Our First Friends, The Early Quakers
A century after William Penn opened his colony to settlers of all faiths, Samuel McPherson Janney chronicled the history of Quakers in Pennsylvania, specifically mentioning the founder's house overlooking the Delaware River in Bucks County, Pennsbury Manor.

By Rae Tyson
This article originally appeared in Pennsylvania Heritage Magazine
Volume XXXVII, Number 2 - Spring 2011

Armed with a charter granted by England's King Charles II, William Penn (1644-1718) and one hundred travel-weary Quakers arrived in the New World aboard the Welcome on October 27, 1682, with the intention of establishing the founder's "holy experiment," a colony that would be free of the religious persecution they suffered abroad. Once safely docked in the Delaware Bay at New Castle, Penn traveled inland. One of his first goals was to meet and make peace with local Native Americans, the original inhabitants. But it was not a direct journey to Philadelphia, where Dutch and Swedes had settled earlier in the seventeenth century.

Penn detoured to Chester to meet with Quakers and worship at a local Friends Meeting. Although he has been, on occasion, credited with the founding of Quakerism in Pennsylvania, several pioneering members of the Religious Society of Friends had settled in the region prior to his arrival. Early records are spotty, but the first Quaker to settle in what is now known as Pennsylvania, according to historian Rufus M. Jones, was probably Robert Wade, who had emigrated from England in 1675. Wade not only helped establish Pennsylvania's first Quaker meetinghouse at Chester, but he also provided lodging for the proprietor when he arrived. A meetinghouse had also been constructed in Falls, now Fallsington in Bucks County, in 1680, two years before Penn's arrival. The colonists who established the meeting at Falls had obtained their patents for land from Sir Edmund Andros (1637-1714), governor of New York.

The Historic American Buildings Survey recognized the Chichester Meetinghouse at Boothwyn, Delaware County, as a well-preserved and unusual example of eighteenth-century Quaker architecture in the United States. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.

In his 1861 book entitled History of the Religious Society of Friends from its Rise to the Year 1828, Quaker minister and author Samuel McPherson Janney (1801-1880) summarized Quaker religious activities during the early years in Pennsylvania. "The Friends, soon after their arrival, were careful to establish, in every neighborhood, meetings for divine worship, where they offered up grateful thanks to the Father of Spirits for the many blessings they enjoyed," Janney wrote. "In a letter to their brethren of Great Britain, written in the spring of 1683, they give the following account of their Meetings: 'In Pennsylvania, there is one at Falls, one at the governor's house [Pennsbury Manor, a re-creation by architect R. Brognard Oakie (1875-1945) completed in 1938 and administered by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC)], one at Colchester River-all in the county of Bucks; one at Tacony, one at Philadelphia-both in that county; one at Darby at John Blaunston's, one at Chester, one at Ridley at J. Simcock's, and one at William Rouse's at Chichester, in Cheshire. There be three Monthly meetings of men and women, for truth's service: in the county of Chester one, in the county of Philadelphia another, and in the county of Bucks another.'"

In addition to being able to worship freely, early Quaker settlers were thrilled with the rich, fertile land of Penn's new colony. "And for our condition as men, blessed be God!," the 1683 missive continued. "We are satisfied; the countries are good-the land, the water, and the air-room enough for many thousands to live plentifully, and the back-lands much the best; good increase of labor, all sorts of grain, provision sufficient, and by reason of many giving themselves to husbandry there is likely to be great fruitfulness in some time. But they that come upon a mere outward account must work, or be able to maintain such as can. Fowl, fish, and venison are plentiful; and of pork and beef no want, considering that about two thousand people came into this river last year. Dear friends and brethren, we have no cause to murmur, our lot is fallen every way in a goodly place, and the love of God is, and growing, among us, and we are a family at peace within ourselves, and truly great is our joy therefor."

Without question, Penn's arrival catapulted the influence and importance of Quakers in the early development of Pennsylvania. The first of the post-Penn meetinghouses were erected in Haverford (preceded by Shackamaxon), Merion, constructed by Welsh Quakers, and Radnor. All three remain active today. "About the year 1682," wrote Janney, "a large number of colonists arrived from Wales, and having purchased 40,000 acres of land on the west side of Schuylkill, settled the townships of Haverford, Merion, and Radnor. There appears to be no record extant of the first meetings, but they were most likely established in 1683." Meetings for worship were established in Delaware County at Darby in 1682, at Chichester in 1683, and at Concord in 1684.

