The meetinghouse, viewed from Watchung Ave.


Rahway & Plainfield Friends (Quaker) Meeting

(Rahway & Plainfield Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends)

225 Watchung Avenue
Corner of Watchung Avenue & East 3rd Street
Plainfield, NJ 07060
(908) 757-5736

Meeting for Worship - Sunday 10:30 AM and Wednesday 7:00 PM Meeting for Business - 3rd Sunday of every month at rise of Meeting for Worship First Day (Sunday) School -- 10:30 AM

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Part Two of a lecture series entitled:
Quakerism - its Origin, Development, Testimonies and Activities
written and presented to the Plainfield, NJ Friends' Adult Class on April 26, 1970
by Curt Regen


FRIENDS FOR THREE HUNDRED YEARS

In our first talk we have heard about the development of Quakerism in England and Ireland accompanied by much persecution. For a short picture of the rapid spread of the Religious Society of Friends across the Atlantic and, in particular, in the Colonies - again, in spite of persecution. This will be followed by a summary of developments and changes in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries as they occurred in this part of the world.

You may remember that historians consider the year 1652 as the beginning of the Religious Society of Friends. Within three years men and women went to the new continent to bring the message. I said "men and women" because you may remember that in the duties and in the service of the Society of Friends, men and women were equal. They went to France, to Holland, to parts of Denmark that are now parts of Germany, namely Holstein, where they started Quaker settlements.

Not surprisingly, two women Friends by the names of Mary Fisher and Ann Austin participated in this adventure of preaching. They had been imprisoned in England, but now they had the concern to go to one of the new colonies of England across the ocean to the island of Barbados. Here they found a governor rather friendly to the new message, and these two women were able to start the first important Quaker settlement across the Atlantic. More people arrived in Barbados, and it became quite an important Quaker station.

In 1656, the following year, two women left Barbados and had the concern to go to Boston. The Massachusetts Bay Colony was founded for religious freedom because the Puritans had left England for such freedom, yet refused it to the Quakers. Many of us, particularly the public at large, make the mistake of thinking that the Quakers were part of the Puritan movement. But I have to disappoint you. In my first talk I mentioned that the only likeness to the Puritan movement was the Quaker attitude toward art and recreation, but in their religious ideas they were far apart. Quakers already had a bad reputation for preaching against the Established Church, or outside the Established Church. As these women arrived, they were jailed, starved in jail, all their books which they brought along from Barbados were burned, and they were shipped back to Barbados. But one concession was made to these women they were not whipped. However, their bedding, which they had brought along, was confiscated as the jailer's fee.

Now, you would have thought that the Puritans were happy to get rid of these tempestuous Quakers. But, lo and behold, within two days another ship arrived, not from Barbados, but from England, with eight Quakers aboard. Governor Endicott of the Massachusetts Bay Colony was very much upset about this and promptly had them tried for heresy, jailed and again banished. At the same time he found it necessary to put on a strict law for the Massachusetts Bay Colony against these Quakers. It was provided in this law that any captain who brought a Quaker on board his vessel would be fined; any person found with a Quaker book would be fined; any Quaker found in the Colony anywhere was to be whipped and banished. An Englishman, not a Quaker, protested this law openly, and was promptly fined and banished from the Colony. It is reported that an Indian chief who heard about this peculiar attitude of this group of Christians against other Christians made a statement translated as: "What a God have the English who deal so with one another over the worship of their God." You see, the Puritans who had escaped the strict religious rule of the Crown in England became the worst persecutors of those who differed from them.

The same Mary Fisher who came to Boston from Barbados with Ann Austin later sailed with some men from England into the Mediterranean. They stopped off in Malta where they were all promptly imprisoned. The men went to what is now Italy, and she went alone to a part that is now Greece but was Turkey at that time, making her way inland to the city of Adrianople to meet with the Sultan - a very daring thing to do. There she preached to the court, appealing to God in the heart of the Sultan and to the God in the hearts of all those listeners who were part of his large court. And what happened? She was not harmed. But the two men who went to Italy to talk with the Pope had a different fate - one was hanged and the other died of insanity after release from prison.

