North Carolina Quaker Suffering During the Civil War

Good morning, Friends!

Usually when I stand up here on Sunday mornings I’m a pastor, and my job is to share something important from the Bible. But as Tom has said, I’m also an historian. So were my father and great-grandfather before me. In my spare time, I write books and articles give lectures about history. Today, I’m going to combine my roles as pastor and historian, and talk with you a little about an important period of Quaker history here in this area.

But to get started, we’re going to read the gospel. It’s a passage which is directly relevant to our topic today, and I think it’s also relevant to some of the events we’re seeing in the news this week. It’s about faithfulness. It’s about witness. It’s about following in the footsteps of Jesus, and it’s about living in the way that Jesus lived.

Jesus said: “They will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. And so you will bear testimony to me.

But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.

You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. Everyone will hate you because of me. But not a hair of your head will perish. Stand firm, and you will win life.”

– Luke 21:12-19

Many of you know that Quakers were one of the very first organized religious groups in North Carolina. The first Quaker settlers came to the coastal areas of North Carolina as early as 1672. By the time of the American Revolution Quakers had moved inland to the Piedmont. Springfield Friends Meeting, as many of you know, was set up here in 1773.

Quakers came to North Carolina because land was inexpensive, and because the climate was (and still is) very mild compared with the harsh Northern winters.

As you probably know, Quakers hated slavery. The Quaker struggle against slavery is well known, and especially the Underground Railroad. Some of you have already heard me talk about the role that Allen Jay served in the Underground Railroad as a teenager.

After 1776, you could not own slaves and be a member of the Religious Society of Friends; Quakers were the first church anywhere to ban slaveholding from its members. Quakers refused to buy or sell products made by slave labor – things like cane sugar, cotton, and indigo dye.

This made things very difficult – at the time of the Civil War, 1/3 of the population of North Carolina were slaves – 360,000 were slaves, our of a total population of 992,622.

The law was very harsh. It was against the law to teach slaves to read or write. By law, slaves were not allowed to attend school, to preach, to carry a gun, to travel at night, or enter a town without a written pass from their master.

Many Quakers left North Carolina in the early 1800’s for the new “free states” of Ohio, Indiana and Iowa. In many cases, entire congregations moved to the Midwest together. That’s why you find the same old Quaker family names in the Midwest that are so familiar here. That’s why you find Quaker meetings with the same names in Indiana and Ohio that you have back here in North Carolina.

During the 50 years before the Civil War, it’s estimated that more than 10,000 Quakers left North Carolina. By the time the Civil War started, there were probably only about 4,500 Quakers left in the state. They left their homes and farms, because their conscience wouldn’t let them live in a place where their fellow human beings were slaves.

For a generation before the Civil War, Quakers also worked with the Underground Railroad. It was dangerous and extremely illegal. You could be fined up to $1,000 for helping an escaped slave. This was at a time when a working man earned $1 a day, so the fine was almost 3 years worth of income. It was the equivalent of nearly $100,000 today, and it was intended to punish the Quakers.

A few years before the war, when he was running for the Senate, Abraham Lincoln made a speech. He said:

A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become lawful in all the States, old as well as new — North as well as South.”

That “house divided” speech changed the nation.

The Quaker peace witness is also well known. Quakers have been pacifists since our earliest beginnings, back in the mid-1600’s. Quakers didn’t believe that outward, physical violence was God’s way of destroying evil. People know about that. But the story of Quaker suffering during the Civil War, which was perhaps the greatest trial that North Carolina Quakers ever faced, is almost unknown today.

North Carolina provided more soldiers to the Confederacy than any other state – almost 125,000 men in arms. North Carolina had the greatest number of casualties – over 40,000 men killed – and the greatest number who died from disease. North Carolina also had the largest number of deserters – at least 25,000.

When the war began, the Confederate Army was made up of volunteers. But very quickly, more men were needed, and first individual states and then the Confederate government passed draft laws. Conscription was extremely unpopular, and many men tried to get exemptions or else tried to evade the draft.

Most Quakers in the South were pacifists, but they were also loyal to the Union. Their non-Quaker neighbors suspected Friends of assisting the Union cause.

North Carolina was deeply divided at the time of secession. When they held a state convention to decide whether to join the Confederacy or not, more than half the delegates to the convention were pro-Union. The governor maneuvered quickly to force the state out of the Union and to join the Confederacy.

Under the Confederate draft laws, all white males between the age of 18 and 35 were required to serve for 3 years. This did not go down well, even with people who supported the Confederacy. They said that individual freedom of choice, and the freedom of each state to decide its own laws, were what they were fighting for. A national draft struck at the heart of their beliefs.

