Quakerism in Dartmouth

With these two volumes, the Colonial Society of Massachusetts makes available the first minute books of the Dartmouth Monthly Meeting of Friends. Quakers were outliers in colonial New England. A self-defined “peculiar people,” they embraced a vision of Christianity that their neighbors generally regarded as at best strange, at worst dangerously heretical. The years of suffering, even martyrdom, for their faith were largely behind them by the time that Dartmouth Friends formed their monthly meeting in 1699. But even a superficial reading of these records will show how different from their neighbors Friends remained, with their opposition to war, repudiation of judicial oaths, and the very existence of a women’s meeting for business.

Quaker Origins

Quakerism was one of the radical sects that emerged from the English Civil War in the 1640s. The central figure was George Fox (1624–1691), the offspring of a Leicestershire yeoman family with strong Puritan views. By his own account, Fox was an unusually godly young man. The competing, and irreconcilable, claims of the religious groups around him deeply troubled Fox. Seeking the true Christian church, in 1643 he set off on a kind of spiritual pilgrimage, traveling around southern England, seeking out both clergy and laypeople with reputations for godliness, hoping that they would show him the true way. But, as Fox remembered, “there was none that could speak to my condition.” So in his early twenties, he wandered up into the north of England. There Fox had a series of experiences that would become the foundation for the group that first called itself Children of the Light, later Friends of the Light, ultimately the Religious Society of Friends. “Quaker” was originally an insulting nickname, but as sometimes happens, Friends took it up.1

Fox’s outlook put him on the extreme left wing of English spirituality in the 1640s and 1650s. Fox based his preaching on what he called “openings,” what today we would call revelations, experiences in which Fox was confident that God had spoken directly to him. Fox argued that divine revelation had not ceased when the last book of the Bible was written, because the same Holy Spirit that had inspired the writers of the Scriptures was still available to humans. Fox found biblical images and metaphors of light especially important. Most radically, he concluded that all human beings have within them a certain measure of divine light, “the Light of Christ inwardly revealed.” If humans are obedient to it, it will lead them into lives acceptable to God, with heaven as their reward. But if they ignore the promptings of that Light, it will be extinguished and they will be lost. Fox repudiated the idea of a trained ministry. In his eyes, all Christians were called to be ministers. “To be bred at Oxford or Cambridge” did not do this, only inspiration from God. From this insight, Fox drew two radical conclusions. One was that God inspired women as well as men, that women had just as much right to speak and preach and pray publicly as men. The second shaped Quaker worship. Since the true ministry came through divine inspiration, and God could inspire anyone, Quaker worship had no set rituals, nor did a pastor preside over it. Instead, Friends gathered and waited in silence, confident that if God had a message for the group, God would inspire someone to speak. Fox’s understanding of Scripture also led him to an extreme spiritual understanding of the sacraments. Quakers did not baptize with water or observe any form of outward communion. The only true baptism, Fox argued, was the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Communion was experienced in the fellowship of believers.2

Quaker distinctiveness, or “peculiarity,” the term that Friends usually applied to themselves, did not stop here. Quakers broke with many of the customs of deference and hierarchy that characterized English society in the seventeenth century. They eschewed these practices because they saw them as puffing up human vanity. Quaker men did not remove their hats in the presence of their “betters,” even when hauled into court. Friends refused to use titles like “Mister” or “Mistress” or “Your Honor,” instead addressing other people by their full names or simply as “friend.” The Quaker “plain language” of addressing others as “thee” or “thou” also reflected such convictions. In seventeenth-century English grammar, “thee” and “thou” were the singular forms of “you,” comparable to “I” and “we” or “she” and “they.” It was a mark of respect and courtesy to show respect to a superior, however, by addressing that individual as “you.” It was rude and disrespectful for a child to call a parent “you”; likewise with servants and masters. Such practices gave Friends the reputation of being dangerous social revolutionaries.3

Historians debate how many of these beliefs and practices were unique to Friends. Certainly other radical groups between 1640 and 1660 blasted social and economic inequality, or allowed women to preach, or rejected normal practices of deference and civility. But Friends brought all of them together in a unique mixture. And many of their contemporaries found this threatening.4

Other facets of Quaker faith and practice were unsettling to contemporaries. Some Friends, including Fox, felt led to attend the services of other churches, evaluate the sermons and proceedings, and, if they found them inadequate, interrupt with their own critiques. Some Friends felt led to “go naked as a sign”: to appear unclothed in a public place as a witness, sometimes to show their own spiritual innocence (like Adam and Eve in Eden before the Fall, they were “naked and not ashamed”); sometimes as a means of self-mortification; sometimes as a way of showing the “spiritual nakedness of the opposers of Friends.” And Friends had a gift for vituperation and invective. In an age when religious debates routinely involved charges of blasphemy and satanic influences, Friends gave as good as they got. It speaks volumes that when Fox, in 1659, published his longest book, a critique of every anti-Quaker work issued up to that time, its title was The Great Mystery of the Great Whore Unfolded: and Antichrist’s Kingdom Revealed unto Destruction.5

Quakers were aggressive evangelists. A sect that barely existed in 1650 had by 1660 spread to all parts of England and Wales and was making headway in Ireland and in English colonies in the Caribbean and North America. Adherents may have numbered as many as fifty thousand. One woman Friend actually embarked for Constantinople to preach to the sultan of the Ottoman Empire. By 1659, officials in London were nervous that Quakerism was spreading even in the army. Such anxieties were one factor in moving political and military leaders toward the restoration of the monarchy in the spring of 1660. Thus opposition to Quakerism was often ferocious. Typical was one of the earliest attacks on Friends, by Francis Higginson, a Puritan pastor in Westmorland with many ties to Massachusetts, A Brief Relation of the Irreligion of the Northern Quakers. Quakers were “Satan’s seeds-men.” Hundreds of Friends found themselves thrown into jail, charged with blasphemy or vagrancy. When James Nayler, a Yorkshire Friend who in the 1650s rivaled Fox as a preacher, felt led in Bristol to imitate Jesus’s Palm Sunday entry into Jerusalem, he was branded, pilloried, and imprisoned by order of Parliament, and narrowly escaped execution.6

Quakerism in New England

Given this reputation, it is unsurprising that when two Quaker women, Mary Fisher and Ann Austin, arrived in Boston in July 1656, authorities there promptly clapped them into jail, confiscated and burned their books, had their bodies examined for marks of witchcraft, and then expelled them. Two days after Austin and Fisher were shipped out of Boston, eight more Quakers appeared. Authorities also imprisoned them, and, eleven weeks later, banished them. The Massachusetts General Court rushed to pass a law imposing a fine of one hundred pounds on any shipmaster who knowingly landed a Quaker in Massachusetts. Importing or possessing a Quaker book brought a fine of five pounds.7

Few things attracted Quakers as much as persecution. Over the next few years, what one historian labeled a “Quaker Invasion” took place, as Friends felt led to Massachusetts both to proselytize and to bear witness against the colony’s “spirit of persecution.” Authorities responded with more repressive legislation. A 1657 statute was even more severe, as historian Arthur J. Worrall summarizes: it “provided a fine of 100 pounds for importing Quakers and a fine of 40 shillings for each hour Massachusetts residents entertained Quakers knowingly, with imprisonment until payment. Each Quaker entering the colony after previous punishment was to have one ear cut off, a second ear on repeating the offense, and his tongue bored through with a hot iron for a third offense.” But more Friends appeared in 1658, including three men who had already been expelled once and consequently lost an ear. So in the fall of 1658 the General Court passed its most draconian law. Nonresident Quakers entering Massachusetts and convicted of sharing Quaker beliefs were to be banished on pain of death. As signs of sympathy were appearing among local residents who did not necessarily embrace Quakerism themselves, trials were to be by a special court of assistants. A few residents of Salem who had become Friends were ordered banished if they did not return to orthodoxy.8

These measures were futile as well. So between October 1659 and March 1661 four Friends were hanged in Boston after being found guilty of returning after having been banished. Three were English: Marmaduke Stevenson, William Robinson, and William Leddra. The fourth, Mary Dyer, was a former resident of Boston who had been banished two decades earlier as an ally of Anne Hutchinson. And dozens of Friends remained in jail.9

Meanwhile, Friends in England were publicizing the sufferings of their brothers and sisters in Massachusetts, most notably through George Bishop’s book New England Judged. When Charles II was restored to the throne in the spring of 1660, Massachusetts authorities suspected that the monarch, who had no reason to love Puritans, would be looking for opportunities to strike back. So they released twenty-eight imprisoned Friends. Bishop and another leading English Friend, Edward Burrough, were granted an audience by the king, telling him that there was “a vein of blood open” in his colony of Massachusetts because of the persecution of Friends there. “I will stop that vein,” Charles responded, and sent an order to Massachusetts to cease executions. To add insult to injury, Charles entrusted delivery to Samuel Shattuck, a Quaker convert from Salem who had been earlier been banished on pain of death. But the end of executions did not mean the end of persecution. Massachusetts passed a new law ordering Quakers to be whipped out of the colony.10

