Chronicles of America 

Quaker Types in Pennsylvania

The arrival of colonists in Pennsylvania in greater numbers than in Delaware and the Jerseys was the more notable because, within a few years after Pennsylvania was founded, persecution of the Quakers ceased in England and one prolific cause of their migration was no more. Thirteen hundred Quakers were released from prison in 1686 by James II; and in 1689, when William of Orange took the throne, toleration was extended to the Quakers and other Protestant dissenters.

The success of the first Quakers who came to America brought others even after persecution ceased in England. The most numerous class of immigrants for the first fifteen or twenty years were Welsh, most of whom were Quakers with a few Baptists and Church of England people. They may have come not so much from a desire to flee from persecution as to build up a little Welsh community and to revive Welsh nationalism. In their new surroundings they spoke their own Welsh language and very few of them had learned English. They had been encouraged in their national aspirations by an agreement with Penn that they were to have a tract of 40,000 acres where they could live by themselves. The land assigned to them lay west of Philadelphia in that high ridge along the present main line of the Pennsylvania Railroad, now so noted for its wealthy suburban homes. All the important names of townships and places in that region, such as Wynnewood, St. Davids, Berwyn, Bryn Mawr, Merion, Haverford, Radnor, are Welsh in origin. Some of the Welsh spread round to the north of Philadelphia, where names like Gwynedd and Penllyn remain as their memorials. The Chester Valley bordering the high ridge of their first settlement they called Duffrin Mawr or Great Valley.

These Welsh, like so many of the Quakers, were of a well-to-do class. They rapidly developed their fertile land and, for pioneers, lived quite luxuriously. They had none of the usual county and township officers but ruled their Welsh Barony, as it was called, through the authority of their Quaker meetings. But this system eventually disappeared. The Welsh were absorbed into the English population, and in a couple of generations their language disappeared. Prominent people are descended from them. David Rittenhouse, the astronomer, was Welsh on his mother's side. David Lloyd, for a long time the leader of the popular party and at one time Chief Justice, was a Welshman. Since the Revolution the Welsh names of Cadwalader and Meredith have been conspicuous.

The Church of England people formed a curious and decidedly hostile element in the early population of Pennsylvania. They established themselves in Philadelphia in the beginning and rapidly grew into a political party which, while it cannot be called very strong in numbers, was important in ability and influence. After Penn's death, his sons joined the Church of England, and the Churchmen in the province became still stronger. They formed the basis of the proprietary party, filled executive offices in the Government, and waged relentless war against the Quaker majority which controlled the Legislature. During Penn's lifetime the Churchmen were naturally opposed to the whole government, both executive and legislative. They were constantly sending home to England all sorts of reports and information calculated to show that the Quakers were unfit to rule a province, that Penn should be deprived of his charter, and that Pennsylvania should be put under the direct rule of the King.

They had delightful schemes for making it a strong Church of England colony like Virginia. One of them suggested that, as the title to the Three Lower Counties, as Delaware was called, was in dispute, it should be taken by the Crown and given to the Church as a manor to support a bishop. Such an ecclesiastic certainly could have lived in princely state from the rents of its fertile farms, with a palace, retinue, chamberlains, chancellors, feudal courts, and all the appendages of earthly glory. For the sake of the picturesqueness of colonial history it is perhaps a pity that this pious plan was never carried out.

As it was, however, the Churchmen established themselves with not a little glamour and romance round two institutions, Christ Church for the first fifty years, and after that round the old College of Philadelphia. The Reverend William Smith, a pugnacious and eloquent Scotchman, led them in many a gallant onset against the "haughty tribe" of Quakers, and he even suffered imprisonment in the cause. He had a country seat on the Schuylkill and was in his way a fine character, devoted to the establishment of ecclesiasticism and higher learning as a bulwark against the menace of Quaker fanaticism; and but for the coming on of the Revolution he might have become the first colonial bishop with all the palaces, pomp, and glory appertaining thereunto.

