The Quaker in Anglo-American Cultural Relations

Charles Roll


Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 45, Issue 2, pp 135-146

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The Quaker in Anglo-American Cultural Relations

Charles Roll*

For many years the economic interpretation of history was the popular one with American historians. The economic influence, however, is not the only one with which to reckon. Man does not live by bread alone. Certainly his art, literature, and religion are as important as his material development. Charles Beard who has been regarded as the leading economic determinist modified his views to a considerable extent before his death. He is quoted as saying, "I have never been able to discover an all pervading determinism in history." In the last few years there has been a new interest in the cultural approach to history. The economic emphasis has perhaps had its inning and the pendulum seems to be swinging at the present time toward the cultural emphasis. Such notable collections, largely on the cultural aspects of history as may be found at the Newberry Library in Chicago and the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, are having their influence. The establishment of the Institute of Early American History and Culture at Williamsburg, Virginia, is an indication of the growing interest in the cultural side of American history. Witness also the work of Merle Curti of the University of Wisconsin, Howard Mum-ford Jones of Harvard, and Van Wyck Brooks in the field of literary history, William W. Sweet in religious history, Louis B. Wright, formerly director of research at the Huntington Library and now of Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, and Thomas J. Wertenbaker, who has recently retired from Princeton to become director of the Institute of Early American History at Williamsburg. It is not without significance that Wertenbaker selected for his presidential address before the American Historical Association in 1947 at the Cleveland meeting "The Molding of the Middle West," which had to do largely with the transplanting of eastern culture in the west. His volumes on The Founding of American

  • * Charles Roll is a member of the history department at Indiana State Teachers College, Terre Haute, Indiana. This paper was read at the meeting of The Indiana Academy of Social Sciences at Richmond, Indiana, November 6, 1948.
  • 1American Historical Review (New York, 1895–), LIII (1947–1948), 223–234.
Civilization have for their chief theme early American culture. The even better known twelve-volume History of American Life series edited by Arthur M. Schlesinger and Dixon Ryan Fox is devoted in the main to a history of American culture.

The reawakening of interest in American cultural history is further evidenced by the restoration and preservation of many early American homes of distinction such as Stratford, Carter's Grove, and Westover in Virginia, the Hammond House in Annapolis and Mount Pleasant in Philadelphia, and the whole village of Williamsburg. The great interest manifested in early American furnishings, such as those exhibited in the American wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is but another proof of this awakening.

Now it is generally recognized that in the field of American cultural history Anglo-American cultural relations loom large. America's cultural heritage from England has been far greater than from any other country, greater than many realize or are willing to admit. Whether one's ancestors came from England or from other lands beyond the sea makes no difference. All have shared in this inheritance. Why is it important to stress this point, it might be queried. For one thing it is probably easier to arouse anti-British feeling in this country than it is against any other country. Old prejudices based on impressions gained from misguided and distorted history textbooks of a previous generation still persist. There are forces always ready and willing to cater to this sentiment. Everyone will remember the campaign waged along this line not so many years ago in the two largest cities in the United States. A book was published bearing the intriguing title England Expects Every American to do his Duty. It was an attempt to prove how we had been made the dupe of the English.2

I, for one, believe that the future of our civilization depends upon the close co-operation of the two great English-speaking nations. Such co-operation can flourish only in an atmosphere of good understanding and friendship. This, in turn, in large measure grows out of a knowledge of our common culture.

  • 2Quincy Howe, England Expects Every American To Do His Duty (New York, 1937).

The close contact of the colonial planters of the southern colonies with the mother country is well known. They made frequent visits to the old home. They sent their sons to be educated in the great public schools of England such as Eton and Winchester, to the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge, and to the Inns of Court. They attempted as nearly as possible to live the lives of English country gentlemen in the New World.