The experiences of Friends in Massachusetts between 1656 and 1661 were central to the formation of a New England Quaker identity. The growth of New England Quakerism would come at the peripheries. Converts to Quakerism in the Bay Colony were relatively few, limited almost entirely to Salem and towns in the northern part of Essex County. Another Quaker community developed in Dover, New Hampshire. And the Plymouth Colony, which was independent of Massachusetts before 1692, would see Quaker communities grow between 1660 and 1700.11

Quakerism Comes to Dartmouth

The Plymouth colony was generally not as exacting in its Puritanism as Massachusetts. Governor William Bradford apparently inclined toward leniency, but he died in 1656, just as the Quaker “invasion” began, and his successor, Thomas Prence, was less tolerant. Plymouth’s official position was to resist Quakerism, but by means less horrific than those the leaders of Massachusetts employed. Arthur J. Worrall sums up: “Plymouth authorities, though ordering the occasional whipping, never indulged in corporal punishment to the same degree as did Massachusetts, did not banish its own people (although it encouraged their migration), did not execute Friends, and did not mutilate either Quaker missionaries or their converts.” The imposition of test oaths, which Quakers refused to take, and fines for “harboring a “Quaker rantor or other Notoriouse heretiques” were the first steps. Later came threats of whippings and fines for attending or hosting Quaker gatherings. Nevertheless, Friends found some followers in the Plymouth Colony, especially in Marshfield, Scituate, and Sandwich. Christopher Holder, a Friend from England who was one of the victims of the Boston authorities, preached in Sandwich in 1657, and soon afterwards Friends began to hold meetings in the homes of William and Ralph Allen, the ancestors of many Dartmouth Friends.12

The origins of Quakerism in Dartmouth were also closely tied to its neighbor to the west, Rhode Island. Roger Williams’s colony, established as a haven from persecution in the rest of New England, unsurprisingly became a major Quaker center. Among Quaker converts were followers and allies of Anne Hutchinson, whose antinomianism anticipated Quaker beliefs in critical ways. They mostly lived in Portsmouth and Newport. Williams himself had little use for Quaker theology and engaged in public debates with Quaker leaders. (George Fox and Williams fought a heated pamphlet war.) Williams saw Quakers as being as narrow and dogmatic as Puritans. But he remained committed to liberty of conscience. Friends steadily increased in numbers and influence in the colony. By the end of the century, Quakers had leading roles in Rhode Island’s government, and continued prominent in it until the American Revolution.13

It is not clear who the first Quakers in Dartmouth were. Local historian Ann Gidley Lowry describes them as “Howlands, Allens, Slocums, Smiths and Tuckers.” To these should be added the Laphams. The Howlands came from Marshfield, the Allens from Sandwich, and the Smiths from the town of Plymouth in the Plymouth Colony. The Tuckers had fled Massachusetts. The Laphams and Slocums came from Rhode Island.14

By the time that Dartmouth Monthly Meeting was established in 1699, Friends had settled on a clear organization and hierarchy of authority. At the base was the individual congregation. It was usually referred to as a meeting for worship or a particular meeting. Friends eschewed the label “church” for individual congregations, feeling that that should be applied to the universal body of believers. At various times, Dartmouth Monthly Meeting included Apponegansett, Acushnet, Newtown, Acoaxet, Rochester, New Bedford, Centre, New Swansey, Nosequchuck, and Smith’s Neck particular meetings. One or more of these combined in the preparative meeting. (Dartmouth was unusual in having preparative meetings that sometimes included more than one congregation or particular meeting.) The preparative meeting would meet monthly for business purposes. At times a preparative meeting might be transferred to another monthly meeting. In 1740, for example, Rochester Preparative Meeting was taken away from Dartmouth and joined to Sandwich Monthly Meeting. Rochester Friends had aroused concern at times by their lack of participation in Dartmouth Monthly Meeting affairs, and apparently it was concluded that it would be more convenient for them to be part of Sandwich.15

Preparative meetings took their name from the fact that they prepared business for consideration by the monthly meeting. Men Friends offered a description of their function in First Month 1706: “to Consider of the afairs amongst friends and see what may be convenient to be recommended to the monthely meeting so that the monthely meeting may not be Incumbred with a multitude of unneesesearey buseness.” Matters “convenient” usually involved membership, or, more often, reports of members who had deviated from the standards expected of Quakers. The monthly meeting was (and remains) the basic business unit for Quakers. Usually, before 1900, a monthly meeting was made up of two or more preparative meetings. When a preparative meeting, or combination of preparatives, was judged large enough to constitute its own monthly meeting, then the monthly meeting would be divided, with the new monthly meeting being “set off” from the older one. In 1766, for example, Dartmouth set off Acoaxet Preparative Meeting as Acoaxet Monthly Meeting. (The name was changed to Westport, to coincide with the name of the town, in 1812.) This can be a confusing process when tracking individuals, as usually no list of the “set off” members was made. They simply disappear from the records of their old monthly meeting and appear in the those of the new one. As examination of the Dartmouth Monthly Meeting minutes shows, monthly meetings received people into membership either by transfer from another monthly meeting, or by conversion, “convincement,” as Friends called it. Monthly meetings also could deprive erring members of their membership. The usual term for this was disownment. Monthly meetings were charged with keeping records of births and deaths, and they oversaw marriages of members. Monthly meetings also were responsible for property matters, appointing trustees to hold title to meetinghouse lands and burial grounds. They cared for poor and needy members. And they raised money for various purposes, including dues or “stock” paid to the quarterly and yearly meeting. Monthly meetings did not necessarily observe political boundaries—they might extend across town, county, or even provincial lines.16

Two or more monthly meetings made up a quarterly meeting. As the name suggests, these were meetings for business held four times a year. For the period of these records, Dartmouth Friends were part of Rhode Island Quarterly Meeting, reflecting their proximity and longstanding connections with Friends in Newport. Quarterly meetings exercised oversight over monthly meetings by evaluating their answers to queries about the state of affairs in the monthly meetings. They handled appeals of disownments. And they confirmed or disallowed the appointment of elders and the recording of ministers.17

The highest level of authority for Friends was the yearly meeting, which determined rules and regulations for the body and issued statements on spiritual issues. New England Friends often claim that their yearly meeting is the oldest in the world, with its first sessions taking place in 1661. But surviving records begin in 1672, when George Fox himself was present. In the eighteenth century it was often referred to as the “Yearly Meeting for Rhode Island.” Yearly meeting sessions were held in Newport, where the “Great Meetinghouse,” constructed in 1699, is now a museum. Well into the eighteenth century, in addition to the annual business sessions, Friends held an annual “general meeting,” which was centered on worship. Several of these were held within Dartmouth Monthly Meeting’s bounds.18

Theoretically, yearly meetings were independent of each other. But Quaker practices bound them closely together and helped preserve uniformity on essential matters of faith and practice, with a few exceptions, until the 1820s. American Friends usually deferred to the leadership of English Friends. By the 1750s, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting had emerged as the first among American equals, and its epistles and advices were also given close attention by Friends in New England.19

Despite persecution, Quakerism took root and grew in New England. From five monthly meetings in 1695, by 1772 the New England Yearly Meeting had grown to thirteen in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. As examination of Dartmouth records after 1740 will show, New England Friends would be central to the expansion of Quakerism in New York. By the time of the American Revolution, about 30 percent of all Massachusetts Quakers were members of Dartmouth Monthly Meeting.20

Dartmouth Monthly Meeting in the Quaker World

One finds regular references to Friends beyond Dartmouth in the Dartmouth records. Not only institutions but shared faith and practice tied Friends together.