In spite of this opposition, however, the Quakers continued their control of the colony, serenely tolerating the anathemas of the learned Churchmen and the fierce curses and brandished weapons of the Presbyterians and Scotch-Irish. Curses and anathemas were no check to the fertile soil. Grist continued to come to the mill; and the agricultural products poured into Philadelphia to be carried away in the ships. The contemplative Quaker took his profits as they passed; enacted his liberalizing laws, his prison reform, his charities, his peace with the savage Indians; allowed science, research, and all the kindly arts of life to flourish; and seemed perfectly contented with the damnation in the other world to which those who flourished under his rule consigned him.

In discussing the remarkable success of the province, the colonists always disputed whether the credit should be given to the fertile soil or to the liberal laws and constitution. It was no doubt due to both. But the obvious advantages of Penn's charter over the mixed and troublesome governmental conditions in the Jerseys, Penn's personal fame and the repute of the Quakers for liberalism then at its zenith, and the wide advertising given to their ideas and Penn's, on the continent of Europe as well as in England, seem to have been the reasons why more people, and many besides Quakers, came to take advantage of that fertile soil.

The first great increase of alien population came from Germany, which was still in a state of religious turmoil, disunion, and depression from the results of the Reformation and the Thirty Years' War. The reaction from dogma in Germany had produced a multitude of sects, all yearning for greater liberty and prosperity than they had at home. Penn and other Quakers had made missionary tours in Germany and had preached to the people. The Germans do not appear to have been asked to come to the Jerseys. But they were urged to come to Pennsylvania as soon as the charter was obtained; and many of them made an immediate response. The German mind was then at the height of its emotional unrestraint. It was as unaccustomed to liberty of thought as to political liberty and it produced a new sect or religious distinction almost every day. Many of these sects came to Pennsylvania, where new small religious bodies sprang up among them after their arrival. Schwenkfelders, Tunkers, Labadists, New Born, New Mooners, Separatists, Zion's Brueder, Ronsdorfer, Inspired, Quietists, Gichtelians, Depellians, Mountain Men, River Brethren, Brinser Brethren, and the Society of the Woman in the Wilderness, are names which occur in the annals of the province. But these are only a few. In Lancaster County alone the number has at different times been estimated at from twenty to thirty. It would probably be impossible to make a complete list; some of them, indeed, existed for only a few years. Their own writers describe them as countless and bewildering. Many of them were characterized by the strangest sort of German mysticism, and some of them were inclined to monastic and hermit life and their devotees often lived in caves or solitary huts in the woods.

It would hardly be accurate to call all the German sects Quakers, since a great deal of their mysticism would have been anything but congenial to the followers of Fox and Penn. Resemblances to Quaker doctrine can, however, be found among many of them; and there was one large sect, the Mennonites, who were often spoken of as German Quakers. The two divisions fraternized and preached in each other's meetings. The Mennonites were well educated as a class and Pastorius, their leader, was a ponderously learned German. Most of the German sects left the Quakers in undisturbed possession of Philadelphia, and spread out into the surrounding region, which was then a wilderness. They and all the other Germans who afterwards followed them settled in a half circle beginning at Easton on the Delaware, passing up the Lehigh Valley into Lancaster County, thence across the Susquehanna and down the Cumberland Valley to the Maryland border, which many of them crossed, and in time scattered far to the south in Virginia and even North Carolina, where their descendants are still found.

These German sects which came over under the influence of Penn and the Quakers, between the years 1682 and 1702, formed a class by themselves. Though they may be regarded as peculiar in their ideas and often in their manner of life, it cannot be denied that as a class they were a well-educated, thrifty, and excellent people and far superior to the rough German peasants who followed them in later years. This latter class was often spoken of in Pennsylvania as "the church people," to distinguish them from "the sects," as those of the earlier migration were called.

The church people, or peasantry of the later migration, belonged usually to one of the two dominant churches of Germany, the Lutheran or the Reformed. Those of the Reformed Church were often spoken of as Calvinists. This migration of the church people was not due to the example of the Quakers but was the result of a new policy which was adopted by the British Government when Queen Anne ascended the throne in 1702, and which aimed at keeping the English people at home and at filling the English colonies in America with foreign Protestants hostile to France and Spain.

