Sunday, October 5, 2008

Spirit and Mission of Quakerism

The following discussion of the Spirit and Mission of Quakerism was written by Howard Barclay French, and was printed on pages, xi to xxii. in his 1909 book of the Genealogy of the descendants of Thomas French. This blog, along with the New Jersey Colonial Beginnings blog is a companion to the Genealogy of Thomas French blog, because, like Howard Barclay French, I believe that to understand the History and Genealogy of a family or group of families, that one must have some understanding of the Historical setting and of the beliefs and ideals of the people in their time and setting.

P xv
LOOKING backward seven generations the thoughtful American citizen of to-day can take a calm, rational, just and philosophical review of the inspiration, rise, marvellous development, far reaching influence and beneficent effects of Quakerism. No other great movement of a reformatory and religious character ever was more timely, or more urgently needed. None ever seemed more directly the outcome of divine purpose and control over the destinies of mankind. None ever more impressively illustrated the truth contained in the burning words of Holy Writ: " Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts."
The British realm was convulsed with a stormy revolution in which the blood of a dethroned king mingled with that of his rebellious subjects. The fierce contention of partisans thrilled the nation and fixed the wondering attention of the civilized world. The sword had been appealed to and on many fields of carnage the issue had been met. Established government had been overthrown and some advance made in human liberty and the recognition of popular rights. Yet the triumph of the Commonwealth was but fleeting. In a little while royal power was again supreme and wielded with defiant forgetfulness of the lesson taught by the headsman of Whitehall. Meanwhile, every element of furious and relentless persecution exhausted the means of destruction aimed at the disciples and supporters of the man of peace who had found the secret of irrepressible devotion to what he believed to be the truth. It was a strange spectacle, an exhibition of human perversity, blindness, injustice and unwisdom which makes the darkest page in English history. Neither cajolery, argument, threats, shameless robbery under forms of law, imprisonment, physical torture nor edicts of banishment from home and kindred, could put out the fires that blazed within the hearts of these- witnesses of the Inner Light. Within twenty years nearly ten thousand passed through prison gates, and upward of two hundred and fifty lives were directly sacrificed, yet higher and higher rose the swelling tide of testimony for righteousness. Through it all there was no intended disrespect for legitimate
P xvi
Through it all there was no intended disrespect for legitimate authority, rightfully and justly exercised. No people the world ever knew were more intensely loyal to self-respecting rulers than the Quakers. The iron-hearted but clear-headed Cromwell had openly recognized their immovable integrity. " Here is a people," he said, " whom I cannot buy with money, gifts nor offices." And when, upon a notable occasion, a number of self-sacrificing men and women came to him to plead that they might take the places of others, worn and weary and dying in jail, he cried out to his amazed courtier*: " Who among you would do such a thing for me? " Repeated expressions of profound respect for rulers were put forth. There was no resentment, no sullen treasuring up of multiplied wrongs, with evident purpose to square the account when opportunity offered. The spirit of peace, forgiveness and blessing was ever present, ever manifest, ever active and sincere, with the self -consciousness of a happy reward that made the heavens ring with the joy that could not be confined nor suppressed. The story of the persecution of the Quakers, at home and abroad, even in this land, whither their pursuers had fled to escape like injustice and suffering, will be pondered with amazement by future historians. Millions of the best men and women of this Republic to-day are all unconscious of the inspiring fact that they have their ancestral roots in the little companies of heroic souls who passed through the fiery furnace, seven times heated, during the last half of the seventeenth century. And out of all this time of trial was to come a sequel little dreamed of by the drifting royal opportunist when, lazily floating in his pleasure barge on the Thames, one summer afternoon in 1677, he waved a kindly adieu and gave his kingly blessing as he saw the crowded decks of the good ship Kent, then lifting anchor and setting sail for the new world. " Are these Quakers?" indifferently asked Charles II. Aye, and more than that! They were the real advance couriers of the coming great Empire of the West. All that had gone before, all that had been done before, only comprised a fragmentary beginning. Now the serious and lasting, united and effective work of nation building was about to begin on the quiet banks of the Delaware. Only men and women of consecrated purpose, the purest lives, dauntless courage, sublime faith and never-ending endurance could have met the exacting demands, carried out faithfully and effectively the lofty aim that animated these heroic yet humble spirited pioneers. Pxvii Upon what apparently trifling things great affairs often turn. For halfa century the political and commercial leaders of the old