A History of New Garden Friends Meeting

presented at the 300th anniversary
September 19, 2015
Margaret B. Jones, Ph.D.

Upper New Garden Meeting House

Most of us know the story of our Quaker forbearers of the 17th century. They were followers of George Fox, they were people who believed each individual could directly commune with God. However, when they preached in public places, they were punished as disturbers of the peace. For their refusal to swear an oath of allegiance, Quakers were pilloried and thrown into prison. Failure to pay tithes to the Church could also result in imprisonment. For instance, in 1707, John Starr, father of New Garden Meetings’ first Clerk, spent six weeks in prison for refusing to pay his tithes. At his death, ten years later, his five sons came to America.

So who were these Quakers who immigrated to Pennsylvania and purchased land in William Penn, Jr.’s Stenning Manor? They were tenant farmers and small landowners primarily from Leinster, Antrim, and Ulster Counties as well as some from County Carlow. They represented the second and third generations of Quakers. By the time of the second and third generations, much of the acting out, the excitement of the first generation of Friends had ebbed; Quakerism had ceased to be a Movement and was now becoming a religious sect. Nevertheless, restrictive laws in England meant that being a Quaker was not easy.

27 Irish Quaker families took up land in Stenning Manor. They came to preserve their Quaker way of life and worship, but also to establish homes and to prosper. Many of the families had already intermarried and the ties were strong, to each other and to their Quaker way of life. For instance, Michael Lightfoot had one daughter married to a son of John Miller and another married to Isaac Starr.

In the beginning if Friends wished to attend Meeting, they traveled to Newark Meeting, or Old Kennett as we know it. But by 1712, they were meeting in John Miller’s log house south of present Baltimore Pike (presently the Warren Reynolds’ property).
When the Meeting received permission from Chester Quarter to build a Meeting House, John Miller gave land on the southeast corner of his property. This was near the center of the settlement; here Friends build a log house. (Later John Miller’s son, James Miller, deeded 6 acres to the Trustees of New Garden Meeting.) James Starr was the first Clerk, a position he held from 1715 to 1726. At the suggestion of Quaker minister, John Lowden, they named their Meeting New Garden in memory of their New Garden Meeting in County Carlow.

This was a forested, wild land to which our forbearers came. To illustrate: there is a story told of Mary Miller, John Miller’s wife. She lived on what is today the Reynolds property. According to tradition, Mary Miller went out one evening to find one of her cows. While searching she became lost and wandered about in the woods for several hours. At length, not knowing where she was, she arrived at her own house and asked for shelter. She was so disoriented, that it was a long time before her family could convince her of where she was, safe in her own home.

Despite the all the consuming tasks of clearing their own land and building farm homesteads, in 1743, the Meeting built a brick Meeting House; this is the south end of our present structure. And in 1777, they built a school of log near where the fireplace is located. This log building had one wall of stone with a huge walk in fireplace. Families paid by subscription for their children to attend; the school lasted for almost a hundred years, until there was public schooling.

Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, some of the excitement of the early years left the Society, Friends adopted behaviors which set them aside as a religious sect, behaviors which made them different. The drab, Quaker gray, the broad brimmed hat and Quaker bonnet, the Quaker speech of thee and thou became the norm. In business, their thrift, integrity, their refusal to bargain, soon made many of them wealthy.

At the same time Friends began to police their own membership. Elders of the Meeting began to exercise control over the membership by disowning those who did not live up to the Quaker testimonies. Members could be disowned for drunkenness, for marrying out of Meeting, for joining the Militia, as well as for myriad other offenses. This was the period of Quietism when Friends felt reluctant to speak in Meeting for fear their message was not spirit driven; consequently many Meetings….for generations….were silent Meetings. Even public Friends might travel many miles to visit a Meeting, but share no vocal ministry.

By mid 18th century, as Quaker families were growing, younger sons needed land. In the early 1750’s, a wagon train of 20 families from Bradford, Kennett and New Garden Meetings set out for North Carolina. Among the New Garden families were children and grandchildren of Quaker minister, Simon Hadley. (His land today is a park just west of Delaware 7.) These Friends established three Meetings in North Carolina: Spring, Cane Creek and New Garden on what is now the campus of Guilford College.