Large numbers of these immigrants were "redemptioners," as they were called; that is to say, they were persons who had been obliged to sell themselves to the shipping agents to pay for their passage. On their arrival in Pennsylvania the captain sold them to the colonists to pay the passage, and the redemptioner had to work for his owner for a period varying from five to ten years. No stigma or disgrace clung to any of these people under this system. It was regarded as a necessary business transaction. Not a few of the very respectable families of the State and some of its prominent men are known to be descended from redemptioners.

This method of transporting colonists proved a profitable trade for the shipping people, and was soon regularly organized like the modern assisted immigration. Agents, called "newlanders" and "soul-sellers," traveled through Germany working up the transatlantic traffic by various devices, some of them not altogether creditable. Pennsylvania proved to be the most attractive region for these immigrants. Some of those who were taken to other colonies finally worked their way to Pennsylvania. Practically none went to New England, and very few, if any, to Virginia. Indeed, only certain colonies were willing to admit them.

Another important element that went to make up the Pennsylvania population consisted of the Scotch-Irish. They were descendants of Scotch and English Presbyterians who had gone to Ireland to take up the estates of the Irish rebels confiscated under Queen Elizabeth and James I. This migration of Protestants to Ireland, which began soon after 1600, was encouraged by the English Government. Towards the middle of the seventeenth century the confiscation of more Irish land under Cromwell's regime increased the migration to Ulster. Many English joined the migration, and Scotch of the Lowlands who were largely of English extraction, although there were many Gaelic or Celtic names among them.

These are the people usually known in English history as Ulstermen--the same who made such a heroic defense of Londonderry against James II, and the same who in modern times have resisted home rule in Ireland because it would bury them, they believe, under the tyranny of their old enemies, the native Irish Catholic majority. They were more thrifty and industrious than the native Irish and as a result they usually prospered on the Irish land. At first they were in a more or less constant state of war with the native Irish, who attempted to expel them. They were subsequently persecuted by the Church of England under Charles I, who attempted to force them to conform to the English established religion. Such a rugged schooling in Ireland made of them a very aggressive, hardy people, Protestants of the Protestants, so accustomed to contests and warfare that they accepted it as the natural state of man.

These Ulstermen came to Pennsylvania somewhat later than the first German sects; and not many of them arrived until some years after 1700. They were not, like the first Germans, attracted to the colony by any resemblance of their religion to that of the Quakers. On the contrary they were entirely out of sympathy with the Quakers, except in the one point of religious liberty; and the Quakers were certainly out of sympathy with them. Nearly all the colonies in America received a share of these settlers. Wherever they went they usually sought the frontier and the wilderness; and by the time of the Revolution, they could be found upon the whole colonial frontier from New Hampshire to Georgia. They were quite numerous in Virginia, and most numerous along the edge of the Pennsylvania wilderness. It was apparently the liberal laws and the fertile soil that drew them to Pennsylvania in spite of their contempt for most of the Quaker doctrines.

The dream of their life, their haven of rest, was for these Scotch-Irish a fertile soil where they would find neither Irish "papists" nor Church of England; and for this reason in America they always sought the frontier where they could be by themselves. They could not even get on well with the Germans in Pennsylvania; and when the Germans crowded into their frontier settlements, quarrels became so frequent that the proprietors asked the Ulstermen to move farther west, a suggestion which they were usually quite willing to accept. At the close of the colonial period in Pennsylvania the Quakers, the Church of England people, and the miscellaneous denominations occupied Philadelphia and the region round it in a half circle from the Delaware River. Outside of this area lay another containing the Germans, and beyond that were the Scotch-Irish. The principal stronghold of the Scotch-Irish was the Cumberland Valley in Southern Pennsylvania west of the Susquehanna, a region now containing the flourishing towns of Chambersburg, Gettysburg, Carlisle, and York, where the descendants of these early settlers are still very numerous. In modern times, however, they have spread out widely; they are now to be found all over the State, and they no longer desire so strongly to live by themselves.