world had been learning little by little of the undeveloped continent beyond the great sea. In our own aggressive time it seems incomprehensible that more energetic and successful inquiry should not have been made, under the auspices of powerful governments with the ready cooperation of eager self-seekers. No man of that age dreamed of the commercial possibilities of America. The men of Jamestown, Plymouth, New Amsterdam, New Netherlands, Maryland and the Carolinas were regarded as fanatical zealots; suggestively and almost derisively termed in official documents and current chronicles " adventurers." And such they truly were, for every hour of their lives, on sea or land, was one of peril and uncertainty. The vest and gloomy wooded wilderness was forbidding enough ; but the wild and fierce creatures of the forest comprised the least ever-present danger. Terrorizing tales of multitudes of bold and warlike savages thrilled every heart. The course pursued by many of the early colonists towards the natives had been the very essence of unwisdom and injustice. Out of it all was to come the most remarkable transformation known to mankind. Yet it was the personal recklessness and improvidence of a few royal and semi-royal spendthrifts that directly opened the way for the industrious settlement of the new and unknown lands, contemporary with the amazing stupidity, from a national standpoint, involved in driving from their firesides and their native hillsides and hamlets tens of thousands of the best men and women of the realm. Pondering the cruel problem before them, the suffering Quakers learned that the prodigal head of the restored kingdom had flung away to his waiting brother, the Duke of York, who in a little while was to succeed him as James II, millions of acres, and that in order to have money to spend in continued luxury and extravagance, he in tura had sold this gift of fabulous richness rightly handled, for a song, to two men, neither of whom knew nor cared what it was worth, or made the least effort to find out. They likewise were ready for an easy and quick speculation, and the financial embarrassment of a third party ended in the most extraordinary land transaction in the world's history. Not only was the greater part of colonial New Jersey sold for a little more than the money value of one hundred thousand dollars to-day, or about three cents an acre, but the short sighted King, to free himself from the burden of an annoying obligation, squared the long-standing account with the son of his deceased creditor, and thus for $400,000 William Penn became the p xviii possessor of an embryo empire. The amount paid for Pennsylvania, two hundred and twenty-five years ago, would to-day scarcely buy half a dozen corner lots in the business center of any one of its thriving cities. It seemed as though all things were at hand for the ready carrying out of some grand scheme for the lasting benefit of humanity. Twenty-five years of trial, through which strong men and self-sacrificing women had suffered martyrdom with sublime patience and endurance, had prepared their souls and bodies for the ordeal ahead. They faced the dangers of the great deep and the unknown perils and hardships of the wilderness, with calm self- reliance and exalted faith in the guidance and care of Him whom they served with unvarying fidelity. They had sounded the depths of brotherly love and were prepared to treat with gentleness and the kindliest trustfulness the wondering natives, whose utmost confidence was thus speedily won and never lost. .There is nothing more touching and beautiful in human annals than this close and happy intermingling with the untutored children of the forest. Even before these mild mannered, honest faced, open hearted strangers had stepped upon the shores of the Delaware, their wants were anticipated and a welcome extended that must have brought tears of joy to many trembling mothers holding their helpless little ones to their bosoms. " The Indians are very loving to us," wrote one of the Burlington pioneers, and therein was revealed the whole marvellous story, the full answer to the heartfelt prayers for protection and safety which had been daily offered up during the long and weary voyage. Already conscienceless adventurers had brought evil upon the Indian and he was only too eager to make a lasting treaty of peace and sobriety and mutual protection with those of different principles and habits and purposes. " We will make a broad path," said a wise old chief, at one of the earliest councils, near Burlington. " If in passing the white man sees an Indian asleep, he will not disturb him. And if the Indian sees the white man asleep, he will pass by and not harm him." Words of child-like simplicity and goodwill that must have made the angel watchers that hovered over the camp of this new Israel drop tears of joy. For seventy years peace reigned in Pennsylvania, until indeed, the white man's perfidy brought the destruction of war ; while no conflict with the red man ever stained the history of the state founded by the peaceful and just men of Shrewsbury, Salem, and Burlington. Food was voluntarily furnished in many a crisis, when the settlers were in sore straits. Lands were released on terms that now seem incredible. Within a little more than thirty days (p xix0after the arrival of the pioneer settlers in 1677, deeds were signed covering an area nearly equal to one half the acreage of the State to-day. Shelter was offered the poorest wayfarer and in the quiet little