Quakers, Methodists, and Public Discourse in the Early Republic

2nd GA

Ralph Keen is writing for us this week from the annual meeting of the American Society of Church History in New York City.  Keen is Arthur J. Schmitt Foundation Chair of Catholic Studies and Professor of History at the University of Illinois-Chicago. In 2018 he was president of the ASCH.

In a session on Quakers, Methodists, and Public Discourse in the Early Republic, Samuel Dodge (Lehigh) described the paradox of religious freedom as it affected Pennsylvania Quakers in the call-up before the Revolution—the conflict being over the absoluteness of their pacifist convictions and the demand to sacrifice personal liberties for the common good. Elizabeth Georgian (Univ of SC) presented the case of itinerant Lorenzo Dow, the subject of several disciplinary proceedings for slander and who sought vindication in the court of public opinion through his published Journal and favorable attention in newspapers. Daniel Gullotta (Stanford) elucidated some of the differences between Whig and Jacksonian attitudes toward Christianity and its appropriate role in public life. While the Whigs accused Jacksonian Democrats of godlessness (and everything implied by that), Gullotta argued that the latter saw themselves as having a religious character just as firm as that of the sanctimonious Whigs.

The Disarming of New Jersey Quakers, 1776


Friends Burial Ground, Shrewsbury, NJ

Earlier today I was reading the Journal of the Votes and Proceedings of the Convention of New Jersey (Burlington, NJ: Isaac Collins, 1776).  This is essentially the minutes of the New Jersey Provincial Congress) in the weeks leading up to and following the Declaration of Independence.  (The NJ Provincial Congress is the body that sent delegates to the Continental Congress, endorsed independence, and wrote the New Jersey State Constitution)

On July 1, 1776, the minutes state:

Whereas by a regulation of the late Congress the several committees in this colony were authorized and directed to disarm all the non-associators and persons notoriously disaffected within their bounds.  And whereas it appears that the said regulations hath not been carried into effect in some parts of the colony; and it being absolutely necessary, in the present dangerous state of publick affairs when arms are much wanted for the publick defense, that it should be instantly executed.  That the several colonels in this colony do, without delay, proceed to disarm all such persons within their districts, whose religious principles will not permit them to bear arms; and likewise all such as have hitherto refused and still do refuse to bear arms; that the arms so taken be appraised by some indifferent person or persons; that the said colonels give vouchers for the same, and that the appraisement and receipt be left in the hands of the person disarmed.  (Italic mine).

For those blog readers who know a thing or two about the American Revolution, have you ever seen a case in which a state legislature (or some other body, such as a local committee of safety) confiscates guns from those with a religious conviction against bearing arms (in this case, New Jersey Quakers)?   And if you have seen something like this before, were they reimbursed with vouchers or something similar?

The Remains of a Native American Found in a Philadelphia-Area Quaker Meeting House


A scholar searching for the graves of native children affiliated with the Carlisle (PA) Indian School discovered a native American skull in a display case in the library of the Byberry Quaker Meeting.  Here is a taste of Jeff Gammage’s article at Philly.com:

But as she hunted for burial records in the dusky, seldom-used library of the Byberry Quaker Meeting in Philadelphia, she made a horrifying discovery: a yellowed skull, labeled as Native American, set in a display case among a collection of rocks and fossils.

A note taped to the cabinet said the skull was dug out of a canal near Lambertville, N.J., part of a skeleton that in one hand held a pipe and hatchet.


“It’s just wrong,” said White, of Mohawk descent, who teaches First Peoples Studies at Concordia University in Montreal. “This is really an ancestor here, who’s been stuck on this shelf next to animal skulls.”

A Meeting representative said that she was shocked by the find — and that the Quakers will offer to return the remains, to conduct a burial, or take any action that Indian leaders may desire.

“We want to do the right thing,” said Mary Ellen McNish, a longtime member and former clerk of the Meeting. “We will do whatever they want.”

Read the entire piece here.