The Ulstermen, owing to the circumstances of their earlier life, had no sympathy whatever with the Quaker's objection to war or with his desire to deal fairly with the Indians and pay them for their land. As Presbyterians and Calvinists, they belonged to one of the older and more conservative divisions of the Reformation. The Quaker's doctrine of the inward light, his quietism, contemplation, and advanced ideas were quite incomprehensible to them. As for the Indians, they held that the Old Testament commands the destruction of all the heathen; and as for paying the savages for their land, it seemed ridiculous to waste money on such an object when they could exterminate the natives at less cost. The Ulstermen, therefore, settled on the Indian land as they pleased, or for that matter on any land, and were continually getting into difficulty with the Pennsylvania Government no less than with the Indians. They regarded any region into which they entered as constituting a sovereign state. It was this feeling of independence which subsequently prompted them to organize what is known as the Whisky Rebellion when, after the Revolution, the Federal Government put a tax on the liquor which they so much esteemed as a product, for corn converted into whisky was more easily transported on horses over mountain trails, and in that form fetched a better price in the markets.

After the year 1755, when the Quaker method of dealing with the Indians no longer prevailed, the Scotch-Irish lived on the frontier in a continual state of savage warfare which lasted for the next forty years. War, hunting the abundant game, the deer, buffalo, and elk, and some agriculture filled the measure of their days and years. They paid little attention to the laws of the province, which were difficult to enforce on the distant frontier, and they administered a criminal code of their own with whipping or "laced jacket," as they called it, as a punishment. They were Jacks of all trades, weaving their own cloth and making nearly everything they needed. They were the first people in America to develop the use of the rifle, and they used it in the Back Country all the way down into the Carolinas at a time when it was seldom seen in the seaboard settlements. In those days, rifles were largely manufactured in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and there were several famous gunsmiths in Philadelphia. Some of the best of these old rifles have been preserved and are really beautiful weapons, with delicate hair triggers, gracefully curved stocks, and quaint brass or even gold or silver mountings. The ornamentation was often done by the hunter himself, who would melt a gold or silver coin and pour it into some design which he had carved with his knife in the stock.

The Revolution offered an opportunity after the Ulstermen's heart, and they entered it with their entire spirit, as they had every other contest which involved liberty and independence. In fact, in that period they played such a conspicuous part that they almost ruled Philadelphia, the original home of the Quakers. Since then, spread out through the State, they have always had great influence, the natural result of their energy, intelligence, and love of education.

Nearly all these diverse elements of the Pennsylvania population were decidedly sectional in character. The Welsh had a language of their own, and they attempted, though without success, to maintain it, as well as a government of their own within their barony independent of the regular government of the province. The Germans were also extremely sectional. They clung with better success to their own language, customs, and literature. The Scotch-Irish were so clannish that they had ideas of founding a separate province on the Susquehanna. Even the Church of England people were so aloof and partisan that, though they lived about Philadelphia among the Quakers, they were extremely hostile to the Quaker rule and unremittingly strove to destroy it.

All these cleavages and divisions in the population continue in their effects to this day. They prevented the development of a homogeneous population. No exact statistics were taken of the numbers of the different nationalities in colonial times; but Franklin's estimate is probably fairly accurate, and his position in practical politics gave him the means of knowing and of testing his calculations. About the year 1750 he estimated the population as one-third Quaker, one-third German, and one-third miscellaneous. This gave about 50,000 or 60,000 to each of the thirds. Provost Smith, of the newly founded college, estimated the Quakers at only about 40,000. But his estimate seems too low. He was interested in making out their numbers small because he was trying to show the absurdity of allowing such a small band of fanatics and heretics to rule a great province of the British Empire. One great source of the Quaker power lay in the sympathy of the Germans, who always voted on their side and kept them in control of the Legislature, so that it was in reality a case of two-thirds ruling one-third. The Quakers, it must be admitted, never lost their heads. Unperturbed through all the conflicts and the jarring of races and sects, they held their position unimpaired and kept the confidence and support of the Germans until the Revolution changed everything.

The varied elements of population spread out in ever widening half circles from Philadelphia as a center. There was nothing in the character of the region to stop this progress. The country all the way westward to the Susquehanna was easy hill, dale, and valley, covered by a magnificent growth of large forest trees--oaks, beeches, poplars, walnuts, hickories, and ash--which rewarded the labor of felling by exposing to cultivation a most fruitful soil.