meeting houses the dark skinned hunters and trappers with their wives and children were soon found drinking eagerly from the same mysterious fountain mental and spiritual strength. One of the earliest marriages at Burlington, number three on the recorded Friends' Meeting list, was that of a young Friend of Fenwick's colony at Salem, with an Indian maiden of winning ways and high character, as her subsequent life happily showed. This modest little daughter of a chief was treated with the same high consideration extended to her white sisters of the most influential families. Her marriage certificate was signed by the religious and social leaders of the community. The scene was one worthy to be commemorated by the most gifted artist. Often children were left in the care of Indian neighbors while their parents journeyed from home, or attended Yearly Meeting, and without a single betrayal of trust. Many of these trusty allies sought the privilege of a last resting place beside their good friends. In God's acre they sleep peacefully with those whom they welcomed when fleeing from oppression and peril in their own land. Sometime, mayhap, the darkness that has encompassed the American Indian will be penetrated and it will be revealed that these strange people, possessed of such remarkable traits and character, came from progenitors of the human race who were closely allied with the brightest type of mankind ever known. The purpose of the Quaker colonists was, as they frankly said, to lay the foundations broad and deep, based upon the very highest principles of justice. Liberty of the individual and freedom of conscience were assured to all, not only to those of their own faith. By example and precept they sought to make Pennsylvania and New Jersey model Commonwealths, where all men should have every right guaranteed. They were constitution makers and nation builders of superior wisdom, wonderful foresight, broad minded patriotism. It was the full flower, of their work which inspired the admiring tribute of the greatest English statesman of the nineteenth century. " The Constitution of the United States," said Mr. Gladstone, " is the wisest document ever conceived by the mind of man." In the industrial arena these always zealous workers wrought mightily. The purse-proud drone and social parasite of our time was unknown amongst them. They reduced the forest, redeemed waste places, developed resources, (p xx) established and fostered trade, and all the while maintained the highest standard of commercial integrity. The records of the business meetings of their religious society bear constant testimony to their determination to permit no variation from the strictest principles of honesty, while every effort was made to settle all differences quietly and peaceably, without even recourse to law. They were the original and consistent friends and exponents of arbitration, and well it would have been for those who have come after them, in all the walks of life, if this wise and just example had been followed. Their abhorrence of every aspect of warfare forbade them bearing arms, but they were never lacking in loyalty to rightful government. During the Revolution they were often subjected to ill-founded suspicion and rash injustice. But when the conflict was over, no one bore more willing and deserved tribute to their purity of motive and upright conduct than Washington himself. Upon one occasion while he was President, he asked an esteemed Friend on what principle he had opposed the war. "On the same principle," was the reply, "that I should be opposed to a change in this government. All that ever was gained by revolutions, is not an adequate compensation to the poor mangled soldier for loss of life or limb." Washington pondered deeply and then earnestly said: "I honor your sentiments; there is more in that than mankind have generally considered." In social life the Quakers lived upon the loftiest plane. Here, again, their meeting records show how zealous they were for the preservation of the honor and safety of the home. Then as now they could not look with the least shadow of toleration upon any infraction of the moral law. Without the elaborate and pretentious hygienic knowledge of our day of scientific advancement, their homes, plain and simple in every appointment, were the abode of cleanly healthfulness, self-restraint and self-control, that rendered longevity, barring accident, the natural inheritance of almost every child of sound parentage. "Che blood of more than two hundred years of Quakerism, with its strain of English, Irish, Welsh and Scotch vigor and French Huguenot refinement, has produced a people of unequalled physical purity and strength. Their contribution in this respect alone, to the welfare and happiness of the American people, has been of immeasurable value. That they may not only not diminish in numbers or influence, but grow in strength everywhere, must be the earnest wish of every one having the interests of the human race at heart. No subject was nearer the hearts of Friends than education. With earnest (p xxi) solicitude for the welfare of future generations — and their enlightened sympathy in this respect was not confined to their own Society circles — they founded schools of superior character in every community, in some instances before neighborhood meeting houses were built. At Burlington this matter was taken up soon after the establishment of a meeting, it being specially provided by the Assembly, in 1682, that the revenues from an adjacent