Quaker Travel and Witness
Quaker Travel and Witness Group of PYM
Carol Walz, director
Nicholas Gutkowski, grants associate
August 5, 2018
In preparing this report on the July16-22, 2018 Quaker Pilgrimage to England, multiple impressions have come to mind and it is a challenge to sort them out. In addition to this brief report, I am planning to prepare a Power Point presentation that may prove to be useful to the broader community.
For some years, I have been conducting presentations that examine the settlement of West New Jersey by Quakers, with the first Ship Kent arriving in 1677 at what was to be the provincial capital, Burlington. These programs are based on my book, Stories of Willingboro Township (an original Quaker township in Burlington County). In every case, I find listeners largely unaware of this rich and significant history.
Thus the Pilgrimage to England not only confirmed the research I had already done here, but also amplified it and imbued it with the spirituality, the courage, and the passion inherent in the hearts of those early Quakers.
Against this background, the well-planned and well-executed journey, with about 30 others aboard, was both revealing and inspiring. Rather than explicitly recount each stop along the way, I will instead share some key insights gleaned as we journeyed together.
First in my mind is the joyful companionship of Quakers, all standing on common spiritual and ethical ground. We did not meet as strangers, but rather as Friends, who already knew the hearts of the others. No explanations needed, we shared openly as casual friends rarely do. Quiet times were important, as, within small groups, we talked about faith, struggles with faith, small openings of understanding and/or major moments of revelation.
Being hosted by Clitheroe Meeting, in the town near Pendle Hill, was enlightening. What struck me here was that the Clitheroe Quakers had kept up with changing needs of the times. Their much-loved countryside meeting house (circa 1777) was sold in 2016 and the meeting moved into a new location in town. All along the way, I found it useful to compare events of the Old World and the New. West New Jersey was founded by Quakers in 1677, 100 years before the old Clitheroe meetinghouse was built.
We traveled on to Lancashire and Pendle Hill where, in 1652 from its crest, George Fox viewed the surrounding countryside and envisioned a “great people to be gathered” waiting for him. The beginning of the Society of Friends is usually dated from the day, according to sources. Many fellow pilgrims did reach the top on this trip and their MFW at the top was special..
In Sedbergh, the growing influence and passion of George Fox’s preaching was reported to have touched many in the dissident groups that had risen up across the countryside following the execution of Charles I and the onset of the Cromwell period. That is another striking fact. It was at Sedbergh that meetings began to be held, in homes and its first meetinghouse (renamed Briggflatts) was built in 1674, the oldest in that region. West Jersey was settled in 1677, only three years later.
It is vital to note here that George Fox, in his journal, describes visiting what was to be West Jersey in 1672, five years before the division of the colony had been resolved. How remarkable that this movement, with Fox’s own personal involvement, was growing apace on both sides of the ocean.
Firbank Fell and Fox’s pulpit came on that same interesting day. It was here that Fox climbed to the top of a rock formation and preached, it was reported, “to thousands.” While I question this claim, it was true that the event fell on a regular Fair Day, known by all in the surrounding countryside. One of the favorite “entertainments” was to listen to itinerant preachers. Evasive details aside, author Arthur Kincaid describes the event as “momentous” wherein Fox had combined two major groups of seekers, Westmorland and Yorkshire, under his influence.
A visit to Colthouse Meeting, circa 1688, again conjures up coinciding activities in the new West New Jersey province. The subject of my book, Willingboro Township, as noted above, had been settled (or was still settling) 11 years earlier and was named a constabulary in the same year as the Colthouse Meeting was built, 1688. The parallels are intriguing.
While there is much more to say, the visit to Lancaster Castle with its ancient dungeons, exemplified the ethical and moral groundwork that, perhaps unwittingly, was to become a foundation for modern democracies. On this site, many, including Fox, were cruelly imprisoned for claiming, among other denied freedoms ––religion, speech, assembly, and equality before the law.
How compelling to place that noxious scene against the backdrop of what ethical treasures the Quaker settlers brought with them to West New Jersey in 1677. Their unique historic document, Concessions and Agreements, established many guarantees of freedom that later were to be imbedded in the US Constitution.
Thus the Quakers’ quest for freedom of religion and thought has continued to affect the advancement of broader personal freedoms throughout the ensuing centuries.
Carol J. Suplee