Working Together on the Hard Stuff

Quakers have kept thorough records of their members and of their meetings. The minutes of their meetings contain language that is stiff by today’s standards. After reading many pages of these minutes I suspect their choice of words was quite deliberate.

I have written before about the purposeful use of loving and affectionate terms of endearment. Recently I am impressed by the word “laboured.” When a member ceased attending meetings, exhibited bad behavior (such as fornication or excessive consumption of liquor) or were reluctant to manumit their slaves, others from the Society of Friends were appointed to labour with the transgressing Friend.

I love this concept. Use of the word “Labour”, with its acknowledgement that changing the attitudes and behaviors of individuals or of a community is hard work, and it’s accompanied by recognition that the support and influence of others in the community can make a difference in effecting that change.

[edited to add: based on reading minutes from 1773 to 1791 of the Perquimans, North Carolina Eastern Quarterly Meeting of the Society of Friends, or Quakers]

Liberal? or Conservative?

I’ve been reading the minutes from late 18th century Monthly Meetings of the Quakers of Carteret & Craven County North Carolina. I like getting a sense of who these people are. They had concerns about the conflict between Great Britain and America, especially wanting to avoid fighting on either side; they were increasingly anti-slavery; and they were very concerned with following their set rules of behavior and morality. I’ve found two instances of ¬†members who were living with and fornication with women outside of marriage. For this Vile and Scandalous behavour, the men were disowned by the Society. This social liberalism is an interesting contrast to the moral conservatism.

Intentionality of Love

I’ve just found, through, original records of Horton Howard’s first marriage, to Anna Mace. The Quaker customs of 1791 were unlike most weddings my readers can remember. The couple had to appear before their congregations (or Meetings) over the course of several times and announce their intention to marry. Elder members of the congregation would interview the couple, and the parents would have to approve. If, after “mature and deliberate consideration” the couple passed these tests, they would go before the congregation to formalize their marriage with simple vows. A certificate of marriage was signed by the couple and by everyone present.

“They, the said Horton Howard and Anna Mace have appeared in a Publick meeting of the said People at their Meeting House on Club Foot Creek in Craven County aforesaid and the said Horton Howard taking the said Anna Mace by the Hand said Friends you are my Witnesses that I take this my friend Anna Mace to be my Wife promising through Divine assistance be unto her a True and Loving Husband until Death separate us, and she the said Anna Mace having him the said Horton Howard by the Hand said, Friends you are my Witnesses that I take this my friend Horton Howard to be my Husband promising through Divine assistance to be unto him a True and Loving Wife until Death separate us or words to that effect.”

I love the brevity and the deliberateness of these vows. Letters written by Horton¬†and other Quakers of the period show that same intention to create loving relationships. Sadly, Anna Mace Howard’s marriage to Horton was not long. She died in March of 1797 – less than 6 years after her marriage. She was preceded in death by her daughter, Ruth who was 16 month old.