Springfield 1773-2023

Birthday Sunday Address by Tom Hamm
May 7, 2023

It began with Friends coming down from the North. Some came out of Virginia and Maryland, and later a few would make their way from the island of Nantucket, but most had lived in the Delaware Valley. Their homes had been in William Penn’s Holy Experiment. In the colonies of West New Jersey, Delaware, and especially Pennsylvania, they lived in places that foreshadowed what the United States would become. They came from a world in which religious liberty was foundational, established churches were to be shunned, immigrants of all backgrounds were welcomed and allowed to maintain their communities as they desired, land was easily acquired, and suffrage, the right to vote, was as liberal as any place in the world in the eighteenth century.

They were also a farming people, and that explains why Carolina drew them. Before 1730, Pennsylvania had become what an admirer called “the best poor man’s country.” Land was fertile and relatively easy to acquire. The combination of hard-working, thrifty farmers; good soil; and access to markets in towns like Philadelphia and Burlington and Wilmington brought prosperity. But by the 1730s, the combination of continuing immigration and large families—eight or ten children were common in Quaker families—meant that land was becoming increasingly scarce and expensive in the counties around Philadelphia. Some Friends moved west, out of Chester and Bucks and Philadelphia counties into Berks and Lancaster and York counties—but they also quickly filled up. And moving farther west meant reaching the less attractive hills and ridges of the Appalachian range, lands that were claimed by the powerful Iroquois Confederacy, which did not take well to intruders.

So Friends (and others) turned south. By 1735 enough Friends were living in western Maryland and the northern parts of Virginia that a new monthly meeting called Hopewell was established. Significantly, it was connected not with the yearly meetings of Maryland or Virginia but was part of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. But those lands also filled up quickly, and so by 1750 Friends were moving south again, now into North Carolina. Between 1750 and 1775 North Carolina was the fastest growing of all English colonies in North America, as not just Friends, but Germans and Scots-Irish and English came south on what was called on the Great Wagon Road. Their destination was what was then called the North Carolina Back Country, what we now call the Piedmont. Here millions of acres were made available by the absentee English proprietor, Lord Granville, on easy terms.

The first Friends in what is now Guilford County arrived late in the 1740s. The earliest I can find settling within the bounds of what would become Springfield Monthly Meeting was Mordecai Mendenhall, who with his wife Charity Beeson took up a land grant in 1752. Soon he was joined by Haworths and Kerseys and Baleses and Thornburghs, who like the Mendenhalls and Beesons had come down from Pennsylvania by way of Hopewell Monthly Meeting. From Louisa County, Virginia, came the Hoggatts, convinced Friends, later joined by other Friends like the Stanleys and Johnsons with deep roots in the Virginia Tidewater. For reasons that are unclear, the Nantucket Quaker migration of the 1770s was not drawn to this area. The significant exception was Matthew Coffin, although his marriage to a Mendenhall may explain that. So by 1773 enough Friends had gathered to form a meeting that they called Springfield. The origin of the name is unclear, but it was one that Friends first used in the Delaware Valley, both in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and would carry not only to North Carolina but to Ohio, Indiana, and Kansas in the next century.

Having established our community and explained why and how it came to be, I can only express regret that time does not allow me to cover in the next forty minutes the history that Josh Brown, Brenda Haworth, and Dan Warren have laid out so ably in two volumes. Instead I will provide you some vignettes of Quaker history as illustrated by events at Springfield. I want to share five: first, the founding era of Quietism, as illustrated by Springfield’s most famous member, the minister Nathan Hunt, who lived from 1758 to 1853. Then we will move on to an era of conflict, as Springfield Friends faced the issue of slavery. Then we will see the culmination of the larger national conflict over slavery in the Civil War and Reconstruction, when Springfield became central to the survival of Quakerism in North Carolina, and we will meet luminous Friends like Allen Jay, Joseph Moore, Yardley Warner, and Allen U. Tomlinson. Then we will take up an era of dramatic change of another kind, what became known in the 1870s as the Great Revival. Allen Jay will play a role, and we will meet another extraordinary Friend, Rufus P. King. Finally, we will look at how in the twentieth century Friends tried to make sense of all of this, as exemplified by Springfield’s second pastor, Clara I. Cox, and another Friend who was never a member here but who rests in the burial ground, Elbert Russell.