It is not so generally known that equally close relations with England were maintained by the Quakers in America. The "Society of Friends," the official name since 1800, originally known as "Children of Light," later as "Friends in Truth" or just "Friends" and nicknamed "Quakers" by a Puritan magistrate, originated in England near the middle of the seventeenth century, in the year 1648 to be exact, when the group at Mansfield in Nottingshire was formed.3 It had some things in common and was influenced by German Quietism or Pietism. George Fox, the founder of English Quakerism, came to America in 1672 and spent about a year traveling through Maryland, Rhode Island, parts of New York, New Jersey, Virginia, and the Carolinas. In his journal writing of this trip, he speaks of the hazardous crossing of rivers, filled with rocks and stones, by means of canoes, swimming the horses, of making a fire at night in the woods where he slept and dried himself, frequently wet to the skin. Upon his return to England he could write his wife—"Glory to the Lord for ever, who hath carried us through many perils, perils by water, and in storms, perils by pirates and robbers, perils in the wilderness, and amongst false professors; praises to him whose glory is over all for ever."4 It may be a matter of interest that Swarthmore derived its name from Swarthmore Hall, the fine old Elizabethan Manor House and Lancashire residence of Margaret Fell, who became the wife of George Fox. It was one of the most important Quaker centers in all England. Fox was but the forerunner of a stream of Quaker missionaries that became larger than ever in the eighteenth century and continued even into the nineteenth century. Scarcely a year

  • 3 William G. Braithwaite, "Society of Friends," in James Hastings, Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics (13 vols., New York, 1908–1927), VI (1914), 143–144.
  • 4A Journal or Historical Account of … George Fox (Philadelphia, n.d.), 447–464, 465.
went by without a number of these "gospel visits" by English Friends to their brethren in America.5

Outstanding among these missionaries of the eighteenth century were the Fothergills—John and Samuel, father and son—who represented Quakerism at its best, in its purest, and most saintly form. Another son, John, became a well-known London physician and friend of Benjamin Franklin. He strove hard for reconciliation between England and America. He also had a prominent part in co-operation with another Friend, David Barclay, in the founding of the Friends Boarding School at Ackworth, in Yorkshire, which became a model for similar schools later established in America.6

It might be thought that once in America Quakers would turn their backs forever on a land where their suffering had been so great. After the restoration of the Stuarts in 1660 and the adoption of the Clarendon Code, Quakers suffered the most severely of all the dissenting sects.7 It was only with the Glorious Revolution of 1689 when toleration was extended to all dissenters that this persecution ceased. George Fox is said to have been imprisoned eight different times in this period as a blasphemer, heretic, and seducer and was at least on one occasion threatened with death by hanging. Margaret Fell spent several years in prison and suffered great hardships there. William Penn was expelled from Oxford for his non-conformist views and was imprisoned on two or three occasions, once in the Tower of London. But the Quakers in America did not sever their ties with England. There is abundant proof of this fact found in visits by American Friends to the motherland, in the constant correspondence of individuals, and of the contacts maintained between yearly meetings in America with the yearly meeting in London.

William Penn himself came over from England only twice to visit his colony. The first visit was in 1682, when he remained a little less than two years returning to further the interests of Pennsylvania in England and to aid the Society

  • 5 William W. Sweet, Religion in Colonial America (New York, 1942), 153–158; James Bowden, The History of the Society of Friends in America (2 vols., London, 1850–1854), II, chapter IX.
  • 6 Rufus Jones, The Later Periods of Quakerism (2 vols., London, 1921), I, 12–16; II, 670–673.
  • 7 G. M. Trevelyan, English Social History (London, 1943), 266.
of Friends in his native land. The second was in 1699 for about the same length of time.8 No Virginia planter ever succeeded better in imitating the life of an English country gentleman than Penn. He was a lover of stately living, good food and the best of wine. In addition to his town house in Philadelphia, he possessed a magnificent country place consisting of an estate of eight thousand acres on the banks of the Delaware known as Pennsbury. Here he had erected a large brick mansion surrounded by lawns seeded with English grass, and formal gardens, planted with trees and shrubs from England, and flower beds cared for by English gardeners. The house was lavishly furnished. Outside were stables and brew house. His passage to Philadelphia was either in a twelve-oared barge or in a four-horse coach.9

Struthers Burt in his interesting volume on PhiladelphiaHoly Experiment says, "During the seventeenth century many culture English families, a number of them connected with the aristocracy, became Quakers. Under the sober surface gravity of their church they still cherished a deep love of comfort and restrained luxury … Many of them arrived in Philadelphia with numerous servants; some even with packs of foxhounds."10