Philadelphia artist Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (1863-1930) was best known for his series of seventy-eight historical paintings entitled The Pageant of a Nation. Although his highly idealized paintings were popular with the public, they were often fraught with inaccuracies. The Landing of William Penn, depicting the founder's arrival at New Castle, depicts Native Americans clothed in the tradition of tribes who lived in the Great Plains.

"At a Quarterly Meeting of Friends in the city of Philadelphia in the Sixth month 1683," he continued, "it was concluded that there be established a First-day meeting of Friends at Tookany [Tacony], afterwards called Frankford; and another at Poetquesink [named for the Poquessing Creek], since called Byberry; and that these two should constitute a Monthly Meeting for discipline." The reference to a Quarterly Meeting speaks volumes about the way Quakerism is organized. Places of worship are generally called Monthly Meetings. Monthly Meetings in close proximity are connected for the purpose of conducting business through Quarterly Meetings. All are under the umbrella of a Yearly Meeting which, again, is essentially determined by geography. In Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting is the oldest and largest while the Baltimore Yearly Meeting is the umbrella for meetings in the southern portion of Pennsylvania. A few scattered meetings, mostly in the western part of the state, are under the jurisdiction of the Ohio Yearly Meeting.

As Penn and his followers began establishing a new life for themselves, Quakers understandably dominated the fledgling colony. Although their pacifist beliefs would eventually diminish their influence, Pennsylvania's early government was predominantly occupied by Quakers.

Once their homesteads were built and land cleared for crops, Quakers, mostly of English, Welsh, German, and Irish descent, constructed dwellings for worship, commerce and later, education. Under Penn's guidance, they became involved in the creation of a government for the new colony. William Wistar Comfort, in The Quakers: A Brief Account of Their Influence in Pennsylvania, wrote, "Quakers controlled the government, they were the leaders in business and the Friends' meetings had a dominating influence in the communities which sprang up in Pennsylvania."

Constructed in 1769 to replace a 1745 log building, the Warrington Meetinghouse near Wellsville, York County, is still used for worship. It was entered in the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.

That influence included an emphasis on education for the young. "Education was duly appreciated in Pennsylvania as an essential element of public prosperity and happiness," posited Janney. "Within a year from the landing of Penn, the governor and council engaged the services of Enoch Flower to open a school in Philadelphia; and in the year 1689, the Proprietary wrote to Thomas Lloyd, President of the council, instructing him to set up a Grammar school, which he promised to incorporate. This gave rise to the 'Friends' Public School,' which was incorporated in 1697, confirmed by a fresh patent in 1701, and by another charter in 1708.

"The corporation was forever to consist of fifteen discreet and religious persons of the people called Quakers, by name of 'The Overseers of the Public School founded in Philadelphia at the request, cost, and charges of the People called Quakers.' Its last and present charter from Wm. Penn, confirming and enlarging its privileges, is dated 29th of November, 1711. In this institution the poor were taught gratuitously, others paid a portion of the cost of their children's education, and it was open on the same terms to all religious persuasions. The first teacher was George Keith, a classical scholar, and a minister of the society." Quakers established colleges at Haverford in 1833 and at Swarthmore in 1864. Haverford College is the oldest Quaker institution of higher education in the United States; its campus contains the largest and most intact group of architectural commissions made by the Society of Friends.

During the era Quakers populated the region, they brought with them guiding principles that eventually led to their diminished influence in Pennsylvania society. Penn set the stage with his insistence that native populations be treated fairly. However, early Quakers advocated gender equity and women were, from the beginning, active participants in religious activities. "I abhor two principles in religion and pity them that own them," Penn declared. "The first is obedience to authority without conviction; and the other is destroying them that differ from me for God's sake." Historian William J. Whalen described other forms of Quaker activism in Pennsylvania, including condemnation of the accepted practice of owning slaves. "Quaker concern for fair treatment of the Indians was paralleled by growing concern for the slaves. Through the efforts of such Quaker abolitionists as John Woolman [1720-1772], the Meetings adopted stricter and stricter policies regarding slave holding. By 1780 all Quakers in good standing had released their slaves. Later Quakers were active in the Underground Railroad and the abolitionist movement." (The history of the Underground Railroad, a network of sympathizers who helped slaves flee from Southern owners to freedom in Northern states, including Pennsylvania, was examined by Pennsylvania Heritage during 2010, for which PHMC adopted "Black History in Pennsylvania: Communities in Common" as its annual theme.)

