Thursday, June 24, 2010

Calvinists, Quakers, and Spiritualists. Oh My!: A Breathless Account of Local Religious History

If you ever watch Star Trek (and everyone should), then you know that one little change in history can have unexpected consequences (Ask Captain Kirk after he lost Edith Keeler). In history, we like to play with sci-fi scenarios but we call them historical counterfactuals (mostly because our students stop taking us seriously when we endlessly quote Klingon proverbs). Here's one (a counterfactual not a Klingon proverb): what might have happened if Calvinists hadn't so wretchedly committed to the idea of infant damnation?

As it turns out, I'm not going to entertain that counterfactual because I find it much more entertaining to tell you what happened because they did not abandon that notion. Wacky things happened. It led to Spiritualism and Paganism and Witchcraft and radical, wise-ass Quakers. It led to free thought and free love and communes of all kinds. So hurray for the doctrine of infant damnation! Without you, American history would not be worth my time.

(Note that this blog entry is grossly simplified because this is the kind of topic that flings me off in all kinds of tempting directions that will be of no interest to most human beings. Seriously, I've written hundreds of pages on this topic. Imagine how dull!)

There are (at least) two currents of religious thought in the U.S. by the early 19th century that interest me. We have Calvinism with which we are pretty well familiar. Miserable stuff. We also have more liberal traditions which, because they are liberal, are also diverse so it is difficult to lump them together. There were the deists, of course, about whom we hear so much in our history of the Revolutionary War and there were Unitarians who evolved from Calvinists and the Transcendentalists who evolved from Unitarians. There were the Friends who have a long history of annoying Calvinists and there were wild and crazy Baptists and Methodists too. By no means was there monolithic agreement on what it meant to be Christian in antebellum America.

Two very interesting things happened in the 1820s. The first was the schism between "Hicksites" and "Orthodox" Friends. I put these terms in quotation marks because neither group chose their own designation and both designations are not quite accurate. The "orthodox" Friends were actually decreasingly orthodox inasmuch as they were increasingly connected to the methods and values of American Protestant evangelicalism (See *3*) and the Hicksites, including Elias Hicks, thought it really cheeky of the "orthodox" to attempt to characterize them as all blind followers of Hicks as if they were all intentionally a bunch of wayward schismatics. They felt that they were being orthodox too. Indeed, except for the fact that the "Orthodox" had more power and money and numbers than the Hicksites, we might just as easily say that the "Orthodox" Friends were being schismatic and not the other way round. One could very easily argue that the Hicksites were reacting to increasing tensions created by wealthy and powerful urban Friends' desire to get cozy with the wealthy and powerful evangelical Protestants. So who was schismatic? It all depends on perspective.

In any case, in the early 1820s, Presbyterian minister, Eliphat Wheeler published a challenge to Quakers in the Christian Repository to which Friend Benjamin Ferris responded. These letters are published as the the Letters of Paul and Amicus and are over 500 pages long. They are well worth reading despite their length because they so excellently delineate the key differences between Calvinist and liberal Quaker religious thinking of that time period and address issues not only of predestination, infant damnation, the divinity of Christ, the Trinity, the sacraments of communion and baptism, atonement, and the role of clergy but also issues like slavery, colonialism, missionary work, bible societies, and comparative religious studies. The letters regarding "Hindoos" in India are most interesting and show important distinctions in Quaker and Calvinist approaches not merely to missionary efforts and colonialism but to attitudes regarding diversity and the value of non-Christian perspectives.

In reading Amicus, one is amazed at how very readily he might fit into a contemporary liberal Christian Quaker context. Amicus was clearly influenced by the emergent popular availability of scientific and philosophical works both secular and sacred. He obviously read widely and deeply (and he reminds me that I should watch less television and spend less time online). In fact, as I read him, I think, "Hey! I would have fit in with Friends even back in the day." But I would be premature in this assumption. The problem was that Amicus hadn't considered how much his thinking didn't fall in line with the most powerful Friends of that time whose thinking on many key issues was more in line with Paul. Such Friends were particularly distressed by the fact that Amicus was not clear about things like the divinity of Christ and they were a bit put out by his comfort level with other religious traditions.

By 1828 Friends had split in two. Not everyone who sided with the Hicksites was a rip roaring radical but lots of them were and those people continued to challenge the country's religious status quo with all their new-fangled ideas about social equality and diversity. Friends like Lucretia and James Mott, Martha Coffin Wright (read out of meeting for marrying a non-Friend), Mary Ann and Thomas M'Clintock, Amy and Isaac Post, Jane Hunt,Rhoda de Garmo and Daniel Anthony were among the more radical Friends. These were the folks who got themselves involved in such capricious activities as abolitionism and woman's rights. They worked with those crazy Methodists and Baptists I mentioned earlier who shared in their belief that it was high time Christians stop condemning everybody to Hell and start creating the Kingdom of God on Earth. Which brings me to...

The Burned-Over District. In 1825, New York State opened the Erie Canal and the commercial and cultural destiny of the entire nation was irrevocably altered. Indeed, I would say that the Civil War was won in 1825 (but that's a whole 'nother post which you'll never see here because I'm really not that interested in it.) Western New York went from backwater to bustling in a matter of months. Indeed, Rochester became the fastest growing city in the nation.