That many of the Quakers succeeded in obtaining their full share of this world's goods is evident by the opulent homes owned by many of them in and around Philadelphia on the banks of the Delaware, the Schuylkill, and the Wissahickon. English books on architecture were eagerly studied by them.11

When the capital of the nation was located in Philadelphia, 1790–1800, it was not an uncommon sight to see strict Quakers with gold snuffboxes, gold-headed canes, and great silver buckles.12 It is only fair to say that many Quakers frowned upon such extravagance. Rigid rules were

  • 8 Rayner W. Kelsey, "William Penn," in Dictionary of American Biography (20 vols., New York, 1943), XIV, 433–437.
  • 9 Struthers Burt, PhiladelphiaHoly Experiment (Garden City, New York, 1945), 66–67.
  • 10Ibid., 66.
  • 11 Thomas J. Wertenbaker, The Founding of American Civilization (3 vols., New York, 1938–1947), I, The Middle Colonies, 231–255.
  • 12 Van Wyck Brooks, The World of Washington Irving (Philadelphia, 1944), 7.
drawn up and warnings were issued by Quaker meetings against it.

On his second trip to America in 1699, Penn was accompanied by James Logan, who came as the Proprietor's secretary. Born in Ireland of Scottish parents who were members of the Society of Friends, much of Logan's early life was spent in England. He became learned in the classics and possessed a great interest in natural science. For a time before coming to America, he was master of a Friends school in Bristol. The fifty years of his life in Pennsylvania is to a large extent the history of the colony. He represented the interests of the proprietors and held numerous offices.

Despite his busy public career, Logan found time to make several trips back to England and to continue his scholarly pursuits. He corresponded with men of similar intellectual interests in England such as Peter Collinson and made frequent contributions to the Royal Society in London. At his country home near Germantown, which he called Stenton after his father's birthplace in Scotland, he lived the life of an aristocratic, cultivated, English gentleman. Here he gathered a library of over three thousand volumes, the largest in the middle colonies, and one of the most select in colonial America. He was later to bequeath the collection to the Library Company of Philadelphia with a building to house it and with an endowment which has resulted in its substantial increase since his death in 1751.13

One day a simple Quaker was plowing on his small farm near Philadelphia. While resting in the shade, he happened to see a daisy which he broke off its stem and began to study. It started a train of thought in the mind of the farmer. He had been destroying plants and blossoms for years and he knew nothing about them. He took up Latin in order to learn the Latin names of plants. John Bartram became the leading botanist of his day in America. His botanical garden which he developed on his farm became well known in England where Bartram had many correspondents including Peter Collinson, the Quaker book collector and naturalist of London, with whom he corresponded for nearly

  • 13 Charles F. Jenkins, "James Logan of Stenton," in Byways in Quaker History, edited by Howard H. Brinton (Wallingford, 1944), 138–149; Burt, PhiladelphiaHoly Experiment, 203–204.
forty years, and Peter Miller, Superintendent of the Chelsea Gardens.14

Bartram learned from Collinson how to collect, classify, pack, and ship these specimens. He received from him scientific books to read. It was through Collinson that Bartram was made known to the Prince of Wales and the Dukes of Norfolk, of Bedford, and of Richmond. He sent them all plants and seeds with which to beautify their estates. He was employed to supply specimens to the king, many of which found their way to Kew Gardens and gave him the title of the king's botanist or Royal American Botanist to George III. He is said to have been responsible for the introduction of between one hundred and fifty and two hundred native American plants into England.

Bartram, at the suggestion of his English Quaker friend, Collinson, paid a visit to Virginia and Maryland. In arranging for this journey, Collinson wrote his American Quaker friend "that thou make up thy drugget clothes to go to Virginia in and not appear to disgrace thyself or me; for though I should not esteem thee less to come to me in what dress thou will—yet these Virginians are a very gentle well-dressed people and look perhaps more at a man's outside than his inside. For these and other reasons pray go very clean, neat and handsomely dressed to Virginia." From reports of the planters visited, Collinson had no reason to be ashamed of his Quaker friend from Pennsylvania.15 In fact the American Quaker may well have been wearing clothes sent to him by the English Quaker, for Collinson frequently sent him various articles of clothing.

