Saturday, May 10, 2014

#16 - Quick Quakerism in America-Religious Persecution, Petition for Religious Freedom, Freeing their Slaves, and the Underground Railway

Mary Dyer was an English Puritan living in the Massachusetts Bay Colony at Boston. 
In 1637 she supported Anne Hutchinson, who believed that God 'spoke directly to individuals' and not only through the clergy. They began to organize groups for Bible study.  

She and her husband William Dyer, Anne Hutchinson, and others were banished from the colony in January 1637/8. They moved to Portsmouth in the Rhode Island colony together with the religious group they had formed. 
(Note: the much maligned “Anabaptists” -or Baptists - found a home in Rhode Island. Many Anabaptists from Europe migrated to Rhode Island for religious freedom.)


At the end of 1658 the Massachusetts legislature enacted a law that every Quaker who was not an inhabitant of the colony (of Massachusetts) but was found within its jurisdiction should be apprehended without warrant by any constable and imprisoned. 

On conviction as a Quaker, should be banished upon pain of death. That every inhabitant of the colony convicted of being a Quaker should be imprisoned for a month, and if obstinate in opinion should be banished on pain of death. Some Friends were arrested and expelled under this law.


William Robinson and Marmaduke Stephenson‘s were executed on Thursday 27 October (the usual weekly meeting day for the Church in Boston) 1659, and the gallows stood on Boston Common.  
In memory of this, October 27 is now International Religious Freedom Day to recognize the importance of Freedom of religion.


In 1657, a boatload of Quaker missionaries from England landed on Long Island. One of them, Robert Hodgson, drew large crowds to his meetings. He was arrested, imprisoned, flogged and treated very severely. Some of the Dutch colonists interceded and secured his release. 


At 137-16 Northern Boulevard, Flushing, New York was the Flushing Friends Meeting House. Built in 1694 by John Bowne and other early Quakers, allegedly the 2nd oldest Quaker meeting house in the nation.

In 1645, Flushing, then called Vlissengen, was charted as part of New Netherlands. But it was settled largely by English families, as were the settlements at Gravesend, Oyster Bay and Jamaica, Long Island. 

The first known Quaker in the United States, Richard Smith, lived in Long Island. He, with other Quakers, visited Boston in 1656, but all were put in jail as soon as they arrived and sent back to England.  Still, that did not deter Quakers from migrating--they came to Long Island and spread Oyster Bay, despite continued opposition on the part of the government and heads of the Dutch Church. 

However, Peter Stuyvesant, the governor of New Netherlands, distrusted the Quakers. He issued an edict forbidding anyone in the colony to entertain a Quaker or to allow a Quaker meeting to be held in his house.


A respected Flushing colonist, Henry Townsend, held a Quaker meeting in his home and was fined and banished. 
This prompted a protest from Flushing citizens, which is perhaps the earliest demand for freedom of religion made by American colonists to their political superiors. 

It is dated December 27, 1657, and is drawn up and signed by Edward Hart, the Town Clerk, Tobias Feake the schout (sheriff), and twenty-eight other citizens. These citizens of reminded the Governor that their charter allowed them

 "to have and enjoy Liberty of Conscience according to the Custom and manner of Holland, without molestation or disturbance."
This came to be known as the Flushing Remonstrance: It was perhaps the first time that a group of settlers in the New World petitioned the government for religious freedom. It was commemorated in a United States postage stamp issued three hundred years later.
The Flushing Remonstrance says this in its argument for religious freedom: 

"for if God justifye who can condemn; and if God condemn who can justifye... And because our Saviour saith it is impossible but that offenses will come, but woe unto him by whom they cometh, our desire is not to offend one of his little ones, in whatsoever form, name or title hee appears in, whether Presbyterian, Independent, Baptist or Quakers, but shall be glad to see anything of God in any of them desiring to doe unto all men, as wee desire all men should doe unto us, which is the true law both of church and state."

The Flushing Remonstrance goes on to quote the original Flushing Charter, which grants Flushing the right
"to have and Enjoy the Liberty of Conscience, according to the Custome and manner of Holland, without molestation or disturbance."
Eventually a demand from the burghers of Netherlands directed the Governor of New Netherlands to end the severe punishment of the Quakers in 1663.
However the English took possession of the colony in 1664, (the following year) and continued for some years to impose fines and order restraints on account of Quakers--but less severely.

In 1671/72, George Fox, the founder of the Quaker movement, visited the Bowne House and preached under a stand of oak trees across the street. The oaks have gone. 

The site of his sermon is marked with a stone memorializing the event. Council Rock is considered the memorial site of the meeting of George Fox with the Quakers on Long Island.

