Revelation On Rose Street: A Progressive Quaker Story

July 29th, 2014


NOTE: While this story is fiction, much of it is drawn from actual history. The three Friends who were disowned were real persons, and shared that fate. The popular minister George White was likewise real, as was Stephen S. Foster. And Rose Street Meeting was real too. The Meeting — and Rose Street — are gone now, but at the time of this story Rose Street ran near Wall Street, and past the site of New York City’s City Hall.

New York City – A Fine autumn day in 1843

I was still feeling a bit weak that first Day morning, after several days in bed with a bilious fever. But I was now better, and the weather in New York was fair.

My good wife agreed. “Jacob, a walk to Meeting would likely do thee good. It is only four blocks to Rose Street, after all.”

Several men Friends were milling around near the broad meetinghouse steps, on their way into the building. But one lingered, not going in. His tall figure was unmistakable even though his grey coat and broadbrim hat were like all the others.

It was Simon Goodloe, and he was standing on the top step, looking over the rest, evidently waiting for someone. And that someone must have been me, because as soon as he recognized me came down the steps, his long legs moving like those of a graceful grey crane, and extended his hand.

“Jacob Hicks, I heard thee was ill,” he said, shaking my hand.

“I’m better,” I answered, “but grateful to be here.”

“Good, good” he said, and I could tell from the repetition that asking after my health was a lead-in to something else.

“Um, I wonder if thee’s seen any newspapers this week?” He asked. When I shook my head, he reached into his coat. “Then thee may not have heard about the bit of difficulty our George White faced in Philadelphia last First day.” He handed me a folded sheet of newsprint.

I scanned it quickly. “Good lord,” I said. “An actual riot? In the Cherry Street Meeting? It says the police were called? To a Friends Meetinghouse?”

His long face was solemn. “All incited by that abolitionist agitator Stephen Foster.”

I looked up at Simon. “What did Foster do?” I asked.

“Tried to turn worship into an abolitionist assembly. His impertinent intrusion was too much for some of the younger brethren, it seems.” Goodloe hovered as I read, then pursed his lips. “Roughed him up like a pack of stevedores,” he said. Didn’t exactly turn the other cheek, I suppose” he mused. But he did not seem very upset about it.

Stephen S. Foster, abolitionist
Stephen S. Foster, abolitionist. (Not a songwriter.)

“And perhaps it’s unseemly of me to take any satisfaction in this report,” he said. “But Jacob, I admit it: while I’m grateful this, er, incident did not happen here at Rose Street, I’m not sorry to see those infernal abolitionists educated firmly that Friends want nothing to do with them or their noxious doctrines.” He gazed down the street again.

Was Simon, I wondered, waiting for someone else, or perhaps watching out for someone?

“Jacob,” I said, “surely this Foster would not try anything like that here . ..” Though I now recalled having heard the name before, and knew Foster had in fact disrupted numerous worship meetings in various churches in the East, trying to preach his infidel notions. And there were others like him.

“I doubt we’ll see him,” Simon said. “Foster spent the night in the Philadelphia jail, licking his wounds, then was fined $250. And even with help from his abolitionist backers like Lucretia Mott and her ilk, that’s a lot of money. It will take him awhile to recover.

Stephen S. Foster Arrest - Reported in Niles National Register 1843
A brief report of Stephen S. Foster’s arrest, from Niles’ National Register

“No, Jacob” he continued,”I’m more concerned today about our home-grown abolitionist troublemakers.”

I nodded. “Thee mean, Charles Marriot and James Gibbons?”

“Yes,” he said. “Thee may likewise not have heard that their appeal of disownment was rejected by the Yearly Meeting Committee three days ago.”

“I had not,” I admitted. “Three days ago, I was thinking only of my aching joints, and unsettled stomach.”

“Yes,” he said. “Thee has recovered well. But I don’t think we need worry about them. Gibbons is away, I am told. And Marriot was visited by a committee which urged him to find another place to worship, and he said he would.

“So,” I said, “that leaves only–”

“Yes,” Simon said. That leaves only Isaac Hopper.”

Isaac Hopper, I thought. The third person in our own unholy trinity. An amiable enough fellow, to talk with. But hard as flint when it came to abolition. I was on the committee that warned him he would be disowned if he stayed on the board of an abolitionist society.

Then I had to listen to him declare, rather pompously I thought, that he would be honored to suffer on behalf of the voiceless slave, even this little bit. He said it quietly, but there was no doubting him. And then he launched into a discourse about whips and chains and selling off slave children, again quietly but implacably.

I was grateful when Simon cut him short, reminding him sharply that Quakers had been free of owning or selling slaves for more than fifty years. Hopper simply replied that all the Quakers who had done that were long since dead, and in the meantime the number of slaves in the country had increased by millions. “The question for Friends today,” Hopper said, “is not what our ancestors did then, but what we shall do, now.”

Isaac Hopper
Isaac Hopper (1771-1852): Friend, Disowned Quaker, abolitionist

Hopper came closest to having an edge in his voice when Simon repeated to him the message of George White. White is our most renowned minister, the one whom Stephen Foster had accosted in Philadelphia. White preached that slavery was evil, but said its fate was in God’s hands, not man’s. And so slavery would end, as it must, he said, but that end would come in God’s own time, and by God’s mighty hand, not by human agitations. Abolitionism is no more than some men trying to force God’s hand. That made it, he said, an abomination.

For years, George White had preached his message in Friends Meetings from Boston to Indiana, to large and welcoming audiences. He warned them all that abolitionism meant only trouble, for Quakers, and for the country.

Hopper’s back had stiffened and his eyes flashed when he heard this, though surely it was all familiar to him. But his voice was still calm, and even a bit lower, when he replied: “Simon,” he said, “I can only tell thee my convictions: that we are called to be the hands of God in this world, as best we can. And that all time is God’s time, which includes our time. We are to put our hands to God’s work now, today, as best we can. And liberation to the captives was in the first message Jesus preached. That is the part of God’s work I am striving to join.”

The committee was unmoved, and left him soon after. Its verdict was swift: Isaac Hopper, along with Gibbons and Marriot, threatened the unity and reputation of the Society of Friends by their abolitionist actions. They were thus pronounced to be out of unity with Rose Street Meeting, and disowned by Friends.

But being disowned, I knew, did not prevent an offender from attending worship– unless he was expected to be disruptive, like Stephen Foster. But that did not fit Isaac Hopper. He was determined, yes; but calmly so. He had, in fact, been seen at meeting here at Rose Street every First Day since the committee acted, taking his regular seat up front. But quietly so.

A Quaker elder, circa 1843. Goodloe? White? Jacob Hicks?
A Quaker elder, circa 1843. Goodloe? White? Jacob Hicks?

In which case, why was Simon Goodloe waiting to see if he would appear today? The meeting had, I could tell, begun settling into quiet. We were late, lingering there on the steps.

A thought came to me. I tapped the news clipping. “How far has this Philadelphia story spread,” I asked.

His expression turned rueful. “Far enough,” Simon said, “to be read by Armistead Merriweather.”

“Who?” The name was strange to me. It didn’t sound Quaker. More like southern.

I had guessed right. “MISTER Armistead Merriweather, Esquire,” Simon said, emphasizing the titles which Friends normally avoided. “Of Savannah, Georgia. He is an agent for many leading southern planters. And a client of Goodloe and Goodloe.”

“Ah,” I said. “He saw this report too, then.”

“Yes,” Goodloe agreed. “On his way to New York, on one of Goodloe and Goodloe’s ships, loaded with cotton. He came with it to make sure everything was in order.”

“Which it was, I’m sure,” I said. After all, Goodloe and Goodloe was one of the largest and most respected American shipping companies.

“On the ship all was well,” Simon said. “But when he saw the article at a stop in Baltimore, Merryweather resolved to make sure all was in order off the ship as well.”