John Bartram's son, William, was a botanist and nature lover and continued the work of his father. His volume of Travels was read by William Wordsworth and Samuel T. Coleridge. Bartram's views on nature and religion exerted a great influence on these poets—another cultural contact.16

  • 14 Brooks, Th. World of Washington Irving, 20–21; Burt, PhiladelphiaHoly Experiment, 207.
  • 15 Mary F. Goodwin, "The Eighteenth-Century Gardens," in The Virginia Quarterly Review (University, Virginia, 1925), X (1934), 218–233.
  • 16 Ernest Earnest, John and William Bartram (Philadelphia, 1940), 132–140.

A contemporary of Bartram in eighteenth century America was the Quaker, John Woolman, a native of New Jersey, termed "the consumate flower of American Quakerism." Certainly a more unassuming man with less thought of self never lived. He was thoroughly devoted to a cause, that cause being freedom for the slaves. He was a great lover of humanity. William Ellery Channing once referred to the Journal of John Woolman as "beyond comparison the sweetest and purest autobiography in the language." Charles Lamb also exclaimed "Get the writing of Jchn Woolman by heart." Woolman died on a trip to England in the interests of antislavery in 1772 and was buried in the city of York. His fame was greater in England than in America. "She [England] became John Woolman's best pupil," declares Txvelyan.17

Whether Benjamin West was a Quaker or not is of little moment. Some historians refer to him as such. Others say he never actually affiliated with the Friends church. However that may be, this Pennsylvania born son came from a Quaker family and possessed many of the characteristics of a Quaker as well as some that were not. England has as great a claim upcn him as dnierica. Sevcral years before the outbreak of the Revolution, he went to that country and remained there to the end of his life. He became the favorite court painter of George III and the successor of Sir Joshua Reynolds as president of the Royal Academy. Until his death in 1820, a stream of young American painters including John S. Copley, Gilbert Stuart, John Trumbull, and Charles Willson Peale found their way to his London studio to study under him and to receive his encouragement. A familiar story which may or may not be true is that one day in the presence of George III he replied to a question by remarking "I cannot say that the calamities of my native country can ever give me pleasure." The king, placing his hand on West's shoulder, graciously said, "The man who does not love his own country can never make a faithful subject of another nor a true friend." Upon the death of this "father of American Painting,"

  • 17 G. M. Trevelyan, Clio, a Muse and Other Essays (London, 1930), 42–48.
as he has been called, he was buried in St. Paul's Cathedral beside his friend, Sir Joshua Reynolds.18

Everyone who has used the voluminous telephone directory of New York City has noticed the prefix to certain numbers, such as Murray Hill. How many know that this name which still clings to an important section of the metropolis is that of a prominent Quaker family? Robert Murray, a Scotch immigrant, became one of the leading merchants of New York. His home on Murray Hill was noted for its elegance and hospitality. The house was exempted from seizure by the British when they captured New York in the Revolution because of aid given to them by the owner. A son, Lindley Murray, a well-to-do Quaker lawyer, departed for England in 1784 because of his health. He purchased a small estate outside York named Holgate. Here he developed one of the most beautiful gardens in England. Murray also found time to write schoolbooks. His English grammar written in 1795, practically monopolized the field in England and the United States for many years and gave to the author the title of the "Father of English Grammar." In his old age Murray's home became a mecca for English as well as American Quakers.19

Let us take an example from more recent times, that of Logan Pearsall Smith, who numbered James Logan among his ancestors. Logan Pearsall was not the first Quaker of the Smith clan to turn his face toward England. "The Philadelphia Quakers had always kept up a connection with members of their sect in England," he writes, "and this connection was frequently renewed by the visits of English Friends on holy missions … A world of Barclays and Gurneys and other rich English Quaker families which, like a QuakerVersailles, holy and yet splendid, shone for us across the Atlantic with a kind of glory …."20 He had heard from his grandfather of a visit to the country houses and opulent tables of these English Quakers. He had heard him tell of being entertained in the noble family mansion of the Perm

  • 18 Mantle Fielding, "Benjamin West," in Dictionary of American Biography, XX, 6–9; Robert E. Siller, The American in England during the First Half Century of Independence (New York, 1926), 75, 79.
  • 19 George H. Genzmer, "Lindley Murray," in Dictionary of American Biography, XIII, 365–366.
  • 20 Logan Pearsall Smith, Unforgotten Years (Boston, 1939), 19.
family. He had shot a buck in the deer park and the greatgrandson of William Penn had driven him about the neighborhood in a coach drawn by four horses and had taken him on a trip to Oxford.21

