a full copy see Appendix, No. 3.]
This answer amounting to a final refusal, the Free Quakers applied to the Legislature of the State, alleging their right and stating that they and others had been disowned by the leading men of that Society on various pretences, among them the following:-
"Some have been disowned for affirming allegiance to the State in compliance with the laws, and their elders and overseers have proposed and insisted on a renunciation of that allegiance as a condition of reunion with them.
"Some for holding office under the State, and some for holding office under the United States.
"Many for bearing arms in defence of our invaded country, although the laws of the State enjoined and required it of them.
"And some have been disowned for having paid the taxes required of them by law ; and they closed by praying for leave to bring in a bill for recognizing the rights of persons disowned by the people called Quakers, to hold in common with them the estates owned by them, and the right to search and copy their records." This petition virtually charged the managers of the Quaker Society with acting in complicity with the royalists and treasonably against the American government. This petition was signed by about fifty men, and was presented to the Legislature on the twenty-first of December, 1781. [A copy will be found in the Appendix, No. 4.]
This petition was answered by an address and memorial on behalf of the people called Quakers, signed the eighteenth of First Month, 1782, by John Drinker, clerk of their meeting, and which was probably presented to the Legislature at about the time of its date. This denies any treasonable intent, by the Quakers, and sets forth that in disowning the members as charged they had simply acted upon the rules of their Society and well established discipline, and that in so doing they had only exercised that degree of religious freedom which was guaranteed to all bodies of Christians by the law, and that in refusing to join in warlike measures in support of political freedom, they were only obeying their consciences and the Divine Command, according to their understanding.
And so the Commonwealth in its first days was presented with the question: How far is the exercise of freedom in matters of religion to be considered an excuse for noncompliance with the laws of the land.
On the one hand it was urged that the liberty of every man to worship God, and in matters of religion to act according to the dictates of his conscience, was solemnly guaranteed by law, from the time of the settlement of the colony by William Penn. On the other hand it was argued with equal earnestness, that where the State is in danger she has a right to call upon all her citizens for, support, and to punish any who make their conscientious scruples an excuse for disobedience. The question was not only debated in the Legislature, but also with considerable earnestness in the public press; several broadsides and small pamphlets were published at about this time on the subject. The several memorials to the legislature were very able statements, from the supporters of each side of the controversy, though it is rather sad to note, that the affectation of a Christian meekness in their language, really covered great bitterness of spirit on both sides. The legislature very wisely refused to decide the question, or place any written limits either to the right of the government to demand support, or of tender consciences to have special respect and favor. And the question has not been decided to the present time, but remains open; so that each case may be decided on the merit of its particular facts. As to the petition of the Free Quakers, it was tabled, and nothing further was done during that session of the legislature. The matter was revived however, at the next session, by a memorial and remonstrance presented by Isaac Howell and White Matlack, which set out their claims and those of the other Friends disowned on political grounds, at length, and repeated the prayer of the petition which had been presented before. This address was presented in the House of Representatives [P37] August 21, 1782, entered on the journal at length and referred to a special committee. To the public interest caused this address we are indebted, as one result was that the answer of the Quakers to the original petition was published a printed copy has been preserved. It, together with the remonstrance of Howell and Matlack, will be found in the Appendix. The committee, however, took no action and the legislature did nothing in the matter. Isaac Howell presented a short petition, asking the consideration of the House to the subject, early in 1783, and this was accompanied by a letter signed by thirty-seven of the disowned Quakers, joining the request of the petition, but the legislature adjourned without taking any action.
Meanwhile, however, Cornwallis had surrendered to General Washington, the English forces had abandoned New York, the revolutionary war had come to an end by virtue of the treaty with England which acknowledged the independence of the American Colonies, and the State of Pennsylvania became a sovereign power. The Whigs having thus won their cause, felt a strong sympathy with those of the Quakers who had suffered disownment by the religious society in which they were born, for the sake of their attachment to the new republic just being established. Prominent citizens felt and said that the disowned Friends had been hardly and unjustly dealt with. The Free Quakers began to raise money and take steps to build a meeting house for themselves, and Samuel Wetherill, White Matlack, Jehu Eldridge and Isaac Howell, were on June 16, 1783, appointed a committee to find a suitable lot of ground on which to build. And on the seventh day of July, 1783, Samuel Wetherill on behalf of the committee, reported to a meeting for business that he had obtained a lot suitable for the purpose at the southwest corner [P38] of Fifth and Mulberry, or Arch Streets, in front on Mulberry Street forty-eight feet, in depth on Fifth Street sixty feet, which he held ready to convey to trustees. The Society of Free Quakers, thereupon approved the action of their committee, and appointed a Board of Trustees to accept from Samuel Wetherill a conveyance of the lot. The following were the Trustees:-
PETER THOMSON, Conveyancer,
BENJAMIN SAY, Practitioner in Physic,
JOSEPH WARNER, Last Maker, and
And on the tenth day of the same month, a deed of the lot was duly executed to them accordingly, in trust "to and for the use and benefit of the Religious Society of People, distinguished and known-by the name of Free Quakers, in the City of Philadelphia, to erect and build a meeting house thereon, and therein to meet, for the solemn worship of Almighty God, the Creator, Upholder, and Ruler of the Universe." And they at once and unanimously resolved to build a meeting house thereon, and forward a subscription to defray the expense of so doing, and "a disposition to aid us appearing to be general," as the minutes state, at the next meeting they somewhat enlarged the plan of their building, and appointed White Matlack treasurer, directing him to "keep all money received and to be received by him in the bank." The Bank of North America, then newly established, which was incorporated, May 26, 1781, and began active business January 7, 1782, is undoubtedly referred to, for the Pennsylvania Bank, which had been founded in 1780 to make the arrangements to supply the American army with the munitions of war, was never a bank of general deposit, and this time preparing to wind up its affairs, and these two were then the only banks in the United States, and Timothy Matlack was a director of the Bank of North America at its formation.