Simon removed his hat and wiped his brow, though the air was not all that warm. Then he clamped it back on his head, frowned at an unpleasant memory, and affected a southern drawl.

“‘Mr. Goodloe,’ he mimiced, ‘I am aware that your people have some different views about some of our southern customs. Now I can live and let live, suh: you follow your conscience, and we follow ours. But my planters need to be sure of that policy. And I am also aware that there are other shipping companies in New York, firms that are operated by men of other faiths. Presbyterians, for instance. Now the Presbyterians have made it clear to us that they too are on board with a live and let live approach to social matters. Can you, Mr. Goodloe, suh, give me similar assurances to take back to Savannah?’”

My mouth gaped. “What?” I almost shouted to Simon. “Well I never! The very idea that he was questioning the good faith of a Quaker firm like Goodloe and Goodloe. It’s unheard of!”

“Thank thee, Jacob,” Simon said, “for thy high opinion of us. But I must say that, despite my high regard for thy opinion, unless thee also has many boatloads of cotton for my ships to carry, I must also pay very close attention to the views of MISTER Merryweather.”

The sarcasm in his voice was most unusual, but the point was clear. For Goodloe and Goodloe, Friends were welcome. But customers were necessary. “As he said,” Simon added, “he is not bothered that we refuse to own or sell slaves. But association with the abolitionists, who want to free all slaves in the south, including those who grow and harvest the cotton — neither he nor his planters will tolerate that. Does thee know, Jacob, they have now made it a crime to distribute any papers questioning slavery in the southern states?”

I had indeed read of those recent disturbing laws. “So, what answer did thee give him?” I asked.

A small tight smile crept onto Simon’s face. “What does thee think?” He said. “My answer was to invite him to join us here at worship. Especially with George White back from Philadelphia and speaking for us in the meeting. I’m counting on the sobriety and good business sense of Rose Street Friends to be so evident that Merryweather will come away with all the assurance he could hope for.”

So THAT’s who he was waiting for. Not Isaac Hopper at all.

Now Simon was looking down the street again, and his face seemed to brighten, though with what seemed to me a forced air of welcome. “There he is now,” he whispered, waving one arm.

I glanced around, and saw a large man striding toward us. His white linen suit stood out like a flag, even from half a block away.

Writer Tom Wolfe, in his Southern Gentleman array
Writer Tom Wolfe, self-styled Southern Gentleman, doing his Merryweather impression . . .

“If thee don’t mind,” I whispered back, “I will join the meeting,” and went past him through the men’s doors. The large meeting room was nearly full, and an usher directed me up the stairs to a seat in the gallery.

The room was quiet. From my perch, I saw Simon and Merryweather enter and brush past the usher to take Simon’s accustomed place near the front.

And a few rows further up, there was Isaac Hopper, in his usual seat, silent and seemingly serene.

The quiet did not last long. A minister rose in the elevated facing benches at the front of the room and began to preach.

His message was something about the spiritual importance of arriving at worship in a timely manner, as we were exhorted to do in our Book of Discipline. Then another minister soon stood, doffed his hat, and began to pray for the safety of all those who sailed the hazardous seas, and for government officials who carried the heavy burdens of state, and for all others who were burdened, of which he had a lengthy list. Nothing very radical, or interesting so far, I thought.

But then, after a short silence, a stocky figure stood, in the body of the meeting, and began to speak.

It was George White. He admitted to us that he was guilty of a breach already spoken of, in that he had arrived late, and so was not in his accustomed seat on the facing benches with the other ministers. But then he began his message proper, which was another version of his abiding plea to put all our burdens and problems onto God and Jesus. We were to turn to them, he said, because as hopelessly sinful men, we could do nothing for ourselves.

He spoke for almost an hour — I admit I covertly checked my pocket watch– and this for him was a relatively brief sermon. As he continued he also made sure to denounce abolitionism as an abomination, along with Temperance societies and the new groups who wanted to gain more legal rights for women.

These too were among his usual targets: all were faithless, useless inventions, he said, efforts by men to displace and hinder the work that belonged to God alone. All of them were bound to fail, he insisted, and to create havoc and misery as they did so. I looked around the room. As usual, it was evident that his message was being well-received by most of the Friends.

Once White sat down, I expected the elders on the facing bench to shake hands to mark the close of worship.

But before they could do so another figure was standing. I leaned forward for a better view: yes, it was Isaac Hopper, who almost never spoke.

At once I felt a twinge of anxiety: was Hopper now, with nothing to lose, going to join Stephen Foster in bringing abolitionism into Rose street and challenging George White? Was he about to dash the hopes of Simon Goodloe to retain Armistead Merryweather’s confidence and trade?

I needn’t have worried. After surveying the group for a moment, on whose faces were many expressions of caution or even hostility, he spoke:

“I am reminded this morning,” he intoned, “of those words of Jesus, among the last that he spoke on the cross. They are recorded in the twenty-third chapter of the Gospel of Luke. He said,’Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.’”

Forgive whom, I wondered? The elders, including me, who approved his disownment? The southern slaveholders whose property he meant to snatch away from them? George White, for condemning reformers like Hopper himself? Or something else, perhaps of a personal nature?

But that was all; Hopper then sat down, my questions dissipated. The elders quickly shook hands, and we rose.

A few minutes later, I saw Simon introducing Merryweather to George White. I couldn’t hear what the southerner said, but he was all smiles. And above him, Simon’s face wore an unmistakable look of relief. Whatever Isaac Hopper’s cryptic quote had meant, it made no difference here. So it seemed as if Simon Goodloe had obtained for his visitor the assurance he sought, or something close to it.

Hicksites- No New Ideas Allowed

But as I left the building, there was a tap on my shoulder. I turned to see Isaac Hopper at my side. In his hand was a piece of paper, which I recognized as cut from the newspaper. “Thee saw this?” He asked quietly.

“Yes,” I said.”From Philadelphia.”

He glanced down at the text. “Jacob,” he said, “I do believe those who incited the attack on Stephen Foster can be forgiven. As can those who have wronged me and others here.”

He folded the paper and slid it back into his coat. “But I believe something else, too: God’s forgiveness aside, those who think they have put an end to something, in Philadelphia and here in Rose Street, are very much mistaken. My case here may be finished. But others will follow, and the matter of liberty to the captives is not over, no, not at all.”

Before I could think of a reply, he touched his hat, said, “Good day to thee, Friend,” and walked down the steps and up the street.

Watching him go, something struck deep within my inward parts, like a stone sinking into my belly. I could somehow feel that, whatever Simon Goodloe and Mr. Merryweather had arranged this morning, it was Isaac Hopper, the offender now disgraced and cast out from among us, who was right about the future.

And as this sense sank into me, I began to feel ill again, so headed home, and back to bed.

Copyright © by Chuck Fager. All rights reserved.

Progressive Friends - A Continuing Series

Note, my new books on Progressive Friends, Angels of Progress and Remaking Friends, describe the actual history on which this story is based in much more detail, based on extensive research. They are available at the links, and from Amazon.

Progressive Friends & That Haunting Face In The Mirror: Hoping History Won’t Repeat — Or Rhyme Too Much

June 3rd, 2014

While reading about and “living with” Progressive Friends, I was inspired by several of the memorable personalities I walked with, admired more, and learned from all of them, as well as others who interacted with them.

But there’s one Friend I identified with especially: Samuel M. Janney.

Samuel M. Janney
Samuel M. Janney, Virginia Friend

This was something of a surprise. Janney wasn’t a Progressive Friend; he was more of a middle-of-the-road Hicksite, with traditionalist leanings. But that’s not where the identification came from. It was more with his situation, his plight.

His situation is described in one of the best recent books I came across in my studies. It’s called Quakers Living In the Lion’s Mouth, by A. Glenn Crothers. If you appreciate a poignant story, with plenty of current relevance, it should be in your meeting or personal library.

