A Conservative Yearly Meeting is Born

Lloyd Lee Wilson
Adapted from Remarks at Representative Body,
North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative), 10/30/2004

Several years ago, Wil Cooper gave a plenary address to our yearly meeting sessions. After his prepared remarks, a member of the audience (not a Friend) rose to ask a question. Friends, this man observed, in his experience talked about themselves more than any other group. Why was that? Wil answered that because Friends have no creed or declaration of faith, we lack the means of identifying ourselves as a people. We tell stories about our fellow Quakers because that is how we remember who we are, as a people of a particular faith tradition.

I want to tell a part of our story this afternoon, to help us remember who we are as a faith community, and how we got this way. This part of our story had its climax right here in this meeting house, in this room, 100 years ago today, as Friends gathered on 10/30/1904 for First Day meeting for worship in the middle of the first separate sessions of what we now call North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative).

Of course, the story began much before that date, and continues unabated to this very afternoon and beyond. Those Friends who gathered in 1904 remembered and connected themselves to the story of Quakers in North Carolina: their first meeting for business including the reading aloud of the history of North Carolina Quakerism, from its beginnings in 1660 to their present-day [NCYM(C) Men, 10/28/1904].

In 1827 and the years following, North American Quakerism was rocked by a series of schisms precipitated by the preaching of Elias Hicks. Most yearly meetings split into Hicksite and Orthodox factions, but North Carolina Yearly Meeting did not separate, remaining firmly Orthodox. A second split swept through the Orthodox yearly meetings a few decades later, dividing these Friends into Gurneyite and Wilburite groups, named after their most prominent leaders, J. J. Gurney and John Wilbur. Once again, North Carolina was spared. Nathan Hunt, the father of the current yearly meeting clerk Thomas Hunt, was a highly respected and weighty Friend in the yearly meeting and intervened at the crucial moment. When Thomas was about to read the epistle from the Wilburite New England Yearly Meeting, Nathan intervened, and the yearly meeting avoided separation once again. [Holden, p. 127]

So the stage was set at the end of the Civil War for the events and personalities that would lead to the separation in 1904. Friends were economically and spiritually battered: at the end of the war the circumstances of North Carolina Quakers were so bleak that a coalition of northern Friends, the Baltimore Association, sent workers to this state to help implement a recovery effort. These Friends brought much needed economic assistance but also new ideas and innovations about Quaker worship and belief. By this time the yearly meeting was by now the only North American yearly meeting that had never suffered a schism [Hickey, p. 69].

Among the prominent leaders of the Baltimore Association was Allen Jay, an Indiana Friend who had seen the encouraging results of the new revivalist innovations in Indiana during the 1860s. In 1870 Jay was serving in Springfield, when a nearby non-Quaker revival tent meeting attracted the interest of several of the young Friends in Springfield meeting. Jay attended one evening to see what was going on, and ended up sitting on the speaker’s platform. Shortly thereafter he organized a non-denominational revival meeting with the cooperation of several of the town’s Protestant pastors, and reported very successful results. [Hinshaw, pp. 196-197]

In 1870, North Carolina Yearly Meeting created a Committee on General Meetings, and appointed Allen Jay as the first member of the committee. [Holden, p. 129] General Meeting was the Quaker term then used for the revival tent meetings. Friends who were uneasy with this new activity on the part of the yearly meeting were in a bit of a bind: they were grateful for the economic assistance and general support offered by the Baltimore Association, and did not want to damage that relationship by criticizing the evangelical activities of the Baltimore Association staff.

Allen Jay left North Carolina in 1872, reporting himself satisfied with the leadership he left behind. [Holden, p. 129] The evangelical work increased in the next few years, as did the uneasiness of some Friends: Rich Square MMtg refused in 1874 to pay the portion of its YMtg assessment that went toward evangelistic activity [Hickey, p. 60]. There seems to have been an increased level of travel in the ministry from Rich Square over the rest of this decade and the next, as Benjamin P. Brown and others traveled among Friends who supported renewal, but not revival. Benjamin P. Brown, Henry Outland and the rest appear to have been building networks and solidifying support among the renewal group, and raising the alarm over what was happening in and to the yearly meeting [e.g., Rich Square Men, 5/16/1885].