When Friends began to meet at Springfield, it was the period that historians of Quakerism usually refer to as the era of quietism. The evangelistic urgency of early Friends had faded. Quakerism had become inward-looking. “The Reputation of Truth” demanded that Friends be unrelenting in enforcement of the Discipline, the code of rules that defined Quaker peculiarity and distinctiveness, and that lapses from grace either be repented of quickly or repudiated by the disownment of erring members. Reading the minutes of Springfield Monthly Meeting from 1790 to 1860 we find such cases almost every month. The most common offense was marrying a non-Friend, but there were assorted offenses against Quaker peculiarities as well as against acceptable standards of Christian morality. My wife’s great-great-grandfather, John Wheeler Bales, whose parents were both elders, was nonetheless disowned in 1850 for fathering a child out of wedlock. That deviation from good order did not prevent him from marrying first a Gardner and then a Kersey.

What defined Quietism, however, was not just uncompromising enforcement of the Discipline, but a conviction that conscientious Friends would, in every moral and religious action, be directly guided by the Holy Spirit. To act in one’s own will was to be guilty of “creaturely activity.” “This was what I desired—to do nothing, to feel nothing, to be nothing” that was not divinely inspired wrote one Friend of this period. Such a desire for complete subjection to the divine will was especially expected of Friends who were recorded as ministers, recognized as having a gift for preaching. Such Friends were often led to share messages not only with their own meetings but to travel in the ministry. From 1791 until 1853 Springfield was the home of the best-known North Carolina minister of the nineteenth century, and perhaps ever, Nathan Hunt. We know much about his life because in 1858 a collection of his letters and journals, along with those of his father, was published in Philadelphia. Nathan was not only the best-known North Carolina Friend of the first half of the nineteenth century, but also the best documented.

Nathan Hunt was born a little to the north, in the New Garden settlement of Friends in 1758. His grandmother, Mary (Woolman) Hunt, was an aunt of the abolitionist and diarist John Woolman, and his father, William Hunt, was a recorded minister who traveled widely in North America and who died on a visit to England in 1772. Nathan came of age and married during the American Revolution. He recorded that when armies came through on the Guilford Courthouse campaign of early 1781, he lost most of his livestock to roving British soldiers.

What little we know of Nathan’s early life comes from a memorial that Springfield Monthly Meeting prepared after his death. It recorded that “he was naturally of a lively and volatile disposition, and in some measure given to lightness”—in other words, he had a sense of humor. Fortunately, “when about seventeen years of age, he had a reaching visitation, and a renewed view of being called to the ministry.” But old ways died hard: “for want of faithfully abiding under the solemn impression, he gradually again partook in associations with jovial companions.” But the Inward Light was unsparing, and he was ‘mercifully preserved, even in his greatest departure, from gross evils, or a departure from the peculiarities of the Society of Friends in relation to speech and apparel.” In that passage one sees Quakerism in this era—fear of lightness, devotion to separation from the world, dependence on divine leading.

Nathan first spoke in meeting when he was 26, although he was not formally recorded a minister until 1792, just after he had moved from New Garden to Springfield. Over the next forty years he would travel extensively among Friends in North America, visiting most of the Quaker communities in the United States and Canada. In 1820 and 1821 he was in the British Isles. Because he wrote frequently to his family when traveling, we get a sense of his mind. In the published versions of his letters, at least, the emphasis is on exhortation: “My dear children, I beseech you, remember the frequent entreaties of your father, and be steady to your business, to your home, to your learning; dwell together in love, being exceeding kind and tender to your mother, and do nothing without her counsel. . . . Godliness, with contentment, is great gain; keep an eye to this, my dear children, I beseech you all, and remember the precious soul is more than meat that perisheth. My soul is in travail for you, that none of you may stray from the fold of everlasting rest.”