The Society of Friends disowned Nathanael Greene, son of a Quaker minister, after he attended a military parade in 1773.

Quakers strongly believed in equality in education. "Between 1774 and 1787 Quakers had built several schools for African American children," explained Geoffrey Haward Martin (1928-2007), a respected British historian and Keeper of the Public Records for the United Kingdom. "1787 also marked the first year of active support in the 'Underground Railroad.' The Quakers also utilized the Haitian revolution of 1794 to lobby against the importation of slaves to the southern plantations." Even though freedom from religious persecution greatly appealed to the migrating Quakers, Jones offered other, equally practical reasons, including the availability of inexpensive land. "The large majority of the settlers were Englishmen, mostly yeomen," wrote Jones in The Quakers in the American Colonies, published in 1966. "They had bought their lands of Penn from rough maps before leaving England, at the very moderate price which he asked of 100 pounds (roughly $500 in early U.S. currency) for 5,000 acres or smaller tracts in proportion, with a quit-rent annually of one shilling for each 100 acres. This enabled many a poor English renter to become a landowner in Pennsylvania. . . ."

As more Quakers arrived in the region, settlers began to move beyond the immediate Philadelphia area. Initially, the migrating settlers moved westward toward York and, eventually, into what is now Adams County. "While many Quakers settled in Philadelphia," contends Christopher Densmore, author and curator of the Friends Historical Library at Swarthmore College, "others spread out over the rich agricultural farmland of southeastern Pennsylvania quickly forming both city and rural Monthly Meetings. Philadelphia became the hub of a major Quaker settlement with local Quakers founding schools, hospitals, almshouses and other institutions for the education and welfare of the population."

In Warrington, near York, a place of worship was built of fieldstone in 1727. In Newberrytown, now in York County, a meetinghouse was also constructed of stone, in 1738. In York, a Meeting was established in 1764. In Adams County, Menallen Meeting in Biglerville began in 1748 and in Huntington in 1750. The Menallen Meetinghouse is a single-story brick structure; Huntington was built of stone gathered in surrounding fields.

Celebrated throughout American history as the maker of the Flag of the United States, Betsy Ross, born Elizabeth Griscom, was expelled by Quakers for eloping in 1773 with John Ross, son of Aeneas Ross, assistant rector of Philadelphia's Christ Church.

Within a few years, the Quaker settlers moved farther west. In western Pennsylvania, under the jurisdiction of the Ohio Yearly Meeting, the earliest structures for Quaker worship were erected at Westland (1782) in Centerville; Redstone (1785) in Luzerne Township; Providence (1790) in Perry Township; Sandy Hill (1792) in Union Township; Fallowfield (1793) in the borough now called Elco; Pike Run (1800) in Pike Run Township; and Sewickley (1800) in Sewickley Township.

Just as rapidly as they ascended to prominence, influence, and importance, the role of Friends began to swiftly and steadily diminish. Although there were many reasons for this decline, one major factor may have been that Quaker beliefs, especially pacifism and the refusal to contribute to military activity, did not resonate with increasing numbers of non-Quaker immigrants. "Naturally their pacifism kept the Quakers out of active participation in the American Revolution," Whalen wrote, noting their refusal was unpopular with the rest of society. Another reason for the waning of the Friends' import was that settlers practicing other religions were quickly outnumbering them.

Equally unpopular was the Quaker decision to censure those who did serve the colonial cause or stray from tradition. Prior to the American Revolution, Quakers disowned Betsy Ross (1752-1836), honored throughout history as the maker of the Flag of the United States, and General Nathanael Greene (1742-1786), George Washington's gifted and most dependable officer. The Friends also refused to provide any financial support for wartime activities. "The Quakers dominated the political life of this colony, the wealthiest and most populous in America, until 1756, when they refused to vote a tax for a war against the Shawnee and Delaware Indians," wrote Whalen. "The political power of the Quakers began to wane towards the latter half of the eighteenth century," he concluded. "Their pacifist beliefs were believed to have weakened the colony during the various colonial wars and by 1756, during the French and Indian War, emasculated and fractured the faction of Quaker legislators. During the Revolutionary War, certain Quakers who would not sign 'writs of assistance' (or allegiance) to the revolutionary cause faced punishments such as confiscation of property and exile. Such was the fate of the prominent Philadelphian Thomas Gilpin [1728-1778]." A farmer, manufacturer, and an original member of the American Philosophical Society, Gilpin was one of many Quakers exiled to other states. As pacifists, most Quakers refused to support taxes to finance the American Revolution and most would not take up arms against the British. The resulting backlash from non-Quakers was predictable. "The American Revolutionary War did not offer an opportunity for the display of the best Quaker qualities," wrote Comfort.

