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Quakers and War
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Quakers in the Revolutionary War

The Quakers were pacifists but some still participated in the Revolutionary War, risking their good standing in the Quaker faith. Some meetings, in trying to decide whether to discipline members who participated, decided to leave participation up to the individual conscience of the young men. In addition, ever practical, Quakers kept records on their "sufferings" as a result of the war, with an eye to asking the government for reimbursement for their losses. There is an interesting Web Site on Religion put up by the Library of Congress, and it includes comments on Religion and the American Revolution. It says "Some Quakers were conscientiously convinced that they could, despite, the Friends' peace testimony, take up arms against the British. Calling themselves "Free Quakers," they organized in Philadelphia." There is a photo of their meeting house and a copy of their broadside up on the site. And Quakers rendered other services without taking up arms.

Loyalists, Pacifists and Prisoners by Rollin C. Steinmetz provides some interesting comments: "...The Quakers may be described as nonviolent resisters rather than as nonresisters in the Mennonite style. The Society of Friends had at first believed in the admissibility of fighting for a righteous cause, a belief only gradually abandoned. Once arrived in Pennsylvania, non-violence solidified among the Quakers, who saw Penn's land as the New Jerusalem of the Holy Experiment. Their testimony, they believed, was destined to spread from here to all the world... ...Quaker historians say that, in Pennsylvania, 222 members of the Society of Friends were 'dealt with' during the war for taking the test oath, and 321 for either 'paying fines themselves or conniving at others paying in their behalf.' Probably half of these cases ended in disownment. Hiring a substitute was considered by the Quakers even worse than paying the fine ...Friends "dealt with [in Quaker meetings] for acting in the quality of a soldier" numbered 542 in Pennsylvania. Very few enlisted in the British forces, and these did so mostly in the first two years of the war. Some who enlisted were merely nominal Quakers... General Thomas Mifflin, elected governor of the state three times, and buried along the wall of Trinity Church in Lancaster, was born a Quaker but departed the brotherhood early in life. Christopher Marshall, Philadelphia patriot and merchant whose diary during his exile in Lancaster tells us so much about life here during the Revolution, had been disowned by the Quakers back in 1751 for what his meeting considered un-Quakerly business practices. Timothy Matlack, secretary of the Supreme Executive Council,...was tossed out of the church in 1765 for similar reasons."

Candace Roth provided some practical Quaker comments on the Old Chester Mailing List: "The entry from my DAR Patriot Index shows the notation: 'CS'. It is a common misunderstanding that folks eligible for DAR membership needed to descend from a soldier, or one who actually took up arms and fought. This is not correct. The 'CS' stands for Civil Service and denotes that … furthered the efforts of the new government by helping in a civil capacity [also sometimes denoted as “patriotic service.”] He could have held a civil office in the area, or just a member of a committee, or, (my personal favorite is a 'fence watcher') which is designated among the recognized efforts, or, he could have just paid taxes to the new government or carried water to troops passing over his lands. A common practice was for a Quaker to pay another person to serve in the army in his stead - the church considered this to be liable as well, as well as paying a fine for refusing to serve. I have several 'fightin' Quakers in my lineages as the expression has come to be known. Indeed, the Quakers lot was a tough one - combine the love of a mother country, the love of the country which had granted them freedom from religious persecution and the love of a religion which forbade the taking up of arms or engaging in participation in a violent endeavor. Even the civil involvement would have been viewed negatively from the church's standpoint. Some came before their meetings and acknowledged their misconduct in engaging in the venture and were returned to the active membership, some made the choice to forgo membership in their church to support their new country. A tough call..."

Futhey & Cope (History of Chester County, Pennsylvania) notes on p. 65 that "From the want of muster rolls of this period, we are unable to give the names of the rank and file of Chester County troops in the Revolution, except in a few instances." However descendants have been able to get bits and pieces of information from letters, meeting minutes, and other types of sources. The Historical Society of Pennsylvania has a number of collections of these sources. Their Web site is http://www.hsp.org. There are indices on their site of what they have and they will also do research for a fee.