Nathan’s letters give us a good sense of his theology. When the Hicksite Separation took place in 1827-1828, he and the rest of North Carolina Yearly Meeting placed themselves firmly with Orthodox Friends, although his daughter Sarah Harlan in Ohio made the opposite choice. Nathan denounced “Hicksism” as “the great leviathan, the monster of human reason and human wisdom, who is endeavouring to lay waste the atoning blood of Jesus Christ, and the blessed plan of salvation proposed by Him. It is a dark delusive spirit; it worketh in the secret chambers of darkness; in the mystery of iniquity it lives.” He did not hesitate to point out the shortcomings of fellow Friends. Unable to attend yearly meeting sessions in 1839, he sent a letter: “I think I have seen that Zion will be redeemed through judgments, and her converts through righteousness; and that the Lord will turn his hand upon his people in this part of his vineyard, and purely purge away all their dross and take away all their tin, and restore judges as at the first and councillors as at the beginning.” He could be equally scathing toward non-Friends. Once he encountered some Methodist ministers who boasted of the number of converts made at one of their revivals, including a few nominal Friends. “We got some of your sheep today,” they said. “Only some hogs; sheep do not wallow,” Nathan replied.

Nathan, by all accounts, dominated North Carolina Yearly Meeting. Although he never served as the clerk of the yearly meeting, when he expressed an opinion, that almost always became the sense of the meeting. One account has it that he single-handedly prevented a separation in the 1840s. When he reached eighty, Nathan asked that he no longer sit at the head of Springfield meeting; he feared that as his faculties declined, he would not be able to sense when the time had come to break meeting. Nevertheless he lived to the age of 95, spending his last years in the home of his daughter Abigail Stanley at Centre. But when he died, his body was brought back to Springfield to rest.

When Nathan Hunt died in 1853, North Carolina Yearly Meeting may well have had fewer members than it had 95 years earlier. Certainly there were fewer than half a century earlier. North Carolina Friends had been central to what became known as the Great Migration of Friends into the Ohio Valley between 1800 and 1850. Anyone who has visited Henry or Wayne or Grant or Randolph counties in Indiana will immediately be struck by the familiar names: Center and Salem and Hopewell and New Garden and Springfield Meetings, Back Creek, Greensboro Township. Quakerism in the west was in large part the offspring of North Carolina Friends.

Westward movement was the rule in nineteenth-century America, of course, but the Quaker migration out of North Carolina differed from the predominant pattern. When Friends left North Carolina, unlike most of their neighbors, they did not head due west, or south and west. These migrants were almost always farming families in search of new, cheap land, and Friends were no exception. But Friends went north and west because of their opposition to slavery.

North Carolina Friends, like other Friends, had once tolerated slaveholding by members. But by the time of the American Revolution, they had realized that enslavement was contrary to the will of God, and North Carolina Yearly Meeting ruled that members who were enslavers must emancipate their slaves or be disowned. Many Friends did liberate their slaves at a considerable financial sacrifice, although there were others who chose to keep their slaves and lose their membership. Such a commitment did not endear Friends to many of their non-Quaker neighbors. In the 1790s, grand juries in at least sixteen North Carolina counties sent memorials to the state legislature, asking it to do something about the subversive activities of the Quakers, who were giving slaves ideas of freedom and equality.

The accounts left by migrating Friends highlight their fears. Some were convinced that slavery was such an evil that God would inevitably judge the United States for tolerating it, and they would be caught up in those judgements, whether they took the form of war or slave rebellions or other visitations. And there was the fear that associating with slaveholders would corrupt young Friends. Such fears had foundation. A great-nephew of Nathan Hunt himself, Tilmon Hunt, became a slave trader and was killed by some of the people he was enslaving in Edgecombe County in 1851.

North Carolina Friends did not stop with freeing their own slaves. In 1816, they took the lead in forming the North Carolina Manumission Society. At its first meeting, twenty-two of the twenty-five delegates present were Friends. Springfield Friends were not founders, but by 1817 they had formed an auxiliary branch, and would remain active until the group dissolved in 1834.

Truth be told, the Manumission Society had little impact on slavery in North Carolina. It was a marginal effort of a marginal group. Indeed, by 1834 many of its members had joined the migration to Indiana. But it was forthright in condemning slavery as unchristian.

