Quakers during the Revolution: the Quiet in the Land

Good morning, Friends! Thank you all for coming today.

It’s a holiday weekend. A lot of people are probably thinking more about hot dogs and fireworks than about church or even about what the holiday means.

The 4th of July isn’t a church holiday, and some years I don’t pay any attention to it.

The 4th of July always means a good deal to me personally, because one of my ancestors was a colonel in the Minute Men. None of my ancestors were Quakers. He and his regiment fought in the front line at the Battle of Bunker Hill. I inherited his family portrait a few years ago. If you come over next door to the parsonage, you can see the portrait of Colonel Jonathan Bass hanging on the wall in our dining room. So, this is a family thing for me.

I asked several people from the meeting this week what they’d like to hear about this Sunday. They all said that they wanted to know some more about what the Quakers, and the people of Springfield, were doing during the Revolution.

The basic answer is, a whole lot, and not much. North Carolina Yearly Meeting, along with every other yearly meeting in the American colonies, strongly warned ALL the local monthly meetings not to get involved with the war.

They warned men against going off to join the army, on either side. They warned everyone against buying or selling anything which could be put to military use. They even warned against profiting from wartime shortages, or shipping goods in military convoys.

A Quaker merchant in Rhode Island, William Rotch, had taken a bunch of hunting guns in trade or barter. When the war started, he put all the guns in a boat, rowed out into the ocean, and dropped them all overboard.

The Quakers had a real thing against war in those days. There was a phrase they quoted frequently from the Bible. They urged our members not to be involved, and to be what the Bible called, among the quiet in the land.

I looked that phrase up in the Bible this week. It comes from one of the Psalms, from Psalm 35. It’s one of the Psalms of David. David was a pretty warlike guy, but David always gave God the credit. David felt that God was fighting his battles for him. And even when things were looking dark for David, he always trusted that God would help him out.

Contend, Lord, with those who contend with me;
fight against those who fight against me.
Take up shield and armor; arise and come to my aid.

Brandish spear and javelin against those who pursue me.
Say to me, “I am your salvation.”

May those who seek my life be disgraced and put to shame;
may those who plot my ruin be turned back in dismay.

May they be like chaff before the wind, with the angel of the Lord driving them away; may their path be dark and slippery, with the angel of the Lord pursuing them.

Since they hid their net for me without cause and without cause dug a pit for me, may ruin overtake them by surprise – may the net they hid entangle them, may they fall into the pit, to their ruin.

Then my soul will rejoice in the Lord and delight in his salvation.
My whole being will exclaim, “Who is like you, Lord?
You rescue the poor from those too strong for them,
the poor and needy from those who rob them.”

Ruthless witnesses come forward; they question me on things I know nothing about. They repay me evil for good and leave me like one bereaved.

Yet when they were ill, I put on sackcloth and humbled myself with fasting.
When my prayers for them were unanswered, I went about mourning
as though for my friend or brother.
I bowed my head in grief as though weeping for my mother.

But when I stumbled, they gathered in glee; assailants gathered against me without my knowledge. They slandered me without ceasing.
Like the ungodly they maliciously mocked; they gnashed their teeth at me.

How long, Lord, will you look on? Rescue me from their ravages,
my precious life from these lions.

I will give you thanks in the great assembly; among the throngs I will praise you.

Do not let those gloat over me who are my enemies without cause;
do not let those who hate me without reason maliciously wink the eye.

They do not speak peaceably, but devise false accusations
against those who live quietly in the land.

Psalm 35:1-20

So, that’s where that line, “the quiet in the land,” comes from. It’s not exactly peace-like. But it described what the Quakers wanted to be, during those times of war and revolution.

The quiet in the land is still the way the Amish describe themselves, along with the Mennonites and the Church of the Brethren. It’s recognizing that war has a way of destroying everyone and everything involved in it.