Another excellent source is the DAR ( Daughters of the American Revolution) Membership Records where membership was proven from such sources. The DAR has a wonderful service on Rootsweb where volunteers do lookups. Here are their instructions “I have a group of organized DAR volunteers who will do lookups in our Patriot Index Books & updates. These books contain names of Patriots both men and women whose service (1775-1783) has been proven for DAR membership. If the ancestor isn't found it doesn't mean they didn't serve, only that nobody has documented it yet to join DAR. It is our intent to be helpful and will answer each query. We might even offer you suggestions on other places you might check. For lookup just post the full name of your Ancestor, spouse's name, date of birth & death and place resided. If found we can then tell you how to order a copy of the application paper from DAR. Also can provide you with help from a DAR Chapter near you if interested in becoming a DAR member. “ If you wish to check indexes yourself the DAR Library has a project to put the indices on line at http://grc.dar.org/dar/darnet/grc/grc.cfm?Action=overview. If you find the index information you can then order copies of the pages from the DAR Library's search service. Be aware that in the early days of the DAR they did not check the authenticity of information submitted so there are erroneous files of members so even with a DAR record you may need to prove information.

Many churches and meeting-houses were converted into hospitals. Many of the soldiers from the field of Brandywine were taken to these churches, and their moans and groans as they passed along the roads gave the inhabitants indications of how near to them the tide of war was rolling. The Uwchlan Friends Meeting-house, at Lionville, was occupied as a hospital, and in 1899 there were traces of blood still visible from the wounds of the soldiers who, for months were lodged there, many being wounded at Paoli.

Concord Meeting House has some history with the Revolutionary War recounted on-line in Ashmead's History of Delaware County.

Hannah Pierce, an invalid confined to her home, wrote in her journal: "This day was a very trying time. The English army was marching through the neighborhood, and as it was the usual time for Kennett Monthly Meeting, it was difficult for Friends to get here." Members of Birmingham Meeting assembled for meeting in the wheelwright's shop when they were unable to reach their meeting house. They wrote: "While we were sitting therein, some disturbance was discovered near the house and about the door, which occasioned some individuals to go out to know the cause...and the uneasiness not subsiding, suspicions arose that something serious was taking place, and the meeting accordingly closed." General Washington received reports about the British movements and a defense line was established at Birmingham Meeting House, with Americans using the walls of the burying ground as a breastwork. General Howe established headquarters in nearby Dillworthtown. Birmingham Meeting House was used temporarily as a hospital before Howe resumed his advance into Philadelphia. A stone marker in the burying ground of Birmingham Meeting indicates the common grave for the slain of both armies: "In memory of those who fell in the Battle of the Brandywine." (from Philadelphia Quakers, 1681-1981)(view of Brandywine)

Recollections of the war were recorded by Phebe Mendenhall Thomas, who was born in 1770 and died in 1875, at 104 years, 6 Mos and 12 days. It is clear that her family was conflicted between humanity and their religious teachings, and that they had good basis for their claims of sufferings. We are giving a few examples here from her recollections and anyone interested in the entire transcript can find it on the PA-Old-Chester List archives at Roots web.

"In the evening a great company of American soldiers came. Father told us to shut up the front of the house and come back to the kitchen. They came flocking into the yard, and sat down on the cider press, trough and benches, and every place thy could find. They seemed so tired. Father said "bring bread and cheese and cut for them." They were so hungry. Margaret. Stephen's wife, came running in with her 2 children. Stephen was away off at the other end of the place and knew nothing of it. As it happened both houses, ours and Stephen's, had baked that day, and we cut up all the bread and cheese we had. I know, I got no supper and they had to bake bread on the iron."