The book is about Quakers living in northern Virginia before and through the Civil War, and into its aftermath. There were a lot of them, and Crothers describes many of them. But Janney is a something of a central figure in the saga.

'Quakers Living In The Lion's Mouth

Janney was among other things a schoolteacher, in an era when almost all schools were “private,” and were also small businesses. He was a Friends minister as well, who traveled widely among Eastern and Midwestern Quaker groups. Visiting Ohio, he tried to mediate some of the conflicts between Progressives and mainstream Hicksites, though without much success. He also worked to begin bridging the chasm between the Hicksite and Orthodox branches, a labor that continued for decades after his death.

All of that is interesting. What was compelling for me was that he lived out his life as a Virginia Friend. Virginia was, of course, a slave state; that’s the “lion’s mouth” of Crothers’ title. And his book shows us in often painful detail the challenging, frequently agonizing implications of Quaker life there.

And what they came down to was compromise. Not compromise in the “give a little, take a little” negotiating sense, which is often constructive and is important in Quaker decision making too, even though many Friends don’t like to admit that.

No, in a slave state like Virginia it meant that Janney and other Friends were caught in an inherently “compromising situation,” and were forced every day into being “compromised” by their social, economic and political environment.

A list of such “compromising” situations would be long: Janney did not own slaves; that was a long-settled testimony for him. Yet everything he bought was either made with slave labor, or brought to him by it. In his schools, which were open to non-Friends, it was the patronage of slave-owning families, paying tuition with the profits of slave labor, that kept them afloat. The state’s politics, while concerned with many practical issues, was dominated by defense of slavery. And as the war clouds gathered, that defense and the associated rhetoric became steadily more repressive and bellicose.

Many Virginia Friends, exhausted by trying to cope with all this, left the state and headed west. Janney stayed; Virginia was in his blood; burdened as the culture was, it was his home.

But he didn’t passively submit to this fate, especially after 1842. That year, he was struck with a Progressive lightning bolt: Lucretia Mott was at the sessions of Baltimore Yearly Meeting, which Virginia Friends were part of. She preached an antislavery sermon which electrified Janney; it convinced him he had to become more active and vocal in antislavery witness, despite the risks.

Lucretia Mott
Lucretia Mott — an Electrifying Progressive preacher

So he did. Not that he turned into a fire-breathing abolitionist; that was a dead-end in a state where association with abolitionist “incendiary publications” could send one to prison for five years. But he did speak up and speak out: he published a series of carefully-worded, well-informed newspaper articles, pointing out how the use of slave labor actually retarded the growth of Virginia’s economy, and how ending it (gradually and, he hoped, painlessly) would greatly benefit all its citizens and generations to come.

He also promoted and lobbied for a system of free public schools (for whites), based on the idea that as more whites became educated, support for slavery would wane.

These were sound ideas, for which he worked diligently. And while his efforts might not look radical to us, they entailed risks: in 1849 he was indicted under the “incendiary publications” provisions. He defended himself well and won the case; but it had to be a traumatic experience.

In sum, though, all Janney’s diligent efforts at promoting a voluntary, locally-oriented transition out of slavery came to nothing. At the end of his road — at the end of all the roads — was war. A long and very brutal war, from which Virginia was not spared.

I don’t point up this failure to be critical of Janney. I wouldn’t have done any better in his place; more likely, I would have been among those who headed west, or north.

And far from criticizing Janney, I’m writing about him because I feel as if I’m in a very similar situation to his. I too, live “in the lion’s mouth,” in an economy and society that is supported in significant measure by slavery, or its modern equivalent.

How so? Well, the evidence rides every day in my shirt pocket, in the form of a smartphone. The evidence stares out at me right this minute from my computer screen. It slips onto my feet as comfortable black sneakers. And so on: I’m connected to mass exploitation and de facto slavery in a hundred ways.

Modern slavery -- smartphones & computers

To be sure, unlike Janney’s Virginia, the slaves supporting me are usually kept well out of my sight, thousands of miles away, so easy to forget. It’s one of the many wonders of globalization. And mostly I do quite well at forgetting them. Our media and much else in my society eagerly help me float my tiny boat along the wide river of denial.

Twinges of conscience come, of course. And like Janney, I’ve done a little of this and a little of that, aimed more or less at easing this situation.

But still, my compromised status persists. I look in the mirror and I see a hazy image of him, probably from the late 1850s, as all his labors are about to be swallowed up in the smoke of Fort Sumter.

Further, unlike many of Janney’s fortunate Quaker contemporaries, I don’t know where to go to escape this plight. There are no “free states” on my horizon (or on Google maps) to which to emigrate. I can’t even figure how to follow his default testimony of not owning slaves. (Sure, at least in the U.S., one doesn’t technically “own” anybody; these days, one only rents them, along with millions of the rest of us affluent ones, long enough to extract one’s collection of gadgets and goodies. Is that morally any better?)

I’ve read some manifestoes by those who say they’re determined to tear down our world and start over. Right; I read them on the net, and Facebook, those quintessential markers of entanglement with our world’s status quo. They’re no help to me.

I know how Samuel Janney’s story turned out: a long, terrible war came, with major battles fought in Virginia and repeated ordeals for Friends there. Yet slavery was ended, though the forces of reaction triumphed over Reconstruction, and violent racism was re-enthroned across the South (with different forms in the North) for many decades more.

Janney survived all this, kept up his work as a minister while his health lasted, and died peacefully in 1880.

Somebody said that history doesn’t repeat itself, but it can rhyme. Pondering Janney’s plight,

Progressive Friends - A Continuing Series
and mine, I wonder on which line, from his life and those of other Virginia Friends of his era, the rhyme might now fall. My hope is that with the justice due, there might also be some mercy.

My books about Progressive Friends and their legacy are listed here, with online ordering information:

Angels of Progress

Remaking Friends
You can also find them on Amazon, and in Kindle editions there.

Alone Together: Living With & Writing About Progressive Friends

May 30th, 2014

Researching and writing about Progressive Friends has been a paradoxical experience: from one angle, it was a very solitary effort: from another, very crowded.

Most of my time at Pendle Hill has been spent going solo: in the Friends Historical Library poring over old letters, minutes, pamphlets and books; in my room, reading more old documents; then lots of staring into my computer screen, at the ever-growing store of texts available there.

Progressive Friends - Logo

Along with that, of course, the writing, 700+ pages in two volumes; a solitary task if there ever was one.

So I haven’t been much good to the “community” here: skipping most collective activities, even taking many of my meals in my room. There’s always lots going on at Pendle Hill, but don’t ask me about it, because I don’t know much.

Pendle Hill - The Barn & Clouds
Pendle Hill. Nice place — I should visit sometime.

That was part of the deal, though: Pendle Hill awarded me the Cadbury Scholarship based on a proposal to do a substantial research project. And I meant to get it done. But doing it required focus, focus, and more focus.

So that was one angle. But there was another.
Henry Cadbury

Henry Cadbury, a heckuva good scholar. Big shoes to fill, even temporarily.

From this other side, my time at Pendle Hill was not solitary at all. In fact, it was crowded, noisy and often grueling.

That’s because of two things: first, the times– I was burrowing into a period of frequent, almost constant turmoil in U.S. history: 1840 to 1940. When I opened that door, the clouds of civil war were gathering all around; and while many earnest, sincere efforts were being made to prevent the deluge, I knew, as the participants did not, that they were bound to fail. And when I finally closed the door, in 1940, an even bigger war was about to engulf the country and Friends. Plus other wars in between, and a first Gilded Age that looked eerily, depressingly familiar.

Chuck Fager at work
The exciting part . . . .