The Author’s Corner with Brian Regal

51HcjrS6VnL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Brian Regal is associate professor of the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine at Kean University. This interview is based on his new book co-authored with Frank Esposito, The Secret History of the Jersey Devil: How Quakers, Hucksters, and Benjamin Franklin Created a Monster (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write The Secret History of the Jersey Devil?

BR: Following Hurricane Sandy we lost power for over a week. When it came back on, I had a lot of TV watching to catch up on. One of the first things I saw was a show on monsters that was doing a segment on the Jersey Devil. It recycled all the old unsubstantiated clichés and nonsense about witches and bat wings. I began looking into the literature on the subject and realized it too was all crap. No one had ever bothered to do a scholarly investigation into the myth or its origins. It made me mad how lazy and slipshod so much of cryptozoological writing was (anger is one of the underappreciated catalysts to historical writing). I told all this to my Kean University colleague, and former teacher, Dr. Frank J. Esposito, a scholar of New Jersey and Native American history. We immediately decided we should write something together on the legend. That is how this book was born. We wanted to do something that had rarely been done before: approach a monster legend from a historical rather than a sociological or folklorist or biological angle. We went and found a large number of primary sources that had never been tapped or never used for what we used them for. I wanted to write something that might one day be thought of as a compelling narrative and that was sympathetic to the lead character, and maybe even a little poetic with a nice turn of phrase or two (I understand someone else will make that determination).

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of The Secret History of the Jersey Devil?

BR: The story of the Jersey Devil is not one of a monster born of a witch mother. It’s the story of religious strife, bare-knuckled political in-fighting, and cultural scapegoating.

JF: Why do we need to read The Secret History of the Jersey Devil?

BR: No one really needs this: it’s not insulin. It would, however, be of interest to anyone interested in some of the little discussed cultural events that had a major, but unappreciated impact upon American history. If you are interested in where political monsters come from, the treatment of outspoken women, religious intolerance, and the origins of what we today call ‘Fake News’ than you should read it. The story centers on the life of Daniel Leeds, a man largely forgotten today, but who, had he lived a generation later, we might have called a Founding Father. A man who tried to bring the Scientific Revolution to North America; who became the first author in New Jersey and one of the first censored authors in America; and who helped invent the political attack literature that has become a part of modern society. We also placed the origins of the legend within western monster lore and how other such myths contributed to it.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian? 

BR: When I was a kid I wanted to be Jonny Quest. He travelled the world having adventures, he was smart, and he wore a cool, black t-shirt. I wanted to be Jonny, but as an historian. My guidance counselor, however, told me “kids like you don’t go to college” (My father was a construction worker and my mother was a waitress). So, I joined the army after high school. I volunteered for service in the armored cavalry and travelled the world on Uncle Sam’s dime. I kept reading and dreaming and later was fortunate enough to encounter people who helped me get into college and who supported my plans, and I began to think I might just be able to be an historian and a writer after all. I was especially fascinated by the history of science and the relationship between professional scholars and amateur investigators, particularly in the realm of the paranormal and monster studies, and realized there had not been that much done on this topic. I hope that if I ever do meet Jonny, he’ll understand.

JF: What is your next project?

BR: I am currently working on a history of amateur archaeology examining the various legends and myths about who ‘really’ discovered America. I am looking at stories about a Welsh Prince, Vikings, Chinese explorers, African adventurers, and others, and how these stories are largely the result of political and cultural wants and needs rather than any actual archaeological or historical realities, and that are tied to their historical times. It is tentatively titled Waiting for Columbus.

JF: Thanks, Brian!

Jane Calvert on John Dickinson

The University of Kentucky is running a great piece on Jane Calvert, the planet’s foremost expert on John Dickinson.  As many of you know, Dickinson was the author of Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania (1767-68), a response to the Townsend Acts.  Though he was the primary author of the Articles of Confederation, he refused to sign the Declaration of Independence.  It’s a great story from revolutionary America and Calvert tells it well.

Read the piece here.