Over the course of the eighteenth century, the structures of leadership that Friends elsewhere embraced were emerging in Dartmouth Monthly Meeting. Before 1700, Friends with “a gift in the line of the ministry” or preaching were usually called “public Friends.” After 1700 they were increasingly referred to as ministers. Friends recognized a gift in ministry not through ordination—Friends regarded that as implying that human action somehow conferred a gift in ministry. Instead, Friends “recorded” ministers, making a record of a gift divinely bestowed. No public Friends or ministers are identified as being recorded by Dartmouth Monthly Meeting before 1750, although we know from other records that Nicholas Davis, Peleg Slocum and Stephen Wilcox were public Friends. The most prominent was Davis (1690–1755), “an able skillful minister of the gospel, dividing the word of truth aright; zealous against obstinate offenders, but to those under affliction, his words were as healing balsam, and his speech as dew on the tender grass.” The process is implied, however, by disownment of Deborah Wilber in Eighth Month 1772. The women’s minutes noted that she had “Some times has Appeared Publickly as a Minister tho’ never fully Approved of as a Minister amongst friends.” By 1736 the monthly meeting was also appointing elders, Friends who were charged with the oversight of the ministry in meeting, encouraging speaking that edified hearers and discouraging, even silencing, speaking that did not. The first named are James Barker and Abraham Tucker, although women served as elders as well. A third category of appointments was of overseers or visitors, whose functions are discussed below.21

The official roles that Friends gave to women were one of the most distinctive aspects of Quakerism. Women were recorded ministers and served as elders and overseers. Male and female Friends held separate meetings for business. Generally, the minutes of the business meetings of women Friends are the oldest written records we have of organized groups of women in colonial America. Men handled matters involving men, and women those involving women Friends. The two meetings did not have equal powers. Men dealt with matters of property and relations with the town and provincial governments, although women Friends had their own funds, or “stock,” that they collected and disbursed. Thus the women’s minutes of Sixth Month 1737 show that Ruth Tucker and Phebe Tucker were appointed to “balance the accounts of this meeting.” And while the men did not require the approval or unity of women Friends to disown a member, the disownment of female Friends by the women’s monthly meeting required the approval of the men.22

One function of the monthly meeting was to grant certificates of removal to Friends moving beyond the monthly meeting’s bounds. In the monthly meeting’s early days, at least, there was an expectation that Friends would consult with the monthly meeting before undertaking such actions. Thus the men’s minutes of Tenth Month 19, 1709, show that there were “some agetations” about Samuel Mott selling out and moving to Newport. It was the “sience [sense] of this meeting” that “It will not be for his Advantag in aney wise,” and so the men refused to grant a certificate. Likewise Dartmouth Friends recorded the arrival of Friends moving within their bounds. The certificates were issued only after inquiry to make sure that the subjects were not leaving behind unpaid debts and could be recommended as consistent members. Illustrative is a the process in the men’s monthly meeting in First Month 1733, when John Lapham and family moved to Smithfield Monthly Meeting:

The friends that wer appointed to See into John Laphams

Sircumstances relating to his removing to Smith

field to live gives this meeting an account that

they find nothing but things are Clear and that he is

like to remove in good order. and this meeting

appoints ye Same friends to draw up a few lines by

way of Certificate to ye monthly meeting at Smithfield

of him and his wifes unity with friends here

Other monthly meetings carefully scrutinized certificates. Thus in Eighth Month 1769 the men recorded that Smithfield Monthly Meeting was dissatisfied with what it had received regarding Samuel Howland, Jr. They had “discover[ed] a Shortness in the Certificate Respecting the Settlement of his owtward Affares.” It appears to have been the practice to read the certificates aloud in the monthly meeting. Thus the women’s minutes for Sixth Month 20, 1757, show that “Patience Easty Certificate was read and friends had unity with it: also Sarah Cornwell Certificate was read and friends accepted it and She is taken under the Care of this meeting.” The men’s meeting issued certificates for men, the women’s for women. Before 1740, removals from Dartmouth were mainly within Massachusetts and Rhode Island. After 1740, there was a steady increase in certificates directed to monthly meetings in New York: Oblong, Nine Partners, and Saratoga.23

References to the quarterly meeting appear regularly, as both men and women Friends appointed representatives to attend the sessions. One finds many minutes about epistles being prepared for the quarterly meeting. Their contents are never recorded, but it appears that they contained answers to the queries. These were questions which quarterly meetings, and ultimately the yearly meeting, used to assess the spiritual state of the yearly meeting. New England Yearly Meeting agreed on a set in 1700. Quaker historian Rufus M. Jones described their function as “calling for an examination of the life from at least a dozen moral and spiritual view-points.” But Dartmouth Friends found the constant examination trying at times. At the monthly meeting of Fourth Month 2, 1785, men Friends united with a proposal from women Friends asking: “whether the answering the Queries once a year only, would not be more useful, or at least, that some of the Principal ones only be answer’d at Each Quarter.”24

Although London Yearly Meeting did not exercise formal authority over other yearly meetings, Dartmouth Friends were aware of it and noted its epistles and advices. The first reference, in the men’s minutes of Fifth Month 21, 1718, is illustrative. Friends had read “some minits of ye yearly meeting at London 1717 concerning tomb stones distinguishing apparel for the dead and bowing and Cryings which minits are ordered to be read on a first day meeting for worship.” And they occasionally called for its aid. In Third Month 1717 they asked a Friend traveling to England to inform Friends there about a law for the maintenance of ministers that Dartmouth Friends found threatening, apparently in the hope that they would lobby for its repeal. Likewise Dartmouth Friends noted and read epistles from other yearly meetings, almost always New York and Philadelphia. When women Friends opened their own monthly meeting minute book, they copied into it lengthy epistles and statements from George Fox and English and Irish Friends.25

One of the ways that Dartmouth Friends maintained ties with the larger Quaker world was through the regular visits of ministers from other monthly and yearly meetings, in some cases even from England. Rufus Jones describes the impact that they had: “They believed, and their listeners believed, that they were ‘divinely sent messengers.’ They came into the homes of the native Friends and supplied them with the facts, the news, the personal drama, of the wider Society of which they formed a fragment. By word of mouth those of all sections heard of the progress of events, the issues before the Society, the spread of ‘Truth’ as they called it, and they learned to know, in their isolated spot, the main problems of the whole movement, which they this in some measure shared.” The names of some of the most prominent Quaker ministers of the eighteenth century appear as attending a session of Dartmouth Monthly Meeting: John Churchman, John Griffith, Rachel Wilson, Susanna Lightfoot, Warner Mifflin, David Sands, and William Hunt. And these are only those present for a monthly meeting. Many others were among Dartmouth Friends at other times. Dartmouth Friends aided these visitors, as when in Eighth Month 1762 they ordered the meeting treasurer “to pay Jonathan Hussey thirty Shillings for Shoeing a traveling Friends Horse.”26

The number of visits from traveling ministers, and the sheer volume of the monthly meeting’s minutes, increased substantially after 1750. This reflects another current in the larger Quaker world, what historians of Quakerism have labeled the “Reformation” of the eighteenth century. Beginning in the 1730s, influential Friends, first in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, then in London Yearly Meeting, and then in other yearly meetings, became concerned by what they perceived as declining spiritual life, growing worldliness, and lax enforcement of the Discipline. And in the 1770s, we find Dartmouth Friends showing their commitment to this vision of reformation, particularly rigorous enforcement of the Discipline. They acknowledged their “Coolness and want of true Zeal for the cause of Truth” and their “indifferency.” They renewed efforts “for the reviveal of our antient Discipline” through “Stirring up the Careless Lukewarm Indolent members to Love and good works.” Between 1760 and 1779 the number of disownments doubled.27

Dartmouth Friends were aware of Friends elsewhere and their needs and tried to offer aid. In 1705 they contributed to the construction of a meetinghouse in Salem, and in 1707, 1709, and 1760 toward one in Boston. In 1744 they paid 26 pounds toward building meetinghouses in Taunton and Westerly, and between 1758 and 1760 gave over 200 pounds for building the new Friends meetinghouse in Providence. The minutes of Ninth Month 1724 show that Friends contributed 20 pounds to aid “John Handson a friend Living at Dover to the eastward of Boston who has of Late had his Wife and Seaveral Children Carried away by the Indians, and also his bedding and other Cloathing.”28

Contours of Quaker Life

By the end of the seventeenth century, as Dartmouth Friends were holding their first monthly meetings for business, Quakerism was changing. It was entering into a period, which would last for over a century, of what historians have labeled quietism. The evangelistic zeal of the first generation was fading. Increasingly Friends focused instead on internal discipline and purity, both as individuals and as a corporate body. Converts were still made, but, for the most part, Friends depended on retaining the children of members to keep up their numbers.29

Friends had relatively few officials. Both the men’s and women’s meetings had clerks, whose duty was to preside at meetings for business. Friends did not vote. It was the role of the clerk, after a full discussion of the matter before the meeting, to discern what the sense of the meeting was. This was not necessarily the view of the majority. Instead, it reflected what the clerk perceived as the will of God on a particular matter. One finds an occasional reference to majority rule. At the men’s monthly meeting held Twelfth Month 1730/1731, a committee appointed to arbitrate a difference between two Friends reported that it could not agree. The monthly meeting decided “that the Majority of sd Comtee. Shall determine the matter.” The minutes do not record discussions or debates, only conclusions. But occasionally they convey some sense of the emotional tone of a meeting, as on Eleventh Month 18, 1754, when the clerk recorded that there was “Considerable of agitation.” While anyone was welcome to attend meetings for worship, meetings for business were supposed to be “select,” closed to non-members as well as Friends no longer in good standing. Thus on Third Month 17, 1730, when Nathan Soule, who had refused to abide by the decision of an arbitration committee appeared, it was the judgment of Friends that he “ought not to sit in monthly meetings as a member thereof until he hath made acknowledgement to friends Sattisfaction.” Before 1785, the men’s meeting had but four clerks: John Tucker from 1699 to 1751, Isaac Smith 1751–1762, Job Russell 1762–1774, and William Anthony Jr. 1774–1785. The first clerk of the women’s monthly meeting mentioned in the records is Hepzibah Hussey in 1770.30