island should be exclusively devoted to the cause of education. Many of these schools were the predecessors of famous institutions in the educational world. The first school in Philadelphia was established by Friends in 1683; and six years later, at the earnest suggestion of the founder of the colony, what has been known for over two hundred years as the Penn Charter School was founded, its formal charter dating from 1698. It is a significant fact that great numbers of the most discerning people having no connection with the Society of Friends have placed their children, with entire confidence and to their great benefit, in the care of Friends' teachers. The pioneer schools were generally located near meetings and were cooperative neighbors. It was an impressive union of moral, religious and intellectual forces always working for the common good. In the higher arena of spiritual life Quakerism has fulfilled a mission as sorely God-given as it has been abundantly blessed by every possible manifestation of Divine favor. It was no new thing the shepherd boy of Leicester discovered and so fervently and successfully taught. He only revealed to those sitting in darkness and others led away by empty formality and still others lost in the wilderness of sinful indulgences and neglect, the real character, possibilities, privileges and joy of the soul. Opening wide his young heart and earnestly seeking the light of truth from its true and only source, he was vouchsafed in overwhelming measure knowledge, comfort, courage, experience and strength which made him a flaming herald of righteousness. In a single sentence George Fox summed up his conclusive faith. " I saw," said he, " that Christ died for all men and had enlightened all men and women with His divine and saving light and that no man could be a true believer but who believed in it." That he was not self-deceived, the victim of a too exalted imagination, was quickly shown by the multitude of rejoicing followers who were ready to testify to the presence within their own souls of a light and joy never before known. That there was, also, readiness for self-sacrifice was speedily demonstrated. Yawning jails and (p xxii) dungeons had no terrors for these devoted people. Men of refined character and delicately nurtured women bowed their necks to the yoke of oppression and endured hardships with a meekness and fortitude that must ever command the admiration of mankind. George Bancroft, the ablest and fairest minded of American historians, beautifully sums up the lesson of that wonderful period, when he says: " “Far from rejecting Christianity, the Quaker insisted that he alone held it in its primitive simplicity. The skeptic forever vibrated, the Quaker was fixed. To him Christianity was freedom. He loved to remember that the patriarchs were graziers, that the prophets were mechanics and shepherds. To him there was joy in the thought that the brightest image of divinity on earth had been born in a manger, had been reared under the roof of a carpenter. Every avenue of truth was to be kept open. The Inner Light to the Quaker is not only the revelation of truth, but the guide of life and the oracle of duty." The zeal of Friends for the propagation of the truth as it was revealed to them was boundless. Their feet hardly touched the ground in Burlington and elsewhere before they arranged meetings for worship, often sitting under the trees, or gathering in one another's houses or even barns, until other places could be built There were thank offerings from full hearts and the missionary spirit was instantly manifested. Many gifted with speech and highly favored with clearness of view were eager to carry the gospel tidings to those deprived of special privileges. The story of these pioneer preachers and their journeyings to and fro through the wilderness is as fascinating as it is inspiring. Their quaint journals portray all unconsciously their own spiritual devotion and show the unity and love which pervaded the people. Wayside meetings would be held at short notice, with great comfort to all concerned. Friends never were too busy to assemble and reverently listen to the sweet story of old. It was not stout-hearted and strong-bodied men alone who thus traveled in all directions and in all seasons to minister to those in need. Scores of devoted women left their comfortable homes, threading the bridle paths through the forests, crossing on horseback swollen streams, meeting the lone Indian by the way without fear, often stopping at his wigwam, cabin or cave, hearing the shrill cry of the panther and the wolf. They journeyed to the bleak hillsides of New England, to the far South, to the border settlements along the Susquehanna and Wyoming. They crossed again the ocean and labored with the Friends left behind in the fatherland.
P xxiii
The literature of memorials and journals concerning these first ambassadors of righteousness in the American wilderness will be read by coming generations with increasing interest and spiritual profit. The long roll of names tenderly recalled and talked of around the fireside by successive generations comprises a list of Christian workers worthy of everlasting remembrance. In every good word and work the Friends were and have always been zealous, self-sacrificing, unwearied. In the spirit of truth they have labored faithfully. Their mission has been to bless and help mankind, to illustrate in their own '•alm, pure, contented lives the teachings of the Master whom they serve in quietness and peace