Or watch:


Benjamin Lay: The Quaker Dwarf Abolitionist

laySalon is running an excerpt from Marcus Rediker‘s new book The Fearless Benjamin Lay: The Quaker Dwarf Who Became the First Revolutionary Abolitionist.  Here is a taste:

Lay is little known among historians. He appears occasionally in histories of abolition, usually as a minor, colorful figure of suspect sanity. By the nineteenth century he was regarded as “diseased” in his intellect and later as “cracked in the head.” To a large extent this image has persisted in modern histories. Indeed David Brion Davis, a leading historian of abolitionism, condescendingly called Lay a mentally deranged, obsessive “little hunchback.” Lay gets better treatment by amateur Quaker historians, who include him in their pantheon of antislavery saints, and by the many excellent professional historians of Quakerism. He is almost totally unknown to the general public.

Lay was better known among abolitionists than among their later historians. The French revolutionary Jacques Pierre Brissot de Warville gathered stories about him almost three decades after his death, during a visit to the United States in 1788. Brissot wrote that Lay was “simple in his dress and animated in his speech; he was all on fire when he spoke on slavery.” In this respect Lay anticipated by a century the abolitionist leader William Lloyd Garrison, who was also “all on fire” about human bondage. When Thomas Clarkson penned the history of the movement that abolished the slave trade in Britain, in 1808, a moment of triumph for that country, he credited Lay, who had “awakened the attention of many to the cause.” Lay possessed “strong understanding and great integrity,” but was “singular” and “eccentric.” He had, in Clarkson’s view, been “unhinged” by cruelties he observed in Barbados between 1718 and 1720. When Clarkson drew his famous graphic genealogy of the movement, a riverine map of abolition, he named a significant tributary “Benjamin Lay.” On the other side of the Atlantic, in the 1830s and 1840s, more than seventy years after Lay’s death, the American abolitionists Benjamin Lundy and Lydia Maria Child rediscovered him, republished his biography, reprinted an engraving of him, and renewed his memory within the movement.

Lay is not the usual elite subject of biography. He came from a humble background and was poor most of his life, by occupation and by choice. He lived, he explained, by “the Labour of my Hands.” He was also considered a philosopher in his own day, much like the ancient Greek Diogenes, the former slave known for speaking truth to power. (He refused Greek nationality and insisted that he was, rather, “a citizen of the world.”) Lay lived a mobile, far-flung life, in England, Barbados, Pennsylvania, and on the high seas in-between, all of which shaped his cosmopolitan thinking. Unlike most poor people, he left an unmediated record of his ideas, most significantly in his own book, “All Slave-Keepers That Keep the Innocent in Bondage, Apostates,” a rich and remarkable body of evidence by any measure.

Read the entire excerpt here.




The History of the Phrase “Speak Truth to Power”


Bayard Rustin

Guy Aiken, a newly minted Ph.D. in Religious Studies from the University of Virginia, has an excellent post at Religion in American History on the history of the phrase “speak truth to power.”  It traces its origins to mid-20th-century Quakerism.

Here is a taste of his post:

Speak truth to power.” Everyone knows the phrase—John Fea recently used it at the end of his article in the Washington Post on Trump and white evangelicals—but almost nobody knows where it comes from: the title of a 1955 pamphlet on international relations issued by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a Quaker organization headquartered in Philadelphia. Those who do know this immediate provenance of the phrase often assume that it originates ultimately with an eighteenth-century Quaker, or even with the founder of Quakerism himself, the British shoemaker’s apprentice George Fox. Not so.

The first person to use the phrase, it seems, was the African-American Quaker civil rights activist Bayard Rustin, who wrote in 1942 that the role of a religious group was to “speak truth to power.” Rustin himself attributed the phrase to a speech he had heard by Patrick Malin, a professor of economics at Swarthmore College who was to head the ACLU from 1950 to 1962—but it appears that Malin never used the exact phrase. A little over a decade later, Rustin helped write the pamphlet Speak Truth to Power. Rustin and his co-authors expunged Rustin’s name from the pamphlet because of his arrest on charges of committing a homosexual act in 1953. Another co-author claimed the phrase occurred to him spontaneously.

Read the entire post here.

