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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When the meetings for worship of the Free Quaker Society came to an end, the Society would almost certainly soon have been disbanded and become extinct, like the similar societies in other parts of the country, had it not been for the wisdom and energy of the clerk, John Price Wetherill.
He recognized that a religious sense of devotion may be as well expressed in an honest life and in charitable works as by formally attending church or meeting at fixed intervals of time, and that, as by the growth of the city and the removal of the members to a distance, it became inconvenient to attend religious meetings, they ought still in some organized and distinct form to work as a charity, thereby recognizing that charity conducted on a proper motive is religion and worship, which Friends have always believed. Almost immediately upon his becoming clerk, in x829, he perfected the organization of a charitable committee in the Society, to use its income in some way for the benefit of the poor, first of the Society, and then for the poor generally, and when the cessation of formal meetings for religious worship left the Society in possession of a vacant building, his practical disposition soon turned it to good account. Several years before, a number of public-spirited citizens had joined in forming a library, primarily for the use of the apprentices and young persons employed in the city, but also for the use of any orderly person who might wish to study. This was then, and for many years continued to be, the only free library in the city, and the amount of good it has done in helping the education and instruction of the working people would be difficult to estimate. At the request of its managers an arrangement was made between the Apprentice's Library Company and the Free Quakers, in 184, by which the Meeting House was rented to them for use as a library for a term of years, paying nominally fifty dollars per annum, but with the proviso that this money should not be paid to the land owners, but be invested in good and useful books each year, a list of which should be sent to the Free Quakers instead of rent; in 1868, after several renewals of the original lease, a lease upon a small moneyed rent for a term of twenty-five years was entered into, which by subsequent renewals is still (1894) in force. The rent received from this source and the income generally has always been applied by the Society to the charitable relief of its own poor members, and then for the deserving poor of Philadelphia generally, so that this Society has helped the good work of instruction and education of many thousands of poor children, and has given assistance amounting to thousands of dollars to the poor of the city, which work is still being conducted. It pays no salaries, every one serves gratuitously. It has very few expenses. It makes no loud protestations. Its name is withdrawn from publication rather than advertised as to its good works, but the committee founded in 1829 has ever since worked faithfully to relieve the sufferings of the deserving poor of the city. Its labors during the winter just over (1894), and in the present distressed condition of the working people of our city, have been very great and are still continuing. So that the Society still lives as a true and active religious body, laboring on a charitable basis so far as it is able.
After the death of John Price Wetherill in 1853, the Society for a number of years held very few meetings; the work being done by the Committee on Charity, but in 1882, John Price Wetherill, Jr., who had succeeded his father as clerk, called the Society together, and it was then resolved to hold a meeting at least once a year, on the first Wednesday of November; and this rule has since been followed, regular yearly meetings having ever since been held. This has very much revived the interest of the members, and the Society under the leadership of William H. Wetherill, its present clerk, is now increasing in numbers and activity.
On one point the members of the Society have certainly lived up to the precepts of their patriotic founders. In every war since the Revolution in which the United States has been engaged, involving resistance to invasion either by foreign enemy or domestic traitor, the members of this Society have done faithful service. In the revolt in Western Pennsylvania, known as the "Whiskey Insurrection," Col. Clement Biddle, rendered very active service. In the war of 1812, one certainly, and several more probably, served in the campaign for the defence of Baltimore and were present at the bombardment which inspired the writing of the National Hymn. Upon the breaking out of the war for the Union, the treasurer of the Society, too old for military service himself, raised and equipped a company of soldiers at his sole expense and presented them ready for service to the State; and several of the trustees and active members joined the Union army and served with distinction before Lynchburg, Petersburg, and Richmond; one of them, afterwards for several years treasurer of the Society, was taken prisoner, and survived not only the dangers of battle, but the sufferings of Libby Prison. When the soil of Pennsylvania was invaded by the Southern armies, they were present at the battle of Gettysburg, and Free Quakers helped to drive the enemy down, with terrible slaughter, from the "high-water mark of the Rebellion."
The youngest of its trustees, too young to serve in the war for the Union, has done active service in the National Guard of the State on the only occasions, since the rebellion, in which the service of soldiers has been needed in Pennsylvania: in the battle at the round house in Pittsburgh, in 1877, and at the siege of Homestead, in 1892.
Wherever the flag of the Union--the flag that was first made by a Free Quaker woman--has been fired upon by an enemy, Free Quakers have gone to defend the great republic that their forefathers risked "their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor" to found.
And these few historical notes may well close with the hope that this venerable Society may survive in its modest usefulness to see our country become, as is foretold on the tablet of its old meeting house, "the great Empire over all "this world."
Next: Appendix 1, An Address to the People Called Quaker, Who Have Been Disowned For Matters Religious or Civil.