The settlers followed the old Indian trails. The first westward pioneers seem to have been the Welsh Quakers, who pushed due west from Philadelphia and marked out the course of the famous Lancaster Road, afterwards the Lancaster Turnpike. It took the line of least resistance along the old trail, following ridges until it reached the Susquehanna at a spot where an Indian trader, named Harris, established himself and founded a post which subsequently became Harrisburg, the capital of the State.

For a hundred years the Lancaster Road was the great highway westward, at first to the mountains, then to the Ohio, and finally to the Mississippi Valley and the Great West. Immigrants and pioneers from all the New England and Middle States flocked out that way to the land of promise in wagons, or horseback, or trudging along on foot. Substantial taverns grew up along the route; and habitual freighters and stage drivers, proud of their fine teams of horses, grew into characters of the road. When the Pennsylvania Railroad was built, it followed the same line. In fact, most of the lines of railroad in the State follow Indian trails. The trails for trade and tribal intercourse led east and west. The warrior trails usually led north and south, for that had long been the line of strategy and conquest of the tribes. The northern tribes, or Six Nations, established in the lake region of New York near the headwaters of the Delaware, the Susquehanna, and the Ohio, had the advantage of these river valleys for descending into the whole Atlantic seaboard and the valley of the Mississippi. They had in consequence conquered all the tribes south of them as far even as the Carolinas and Georgia. All their trails of conquest led across Pennsylvania.

The Germans in their expansion at first seem to have followed up the Schuylkill Valley and its tributaries, and they hold this region to the present day. Gradually they crossed the watershed to the Susquehanna and broke into the region of the famous limestone soil in Lancaster County, a veritable farmer's paradise from which nothing will ever drive them. Many Quaker farmers penetrated north and northeast from Philadelphia into Bucks County, a fine rolling and hilly wheat and corn region, where their descendants are still found and whence not a few well-known Philadelphia families have come.

The Quaker government of Pennsylvania in almost a century of its existence largely fulfilled its ideals. It did not succeed in governing without war; but the war was not its fault. It did succeed in governing without oaths. An affirmation instead of an oath became the law of Pennsylvania for all who chose an affirmation; and this law was soon adopted by most American communities. It succeeded in establishing religious liberty in Pennsylvania in the fullest sense of the word. It brought Christianity nearer to its original simplicity and made it less superstitious and cruel.

The Quakers had always maintained that it was a mistake to suppose that their ideas would interfere with material prosperity and happiness; and they certainly proved their contention in Pennsylvania. To Quaker liberalism was due not merely the material prosperity, but prison reform and the notable public charities of Pennsylvania; in both of which activities, as in the abolition of slavery, the Quakers were leaders. Original research in science also flourished in a marked degree in colonial Pennsylvania. No one in those days knew the nature of thunder and lightning, and the old explanation that they were the voice of an angry God was for many a sufficient explanation. Franklin, by a long series of experiments in the free Quaker colony, finally proved in 1752 that lightning was electricity, that is to say, a manifestation of the same force that is produced when glass is rubbed with buckskin. He invented the lightning rod, discovered the phenomenon of positive and negative electricity, explained the action of the Leyden jar, and was the first American writer on the modern science of political economy. This energetic citizen of Pennsylvania spent a large part of his life in research; he studied the Gulf Stream, storms and their causes, waterspouts, whirlwinds; and he established the fact that the northeast storms of the Atlantic coast usually move against the wind.

But Franklin was not the only scientist in the colony. Besides his three friends, Kinnersley, Hopkinson, and Syng, who worked with him and helped him in his discoveries, there were David Rittenhouse, the astronomer, John Bartram, the botanist, and a host of others. Rittenhouse excelled in every undertaking which required the practical application of astronomy, He attracted attention even in Europe for his orrery which indicated the movements of the stars and which was an advance on all previous instruments of the kind. When astronomers in Europe were seeking to have the transit of Venus of 1769 observed in different parts of the world, Pennsylvania alone of the American colonies seems to have had the man and the apparatus necessary for the work. Rittenhouse conducted the observations at three points and won a world-wide reputation by the accuracy and skill of his observations. The whole community was interested in this scientific undertaking; the Legislature and public institutions raised the necessary funds; and the American Philosophical Society, the only organization of its kind in the colonies, had charge of the preparations.

