Dr. Martha Paxson Grundy, an independent scholar, completed her Ph.D. in American History at Case Western Reserve University. Her published writing includes an edited and annotated version of David Ferris’ memoirs, two monographs, contributions to 9 edited collections, 28 articles, and over 40 book reviews.
2006 0-7734-5568-X 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.