Perhaps most of us will remember from our history books that Roger Williams was banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony to the new colony of Rhode Island. Roger Williams was also one of those radicals. He favored religious toleration and also befriended the Indians, and that was very bad in the sight of the Puritans. He disagreed with the Quakers very strongly, but still he carried out his principle of religious freedom, and this became a very important matter for the Quakers. His residence and work in Rhode Island were to give much support to the Quaker movement in years to come.

The events in New England - the strict laws, fines, persecutions - seemed to indicate that the termination of Quaker endeavors was to come. The fine of 100 Pounds, at that time an enormous sum, was really too high for any captain to risk to bring a Quaker to the Massachusetts Bay Colony. So the English Friends, perhaps partly showing the tendency of some Friends of today, wanted to defy the law and said, "We will go to Massachusetts to preach even if they don't want us!'' They collected some money, built a little ship known as the "Woodhouse" and made a daring voyage across the ocean with very poor navigating equipment, having long Meetings of Worship and praying to the Lord that they would come to the right place. They didn't reach New England. They reached another little colony a little farther south, known as New Amsterdam, the present State of New York. But at that time New Amsterdam was held by the Dutch.

There were 11 Quakers aboard. Six of them had been previously imprisoned in England, and they had the mission to preach in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Those that landed in New Amsterdam were promptly tried, whipped and jailed. Others sailed to Rhode Island, stayed there a little time and found that the mainland colony of Providence, founded by Roger Williams, was really a haven of religious freedom. Not satisfied, they proceeded north to the dangerous colony, Massachusetts. As the men and women arrived in Boston and started their preaching, they were immediately tried and whipped, including the one woman with them; and this was the first public whipping in Massachusetts of a woman for her faith. The men, however, were imprisoned and twice a week were whipped while in prison and then were branded with an "H" for heretic. Prior to that they were stripped and their bodies searched for any marks of tattoos which would prove they were witches.

One Friend stopped off at Long Island because he had heard that there were English settlers, and he preached there. But at one time a magistrate prevented him from preaching in an orchard where he had called a meeting, locked him in his house during the church service, and after the magistrate came back from the church service to his house, he found this Quaker preaching from the window of the house to a rather large, attentive group below him. He was incensed when he found that out. I should tell you the place where this first preaching occurred, which was considered the first Quaker Meeting on Long Island, is now known as Hempstead.

But there were other groups, particularly in the little Dutch settlement of Vlissingen where many English people had settled and called it Flushing. There an Englishman, John Bowne, had the idea that these Quakers should have the right to hold their religious services and asked them to come to his house, or in front of his house, to have the services. The powers in charge were very much upset and called armed guards from the island of Manhattan, which was the main seat of New Amsterdam, and had them all arrested and put into jail. However, the citizens of Flushing were not satisfied with this and started a kind of civil protest. Perhaps some of you may remember from history the Flushing Remonstrance, which was made in 1657 and declared to Peter Stuyvesant, the Governor of New Amsterdam, that man should have the right to worship. But Peter Stuyvesant was so incensed that he jailed John Bowne for holding meetings in front of his house, jailed the City Fathers who signed the Remonstrance, and thought now he would get rid of these Quakers.

John Bowne had unusual power, although he was not a Quaker at that time; he pleaded in jail in New Amsterdam that he should not be tried in the Colony, as he wanted to plead his case before the Crown in Old Amsterdam. They sent him to Old Amsterdam to plead his case, and the Crown decided that the iron rule of their Governor in New Amsterdam was wrong. The Crown preferred religious freedom in the colonies, and it is reported that John Bowne went back with his freedom paper to the Governor to tell him what the Crown in Old Amsterdam had to say.

The house where John Bowne held these meetings is still standing in Flushing; every automobile map shows John Bowne House. It is today an historic shrine for religious freedom. Flushing became quite an important settlement. Later on, in 1672, George Fox visited Flushing where he preached. Because there was such a large gathering, he could not preach in the house, but in front of the house. There is now a marker of the oak, the "George Fox oak", which used to stand where he preached. This was such an important event that the United States Government 300 years later, in 1957, issued a commemorative stamp about the Flushing Remonstrance, and the cancellation mark of this particular first day cover showed the Dutch soldiers with their guns facing the Quakers in their broad-brimmed hats. It is ironical that in the ensuing centuries and up to the present time, the statue of Peter Stuyvesant has had to face the large Quaker Meeting House at Stuyvesant Square in New York City. This is a quasi-sentence upon the tyrannical Peter!