There were some opportunities to get out of the draft. North Carolina had exemptions for government officials, for doctors and druggists, for mail carriers, ferryboat men, for railroad workers, ministers and teachers, for newspaper workers and for workers in iron mines and foundries which were essential to the war effort.

There were also exemptions for owners of large plantations with 20 or more slaves. This only increased the unpopularity of the draft. A common complaint among soldiers was that they were “poor men fighting a rich men’s war”.

Later in the war, there were exemptions for Quakers, for Nazarenes and Mennonites who had to pay $500 for a substitute to take their place in the army. That may not sound like much, but remember – it would have been more than a year and a half of wages for a working man. Most Quaker farm families wouldn’t have had that kind of cash – a whole large extended family would have had to pool their resources just to get one person an exemption.

And even though an exemption was possible, enforcement was done locally. The army was desperate for men, and there was tremendous pressure on the local officials. Even if you had an exemption, neighbors who were jealous, or angry because someone from their family had been drafted, would often put in a malicious report to the local officials to get the Quaker men drafted.

Allen Jay came in here soon after the end of the war. He wrote down some of the first-hand stories. His close friend Stanley Pumphrey also came here about 10 years after the war ended, and he also recorded what the Quaker families had gone through.

One of the first stories they recorded was of a young Quaker man named Seth Loughlin, who was “arrested and taken from his wife and seven children,” and sent to a military camp near Petersburg, Virginia. When he refused to bear arms, they “tried to subdue him by keeping him from sleep. Then, for a week, he was ‘bucked down’, a cruel punishment, in which the hands were tied together below the knees”, and a pole was put in under the knees and above the arms.

When that didn’t work, they tied him up by his thumbs, with his toes barely touching the ground. When he still refused, he was ordered to be shot. “The soldiers were drawn out in line and were ready to fire, when he cried out, ‘Father, forgive them, they know not what they do!’ On hearing this, the men lowered their guns, and he was sent back to prison.” He became ill and died there.

A young Quaker man named William B. Hockett, from Centre Friends Meeting – which is still active down on Route 62 – had a vision that he would be carried off to the war and that he would suffer for his faith. He had a wife and young children and a newborn baby and he was very distressed for them.

“Then,” he says, “I was clearly shown that it was the will of the Lord that I should leave all, and that [the Lord] would be a husband to my wife and a father to my children, and that they should lack nothing in my absence; and that if I was obedient to my manifest duty, I should return with the reward of peace and find all well.”

He was arrested and brought along with the Confederate army, just in time for the battle of Gettysburg. The colonel ordered him to take a gun and go into the ranks, and threatened him with immediate execution if he refused.

They tried to make him to non-combatant duty, and he still refused. He said, “I cannot work at anything to aid in carrying on the war. God has told me not to do it, and I fear Him more than anything that man can do to me.”

The next day, the army was setting out to march again, and again he refused to go into the ranks. A group of soldiers was ordered to line up, and at the word of command they loaded and aimed their guns at him. Again he prayed, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!’

The soldiers lowered their guns and said they couldn’t shoot him. The colonel was enraged and tried several times to ride his horse over him, but each time the horse turned aside. Two soldiers were ordered to run him through with their bayonets. One of them knocked him down and stabbed the backpack he was wearing – the other soldier didn’t want to take his life.

A week later at the battle of Gettysburg, the colonel who tried to have him executed, died himself in battle. Two days later William Hockett was taken prisoner by Union troops, who sent him to Philadelphia, and the Quakers there helped him get to relatives in Indiana. When the war ended, he came home to North Carolina, and found his wife and family safe, even through Johnston’s army had passed through his farm twice.

This kind of suffering was common among the Quaker families of North Carolina during the war.

Stanley Pumphrey records another case, where two Quaker brothers were arrested for evading the draft, and sent to an artillery company at Kinston, about halfway between Raleigh and the coast. The commanding officer said that unless they would bear arms, or pay for a substitute, or do non-combatant work, they would be imprisoned without food or water until they obeyed.

The brothers were in jail for four days and five nights without bread or water, and many people came to look at them through the bars. One night it rained, and it says they “could easily have procured water through the window of their cell to slake their thirst. Their first impulse was to do so, but they concluded they had better not.”

The commanding officer at first suspected that people were smuggling food into the jail, but when he heard that they hadn’t even caught the rainwater to drink, he gave them food and water again.