The Dartmouth minutes are records of the monthly meeting business meetings, but they do give us hints of what took place in the Sunday (or in Quaker parlance First Day) and midweek meetings for worship, usually when Friends perceived that something was amiss. In Twelfth Month 1705 two Friends were appointed to speak with Hannah Jenny about offering vocal prayers that were “out of the unity of the meeting,” meaning that Friends found them improper or disturbing. Similarly, when in 12th Month 1742 Friends judged that Abigail Kirby “appear[ed] in publick Testimony Contrary to the advice of the monthly meeting” John Howland and Adam Mott were appointed “to Labour with her to persuade her to be silent.” Five years later when Peace Wood attended meeting and “uttered things which . . . we can no ways Joyn with,” a committee of seven Friends was appointed to talk with her. Their efforts were unsuccessful, since in 6th Month 1749 the men’s monthly meeting recorded that while there had “been much Labour and pains bestowed upon Peace Wood to bring her to a Sence of her outgoings but all Seems to work no effect on her,” it disowned her. In 1757 Peace apologized, however, and was restored to membership. Sometimes Friends were troubled as much by the manner of presentation as by the substance. In 4th Month 1766, the monthly meeting took up the case of Stephen Wilcox, who had “Appeared in this Meeting in a very Passionate Manner, Casting heavy Reflections on us, Saying that he believed we Should have fewer Testimones [sic] Amongst us, And that it was Pitty we Shou[l]d have any Except it be Some to Reprimand us for our Wickedness, and Stamping on the floor in a passionate manner and Grief and Sorrow of the Sincere in heart.” We also find confirmation of Dartmouth’s observance of the Quaker custom of standing when someone felt moved to offer prayer. To remain seated was considered an insult to the person who had offered the prayer. So when Hannah Gifford and Elizabeth Gifford refused to rise when Ann Gifford prayed in 1772, women Friends sent committees to labor with them. We find but one reference to sleeping in meeting, in the men’s minutes in Second Month 1784, which implies that either Dartmouth Friends heeded frequent exhortations to avoid drowsiness, or it did not trouble them.31

The Dartmouth minutes do give a sense of the doctrinal and theological vision of Friends. Central is the idea of “that of God in every one,” the Inward Light. Thus when they disowned Ebenezer Allen in Sixth Month 1706, they concluded that his misconduct stemmed from “for want of keeping In true Subjection to that princeple he made profesion of: towith the Sp[i]rit of truth In his own heart which Sperit will lead all them that are obediant to it out of Everey thing that is Contrary to the nature of it and Inconsistant with it.” Similarly, when they proceeded against John Howland in Twelfth Month 1712, they explained his “vain conversation” as the fruit of his “not herkning to friends nor to The teachings of ye Grace of God which would teach him and all me[n] to Live soberly in this present world.” In Ninth Month 1773, judging Abner Russell the father of a “Bastard Child,” they concluded that he was “not giving heed to the grace of God in his own heart, a Measure whereof is given to Every man to profit withal.” In Second Month 1775, when women Friends were considering Content Tucker for membership, they did so after finding “a Good principle in her.” Yet occasionally a Calvinist tone creeps into the minutes. Striking is the disownment of Holder Slocum for gaming, horse racing, and not attending meetings in Second Month 1768. Although repudiating him, they hoped that he would repent, but only “if it be Consistant with Divine pleasure.”

Satan was real to Dartmouth Friends. When William Soule was “So much overcome With Strong drink So that he hath abused and beat his wif Seaverall times . . . and threatned her with hard Speeches to that degree that it is thought it not Safe for her to live with him,” Friends disowned him in Sixth Month 1732. They recorded that he had “given Way to the temptation of the Wicked one.” When Benjmain Davol was disowned for premarital sex in Third Month 1765, he was judged as having “Given way to the Insinuations of the Evil one.” Peace Shearman explained her having a child too soon after marriage in 9th Month 1769 “by Giving way to the Tem[p]tation of the Adversary.”

Only once does a case of Dartmouth Friends confronting outright heresy appear in these records. On First Month 15, 1742, the men’s monthly meeting appointed a committee to deal with William Ricketson, who “of Late Entertained Certain Eronious notions Contrary to our principles.” Two months later, the monthly meeting concluded that further labor with Ricketson would be pointless and concluded to disown him. The actual statement of disownment on Fifth Month 19 detailed his heresy. He had “given Way to strange and wrong notions.” The first was that “Adam was in a better State after he had transgressed against the Command of God than he was before he was in before,” The second was that “from Adam to the Coming of Christ in the flesh the wickedest of Men brought as much honour to God as the Righteous.” Although Ricketson was apparently argumentative in advocating his ideas, no reference appears in the minutes to any other Friend embracing them. In Fourth Month 1766, Daniel Tripp, whom Oblong Monthly Meeting in New York had disowned for marrying out of meeting, was apparently causing problems in Dartmouth. Oblong Friends reported that he had “Set up a Separate Meeting” there, but he apparently had no impact at Dartmouth.32

Quakers saw themselves as called by God out of “the world” to be a “peculiar people,” manifesting by certain distinctive practices, their “walk” and “conversation,” the highest forms of Christian conduct. The nature of Quaker membership was evolving in the first decades of Dartmouth Monthly Meeting’s existence. Friends generally regarded the children of Friends as being members at birth, and by the 1740s this had been regularized as “birthright membership.” Such Friends retained it for the rest of their lives unless they forfeited it through misconduct. Friends saw membership as involving reciprocal obligations. Members individually committed themselves to abide by the Discipline, the meeting to help them in this and other ways. Thus in Ninth Month 1709, the men’s minutes show that it was the sense of the meeting that Robert Gifford being “a friends Child: is under the care and Custety of this meeting and ought to be visited as a friend.” Birthright membership meant that in every generation young people reached adulthood with no desire to be Quakers, did things that were at odds with Quaker rules, and faced disciplinary proceedings.33

Throughout the eighteenth century, some inhabitants of Dartmouth were “convinced of Truth,” and requested to be received into membership. This began with a committee interviewing them to gauge their sincerity and understanding of Quaker beliefs. If the report was favorable, then the meeting almost always accepted the committee’s recommendation. Typical is the language found in the women’s minutes for Eleventh Month 19, 1781: “The Friends that hath had the matter under their care concerning the Sencerity of Patience Austins request, Inform they have had Several Sollid opportunities with her and She appears Sinceare therein, and they think well of her being received,~This meeting accepts of Said report and do Receive her into membership and under the care of this meeting.”34

One frustrating characteristic of Friends in this period was their indifference to statistics. While keeping voluminous records, they showed no interest in counting just how many members they had. One estimate gives Dartmouth Monthly Meeting about 1,250 members in 1777. A visiting Friend in 1758 estimated 800 people at a meeting he had attended. Another visitor in 1766 thought 2,000 attended a meeting at Apponegansett when he preached. Nor can we easily estimate the numbers affiliated with given particular preparative meetings. Rochester town records show 37 Quaker households there in the 1730s.35

A significant proportion of the minutes of both the men’s and women’s meetings concern marriages, both those “in meeting” and out, the latter a violation of the rules. The minute books give a good sense of the process of marriage under the care of the meeting. When two Friends wished to marry, they appeared before both the men’s and women’s monthly meetings and declared their intention to wed. A committee, usually of two, was appointed separately by the two meetings to ascertain the “clearness” of the man and woman. This was not a form of premarital counseling. The committee made no judgments about compatibility. Instead, they made sure that both parties were free of engagements or commitments to others, and presumably were sensitive to hints about a need for haste in marrying because a baby was on the way. For younger Friends, the consent of parents and guardians was also required—the age at which this was dispensed with is unclear. But if Friends thought a parental objection unreasonable, they ignored it. Thus when in 1730 Eliashib Smith and Audrey Gifford wished to marry and her father Christopher Gifford objected, Dartmouth Friends asked the quarterly meeting for guidance. When it responded that “his reason against their proceeding in marriage is of no weight or vallue,” the couple was allowed to proceed. If the investigation revealed no impediments, then the couple appeared before the men’s and women’s monthly meetings, reaffirmed their intention to marry, and were given permission to do so. This was usually referred to as “passing meeting.” The marriage would usually take place at the conclusion of a regular midweek meeting for worship. A certificate would have been prepared in advance and those present invited to sign as witnesses. The certificate in its entirety would also be copied into the monthly meeting record of marriages.36

Most monthly meeting business involved dealing with members who had violated Quaker rules. These regulations were embodied in what Friends called “The Discipline.” New England Friends had first codified their version in 1708, although they made occasional additions to it, such as forbidding gravestones in 1712 and the wearing of periwigs in 1722. Generally, its provisions followed the lead of Friends in London, although there were exceptions. Monthly meetings had their own manuscript copies. Men Friends paid eighteen pounds and ten shillings to have their copy transcribed in Fifth Month 1763. A year later, in Tenth Month 1764, appointing a “Standing Committee,” the men noted that they acted “pursuant to the late Book of Discipline in page 138.” In 1766, when Coaxet Monthly Meeting was set off from Dartmouth, Dartmouth Friends agreed to bear the cost of making a copy for them. Thriftily, when changes were made, the whole book was not recopied. In Seventh Month 1772, when the monthly meeting “Received a Transcript of Several matters Concluded on as Rules of our Society at our Last yearly meeting,” it appointed two Friends “to Place the Above Said rules under Proper heads in our Book of Discipline.” New England Yearly Meeting was the first to put its Discipline into print, in 1785.37