Some Friends on Long Island were also banished to Rhode Island. They first took shelter on an island which now is known as "Shelter Island" in the north-eastern part of Long Island, because the Quakers then took shelter there. Here they found again religious freedom, and they duly went back to Massachusetts to preach. The following occurred when Governor Endicott found out he was once more visited by Quakers: Two men were hanged, but one woman Friend, Mary Dyer, was banished to Rhode Island and asked never to return. She came back, however, and was sentenced to death by hanging. The people intervened and begged her to depart, But she did come a third time in the following year, May of 1660, when she felt moved to preach in Boston Common the message she said God told her to give. She was again sentenced to death, but her husband at that time pleaded so earnestly for her life that the people took sides with her and said she should not be hanged, provided she would promise never to return to Massachusetts. At that time, she said the famous words, "Nay, I cannot, " and was hanged.

Three hundred years later, in 1960, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts placed a lovely monument on Boston Common , commemorating the hanging of Mary Dyer. The Art Commission had asked for proposals and I believe it received five. The Commission chose one which turned out to be the creation of a Quaker artist in Chicago. The monument stands on the right side as you face the State House. Today many tourists go to this spot to see "Mary Dyer, Quaker, Witness for Religious Freedom, hanged on Boston Common, 1660" (the wording beneath the statue).

I should give you a famous sentence which the Quakers who went to Long Island to preach wrote in their journal, which we would call a diary in these days. In the dining hall of Earlham College above the large fireplace we find the following words found in the journal of Long Island Quakers: "We gathered sticks, set fires, left them burning and set forth."

This must suffice as a short picture of persecutions in the Colonies in the 1650's and 1660's. I had mentioned briefly at the close of my first talk that William Penn had a hand in the management of West and East Jersey. Here he gained his first appetite for government and administration, and he returned ta England to see whether he could raise money to acquire lands in the new colonies. William Penn learned that the Crown was very much indebted to his father, Admiral Penn, for conquering Barbados, Jamaica and other Caribbean islands, but the Crown was short of cash. William Penn learned that the King had offered to give some lands in the colonies to Admiral Penn. William pleaded with his father whether he could not get these lands from the Crown, because Admiral Penn, becoming quite elderly, was not inclined to start a new endeavor across the ocean. William Penn, having been so close to what is now Pennsylvania, knew that beyond the Delaware River was a lovely country with hillsides and many, many forests which reminded him of Wales, and he felt that this new colony should be called "New Wales", but the Crown didn't like it. I don't know whether Charles II was against the Welsh people but he said, "No, we will not call it 'New Wales'. " So William Penn said, "There are a lot of forests. Let's call it 'Sylvania'." But Charles II said, "No, These lands are given in honor of and as a reward to my famous Admiral who conquered several islands from the Spanish. I want his name known in this colony. It will be called 'Pennsylvania'." Now you know why I said in my first talk that Pennsylvania was not named after William Penn as we always think. It was named after his father, Admiral Penn.

It was in 1682 that the ship "Welcome" sailed into the Delaware River up inland to a place which is now Chester and later on to the place where the Schuylkill River flows into the Delaware. A little bit up the Schuylkill River he found the lovely Indian settlement of Coaquannock and there William Penn said, "I will build Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love, " He started a colony which he called a "Holy Experiment" - a purposeful new community with religious freedom for all, including Roman Catholics and Jews. It might interest you that the first Jewish congregation in the Colonies was in Philadelphia.

He laid out this City of Brotherly Love by starting with a center square, having four squares east, west, north and south around it. He wanted broad streets, open spaces, houses and gardens, lots of land with trees around it; and we still have that. Fairmount Park in Philadelphia is, I believe, one of the largest parks in any city in the United States. Actually, what he did was to create the modern American city plan consisting of squares. Why? Because he thought everyone who would live in this new city should have sunshine at some time of the day. He didn't want the houses close together, so he built the squares. If you go to the center of the City Hall of Philadelphia, with the statue of William Penn on the top, you will find an open square, which you can reach from all sides, coming from Market or Broad Streets. Here you find a circle laid in tile with a smaller circle in the middle, which says something like this: "Here stood William Penn laying out his Green Country Towne." The spot where he started still can be seen today. Try to see it!