Folks from New England and Pennsylvania (Calvinists and Quakers)arrived in large numbers. Imagine sending off your son or daughter to the wilds of the west. (But, Mother! I'm going to Rochester, not Timbuktu. They have post offices and stores and churches there and everything!") Fathers and mothers didn't listen and they fussed and worried over the state of their kids' souls. As well they should have. There were far more bars and brothels in western New York than there were first. So they sent along itinerant preachers. Scores of them. Evangelists rained down on Central New York like a cloud of locusts. Of these, Charles Grandison Finney was the most popular and the most influential of the evangelical revivalists but he had lots of competition for the souls of Upstate New Yorkers.

Because there were few long-established centers of religious authority in the region, new religious and spiritual trends could develop relatively unmolested by established denominational hierarchies. Mormons, Shakers, Christian socialists, Millerites, Spiritualists, and many other groups either emerged from this transitional cultural milieu or moved there to escape more restrictive environments. In the developing urban centers of such places as Troy, Syracuse, Utica, and Rochester, the rapidly shifting population of working people, including many moving onto points even farther west, discouraged the development of a centralized societal authority and community-mindedness. While the old families, churches, and political parties of New England could command a certain amount of respect and compliance, there existed no such structures in New York State to prevent a proliferation of dissenting opinions and religious strategies. Into this environment, evangelical preachers of all stripes came to spread whatever word they believed the people most needed to hear. The people responded by the thousands to a multitude of spiritual leaders, lecturers, and innovators.

Meanwhile, a group of abolitionist, free thinking Hicksites who had grown too radical even for Hicksite tolerance levels were sharing meeting for worship at the Junius Ponds meeting house. Persons associated with this group were the Posts, M'Clintocks, Hunts and a young attender, Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Lucretia Mott, on one of her frequent visits to sister, Martha Coffin Wright, was helpful in their organization and sympathetic to their aims but she never belonged to this group who would rename themselves Progressive Friends in the 1850s (with a young woman named Susan B. Anthony as one of their early clerks). This group of Friends, as loyal readers may recall, was also the group primarily responsible for organizing the first women's rights convention in Seneca Falls in 1848. They were also behind the emergence of Spiritualism as we shall see in *5*

1848, two young girls and their parents move from Rochester to a rented house in Newark, N.Y. where they begin to report hearing spectral rapping noises. They visit the Posts in Rochester where Amy and Isaac become convinced of the legitimacy of the rapping sounds and interpret them as a manifestation of the divine Spirit. Spiritualism spreads through the ultraist Quaker population in Upstate New York, then onto other strongholds of liberal Quaker population. Quaker meeting and Spiritualism share characteristics. In both there is a period of expectant, waiting worship sometimes punctuated by a ministry given by an individual who acts as a mouthpiece for the Spirit. In both, the ministry of women and girls is recognized and encouraged. The fundamental assumption is equality of souls. Both Hicksite Friends and Spiritualists react strongly against Calvinist teaching of predestination and infant damnation. In a time during which the death of loved ones (particularly children and women in childbirth) was relatively common, Spiritualism offered formerly Protestant believers an alternative view of afterlife. One's loved ones were not only well and well-loved in Divine care but could continue to communicate their love for those they left behind.

Friends were the first to attribute religious significance to modern Spiritualist manifestations. I believe one can still see their early imprint. Nineteenth-century Spiritualists were actively involved in the free-thought movement, in abolition, women's rights, and other human rights reform movements. When the Spirits spoke, they always seemed to side with the downtrodden. They were always champions of the lowly. It was not long before Spiritualism began to draw converts from the Protestant denominations. People, especially women, were weary of dark Calvinist sin-centered doctrine. As women had particular care of infants, children, the disabled, the dying, and even of the bodies of the dead, they were particularly motivated to take up a spiritual system that denied concepts like eternal damnation or the damnation of infants. Women also flocked to a faith that not only allowed, but encouraged female leadership and public speaking. As Spiritualism grew increasingly popular throughout the English-speaking world, audiences grew accustomed to seeing women public speakers address all the important and controversial topics of the day (often under Spirit trance). Free speech, free produce, free thought, free love: all were topics addressed by Spirit. The early American civil rights and Spiritualist movements were inextricably connected in these early years.

Over time, the Spiritualist movement evolves in various directions. Some of these directions are just silly and freakish (women pulling fully formed apparitions out of their what-nots) but others are significant. The Theosophical Movement grows out of Spiritualism and provides a popular forum for interfaith research and comparative religious studies. Theosophists combined American Spiritualism with an interest in Eastern philosophy and mysticism. The introduction of Buddhism and Hinduism to American religious liberals irrevocably changed the history of religions in the United States. Significantly for the human rights movement, leaders such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Matilda Joslyn Gage shifted their suffrage focus to serious criticism of phallocentric religion by the close of the nineteenth-century. As a result of her involvement in Spiritualism and Theosophy, Gage became a prototypical American Neo-Pagan and suggested that women should begin referring to the Goddess as well as to God in their systems of personal spirituality. Together, she and Stanton wrote extensively about their religious ideas. Their challenge to the patriarchal Christian Church was applauded by the more radical, intellectual members of the suffragist groups but drew condemnation from most including Susan B. Anthony who feared their radical spiritual position would alienate more conservative suffragists.

Susan B. Anthony has her way for awhile but over time, fragile thread by fragile thread, we weave a history of "alternative spirituality" in the United States. It is a parti-colored tapestry. The strands are not always clear. I've had to spend some time teasing out the connections, searching out private letters and rare quotations and references. Often I find an individual has a sense that they are evolving away from the religion of their youth in isolation but I do find that there are predictable references to certain movements, traditions and authors. One of the predictable references is to liberal Hicksite and Progressive Friends whose history is so neatly interwoven into the fabric of American religious liberalism.