Not that this old news was all bad: along the way, slaves were freed; women grasped many rights; some old orthodoxies collapsed; today’s liberal Quakerism was forged; and more. But it was intense. The “Progress” these Progressive Friends believed in took one beating after another; even as it made considerable impact.

Longwood Progressive Friends - 1856
More exciting stuff. It may look old to thee, but it was new and interesting to me.

And besides the roller-coaster ride of those years, my mind – and often, it felt like, my room– were crowded, filled with a succession of remarkable, vivid characters. Some names are familiar: Lucretia Mott (probably my favorite), Frederick Douglass, The Grimke sisters, and then many others less well-known except to Quaker history nerds.

Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass — yeah, he was a Progressive Friend. Or at least he hung out with them a lot.

Let’s take Joseph Dugdale as a specimen. A reform-minded Hicksite who joined in abolition and Underground Railroad work in Ohio, he was disowned for that, and for not keeping quiet about it. He felt his expulsion was unjust, and began a quest for exoneration that lasted twenty years.

Joseph Dugdale: The Hicksite outcast who wouldn't stay out
Joseph Dugdale — exiled Hicksite, Progressive Instigator. Kicking him out was easy; getting rid of him wasn’t.

This journey first took him to Pennsylvania and the Longwood Progressive Yearly Meeting, then to Iowa, and ultimately to the new Illinois Yearly Meeting. There Dugdale played a crucial but below-the radar role in making Illinois YM the first Progressive beachhead inside the Hicksite world.

Or consider Elizabeth Buffum Chace of Rhode Island. She was something of a Quaker grandee, married to a prosperous textile mill owner, and socially prominent (but plain). She too joined in abolition work, and likewise felt the lash of the anti-reform Quaker establishment.

Elizabeth Buffum Chace
Elizabeth Buffum Chace

But she refused to bow, and quit before they could disown her. Yet Chace did not wander far; her husband stayed a Friend, and she sought out Progressives. Nor was she only an activist: she also had to cope with many family tragedies, not least the early deaths of five children in a row. Small wonder she turned to spiritualism, which offered her “messages” of comfort from the lost little ones. And there is more to her story.

Or – just one more for now– there’s Moncure Conway. He was not a Friend, but as a young, Virginia-born, proslavery, hellfire-preaching Methodist minister, he had an encounter with a Quaker community, non-slaveholders in the slave state of Maryland. This confrontation was entirely peaceful, but also entirely fatal – to Conway’s traditional theology, and to his proslavery attitudes as well. The Quakers he met didn’t argue with him; but as the old saying goes, their lives preached, and the message was explosive. (He thought hard about becoming a Quaker, but ended up a Unitarian, because he couldn’t give up music.)

Moncure Conway
Moncure Conway — he wanted a peaceful end to slavery

Yet despite these radical changes, as a native southerner he still loved his “homeland,” and yearned to find a way to end the “peculiar institution” there that would avoid the ravages of a possible war. He tried, and tried again – and you can guess that he failed; but not what it cost and where it left him afterward.

These and many others became much more for me than words on a page, or dim unsmiling photographs (nobody said “Cheese” in those days). Not all of them could fit even into two volumes; the books were already long enough! But that just means there is more for other seekers to discover and bring us.

These were my companions, often teachers, and elders, during a crowded and intense eight month pilgrimage through a century marked by war, social and economic upheaval, and relentless change both inside the Society of Friends, and in American society at large.

All done now. I’ll be leaving here in a week. Thanks again, Pendle Hill; I believe I stayed the course with my commitment to you and Henry Cadbury; I hope I have done right by these many other Friends as well.

Mott & Whittier Keeping An Eye On Me
All Alone? Not With Lucretia Mott & John Greenleaf Whittier keeping their steady Overseers’ eyes on me.

My two books about Progressive Friends, Angels of Progress and Remaking Friends, are available now from Amazon (Kindle too) or via these links:

Angels of Progress
Remaking Friends

Progressive Friends & Spiritualism

May 19th, 2014

Progressive Friends -- A Continuing Series

From the new book, Remaking Friends: How Progressive Friends Changed Quakerism & Helped Save America:

Many, maybe most, early Progressive Friends were involved in spiritualism. It was not a church; one did not need to join. Two features of spiritualism’s appeal in the mid-nineteenth century deserve mention here: perhaps above all, it gave solace to the bereaved, assured them that dead loved ones were at ease, and not beyond the love of the living. And in that era, when deaths from illness were much more common than now, especially among the young, this was no small thing.

A striking example of this is our Rhode Island renegade, Elizabeth Buffum Chace. She was the wife of a prosperous textile manufacturer; but all her affluence and “privilege” did not save her first child, born in 1829, or the next four after him: all five died, one after another, in infancy or shortly afterward.

Elizabeth Buffum Chace and Bessie, 1879

Elizabeth Buffum Chace with Bessie — one of the five of her ten children who survived infancy.

As the fifth one faded, Chace penned a rhymed plea

“Oh! no, it cannot, cannot be;
My darling babe will live.
He must not go away from me,
He is the last of five. . . .

And, much and often have I prayed,
That so it might not be;
That in a little coffin laid
This one I ne’er might see.

“Oh! Father, spare him longer yet,
Our lonely home to cheer.
We’ve often said it was for this
That Thou hast sent him here.”

But it was not to be. Then, says her biographer:

“It was almost inevitable that Spiritualism, in its dawning day, should attract the yearning interest of a woman, five of whose babes had wandered into the forest of Unknown Wilderness. Mrs. Chace saw a pillar of cloud taking shape before her on her darkened pathway and followed it for a score of years, sometimes believing, sometimes doubting, sometimes hoping that messages floated backward to her from her lost children. For two or three years in the early period a sweet young girl dwelt in her home, who had or seemed to have the mysterious power of a “medium.” Later, a younger son of Mrs. Chace’s seemed also thus endowed.

“Certainly, these things did happen when there was no possibility of intentional fraud; namely, Mrs. Chace and a few intimates, including the “medium,” would sit around a small but not too easily moved table; they would place their hands upon it, and, after two or three minutes of silent waiting, the table would begin to rock, and, so far as concerned the consciousness of the sitters, without their muscular effort.

“Then Mrs. Chace would repeat the alphabet, and the table would stand still and only tip to call attention to particular letters. The letters taken in that designated order did spell words, and the words did come in proper sentence relation to each other, and the sentences did carry rational significance.

Table tipping -- 1850s spiritualism

“Mrs. Chace, certainly, for a time, believed quite simply in it all as genuine revelation. She taught her living children [she had five more] that there were no fairies, but that the spirits of their own dead brothers and sisters whom they had never seen were their special guardian angels. It was a pretty faith, a real household cult, and, since it was taught and accepted sincerely, it did no harm, were it true or were it only one of the numberless human imaginations of the truth.

“I think Mr. Chace never quite accepted the Spiritualistic faith. The Quaker Inner Light sufficed for him, but he was not opposed to his wife’s opinion and perhaps his own sometimes approached it. . . .
But in later life, Spiritualism, as such, ceased to influence her. She never quite disavowed belief in it; she said only, “It used to seem true when we were receiving those communications from the children.” In the last twenty years of her life she said little about that long, noonday passage of her soul through a valley wherein dreams and hopes moved like almost visible phantoms beside her.”

Besides the crushing feelings of loss, Elizabeth Chace also had to contend with the lingering legacy of New England Puritan theology. Its stern predestinarian vision dictated that most humans were doomed to spend eternity in the torment of hellfire, regardless of their personal innocence or guilt. Babies too? Some said yes, others squirmed and fudged. The uncertainty was a torment to many who did not consider themselves of Puritan stock, yet still lived and breathed in that atmosphere.

Pioneer Wesleyan writer Charles Wesley excoriated this dismal doctrine in a 1741 poem, “The Horrible Decree”:

O HORRIBLE DECREE
Worthy of whence it came!
Forgive their hellish blasphemy
Who charge it on the Lamb . . . .