As a boy, Logan Pearsall Smith had himself been taken by his parents on a visit to England where the family was entertained at a number of country houses, among them Broadlands in Hampshire, the home of the Cowper Temples, a family of great wealth and high position.22

It is not surprising, therefore, that Pearsall Smith decided years later to go to Oxford in order to complete his education. "Our family," he writes, "had been gazing for long across the ocean. They had crossed it for religious motives; and when those motives ceased to exist, they had no reason for remaining in a land in which they were essentially aliens. Like so many English families settled on the eastern coast of America, they had really remained in England all the time."23

And so in 1888, Smith went to Balliol College, Oxford, presided over at that time by the great Benjamin Jowett. "I shared in that Oxford life," writes Smith, "which, in its setting of old colleges and gardens and little rivers, is surely the happiest and most enchanting life that is possible to young mortals. A taste of Paradise, a bit of the old golden word … I had not known that life could hold such happiness such enchanting talks and friendships, such kindness and good fellowship; and I drank to the full from the enchanted cup."24

The enchantment proved to be a lasting one and Logan Pearsall Smith joined the ranks of literary expatriates along with Henry James and T. S. Eliot.

On the banks of the River Yare in Norfolk stands a dignified brick mansion in the midst of a large park with great lawns, trees, and flower gardens. The place, known as Earlham Hall, came into the possession of the Quaker family of John and Catherine Gurney in 1786, the parents of Eliwrbeth Gurney, later Elizabeth Fry, prominent in the annals

  • 21Ibid., 20–21.
  • 22Ibid., 42–45.
  • 23Ibid., 164.
  • 24Ibid., 194–195.
of English Quakerism. Here Joseph Gurney was born in 1788.25 Like many of the sons of English country gentry he was sent to Oxford. Many years later in 1837, Joseph visited the United States. In the course of three years he visited every corner and remote region where Friends were settled giving them aid and encouragement. Rufus Jones says, "He gave distinction to the Society which it had not to the same degree received since the birth period of Quakerism."

On the occasion of this missionary journey, Joseph Gurney attended the yearly meeting of the Friends in Indiana at Richmond. He reached the town from the east traveling over what he calls "the great Western road," which he found crowded with movers. "Immigration," he writes in his memoirs, "seems the order of the day." Already steps had been taken to establish a Quaker Boarding School in Richmond. Gurney, who had been an influential teacher at Ack-worth, made a donation to the proposed school, which was later increased by his widow. Other English Friends also came forward with gifts. The school modeled after similar ones in England, opened as a boarding school of high standing in 1847. It received a charter from the state a few years later as Earlham College, named for the home of the Gurneys in Norfolk County, England. Thus this school bears an old and honored English name.26

There were many precedents for the gifts received by Earlham from England. Without such aid many of the colonial colleges could not have been established. English names were given to a number of them—for example, Harvard, William and Mary, Yale, King's, Queen's, and Dartmouth.

One cannot help but notice a close resemblance of some of the buildings on the Earlham campus with their red brick and white wood trim, small windows, cornice decoration, and doorways to some of the college buildings in the Harvard Yard, to those on the new campus of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and to the Sir Christopher Wren building of William and Mary as well as other buildings in restored

  • 25 Percy Lubbock, Earlham (New York, 1922), 179, 199; Joseph B. Braithwaite, Memoris of Joseph John Gurney (2 vols in one, Philadelphia, 1854), I, 11–16, 29–34.
  • 26 Jones, The Later Periods of Quakerism, I, 518–619, II, 697; Memoirs of Joseph John Gurney, II, 103–104.
Williamsburg. There must be some common source. This architecture, if I am not mistaken, is eighteenth century Georgian, sometimes termed colonial, and its origin was in England.

In the promotion of closer Anglo-American cultural relations, the Quaker appears to have had his full share. It is obvious that it has not been altogether a one-way street, not merely a flowing of ideas from east to west but also from west to east as such names as Bartram, Logan, Woolman, Murray, and Smith amply testify. The Quaker in America has been on the giving as well as the receiving end of this transit of civilization.

Published by the Indiana University Department of History.