It may be remembered that Penn made very good treaties with the Indians and that the Quakers lived in peace with the Indians. Voltaire, years later, once made the comment that the treaty of the Quakers with the Indians was the only treaty never sworn to and never broken.

Now many of us have the idea that with the founding of Pennsylvania, Quakerism came ta this country. Far from it. You may remember that I mentioned the origin of this Meeting and that this particular Quaker area, is known as the Shrewsbury and Plainfield Half-Yearly Meeting - older than William Penn's endeavor in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania. The Quakers that were on Long Island wanted to penetrate farther west, but they found great swamps on the other side of the island of Manhattan the same swamps we still have. Their horses could not go through, so they thought, "Let's take a sailing vessel and cross the big bay." They crossed the bay, came to what is Highland Hills, climbed them and went down and founded a little Quaker congregation, known as Shrewsbury. Shrewsbury Meeting is the oldest continuously existing religious group in New Jersey. This group was visited by George Fox in 1672 when he traveled from the Carolinas to New England. So you see, this particular corner of Quakerism can, not with pride but with interest, point out that we are older than the Quakers in Pennsylvania.

Perhaps I am spending too much time on the early history of the development in the Colonies, but I want to give you a quick review of the 18th Century Quakerism. By the end of the 17th Century, the Quakers had settled in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, on Long Island, in New Amsterdam (New York), in New Jersey, in Delaware, in Maryland, in Virginia, and in the Carolinas - not to forget Pennsylvania, the Quaker colony. Roughly speaking, the first fifty years were a period of heroism spreading a new message with apostolic fervor; and the next fifty years, that is, around 1700-1750, could be called a period of cultural creativeness. It is sometimes referred to as the "Golden Age of Quakerism". Howard Brinton in one of his books has this to say about the "Golden Age":

"The first phase of the struggle to clear the forests and build homes was then almost over, but material success had not yet become great enough to sap religious vitality. The French and Indian War, which was to bring tension between Quaker rulers and the home government in England, had not yet broken out. Pennsylvania under Penn's frame of government and a Quaker assembly was the most prosperous of all the Colonies and Philadelphia was becoming the center of culture in the New World. In Rhode Island half the population was Quaker and for thirty-six successive terms, Quaker governors held office.

"The Quakers were the most important religious group in North Carolina. Under John Archdale, a Quaker governor, they controlled at one time half the seats in the Assembly. The Quakers had purchased New Jersey before they acquired Pennsylvania and although they surrendered the proprietary rights in 1702, they continued to wield a strong influence in the management of the Province. In Maryland, Virginia and New York, Quaker Meetings were rapidly increasing in number and membership due to the zeal of traveling ministers and the ease with which a Quaker Meeting could be set up.

"In this period, attention given to government sometimes interfered with religious duties. John Kinsey from 1693-1750 was at one and the same time Clerk of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and Speaker of the Assembly. Others could be named here who combined religious with political responsibility in a way which was characteristic of many leading Friends of the first half of the 18th Century. But the most important product of the flowering of Quakerism in the New World was the unique Quaker culture. By 'culture' is meant a clearly defined way of life with a spiritual basis. A true culture affects every aspect of life. In the Quaker communities the Meeting was the center - spiritually, intellectually and economically. It included a library and a school."

But during the second half of the 18th Century, conditions changed. With increasing immigration from countries other than England and Ireland, the Quaker proportion of the population in the Colonies became smaller. You may be wondering why I said Ireland", but you must remember that the early Irish settlers were not Roman Catholics. The French and Indian War flared all along the frontier. The Pennsylvania Assembly had been Quaker-dominated, as you have heard, but most Quaker members resigned in 1756, as they did not want to hold office in a land at war. A large part of the Pennsylvania population, while not Quaker, refused to cooperate in prosecuting the war. As early as 1758, two years later, peace was made with the Pennsylvania Indians largely through the efforts of the "Friendly Association for Gaining and Preserving Peace with the Indians by Pacific Measures", what a nice name! Friends who had mostly refused to pay taxes for the war now gave lavishly to this Organization. They wanted to achieve the desired result and at the same time demonstrate the adequacy of peaceful methods. When ever a white man made a treaty with the Indians, Friends saw to it that a Quaker was present to defend the rights of the Indians.