The Roaring Creek Meetinghouse, Numidia, Columbia County, was built in 1795. The building is one of only two extant log meetinghouses built under the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. The other is the Catawissa Friends Meetinghouse, erected in 1789, also located in Columbia County.

There were other factors for the decline, including an ongoing exodus of Quakers to regions to the west. Ironically, according to author Albert Cook Myers in his book Immigration of the Irish Quakers into Pennsylvania, 1682-1750, "Friends (Quakers) had taken such a firm stand against slavery that they were no longer able to come into economic competition with their neighbors who utilized slave labor."

The result, Myers contended, was that "thousands of Friends, including many of Irish name originally from Pennsylvania, left their old homes to escape . . . and following several routes through Virginia and Kentucky, poured into the new country." The exodus significantly impacted Quakers in Pennsylvania. Meetings, lacking sufficient members to survive, began to close.

In Adams County, Huntington Meeting was closed-"laid down" in Quaker terms-in 1861. Its members had helped move more than a thousand escaping slaves along the Underground Railroad. Newberrytown, later called Redlands, and Warrington closed in 1862. York was shuttered in 1868. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, both Warrington and York were reactivated. Today, Huntington and Redlands and several associated cemeteries remain under the care of Menallen Meeting in Biglerville. Although well-preserved, the shuttered meetinghouses are rarely used, except sporadically for special worship services. Neither building has any modern amenities.

Interior of the Huntington Friends Meetinghouse at York Springs, Adams County. Before building the stone meetinghouse, Quakers met first in homes until 1750, when they erected a log building, which the present-day structure replaced in 1790. Quaker abolitionists William Wright and his wife Phebe Wierman Wright are buried in the adjacent cemetery.

Although Quakers no longer hold a place of prominence in Pennsylvania, evidence of their heritage can be found throughout the Commonwealth. While virtually none of the earliest meetinghouses-commonly built of logs-have survived, many of the following generation of buildings, including one dating to the late seventeenth century, remain intact and in use.

True to their belief in simplicity, most Quaker meetinghouses are basic, functional structures built of wood, fieldstone, or brick. Many have (or did have) slate roofs. Interiors, often with original hand-hewn wooden benches extant, are usually arranged so they can be divided into two sections by the use of sliding doors.

Although Quaker men and women have always worshiped together, they once conducted separate business meetings, thus the need for a divided room. Business meetings, usually held monthly, are no longer segregated by gender. In Quaker meetinghouses, there are no altars and the interiors are generally unadorned. Throughout the twentieth century most meetings added electricity and minimal indoor plumbing, and replaced fireplaces and wood-burning stoves with modern heating. Some still have standing carriage houses although, contrary to common belief, Quakers rarely attend worship on horseback or in horse-drawn carriages. Cemeteries adjacent to meetinghouses offer a vivid history lesson of the meetings and their illustrious members. The exceptions are meetinghouses in urban settings, such as Philadelphia and York, where land is at a premium.

An early twentieth-century picture postcard of the Merion Friends Meetinghouse in Merion Station, Montgomery County, the second oldest Quaker meetinghouse in the United States.

Quaker meetinghouses were vernacular buildings, generally built without the benefit of architects or formal plans. The design of each meetinghouse was apparently a communal effort; historic records documenting the Radnor Meeting illustrate how the process worked. Radnor was initially a single dwelling with a meeting space for women added later. According to a written account at the time of construction in 1718, "Some friends of those appointed to assist Radnor friends in ye contrivance of a new meetinghouse there bring into account yt. They have accordingly mett and given ym their thoughts as to ye bigness and form thereof to wch Radnor frnds then there present seemed generally to agree with."

Design may also have been influenced in part by the building skills of its members. One dwelling that did not fit the general construction pattern was Merion, the oldest of the Pennsylvania meetinghouses under the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. Built by Quakers of Welsh descent, construction of the Merion Meetinghouse in Montgomery County began as early as 1695 and was completed by 1715.