2017 Princeton Seminar: Day 5

Rare Books 1

Princeton rare books librarian Eric White breaks out a first-edition collection of Phillis Wheatley’s poetry and the teachers transform into the paparazzi

It was another busy day at the Gilder-Lehrman Institute‘s “Colonial Era” teacher seminar at Princeton University.  We covered a lot of ground yesterday and traveled through three different regions of British colonial America:

  1. We started the day discussing women and dissent in colonial New England.  We talked about Anne Hutchinson and the “Good Wives” made famous by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich.
  2.  We had a great day in Philadelphia on Wednesday.  On Thursday we discussed Philadelphia in the larger context of the Middle Colonies with a specific focus on Pennsylvania as a Quaker and liberal colony.
  3.  After lunch we discussed the emergence of slave culture in the rice fields of colonial South Carolina.

We ended the day in the Firestone Library’s Rare Books Department where curator Eric White showed the teachers a host of first editions from the 17th and 18th centuries.  We got to see a copy of John Eliot’s Algonquian Bible and works by William Penn, Cotton Mather, John Locke, George Whitefield, Phillis Wheatley, Samuel Richardson, Laurence Stern, Addison and Steele, and others.  It is always fun to watch the teachers’ eyes light-up as they are exposed to these books.

One more day left!

Rare Books 2

Notes were taken


America’s First Anti-Slavery Statute

PujaraIt was passed in 1652 in Rhode Island colony.  It applied to Warwick and Providence. It banned lifetime ownership of slavery.  It was probably never enforced.

Olivia Waxman explains it all at Time.  Her piece centers around the work of Christy Clark-Pujara in Dark Work: The Business of Slavery in Rhode Island.  Some of you may recall that Clark-Pujara visited the Author’s Corner in August 2016.

Here is a taste of Waxman’s piece:

Slavery in the United States wasn’t abolished at the federal level until after the Civil War, but on this day in history, May 18, 1652, the first anti-slavery statute in the U.S. colonies was passed in what’s now the state of Rhode Island. (The statute only applied to white and black people, but in 1676, the enslavement of Native Americans was also prohibited in the state.) While it sounds like Rhode Island was ahead of its time — and, in some ways, it was — what actually happened was complicated.

Though Rhode Island’s Quaker population was starting to question slavery and the relatively young colony was looking for ways to differentiate itself from neighboring Massachusetts, the statute was very limited. For one thing, the law, which only applied to Providence and Warwick, banned lifetime ownership of slaves. For periods of 10 years or less, it was still permitted to essentially own another person, as an indentured servent. And it’s not as if, 10 years after the statute was passed, people let their slaves go.

“There’s no evidence that it was ever enforced,” says Christy Clark-Pujara, author of Dark Work: The Business of Slavery in Rhode Island and professor of Afro-American Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

One possible reason is that Rhode Island also couldn’t afford to enforce a ban on slavery. The colony dominated the North American trade of slaves, with Newport is the major slave-trading port in North America. New England farms at this point weren’t producing anything that England wasn’t already producing, so England didn’t need these things, which meant that the region served as supplier instead for the West Indies and the large slave population of that region. In return for the food and housewares sent from the U.S. to the West Indies, New England got molasses, which it used to distill rum, and Rhode Island actually became the number-one exporter of rum.

Read the entire piece here.

The Daring Women of Philadelphia

Daring Women

I am in Philadelphia today.  This morning I was interviewed for a documentary film on women, religion, and anti-slavery in the early American Republic (1789-1848) titled “The Daring Women of Philadelphia.”  The Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmakers at History Making Productions are producing the film.

I don’t pretend to be a historian of women in the early republic.   There will be many other historians in the film who will speak authoritatively on this topic.  I was asked to participate for the purpose of providing general background information about the Second Great Awakening, benevolent societies, and the religious impetus behind moral reforms movements in the early 1800s.  I have no idea if anything I said was useful or will make the cut, but it was fun talking about Charles Finney’s visit to Philadelphia, the Orthodox-Hicksite Quaker schism, Lucretia Mott, “moral suasion,” and the American Bible Society (of course).