At the front line of enforcing the Discipline were the meeting officers variously referred to in the minutes as “visitors,” “inspectors,” and finally “overseers.” It appears that the original expectation was that these Friends would be proactive. At the monthly meeting held Third Month 22, 1704, six men were “chosen to Inspect into the lives and Conversations of friends for the half year insuing.” That meant visiting families individually. Friends usually accepted such oversight. The visitors reported in Eighth Month 1708 “in their accounts of their visits to this meeting: that they find friends Caind [kind] and do take their: labour of love In visiting them Caindly [kindly].” Three years later, in Seventh Month 1711, the visitors reported to the women’s monthly meeting they “for ye most part were Kindly Excepted; & where any thing was amiss & spoken to there seems to be a Spirit of Condecention ~ Signifying yt they would indeavour it should be soe no more.” But it was sometimes thankless work. In the women’s monthly meeting First Month 17, 1729, the visitors reported: “their visits in a general way were kindly accepted but in Some families so but were Rather reflected upon.” In Second Month 1768, the men’s minutes show: “This Meeting hath Made Trial for a Choice of Visitors, and finding the work of Great Importance, but no friend finding the weight of that Service laid on them at present,” it could make no appointment. Eventually Friends were found for the work, but they faced criticism. In First Month 1773, two of them complained that David Smith had called them “fals men.” Only in Third Month 1785 did the monthly meeting offer overseers a job description:

As the service of the Overseers is not

pointed out to them, in any manner particular

in the Minute of their appointment, the follow-

ing is concluded to be a necessary addition for

that purpose, viz, They are desired to meet to-

gether frequently by themselves, in as retired a man-

ner as may be, and endeavour to center down to their

own Gifts and Measures in order to get under a due

Sense of the Weight of the Work assigned them; and

under this Engagement of mind to keep up a careful

Watch and Inspection over themselves and the several

Members of this Meeting to see that the Cause

and Testimony of Truth be kept up and maintain-

ed and where any shall appear faulty or defective

or walk disorderly, tenderly to treat and Labour with

them, in order to discover to them the Evil of their

ways; but if such cannot be reclaimed and

they appear manifestly Guilty of the Matter in

charge, that then Information in Writing be

brought to the Meeting of the State of the

Fact and Circumstances attending it and they

are particularly desired to watch and guard

against, and discourage, that backbiting,

slandering spirit so prevalent among us, ma-

king report to this Meeting of the progress

of their Service from Time to Time.

When the overseers learned of a transgression of the Discipline, they made some sort of investigation that normally involved visiting the offender. Doubtless cases where suspicions proved unfounded never made it into any record. And at times, overseers tried to prevent transgressions, as when they heard that a member was contemplating marrying out of meeting. But if an accusation or rumor proved to have some basis, then the overseers reported it to the preparative meeting. It, in turn, weighed the case, and if it concluded that the complaint was justified, reported it to the monthly meeting. The monthly meeting then appointed a committee of at least two Friends, sometimes more, to “labor” with the offender and bring him or her to see the fault and make an acknowledgement of wrongdoing to the meeting for it. Both the men’s and women’s minutes contain numerous examples. The offender was expected to appear in person and read the document. And acceptance was not automatic. Thus when Mary Wing submitted a paper in Sixth Month 1753, the monthly meeting judged it not “ful enough.” She tried again in the next month, but the monthly meeting still chose to “Suspend the matter till we have Some further Proof of her Sincerity.” When the monthly meeting accepted an acknowledgement, the process was not complete until it had been read again at the close of a meeting for worship.

If the labors of the committee were unsuccessful and the offender proved obdurate, then the monthly meeting would proceed to disownment. A formal statement would be drawn up, laying out the offense and the attempts of Friends to bring about repentance, culminating with the declaration that the offender was no longer a member of “our Society.” Illustrative is the disownment of Stephen Wilcox in 1770:

Whereas Stephen Wilcox of Dartmouth in the County of Bristol

in the Province of the Massachusetts Bay in New England, Having

been Educated under the Care of friends, and has long made

Profession with us, and in times past bore a Publick Testimony

which was Acceptable Among us, Yet Nevertheless with Sorrow we

find that thro’ the Prevailence of the Adversary, and disregarding

the divine Principal of Life in his own heart, he has So deviated

from the way of Truth, and the Profession he has made as to

fall into Several Reproachful Evils & disorders, particularly

in that he being Intrusted by a Friend of Falmouth to Carry Some

money to William Smith and Converted the Same to his own use

whereby he betrayed his Trust, and very Much deceived the S,d

friend, for the want of which money the Said Wm Smith hath

Exhibited his Complaint to this meeting, and likewise the

Said Stephen is found in the Neglect of that Indispensable duty

of attending Religious Meetings of Divine Worship and discipline

And friends having in Great love & tenderness toward him Re-

-peatedly Visited him & Labour’d with him in order to discover to

him the Evil of his ways, and Reclaim him from his outgoings

But our Labour of Love not obtaining the desired Effect to

the Satisfaction of this Meeting, Therefore for the Clearing of [Truth erased]

the precious Truth and friends from the Reproach of Such Evils and

defective Members this Meeting is Concerned to Give this forth as

a Testimony Against him, and do hereby Publickly disown the

Said Stephen Wilcox from being a member of our Society, and

from under the Care of this meeting, Sincerely desiring (if

it be Consistant with Divine pleasure) that he may yet Return

from the Evil of his ways, and by an unfeigned Repentance

and Reformation, be Restored to the way of Truth & Salvation.

Given forth by our Monthly Meeting of friends held in Dartm.o

the 19th of the 3,d month 1770,

And Signed in & by order of Said Meeting by Job Russell Clerk

Several features of this statement are noteworthy. First, Stephen’s misconduct is explained as the result of allowing “the Adversary” to prevail, instead of heeding “the divine Principal of Life in his own heart.” Second, the specific offenses are named. Third, the public is assured that Friends have made efforts to make Stephen see the error of his ways. Finally, it is made clear that Stephen is not being cast out just because he is a sinner, but rather that it is done to uphold the reputation of Friends, “for the Clearing of the precious Truth and friends from the Reproach of such Evils and defective Members.” Disownments could be appealed to the quarterly and yearly meeting, but appeals were rare, and reversals even rarer.

Some of the offenses that brought disownment would have brought sanctions in other religious bodies. Thus in Twelfth Month 1774, women Friends proceeded against Elizabeth Tucker for the “Reproachful Evil of taking Spirituous Liquor to excess.” In Third Month 1766, the overseers complained that Benjamin and Francis Allen “hath Allowed of fiddling and dancing in their Houses.” A decade later, in Second Month 1776, Benjamin Shearman was proceeded against for going to “a place of frallicking.” Friends likewise testified against those who engaged in horse racing, fighting, theft, slander and defamation, “vile speech,” and any form of dishonesty. Friends showed little tolerance for premarital sex. They kept track of the time between marriage and the birth of the first child and proceeded when it was clear that conception was prior to marriage. And they likewise disowned women who bore bastard children and men who were proved to be the fathers of them.

More Friends, however, lost their membership because they offended against distinctive Quaker rules and practices. By far the most common reason for disownment by Dartmouth Friends was marriage without the consent of the meeting, or “marriage out of unity.” This might be to a non-Quaker or to another Friend in a non-Quaker ceremony, usually by a justice of the peace. It was equally an offense for parents to consent to such marriages, or for any Friend to attend the ceremony. We get a glimpse into how Friends tried to convince doubters of the rightness of Quaker positions in the report of Friends appointed to labor with Jabez Barker, Jr., who in 1771 allowed the double wedding of his daughters to take place in his house. They had “a Long Conferrance with him on that subject. Endeavouring (according to our Abilities) to Convince him of his Error therein we likewise Shewd [showed] him a Coppy of part of a minute made in our yearly meeting in the year 1708. Which we think is very Clear against Such Conduct as his, yet he would by no means Condemn the Same, nor yet own that he had broaken any order of Friends, but used many Words tending to Justifie himself therein.”38

The other Quaker “peculiarity” that preoccupied Friends was their “testimony against all wars and fighting.” Pacifism had not been a firm doctrine for the first generation of Friends. But by the early eighteenth century, it was the rule that Friends could not bear arms, even in self-defense, or provide material support for soldiers and armies. Some cases were clear. Friends could not train with the militia, or stand guard, or do anything that involved submitting themselves to military discipline. Likewise they could not voluntarily supply goods for military use. Conscientious Friends submitted to fines or even went to jail rather than violate this testimony of Friends. Such cases were more common in wartime, but militia musters were also held in peacetime, and Friends found themselves fined or imprisoned then as well. Nicholas Lapham’s account of his experiences during Queen Anne’s war, recorded in the men’s minutes of Ninth Month 19, 1711, is unusually vivid:

I being Empressed [Impressed] this Last Summor 1711 in an

expeditian to go to Canada to war wch I refused

for Concience sake for I beleive yt I ought not

To take up ye Carnal sword against any peo Nation

or people & some time after I was had to James

Sissons before Colenal [Colonel] Church & there was

an Order writ & read to mee wherein I was

Commanded to go to Rocksbury [Roxbury] & Commit my selfe

to Colenall [Colonel] William Dudley wch I Could not find

freedom To do neighther: & after that I was

Warned go to the Castle Island Lying near

To Boston to take up armes wch I refused also

and one [on?] ye 16th Day of ye 6th Month Leightenant [Lieutenant]

John Akin came to my house wth severall with

him & for aid & Sd akin Took Mee by force

& Dragged mee out of my House & then

Commanded his aid [aide] to assist him wch they Did &

Took mee and set mee on Horce Back [horseback] & held

Mee on & Carried mee to Timothy Maxfields

& then committed mee to the Custidy of John

Briggs Insign [Ensign] who carried mee ye next Day

To Bridg[e]water & ye next Day to the Castle wch was

the Last Day of ye week being near night I was had

Before ye Captain of ye Castle & he asked mee

Whither I would take up armes I told him

That I should not take up ye Carnal weapon

John Commanded the officer to take Care of mee

til Second Day and then I was brought before

ye Captain of ye Castle again the 2d Day morning & he

asked Me whither I would work there I told him

no for wch I was put into a Close place Called ye

Hole or Dungeon & there to be kept without

Victuals or Drink but was Let out again the same

Day near sun set & there was still kept at ye Castle

& often urged to work but could not although told

that If I would work yt [that] I Should be released in a little

time but If not I might be put aboard some man

of war but I Could not med[d]le w & at ye end of 4

Weeks & 2 dayes I was released & brought of [off?] & set

at Liberty without paying or giving any Money.

But not all Friends were equally committed. In wartime especially, there were always some who chose to bear arms or pay war taxes.39

By the early eighteenth century, Friends increasingly distinguished themselves by their commitment to “plainness.” Just what it meant to be a “plain Friend” is incapable of precise definition, but Friends were agreed that it meant avoiding “worldly,” fashionable dress, and using the “plain language” of thee and thy to single persons. So in First Month 1721 men Friends took up the case of Benjamin Soule “who is gone from the order of friends into the fassion of ye world in his apparel.” Twelve years later, in Tenth Month 1733, they testified against Henry Tucker who had “let him selfe into a Liberty that is not agreeable to our Holy Profession in wearing divers sorts of Perriwigs and his hat set up on three sides like the vain Custom of ye World and also Speaking of words not agreeable to our profession.” In Third Month 1756, Christopher Gifford Jr. was refused permission to lay his marriage intentions before the meeting because of “his wearing fashionabl Cloaths.” Women Friends were likewise sensitive to these transgressions, although the nature of them is frustratingly vague. Typical is the notation in the women’s minutes for Eighth Month 21, 1780, that Mary Smith was “dressing and fashioning herself out of Plainess that our principles leads to.”40

A source of periodic difficulty for Friends was their refusal to take oaths or swear in court. Friends justified this stance by citing the injunction of Christ as found in Matthew 5:34. Their position was that Christians should speak the truth at all times, under all circumstances, and oaths implied that people spoke truth only when sworn. In Third Month 1702, Dartmouth Friends noted that the provincial oath requirement prevented Friends from serving on juries as well as in other official roles. Parliament in 1696 had allowed Friends to offer affirmations instead of oaths, but this act did not apply to the colonies. Only in 1744 did Massachusetts, after petitions from Dartmouth Friends, follow suit. Even then it did not apply to provincial offices, effectively disqualifying Friends from holding them, or in criminal cases.41

The theme besides enforcing the rules that emerges from the minutes is that of community. Friends submitted themselves to live by a Discipline that other Friends would enforce because they believed that it was for their spiritual good. And in turn Friends aided each other when necessary. At the monthly meeting of Seventh Month 1706, the meeting agreed to a “contribuation” to Isaac Vinson of Rochester, whose house had burned. The monthly meeting had overseers of the poor who were charged with reporting regularly.42 Friends did not allow poor and aged members to become public charges; meetings were responsible for them. Thus in Twelfth Month 1747, the men’s meeting noted that Anne Shaw, an aged Friend, was “not capable of helping her selfe as need Requires” and had asked the meeting’s aid. It appointed three Friends “to take some account of what she has to help her selfe withal and to see that she has a suitable place to Resid at and to have the oversight of all things necessary.” Sometimes the meeting intervened to defend the disadvantaged. In Second Month 1712, two Friends were appointed to “take care” that the widow Sarah Allen’s son did not sell property on which she was dependent “with out good provision for her lively hood.” Dartmouth Friends were Yankees, however, and were like their non-Quaker neighbors in occasionally disputing who was responsible for poor Friends. Thus in Third Month 1769 a report was made of an ongoing dispute with Sandwich Monthly Meeting whether it or Dartmouth should care for a poor Friend named Rachel Soule.

Friends gave attention to the young. From time to time the monthly meeting referred to schools, as in Eighth Month 1723 when two Friends were appointed to “look for a friend School master that is capable to read write and cypher.” Half a century later, this was still a concern, when men Friends on Ninth Month 20, 1779, following an admonition from the quarterly meeting, appointed a committee “on the weighty Subject of Erecting Schools for the better Education of our youths.” From time to time the minutes mention “Youth’s Meeting.” But one wonders if these occasions were devoted largely to warning young people against temptations and diversions. The men’s minutes, for example, show that in Eighth Month 1711 three Friends were appointed “to Draw up a Testimony against friends Children going together and wres[t]ling on first Dayes.” A year later, in Tenth Month 1712, the visitors reported mournfully that they had “visited some famelyes of friends and they find things out of Ordor amongst some of friends children and of Some of them they have hope but of other Some they have but lettel or no hope.”43

Friends did not always live in harmony. Doubtless most personal disputes were resolved informally, but occasionally the meeting’s intervention was requested. The Discipline was clear—when Friends could not resolve differences themselves, they were obligated to ask the meeting to arbitrate rather than resorting to the courts. Often the sources of difficulty are left vague in the minutes. The men’s minutes of Third Month 1704 are a good example: “Jonathan Devel William Soul John Lapham Jnr William wood and Judah Smith and Robert Gifford are chosen to hear and determin the deference [between] nathaneel howland and John Peckham and Jacob Mott Increase allin and Stephen Willcock are chosen to hear and determin the deferance between Eliezar Smith and Nathaneel howland.” To refuse to abide by the findings of an arbitration was a disownable offense, as this case from Third Month 1771 shows:

The Greatest part of the Committee Appointed to Inquire into the

Complaint of Benja, Thos and Peleg Shearman Against Humphry

Smith report as followeth, which is accepted

According to appointment of the Monthly Meeting we had

Humphry Smith & the Shearmans together to Inspect into the Controversy

Subsisting between them, and have to Inform, that firstly Sd Smith

Queried if Gospel order had been kept to, and by Inquiring we found that

before they Entered their Complaint to the meeting one of the overseers

taking a friend with him went to Sd Smith with Thos Shearman on the

affair, which appear’d to us according to Good order, then Sd Smith

Demanded a Coppy of the Complaint which after Consideration we

Thought best for him not to have without he would promise to make

no use thereof in the Law, which promise he Refused, Then we offer’d that

a friend Should wait with him as long as he thought Proper to peruse

and Consider the Complaint, and he might Call in friends to advise with

but not Suffer any Coppy to be taken, and then Give us an Answer

which offer Sd Smith Refused Complying with- Then we refer’d Sd

Smith to Give us Some reasons . . . why he Refused to Leave the

the affair to men, by he declined giving us any, for we found the Shear-

-mans would Leave it to men by them Equally Chosen or the Meeting might

Choose them and they would be bound to abide Judgment, and the Shearmans

Say there is a Number of Judicious Neighbours are Ready to Say that Smiths

Evidence in Court Contradicts the Known matters of fact but yet they

offer’d to Settle the whole affare by friends as aforesaid, and we have

made Much Inquiry in Regard to its touching Titles of Land and find

that Said Smiths and Shearmans written Titles Jointly Concur and the dispute

is only in Settling the Line, and our Judgment is that where friends hold

Land under Vouchers not to Compel them to Leave to Arbitration, but

in this Controversy we find that the Shearmans are willing that a num-

-ber of Surveyors Should take Said Smiths Deed and by the Return

therein, Run the Line as they shall think Just & Right, and they will

be bound to abide by the Same, which Appears to us that the Shearmans

Contend, for no Land that Sd Smith holds under a Voucher, therefore our

Judgment is that Said Smith ought to Leave the Controversy to men

or Render Sufficient Reason why, which he declines — —

Occasionally disputes were more personal. The women’s minutes of Fourth Month 1782 tell of some vague difficulty between Silvester Howland (a woman) and Sarah Howland. It was resolved with both promising not “in any wise to hurt each other Cherrecter.” As a mark of their sincerity, they asked that “all Evidences, or other things committed to writeing respecting the above difficulty . . . be committed to the fire.”