A month later, a different officer told them that if they wouldn’t fight, he would put them out in front of the army at the next battle, so that they would stop the bullets and save the lives of some of the Confederate soldiers. The young Quaker men said they would rather suffer than do what they thought was wrong.

They were tied together with forked poles chained to their necks, like slaves, and heavy weights were tied to the ends, and they were marched for hours while the soldiers mocked them. Three times they were tied up by their thumbs. Another time the officer ordered them to be bayoneted, and though one brother was badly wounded, neither one of them was killed. After six months, another Quaker paid their exemption money and they were released.

Stanley Pumphrey says that when he talked with these young men, and wrote down their stories, their eyes filled with tears as they testified to the Lord’s goodness through all their trials. When they came before the officers, they said they remembered the words, “It shall be given to you in that same hour what ye ought to speak.”

These were North Carolina men. These were Quakers. These were people who are related to us, spiritually and physically.

Stanley Pumphrey records the story of several young Quaker men who, when they refused to help load a wagon with feed for the army mules, were tied together, tied to a cart, and dragged for miles through water and mud. The officer said that if they still refused, they should be thrown into the river.

Allen Jay got in trouble with the draft himself, up north in Indiana. He was told to show up for training, or pay for a substitute. He refused to do either, and the officials were going to sell all his farm animals and equipment at auction to pay for the exemption.

Allen and Martha Jay refused to cooperate with the official who was arranging to auction off their farm and ruin them, but then at noon they invited him to come in and share their dinner with them, and they even fed his horse. The official said, “If you would get mad and order me out of the house, I could do this work much easier. I tell you, it’s hard work!”

After the war, Allen Jay met men from North Carolina who fled to the mountains to avoid the draft. He said that they could look down and see their wives working in the fields, trying to keep their families from starving. Some of the men sneaked down at night to do what work they could, and a few of them put on women’s clothing and came down and risked arrest to work in the fields. The women at home, says Allen Jay, would suffer severe punishment rather than tell where their men were hiding.

And years later, Allen Jay describes sitting by the bedside of a dying Union veteran back in Indiana, who said that he had helped to destroy the home of a North Carolina Quaker family – taking all their livestock, carrying all the household possessions down into the yard and destroying them.

Allen Jay told the dying soldier that he knew the family and had often stayed with them, that their children were all grown up and that they were all Christians. The soldier begged Allen Jay to ask the family to forgive him, and prayed that they would meet in Heaven.

These are the kind of incredible stories – stories of faith, stories of suffering, stories of witnessing to the love and power of Christ – which were commonplace here in this area. They’re part of our heritage, and it’s amazing to me that these stories aren’t being learned by heart and told and re-told to our children.

When Allen and Martha Jay first came here, their house across the street wasn’t ready for them, and they stayed at the home of Allen U. Tomlinson. His name is on the memorial plaque here on this pulpit I’m speaking from.

Allen Tomlinson was clerk of Springfield Friends. He owned a tanyard to process leather, and he also owned a shoe shop, a harness making shop, and a store. He was head of the Sunday School at Springfield for forty years.

He was a close associate of Nathan Hunt, whose farm later became the Model Farm, and he was deeply involved with Guilford College.

At the end of the war, a division of General Johnston’s army was camped at Bush Hill, and the Confederate Army took over Allen Tomlinson’s house for their headquarters and as a safe place for the generals’ wives. At night they placed a military guard around the house and bolted the doors.

But Allen Tomlinson asked for the guard to be taken away, and unlocked the doors, and his family went about their business as normally as they could. The Friends held their quarterly meeting the next day, while the army was camped all around them, and no one knew whether the cannons would soon be firing again.

The next day, the surrender was signed, and the Confederate soldiers laid down their arms and went back to their own homes, many of which had also been destroyed. The war was over.

There are dozens of other stories I could share, from the books that I’ve researched and the articles that I’ve written. Because of the Union blockade, all kinds of staple foods like coffee and tea and sugar were unobtainable, and people had to make do with ersatz substitutes.

Schools were closed for four years, and many of the school buildings were destroyed or taken over for military use. Even the wooden fence rails were taken for firewood by the armies.

There was a rule that the army could only take the top rail off the fence, but the soldiers figured that once that was gone, the next rail down was the top rail, so they took that one, too. And so on, until only the bottom rail was left, but that was now the top rail, till the fence was all gone.

Candles for reading at night were unobtainable. People just sat by the fire in the evening. Roads and bridges were washed out, with no money or men to repair them.