In a 2002 exhibition catalogue entitled Silent Witness: Quaker Meetinghouses in the Delaware Valley, 1695 to the Present, Catherine C. Lavoie, named chief of the Historic American Buildings Survey of the National Park Service in 2007, wrote that "its T-shaped near cruciform plan appears to be unprecedented in meeting house design and, therefore, has been the topic of some controversy." The reason for the controversy, she alleged, was the fact that the meetinghouse closely resembled an Anglican Church, which persecuted Quakers in England. "Many resist the idea that persecuted emigrant Friends would adopt a plan so closely resembling one used by the Anglican Church when they rejected all that such a structure represented," she contended.

Built in 1695 and enlarged in 1714, the Merion Friends Meetinghouse is a widely recognized landmark.

Lavoie speculated that, in the absence of any uniform meetinghouse design for early Quaker settlers, the Merion Meeting simply used a design that was familiar to them. "Lacking a prototype," she continued, "Merion Friends may have looked to the rural parish churches of their homeland for architectural inspiration."

Fewer than one hundred Quaker meetings exist in Pennsylvania; more than half are within an hour's drive of center-city Philadelphia. Although Quakers made up more than 10 percent of the population of the original thirteen colonies, they represent a small fraction of the population today. In an apparent nod to familiar products such as breakfast cereal and motor oil, Comfort opined, "Today the word Quaker is heard more often in the business world than in the religious sphere." Although the Quaker influence in Pennsylvania was most prominent in the first century of its existence, "their social influence has been unobtrusive but persistent," he wrote. "The strength of the Society of Friends at present," he concluded, "lies in the simplicity of its religion and worship, in the vigor and efficiency of its humanitarian service and in the management of a number of institutions both educational and charitable which it maintains for the benefit of others."

FOR FURTHER READING

Comfort, William Wistar. The Quakers: A Brief Account of Their Influence in Pennsylvania. University Park, Pa: Pennsylvania Historical Association, 2000.

Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Inventory of Church Records: The Society of Friends in Pennsylvania. Philadelphia: Work Projects Administration, 1941.

Janney, Samiel MacPherson. History of the Religious Society of Friends from its Rise to the Year 1828. Philadelphia: T. Ellwood Zell, 1861.

Jones, Rufus M. The Quakers in the American Colonies. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1966.

Lavoie, Catherine C. Silent Witness: Quaker Meetinghouses in the Delaware Valley, 1695 to the Present. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Society of Friends, 2002.

Myers, Albert Cook. Immigration of the Irish Quakers into Pennsylvania, 1682-1750. Swarthmore, Pa.: New Era Printing, 1902.

A Redlands Reunion

The date stone of the 1811 Redlands Friends Meetinghouse.

As Quakers moved west of the Susquehanna River into York County, one of the earliest places in which they settled was Newberrytown. They erected a log meetinghouse in 1745, replaced by a stone structure in 1792. Because the Quaker community grew significantly, followers in 1811 moved their house of worship two miles west and built another meetinghouse of fieldstone, called Redlands. Declining membership later in the nineteenth century-likely caused by the many Quaker families that moved further west-closed the Redlands Meeting in 1862. Since that time the meetinghouse and adjacent cemetery have been maintained by the Menallen Meeting in Biglerville, Adams County.

On Saturday, August 14, 2011, Quakers and descendants of local Friends will celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Redlands Meeting by conducting tours of the meetinghouse and its cemetery. The event is free and open to the public. Leading up to the anniversary, local Friends will conduct tours of Redlands and historic meetinghouses in York and Adams Counties.

The 1811 Redlands Friends Meetinghouse has been maintained by the Menallen Meeting in Biglerville, Adams County, since closing in 1862.

Visitors to the Redlands Meetinghouse will be treated to a rare glimpse of Pennsylvania history. Although largely unused for nearly 150 years, both the interior and exterior of the meetinghouse have been carefully preserved. Hand-hewn wooden benches and fireplaces remain as they were two centuries ago. Even a "modern" convenience dating to the nineteenth century, a wood stove, is extant. Headstones in the meetinghouse's cemetery will provide visitors with a genealogical tour of this historic Quaker landmark. For further information on the Redlands reunion, visit http://www.redlandsreunion.com/

Rae Tyson lives in Orrtanna, Adams County. His Quaker ancestors arrived in Pennsylvania in 1683.