Nathan Hunt was one of the best-known Quakers in North Carolina in the early 1800’s. A pioneer, a traveling minister, an educator, he was one of the earliest members of Springfield Friends Meeting.
Nathan Hunt’s family emigrated to New Jersey and Pennsylvania between 1670 and 1719. His father, William Hunt, was born in New Jersey and moved to North Carolina about 1752, and was a charter member of New Garden Monthly Meeting in in 1754.
Nathan Hunt was born at the family farm about two miles from New Garden Friends Meeting, the third child of Sarah Mills and William Hunt. Nathan said that he “never went to school for more than 6 months in his life.” His father died during a missionary trip to England when Nathan Hunt was 14. Some kindly neighbors arranged for Nathan to be apprenticed as a blacksmith.
A kindly neighbor, Dr. David Caldwell, allowed him to borrow books from his library one at a time, which Nathan read at night after the day’s work was done. He had to read by the light of pine knots as candles were scarce and expensive. He later said, “I observed the language of the books and cultivated the habit of using it in my common conversation. The consequence was that I was often taken for a learned man. I spent much of my time in reading the Bible.”
The battle of Guilford Courthouse took place very close to the Hunt family farm. 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 of Guilford Courthouse, the British and Patriot armies left their dead and seriously wounded behind. The Quakers at New Garden Friends buried the dead from both armies side by side in their own graveyard, and gathered the wounded into their meetinghouse. Smallpox broke out among the wounded, and Nathan Hunt, age 23 and newly married, felt that it was his duty to help care for them. He caught smallpox himself but only had a light case.
He was encouraged by the elders at New Garden Meeting, and became a recorded minister. His traveled in 1796 to visit Friends in Georgia, followed in 1797 by visits to Tennessee and 1798 to Northern and Eastern states. Over the next 40 years Nathan Hunt visited most of the Quaker meetings in the United States and Canada and also many Native American tribes. Like his father, he also went to Great Britain and visited meetings there.
He was deeply involved in the founding of Guilford College, and he single-handedly kept North Carolina Yearly Meeting from dividing during the Orthodox/Hicksite Separation in 1828.
Nathan Hunt married Mary Ruckman in 1777 when he was 20 years old. Mary died 11 years later, a week after bearing their 6th child. After two years as a widower, in 1791 he married Prudence Thornburgh, with whom he had 4 more children. In 1811, age 53, they moved to a farm adjacent to Springfield Friends on what is now Model Farm Road, which became his home for the next 37 years.
There is no record that Nathan Hunt was ever directly involved in the Underground Railroad. It was highly illegal, with drastic fines for anyone caught helping slaves escape to freedom. The Underground Railroad was very active in the area, and New Garden Friends was a major “station”.
On the other hand, both in private and in his ministry, Nathan Hunt was openly critical of slavery. He said at one gathering that “he would as soon as hear an ass bray as to hear a slave-owner preach the Gospel”; when criticized for speaking so strongly he said “that was what came up and had to come out”.