The subscription prospered; among the contributors to the building fund were Washington, Franklin, and a number of other distinguished patriots, and the Meeting House was built accordingly. When the wall was nearly finished, and the marble tablet was about being built into its place, one of the Free Quakers was asked why the words "in the year of the "Empire 8" were inserted. He answered, "I tell thee, "Friend, it is because our country is destined to be the great "empire over all this world."
One little circumstance illustrating the customs that then prevailed may perhaps be mentioned. The religious people of that day had not yet taken the earnest stand in regard to the use of alcoholic drink which has since distinguished the Society of Friends; the query was still asked at their yearly and other meetings, "Whether Friends were careful to keep their laborers in harvest and elsewhere duly supplied with spirits, and the Free Quakers, on this subject at least, agreed with their orthodox brethren. When the roof of the Meeting House was completed, in 1784, refreshment was provided to the laborers, and the receipted bill for the rum, lemons and sugar, with which they were entertained, is preserved to this day among the papers of the Society.
The Meeting House was completed early in 1784, and worship was first held in it on the thirteenth of June in that year, and regularly thereafter on every Sunday for many years.
The notes of the meetings for business continue during this period to show considerable correspondence with the disowned Friends of Massachusetts, several of whom visited the Society in Philadelphia, and Samuel Wetherill at about this time went on a religious visit to these Friends and was absent for several months. It seems that meetings on similar principles to the Society in Philadelphia were organized at Long Plain, near Dartmouth, at Rochester, and elsewhere.
The Society, though now prospering, was without any graveyard; but in 1786 a law was passed, vesting certain city lots in trustees for a burial ground for the use of the Society. This act was passed August 26, 1786, and recites that it is but right and just to forward the "designs of religion and benevolence, and that the virtuous citizens of this commonwealth who have been deprived of their religious rights and privileges on account of their attachment to the cause of their country in the time of its utmost danger, should have the encouragement of the Legislature," and proceeds to grant public city lots Nos. 34 to 41, on west side of Fifth Street below Locust Street, to "Christopher Marshall, Joseph Stiles, Nathaniel Browne, Isaac Howell, Peter Thomson, Benjamin Say, and Joseph Warner, and the survivors and survivor of them, and the heirs and assigns of such survivor forever: In trust, nevertheless, to and for the sole purpose of a burial ground for the use of the Religious Society of Friends distinguished and known by the name of Free Quakers, in the City of Philadelphia."
Being now established with all the property and rights usual to religious societies, the Free Quakers entered upon a prosperous career. Their meetings for worship were well attended; the upper room of their meeting house was rented at first to the Masonic Lodge of which Washington was a member, and afterwards to one Benjamin Tucker, who kept a school there, and the rents thus obtained were formed into a fund for the charitable relief of the poor members of the Society. And the history of the meeting soon became, as shown by the minutes, almost as peaceful and uneventful as that of the Orthodox Friends who had disowned them. Meanwhile, the political differences which had caused their separation from the Orthodox Friends were fast disappearing.
After 1783 the query, "Are Friends careful not to defraud the King of his dues?" was not asked in their yearly and other meetings, and they gladly joined with their more enterprising fellow citizens in obedience to the republican form of government, and in 1789 their yearly meeting sent a letter to Washington on the occasion of his inauguration as President, congratulating him, and wishing long life and prosperity both to him and his "amiable consort." Washington replied in courteous terms to this address, which marks the complete and loyal recognition by the Quakers of the American government, which that people have always since maintained. And while they did not formally amend their discipline, in the matter of disownment, they, and indeed all bodies of Christians, have since become so liberal and merciful to the shortcomings of individual members, that it may almost be said that the doctrines of Free Quakers on this point are now generally accepted everywhere. The Friends, however, could not bring themselves into harmony with the Free Quakers, and in 1790 sent word to Samuel Wetherill forbidding him to speak in their grave-yard, to which he replied in a letter to their ministers' meeting, stating his intention at all proper times and places to bear his testimony in the cause of virtue and truth, of which a copy will be found in the Appendix. It seems also that he was spoken of as an infidel, to which charges he replied by writing a pamphlet entitled "The Divinity of Jesus Christ Proved."
As the political differences died away, some of the revolutionary soldiers made acknowledgment to their meetings and were received back into membership with Friends, and so before long the Free Quakers, never a very large body, became comparatively few in number; held together principally by the talent and exertions of their clerk and preacher, Samuel Wetherill; he served the society as clerk until September 1st, 1808, when he resigned and was succeeded by his son of the same name, and he continued active in the ministry until his death, in his eighty-first year, in 1816. Before his death the disowned Friends of Maryland, Massachusetts, and Ohio, had all died, or been taken back into their meetings, and the Free Quakers were a small and rapidly diminishing band of the revolutionary heroes of Philadelphia. Religious worship was faithfully observed by them every Sunday. Clement Biddle died in 1813. Samuel Wetherill, Jr., died in 1829. Timothy Matlack, removed from the city, and died in 1829, at Holmesburg, in the 100th year of his age. Elizabeth Claypoole, the last survivor of the original members, died in 1836. The families of the first members ceased to attend Sunday meetings, and John Price Wetherill, who succeeded his father as clerk, after worshiping nearly alone for several years, closed the meeting for the last time, and meetings for religious worship ceased about 1836.
Next: III: The Modern Period