Some Springfield Friends kept up a strong antislavery testimony. Part of my wife’s family history is Benjamin Millikan, whose wife Margaret Bales was her third great-aunt. Born in 1783, Benjamin encouraged his children to leave for Indiana, which most did. But he remained at Springfield, was part of the North Carolina Manumission Society until it folded, and was active in aiding fugitive slaves as well as free people of color threatened with enslavement.

In 1832 Benjamin’s daughter Susanna had married a non-Quaker named Clark Elder. This was the kind of marriage that Friends feared, since Clark Elder was a slaveowner, and apparently an abusive one. In 1844, one of Elder’s slaves, an elderly man, came to Benjamin Millikan and told him that Elder treated him so badly that he feared for his life. Benjamin sheltered the man, and then made arrangements for him to escape to the free states. Enraged, Elder filed criminal charges against his father-in-law, but that backfired. Benjamin Millikan found proof that the elderly man was entitled to freedom and countersued for unlawful detainment and back wages. Elder lost the case and was ordered to pay $250. In an angry frenzy, he went home and hanged himself.

The forebodings of Friends about judgments hanging over slaveholders were fulfilled, of course, between 1861 and 1865. The outbreak of the Civil War found Springfield the largest monthly meeting in North Carolina Yearly Meeting, and its members were almost unanimous in their support for the Union. Some, especially young men, made desperate attempts to reach the North before war cut them off completely.

Those who remained found themselves facing a variety of hardships. Not until the last weeks of the war did warring armies come to this area, but shortages of various goods quickly developed. With Confederate paper money quickly depreciating, commissaries simply seized supplies they needed.

In 1862, the Confederacy adopted a policy of conscription, which initially did not make provision for conscientious objectors. Significantly, two of the four members of the committee North Carolina Yearly Meeting appointed in July 1862 “if way should open for it to have an interview with the Secretary of War and others in authority of the Confederate States either personally by letter or by attorney, in regard to military service” were from Springfield, John Carter and Allen U. Tomlinson. They were able to have an interview with Jefferson Davis himself. A family story has it that when John Carter started his testimony before a committee of the Confederate Senate, he got their attention by opening his remarks: “Why men, we Quakers are just like other men, our mouths open up and down just like other men’s.” They sought complete exemption from military service for Friends. The concession secured was far from ideal: Friends were exempted only the payment of hefty commutation fees of $500, which could be imposed more than once. Drafted Friends often found themselves facing hostile military and civil officials and real sufferings.

When the war ended, this area was ragged and exhausted. In 1865 and 1866, there was a new burst of migration north, to Ohio, Indiana, and Iowa. There was serious discussion about whether ALL Friends should be encouraged to leave North Carolina. But others had a different vision.

In 1864, Friends in Baltimore, concerned about destitute Quaker refugees from Virginia and North Carolina coming through the lines, had formed a group for their aid. This developed into the Baltimore Association of Friends to Assist and Advise Friends of the Southern States. Although it gave some aid to the little groups of Friends who remained in southeastern Virginia and East Tennessee, most of its work was in North Carolina, which had retained the largest number of Quaker residents.

Initially, the Baltimore Association aided Friends who wanted to move north. But it soon reconsidered, and decided to help Friends rebuild their lives in North Carolina. It focused on three areas: education, religious life, and agriculture. To oversee the association’s work, two Indiana Friends with North Carolina roots, Joseph Moore, and Allen Jay, were appointed.

Both were gifted, luminous Friends, relatively young, and recorded ministers, Moore born in 1832, Jay in 1831. Moore, a scientist by training, and a Harvard graduate, spent most of his life on the Earlham College faculty, where, it is believed, he made it the first college west of the Appalachians where Darwin’s theory of evolution was taught. He came south in 1865, returning to Earlham to become its second president in 1868. Allen Jay replaced him. Jay was a farmer with less formal education than Moore, although it included time at Earlham and at Antioch College when Horace Mann was making it one of the most respected institutions of higher education in the United States. Jay was a gifted preacher, even though he had been born with a cleft palate, giving him a pronounced lisp and speech that one Friend remembered as “like nothing else ever heard on earth.” Jay would be a critical figure in North Carolina Quakerism over the next eight years.

