Introduction

William Penn (1644–1718) established Pennsylvania in 1681 as a refuge for religious dissenters, especially fellow members of the Society of Friends. Yet Quakers, as adherents to this faith were sometimes called, constituted a minority of the colony’s population by the mid-eighteenth century. Known for their simple attire, commitment to equality, and refusal to swear oaths, it was the Quakers’ pacifism that led many to withdraw from Pennsylvania politics during the French and Indian War. By the summer of 1775, as a new war intensified, the Quakers again found themselves in a difficult situation.

Many had sided with the Patriot resistance to Great Britain’s imperial policies. They had signed petitions and joined in commercial boycotts protesting Parliament’s taxation without representation and other impositions on their rights. They felt great sympathy for the people of Massachusetts, where British aggression had led to bloodshed. But their sincere religious convictions prohibited them from joining their neighbors in taking up arms to resist what many viewed as British oppression.

In July 1775, the Lancaster County Committee of Correspondence and Observation proposed a means by which Quakers might honor their faith while also doing their part in the cause of resistance. Signed by William Barton (1754–1817), the committee’s young secretary, the proposal called on Quakers unwilling to fight to volunteer monetary support for those who would. But this measure offered no perfect solution. The 1776 Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Society of Friends, for example, expressly prohibited Quakers from paying any compulsory “fine, penalty, or tax, in lieu of their personal services for carrying on war,” or even volunteering to “violate our Christian testimony, and by doing so manifest that they are not in religious fellowship with us.”


Source: “At a meeting of the Committee of Correspondence and Observation for the County of Lancaster…” (Lancaster, Penn., 1775),Collections of the Lititz Moravian Museum and Archives, Lititz, Pennsylvania.


At a meeting of the Committee of Correspondence and Observation for the County of Lancaster, at the house of Matthias Slough, Esq.; in the borough of Lancaster, on the 11th day of July, 1775.

P R E S E N T,

WILLIAM HENRY, Esq.; EVERHARD GRUBER, Esq.; EDWARD HAND; JOHN HOPSON; GEORGE MUSSER; SAMUEL BOYD; JOHN WITMER, Jr.; and JAMES JACKS.

EDWARD HAND in the Chair.

A letter from the CONTINENTAL CONGRESS to this committee, bearing date, at Philadelphia, the sixth day of July, 1775, was read, and on motion it was

RESOLVED, THAT the following extract from the same be immediately printed, and distributed in the different townships of this county.

“The Assembly, taking into consideration the situation of many conscientious people of this province, with respect to arms, have, on the thirtieth day of June last, by their recommendation of that date, given to them, as well as others, advice which we hope all persons will most cheerfully follow.[1]

“The Congress, and your Assembly, greatly to their honor, have taken means for the protection of America and this colony; and we would advise you, gentlemen, to carry into execution the plans recommended by them, that this colony may unitedly act upon one and the same principle.

“Those who contribute will put their money into the hands of a person, they shall choose, to be paid over to such treasurer, as the committee shall appoint, for the uses ‘recommended by the Assembly.’”

The COMMITTEE have the pleasure to hope, that a measure so very indulgent to all those denominations of people who are conscientiously scrupulous of bearing arms—that removes every objection raised against the proceedings of the COMMITTEE of this county in June last, and leaves not a color for complaint—and which comes recommended by the GENERAL ASSEMBLY of this province, as well as by the CONTINENTAL CONGRESS, will have due weight with every good man who wishes well to his country, and to the public cause, in this time of public calamity.

The COMMITTEE do therefore join in earnestly recommending it to such denominations of people, in this county, whose religious scruples forbid them to associate or bear arms, that they contribute towards the necessary and unavoidable expenses of the public, in such proportion as may leave no room, with any, to suspect that they would ungenerously avail themselves of the indulgence granted them; or, under a pretense of conscience and religious scruples, keep their money in their pockets, and thereby throw those burdens upon a part of the community, which, in a cause that affects all, should be borne by all.

By order of the committee,

WILLIAM BARTON, Secretary.

Study Questions

A. In what ways did the Lancaster County Committee of Correspondence and Observation balance the belief that all needed to do their part to resist British aggression with a recognition of Quakers’ sincere pacifism? How well did it succeed?

B. The Lancaster County Committee of Correspondence and Observation sought to advance “the protection of Americaand this colony” while also respecting Quakers’ religious freedom. Given colonists’ principles and circumstances, did this group of Pennsylvanians do better or worse in its attempt to reconcile the good of the many with the rights of individuals than members of Congress who in 1774 approved the Continental Association (The Association Enacted by the First Continental Congress)?

Footnotes

  1. In ASSEMBLY, June30th, 1775: The House taking into consideration, that many of the good people of the province are conscientiously scrupulous of bearing arms, it is recommended to these conscientious people, that they cheerfully assist, in proportion to their abilities, such persons as cannot spend both time and substance in the service of their country, without great injury to themselves and families.”