Some may say that radical Friends lost their way. I don't think so. I think that the growth that resulted from the schism had significantly positive outcomes for humanity. I think that what happened here in the Burned-Over District was a manifestation of obedience to the Light that resulted in an elevation of the rights and dignity of the human being. I'm proud that I have inherited this crazy history. I recognize that it is not "Friends' History" writ large. Friends in Ohio or Kenya or even England might think this was just some peculiar or even perverted understanding of Quaker belief and practice. Progressive Friends' influence on the development of American Buddhism, Hinduism, Paganism, Freethought, and Atheism is atypical Friends' history. But it did happen. Friends invented American Spiritualism. Spiritualism morphed into Theosophy. Theosophy informed the beginning of American Paganism. All the above religious movements were intricately interwoven in the emergence of feminist spirituality and human rights activism. It may be a wacky Friends' history peculiar to this wacky place I call home, but it is Friends' history nevertheless. It did the world good, and I will not apologize for it.


Bright Crow said...

Dear One,

Thanks so much for this! A valuable piece of historical work, showing us the American macrocosm in the Burned-Over District microcosm.



Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

You left out the part where Theosophy later influences occultists like the Golden Dawn (also associated, as was Spiritualism, with radical notions like Irish independence, over across the pond from the U.S.), the O.T.O., and Dion Fortune...

Thereby making the Quakers, Spiritualists, and Theosophists the intellectual ancestors of Wicca, and hence (indirectly, in the case of many reconstructionist Paganisms, but still) of the entire modern Pagan revival.

I'll spare you the play by play, since you're probably familiar with it already if you're interested. But I have often found it remarkable and exciting how one intellectual ferment led to another. And, yeah, each of these movements can be characterized by its lunatic fringe, and made to seem merely strange and excessive. But it's also quite possible to look closer, and see the causes they were associated with, and think, hey! Howza bout that? Something interesting was going on here, spiritually speaking.


Hystery said...

Yep. Good stuff. I love how Paganism morphs into Christianity and Christianity morphs into Paganism. Isn't it fantastic?

And then there's the fascinating connections between Theosophy and the reclamation of Buddhism and Hinduism in Sri Lanka and India respectively. Of course, these religious reclamations are tied up in political movements for independence from England. Gandhi himself was influenced by Theosophists when he was in London. It is quite wonderful to think of the Spiritualist connection and to realize that movement had its start a few scant miles from my house.

Mary Ellen said...

Wow! This is such a well-woven and clear recounting of some history I'd pieced together parts of, but I hadn't seen all of the connections you make here. Thanks for pulling it together.

I'm teaching a course called Religion & Psychology which is really a semester-long immersion into James's Varieties of Religious Experience (along with some introductory Jung, a look at what Freud thought of religion, an introduction to Buddhism as mind science, and finishing up with Starhawk's Truth or Dare). We also read a helpful book called Shadow Culture by Eugene Taylor, which traces much of this history and carries it through late 20th century transpersonal psychologies. The course is a lot of fun, but it's hard to keep a good line threading things together for students, many of whom (working class, taking the course for a general humanities requirement) are really puzzled by this all. But others catch on really quickly and run with it (e.g,., can I do my paper on the emergence of Reiki in the U.S.?) I love your threading this together (and Cat, too). It's certainly been my own journey, from Presbyterianism through Hindu-flavored meditation (and other late 60's mind-altering influences) to Quakerism and also an immersion in feminist archetypal psychology and Goddess literatures. Yay! It DOES hang together, so there.

Hystery said...

Mary Ellen,

That course sounds really satisfying. I'm not able to teach religion studies at my college but I sure would like to!

I developed the interest as a child. Dad used to tell me about the relationships between social class, politics, and theology in various Protestant denominations- and how those things changed over time. I began to see that churches and religious bodies have personalities and histories just like people. Here in the Burned Over District, folks were always changing affiliations and I wanted to know why. I wanted to see the bridges that allowed them to cross over from one tradition to another. I'm very interested in those bridges.

Daniel Wilcox said...

Well Hystery,

I once played a Klingon at Universal Studios, my chance to don the regalia and growl for the camera;-)

That's about how I feel/think about this discussion. Your post made good points and was a good historical review.

Somehow, however, the response comments got to me.I feel I've got to be the gadfly:-)

In my opinion, God gets through to us humans not via/or because of the "myths" of these various religions and the bridges between them, but despite all the regalia and growls or smiles:-)

Which shows again what a cliched-religious liberal (in the Harry Emerson Fosdick sense and maybe a bit of mythic C.S. Lewis)
I am, who has intellectual interest in the religious machinations of humankind, but finds so much of the stuff distortions, superstitions, or worse.

Even the best of the religious leaders had clay feet (my own are sludge;-) or worse.
For instance, Emerson and Thoreau's Transcendentalism enthralled me and still does in part, but some of their writing and actions were downright selfish.

I used to think that Quakers were the touchstone until I read a lot of Friends history and discovered that the "real movers and quakers;)"
were the exception--that most Quakers through the generations opposed the witness of leaders like Woolman and Mott and Hicks.