The righteous God consigned
Them over to their doom,
And sent the Saviour of mankind
To damn them from the womb . . . .

They think with shrieks and cries
To please the Lord of hosts,
And offer thee, in sacrifice
Millions of slaughtered ghosts:

With newborn babes they fill
The dire infernal shade,
“For such,” they say, “was thy great will,
Before the world was made.”

A Cartoon about Calvinism

A skeptical view of Calvinist theology

Spiritualists vociferously rejected this notion, and claimed that their spirits confirmed their rebuttals. And comforting the bereaved was a steady draw for new “investigators” as Americans passed the midpoint of the century.

One other important point: many of the early stars of the Spiritualist movement were also strong supporters of most of the Progressive reforms: abolition, women’s rights, temperance. That and their combination of a “scientific” performance and an affinity for the new lecture circuit that the Progressive groups offered was an irresistible combination.

Pennsylvania Progressive Friends
A “Testimony” on Spiritualism from the Pennsylvania Yearly Meeting of Progressive Friends; one of many.

Cora L.V. Hatch & Andrew Jackson Davis
Cora L.V. Hatch & Andrew Jackson Davis, two popular, reform-minded spiritualist mediums — not Quakers but appeared at many Progressive Friends meetings.

But all was not roses for spiritualism and reform. Not a few of the “investigators” became utter devotees, forgetting about any other concern. This was the case when Boston abolitionist Parker Pillsbury sent this gloomy report from the 1857 Michigan Friends of Human Progress session:

“The greatest good accomplished at this meeting, perhaps, was to separate the Anti-Slavery cause from a morbid, mawkish Spiritualism, that had infested it like the potato-rot, and was almost working its ruin. . . . There were some gone-to-seed, professed Abolitionists among them, whose anti-slavery seemed not to have been very vital, for they have mostly discontinued their anti-slavery papers, too often leaving arrearages of from one to five or six dollars unpaid. , , ,

A sketch of Mary Lincoln, with the

Mary Lincoln, with the “spirits” of her Abraham Lincoln and her son Willie, from 1872. Many doubted the authenticity of this example of “spirit photography.”

“These disciples of Spiritualism appeared much annoyed, all of them, at the introduction of anti-slavery into our discussion. Many of them seemed to assume the meeting as their own . . . . Some would not hear us patiently, if at all; and others declared they would not have come to the meeting, if they had known it was to be open to any thing but their favorite idolatry. It is certainly not too much to say, that there is not a more bigoted and intolerant class in the whole sisterhood of sects, than this type of so-called spiritualists.”

From: “Remaking Friends: How Progressive Friends Changed Quakerism & Helped Save America.”

Charlotte Perkins Gilman & Progressive Friends

May 8th, 2014

Charlotte Perkins Gilman was an early feminist writer and artist. She’s remembered today mainly as the author of “The Yellow Wallpaper,” a short story about . . . well, about a woman being driven mad by the restrictions of her environment and relationships. Some have called it a feminist classic.

You can read “The Yellow Wallpaper” here.

[There’s more about Gilman here]

Charlotte Perkins Gilman

I mention Gilman because to my surprise she showed up on the program of the Progressive Friends in Pennsylvania at their 1901 yearly meeting. And the good Friends there copied her talk. And I have copied them.

So for those interested in turn-of-the-19-th-20th century feminist thought and history, here’s her talk, a rare slice of it, courtesy of Progressive Friends

Progressive Friends: A Continuing Series

Progressive Friends vs Wealth Inequality: Many Good Questions, Few Good Answers . . . .

May 1st, 2014

In 1856, the Pennsylvania Progressive Friends heard a report from a committee “appointed to consider whether any, and if any, what Limitations ought to be put to the Accumulation of Property in the hands of individuals, as well as corporations, and to suggest laws and other expedients, by which the enormous inequalities among the children of men may be gradually lessened, and hereafter prevented.”

Progressive Friends: A Continuing Series

Great subject, timely then, timely now. Alas, the committee reported “that they have found themselves to be not agreed upon the subject, and, moreover, that they deem it one too intricate, as well as too important, to be hastily disposed of.”

Instead, they had agreed on a list of queries, or “interrogatories,” offered for “the consideration of Progressive Friends during the ensuing year, in order that they may be prepared, at the next Yearly Meeting, to discuss, and adopt or reject, as they may see fit, a Report which your Committee may then be able to present.”

Personally, I think most of these questions are as urgent in 2014 as they were in 1856. However, the Progressives committee was evidently NOT able to come together on proposals for the Progressives to consider, because it then disappears from the group’s minutes.

So let us hear these questions, and consider if today we have any more substantive answers to them than the 1850s Progressive Friends were able to come up with. Here are the queries:


lst. All the children of men being endowed by their Creator with a right to life, have they not, therefore, a right to a fair share of the common inheritance—the material elements, upon which the maintenance of life depends? Have they not an inalienable right to a fair share of the earth’s surface, not less than of water, air, light, heat?

2d. Are not the sunlight, air, water and soil, with the materials in and upon them, and all spontaneous growths, the bountiful gifts of the Creator, to which all men have equal rights? Can they, then, be legitimately the subjects of property? Can capital be justly predicated upon them?

3d. Is not legitimate property something produced by the labor, or invention, of man, operating upon material elements, or in the regions of thought? And are not such productions the only just basis of capital?

4th. The chief end of man is not the accumulation of wealth. Ought, then, the chief end of government to be (as it has been declared by an eminent statesman to be) the protection of property? Ought it not rather to be the improvement of the conditions and characters of all men?

5th. Should not our laws encourage agriculture more than foreign commerce; because, in the first place, the cultivation of the common heritage, and the gathering of its productions, secures to those who labor for these results a more general enjoyment of the comforts of life; and because, in the second place, foreign commerce cannot be carried on, and great cities be built up to sustain it, without deteriorating the large classes of men, women, and children, on whom the hardships of navigation, and the hand-labor in our cities, devolve?

6th. Is not the Tariff policy, and every expedient that embarrasses needful commerce with foreign nations,—is it not a policy that only a patriot, and not a philanthropist, would commend?

7th. Cannot, and should not, some changes he made in the laws of inheritance, and of the transmission of property, so that the whole of the succeeding generation may be benefited, and wealth not be accumulated in the hands of a few, where it is comparatively useless, if not pernicious, both to the possessors and the community?

8th. Ought not a stringent law to be passed, by which corporations, that have caused any work to be done, shall be holden to pay those who have done the work, if their agents—the contractors, or sub-contractors—fail to pay them?

9th. Laws are now enacted in order to limit the usury of money. Should not laws also be enacted to regulate the rents of houses and lands?

10th. Ought not all lands and buildings used for demoralizing purposes, brothels, dram shops, gambling places, bull baitings, cock fights, horse races, etc., to be forfeited to the community, which they are doing so much to damage, and converted to purposes of education and public enlightenment?

11th. Ought not the necessary expenditures of government to be provided for by direct taxation, so that the people may realize what it costs them to be governed, and know why, and for what, so much is expended?

12th. Should not taxes be levied upon a rising scale, so that the millionnaire shall pay more for the support of government than a million of men who have not a dollar that they can spare without real discomfort to themselves and families?

13th. Should not the exact amount of properties, owned by corporations or individuals, be faithfully registered, and ought not every kind of property that is withheld, or intentionally undervalued, to be wholly forfeited?

14th. Should not society provide for all its members a thorough education and good business opportunities, so that the children of the poor, as well as the rich, shall be placed on something like an equality in the start of life?

A footnote: Thomas Garrett of Wilmington, Delaware, a legendary “conductor” on the Underground Railroad, was also a mainstay of the Progressive Friends, and in particular of the committee which drafted these queries.