There’s no such thing as a clean war, and the American Revolution was a dirtier war than most. Neighbor was set against neighbor. Everyday life was completely disrupted. Homes were destroyed, and people’s food was taken by the armies, or burned. It was a terrible time.

In spite of that, there were some Quakers who took sides. One of the most famous was Nathanael Greene. He was a Quaker from Rhode Island. Before the war, he had been active in resisting the new taxes the British government imposed.

He joined the Rhode Island militia, and his meeting disowned him. Congress appointed Greene to be a general.

He fought in a number of battles up North, and he was eventually appointed as commander of all the American forces in the South. We’ll talk some more about him later.

Another Quaker who became famous years later was Betsy Ross. She grew up in a large Quaker family in Philadelphia. She fell in love with a young man who was an Episcopalian, and eloped with him. She was disowned.

Her husband, John Ross, was the nephew of George Ross, one of the men who signed the Declaration of Independence. Her husband died just a couple of years later.

Betsy set up an upholstery business. She also made drapes and other home furnishings. When the war started, she making signal flags for the new American navy.

Flags were important, because they were the only way of signaling between ships, or signaling to your friends on the shore. Every ship needed a whole set of dozens of signal flags, and she made them. She also made tents, repaired uniforms, and even packed ammunition cartridges for the American Army.

According to legend, Betsy Ross designed the American flag, with the approval of George Washington and two members of Congress. There’s a picture of them on the front of today’s bulletin.

Springfield Friends was a part of this whole picture. Springfield got started, as we all know, in 1773, three whole years before the Declaration of Independence.

Springfield originally had about a dozen families in the meeting – people who came up from South Carolina, trying to get disentangled from the economy that was based on slave labor. People also came here from Pennsylvania, making the difficult trip by wagon that took many weeks back then. They were looking for affordable land for their farms. And there were Quakers who came here from Nantucket, an island off the coast of Massachusetts that was almost entirely populated by Quakers.

The Quakers who started Springfield had family names like Blair, Carter, Coffin, English, Haworth, Hedgecock, Hockett, Hunt, Mendenhall, Millikan, Piggott and Tomlinson. Some of their descendants are still part of this meeting.

They settled here, they bought farms, they raised families. Some of them had trades – blacksmiths, wheelwrights, and tanners – that were essential to a frontier economy. But most of them were farmers.

They built a small meetinghouse, which also doubled as a school. They established connections with the nearest Quaker meetings, at New Garden and Deep River and Centre. They got permission to meet regularly for worship, and the other Quakers came and visited them.

Then along came the war. Most of the Quakers in this area did their best to stay out of the war. But the war came to them.

The British had captured Savannah and Charleston, and they were pushing up into North Carolina. Nathanael Greene was in charge of the whole southern portion of the American army.

Most of the time he was heavily outnumbered, and had very little supplies. Greene became a master of guerrilla warfare, striking and fading away rather than getting into major battles. Often Greene’s forces lost and were forced to retreat, but every time that happened, the British lost men and supplies which were hard to replace.

The Battle of Guilford Courthouse is pretty famous around here, but not too many people can tell you why.

Actually, it was preceded by several days of running battles which weakened the British army and discouraged them.

The British army was camped at Deep River Friends Meeting, which is still there over on Wendover Drive. The American army was camped at New Garden Friends Meeting up in Greensboro. The British started moving toward them, but the British army kept getting attacked along the way. This series of skirmishes cost the British men, tired them out, and delayed them while Greene and the rest of the American army rested and prepared their positions for the main battle.

Greene set up three lines of soldiers. The first line was soldiers from North Carolina. Their orders were to wait till the British got close, fire once, and then retreat to the next line.

The second line did the same thing. In addition, Greene had troops stationed to fire in at the British from the side. The British took losses, but kept coming.

Things got tangled up at the third line, which was right at the edge of the woods. The British general ordered his cannon to fire at the group of fighting soldiers, which killed many on both sides.