There "ain't" no free lunch in religion. I see this so much in my own faith. The older I get, the more I see how much of my own religious faith is questionable, presumptuous, or stupid.

Now I know I am being negative...

There is Good News:-) However, that is a different post, which most of you already have heard from me.

In the Light,

Hystery said...


I am a spiritual woman but not a religious one and the reason is because I have found, like you, that however lovely I find the bright spots of any religious story, I find most of the rest of it pretty self-serving and disappointing. I choose, therefore, to focus my attention on that which shines bright and true and to maintain my loyalty to the source of that glow rather than to those who so often fail to reflect it. (You may note that I slid there right into theism and an acknowledgment of a Source. Will wonders never cease?)
I would not, to be honest, have entered into society with the Society of Friends unless I felt it was good for my children and because the brightness I find among Friends both historical and contemporary is a good match for the way in which I feel I am called to shine. I have to put up with (and analyze and criticize and confront) that which fails in this regard in myself and other Friends as part of the bargain. That my exemplars and I often fail to shine is disappointing but oh so human. But can being human be better? I think so. I have a f/Friend who continues to remind me that we are too easy on ourselves. We are capable of hearing the Voice and of living in the Light. We must continue to choose to do so. I find her conviction intriguing and not a little inspirational.

The conversation continues.

Hystery said...

I should add that I chose Friends' society because I wanted a spiritual home for my children and I felt it was the closest match for my personal beliefs. I have since found that it has been good for me too (and infuriating and challenging and disappointing and...well, you get the picture.)

Norea from NTF said...

"(mostly because our students stop taking us seriously when we endlessly quote Klingon proverbs)"

Your students are philistines! How are people raising their kids today? On "un-reality" TV, no doubt.

Fascinating post, fascinating comments, a lot to dig into. Thanks!

"You left out the part where Theosophy later influences occultists like the Golden Dawn (also associated, as was Spiritualism, with radical notions like Irish independence, over across the pond from the U.S.), the O.T.O., and Dion Fortune... "

Also don't forget the French revivalist movement of spiritualism in the 1800s led to what is known as religious Gnosticism today. (Religious Gnostics may claim they go all the way back to the 2nd century with the Nag Hammadi library but they...patently don't.) Also tied to the Golden Dawn/OTO, and Rosicrucianism. Basically, everything in religion is down to the NWO/Illuminati. ;-) (I'm kidding, I'm kidding!!)

"They felt that they were being orthodox too. Indeed, except for the fact that the "Orthodox" had more power and money and numbers than the Hicksites"

Compare with the split in England, which was the flip side of the North American coin; instead of shattering along the seams, about 300 (wealthy, natch) "Beaconites" broke away, and nobody's really heard much of them ever since.

(I'd so be a Quaker right now if I was living in the UK, it's not even funny.)

"I love how Paganism morphs into Christianity and Christianity morphs into Paganism. Isn't it fantastic?"

Meh, I've known that ever since I was little. Er, but I was told this was what made Christians "of the devil/Mark of the Beast", however....Yeah, they were pretty much way, way, way off the mark on that. Thing is, some Christians you talk to about this, will positively do backflips to try and deny it, when ALL their religious festivals track almost accurately with the Solstices and Nature. Go figure??

"I once played a Klingon at Universal Studios, my chance to don the regalia and growl for the camera ;-)"

My respect for you has grown by leaps and bounds, sir. ;-)

"I have since found that it has been good for me too (and infuriating and challenging and disappointing and...well, you get the picture."

I'm sure you're not the only one. I get that feeling sometimes, too. And I roll with Non-Theist, mostly-Liberal Friends! ;-)

Norea from NTF said...

It said my comment saved, but I got an error? Blogger has been very tetchy for me, of late....

Jeremy Mott said...

Hystery, I lived in Rochester, with my family, from 1956 to 1958.
In 1956 the Friends meeting, which we attended, was exactly 13 years old. It had been founded in the middle of WW2 by three elderly women of Quaker background, who were convinced that Rochester really needed a Friends meeting again. Even though the city had once been a major Quaker center,
there had been no meeting since the Orthodox one had been laid down around the time of WWI.

Friends knew about Progressives'
connection with Spiritualism, though I'm sure some were not proud of it, since the Spritualists had a (perhaps un- justified) reputation as a fraud.
Friends may have been aware (or maybe were not aware) of the great
influence that the Progressives
eventually had on the regular (i.e.
FGC) Hicksites, which Chuck Fager
has explained in his magazine.
I'll continue. Jeremy Mott

Jeremy Mott said...

Friends in Rochester also knew that many pre-Civil-War Friends there, including Progressives, had moved on to Battle Creek. There
Sojourner Truth---who remained a
Methodist so she could sing in
church---had lived her last years and died. And there many Friends,
probably Progressives, had become
Seventh Day Adventists. (Think of Post cereals from Battle Creek.)
Now this is a hellfire-and-damnation church if there ever was one. Apparently Progressive Friends
helped give birth to it.
I also have read, in Tom Hamm's book about U.S. Friends of every kind, that the Progressives simply didn't have much "staying power."
They often gave up plain speech and plain dress before any other
Friends. Some of them quickly adopted music in meeting, and began to hire ministers of other
denominations to preach. I don't think that any group of Progressive Friends joined the
regular Hicksites, or the Orthodox,
in the marvelous---and very expensive---project, of sending
Quaker (and other) teachers to the
South after the Civil War to educate freedmen and their families. (If you're not familiar
with this, you might enjoy reading
about it in Linda Selleck's book
Gentle Invaders, available from FUM.) I'll continue. Jeremy Mott

Jeremy Mott said...