Springfield is central to this story. At the time, it was the largest monthly meeting in North Carolina. Indeed, Allen U. Tomlinson claimed that between 1861 and 1865 it had gained 181 members, although this growth was of course partly offset by Friends leaving for the west. The strength of the meeting, and its central location on the line between Guilford and Randolph counties, explain why the Baltimore Association made it the site of its headquarters.
In the first area of the Baltimore Association’s work, education, I can do no more than to quote the summary that Josh Brown has provided in his history of Springfield: “The Baltimore Association took on re-building local schools as its major task. The Association furnished thousands of books to replace those which had worn out or been lost during the war, as well as school supplies and basic classroom equipment. The Association also paid the teachers, who were mainly young adult Friends who came for short terms at minimal salaries.” The Association also set up a series of six-week institutes or “normal schools” to provide basic training for teachers. Finally the Association helped prop up the New Garden Friends Boarding School, not yet Guilford College, which had barely survived the war. The building was repaired, equipment provided, and tuition paid for twenty students whose families could not afford it. Allen Jay’s home “was the central office where supplies were kept, and he spent of his time delivering books, Bibles, and supplies in person. He also acted as the central paymaster for all the teaching staff.”

The Baltimore Association was also committed to reinvigorating spiritual life. Here Springfield had taken the lead by introducing an innovation as early as 1818, a First Day or Sabbath or Sunday School. I have found conflicting accounts of who was responsible—some say Abigail Albertson, some Thomas T. Hunt, some Allen U. Tomlinson. But it was certainly the first among North Carolina Friends, and by the 1850s it was central to the life of the meeting. At a national conference of Friends in 1866, Allen U. Tomlinson credited the First Day School for the meeting’s growth and strength during the war. The presence of Allen Jay, a gifted preacher, was also critical to the meeting’s spiritual vitality. All accounts agree that the resumption of visits of visiting Friends from the North after the war generally strengthened the yearly meeting.

Perhaps the most innovative project that the Baltimore Association undertook was also based here at Springfield, the Model Farm. Before the Civil War, North Carolina was known as the Rip Van Winkle State, a place of small, subsistence farms, the only houses log cabins and stock allowed run wild in the woods, knowledge of fertilizers and improved varieties of seeds and breeds of stock limited. This was true even of Friends. The Baltimore Association tried to change that. As Allen Jay put it: ”There had been a continual pressure upon us to establish a model farm and to place among them a practical farmer who should, by improved farming implements, artificial manures, introduction of grasses, selected seed, and stock demonstrate to their eyes the great neglected wealth of the soil, awaiting only the call of improved cultivation, and who, by the establishment of agricultural clubs within the limits of each quarterly meeting, should stimulate a spirit of inquiry and enterprise which would be rewarded by the best practical results.”

So in 1867 the Baltimore Association purchased 200 acres of land that had previously been part of Nathan Hunt’s farm. Again, to quote Josh Brown: “The Baltimore Association hired an active and well-educated Quaker farmer, William Sampson of Maine, to come and run the farm. They built a barn, comfortable modern farmhouse and other outbuildings. They built a water-powered mill to grind bones into fertilizer—the first such mill in the South. They brought in pedigreed cattle and showed how scientific breeding could lead to healthier livestock and higher profits. Farm implements—ploughs, rakes, reapers, cultivators, and mowing machines—were supplied at cost to farmers. Their goal was to teach and to model what a good working farm in North Carolina could be.”

William Sampson himself rhapsodized in 1871: “There is music in the click of a mowing machine which to the ear of a progressive man is more potent than the words of an orator, and which is proved in every neighborhood where one is carried. It instantly suggests the propriety of removing all stumps, stones, sprouts; under draining the wet places so the horses can travel better; better ploughing to insure a smooth surface; all these improvements speedily followed. Hardly a day passes without some stranger visiting the farm.” The governor of North Carolina called the Model Farm the “only green spot” in the state.