The whole battled lasted about an hour and a half. Greene’s American army retreated. The British tried to follow, but then backed off.

Neither side won, but the British army was so damaged that they were unable to continue. They retreated down to Wilmington, then marched up to Virginia, where they were besieged at Yorktown by George Washington and forced to surrender.

So, in a way, you could say that at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, the Americans lost the battle, but won the war.

During the battle, the army marched across a farm owned by a young Quaker, named Nathan Hunt. Nathan Hunt wrote, “We often had to hide our horses and cattle from scouting parties of both armies, and yet with all our care, at one time both my horses were taken by the British soldiers, and at another time my only cow was taken away.”

After the battle, the British and American armies left many of the dead and seriously wounded behind. The Quakers at New Garden Friends Meeting buried the dead from both armies side by side without distinction in their own graveyard.

They gathered the severely wounded into their meetinghouse. Smallpox broke out among the wounded, and Nathan Hunt, who was then just 23 years old and newly married, felt that it was his duty to help care for them. His family and friends were understandably anxious. Nathan Hunt caught smallpox himself, but only had a light case.

After the war, Nathan Hunt moved with his family to Pine Woods Meeting in what’s now Thomasville. As his family grew, he moved up to Springfield, which had a much better school for his children. His farm ran along Model Farm Road, from Main Street to Brentwood, and up as far as Blair Park.

Another Quaker from Springfield who was involved with the Revolutionary War was Hannah Millikan Blair. She was born up in Pennsylvania, but moved down here as a child.

Hannah married Enos Blair. They bought a farm near Springfield, and together they had 13 children – about 1 baby every year all through the Revolution.

She and her husband kept the Quaker peace testimony, but she managed to help the American soldiers with food, supplies and medicine. Many soldiers had fever, diarrhea, aches and pains or malaria and there was no pharmacy for them to go to. Her home-made medicine saved lives.

Hannah Millikan Blair also hid American soldiers in her house. One time two soldiers hid in her corn crib, and she sat there shucking corn while the British raiders searched for them.

Another time, she ripped open a mattress and hid an American soldier inside it with the feathers. She covered it all over with a quilt. When the leader of the British raiding party came to the house, she pulled back the quilt so he could look under the bed.

Then she sat down on top of the bed – on top of the hidden soldier – and started mending the torn mattress, saying, “Thee may search as thee pleases.”

Still another time, Hannah Millikan Blair heard that several American soldiers were hiding in the countryside and took food to them. On her way home, the British caught her and demanded to know where they were hiding.

She insisted that she had only been taking food to a sick neighbor, and they released her without finding where they were hiding. Later, the British came back and burned the Blair’s house down and forced the family to watch while everything they owned was consumed in the flames. It was a terribly bitter war, and the armies weren’t the only ones who suffered. It was really a civil war, and the civilians were the ones who suffered most.

After the war, Congress recognized Hannah Millikan Blair, and awarded her a small pension for her service.

One more story connected with Springfield – one you’ve probably heard before.

In March of 1781 – just before the Battle of Guilford Courthouse – an American soldier named John Brazelton was hiding from the Tories. As they closed in on him, he hid beneath some hay in a barn near Springfield.

The soldiers rushed into the barn. While they were searching for him, they stuck their bayonets into the hay and killed him. After the soldiers left, the Quakers picked him up and buried him.

John Brazelton’s grave is the first marked stone in our cemetery. The original stone got broken or worn away, but a replacement stone still marks the spot.

So, Springfield is the resting place for at least three genuine heroes of the Revolutionary War – two men and one woman. One soldier, one humanitarian, and one sympathizer, who lost everything she and her family had.

Fighting came again to Springfield, 84 years later at the end of the Civil War. That was bitter, too, but that’s a story for another day.

For now, let’s remember these Quakers, and all the others, who did their best in the time they lived. A few were actively involved, but then and now, they wanted to be among the “quiet in the land.”

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