When in 1775, the PA Assembly, enacted a military enlistment law, the Yearly Meeting directed Monthly Meetings to disown any who enlisted in the militia. The years of the Revolutionary War were trying times for Friends. Their peace testimony did not allow either for carrying arms or for in any way assisting those who did. Members were disowned for paying war taxes, for paying fines in lieu of military service, or for paying fines for their refusal to collect Military taxes.

At the same time, Friends were vulnerable to taxes levied by the States, taxes to support the war.
Thomas Lamborn, was a member of New Garden Meeting who was particularly affected by his desire to remain neutral during the conflict. An avowed pacifist, Thomas Lamborn refused to pay war taxes to support the local Militia. As a consequence, he was forced into bankruptcy by the depravations of the Patriot Militia. On one occasion, when Thomas was plowing his field, some officers detached his horses from the plow, appropriated them for the army and left Thomas alone in his field with his horseless plow. Another time the Militia came into his barn after harvest and knocked the sheaves of barley against a post to release the grain. When they threw the straw into the mow, they said to Thomas, “You may have that.”

On the eve of the Revolution, Friends were also wrestling with the buying, selling and keeping of slaves. In 1767, Isaac Jackson, Jacob Lindley and Joshua Lamborn carried New Garden’s concern for the abolishing of slavery to Yearly Meeting. (In 1776, the Yearly Meeting adopted a new Query, which in effect said that Friends could be disowned if they in any way participated in the holding of slaves.) So strongly did Jacob Lindley feel about the plight of escaping slaves, that when he built his brick house on Indian Run Road, he incorporated a room, camouflaged as a closet where runaway slaves could safely hide.

And there is a story told about Joshua Lamborn. A runaway slave girl hurried down his lane, saying, “Help me, help me, they’re going to catch me.” Joshua Lamborn hid the girl and then faced the slave catchers. As they approached, they cried “We’re after a runaway woman; have you seen a her?” Joshua replied that in fact, he had seen a woman running, and waving his arms in a general direction toward the road, saying, “If you hurry, you may catch her.”

Records of the Underground Railroad are virtually non-existent, but we do know that the Friends’ testimony against holding slaves endured until the end of the Civil War. Isaac Jackson’s son in law, Enoch Lewis, (1776-1856) was known to give slaves a safe haven and when the Lyceum Hall was built in the 1840’s, it is thought that it too, was used to hide runaways.

We probably remember Enoch Lewis best for his opposition to slavery, and for the boys’ boarding school, a mathematics school, he opened in his farmhouse across the way. Enoch Lewis did more than write about the scourge of slavery; he lived his convictions. In about 1810, a fugitive arrived at his home with his five-year-old nephew. The fugitive moved on, but the Lewis family reared and educated the boy who lived with them until he was 18 years old.

On the subject of slavery, Lewis was a gradualist. He did not believe in encouraging slaves to run a way, thinking it was too dangerous. Nevertheless when fugitives came to his door, he gave them assistance and sent them on to the next safe house. In the 1849, by then in his 70’s, Enoch Lewis traveled as far as North Carolina to promote the notion of Free Produce, of using only goods produced by free people.

Enoch Lewis was a teacher, a writer, an editor and a reformer. In one piece written for the Friends’ Review, he counseled teachers to love their students, to place confidence in them and to give them responsibility. He edited two magazines, and wrote hundreds of articles dealing with antislavery, science, pacifism, crime and prison reform, smoking, alcohol consumption, Native Americans, smoking, and women’s issues, always developing a Quaker philosophy. During the first half of the 19th century, Enoch Lewis would have been considered a pillar of New Garden Meeting.

George W. Taylor, (1803-1891) a student of Enoch Lewis,’ was another Meeting member who actively sought a practical way to end slavery. His objective was to discourage the use of anything produced by slave labor, such as sugar and cotton. He believed that ethical shopping could strangle slavery without a shot. In 1850, George Taylor visited the Danish West Indies to get sugar and molasses; he established a Free Produce Store in Philadelphia and opened a cotton mill in Doe Run. Although both enterprises were a financial failure, primarily because of the poor quality of his products, George W. Taylor said he never regretted his losses.