The Quaker communities in the second part of the 18th Century became wealthy, as people preferred to trade with the Quakers who were known to be honest in their one price system. But with the wealth the testimony regarding simplicity suffered. I believe that in 1755 or thereabouts, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting set up new, strict Queries representing all the important testimonies regarding behavior. In spite of these strict Queries in trying to control the Quaker population in such a way as the early Friends had started, the Quaker Movement increased. Around the time of Independence and the formation of the United States, let's say 1775 to 1800, American Quakerism reached its numerical climax. It was in that very period that Plainfield Friends decided to build a larger Meeting House - the one right here in which we are seated.

One could say that the 19th Century was one of conflict between mysticism and evangelism. The American Quaker Movement had reached the point where Friends were seasoned and they developed individual ideas. With it came, unfortunately, some theological arguments. But strangely, it was due to the influences of visiting English Quaker ministers that this theological rift occurred in the years 1827 and 1828. It divided many Quaker groups into two bodies, reaching eventually all of the United States known at that time, as the Friends from the eastern parts had migrated to the midwestern or western parts across the United States. The division became known on the one side as the "Orthodox Friends" and on the other side, the "Hicksite Friends" - "Hicksite" after a well-known Quaker from Long Island, Elias Hicks, who, trying to avoid a split in the Quaker Movement, preached everywhere in a time which he called "a quibbling, scribbling age". It seemed that at that time the Inward Light, the source of unity, had become dimmed. Worldly prosperity had taken hold; spiritual life was at a low ebb. Later in the 18th Century another division occurred, a quasi-counter action of the earlier one, and some groups went back to early Quakerism and became known as the "Conservative Friends".

With the settlement of Ohio, Indiana, Kansas, Nebraska, and even farther west, Quaker pioneers on the frontier established Meetings and schools everywhere. Partly due to the prevailing wave of revivalism - the great Methodist wave had reached the United States - and partly due to the influences of fellow pioneers who were not used to the peculiar Quaker worship, these new Meetings on the frontier became so-called "Programmed Meetings", adopting a regular church service with a pastor taking over the responsibilities formerly held by the members at large. Still today, Meetings in the Mid-West and on the Pacific Coast are pre dominantly what we call "Programmed Meetings" or "Pastoral Meetings", although the so-called "Unprogrammed" or "Silent Meetings" (the latter name I consider a misnomer) are still in existence and during the past decades have been growing in number even in the Mid West and the Far West. The various divisions are not so important to us now. Many groups, like those in the eastern United States, have again united.

One could say that since the beginning of the 20th Century, we are in the Modernist Period of Quakerism. Many changes have occurred, but the changes that have taken place are generally found in various degrees throughout Christendom and perhaps among most religious bodies. There is a tendency toward secularism and humanism. Reliance on the Divine seems less essential. The influence of science on mankind is felt in the present-day religious thought. The former mysticism, which is inward, becomes rationalism. Evangelism, which is outward, tends to become humanism, which is also outward. The evangelical interest in saving souls has become largely supplanted by an interest in saving bodies. This concern for the next world is of less importance to us now than the desire to improve the lot of people and the lot of mankind in this world. But, essentially, both the spirit of Mary and Martha is important in past and present-day Quaker practice. The spiritual and secular areas are recognized with individual members leaning toward one or the other. Paul's Letter to the Corinthians mentions the many parts of the body and that each part has its own importance, concluding in the 12th Chapter, according to the new translation, with these words:

And God has appointed in the Church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles , then healers, helpers, administrators, speakers in various tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers ? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing Do all speak with tongues?

Whatever changes have occurred or will come about in the spirit of the Religious Society of Friends, they will still be based on Paul's words in I. Corinthians 14:1:

Make love your aim and earnestly desire the spiritual gift.

Go to Part 3
Quakers in the World

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The Man in Leather Breeches

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