In 1882 matters came to a crisis point, as the Committee on General Meetings was re-named the Evangelistic Committee, and the yearly meeting initiated the first-ever formal contact with North Carolina Baptists and Methodists. The Yearly Meeting was, as Damon Hickey put it, beginning to act like a denomination [Hickey, p. 60]. The following year Eastern Quarterly Meeting, which included Rich Square Monthly Meeting and Piney Woods MMtg, gave serious consideration to joining the orthodox Baltimore Yearly Meeting. [Hinshaw, p. 217] Friends concluded that the time for such a move had not yet arrived.

The years leading up to the turn of the century brought an increasing level of evangelistic activity within North Carolina Yearly Meeting and an increased acceptance of this work in most of the other Orthodox yearly meetings as well. National conferences of Friends produced documents like the Richmond Declaration of 1887, which seemed to give tacit acceptance to some of the evangelical innovations while ruling out some extremes like outward ordinances. North Carolina YMtg gave the Declaration strong approval and directed that it be printed in the minutes of the yearly meeting, calling it “a valuable restatement of some of the fundamental doctrines of our Society” [Hickey, p. 55].

Eastern Quarter was in regular disagreement in this period with the yearly meeting over whether Friends with scruples against paying for evangelistic work should be required to pay for it. The yearly meeting changed its policy on this matter several times; during some years the assessment of certain monthly meetings was reduced for this reason, and at other times the full assessment was demanded. [Holden, p. 127-128; Hickey, pp 63, 68]

The wording of a minute approved by Rich Square MMtg in 1892 on this subject is strikingly similar to minutes approved in recent times concerning nonpayment of war taxes:

The subject of Evangelistic work claiming the attention of this meeting and many of our members feeling conscientiously burdened with the taxes imposed upon us by our YMtg for the prosecution of the work and friends after a weighty consideration are united in appointing T. Copeland (?), Henry Outland, Benjamin P. Brown and William J. Brown with a similar committee of women friends to prepare a document setting forth our reasons for the nonpayment of the same and forward to our ensuing QMtg .

Rich Square Men, 1892

In 1891 and 1892 High Point and Greensboro, both new meetings, hired the first Quaker pastors in North Carolina [Hickey, p. 63].

Rich Square minuted its continuing concerns on this subject in 1892:

The friends continued last month to reconsider the subject of evangelistic work have produced the following document which this meeting accepts and directs the clerks to sign and forward to our ensuing Yearly Meeting.

Our meeting has been brought under deep religious exercise in this matter with desires that we may in no way wound the spirit of our God by doing any thing that may hinder his work upon the earth, and in viewing the general manner and spirit of this so called Evangelistic work, we do most fully believe that it is inconsistent with the teachings of our saviour, and with the spirit and practice of the Apostles, and of our predecessors in the truth. “Freely ye have received, freely give,” said our Saviour to the twelve disciples Matthew 10:8. “I have coveted no man’s silver or gold or apparel, yea ye your selves know that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me. I have showed you all things how that so laboring ye ought to support the weak and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, it is more blessed to give than to receive” said Paul to the Elders of the Church at Ephesus. Elders in that place no doubt meant ministers. (Acts 20-23 & 4:35).

He also said “What is my reward then, being that when I preach the Gospel of Christ without charge: that I abuse not my favor in the Gospel 1 Corinthians 9:18.

Robert Barclay showed that this abuse crept in with the apostacy [sic] 10th Proposition, Pages 315-319 inclusive.

In conclusion, we are convinced that this system is but a step into a hireling ministry therefore we are conscientiously opposed to paying any part of said tax.

Rich Square Men, 1892

In 1893 the Yearly Meeting Discipline Committee recommended a new Discipline be published, incorporating the Richmond Declaration of 1887. [Holden, p. 130] Rich Square was already on record as follows:

The friends appointed to consider the subject of the revision of our discipline made the following report: “We have conferred together and have examined the proposed changes and are united in the belief that our YMtg had better make no changes at present.” Which report this meeting accepts and directs the clerks to sign a copy of the above minute and forward to our ensuing YMtg. [Rich Square Men, 7/16/1892]

Eastern Quarter also recorded its objections, but new Disciplines were printed anyway [Holden, p. 130; NCYM(C). 1893 Discipline, pp. 16-ff].