Yet this isn't all. It's hard
to see that the Progressives had
any choice except to leave the
regular Hicksites behind. Otherwise they could not have remained active abolitionists. In
Pennsylvania, the Progressives and
the regular Hicksites remained at peace with each other; so all was well.
Yet in New York Yearly Meeting
Hicksite (which included Vermont in those days) and Ohio Yearly Meeting Hicksite (a very large group of Friends), and Genesee Y.M.
(Hicksites in western New York,
Ontario, and Michigan), it was a
very different story. The Progressive separation in these
groups amounted to a war among
Friends. When the dust was settled, after the Civil War and by World War I, there was nothing
much left of New York Y.M. (FGC)
except meetings in the New York City area. Ohio Y.M. (FGC) was laid down entirely. Genesee Y.M.(FGC) was completely gone, except in Canada. Of course, there were no Progressives at all in this vast territory. There were no
Friends of any sort in Vermont,
most of upstate New York, and Michigan, except for a few mostly small, mostly rural Orthodox churches. There were no meetings
in Albany, Schenectady, Syracuse,
Ithaca, Rochester, or Buffalo by
the time of WWI. Quakerism had
to be rebuilt, on a united basis,
in all these places and many others. by a few dedicated souls like Helen Fish. We Friends today owe a lot to these Friends; they
partly overcame the tragic results of the Progressive separations.
Even today, there are far fewer
Friends in Vermont, upstate N.Y.,
and Michigan, than there were before the Civil War.
Please take pride in these Friends too. Jeremy Mott

Hystery said...


Thanks for stopping by and thanks for the great information. I happen to be writing an article about the Progressive split right now although I left out much of that information in this blog post. Fascinating stuff.

It is interesting that the Millerites/Seventh Day Adventists ended up out in Michigan with Friends. The Burned-Over District had far-reaching effects.

I was not familiar with the Battle Creek, Michigan information. I'm reading that the Michigan meetings had primary affiliation with New York meetings (both Hicksite and Conservative) prior to the 1848 split. Friends from Upstate were moving in large numbers in the 1830s. This is interesting to me because my great-great grandfather (not a Friend) did the same thing.

There is so much more to learn! Your comments inspire me to spend more time studying Friends' history of the early twentieth century. It seems there is always some tantalizing tidbit of information that beckons me on. :-)

Jeremy Mott said...

Helen Fish, by the way, was the elderly Quaker who led in re-founding Rochester Friends meeting.
She had a mansion in the middle of
the worst slum in the city, filled
with antiques and bric-a-brac. She
invited children's groups from the community to use her house during the week. Nothing was ever broken.
On Sundays, the meeting and its
many children used the house, until
we outgrew it. She eventually gave
house to the meeting.
It sometimes meant something to be a Friend in those days. My family was run out of town, because we rented the other half of our double house to an interracial family. Several Friends spent a lot of time and energy trying to prevent Congress from flooding the Allegheny Reservation of the Seneca tribe with the Kinzua dam. This struggle
went on for many years, involving
both New York and Philadelphia Y.M.'s (Phila.had had a school there for many years.) The struggle was unsuccessful in the end.
Rochester was not unique in being
a center of Progressive Friends, nor was Battle Creek. Salem, Ohio,
was a center for Friends of every
sort in the years before the Civil
War. There were Progressives there
and regular Hicksites, and Wilburites and Gurneyites (the last
two still are there). Yet I have
read that some of the Progressives in that area laid down their meetings at the time of the Emancipation Proclamation, and others at the end of the Civil War.
It all seems strange to me.

Though I can't prove this, I think
that some of the Progressives in
upstate New York managed to remain
Friends by joining Orthodox meetings (the only kind still in
existence there) before the Civil
War. Thus names like Mott, Herendeen, and DeGarmo, all to be
found among Progressives before the Civil War, later were to be
found among Orthodox Friends. I
know that many Orthodox Friends, like Laura Haviland, in upstate New York and Michigan, were very
active abolitionists. Some Friends
churches, like Poplar Ridge and Collins, are proud of this heritage to this day.
There's quite a bit about this---at
least the Quaker part of it---in the book Quaker Crosscurrents, edited Hugh Barbour and Chris Densmore, puclished by Syracuse Univ. Press, now out of print.
Is there still a big Spritualist church in Rochester?
Jeremy Mott

Hystery said...

I have a copy of Quaker Crosscurrents at my elbow as I write. It is a wonderful resource.

There is indeed a Spiritualist Church in Rochester.

I'm sorry to hear about your family's negative experience with Rochester racism. The city had a nasty problem with racism which, I learned, had something to do with tensions between German immigrants and African American workers- a shameful part of Rochester's history that I began to learn about while learning about my family's Rochester-German heritage. I found the racism in that branch of my family inexplicable until I read that it was a fairly common trait among the working class German immigrants in that region.

I am loving this conversation and hope you will send me more information, ideas, and reading suggestions as they occur to you. What a treasure for me!

Jeremy Mott said...