Quaker families were not free of problems, which these records occasionally reveal. Inheritance disputes took place. In Third Month 1732, the men’s meeting rendered its judgment in a disagreement between “John Whitely and his wives Children.” In Ninth Month 1759, meeting arbitrators were called on to “determine the Contraversy between William Sisson and his brother Jonathan.” The arbitrators decided, after consulting the brothers’ father’s will, that William was to pay Jonathan one pound fourteen shillings two pence and one farthing annually toward the support of their sister Hannah. Marital problems, if they became public enough, became a matter for the meeting. In Fifth Month 1763, Friends disowned Abigail (Allen) Macumber. It was bad enough that she had “married in the common way of other people” rather than in meeting, but she now refused to live with her husband. At least one case of domestic violence involved a woman assaulting a man. Women Friends testified against Elisabeth Howland in Eighth Month 1777 on finding that she had “fallen into bodily Strife with her father-in-law Isaac Howland and abused him.”

Friends and the Larger World

The previous section described how the Quaker refusal to bear arms or swear oaths brought difficulties with town, county, and provincial authorities from time to time. But this was not the only way that Friends refused to conform to the expectations of the larger society.

Dartmouth Friends lived with the reality that Congregationalism was the established church of Massachusetts. A 1692 statute, amended in 1693, required every town to have a “learned orthodox minister, or ministers.” If a town refused to make such an appointment, a quarter sessions court could do so. And all residents of the town, dissenters included, were taxed for the support of these ministers.44

Dartmouth was a stronghold of Quakers and Baptists, and the town ignored the 1692 and 1693 laws. So in 1702 the General Court, noting that “in some few towns and districts within this province, divers of the inhabitants are Quakers, and other irreligious averse to the publick worship of God and to a learned and orthodox ministry,” took another tack. The Court of General Sessions “was empowered to appoint freeholders to assess for the selectmen and require town constables to collect the tax.” Four years later, the General Court gave itself the power to appoint orthodox ministers for the recalcitrant towns, and in 1708 sent Rev. Samuel Hunt to Dartmouth. His salary of 50 pounds was added to the provincial taxes due from the town.45

For Friends, refusal to pay “priest’s wages” was a matter of conscience. Others in Dartmouth shared Quaker reservations. In 1703, Philip Cummings, a local constable, had been jailed because of his refusal to collect this particular tax; he died a prisoner. In 1708, two Friends, Thomas Taber Jr. and Deliverance Smith, who were both town selectmen and assessors, were sent to jail for refusing to assess the tax. An appeal to Governor Joseph Dudley and Friends in London, however, brought their release by Dudley’s order. There the matter rested until 1722, when the General Court added 100 pounds to Dartmouth’s provincial assessment to pay the Rev. Mr. Hunt’s salary. Dartmouth’s selectmen, Philip Taber and John Akin (the former a Friend), refused to assess the tax. Instead, the town meeting voted to raise 700 pounds for the selectmen’s legal expenses and to send an appeal to the king. It also named a Friend, Nathaniel Howland, as the town’s minister, knowing that he would refuse a salary. In fact, Taber and Akin spent eighteen months in jail before the Crown overturned the law. In 1728 and 1732, Massachusetts relented to the extent of exempting Friends and Baptists from church rates.46

Other denominations occasionally appear in the Dartmouth records, usually in the context of their drawing Friends away. Friends did not consider the worship of other churches to be wrong in itself. But other churches had ministers who received at least minimal support for their preaching. To attend their services even casually was to compromise Friends’ testimony in favor of a “free Gospel ministry.” Friends did not recognize a right to resign one’s membership. A desire to do so would have been treated as evidence of disunity, itself an offense. So it was that in Ninth Month 1761, men Friends noted with alarm: “We understand that Elihu Bowen that took a distaste Against Friends Principles and is Joined to the Baptists, or is about to Join with them.” Paid ministry was not the only thing that Friends found unacceptable about other denominations. In Fourth 1776 the men’s minutes show a report from the overseers that Peleg Gifford, Jr., “hath been to a Baptice meeting and undertook to Emitate them in Singing which we think very unbecoming to one of our profession.” Apparently such behavior appeared more frequently during the American Revolution. In Seventh Month 1777 women Friends joined the men in appointing a committee “to treat and labour with those families that are inclining to freequant or attend Such meetings as are not in Unity with friends.”

Native Americans continued to live in and around Dartmouth in the eighteenth century, and they appear occasionally in these records. In Eighth Month 1703, the men’s meeting appointed two Friends to investigate Ebenezer Allen’s treatment of an Indian called Jeremiah. Two months later they reported that Allen “did beat and abuse the Sd Indian as the report was.” Friends “long laboured In Love and much tenderness to show him . . . his rashness and Eror” and Allen finally expressed contrition. In Sixth Month 1730 “one Thomas Cesar an Indian” submitted a written application for membership. The next month two Friends appointed to make “Enquiry” into his “life and Conversation” reported that they had found “nothing but that it hath been Orderly” and he was received into membership. In Seventh Month 1733 the men recorded that it had paid ten pounds in doctor’s bills for Thomas and had collected more to meet the needs of his family.

Africans also appear in the Dartmouth records. Like their neighbors, some Dartmouth Friends were enslavers until the time of the American Revolution. Some early Quakers expressed qualms about slavery. George Fox, visiting Barbados in 1672, where many Friends held slaves, urged Friends to treat them kindly. In 1688, Friends in Germantown, Pennsylvania, sent an antislavery statement to Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, and other Friends including Elihu Coleman, of neighboring Nantucket, attacked slavery as incompatible with Christianity. Before 1750, however, most Friends did not openly question enslavement, but instead embraced the concept of “Christian slavery”—that master and slave could live together in a mutually beneficial relationship, with masters treating their slaves kindly and fairly. Friends in Newport and Providence were actively involved in the slave trade.47

The first appearance of a slave in the Dartmouth records is horrifying, and Dartmouth Friends found it disturbing enough that they called a special monthly meeting to deal with it on Third Month 30, 1711. Abigail Allen, the wife of the Ebenezer who had abused the Indian Jeremiah, had consented to and encouraged “the Creuell and unmercyfull whipping or beating of her negro manservant he being striped naked and hanged up by the hands,” the abuse almost certainly causing his death. Friends disowned her, pronouncing her actions “not only UnChrist[i]an but inheuman” and were “Consarned to tes[t]efy to the world that wee do ut[e]rly desowne all Such actions and all who are found In them and perticurly the person above named.” Seven months later, she asked to be readmitted to membership, but Friends were unconvinced that she was sufficiently contrite. Not until 1714, when Abigail submitted a paper in which she confessed her “hardness of heart,” did she regain membership.48

Whether the Allen case affected subsequent events is unclear, but in First Month 1716 “some friends” asked the men’s meeting whether “it be agreeable to truth to purchase slaves and keep them term of Life.” The meeting referred the question to the quarterly meeting. That autumn, in the monthly meeting of Tenth Month, after the “matter relating to purchasing slaves” was “agetated,” “the most of ye meeting” concluded “that it would be most agreeable to our holy profession to forbear for time to come to be any wayes concerned in purchasing any slaves.” Again the question went to the quarterly meeting, and thence to the yearly meeting. But the yearly meeting was not ready for radical action. It issued a mild statement urging Friends “to wait for the wisdom of God how to discharge themselves in that weighty affair,” and advised them not to import more slaves, but did not forbid it. Thereafter the subject disappears from the Dartmouth records for forty-three years.49

Meanwhile, New England Yearly Meeting was slowly moving toward a stronger antislavery stance. In 1743 and 1744, it discussed slavery and warned Friends against buying imported slaves. By 1760, following the lead of London and Philadelphia yearly meetings, it warned against involvement in the slave trade. Ten years later, it made selling a slave an offense against the Discipline and appointed a committee to encourage members to liberate their slaves. Three years later, the yearly meeting took the final step of ordering members to liberate those they were enslaving, except those who could not otherwise care for themselves.50