Thomas Garrett -- I haven't a dollar

Besides being an expert in helping free slaves (he aided at least 2700 to escape), he knew something about capital: starting with little, he built a very successful iron and hardware business; but in 1848 he was hauled into court in 1848 by slaveowners for helping their captives escape.

The court imposed fines which left him penniless. Yet Garrett was undaunted by the court action; and such was his reputation for integrity and industry that he was able to rebuild his business afterward, and he still kept up his antislavery work until the practice was abolished.

For more on Progressive Friends, see my book, Angels of Progress.

Angels of Progress -cover

Quakers Scare the HELL Out Of A Proslavery Methodist Minister (Peacefully)

April 29th, 2014

Progressive Friends: A Continuing Series

Moncure Conway (1832-19070 was a Virginian who started his career as a proslavery Methodist preacher. In the following passage from his Autobiography, he describes his encounter with liberal Quakers around Sandy Spring, Maryland, in the early 1850s.

These Friends were antislavery in a slave state, and both this witness and their quiet faith set Conway off on a searching process of personal and religious change. Soon Conway left the Methodist church and its hellfire-and-damnation theology, and he later returned to the South as a Unitarian minister. But his new antislavery views, though far from the most radical, resulted in his being exiled from his native region.
I found this memoir fascinating and charming. I hope you will too.
Moncure Conway

I

There was a flourishing settlement of Hicksite Quakers at
Sandy Spring [Maryland], near Brookville, but I never met one of them,
nor knew anything about them. “Hicksite” was a meaningless
word to me. “Uncle Roger,” their preacher, was spoken of
throughout Montgomery County as the best and wisest of men,
and I desired to meet him. When I afterwards learned that
“Hicksite” was equivalent to “unorthodox,” it was easy to
understand why none of them should seek the acquaintance of a
Methodist minister.

The Quakers assembled on first and fourth days, and happening
one Wednesday to pass their meeting-house, I entered,
impelled by curiosity. Most of those present were in Quaker
dress, which I did not find unbecoming for the ladies, perhaps
because the wearers were refined and some of them pretty.
After a half-hour’s silence a venerable man of very striking
appearance, over six feet in height and his long head full of force,
arose, laid aside his hat, and in a low voice, in strange contrast
with his great figure, uttered these words: “Walk in the light
while ye are children of the light, lest darkness come upon you.”
Not a word more. He resumed his seat and hat, and after a
few minutes silence shook hands with the person next him;
then all shook hands and the meeting ended.

Sandy Spring MD Friends Meetinghouse
Sandy Spring MD friends Meetinghouse

I rode briskly to my appointment, and went on with my usual
duties. But this, my first Quaker experience, had to be digested.
The old gentleman, with his Solomonic face (it was Roger Brooke),
who had broken the silence with but one text, had given that
text, by its very insulation and modification,
a mystical suggestiveness. . . .

Roger Brooke belonged to the same family as that of Roger
Brooke Taney, then Chief Justice of the United States. His
advice, opinion, arbitration, were sought for in all that region.
Despite anti-slavery and rationalistic convictions, he leavened
all Montgomery County with tolerance.

One morning, as I was riding off from the Quaker meeting,
a youth overtook me and said uncle Roger wished to speak to
me. I turned and approached the old gentleman’s carriole.
He said, “I have seen thee at one or two of our meetings. If
thee can find it convenient to go home with us to dinner, we
shall be glad to have thee.” The faces of his wife and daughter-
in-law beamed their welcome, and I accepted the invitation.
The old mansion, “Brooke Grove,” contained antique furniture,
and the neatness bespoke good housekeeping. So also did the
dinner, for these Maryland Quakers knew the importance of good
living to high thinking.

There was nothing sanctimonious about this home of the
leading Quaker. Uncle Roger had a delicate humour, and the
ladies beauty and wit. The bonnet and shawl laid aside, there
appeared the perfectly fitting “mouse-colour” gown of rich
material, with unfigured lace folded over the neck, and at a
fancy ball it might be thought somewhat coquettish.

They were fairly acquainted with current literature, and
though not yet introduced to Emerson, were already readers of
Carlyle. I gained more information about the country, about
the interesting characters, about people in my own congregations,
than I had picked up in my circuit-riding.

After dinner uncle Roger and I were sitting alone on the veranda,
taking our smoke he with his old-fashioned pipe, and he mentioned that
one of his granddaughters had rallied him on having altered a
Scripture text in the meeting. “In the simplicity of my heart
I said what came to me, and answered her that if it was not what
is written in the Bible. I hope it is none the less true.” I after
wards learned that he had added in his reply, “Perhaps it was
the New Testament writer who did not get the words quite right.”

Roger Brooke, Hicksite Quaker

I asked him what was the difference between “Hicksite” and
“orthodox” Quakers; but he turned it off with an anecdote
of one of his neighbours who, when asked the same question,
had replied, “Well, you see, the orthodox Quakers will insist
that the Devil has horns, while we say the Devil is an ass.” I
spoke of the Methodist ministers being like the Quakers, “called
by the Spirit” to preach, and he said, with a smile, “But when
you go to an appointment, what if the Spirit doesn’t move you
to say anything?”

Uncle Roger had something else on his mind to talk to me
about. He inquired my impression of the Quaker neighborhood
generally. I said he was the first Quaker I had met, but the assembly
I had seen in their meeting had made an impression on
me of intelligence and refinement. For the rest, their houses
were pretty and their farms bore witness to better culture than
those in other parts of the county. “That I believe is generally
conceded to us,” he answered; “and how does thee explain this
superiority of our farms?”

I suggested that it was probably due to their means and to the
length of time their farms had been under culture. The venerable
man was silent for a minute, then fixed on me his shrewd eyes
and said, “Has it ever occurred to thee that it may be because
of our paying wages to all who work for us?”

For the first time I found myself face to face with an avowed
abolitionist! My interest in politics had lessened, but I remained
a Southerner, and this economic arraignment of slavery came with
some shock. He saw this and turned from the subject to talk of their
educational work, advising me to visit Fairhill,
the Friends school for young ladies.

II

The principal of the school was William Henry Farquhar,
and on my first visit there I heard from him an admirable lecture
in his course on History. He had adopted the novel method of
beginning his course with the present day and travelling back
ward. He had begun with the World’s Fair, and got as far as
Napoleon I. subject of the lecture I heard. It was masterly.
And the whole school — the lovely girls in their tidy Quaker
dresses, their sweet voices and manners, the elegance and order
everywhere filled me with wonder. By this garden of beauty
and culture I had been passing for six months, never imagining
the scene within.

Fair Hill Friends Boarding School, circa 1850s
Fair Hill Friends Board School, circa 1850
[More information on the Fair Hill Friends School]

The lecture closed the morning exercises, and I had an opportunity
for addressing the pupils. I was not an intruder, but taken there by
Mrs. Charles Farquhar, daughter of Roger Brooke and sister-in-law
of the principal, so I did not have the excuse
that it would not be “in season” to try and save some of these
sweet sinners from the flames of hell.

It was the obvious duty of the Methodist preacher . . . to cry: “O ye
fair maids of Fair Hill, this whited sepulchre of unbelief — not
one of you aware of your depravity, nor regenerate through the
blessed blood shed [by Jesus] — your brilliant teacher is luring you to hell!
Those soft eyes of yours will be lifted in torment, those rosebud
mouths call for a drop of water to cool your parched tongues;
all your affection, gentleness, and virtues are but filthy rags,
unless you believe in the Trinity, the blood atonement, and in
the innate corruption of every heart in this room!”