I made a mistake: of course it was after the Civil War (if it happened) that quite a few upstate New York Progressive Friends joined the Orthodox, the only Friends left. I note that the
Orthodox, after the Civil War, were
often called "Progressive" Friends, because they had adopted the world's ways of dress and speech, music, and pastors, and
programmed worship. If you will
someday drop in---if you haven't
done so already---at a Friends church like Collins, or Adirondack (a long ways away, but on the way to Silver Bay), or above all Poplar Ridge, I think you'll find
a warm welcome, because you are
part of the much-too-small Quaker community. There are even some
unprogrammed meetings in upstate
New York that are very much Orthodox in spirit---meaning they are involved in a lot of mission work---I think of Orchard Park, and Saranac Lake, and Perry City.
I vaguely recall reading that
Mormons somehow got mixed up with
Progressive Quakers too. Wasn't there an island in Lake Michigan that was settled, for a few years, by Mormons and Quakers? I may
be wrong; I just don' remember.
And didn't the "Russellites"
(Jehovah's Witnesses) at least in
part originate in upstate New York?
I don't know if Progressive Friends had anything to do with them or not.
It's really good conversing
with you. I've just moved, so my
books are still packed away. But
I don't need any books to remember the mood of Friends in Rochester meeting or the other upstate N.Y.
meetings in the mid-1950's. We
had some, but limited interest, in
Spiritualism, or Millerites (who
were said to have climbed the hill in Highland Park in white robes
when they predicted the 2nd coming)
or anyone else but Friends. We
desperately needed a Quaker community again.
Be sure to read in Quaker Cross-
currents about the fierce Hicksite
elder George White. I believe that
the disownment, at his behest, of
Isaac Hopper was the true beginning of Progressive Quakerism.
At that time, all of a sudden, Hicksite Quakerism in Vermont and on the west shore of Lake Champlain disappeared---something
like 4000 very anti-slavery Friends. Nobody knows what happened to them. They didn't organize as Progressives (unlike
similar Friends later). They did not become Unitarians (not strong in Vermont) or Congregatinalists. They may have become Universalists (strong in Vermont). It's simply a Quaker mystery. At any rate,
I believe that he was as bad or
worse a Friend as any Orthodox elder. New York Yearly Meeting
Hicksite was still debating whether or not to apologize to
Isaac Hopper's descendants into
the 1900's! If this had been
New York Y.M.(Orthodox)---a much
more flexible body of Friends---
I'm sure that they would have apologized by the 1880's or before.
Jeremy Mott

Hystery said...

Uh oh. Orthodox Friends were sometimes called Progressives and radical Friends were sometimes called Progressives? I'll have to be super careful now in my reading to keep everyone sorted. (As if it wasn't all very difficult already).

I imagine that the Friends in Upstate NY couldn't help get someone involved to some degree with all that was going on in the Burned-Over District. The Seventh Day Adventists (Millerites) and the Mormons both started here and there was ever so much evangelicalism and revivalism both hellfire and brimstone and social justice oriented. There were also Swedenborgians, Shakers, Spiritualists, the Oneida Community Christian socialists...

One of the characteristics of the Burned-Over District was that it encouraged shifting religious loyalties. It was so easy to move from one religious enthusiasm to the next. There were many choices and given the geographic distance from older power structures back east and relative newness of the communities around the Erie Canal, and thereabouts, it was much more difficult to establish structures of power and tradition to regulate the worshipers. It meant there was quite a bit of jumping about and experimentation.

I do think that the core group of folks that dedicated themselves to abolition and women's rights tended to stay within a fairly (at least to me) recognizable political/spiritual liberalism organized around their loyalty to the "sisterhood of reforms". I think this often necessitated that they eschew firm loyalty to any particular denomination. Lots of them seemed attracted to the more radical of the Unitarian ministers. I think Friends were not quite radical enough at that time with notable exceptions of people like Lucretia Mott (so often accused by other Friends of Unitarianism).

I imagine the Hicksite and later Progressive schism as a means by which a distillate of spiritual radicalism gets added to the history of religions in the United States generally. I think it was too much, too fast for any greater body of Friends in the nineteenth-century. It was asking for too much on too many levels even for Hicksites and would have, probably, have violated the process of corporate discernment in a manner too hurtful and counterproductive to be tolerated. So radical abolitionist and suffragist Friends leave and their spiritual idealism is preserved, not among Friends, but among freethinkers and Spiritualists, then Theosophists and Unitarians, and then in Neo-Pagans and Goddess women, (I'm leaving lots out!) before it is re-mixed with a more gently liberalized and seasoned Friends in the late twentieth century (especially after Friends have attracted so many folks seasoned in the civil rights, women's rights, and anti-war movements from the mid- to late- twentieth century.) The transmission of the radical Friends of Human Progress around Waterloo and Rochester is interrupted *among other Friends* when they decide to leave their meetings. Their thoughts are then transferred to outsiders in the social movements they supported. Stanton, for instance, was a carrier as was Gage.

But I'm mostly speaking of my own community and don't know enough to generalize much more than I already have. Others can give me more information.

Jeremy Mott said...

Hystery, My computer has been out of whack for almost a week, but now I'll try to get a word in.
I'm sure that the Progressives
around Rochester and Syracuse did get mixed up with almost every other sect around there. Don't
be surprised that the Gurneyite
group of Orthodox got called "pro-
gressive." They were. They gave
up most of the old-fashioned Quaker
ways. They were fervent abolitionists, and co-operated with non-Friends, as regular Hicksites generally would not. They
accepted college education and
eventually, many of them, paid
ministers. Many of them were
fervent evangelical Christians as
well; but by 1902, when Five Years
Meeting of Friends was formed, New
York Yearly Meeting (Orthodox) was
one of the leading liberal or
"modernist" and social-gospel groups within that body. The Wood
samily, which supplied the clerks
of N.Y.Y.M. (Orthodox), were among the founders of NAACP, of the Urban League, and of ACLU--as well as leaders in the American Bible
Society. Jeremy Mott

Jeremy Mott said...