Stay tuned.

Happy New Year from Samuel Mickle, 1798


Woodbury Friends Meetinghouse

An excerpt from the diary of Samuel Mickle, a 52-year old Quaker farmer from Woodbury, New Jersey.

How human folly descends from 1 generation to another!  The infant’s rattle and adult’s guns and drums; as if glad time made such haste away and a new year arrived: witnessed by the noise this evening.  Some feasting and frolicking most of all the day.  Not so with me, but on the contrary (though unusual) not a single person under our roof, beside my own family, all the day and evening…


The Author’s Corner with Julie Holcomb

HolcombJulie L. Holcomb is Assistant Professor and Graduate Program Director in the Department of Museum Studies at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.  This interview is based on her new book  Moral Commerce: Quakers and the Transatlantic Boycott of the Slave Labor Economy (Cornell University Press, 2016).

JF: What led you to write Moral Commerce?

JH: I learned of the free produce movement while writing an undergraduate paper about the Progressive-era labor reformer Florence Kelley. Kelley’s aunt Sarah Pugh was an abolitionist who abstained from the use of sugar and cotton. Several years later, when I encountered free produce a second time, in Betty Fladeland’s Men and Brothers, I remembered Kelley’s description of her aunt Sarah. I was intrigued and I was curious about this apparently international consumer movement against slavery. I wondered why so little had been written about this movement. I wrote Moral Commerce because I wanted to know more about the men and women who boycotted slave-labor goods. It seemed like a bold idea — boycott slave-labor goods to force the abolition of slavery.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Moral Commerce?

JHMoral Commerce traces the genealogy of the boycott of slave labor, bringing together in a single narrative the stories of the Quakers, women, and black abolitionists who challenged the economic status quo and demanded the abolition of slavery. That they failed to achieve their goal is not evidence of their lack of commitment. Nor is their failure necessarily evidence of idealism or sentimentalism, though they were admittedly guilty on both counts. Rather their failure to force slave labor goods from the market is evidence of just how important slave labor was to the global economy.

JF: Why do we need to read Moral Commerce?

JH: Abolitionist historiography is a rich and diverse field. Moral Commerce contributes to that historiography in several ways. First, Moral Commerce is the first book to examine the breadth of the boycott of slave labor. I place the boycott within its transatlantic context and trace its development over more than hundred years of activism. This allows me to explore how different groups of activists interpreted the boycott, which leads to some interesting comparisons such as the different motivations for women’s activism in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Focusing on the breadth of the movement proved challenging, however. Of necessity, I had to limit some discussions. For example, in her short work on the American free produce movement, Ruth Nuermberger devotes an entire chapter to the Quaker activist George W. Taylor. In my work, Taylor receives less coverage because I felt it necessary to tell other stories. Second, the boycott idea had a long history. Before activists talked about colonization, gradualism, or immediatism, there were Quakers who were calling for abstention from slave-labor goods as a protest against slavery. My book is also a reminder of the long history of consumer activism. Many of the tactics we use in modern consumer movements were first introduced by antislavery consumers: door-to-door canvassing, labeling of approved goods, and targeted appeals. Before the colonists boycotted British goods, there were Quakers like Benjamin Lay who refused to benefit in any way from slave labor. Finally, reading Moral Commerce alongside recent works on slavery and capitalism highlights just how much the global economy relied on slave labor. Books such as Edward Baptist’s The Half Has Never Been Told emphasize the economic strength of the slave-labor economy. It makes clear how difficult it would be for men such as Jacob de Cordova, Edward Atkinson, George W. Taylor, and others to turn Texas into a major source of free-labor cotton for conscientious consumers. Moral Commerce brings the consumer into these conversations about slavery and capitalism.

JF: When and why did you become an American historian?