Another Friend who came south during Reconstruction, and, unlike Jay and Moore, is buried here at Springfield, was Yardley Warner, who became known as “the freedmen’s friend.” A native of Bucks County, Pennsylvania, born in 1815, Warner was a recorded minister. During and after the war, hundreds of Northern Friends felt called to work among the freed slaves in the Confederate states, establishing schools, providing food and clothing to the destitute, and advocating equality before the law. Warner did all of these things, but he also understood the desire of the freed people to own at least a small plot of land. So with the aid of Philadelphia Friends he purchased 60 acres on the south side of Greensboro and laid out lots and made them available on easy credit. This free Black community became known as Warnerville. In the last year of his life, Warner moved to Archdale and became a member of this monthly meeting. At his death in 1885 he was teaching in a Black school. His obituary described him as “widely known for his untiring and self-sacrificing efforts for the advancement of the Freedmen of the South.” What attracts more attention today than his tombstone in the cemetery outside, however, is the model of Noah’s Ark that he created for his children and is now in the museum.

Although it was not part of his charge from the Baltimore Association, Allen Jay was also central to innovations in worship among North Carolina Friends, part of a larger movement in American Quakerism that became known as the Great Revival. The whole story is much too complicated for me to tell in full here; if you want the long version, I wrote a book about it, The Transformation of American Quakerism. In the 1860s, Gurneyite Friends, the majority of Orthodox Friends in America, who were open to influences from the larger American society and to ties with other Christians in good causes, embraced a number of reforms of the older Quaker life—relaxing the old regulations against marrying non-Friends, seeing education as a desirable complement to ministry, encouraging people other than recorded ministers to speak in meeting. Allen Jay was part of this movement. By 1870, however, its leadership increasingly fell into the hands of young ministers who had embraced the Wesleyan doctrine of second-experience, instantaneous sanctification. And they in turn brought full-blown revivalism into Friends meetings, with altar calls, singing, fire-and-brimstone preaching, and agonized displays of extreme emotionalism. The revivalists largely scorned Quaker tradition. Plainness and distinctiveness were “dead works”; silent worship was a waste of time that might be devoted to soul-saving preaching. There is no question but that this apparently met a need in the lives of many Friends, as revivalists reported thousands of converts.

Allen Jay was open to what he saw as the positive features of revivalism, but he tried to keep revivals in which he was involved on a moderate course. The dates are uncertain, but apparently early in the 1870s when he learned that some young Springfield Friends had been caught up in a Methodist revival (Methodists loved revivals). He decided to attend, and, when the Methodist preacher invited him to join him on the platform, Jay did. He knew that many older Friends would be displeased, but Jay was clear: “My object was to save our young people to our own church.” Toward the end of his life Jay wrote: “I had early in my religious work decided to work in harmony with the Church, and after fifty years’ active work in the ministry have never seen cause to change my mind. I do not believe the cause of Christ is advanced by pushing in innovations or change of practice faster than the weight and religious sentiment of the meeting is able to go.” Jay never made extravagant claims of personal sanctification. And his preaching was different from most of the revivalist Friends. “No doubt it is right to preach at times the terrors of the law,” Jay wrote to his wife in 1875, “but there is so much danger of getting a little of self in with it—wishing to bring everybody to our idea of what is right—that I often think it is safer for me to leave the judging with my heavenly father.”

So he sought permission to hold special meetings at Springfield and it was granted. There was singing, and an altar of prayer, and “some excitement.” The result was not only were young Friends kept within the Quaker fold, but some new members were added. Jay’s careful methods avoided strife. When some of the elders expressed reservations, they were answered by Allen U. Tomlinson, who told them his youngest son, for whose spiritual welfare he had been deeply concerned, had come home from one of the meetings obviously deeply affected and changed for the better. “If any of you want to lay your hands on these meetings you can do so,” he said, “but I am going home.” Jay had an almost unique gift of finding the precise balance of innovation that would meet changing needs without alienating more traditionally minded Friends. And his evangelical faith, unlike that of many of the revivalists, would never harden into fundamentalism.