Hystery, Tom Hamm's book American Quakers Today---I don't have the title just right---which was published a few years ago by Columbia Univ.Press---is the best introduction to the subject I know of. Maybe your urban meeting has it in its library already, or will buy it for you. It costs comething like $28; you can get it
from the FGC bookstore. It is non-
partisan, unlike other similar introductory books, and explains
the major U.S. Quaker groups, all
four of us, on their own terms. It's mostly about Quakers today, but does offer some coverage of the Progressives (omitted by most of the other writers of such books).
And Tom Hamm's book God's Government Begun is a history of the Progressive Friends, I believe.
I haven't read it, but I've been
told it says that the first Progressive separation which resulted in an organized body was
at Green Plain, Ohio.
I believe Tom Hamm is the author of a fine long history of the
Orthodox, and their Wilburite and
Gurneyite offshoots, called The
Trensformation of American Quakserism 1800-1920. He also
does a column in every issue of
Quaker Life magazine, answering
questions. He is archivist of the
Quaker collection at Earlham, and
a very fine historian. He will
guide you through some of the thickets you are facing.
Jeremy Mott

Jeremy Mott said...

Hystery, You may know this already.
Quakerpedia has an article on Pro-
gressive (or Congregational)Friends. It includes some sources,
and many details. The Green Plains
Ohio separation was in southwestern Ohio, the territory of Iindiana Y.M.Hicksite. Thus every Hicksite Y.M. had a Progressive separation except Baltimore and Illinois, though the one in Indiana Y.M was small. There never were Hicksites of any
kind in North Carolina, Virginia,
or New England Y.M.'s., until the
20th century. Of course, the reason that there were no Hicksites
in North Carolina and Virginia is that Elias was a powerful anti-
slavery orator and he spoke to African-American audiences as well as European-American ones; he wouldn't have been permitted to preach south of Maryland after 1800
or so.
The sociological explanation of the
Hicksite-Orthodox separation is not
accepted by all. There were wealthy Hicksites as well as wealthy Orthodox. Elias Hicks's cousin, Valentine Hicks, was the
founder and first president of the
Long Island Rail Road. And the Posts of Rochester and the Motts of Philadelphia were well-to-do.
One thing that almost everyone
who studies Friends realizes is that these separations crippled us, and made us the small and
squabbling group that we (in the
U.S.A.) are today.
Jeremy Mott

Jeremy Mott said...

Hystery, Here's another mistake:
It was the Hicksite meeting in
Rochester that lasted until the time of WW1. The Orthodox meeting in Rochester was gone about 1900.
You can find these things out in
the lists of minutes of all the
meetings in the N.Y.Y.M.'s, all
gathered at Swarthmore now, and published by Chris Densmore, the Quaker librarian there.
You'd probably enjoy looking up
Collins New York Friends Meeting
Janice Ninan (the pastor there)
on the web. In addition to what
you might expect, there is information on the Blooming Grove Friends School (her school) and on the Friends of Human Progress in North Collins, N.Y.
There is also much of interest to
be found on the web if you look
up the Poplar Ridge and Farmington
Friends meetings.
Jeremy Mott

Hystery said...

I know lots of folks in Poplar Ridge and Farmington Friends' Meetings. I've visited Farmington Friends several times. They are renovating their historic meeting house which is a pretty huge endeavor, but once done should be an amazing resource for Friends. I've not been to Poplar Ridge, but I know their pastor and have worked with a couple of their members/attenders in historical work.

A colleague of mine, Judy Wellman, has done truly amazing historical work related to Friends in this region. I highly recommend her work. She is associated with the effort to restore the Farmington Friends Meetinghouse.

Friends from the Farmington-Scipio region meet every year at Genesee Country Village to meet in an historic meetinghouse from Wheatland (organized by a few westward-moving Farmington Friends in 1825 and joined by Chenango County Friends). The building was erected in 1854 but the meeting was laid down in 1873. Thankfully, it was maintained and conveyed to the museum.

Many more great possibilities for research here. I am truly blessed.

Hystery said...

You mention Thomas Hamm and I keep thinking that I simply must read that book. Then I look at my notes and realize that I did read it (and took tons of notes on it) as part of my degree program. Jeepers, my memory! I think I need to purchase that book because it is a resource that I'll want to reference again and again. Perhaps I'll put it on a list of birthday suggestions. Thank you for reminding me.

Jeremy Mott said...

I think I can summarize the influence of Progressive Friends as follows:
First, as Chuck Fager has shown, in
Pennsylvania, they furnished leaders for the regular Hicksites,
and eventually many of their ideas
came to rule in FGC Quakerism.
Second, as you're finding out, in
upstate New York especially, the
Progressives often became Spiritualists, and that path
led to theosophy and beyond. I expect that you will write about this when you can.
Third, while you're doing your research, please look around for me for evidence to support my idea
that in upstate New York some Pro-
gressives who wished to remain
Friends eventually joined the
Orthodox, pretty much the only
Friends there left by World War I.
Note that there were Progressive
"yearly meetings" in Collins,
Clintondale, Farmington, etc., all
places with Orthodox churches to
this day. I believe that this
Progressive influence among the
upstate New York Orthodox must have
done much to make New York Y.M.
(Orthodox) the liberal-Christian
social-gospel body that it certainly was by 1900.
Thus New York Yearly Meeting (United in 1955) had Progressive
influence on BOTH sides. I will
say that the yearly meeting, as a
whole, is extreme Hicksite (i.e.,
Progressive) in theology and
extreme Gurneyite in mission and
service. This has been a very
productive combination.
Jeremy Mott

Jeremy Mott said...