Dartmouth Friends followed yearly meeting policy. In 1760, they investigated reports Jedidiah Wood had had sold two Indian children to Nova Scotia. Four years later, they confronted Isaac Howland Jr. not only about marrying out of unity but his “Practice of the Slave Trade,” disowning him when he refused to make a satisfactory acknowledgement. Early in 1772, the monthly meeting appointed a committee “to visit those that Posess Slaves.” In Seventh Month, they reported despite their earnest efforts, six Friends were still enslavers. Three agreed to emancipate those they held, but three were recalcitrant. The monthly meeting labored with them for the next four years, apparently out of a conviction that keeping them in membership made it more likely they would ultimately do the right thing. As late as 1784, however, the monthly meeting found “two cases that remain in an unsettled way.” The Massachusetts Supreme Court had ruled in 1781 that slavery was incompatible with the state’s constitution, but recent research suggests that the process of abolition both began earlier and continued longer than has been previously understood.51

After emancipation was complete at Dartmouth, Friends grappled with its implications. In 1777, the monthly meeting asked the quarterly meeting’s advice about buying slaves in order to liberate them. The quarterly meeting gave its blessing, so long as the liberator consulted with Friends. In 1783, for reasons that are unclear, the monthly meeting followed quarterly meeting instructions in appointing a committee to visit “those who have heretofore held Slaves among us, and those that have been so held.” The committee reported that they had done so, and “Endeavoured In Love and tenderness to Impress their minds with a Sense of Religious duty, and laboured for a proper & Suitable Adjustment of the matter.” But Friends were apparently not committed to full equality. In January 1784, “being informed that the Black people that attended Our meeting for Worship have at sometimes not been suitably provided with Seats,” it appointed a committee to do so.52


The American Revolution affected Dartmouth Friends. From other sources, we know that it disrupted the maritime economy. It brought invasion by British forces. It offered temptations in the form of privateering and “prize goods.” And it brought problems not only in the form of the usual challenges Friends faced in wartime but also in adjustment to a new government.53

Exactly two months after the confrontations at Lexington and Concord, at the monthly meeting of Sixth Month 19, 1775, Dartmouth faced its first case of military service. “We are informed that Joseph Trafford is Inlisted in to the war or militia and been Labor’d with by one of the overseers,” the men recorded. Trafford had refused to change course, so “for the Clearing of truth” they disowned him. Still, Friends apparently remained hopeful that the conflict would not prove too disruptive, as in Eighth Month they gave certificates to Friends in England for John Howland and John Williams, who were “about to go there on account of business.”

As in past wars, some Dartmouth Friends felt it right to take up arms. A shipping center, Dartmouth offered dual temptations, not only serving in the militia or the Continental Army, but also joining the crews of privateers. So in First Month 1777 Friends acted quickly against Rhalf Allen when they learned that he had “Inlisted & gone on bord of a Vessell of War.” Friends continued to deal with such cases until the end of the war, showing little sympathy with those who felt it right to fight. When Stephen Mott enlisted in the spring of 1777, Friends recorded that they had tried to “Reclaim him from the Evil of his ways.” Two months later, they disowned William Russell for “Inlist[ing] into the wars,” which they deemed “Reproachfull to our Society.” At times arms-bearing Friends elaborated their misconduct. Early in 1779, the overseers reported that Peleg Gifford Jr. had “appear’d in a War Like manner with his Gun in order to Stand Wach with others of the Militia and also been found with others Shoouting at a Turkey set up for that purpos.”54

The monthly meeting also took a firm stand against supplying anything that might be used for warlike purposes. When in Tenth month 1775 the overseers reported that Josiah Wood “hath been in the Practice of firing up and mending Guns for the Use of war,” they sent a committee to labor with him. Initially “he gave them Incouragement of Desisting,” and even submitted an acknowledgement, but in Third Month 1776 the meeting learned that “he Still continues in the practice of mending guns in this time of public Commotion.” This time he refused to make satisfaction, and the monthly meeting disowned him. Other Friends were more conscientious. Early in 1776 John Williams appeared and confessed that “he Some time past Inconsiderately fixed and sold Some straps for the use of Solder[s]s in [carrying] their warlike Stores but going uneasy therein Desisted from Suppl[y]ing them in any such matters.” The meeting accepted his acknowledgement.55

Generally, the war appears less often in the minutes of the women’s monthly meeting. A woman Friend reported that she had not been able to attend quarterly meeting early in 1777 because of the “great Commotions.” But one aspect of Quaker behavior during the war that women Friends closely monitored was the temptation to indulge in the use of “prize goods.”56

A feature of eighteenth-century naval warfare was privateering: governments giving private ship owners and captains “letters of marque” to capture enemy merchant ships. The ships and their cargoes would be sold, often at bargain prices, and the proceeds divided among the owners and crews. Friends had a longstanding testimony against dealing in “prize goods” as the fruits of war. Nevertheless, some Friends gave in to temptation. Sugar was a special problem, and women Friends faced it as much as men, doubtless because they were the usual purchasers. When confronted, some Friends acknowledged that they had “Insideratly Purchashed Or pertook . . . of those goods called prize goods taken by War and Violence.” But others refused and were disowned. In one case, six Dartmouth Friends were accused of joining others “in purchasing and Owning a Vessel that was Taken in the War, or by way of Violence.” The Friends answered that they were “Ignorant that She was Such a Vessel.” Although the report of the committee to investigate is missing from the minutes, it appears that the meeting accepted the explanation, as the matter was dropped. The meeting was less tolerant of the conduct of Weston Smith, whom it disowned at the end of the war for having sailed on a vessel “which took a Vessel by Force of Armes,” even though he had been “precaussioned” by Friends before he embarked.57

The overthrow of royal government presented Dartmouth Friends with other problems. Once the war began, Friends withdrew from town affairs. Local patriots were prone to regard them as Tories; Dartmouth’s Congregational minister, Rev. Samuel West, questioned whether pacifists were really Christians. On the other hand, such a reputation did not protect against depredations at British hands. In September 1778 a British squadron descended on the town, destroying ships in the harbor and plundering and burning onshore. At least one Friend, Elihu Mosher, was taken prisoner. Unsurprisingly, in the next year at least thirty Quaker families left for New York.58

The draft was not as much of a problem for Dartmouth Friends as might have been anticipated. The new state militia law exempted Friends who had been members before April 19, 1775, although occasionally Friends fell afoul of special calls for troops. In 1779 Seth Huddleston of Dartmouth went to jail rather than serve.59 But there were two other problems, oaths and taxes.

Oaths were an old headache for Friends. A 1778 Massachusetts law required all elected officials to take an oath of loyalty. Friends objected that that required them to take sides, and New England Yearly Meeting ordered Friends to refuse it. That meant that Friends could not hold any elective office, although they continued to send petitions to Boston.60

A number of Dartmouth Friends were caught up in the one schism to affect New England Yearly Meeting in the eighteenth century. The war meant the imposition of taxes to fund it. Friends had no objection to taxes in principle and did not cease paying them with the overthrow of royal government. But taxes imposed specifically to fund the war were a problem. And in 1780, desperate to raise more men for the Continental Army, Massachusetts passed a new law, requiring Quakers to pay a fine or provide a substitute when drafted. If substitutes were not supplied, then the town was subject to a fine of 300 pounds. Meanwhile, officials would collect fines from refusing Quakers by seizing their property. Most Dartmouth Friends chose to suffer distraint rather than yield.61

Even before the imposition of the “Quaker tax,” a Friend in the neighboring town of Rochester had proposed a different course. Timothy Davis in 1776 had published a pamphlet in which he argued that Christ’s injunction to “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” meant that Friends should pay taxes of all kinds. Unlike the Free Quakers in Newport and Philadelphia, who actively supported the Revolution, Davis was a pacifist. He simply believed that paying taxes even specifically used for war was consistent with Quaker principles. New England Yearly Meeting disagreed, and Davis was disowned in 1778. He and his supporters responded by separating to form what they called the New Society of Friends. While most of the seceders came from Sandwich Monthly Meeting, Davis found support in Dartmouth, as a series of disownments for attending “separate meetings” beginning in 1779 shows.62

Dartmouth Monthly Meeting thus emerged from the Revolution battered but intact. It had survived invasion, internal divisions, and the suspicion and hostility of neighbors. If the minutes of the monthly meetings of men and women are reliable evidence, Friends there had upheld Quakerism in all of its distinctive features, no matter how trying or unpopular they might be. And they remained committed to doing so. Significantly, at the last monthly meeting recorded in the first book of women’s records, four Friends were “appointed to Labour with the Members of this meeting for the Reviveal of Plainness,” and to remove “other defects.”63


Historians and genealogists everywhere should be grateful to the Dartmouth Historical and Arts Society, which has digitized and made available Dartmouth Monthly Meeting records 1699–1968. Their web site should be consulted to see the original minute books published here, as well as birth, death, and marriage records. They have been expertly transcribed under the direction of Andrea Marcovici. Robert E. Harding, the president of the Dartmouth Historical and Arts Society, was uniformly encouraging. Aaron Rubinstein, Head, Special Collections and University Archives, at the

W.E.B. Du Bois Library at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, which houses the New England Yearly Meeting archives, rapidly supplied a copy of minutes of the Meeting for Sufferings in 1782. My colleague Michael Birkel of the Earlham School of Religion suggested parallels between William Ricketson and the Ranters.