In 1894 a Committee appointed by RS MMtg reported to Eastern Quarter that it recommended rejecting the Richmond Declaration “as a whole.” This report was tabled on the technicality that although the committee was appointed by Rich Square, the report itself was not first approved by the MMtg [Hickey, p. 62].

In 1898 Eastern Quarter went on record about the yearly meeting’s evangelistic activities, concluding that:

This . . . has led into such departures as hired ministry, congregational singing, instrumental music, pre-arranged ‘prayer meetings’, testimony meetings & etc. … [We] are persuaded that such . . . can only tend to lead us farther and farther from the desired unity of faith and practice . . . “

Eastern Quarter Men, 1898

In 1900, the Rich Square clerks were directed to sign the following document and forward to the ensuing Quarterly Meeting:

Believing, as we do, that seeds have lately been sown within the borders of our Yearly Meeting which, if allowed to spring up and grow and flourish, will weaken the faith of many; and becloud the clear testimony which we as Friends bear to the headship of Christ over all things to his Church, and to the entire spirituality of the Christian Baptism and the supping with our Lord: We ask our approaching Quarterly Meeting to request our next Yearly Meeting to reiterate our views upon these important points [Rich Square Men, 1900].

This same year, 1900, the yearly meeting considered the Uniform Discipline for the first time. The object of this Discipline was to unify Friends through the adoption of a single Discipline by every yearly meeting on the continent. These yearly meetings would then become members of a higher organization to be known as the Five Years Meeting. NC YMtg did not reach unity on the Uniform Discipline in 1900, and laid the matter over for the next year’s sessions. [Holden, p. 131]

Rich Square’s opinion about the Uniform Discipline was expressed by the following minute, approved the same year:

The friends appointed at last meeting to hold a meeting at this place in reference to the proposed Uniform Discipline made the following report, which this meeting accepts:

We the committee appointed by the monthly meeting to hold a meeting for the purpose of considering the proposed Uniform Discipline met at Cedar Grove at 2 PM on 7th month 14, 1900, and after due consideration this meeting is united in recommending to the yearly Meeting the non-adoption of said proposed Uniform Discipline.

Rich Square Men, 1900

In 1901 the Yearly Meeting considered the Uniform Discipline again, and again had to lay it over for the following year [Hickey, p. 68]. In 1902, however, there was additional pressure to approve the document, as the yearly meeting would have to approve the Uniform Discipline now in order to qualify as a charter member of Five Years Meeting.

Rich Square MMtg considered the Uniform Discipline again, and minuted the following:

The meeting appointed to be held at Cedar Grove the 16th of this month was held according to appointment. After a time of solid waiting we entered upon the subject for which the meeting was appointed and after much expression we were mostly united in the belief that it is best to keep to the old Discipline. There were some who favored the adoption of the Uniform Discipline. The Clerks are directed to inform Piney Woods Monthly Meeting of Friends to be held 11 mo. 1, 1902, of this meeting’s decision in reference to the Uniform Discipline.

Rich Square Men, 10/18/1902

Eastern Quarter also appointed a committee this year to study the matter of the Uniform Discipline, which also recommended that the new Discipline not be adopted at this time [Hickey, p. 69].

One can see the tension that was now building between Rich Square, which was resisting the revivalist changes, and Piney Woods, which was more accepting of them. The YMtg sessions approved the Uniform Discipline in 1902, and did not record the objections of either RS MMtg or Eastern Quarter in its minutes. [Hickey, p. 69]

What happened was that Rich Square did not accept the new Discipline, but the other monthly meeting in the quarter, Piney Woods, did. The strains between the meetings were evident in the matter of Abram Fisher, who was already on record publicly as opposed to the Richmond Conference and many of the innovations now gaining acceptance in the yearly meeting. Fisher was proposed as a recorded minister in 1901, but the Quarterly Meeting, which included Piney Woods Friends, did not find unity in approving him. [Rich Square Men, 11/16/1901 and 12/21/1901] Immediately after the separation, he was again proposed, and this time the Quarter, now containing only Conservatives, approved him and he became a recorded minister. [Rich Square Men, 3/19/1904]

The uneasy truce between Rich Square and Piney Woods came to a head in the fall of 1903. Apparently a group of Rich Square Friends, dissatisfied with the status quo, simply re-assembled the Quarterly Meeting and re-considered all its business. Their report was as follows:

To Piney Woods and Rich Square Monthly Meetings of friends –

Dear Friends –

As all the sessions of Eastern Quarterly Meeting which have been held since the adoption of the Uniform Discipline were considered by many of the constituents illegal and therefore incapacitated to transact business, it was thought best by many members of Rich Square Monthly Meeting to reassemble the Quarterly Meeting, held the 29th, ultimus, and to conduct it according to the Discipline as adopted by North Carolina Yearly Meeting in 1893, which proposition was laid before a Religious Meeting for consideration and was unanimously united with. However the motive of this step was not merely to transact the business, which as before stated, many believed could not be legally done under two Disciplines, but also to inform the monthly meetings in a clear but loving manner, that we believe the time has fully come, when we must cease to go on as we have in the past; that is, endeavoring to hold our Quarterly meetings under two Disciplines. To every member of Eastern Quarterly meeting, who favors the adoption of the Uniform Discipline, we would say in tender love, that while it is in a sense of inexpressible sadness to us, that we cannot walk together and be agreed, yet we desire that every one may be fully persuaded in his own mind, may seek diligently to know the will of our Heavenly Father, and be faithful to his leadings. We crave this for our entire membership. By direction of Eastern Quarterly meeting of Friends reassembled at Rich Square, NC Northampton County 9 mo. 5, 1903, John G. Peele and Mattie C. Purvis clerks for the day.

Rich Square Men, 9/19/1903

It is of interest to note that the minutes of this “reassembled” quarterly meeting are headed “The Record of Eastern Quarterly Meeting of Friends (Conservative) North Carolina”, and the minutes themselves begin “The conservative members of Eastern Quarterly Meeting of Friends reassembled …” [underlining in the original manuscript]. [Eastern Quarter Men, 9/5/03] These are the first uses of the label “conservative” that I have been able to find in the record; the Rich Square minutes do not use the word to describe a group of Friends until Second Month, 1904.

Within two months RS MMtg had received 37 applications for transfer of membership from Nahunta and Neuse MMtgs. At the same time the monthly meeting appointed a committee to “look after the affairs of the meeting; adjust matters as far as possible with those who have disunited with this monthly meeting, and directs them to report to next Meeting.” [Rich Square Men, 11/1903]

In First Month 1904 Rich Square appointed a visiting committee to travel among Friends in North Carolina who were in sympathy with this meeting. If they should happen to meet Friends who would like to transfer their membership to Rich Square, the committee was empowered to interview them in such a way that appointment of another clearness committee for membership would not be necessary. At the same time Rich Square approached the Charleston Fund in Philadelphia about funding for building several new meeting houses “in different parts of North Carolina” and appointed a committee to select a site for a new meeting house in Rich Square [Rich Square Men, 1/1904].

The separation was now complete, and lacked only the punctuation of yearly meeting sessions. This was brought about by the action of Eastern Quarterly Meeting, which on 8/27/04 appointed a yearly meeting “for the conservative Friends of North Carolina”, to be held beginning on Tenth Month 28, 1904 at Cedar Grove, Northampton County, North Carolina [Eastern Quarter Men, 8/27/04].

The Yearly Meeting Meets – Cedar Grove, 10/28/1904

The minutes of the first business session of the new organization included this statement:

The following minute from the representatives setting forth the reasons for our meeting in a Yearly Meeting capacity at this time was read:

Having met in Yearly Meeting capacity, in the love of God, under a deep religious concern, that Friends in this and other sections, who are spiritually oppressed by the many changes that have taken place in the Society of Friends at large, and who desire to uphold and maintain the doctrines and practices of the Christian religion in accordance with Early Friends, may be free to do so.

We desire individual faithfulness to that waiting, spiritual worship wherein direct communion with the Father and with the Son, through the Holy Spirit, is to be known, and a fresh anointing given by Him for every work and service in His church, whether it be in preaching, prayer, or praise.

We rejoice in the priesthood of believers, there being no mediator of the new covenant, but our Lord, Christ Jesus, who “ever liveth at the right hand of God to make intercession for us.” There is a freedom by Him from all forms and ceremonies, which as Friends have ever understood were fulfilled and abolished by the bringing in of that new and better covenant of grace.

