Note: this was given as a children’s message at Springfield Friends. It was so interesting to both the children and the adults that it became the main message for the day. I learned the story from one of the oldest Quakers at Easton Friends Meeting. If you’re interested, you may also want to read The Arrow Over the Door by Joseph Bruchac.– Joshua Brown
This is a true story. It really happened. I have been to the place where it happened, and I heard the story from people who were descendants of the Quakers of that time and place.
It happened in 1777 – a year after the Declaration of Independence, and 4 years after Springfield Friends got started.
The place was at Easton Friends Meeting, a meeting which is still active. It’s near Saratoga Springs in New York State, up along the Hudson River valley. This area was one of the bloodiest and most heavily fought-over areas in the country during the French and Indian Wars and the Revolution.
The British army had recruited Native Americans to raid and attack settlements. Everyone was afraid of the Native American warriors.
Most people had left their homes, and gone for safety to the fort at Saratoga. People would leave the fort during the day and go back to check on their homes and look after their animals and work their fields. Some people took guns with them when they went to work in their fields, and many of them had been attacked and killed.
The Quakers were people of peace. They didn’t participate in the war. They stayed in their homes, and they didn’t go to the fort for safety. They didn’t carry guns with them when they went out to work in their fields. People back then could recognize the Quakers because they always dressed in plain gray clothing.
The Quakers met for worship on Sunday, and back then they also used to meet for worship on Thursday as well. The meetinghouse at Easton Friends was a log cabin, and they would meet there to pray quietly.
One Thursday morning, the Quakers of Easton Meeting were gathered to pray. Suddenly, someone in the meeting looked out the window, and saw a Native American warrior looking in at them. The warrior had war paint all over his face, and he was carrying weapons with him.
The warrior looked as though he couldn’t figure out what was going on, because no one inside looked scared and no one shouted an alarm. The warrior waved his hand toward the woods, and a whole group of Native American warriors came out of the woods and looked in at the window. They were all covered with war paint and they carried their weapons with them.
As it happened, there was one other visitor at worship that morning. His name was Robert Nisbet, and he was a Quaker from a meeting in North Adams, Massachusetts. Robert Nisbet had woken up at midnight the night before, and he felt a leading in his heart from God. He felt that God was telling him to get up, right now, and go and visit the Quakers in Easton.
So, Robert Nisbet got up in the middle of the night, and he walked all through the night, 40 miles over the mountains, until he got to Easton. It was morning when he got there, and the Quakers in Easton were just gathering for worship. So he went in and sat down with them.
When the Native American warriors surrounded the meetinghouse, Robert Nisbet was the only person in the meeting who could speak French. The warriors didn’t speak any English. They only spoke their own language, and some of them knew a few words of French.
So, Robert Nisbet was the only one of the Quakers who could talk with them! He got up in the middle of the night because God had spoken in his heart, and he walked 40 miles over the mountains through the night. He was the only person there who could have talked with the warriors.
Robert Nisbet explained to the Native American warriors that the Quakers were people of peace, and that they were inside praying. He invited them to come inside and join them, and they did. Soon the meeting was over, and the Quakers shook hands with the warriors.
The clerk of the meeting, a man named Zebulon Hoxie, lived nearby. He went home quickly and brought all the food he had in his house – bread and a big wheel of cheese. They all sat down together and had a meal.
When the meal was over, the warriors left a big white feather over the door of the Quaker meetinghouse. This was a sign to any other warriors who might come by, that these people were friends and not to bother them.
This is a true story that was handed down from one generation to the next at Easton Friends Meeting, and I heard it myself from the oldest member of the meeting, a man named Waldo Williams.
Many years later, another Quaker made a painting of what happened that day. And every year, the Quakers at Easton Friends Meeting have a special day to remember what happened.