Council Rock- George Fox met with "Wrights, Underhill and Feeke at Quaker Gathering" 1672


In 1716, John Farmer called for the abolition of slavery at a meeting assembled at Flushing. Other Flushing Quakers who spoke out against slavery, including Friends who traveled with John Woolman when he visited Flushing and Long Island to speak against slavery.

William Burling, a member of Flushing Meeting, published one of the country's first anti-slavery addresses in 1718.
Flushing Meeting formally condemned slavery as incompatible with the principles of Christianity in 1767 and urged members not to purchase slaves in 1773.

The New York Yearly Meeting banned members from owning slaves in 1774. 

This was not an easy decision. Elias Hicks of Jericho noted "a great unwillingness in most of them to set their slaves free." But by the time of the revolution, most New York Quakers were convinced and set their slaves free.  Friends were encouraged to bring black servants to meetings for worship, to see to their education, and to arrange special meetings for them.

Flushing Meeting began arranging for regularly held gatherings of black worshipers at Westbury, Cow Neck (now North Hempstead), Matinecock and Bethpage in 1784. 

Since Flushing Meeting House was unavailable during the war, the New York Yearly Meeting moved to Westbury, Long Island, never to return.


Westbury: in 1657, Captain J. Seaman purchased 12,000 acres from the Algonquian Tribe of the Massapequa Indians. And in 1658, Richard Stites built a homestead in this area. Theirs was the only family farm until an English Quaker, Edmond Titus and his son, Samuel, joined them and settled in an area of Hempstead Plains now known as the Village of Westbury.

In 1675 Henry Willis, also an English Quaker, named the area "Westbury", after his hometown in England. 

Other Quaker families who were also seeking a place to freely express their religious beliefs joined the Tituses and Willises. The first Society of Friends meeting house was built in 1700.

One researcher wrote: "The early history of Westbury and that of the Friends are so interconnected that they are essentially the same." I would argue that the early history of all the Friends of Westbury, Oyster Bay, Flushing and Matinecock are so intertwined, it's hard to find someone unrelated.

Beginning in 1775, compelled by their religious beliefs, the Westbury Friends freed their black slaves. Many of these freed men and women built their own homesteads on the open land near the sheep grazing pastures. Their new community consisted of farms and dairy farms.

In 1834, with Quaker assistance, the freed slaves and their descendants built the New Light Baptist Church. See post about Isaac Hicks.  (It is now called the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, the building still stands on the corner of Union Ave. and Cross St.)

These Quakers like so many landowners of their time owned slaves. Phebe Willets (Mott) (Dodge), a member of Westbury Meeting, was the first woman on Long Island to manumit her slave. (See 52 Ancestors - Post #20 for her story).  

Below are 2 original manumission papers done at Westbury Friends Meeting by Willets Kirby. The manumission is "affirmed" (witnessed) by two other Friends.
Someone thoughtfully transcribed names and information of all the donated manumission papers in the 1930s and those six pages can be found below as well.

Willets Kirby manumits slave Lukem 1784 Westbury Friends Meeting

Willets Kirby manumits slave Thomas 1784 Westbury Friends Meeting

1939 Transcription of Original Manumission Documents of the Westbury Friends Meeting p. 1

1939 Transcription of Original Manumission Documents of the Westbury Friends Meeting p 2

1939 Transcription of Original Manumission Documents of the Westbury Friends Meeting p 3

1939 Transcription of Original Manumission Documents of the Westbury Friends Meeting p 4

1939 Transcription of Original Manumission Documents of the Westbury Friends Meeting p 5

1939 Transcription of Original Manumission Documents of the Westbury Friends Meeting p 6


From the early 1800s more blacks came to the area via the Underground Railroad. 

For some, Westbury was only one stop on the way to Canada, but several stayed in this area after being harbored in secret rooms in the homes of the Quakers. Valentine and Abigail Hicks had a  house famous for hiding former slaves seeking freedom, as did many other families-many of them Quakers. Matinecock, Jericho and Westbury were all hubs of activity for many Quakers who believed it wrong to have slaves.

Matinecock Meeting  founded in 1671. Erected in 1725. "Oldest officially organized Friends Meeting in the US."

Matinecock out building
Jericho Meeting 1788

Jericho Meeting

The Jericho Friends Meeting House was erected in 1788, and stands off of old Jericho Turnpike. The notable Quaker Elias Hicks lived nearby and is buried in the cemetery here along with many other notable Quaker names, like Underhill, Willis, Willets, Seaman and, of course, Hicks.

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