JH: When I went back to college in my thirties, I struggled with identifying a major. I wanted to major in literature and creative writing, but as a wife and mother I felt I needed to be more practical in my choices. I knew for certain that I did not want to major in history. At the recommendation of a friend, however, I took a course with Larry Lipin, the American history professor at Pacific University where I did my undergraduate work. By the end of that semester, I had dropped my literature major and added a history major. Over the next three years, I took every history course Larry taught, including his course on American labor history (his area of specialization). Still, I wasn’t sure what I would do with a history degree. Prior to starting college, I had worked in a variety jobs, including retail sales, banking, and public and school libraries. After I added the history major to my degree plan and after talking with my husband, I thought I would pursue graduate work in library science and history with the goal of becoming an academic librarian. When I talked to Larry about this idea, he suggested instead a career in archives. That conversation changed everything! I spent two years working in the Pacific University Archives before applying to graduate programs in archives and history. When I graduated from Pacific, I had envisioned a career working in a labor history archive such as the collection at Wayne State University. Instead, after I finished my master’s degree, I worked for eight years as archivist and then director of a Civil War and western art museum while I finished my PhD in transatlantic history. I am starting my ninth year teaching in the museum studies program at Baylor. I enjoy the opportunity I have to maintain such a broad focus, researching and writing about history while teaching about archives and museum studies, and helping students understand the connections among those fields.

JF: What is your next project?

JH: I am in the early stages of a book project about Orthodox Quakers in the nineteenth century, specifically the Philadelphia Quaker George W. Taylor who appears in Moral Commerce. From the 1840s through the 1860s, Taylor was one of the primary Orthodox Quaker proponents of free produce. He ran a free produce store in Philadelphia, operated a cotton mill, and published the Non-Slaveholder. Since the 1940s that has been the standard story of Taylor. In the last few years, the Quaker Collection at Haverford College has received several donations of Taylor papers from the family. Reviewing those materials in the course of my work on Moral Commerce, I realized that there was much more to Taylor than his support of free produce. I am broadly interested in the relationship between Orthodox Quakers and the reform movements of the nineteenth century. In 1827, in an event that one historian describes as “the greatest tragedy of Quaker history,” American Friends divided into two distinct groups: Hicksite and Orthodox. That split led Quakers to scrutinize their beliefs and practices, including Friends’ participation in the various reform movements of the period, especially the antislavery movement. Orthodox Quakers have been largely absent from the story of Quakers and abolitionism. Generally, when historians talk about Quakers and reform, the focus tends to shift toward Hicksite Quakers such as Lucretia Mott and Amy Kirby Post, among others, who were active in abolitionism and women’s rights. Less well known are the stories of Orthodox Quakers like Taylor. Yet, in 1875 Taylor shared the stage with Mott and other abolitionists, including Frederick Douglass, at the centennial celebration of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society. For me that event suggests that historians have missed the significance of Taylor’s activism. Admittedly, Taylor’s views were never as radical as those of Mott and Post. (In the 1830s Angelina Grimké denounced Taylor as a “rank colonizationist.”) Still, the story of Taylor’s activism in the peace, temperance, and women’s rights movements as well as the free produce and antislavery movements is an important counterpoint to the story of Hicksites like Mott and Post.

JF: Thanks, Julie

A Quick Stop at the Warrington Quaker Meeting House

For the last several years I have wanted to bring the students in my Pennsylvania History course to a Quaker meeting house.  I love touring churches and meetinghouses.  In fact, I have been working-up a pretty good early American religious history tour of colonial Philadelphia.  (Let me know if you or your group is interested).

The closest eighteenth-century meeting house to Messiah College is on Route 74 nearby Wellsville, York County.  It is known  as the Warrington Quaker Meeting House.  A colleague of mine actually attends worship at this meeting house and he has been willing to open the doors so that we can tour the interior. Maybe I will take him up on his offer when I teach Pennsylvania History again in Spring 2017.

On Sunday, after my daughter Ally’s volleyball tournament in York, we decided to follow Route 74 home.  Along the way we stopped in Wellsville.

Here are some pics:



A Hessian Tries to Understand Religion in Revolutionary America

HeinrichsJohann Heinrichs was a member of the Hessian jager corps occupying Philadelphia in January 1778.  In this letter to friend in Hesse, dated January 18, 1778, he tries to make sense of the religious influences on the American Revolution.

