Saturday, April 25, 2020

#66 Influencers and Dividers - John Willis and Mary Kirby Willis and George F White, Firebrand

Influencer or Divider
This post is about the amazing influence of persuading people to share your opinions.

My 4th great grandmother had two sisters who were quite happy to remain as Quakers until a powerful influencer (for lack of a better word) made remaining in the Quaker fold intolerable for them.

The two sisters (Amy and Sarah) were great supporters of abolition of slavery and there were forces inside Quakerism which felt that that was inappropriate.
Their parents (my 5th great grandparents)

Father: Jacob Kirby (Son of Willets Kirby and Hannah Titus)
B 11 Aug 1765 Jericho, Nassau, NY
D 1859 Oyster Bay New York,
Mother: Mary Seaman (Daughter of William S Seaman & Mary Jackson)
B 27 Mar 1774 Nassau Co, NY
D 21 Sep 1854
Marriage -B 24 Jun 1790 in Jericho, NY

Their Children
*1 Mary Willis Kirby&
B 30 Jul 1791 D 1873
John Willis on 24 Dec 1812
2 William Kirby Born 17 Mar 1795 Died 19 Sep 1797
3 Hannah Kirby Born 1799–1827
4 Amy Kirby Born 20 Dec 1803 Died 1889
5 Willets Kirby Born September 1806 Died 1882
6 Edmond Kirby Born 1808
7 Elizabeth Kirby Born 21 Jun 1814 Died 1900
8 Sarah Kirby Born 16 Jan 1818 Died 1914

Three sisters of my 4th great grandmother (Mary Kirby) had a tumultuous time after leaving Long Island.
HANNAH:Hannah and Isaac Post married in Jericho, Long Island, NY in the early 1820s. In 1823 they moved to Cayuga County, NY.
In 1827, Hannah Kirby Post died.
AMY: In the meantime, sister Amy Kirby had moved upstate to nurse Hannah. The year after her death, Isaac Post (widower) and Amy Kirby were wed.
SARAH: In 1838 Sarah Kirby moved upstate and married 1st, Jefferies Hallowell in 1838 (d. 1844); Married 2nd, Edmund P Willis in 1853.
MARY (my great grandmother): Remained in Jericho, married to John Willis.

Both Sarah Kirby (Hallowell/Willis) and Amy Kirby (Post) were active in anti-slavery work (abolitionist movement).
They were members of the newly-formed Western New York Anti-Slavery Society in 1842, and worked on its many Antislavery Fairs (fundraising events).

There was quite an exchange of letters between the sisters in Rochester and Long Island.
One letter (which is in the Univ. of Rochester Library) is to Amy Kirby Post and is a recounting, or a reporting of a Quaker business meeting which took place in May 1842 in Westbury, and was written by Mary's husband John Willis.
He gives a report on the outcome of an appeal from a person who was to be disowned from the Friends meeting. I had believed until I read the background at that period that I understood why people were disowned.
What caught my attention was his warning to his sister-in-law at at the end of the letter.

"Father and Mother expects to make you a visit and if you want them to have an agreeable visit you must talk something besides Abolition and George F White." (for transcription, see end of post)

John Willis to sister-in-law Amy Post

John Willis warns Amy not to mention George F White
Thanks to George F White,the Genesee Yearly Meeting of the Society of Friends, to which Sarah & her husband belonged, was against slavery, but its ministers and elders disapproved of the aactivities of many anti-slavery advocates.

Who WAS George F White & what was the problem with speaking of Abolition?

In the 1840s George F White was a prominent Quaker minister and followed Elias Hicks' teachings (which had created a division around 1827).
Minister George F White was “anti-Anti.” He was quite persuasive; preaching that the Quakers should not come out against anything.
For example, he was against being against slavery (anti-abolitionist), but he was not pro-slavery. White strongly warned the Friends using forceful terms, against participating in antislavery and other reform movements, which were otherwise seen as advancing Quaker ideas.
He was apparently pro-George F White.
He was highly controversial figure, creating division among the Quakers.
His influence was so strongly felt that New England & New York Yearly Meetings prohibited abolitionist speeches and later on temperance and suffrage meetings in its facilities.