The revival would transform most Friends meetings in the United States. By the 1890s, Quaker worship in most North Carolina congregations was increasingly like that of other protestant churches. A pastoral system of ministry became the rule, as the converts of the revivals required pastoral care and did not know what to make of long periods of silent worship. So regular preaching was expected. Singing became a regular part of worship, then pianos and organs were introduced, and finally came choirs and choir robes. If George Fox turns over in his grave at the thought of a salaried Quaker pastor, I can’t imagine his response to a Quaker minister of music.

Another minister connected with the revival and with Springfield had a life almost as remarkable as Allen Jay’s. Rufus Pope King was born near Chapel Hill in 1843. He was drafted into the Confederate army in 1862, and, converted in a Methodist revival, he joined that church. In the summer of 1863 he found himself headed north and was in the Battle of Gettysburg. Taken prisoner after the battle, he was held for a year before being exchanged. Back in the Confederate army, he found that he felt that he could no longer seek to take the lives of others. By that time, the Confederacy was near collapse. When pickets in his camp told him that they planned to cross over to the Union lines and surrender, King joined them. Released, like so many North Carolinians, he made his way to Indiana. At Mill Creek in Hendricks County, he was taken in by a Quaker family, who taught him to read and write and where he attended meeting for the first time. He went to Quaker schools, and after moving to Allen Jay’s old home at Farmers Institute, Indiana, was recorded a minister. He became one of the best-loved Friends of his generation. He would travel the world, preaching all over North America, in the British Isles, in Europe, in the Middle East, and in Australia and New Zealand. He was unusual among revivalists in reaching out to Conservative and Hicksite Friends, having no qualms about attending their meetings for worship and sometimes speaking acceptably in them. When he decided to return to North Carolina to make his home, he became a resident of Archdale. And when he died in 1923, he was buried here at Springfield.

Springfield was apparently slow to embrace a paid pastorate, perhaps because it had several gifted resident ministers, such as Abigail Blair and William and Amanda Richardson. Nereus Barker exercised some pastoral duties in the late nineteenth century. The first formal pastorate was that of George Welker, born in Missouri in 1880, who joined Friends in Oklahoma. After serving four years, he went to Kansas and became a Methodist pastor. His successor was a remarkable woman, Clara I. Cox.

Clara Ione Cox was born at Guilford College in 1879. Her grandfather, Jonathan Cox, had been one of the Friends who helped the New Garden Friends Boarding School survive the Civil War, and her father, J. Elwood Cox, was a prominent High Point businessman and the Republican candidate for governor in 1908. Clara graduated from Guilford College in 1902, and subsequently studied at the White Bible Institute and Columbia University in New York City. She became joint pastor of Archdale and Springfield meetings in 1918, giving up Archdale in 1926 to devote all her attention to Springfield. Well, most of her attention. She also served as assistant clerk of North Carolina Yearly Meeting and reading clerk of the Five Years Meeting and as editor of the yearly meeting journal, the Friends Messenger. When not occupied with Friendly activities, she helped organize the High Point City Welfare Department and the High Point Public Library. Perhaps most admirably from a contemporary perspective, she was for many years the clerk of the yearly meeting Interracial Relations Committee. In 1930 she was elected a member of the Commission on Interracial Cooperation, probably the most ambitious civil rights organization in the South before the Civil Rights era. It did not directly challenge racial segregation—the white South was not ready for that in 1930. But it did call for

  1. Complete eradication of lynching
  2. Elimination of the Negro race as an issue in political campaigns—in other words,
    an end to appeals to racial prejudice.
  3. Improvement of school conditions.

Cox helped organize Inter-racial Sundays, found scholarship money for students at Bennett College, and tried to further inter-racial communication.

The most lasting material accomplishment of Clara Cox’s pastorate was a new meetinghouse. Springfield Friends had constructed the building that is now the museum in 1858. At the time it was doubtless the most substantial Friends meetinghouse in North Carolina. But it was not designed for pastoral worship, and in 1926 the meeting committed itself to an entirely new building. The total cost came to about $50,000, about a third of which was borrowed. With a furnace and electrical wiring, it was state of the art. That is the building in which we are worshiping today.