He writes:

Call this war, dearest friend, by whatsoever name you may, only call it not an American Revolution, it is nothing more nor less than an Irish-Scotch Presbyterian Rebellion.  Those true Americans, who take the greatest part therein, are the famous Quakers.  The most celebrated, the first ones in entire Pennsylvania and Philadelphia and Boston are, properly speaking, the heads of the Rebellion.

Source: Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography XXI:2 (1898)

Thanks to Chris Juergens for bringing this letter to my attention.

Is Heinrich’s confused about Quakers leading the charge or is he referring to the so-called “weighty friends” in Philadelphia who did support the Revolution?

"Spectral Historical Revisionism" or Andrew Jackson Apologizes For His Entire Life

What if the ghosts of famous dead people–George Washington, George Fox, Thomas Jefferson, John C. Calhoun– were to communicate with us and offer advice about moral improvement?  And what if Ben Franklin edited this collection of communications? 

In 1852, Hicksite Quakers Isaac and Amy Post wrote (or maybe “compiled” is a better word) Voices from the Spirit World.

Over at the blog of the Journal of the History of Ideas, Brooke Palmieri explains what it is all about:

In it, the ghosts of famous dead people contact the authors, who then translate the “spirit rappings” they receive into a series of letters from the spirit world with advice for the living. “Benjamin Franklin” is the editor, who writes in the preface in typical Ben Franklin fashion that “Spirit life would be tiresome, without employment.” Franklin is also credited with contacting the other luminaries of public life, although Thomas Jefferson complains: “I find more difficulty in arranging my communication than when embodied.” The purpose of these spectral communications is, again, in typical Ben Franklin fashion, improvement. “Let no man claim that he has made great improvements in the arts and sciences, unassisted by spirit friends …. It is our object to spread light in the pathway of those who have been blinded by their education, traditions, and sectarian trammels. We come not to blame any; we present these truths, that man…may realize what he is, and what he is to be; to tell him by what he is surrounded.”

It is an incredibly literal way to enact the basic truth that history does offer precedents that can be built off of in the name of progress. But the aims of Voices from the Spirit World go deeper still: Franklin claims his purpose is that “death will have no terrors” for the living who are aware of the spiritual world. That is the best that the Spiritualist Movement had to offer: it was about facing death without fear, it was about ensuring that those who had died had not done so in vain, that their lives could offer wisdom and guidance in times of difficulty. The table of contents is a mixture of founding fathers, famous thinkers, Quaker leaders (the Posts were Quakers), close personal friends, and anonymous ghosts moved to speak…

But overwhelmingly the spirits speak with one voice: they denounce war, the slave trade and women’s inequality from cover to cover. In a “Communication from G[eorge] Washington. July 29, 1851” the first president condemns slavery: “I regret the government was formed with such an element in it…I cannot find words to express my abhorrence of this accursed system of slavery.” A communication, surprisingly, from John C. Calhoun admits: “It is very unexpected to me to be called upon by Benjamin Franklin, informing that you desired to hear from me…It seems to me unaccountable that my mind should have been so darkened, so blinded, by selfishness, as to live to spread wrong, while I endeavored to persuade myself I was doing right.” Andrew Jackson publishes an apology for his entire life: “I was wrong in almost everything.”

Read the rest here.  HT: Tony Grafton, via Facebook

Call for Papers: Quakers and American Indians from the 1650s to the 21st Century

Call for Papers:

Quakers and American Indians from the 1650s to the 21st Century

Philadelphia, November 10-12, 2016

Native Americans, Quakers and others around the world have celebrated the accommodation that marked the founding of Pennsylvania.  After the Quakers lost control of the colony, their reputation for maintaining good relations with American Indians gave them influence in federal policy on Indian Reservations, at boarding schools and in adoption programs.  The pattern of interaction between Quakers and American Indians has taken many turns, giving rise at various times to currents of distrust and disappointment, darkening the celebration of Pennsylvania’s mythical, original peace.  Quakers and American Indians from the 1650s to the 21st century is an interdisciplinary conference examining from a historical perspective all aspects of relations between American Indians and the Society of Friends.  The conference is sponsored by Bryn Mawr College, the Center for Native American and Indigenous Research at the American Philosophical Society, Haverford College, and the McNeil Center for Early American Studies, with additional funding from the Friends Historical Library, Swarthmore College. Our keynote speakers are John Echohawk, Pawnee, executive director of the Native American Rights Fund, and Jean Soderlund, author of Lenape Country: Delaware Valley Society before William Penn.