As the war went on and on, Confederate money became increasingly worthless. At the end of the war, Confederate money became illegal. People lost all their savings. No one had any money. The economy of the South went back to the barter system for years after the war.

Everyone knows the general outline of the story of the Underground Railroad. And many people here in this area are familiar with at least the rough story of the work Quakers did during the Reconstruction. Allen Jay and others came here, and built or re-built more than 60 schools. They recruited volunteer teachers from the Midwest, and right here at Springfield they trained a whole new generation of North Carolina teachers to replace them.

They started new Friends meetings, many of which are still around today. They started the Model Farm, to help a new generation of farmers to get a fresh start and learn modern agricultural techniques. They imported tens of thousands of tons of alfalfa and clover seed, to fix nitrogen in the soil and return its fertility. They started farm clubs around the state to spread the knowledge, and they ran a farm cooperative to sell new farm tools at cost.

That’s another part of the story. But the part I hope you’ve heard today, the part I hope you’ll remember and pass on, is the faithfulness and suffering of the Quakers in this area who lived through the four and a half years of war.

As Allen Jay told and re-told their stories, he wrote: “One thing impressed me day after day, in going from one home to another and from one meeting to another – that I was in the midst of a people who, without any noise or any great flourish of trumpets, had fought and won a silent yet glorious victory. As we listened to the pitiful stories of their trials, privations and persecutions, we felt that we were among a people who believed in God, a people who had walked through the fiery furnace unconscious that “One like unto the Son of Man was with them.”

These are the men and women who built Springfield. They are our ancestors, spiritually if not physically. Many of them are buried out there.

My hope and prayer is that we would be worthy to be their descendants. May we not be distracted from our Christian faith, by the conflicts and upsets of our time. May we be as faithful as they were. May we listen to the voice of Christ, the Good Shepherd, and follow in the way He shows us.

And, when we come before rulers and powers, authorities and leaders, may we wait and listen for the Holy Spirit, who will show us what to say.

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9 Responses to North Carolina Quaker Suffering During the Civil War

  1. Bob Spencer says:

    Wonderful message!! Thanks so much.

  2. I would love to hear more stories of out Quakers back in the slavery days; My mother was a friend’s Minister years ago. She passed away 8 years ago, I wish I knew more stories of the under ground railroad days. My mother was Inez Vena Brown. She was from Bend, N.C. She was recorded in 1970. She worked on being recorded my junior & senior year of high school. I remember it vividly as I became the baby sister & cook for my 4 younger siblings! When my mother was recorded at Gilford College. I remember her thanking me for all I did in her place with our family during that time! I didn’t think she realized how hard it was on a teenager to fill her shoes! I think maybe she did after all. I was proud of my mom becoming a minister when so many thought “a women” should not be a minister!
    Do you have a book on the stories of the underground railroad?

    • Josh says:

      There were very few written accounts at the time, because the Underground RR was extremely illegal. One of the main sources is the Autobiography of Allen Jay.


    We shall let our live speak

  4. Liz Opp says:

    The detailed history of how (white) Quakers suffered is useful and of interest to some, yes. As others have referenced, it’s likely that there are few written accounts of how Quakers engaged in the Underground Railroad, individually or as a worship community, because of the great need for secrecy.

    Let’s also keep in mind that “land was inexpensive” back then is a way we white Americans have been socialized, unthinkingly, to erase the genocide of the indigenous people who lived on that land, and all the broken treaties by the U.S. government that led to the theft of that land.

    Liz Opp(enheimer)
    Laughing Waters Friends Preparative Meeting
    Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative)

  5. Anita Davis says:

    Love this article. My great great grandfather was a brother to William Bales Hockett and I have letters that he wrote home when he was imprisoned also. I agree that these stories do need to be handed down like they did back in the days of my great great grandfather .

  6. Lynn A. Bonfield says:

    Thanks for email. Hope to see you soon. Best, Lynn Also Karen

  7. I am looking for more info and photos of my immediate ancestors, great great grandparents John Addison Blair and Emily Millikan Blair, and their family members Hannah Millikan Blair and husband Enos.

  8. Frances Danley Bryant says:

    My Great Great Grandpa was a Quaker who lived in Ararat N C during the Civil War.He refused to join the Confederate army.He was taken from his home at night and shot in the back by a neighbor who was a Confederate person.My Grandmother said the person who killed him was dressed in KKK garb. The group responsible for his death accused him of being part of the Underground Railroad.He lived in the Long Hil community on the Ararat River in Ararat N C. that history says was part of the Underground Railroad.

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