Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Mary Dyer’s Other Friends

I’m pleased to present a guest post by “Hay Quaker,” whose blog I’ve enjoyed reading since he discovered the Facebook page for Mary Barrett Dyer that I administer, and became her Facebook friend. Whether it’s his own article, or one of the many quotations he posts, it’s always food for meditation, and sometimes the impetus for further study. Thank you, Ray, and I hope you’ll favor the Dyers’ readers again in the future. (In the meantime, you can follow his blog.)
1670s-A meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)
at Gracechurch Street, London

© Ray Lovegrove* (use in this site by author’s permission) 

William and Mary Dyer were remarkable people in many ways, as regular readers of this blog will not need reminding. It is, perhaps, their travel across the Atlantic Ocean not once, but twice, that would have singled them out as particularly unusual in their age. Mary became a Quaker during her return to England [1652-57] following her witnessing of George Fox preaching; so her first trip to America was as a Puritan and her second as a Quaker.

In the fifty years between 1675 and 1725, many Quakers left Britain and came to settle the Delaware River area of Pennsylvania and into western New Jersey. It is estimated that about 23,000 Quakers left Britain during this migration, about eighty percent of them coming from the counties of Yorkshire, Cheshire, Lancashire in the north of England and Staffordshire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire in the English Midlands.  

1654-Quakerism in England and Wales
 A further ten percent were from Wales and Ireland. The rest came from counties scattered across England, but there were none from the Eastern Counties of England (East Anglia), the heart of the Puritan movement. There were a small number of Quakers to be found in New England prior to this; they were not Friends to start with, rather came over as Puritans, later ‘converted’ by Quaker missionaries mainly from 1655–1670.

The reasons for this Atlantic migration are not hard to understand; the forces ‘pushing’ Friends towards the New World would have included persecution and lack of religious freedom in Britain.  The ‘pulling’ forces would have doubtless been the promise of a new start, the possible economic benefits of life in America, and the ultimate hope of starting new Quaker communities where like minded people could develop lives together, both in a spiritual and practical sense. The history of these migrants, and those adopting Quakerism in America is well known, but what of those left behind?

In the North of England and the Midlands, so many Friends took up the challenge of a life in the ‘New World’ that it had a devastating effect on many Meetings. The fact that a relatively small number of areas lost Friends in the migration would have made even more dramatic the impact on many communities, to an extent that was observable even to those who were not Friends.  Inevitably it was the young, fit and presumably the more wealthy Quakers who made the journey, leaving behind the elderly, the infirm and the poor. Families would have been split up and those Friends who migrated would have said goodbye to loved ones in the full knowledge that the chance of ever seeing them again was remote. Communications ‘home’ would have come by letter or as news brought by the very rare visitors (of which George Fox himself was one (1671-73). These visits aside, news between Quakers on both continents would have been slow, inconsistent and sometimes not at all.

Early American Friends had an influence on the history and development of their nation far greater than their numbers might have suggested. Influential Quakers like William Penn are justifiably looked upon as numbering among those who helped build America. In Britain, however, Quakers’ influence was limited. Excluded from studying at Universities unless they denied their Quaker beliefs and joined the Church of England, Quakers in Britain exercised influence not in government, but in the areas of commerce and industry, many becoming important players in the Industrial Revolution. Most of the leading UK banks were founded by Quakers and chocolate manufacture was for many years a virtual Quaker monopoly. 

Quaker numbers in Britain have never reached high levels (estimated currently to be 16,000 in the UK, compared to an estimated 93,000 in the USA) and perhaps that mass migration to America has had a bearing on this. Certainly many parts of England and Wales that were once strong Quaker regions, later to became Methodist strongholds, perhaps following the preaching of John Wesley in the eighteenth century, perhaps due in part to depleted Quaker numbers following migration.

When the visionary American Quaker John Woolman visited England in 1772 he was not entirely pleased with what he found in relation to Friends’ involvement with commerce and industry. He wrote in his Journal;
I have felt great distress of mind since I came on this island, on account of the members of our Society being mixed with the world in various sorts of traffic, carried on in impure channels. Great is the trade to Africa for slaves; and for the loading of these ships a great number of people are employed in their factories, among whom are many of our Society. Friends in early times refused on a religious principle to make or trade in superfluities, of which we have many testimonies on record; but for want of faithfulness, some, whose examples were of note in our Society, gave way, from which others took more liberty. Members of our Society worked in superfluities, and bought and sold them, and thus dimness of sight came over many; at length Friends got into the use of some superfluities in dress and in the furniture of their houses, which hath spread from less to more, till superfluity of some kinds is common among us.
In this declining state many look at the example of others and too much neglect the pure feeling of truth. Of late years a deep exercise hath attended my mind, that Friends may dig deep, may carefully cast forth the loose matter and get down to the rock, the sure foundation, and there hearken to that divine voice which gives a clear and certain sound; and I have felt in that which doth not receive, that, if Friends who have known the truth, keep in that tenderness of heart where all views of outward gain are given up, and their trust is only in the Lord, he will graciously lead some to be patterns of deep self-denial in things relating to trade and handicraft labour; and others who have plenty of the treasures of this world will be examples of a plain frugal life, and pay wages to such as they may hire, more liberally than is now customary in some places.”
Early Quaker meeting in a home. This was from an anti-Quaker
publication. Note the cats in the cupboard, the dog lifting
 his leg, the woman preaching from a tub.
John Woolman died during this trip to Great Britain; for this author at least, his visit represents one of the greatest gifts of American Friends to Quakers in these Isles. In pointing out the differences between British and American Friends he also underlined those things that keep us as Quakers – wherever we live – and his advice still gives us cause to stop and think.
The level of writing and journal keeping by both British and American Quakers is remarkable and provides us with a richly illustrated history, but also some considerable inspiration. Today with the advent of Facebook and Twitter, Quakers from all over the world are able to communicate (be that exchanging information or taking part in that age-old Quaker pastime – arguing) on a daily basis, hopefully with “the pure feeling of truth” always being present. Those close to the geographical roots of Quakerism are, at last, able to communicate freely with the most fruitful of the branches.
Guest author Ray Lovegrove
 © Ray Lovegrove 2011, used by permission
Ray Lovegrove (aka ‘Hay Quaker’) is a Quaker living in Hay-on-Wye, on the border between Wales and England.  http://www.facebook.com/hay.quaker       http://hayquaker1.blogspot.com/

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