"Finding that the Captain couldn't ride (he had a bullet in his thigh), Father geared up a great black horse we had, a noble fellow, to the carriage, and they took him to the Black Horse. Oh! How glad I was to see father come home. He had just put the horse away, when the English came, sure enough, but they didn't come to the house."

“They took Father's horse for a fine. They had heavy fines laid on everybody to support the War. Friends wouldn't pay these fines, so they took what they wanted, and they took the finest horse. They wouldn't take the old mare.”

“In the time of the War and afterward the Collectors use to come to get the tax. Friends wouldn't pay, so they took cows, and anything they pleased. I remember 2 came there one day. Father was away. Mother and the girls were away behind the house washing, and there was no one there but me. they took down the big candlestick first. They would always take that down, but never carried it away with them. Then they went to the closet under the steps. Father had told Mother and us, if the Collectors came while he was away, not to let them take anything that was John Gest's; he was a boy that Father was Guardian for, and he had the best of his goods at our house. Well, they went to the closet. I was sitting in the big arm chair. John Gess' pewter was away back in the closet. I called to them "Don't take John Gess' pewter!" They shut the door in a hurry and went to the cupboard with the glass doors where the china, silver spoons and glass were kept, and took our big silver spoons. …They would take beds, looking-glasses, bureaus and anything at all."

We have a page up about our Woodwards and Thornbroughs and other related families and information we have found about their relatives and service in the Revolutionary War. There were no doubt many others.

Revolutionary War Maps

There is a fine collection of maps at the Library of Congress Web Site "The American Revolution and Its Era.". Ancestry.com has some free map images: Search Page.

War of 1812 and Mexican War

Great Questions of History is an interesting Web Site with questions about American History where you can compare your thoughts on the questions to historians and the general public. We have used their brief summaries of the War of 1812 and the Mexican War below. At the moment we have not sorted out Woodwards and related families and their descendants that served in these wars but hope to do so at some point in time.

War of 1812: During the Napoleonic Wars, the British made a policy of stopping U.S. ships at sea and pulling off people they considered British subjects to serve in the Royal Navy, and of seizing cargo bound for French-held areas of Europe. Though not a threat to U.S. territory, these actions hurt trade and seemed an intolerable attack on U.S. sovereignty. In 1812 the U.S. declared war with the intent of ejecting troublesome Britain from Canada. The British proved as much as the Americans could handle. They took Detroit and Washington, D.C., burned the White House and Capitol, and might actually have won the war. U.S. military objectives were mainly not accomplished, as the fighting was a stalemate and Canada remained British. However, the war did show the European powers that the U.S. would fight, ended British interference with U.S. westward expansion, and made the Monroe Doctrine possible. Moreover, an era of national pride and prosperity followed the war.

Mexican War: Many Americans in the 1840's felt it was the destiny of the U.S. to expand coast-to-coast, but Mexico was in the way, owning all of the land west of Texas and south of Oregon. Then a war with Mexico broke out over a relatively minor border incident, and the Americans sent armies south. They won a number of important victories, and followed by conquering Mexico City itself. The U.S. then dictated a peace which required Mexico to give up possession of all its land north of the Rio Grande River. Some Americans (like Lincoln and Thoreau) opposed the war as unjust, but most Americans were just glad to have the new territory.

Civil War

By the time of the Civil War there had been many changes in our Woodward and related families. As the migration westward went on many of the younger people dropped out of the religion. Often there were not enough Quakers in a given area to hold meetings and in general the society was changing and the movement gave Quaker young people much exposure to a different world that did exactly what their parents had feared - drew them away from their Quaker roots. But there were still Quakers who served in the war and this war presented the added problem of families having relatives that served on opposing sides in the war.

We have created a Civil War page for some of our Woodward and related families and their war time experiences.

Honoring All Who Served

1997 Veteran's Poster. Sunshine Abbott, Quaker descendant, and granddaughter of Web Master Nadine Holder, participates in the White House Honor Guard and is memorialized on the 1997 poster. She is second from the right on the poster and is representing the Coast Guard.



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