During these years from the late 1700’s through the 19th century, recorded ministers carried on most of the vocal ministry of the Meeting. Jacob Lindley was one of these. He was known as a powerful speaker. It was said that his body, soul and spirit seemed to enter his sermons. And Jacob Lindley used his voice to address concerns of the day. Actively, he opposed slavery. He was concerned for the plight of the Native Americans. He with five others from Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, traveled to Detroit to calm a warlike, restless tribe of Indians. Later he tried without success, to prevent the government from appropriating the Tunesassa Indian reservation in New York State.

All New Garden children have grown up hearing this story about Jacob Lindley. It is said that one occasion he was riding near the Meeting House when a violent thunderstorm erupted. Seeking shelter in one of the carriage sheds and gazing out over the cemetery, he thought of the many worthy Friends whose bodies lay there. So great were his feelings that in his powerful voice, he began to quote poetry which began…..”How are thy servants blessed, O Lord.” At that moment a horseman was riding down Newark Road. Hearing these words and thinking that the spirits of the dead had awakened, the rider spurred his horse, and raced away. Jacob Lindley, understanding what had happened, called after him, but his voice only served to further frighten the rider, who it is said did not halt his horse until he had ridden for three miles.

By the end of the 18th century, the membership of New Garden Meeting approached 350 persons. Even if only a small portion of the membership regularly attended Meeting, the building was too small. An addition to double the size of the Meeting House was constructed to the north. Although legend has it that the first building was constructed of bricks brought from England as ballast, the 1790 addition was built by locally fired brick. Most likely the brick was from the brickyard on Sunny Dell Road.

Throughout the 18th century, Quakers practiced a form of Quietism, which meant that no vocal ministry could be undertaken without a direct leading from the Spirit, from God. And to be absolutely quiet was the only way to be open to the word of God. As a consequence, silent meetings became very silent. Worshippers felt inhibited; they feared their messages might be led by what they called “creaturely activity,” rather than being prompted by the Spirit. Public Friends, those who traveled long distances to visit, often failed speak, to offer vocal ministry. Even Bible reading was discouraged. As a result some young people grew up with only a foggy notion of their basic faith.

Toward the end of the 18th century, the evangelical movement sweeping across the country affected Quakerism. Contrary to what most Friends believed, this movement held that the Bible should be regarded as direct revelation from God, and therefore as final authority. Conflict developed between those who wanted to preserve Quakerism in its longtime form with freedom of conscience and those who wanted to impose the doctrines of evangelism. We know that on at least two occasions, Elias Hicks, who was at the center of the controversy, visited New Garden Meeting where he was met with “much sympathy.” Elias Hicks was an elderly New York Friend, who preached that the Inner Light should be the sole authority in worship. He believed that the life of Jesus should be studied to enhance this inner religious experience.

This controversy escalated and in 1827, amid much bitterness, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting separated. New Garden was unique in that it did not disown those Friends who chose to leave to worship with like-minded Friends, now called Orthodox. Of New Garden’s total membership of 831 men, women and children, 241members left to build the Meeting House we know as Lower New Garden. Here they worshipped for about 100 years until dwindling membership caused the Meeting to be closed in 1938. Some of the families who became Orthodox Friends were: Thompson, Sharpless, Lamborn and Thomas.

Lower New Garden Meeting House (now a residence)

When the Separation occurred, New Garden’s Clerk, Ezra Webster, compared the Meeting to a stone wall out of which some stones had fallen, leaving the Meeting a little weak, but still standing. He prophesied that some day those stones would be replaced, and in 1955, they were. The differences at the time of the separation were no longer differences and Friends were once more united as a Society.