The American Philosophical Society had been started in Philadelphia in 1743. It was the first scientific society to be founded in America, and throughout the colonial period it was the only society of its kind in the country. Its membership included not only prominent men throughout America, such as Thomas Jefferson, who were interested in scientific inquiry, but also representatives of foreign nations. With its library of rare and valuable collections and its annual publication of essays on almost every branch of science, the society still continues its useful scientific work.

John Bartram, who was the first botanist to describe the plants of the New World and who explored the whole country from the Great Lakes to Florida, was a Pennsylvania Quaker of colonial times, farmer born and bred. Thomas Godfrey, also a colonial Pennsylvanian, was rewarded by the Royal Society of England for an improvement which he made in the quadrant. Peter Collinson of England, a famous naturalist and antiquarian of early times, was a Quaker. In modern times John Dalton, the discoverer of the atomic theory of colorblindness, was born of Quaker parents, and Edward Cope, of a well-known Philadelphia Quaker family, became one of the most eminent naturalists and paleontologists of the nineteenth century, and unaided discovered over a third of the three thousand extinct species of vertebrates recognized by men of science. In the field of education, Lindley Murray, the grammarian of a hundred years ago, was a Quaker. Ezra Cornell, a Quaker, founded the great university in New York which bears his name; and Johns Hopkins, also a Quaker, founded the university of that name in Baltimore.

Pennsylvania deserves the credit of turning these early scientific pursuits to popular uses. The first American professorship of botany and natural history was established in Philadelphia College, now the University of Pennsylvania. The first American book on a medical subject was written in Philadelphia by Thomas Cadwalader in 1740; the first American hospital was established there in 1751; and the first systematic instruction in medicine. Since then Philadelphia has produced a long line of physicians and surgeons of national and European reputation. For half a century after the Revolution the city was the center of medical education for the country and it still retains a large part of that preeminence. The Academy of Natural Sciences founded in Philadelphia in 1812 by two inconspicuous young men, an apothecary and a dentist, soon became by the spontaneous support of the community a distinguished institution. It sent out two Arctic expeditions, that of Kane and that of Hayes, and has included among its members the most prominent men of science in America. It is now the oldest as well as the most complete institution of its kind in the country. The Franklin Institute, founded in Philadelphia in 1824, was the result of a similar scientific interest. It was the first institution of applied science and the mechanic arts in America. Descriptions of the first 2900 patents issued by the United States Government are to be found only on the pages of its Journal, which is still an authoritative annual record.

Apart from their scientific attainments, one of the most interesting facts about the Quakers is the large proportion of them who have reached eminence, often in occupations which are supposed to be somewhat inconsistent with Quaker doctrine. General Greene, the most capable American officer of the Revolution, after Washington. was a Rhode Island Quaker. General Mifflin of the Revolution was a Pennsylvania Quaker. General Jacob Brown, a Bucks County Pennsylvania Quaker, reorganized the army in the War of 1819. and restored it to its former efficiency. In the long list of Quakers eminent in all walks of life, not only in Pennsylvania but elsewhere, are to be found John Bright, a lover of peace and human liberty through a long and eminent career in British politics; John Dickinson of Philadelphia, who wrote the famous Farmer's Letters so signally useful in the American Revolution; Whittier, the American poet, a Quaker born in Massachusetts of a family converted from Puritanism when the Quakers invaded Boston in the seventeenth century; and Benjamin West, a Pennsylvania Quaker of colonial times, an artist of permanent eminence, one of the founders of the Royal Academy in England and its president in succession to Sir Joshua Reynolds.

Wherever Quakers are found they are the useful and steady citizens. Their eminence seems out of all proportion to their comparatively small numbers. It has often been asked why this height of attainment should occur among a people of such narrow religious discipline. But were the Quakers really narrow, or were they any more narrow than other rigorously self-disciplined people: Spartans, Puritans, soldiers whose discipline enables them to achieve great results? All discipline is in one sense narrow. Quaker quietude and retirement probably conserved mental energy instead of dissipating it. In an age of superstition and irrational religion, their minds were free and unhampered, and it was the dominant rational tone of their thought that enabled science to flourish in Pennsylvania.

Back to: The Quaker Colonies