Ironically, though the old meetinghouse had survived almost 70 years of use and a war, it was the new building that after little more than a decade of use that experienced a disastrous fire. Problems with wiring caused fire to break out in the back of the auditorium on the morning of Sunday, February 22, 1942. Friends arriving for worship saw smoke and flames. Quickly they rushed in to carry out anything moveable—pews, furnishings, hymnals, the library books, even the kitchen range. Brass plaques were pried off walls. Tradition has it that in the process, only one screw was misplaced. Complete disaster was averted by only a slight deviation from strict Quaker integrity. When High Point fire trucks arrived on the scene, they realized that Springfield was outside the city limits. First the fire chief and then the city manager was appealed to, but they refused to act without authorization from the mayor. Sara Richardson Haworth then announced that she had phoned the mayor and obtained his permission. She hadn’t really, but that satisfied the fire department. Sara’s comment was: “A lie is an abomination to the Lord, and a very present help in time of trouble.” Although the damage was extensive, most of the building was saved without even one window being broken.

Looking over the list of Springfield pastors, I am struck by how relatively few there have been for so old a meeting. Part of that is explained by long tenures—22 years of Clara Cox, 35 for Max Rees. But I am also struck by another characteristic. Springfield’s pastors have come from the moderate/modernist wing of pastoral Quakerism, that which has resisted the fundamentalist impulse which has become so powerful in many Friends churches. A central figure in the development of that moderate/modernist strain of Quakerism, which sees critical study of the Bible and acceptance of modern science as entirely compatible with a firm Christian faith, and which values and affirms Quaker distinctiveness, was someone who as near as I can tell was never a member of this monthly meeting, but who is buried here. That person is Elbert Russell.

Elbert Russell was one of the most influential, and controversial, Friends of the first half of the twentieth century. He was born a member of North Carolina Yearly Meeting, in Friendsville, Tennessee, in 1871. After his parents’ early deaths, however, he grew up in the home of his grandfather in West Newton, Indiana. From there he entered my own Earlham College and graduated with honors in 1894. He stayed on for a year as men’s dormitory governor, waiting for his fiancé to graduate and saving money for graduate school. But in the spring of 1895, the president of Earlham, Joseph John Mills, made an unexpected offer, appointment as Earlham’s professor of Bible. Russell protested that he had no training, but Mills responded that some summer work in Greek and Hebrew would bring him up to speed. The salary was attractive, so Russell accepted.

Years later, Russell realized that the very fact he had no graduate or theological training probably underlay Mills’s offer—he was not tainted by association with suspect seminaries. But then Russell set out to make himself a biblical scholar, eventually gaining his doctorate at the University of Chicago. He also formed ties with Friends like Rufus Jones at Haverford and the leaders of the liberal Quaker Renaissance in London Yearly Meeting. Such Friends shared a common vision: that critical biblical scholarship, an embrace of science, and education generally were good things; that holiness revivalism should not be encouraged; that Quaker distinctiveness was something to be prized and strengthened. This was controversial. Fundamentalist-minded Friends, particularly those associated with Quaker Bible colleges in Ohio and Indiana and Oregon and California, attacked Russell as “unsound” and corrupting Quaker youths, endangering their souls. Significantly, one of Russell’s most public and consistent defenders until his death in 1910 was Allen Jay. (It was Russell who encouraged Jay to compose the autobiography that is such an important source for nineteenth-century Quaker history.) Russell would eventually leave Earlham, first for Philadelphia, then Duke Divinity School. (My wife Mary Louise and I were married here in High Point by a Methodist minister, a family friend, but I was comforted that the Bible he used and treasured had been given to him by Elbert Russell.) Russell’s vision of Quaker religious study and education would endure both at Earlham and at Guilford. And I find it significant that for the past century almost every Springfield pastoral minister has been a product of Earlham, Guilford, or the Earlham School of Religion.

Elbert Russell died in 1951, and at this point I will close, as I approach times that I know some of you present here this morning remember personally. Much more could be said, but I hope that I have given you a sense of how Springfield fits into the larger sweep of Quaker history and how significant it has been. It’s a good story to tell, and I am gratified that you chose me as the person to exposit it for you.

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