Take a look at what has poured
out of New York Yearly Meeting
since about 1965:
(1) Sending of civilian medical aid
to all 3 sides in Vietnam, as a protest of the war, in 1966; this made a lot of news, and was later
imitated by other Quaker groups.
(2) Friends World College, begun in 1965---eventually a failure, but
a magnificent failure.
(3)Prison meetings, beginning about 1970; now there are 12 of
them I believe; this is more than
all other U.S. early meetings put
(4) The major impetus towards Right Sharing of World Resources---
the all-Quaker microcredit program started at FWCC gathering in 1967.
(5) Alternatives to Violence Program (AVP), now in use by evangelical Friends, FUM Friends, liberal Friends, Christians and
Muslims of many kinds, all over the world. It began in N.Y.Y.M
(in Green Haven Prison) in 1975.
(6) Continuing support for FUM
work in Kenya. I've read that N.Y.
Y.M. gave more money than any other in the U.S. to the Kenyan
Quaker relief after the 2008
post-election violence.
(7) Bolivian Quaker Education Fund
was born in N.Y.Y.M. about 2000.
It is the brainchild of Buffalo
Friend Newton Garver.
(8) The Indonesia Initiative of
Friends Peace Teams is the brainchild of Alfred Friend
Nadine Hoover.
(9) Of course Shirley Way, whom
you know, is one of the parents
of the Latin America Program of FPT. African Great Lakes Initiative of FPT has a lot of
support in N.Y.Y.M. as well.
(10) The Barrington Dunbar Fund
and the Indian Affairs Committee
continue to offer scholarships.
(11) And the latest thing from
our yearly meeting is the Quaker
relief in the republic of Georgia,
which was laid on Greta Mickey and
which she has carried on so well.

I think that this is a distinguished record for a fairly small and shrinking body of Friends
Jeremy Mott

Hystery said...


This is a wonderful list and the people who have mentioned are dear souls. I am thankful for the information you are providing. This is great stuff. Since I have decided to hitch my spiritual wagon to Friends' and their process, I have found that the history of Friends and the current opportunities for participating in activism, peace making, and service keep unfolding themselves to me. There is so much hidden history with Friends- just the kind of less than obvious but still potent material that historians really love. Friends' influence has always been disproportionate to their relatively small numbers.

I have also met many Friends online whose knowledge and kindness have provided a supportive matrix in which I have been able to grow and learn as a new Friend these past few years. Occasionally, I wish that I could meet folks like you in person too. But who knows, perhaps I may have that pleasure. It is a small world!

Jeremy Mott said...

Hystery, it seems every Quaker settlement in upstate N.Y. had its own unique history. By googling
Bew York Y.M., you can find a Natl.
Park Service history of Sherwood
(Poplar Ridge). This was once an
African-American community as well.
It seems the Hicksites were in the
great majority there. No surprise in that. And it seems that the
Hicksites there meekly accepted the
rule of their elders and stayed
clear of abolitionnist activism;
and there were no Progressives at
Sherwood at all. No one from
Sherwood was at Seneca Falls in 1848. This is strange but true.
Even stranger, the Sherwood
community was a hotbed of abolitionist activism, mainly amonng the Gurneyite Orthodox, but also among the Otisite and Kingite
(both species of Wilburite or
Conservative) Orthodox there.
Perhaps this can be explained partly by the fact that many of these Orthodox Quakers came from
Nantucket, and a few from England.
Emily Howland is the best-known of
these Friends. She grew up there
before the Civil War as an ardent
abolitionist; and went to Washington and northern Virginia
to teach during and after the
Civil War. She endowed many
schools, mostly for African-Americans in the South. She also
financed a great deal of women-
suffrage agitation, and must be
partly reponsible for the fact
that New York state allowed women
to vote in 1917 (3 years before
the 20th amendment). She lived
until the age of 102! Some of this
research was done by Judith Wellman
and some by Jane Simkin.
So in Poplar Ridge, there were
no Progressives, but the Orthodox
were the functional equivalents.
Strange but true.
Jeremy Mott

Hystery said...

Emily Howland is well-loved around here.

Lucretia Mott was never factually a Progressive Friend although she was certainly encouraging and sympathetic. I think that's an important point. There were Friends of all stripes who contributed significantly to human rights work in the United States (as is the case today).

My interest with my little band of Progressive Friends in Seneca Falls grew out of my academic interest in Theosophy and Spiritualism. Originally, I was studying Matilda Joslyn Gage's book, Woman, Church, and State. She advocates recognition of the Divine Feminine. I was surprised when I found the connections to Friends (Anne Braude's book was most helpful to me way back when).

I think spiritual history is not so much a solid line we can grasp. It is liquid. It flows. It meanders. It merges. It is dammed and stagnates then bursts forth again. It carries seeds with it on its journey...and often from the most unlikely places!

Finally Spring

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