At the time of the Separation, those Friends who continued to meet in the original Meeting House, now called themselves Hicksite as in followers of Elias Hicks. One New Garden Friend who lived during these years was Dr. Ezra Michener. He was a so called, “weighty Friend,” a botanist, and a writer who wrote on such varied topics as Weeds, mollusks and their shells, illnesses of childbirth, as well as extracting, in 1859, the Minutes of the Yearly Meeting. Some of his books and a manuscript copy of his Retrospect of Early Quakerism are on the display table. In addition to these activities, however, Dr. Ezra Michener was New Garden’s country doctor and a pioneer in early surgery.

On one occasion Dr. Michener was called to care for the storekeepers’ daughter who had broken her leg. She had fallen when hitching a ride on a huge log being dragged to the sawmill. In those days, it wasn’t unusual for children to catch a ride when they saw the oxen dragging a big log, but she had fallen. In those times a crushed leg was reason to amputate, however, Dr. Michener was determined that she would walk again. He organized the neighborhood women as assistants, sterilized all his tools, and called for the cabinetmaker’s sharpest finest saw to remove the crushed bone. Other local doctors, later hearing of this, predicted the girl would not survive. But each day as the bone began to knit, Dr. Michener stretched it to keep it the same length as the other leg. His patient lived and walked again.

By 1900, the membership of New Garden Meeting was 143 members with between 50 and 100 present on any First Day. During the next decade, major improvements were made to the Meeting House. The two doors were combined into one; the long porch and porte chere were added. New interior shutters and benches with high backs were installed, the walls were painted a bluish wash and a rag rug covered the floor. Meeting for Worship, however, was quiet, with very little vocal ministry. Martin Meloney, a recorded minister was the only one who regularly offered a message. His obituary read, “he was one who led a simple, kindly life which was more eloquent than the spoken word.”

As the 20th century wore on, New Garden Friends increasingly turned their thoughts to social concerns, particularly those of womens’ suffrage and temperance. There are accounts of temperance lectures held in the Meeting House. In 1908, one speaker said, “If we could get rid of the liquor traffic, many of our evils will go out with it.” Friends pressed for a constitutional amendment banning alcohol. With war clouds on the horizon, in 1915, Friends celebrated New Garden’s 200-year history with an attendance of more than 600 persons. The principal theme was that for Friends, “with the future comes the opportunity for service and the responsibility to grasp it. And of course, we all know that one of the positive outcomes of the First World War was the founding of the American Friends Service Committee.

New Garden Friends embraced the Service Committee and almost from its inception pledged as a Meeting to always make a substantial contribution. The Tuesday Service Committee sewings became an institution for the women of the Meeting, where incidentally, the thorniest questions facing the Meeting gaining a hearing on these days. Over the years, the sewing group made literally carloads of new children’s clothing, sweaters and quilts to ship off to the Service Committee warehouse.

No account of the 20th century would be complete without mention of Ethel P. Jefferis. It was she who beginning in 1907 started a First Day School Class of teenagers and young adults which she would teach for 30 years. The young people under her guidance learned of Quakerism and studied the Bible. In 1916, the group developed into a twice-monthly evening study group and ultimately into a supper group with the espirit de corps creating a lifelong social group.

One member of the Ethel P. Jefferis Class was Gordon P. Jones. Not only did he frequently provide vocal ministry, but from 1942 to 1949, he also served as Clerk of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting (Hicksite). As Clerk of Representative Meeting, he participated in the task of writing the new Faith and Practice adopted in 1955 by both branches of Philadelphia Quakers.

Throughout its existence, New Garden Meeting House has provided a quiet place of worship. It has been the place where members have come as a loving community to worship their God. But it has been more than that; it has been the social center for New Garden Friends. During times of trial such as the summer of 1824, when there was a typhoid epidemic and Thomas Lamborn opened 62 graves, Meeting members supported each other. During the days of the Great Depression when farmers were losing their farms, members provided financial support. In stressful times, Meeting members relied on each other.

But there have been times of joy as well; there has been the precious silent worship, there have been powerful messages of hope in a trying world. And there have been weddings with the beginnings of new families and memorial services celebrating lives well lived. All have been the fabric of the community which is New Garden Meeting.