We believe that no other than a free gospel ministry can fully accord with the teaching of our Lord and Savior, for Christ said to His Disciples when He sent them forth to preach the gospel, “Freely have ye received, freely give,” and for His name’s sake they went forth taking nothing of the Gentiles, and Paul told the Elders of the church at Ephesus that he coveted no man’s silver or gold or apparel, and his hands ministered to his necessities and those that were with him, saying “I have shewed you all things,” how that so doing ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how He said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

We plead for that liberty of conscience in individual believers for which our Early Friends suffered severe persecution, and even martyrdom, and which has been of such great blessing to humanity.

We beseech our own members and all Friends everywhere that we “Let the same mind be in us which was in Christ Jesus.”

NCYM(C) Men, 1904]

This minute was supplemented by the yearly meeting three years later:

Minute 24, Eleventh Month Seventh, 1907. The following minute embracing some of the reasons for our existence as a separate body has been read and approved:

Dear Friends: We are now assembled in this place the fourth time in the capacity of a Yearly Meeting. A concern has spread over us to briefly set forth by way of explanation some of the reasons for our existence as a separate body.

We had borne with the spirit that had been at work for many years among us, introducing subversive changes, especially in our manner of worship, until the Uniform Discipline had been prepared and offered for our acceptance.

This Discipline was adopted by the body assembled at High Point, North Carolina, in a Yearly Meeting capacity, and was sent down, requiring all subordinate meetings to put it into practice.

It would have been a severe trial of submission to have adopted the minor changes, but there were changes involved, the importance of which were fundamental.

Among these was the submission of qualification for the ministry to a body over which the particular monthly meeting had no control.

Although this Uniform Discipline does not require of all those accepting it that our ancient manner of worship shall at once be abandoned; it opens a way for it and offers encouragement for the introduction of a new order of things as soon as it can be effected without apparent violence.

It offers no protest against the pastoral system which it is well known is rapidly gaining favor among those claiming to be Friends.

With the remnant of like faith from various parts of our State, and the body of Friends in this locality which included the larger part of the members of the original Rich Square Monthly Meeting, we are now holding North Carolina Yearly Meeting of Friends at Cedar Grove in Woodland, N. C.  

NCYM(C) Men, 1907

C Many of the same issues under debate a century ago are still/again debated today in the other body: formal education for ministers, the tension between renewal of existing Friends and Friends meetings and evangelical revival that would bring in many new members.

C Importance of the spirituality of subtraction – once it is compromised, stopping further drift is almost impossible. ( By spirituality of subtraction I mean a spiritual commitment to subtract from one’s life any thing and every thing that is not the immediate perception or expression of the Divine presence. Friends experience this most notoriously in the shared experience of waiting (“unprogrammed”, or “open”) worship; but the Quaker commitment in its fullest expression applies everywhere and always.)

C Importance of “good order” in meeting for business process and decision-making generally. If we settle for nearly unanimous or acquiesce in decisions toward which we do not feel true spiritual unity, we will lose both the unity of the spirit and the bond of peace.

C Had the two groups in North Carolina not separated, the larger body would surely have overwhelmed the Conservatives, and we would be something very different than the faith community that has gathered here today.

List of Works Cited

Eastern Quarter Men. 1903. The Record of Eastern Quarterly Meeting of Friends (Conservative). Unpublished.

Hickey, Damon D. 1997. Sojourners No More: The Quakers in the New South 1865-1920. Greensboro: North Carolina Friends Historical Society and North Carolina Yearly Meeting of Friends (FUM).

Hinshaw, Seth B. 1984. The Carolina Quaker Experience 1665-1985. Greensboro: North Carolina Friends Historical Society and North Carolina Yearly Meeting of Friends (FUM).

Holden, David E. W. 1988. Friends Divided: Conflict and Division in the Society of Friends. Richmond: Friends United Press.

NCYM(C). 1893. Discipline of the Society of Friends of North Carolina Yearly Meeting, Revised 1893. Richmond, IN: Nicholson Mfg. Co.

NCYM(C) Men. 1904-1907. Minutes, North Carolina Yearly Meeting of Men Friends Held at Cedar Grove. Woodland, NC: North Carolina Yearly Meeting at Cedar Grove.

Rich Square Men. 1884-1907. Minutes, Rich Square Monthly Meeting of Men Friends. Unpublished.

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