Amy Kirby (sister of Mary Kirby Willis) during this time worked with Frederick Douglass in Rochester and invited him to speak at Westbury (Long Island) Meeting.
However, this was cancelled when some in the meeting objected to Douglass’ message. Frederick Douglass instead met with locals but did not speak at the Quaker meetinghouse.
George F White's influence was felt all over, and in Western New York (Rochester and surrounding areas), the ground shifted for the Quakers.
There, the NY (Hicksite) Quarterly Meeting refused to allow anti‐slavery lecturers in the meetinghouse, saying even though Quaker, they were paid by abolition societies. This broke the general Quaker rule against using a “hireling ministry” (paid).
Tensions grew over how to resolve the conflicts within meetings: George F White had created more problems than he had solved.
In Western NY some people, such as Amy (Kirby) and Isaac Post left Genesee Yearly Meeting altogether. Then in 1848 about 200 others formed a separate Yearly meeting.
The controversy that surrounded George F White’s crusade against reform movements eventually created fracture nearly every Hicksite Yearly meeting.

Going back to the letter at the beginning of the post:
The letter is John Willis' account to his sister-in-law is his own recollection of an appeal by James S Gibbons on his possible disownment. There were three people in jeopardy at this time: Isaac T Hopper, his son-in-law James S. Gibbons, and Charles Marriott. The problem? They had what was viewed as improper associations with nonQuaker abolitionist movements.

After over a year of deliberation, New York Monthly Meeting disowned the men in 1842.
A few (not all) reasons listed for disowning the men:
"1. Such activity implied that something was wrong with Friends testimonies. Faith should be sufficient to cause change; therefore, it was not necessary to form or participate in man‐made organizations.
2. Such activity ignored the slaveholders, many of whom were performing a moral good by making slaves morally good and happy; it also ignored the problems that abolition would bring to slaveholders.
3. Such activity employed strong language and harsh activities unbefitting to Friends.
4. Quakers belong to a religious society, not a benevolent society; therefore, slavery was not a proper issue for the care of the Religious Society of Friends."

The above list pretty much lays bare the problem changing things in society for the better; one of the great obstacles to change is overcoming inertia against change.

[The two sisters of Mary, Sarah and Amy, eventually left the Society of Friends (Quakers). Both Sarah and Amy were one of the many former Quakers who often gathered at the Anthony home on Sundays to discuss reform activities, including anti-slavery and women's rights.]
First and last page of John Willis' letter to Amy Kirby Post (transcribed)

Jericho 5th (May) 30th 1842
My much esteemed sister - [meaning sister-in-law-]
Amy Post
    We have now returned from our Yearly Meeting and feel something of a cold  otherwise all pretty well. Our Yearly meeting was large and the business that came before it was conducted in much harmony and brotherly love we had in the company of good many strangers  some from Philadelphia, Baltimore, Genessee [county] and Can`n`ady, and the subjects that thee may feel an interest in 

I will give some account of the first business take up in the second sitting was the appeal of TTH (?) ht meeting appointed four-from each quarterly, Westbury excepted which made 36 in number. I had objected to 3 of those that where appointed and they were accordingly released and 3 others appointed in their stead with which Isaac [Hopper] felt satisfyed [sic] in the commencement of the appointment Isaac requested that he might have the company of his son in law James S Gibbons to set with him, which was granted  then asked James S G. weather [sic] he intended to prosecute  appeal James said before he answered that question it would be necessary for him to make a few remarks. He said it never was agreeable to his judgement to appeal but he did so on consideration
to his friend (but I think such friends are not worth having) and to prosecute the appeal for the sake of controversy he had no wish to do and further  he had no wish to be a member of N. York monthly Meeting as he thought the regulations of that meeting would conflict with his duty's [sic] he therefore declined proceeding any further and would withdraw from the contest. he said a good deal more but the above is about the substance.
The Meeting then proseeded [sic] on with its usual business until Sixth Day morning when the clerk informed that there was
a report from the committee on the appeal on the table which was accordingly taken up The report was as follows that they had attended to their  appointment had heard the appellant and the quarterly Meeting committee in the case, and that 18 where [sic] for confirming the judgment of the quarterly Meeting 15 for reversing it, and three declined giving any opinion in the case. John (Rh)uman asked weather [sic] it would be thought....

-----------ETC -----------
I have wrote a considerable >this is the last (page?)< but I suppose it will not be very exceptable [sic] information to thee but thee must try to hear it for it does appear that moddern [sic] abbolitionism [sic] is on the dicline [sic] with us [meaning Quakers], not that the interes[t] in the welfare of the slave is on the dicline [sic] by any means, that and moddern abbolition [sic] is two very different subjects--- Father and Mother expects to make
you a visit and if you want them to have an agreeable visit you must talk something besides Abolition and George F White.

Effectionately [sic] thine -
John Willis

3 Quakers and Abolition, Edited by Brycchan Carey and Geoffrey Plank, 2014, University of Illinois Press

No comments:

Post a Comment

Become a member - email me with your query.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.