But when th[is] junior preacher [wa]s made, the susceptible youth
[wa]s not unmade. According to Lucian, Cupid was reproached by
his mother Venus for permitting the Muses to remain single,
and invisibly went to their abode with his arrows; but when
he discovered the beautiful arts with which the Muses were
occupied, he had not the heart to disturb them, and softly crept
away. This pagan parable of a little god’s momentary
godlessness may partly suggest why no gospel arrows were shot
that day in Fairhill school; but [if I] had to rewrite Lucian’s
tale I should add that Cupid went off himself stuck all over with
arrows from the Muses eyes.

Cupid

Cupid

However, Cupid had nothing to do with the softly feathered
and imperceptible arrows that were going into my Methodism
from the Quakers, in their homes even more than in this school.
I found myself introduced to a circle of refined and cultivated
ladies whose homes were cheerful, whose charities were constant,
whose manners were attractive, whose virtues were recognised
by their most orthodox neighbours; yet what I was preaching
as the essentials of Christianity were unknown among them.

These beautiful homes were formed without terror of hell, without any
cries of “what shall we do to be saved??” How had these lovely
maidens and young men been trained to every virtue, to domestic
affections and happiness? I never discussed theology with
them; but their lives, their beautiful spirit, their homes, did
away with my moral fears, and as the dogmas paled, creedless
freedom began to flush with warm life. These good and sweet
women, who said no word against my dogmas, unconsciously to
themselves or me, charmed me away from the dogmatic habitat.

Anna Farquhar, Quakeress
Anna Farquhar, a Sandy Spring Quakeress, circa 1850

When I [later] left the [Methodist ministry and church], the Quakers
were given by many Methodists the discredit of having undermined
my faith, but their only contribution to my new faith was in
enabling me to judge the unorthodox tree by its fruits of culture
and character. If theology were ever discussed by them, it was
I who introduced the subject. They had no proselytising spirit.

I thought of joining the Quaker Society, but Roger Brooke advised
me not to do so. “Thee will find among us,” he said, “a good
many prejudices, for instance, against music, of which thou art
fond, and while thou art mentally growing would it be well to
commit thyself to any organised society?” [* When Benjamin Hallowell,
the eminent [Quaker] teacher in Alexandria, Va., came to reside at
Sandy Spring, I had many interesting talks with him, but found that
even his philosophical mind could not free itself from the prejudice
against musical culture. The musical faculty, he admitted, had
some uses e.g. that mothers might sing lullabies. ]

III

How often have I had to ponder those words of Jesus, “My
God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Men do not forsake
their God; He forsakes them. It is the God of the creeds that first
forsakes us. More and more the dogmas come into collision with
plain truth; every child’s clear eyes contradict
the guilty phantasy of inherited depravity, every compassionate
sentiment abhors the notions of hell, and salvation by human
sacrifice. Yet our tender associations, our affections, are intertwined
with these falsities, and we cling to them till they forsake us.

For more than a year I was like one flung from a foundered ship
holding on to a raft till it went to pieces, then to a floating log till
buffeted off to every stick, every straw. One after another the gods
forsake us forsake our commonsense, our reason, our justice, our humanity.

In the autumn of my first ministerial year I had to take
stock of what was left me that could honestly be preached in
Methodist pulpits. About the Trinity I was not much concerned ;
the morally repulsive dogmas and atrocities ascribed to the
deity in the Bible became impossible.

What, then, was “salvation”? I heard from
[Friend] Roger Brooke this sermon, “He shall save the people
from their sins, not in them.” It is the briefest
sermon I ever heard, but it gave me a Christianity for one year,
for it was sustained by my affections. They were keen, and the
thought of turning my old home in Falmouth into a house of
mourning, and grieving the hearts of my friends in . . .
congregations that so trusted me, appeared worse than death.
My affections were at times rack and thumbscrew.
. . . .

Moncure Conway Historic marker

Conway soon left the Methodist church, became a Unitarian,
and an abolitionist who strove to promote a peaceful solution
to the problem of slavery. In 1856, this pilgrimage brought him
to cross paths with Progressive Friends. As he wrote:

I find by a letter in the New York Tribune of May 29, dated
at Longwood, Chester County, Pa., May 22, that on that day I
addressed the Progressive friends at their annual meeting [at Longwood].
The letter says : “Lastly, I may mention a brave and manly speech
upon slavery, by the Rev. Moncure D. Conway. Manifesting
all possible charity toward the slave-holder, he nevertheless
denounced the system, and pledged his endeavour against it in
bold and refreshing terms.”
I had indeed taken it as my special task to plead for a more
sympathetic consideration among anti-slavery people for the
slaveholders suffering under their heritage. I remember well
that assembly of liberal Quakers and Unitarian rationalists
out there in the beautiful grove, and the warmth with which
eloquent Lucretia Mott responded to my speech. . . .
But alas! about the very hour of May 22 (1856), when I
was pleading for tenderness toward the slaveholders, one of
their representatives was raining blows on the head of a foremost
champion of freedom, Senator Sumner!
[In a Congressional debate a few days earlier, Charles Sumner,
anti-slavery Senator from Massachusetts had delivered a long, angry
speech about the “Crime Against Kansas.” In it he voiced special
denunciation of the history and politicians of South Carolina.
On May 22, two South Carolina Congressmen, Preston Brooks
and Laurence Keitt, came into the Senate chamber, where Brooks
proceeded to beat Sumner nearly to death with a gold-tipped cane,
while Keitt held off would-be rescuers with a pistol.
The attack was loudly protested in the north, and widely celebrated
in the South. With Sumner hovering near death, and public opinion inflamed,
Conway’s efforts at Longwood for understanding and conciliation were
swept away like confetti in a whirlwind.]

Moncure Conway, Autobiography, cover
Excerpts from, Moncure Conway Autobiography: Memories and Experiences, Vol. 1. Cassell & Co., Ltd. London, Paris, NY and Melbourne: 1904
The volume is online in full text, free, here.
More about the Progressive Friends is in my book, Angels of Progress.

Progressive Quaker Poetry: The Tyrant’s Ancient Argument–Or, The Dangers of Thought

April 27th, 2014

Yes, for Progressive Quakers, A Man’s Best Friend Was His Dog-gerel. (It Was A Woman Friend’s Best Friend too.) So here’s a sample, from 1856; it might not be great art, but I hear a lot of current resonance in it:

The Tyrant’s Ancient Argument: Or, The Dangers of Thought

Progressive Friends: The Most Important Quakers We Never Heard of - A Continuing Series

Cease your thinking, O ye people! shouts the Tyrant, fierce and loud.
As, with scornful eye, he glances o’er the slowly moving crowd;
Ye were made for toil and labor — mark your hard and brawny hand!
We are God’s appointed Rulers, to obey is his command!

Cease your thinking, lest ye fancy ye can rule yourselves by thought,
And the world’s fair peace and order be to swift destruction brought;
Lest, seduced by idle dreams, ye may fondly think there be
Minds and souls in those rough bodies, and we’re men as well as we.

Cease your thinking, chimes the Rich man, else you’ll soon uneasy grow,
Feeling you must have whatever we your lords and betters do;
I am rich and sleek and happy, my condition’s well enough;
every change my peace endangers, and your grievance is but stuff:

For it makes you fierce and restless, fills your lives with discontent,
Loses present joys in grasping what for you was never meant. . . .
Claiming that mankind are equal, that the bondman should be free,
That the vile, degraded masses all should educated be;
Claiming that the humble labor of the low degraded thrall
Is too worthy, is too noble, to depend on capital.

Greed-Gilded Age

Cease your thinking, shrieks the Bigot, there’s your Bible, and the creed
To interpret what it tells you, so that all may be agreed;
So that no one thro’ his thinking, daring to dissent from these,
Might blasphemously endanger his salvation and his peace.

Carnal reason’s use is sinful; ‘tis a blind deceitful; guide;
I have wondered why ‘twas given us — Satan’s lure is Reason’s pride!
God ordained you Priests and Elders, who should safely think for you;
Tell you what you must believe in, what you may and may not do.

