Evolution of a Quaker Community

Author: Grundy, Martha Paxson
There is a deep and troublesome dilemma facing believers in a variety of minority religions and sects: how to resolve the demands of their faith and yet participate in the larger community. In Biblical language, the question is how to be in the world but not of it. The Religious Society of Friends in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Pennsylvania was one such religious group. This book explores the dilemma by means of a micro-study of one congregation (monthly meeting) and the seventeen surname families that were part of that meeting for one hundred years. The individuals in those families inevitably faced choices and made decisions between the requirements of their faith and the demands and opportunities of the dominant culture.

Between 1750 and 1850, the period studied here, a number of major events took place that tested Friends. These include, among others, the Revolutionary War, economic growth and depression, the evangelical revival movement, Jacksonian democracy with its accompanying political and social changes, the treatment of Native Americans, and reform movements ranging from abolition to temperance. There were also major movements within the Religious Society of Friends: a reform impulse that included antislavery, and a major division or separation in 1827. The Religious Society was both a stable and a dynamic force as it and its individual members sought to chart their course through the buffeting, challenges, and opportunities posed by the larger society and within their own group.

The in-depth analysis over time of individuals within the matrix of their family and faith community provides insight not usually gained from aggregate data. For example, family patterns are seen to have a much larger influence than most studies indicate. This is, of course, consonant with our own personal experience.

There are chapters that deal with a series of major and less obvious issues between 1750 and 1850. A reader interested in a more nuanced exploration of them would benefit from the insights of this book. Issues include the mid-seventeenth century reform movement within the Religious Society of Friends, including antislavery. There is an interesting examination of the Revolutionary War and Friends’ peace testimony as played out among the individuals who were simultaneously impacted by the reform movement. The book explores the way Friends, individually and corporately, dealt with the triumph of market capitalism.


“In this work, Dr. Martha Paxson Grundy gives us an unparalleled glimpse into the evolution of a Quaker community. For a generation now, community studies have been a staple of American historiography, testing broad theories about economic change or political conflict or gender roles through intensive, focused study of a particular locale. Such studies have revolutionized our understanding of colonial America, the western frontier, and the dynamics of slave communities, to name but a few examples ... This work raises questions that are of interest to scholars both of Quakerism and of broader American history. It does so with careful attention to detail, made possible by a wealth of documentation, and with an eye for larger questions of interpretation ...” – (from the Preface) Professor Thomas D. Hamm, Earlham College

“ ... Dr. Grundy’s use of the concept of faith development using M. Scott Peck’s four stages gives a new tool for viewing Friends’ actions. In particular, it is very helpful to view the different approaches to the 18th century reform movement through this lens. Her technique of following one well-identified set of families over time humanizes theory and gives a reality check on what we can and cannot say for sure about the causes of change ...” – Dr. Margery Post Abbott, Independent Scholar

“ ... What Dr. Grundy has done with her detailed and nuanced analysis of a single Quaker community in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, is show the interplay between religion and broader social forces, and how Quakers variously responded to the stress of political change, war, religious controversy and reform movements, particularly anti-slavery, in the century between 1750 and 1850 ... This study has major implications for Quaker history. The analysis of Quaker reactions to internal reformation in the 1750s draws on and tests the ideas of earlier works by Jack Marietta, J. William Frost and Jean Soderlund ...” – Christopher Densmore, Curator, Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore College

Table of Contents

Note on Middletown Meeting House
List of Figures; List of Tables
Preface by Thomas D. Hamm
1. Introduction
2. Setting the Scene
3. Tightening the Discipline
4. Antislavery
5. War
6. Changing Economic Views
7. Evangelicalism
8. Separation
9. Politics, Reform, and Further Accommodation
10. Data Set, Meetings, and Township in 1850
11. Conclusions
Appendices 1 – 5