Possible topics include, but are not limited to:

•    The founding of Pennsylvania in the context of the history of the Lenape, Munsee, Susquehanna and Haudenosaunee
•    The Friendly Association for the Gaining and Preserving Peace with the Indians by Pacific Measures
•    The impact of the failure of the Quaker experiment on Native American aspirations for the continent
•    Quaker roles in the making of federal policy
•    American Indian children, and their response to Quakerism in the context of reservations, boarding schools, foster care and adoption
•    Quaker engagement with spiritual movements associated with American Indians
•    The legacies of this history for American Indians and Quakers today

Please submit proposals of approximately 500 words, along with curriculum vitae, to mceas@ccat.sas.upenn.edu no later than 28 October 2015. Proposals should be headed with the title of the paper and the author’s name, affiliation (if any), and contact information. We invite proposals from academic scholars at all stages of their careers, and also from American Indians, Quakers and others who can speak to the historical legacies of the long interaction between American Indians and the Society of Friends. Accepted presenters will be notified by early December 2015. Papers will be due for precirculation no later than 15  September 2016. Some support for travel and lodging will be available for paper presenters.

Call for Papers: Quakers and American Indians from the 1650s to the 21st Century

Call for Papers:
Quakers and American Indians from the 1650s to the 21st Century
Philadelphia, November 10-12, 2016

Native Americans, Quakers and others around the world have celebrated the accommodation that marked the founding of Pennsylvania. After the Quakers lost control of the colony, their reputation for maintaining good relations with American Indians gave them influence in federal policy on Indian Reservations, at boarding schools and in adoption programs. The pattern of interaction between Quakers and American Indians has taken many turns, giving rise at various times to currents of distrust and disappointment, darkening the celebration of Pennsylvania’s mythical, original peace. Quakers and American Indians from the 1650s to the 21st century is an interdisciplinary conference examining from a historical perspective all aspects of relations between American Indians and the Society of Friends. The conference is sponsored by Bryn Mawr College, the Center for Native American and Indigenous Research at the American Philosophical Society, Haverford College, and the McNeil Center for Early American Studies, with additional funding from the Friends Historical Library, Swarthmore College. Our keynote speakers are John Echohawk, Pawnee, executive director of the Native American Rights Fund, and Jean Soderlund, author of Lenape Country: Delaware Valley Society before William Penn
Possible topics include, but are not limited to:
• The founding of Pennsylvania in the context of the history of the Lenape, Munsee, Susquehanna and Haudenosaunee
• The Friendly Association for the Gaining and Preserving Peace with the Indians by Pacific Measures
• The impact of the failure of the Quaker experiment on Native American aspirations for the continent
• Quaker roles in the making of federal policy
• American Indian children, and their response to Quakerism in the context of reservations, boarding schools, foster care and adoption
• Quaker engagement with spiritual movements associated with American Indians
• The legacies of this history for American Indians and Quakers today
Please submit proposals of approximately 500 words, along with curriculum vitae, to mceas@ccat.sas.upenn.edu no later than 28 October 2015. Proposals should be headed with the title of the paper and the author’s name, affiliation (if any), and contact information. We invite proposals from academic scholars at all stages of their careers, and also from American Indians, Quakers and others who can speak to the historical legacies of the long interaction between American Indians and the Society of Friends. Accepted presenters will be notified by early December 2015. Papers will be due for precirculation no later than 15 September 2016. Some support for travel and lodging will be available for paper presenters.