Thought has led vain men to question what the Creeds set forth as true;
Thought has made them doubt sound doctrine, and reject the good old view;
Thought upon the Ancient Bible even dares to lay his hand,
Doubts its perfect inspiration, doubts Jehovah’s stern command . . .

Says that God is near his children now, a sin in days gone by,
That his living inspiration breathes through all, both low and high.
With the Bigot chimes the Tyrant, and the gray Conservative:
Stop this thinking, crush these thinkers, or we can no longer live.

By James Richardson Jr., Minister of the Unitarian Church in Brooklyn NY, from Proceedings of the Pennsylvania Yearly Meeting of Progressive Friends, 1856.
There’s More About Progressive Friends in my new book, Angels of Progress, available now.
Angels of Progress - Book Cover

A Progressive Quaker Easter Sermon - By Lucretia Mott

April 20th, 2014

Progressive Friends - A Continuing Series

1849: Lucretia Mott– From “Likeness to Christ” - A sermon delivered at the Cherry Street Meeting in Philadelphia - Ninth Month 30, 1849

It is time that Christians were judged more by their likeness to Christ than their notions of Christ. Were this sentiment generally admitted we should not see such tenacious adherence to what men deem the opinions and doctrines of Christ while at the same time in every day practise is exhibited anything but a likeness to Christ.

My reflections in this meeting have been upon the origin, parentage, and character of Jesus. I have thought we might profitably dwell upon the facts connected with his life, his precepts, and his practice in his walks among men. Humble as was his birth, obscure as was his parentage, little known as he seemed to be in his neighborhood and country, he has astonished the world and brought a response from all mankind by the purity of his precepts, the excellence of his example. Wherever that inimitable sermon on the mount is read, let it be translated into any language and spread before the people, there is an acknowledgement of its truth. When we come to judge the sectarian professors of his name by the true test, how widely do their lives differ from his?

Instead of going about doing good as was his wont, instead of being constantly in the exercise of benevolence and love as was his practice, we find the disposition too generally to measure the Christian by his assent to a creed which had not its sign with him nor indeed in his day. Instead of engaging in the exercise of peace, justice, and mercy, how many of the professors are arrayed against him in opposition to those great principles even as were his opposers in his day. Instead of being the bold nonconformist (if I may so speak) that he was, they are adhering to old church usages, and worn-out forms and exhibiting little of a Christ like disposition and character.

Instead of uttering the earnest protests against the spirit of proselytism and sectarianism as did the blessed Jesus–the divine, the holy, the born of God, there is the servile accommodation to this sectarian spirit and an observance of those forms even long after there is any claim of virtue in them; a disposition to use language which shall convey belief that in the inmost heart of many they reject.

Is this honest, is this Christ like? Should Jesus again appear and preach as he did round about Judea and Jerusalem and Galilee, these high professors would be among the first to set him at naught, if not to resort to the extremes which were resorted to in his day. There is no danger of this now, however, because the customs of the age will not bear the bigot out in it, but the spirit is manifest, which led martyrs to the stake, Jesus to the cross, Mary Dyer to the gallows. This spirit is now showing itself in casting out the name one [after] another, as evil, in brother delivering up brother unto sectarian death. We say if Jesus should again appear–He is here; he has appeared, from generation to generation and his spirit is now as manifest, in the humble, the meek, the bold reformers, even among some of obscure parentage.

Lucretia Mott

Lucretia Mott (1793 - 1880)

His spirit is now going up and down among men seeking their good, and endeavoring to promote the benign and holy principles of peace, justice, and love. And blessing to the merciful, to the peacemaker, to the pure in heart, and the poor in spirit, to the just, the upright, to those who desire righteousness is earnestly proclaimed, by these messengers of the Highest who are now in our midst. These, the preachers of righteousness, are no more acknowledged by the same class of people than was the messiah to the Jews. They are the anointed of God, the inspired preachers and writers and believers of the present time. In the pure example which they exhibit to the nations, they are emphatically the beloved sons of God.

It is, my friends, my mission to declare these things among you at the hazard of shocking many prejudices. The testimony of the chosen servants of the Highest in our day is equally divine inspiration with the inspired teaching of those in former times. . . .

Let us not hesitate to regard the utterance of truth in our age, as of equal value with that which is recorded in the scriptures. None can revere more than I do the truths of the Bible. I have read it perhaps as much as any one present, and, I trust, with profit. It has at times been more to me than my daily food. When an attempt was made some twenty years ago to engraft some church dogmas upon this society, claiming this book for authority, it led me to examine, and compare text with the content. In so doing I became so much interested that I scarcely noted the passage of time.

Even to this day, when I open this volume, so familiar is almost every chapter that I can sometimes scarcely lay it aside from the interest I feel in its beautiful pages.

But I should be recreant to the principle, did I not say, the great error in Christendom is in regarding these scriptures taken as a whole as the plenary inspiration of God, and their authority as supreme. I consider this as Elias Hicks did one of the greatest drawbacks, one of the greatest barriers to human progress that there is in the religious world, for while this volume is held as it is, and, by a resort to it, war, and slavery, wine drinking, and other cruel, oppressive, and degrading evils are sustained, pleading the example of the ancients as authority it serves as a check to human progress, as an obstacle in the way of these great and glorious reformers that are now upon the field.

Well did that servant of God, Elias Hicks, warn the people against an undue veneration of the Bible, or of any human authority, any written record or outward testimony. The tendency of his ministry was to lead the mind to the divine teacher, the sublime ruler, that all would find within themselves, which was above men’s teaching, human records, or outward authorities. Highly as he valued these ancient testimonies, they were not to take the place of the higher law inwardly revealed, which was and should be, the governing principle of our lives.

. . . Let us also not hesitate to declare it, and to speak the truth plainly as it is in Jesus, that we believe the time is come when this undue adherence to outward authorities, or to any forms of baptism or of communion of church or sabbath worship, should give place to more practical goodness among men, more love manifested one unto another in our every day life, doing good and ministering to the wants and interests of our fellow beings the world over. If we fully believe this, should we be most honest, did we so far seek to please men, more than to please God, as to fail to utter in our meetings, and whenever we feel called upon to do so in our conversation . . . and to exhibit by example, by a life of non-conformity, in accordance with these views, that we have faith and confidence in our convictions?

. . . I desire to speak so as to be understood, and trust there are among you ears blessed that they hear, and that these principles shall be received as the Gospel of the blessed son of God. Happy shall they be, who by observing these, shall come to be divested of the traditions and superstitions which have been clinging to them, leading them to erect an altar “to the unknown God.”

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A 25-Minute Radio Interview re: Progressive Friends

April 18th, 2014

Progressive Friends: A Continuing Series

How to sum up the Progressive Friends movement & impact concisely?


How about in 25 minutes?


The Progressive Friends appeared in the 1840s, organized in a half dozen states and their direct impact continued for almost a century. Their longest-lasting group was in Longwood, in Chester County, PA.


I did extensive research on Longwood Progressives at the Chester County Historical Society, in West Chester. During my time there, I was approached by the group’s Director, Ellen Endslow, about being interviewed for a radio program they have on a local station.


That interview runs about 25 minutes (plus a spate of commercials in the middle). It was broadcast in March 2014, and is now online.


Ellen Endslow asked good questions, which I answered as best I could. The outcome is a lively introduction to this important, little-known movement.


I invite you to listen. 
If you’re not familiar with West Chester PA, it includes another “progressive” Quaker landmark, the birthplace of Friend Bayard Rustin.
Bayard Rustin

Rustin was truly a giant of his time, and a fascinating character–ah, but that’s another story.

The interview: is online here

The book, “Angels of Progress,” is available at CreateSpace (dot)com

Plus a Kindle version is downloadable from Amazon