Iowa History Project


The Quakers of Iowa




Louis Thomas Jones


Part I

Historical Narrative






The First Yearly Meeting in Iowa


            The place chosen for the holding of the first Yearly Meeting of the Friends in Iowa was indeed a beautiful spot. Situated in a rich agricultural region of rolling hills and valleys, dotted here and there with peaceful Quaker homes, the Spring Creek settlement presented a pleasing aspect. Crowning a knoll which overlooked all that region, the long, low, frame structure of the Spring Creek meeting-house nestled in among the foliage of a native grove; while near by stood a two-story school building.

            Being pressed for time in the making of their arrangements, the joint committee of the Quarterly Meeting seized upon the offer of the Spring Creek Friends granting the use of their comfortable quarters. Then, in the spring of 1863, the committee let a contract “for the erection of a temporary building adjoining Spring Creek meeting-house at an estimated cost of Five hundred dollars”.(114) A temporary building it indeed must have been, for in an account written in 1909, Charles Coffin, the only surviving member of the Indiana delegation,(115) declares that a “shed of rough posts placed in the ground covered and enclosed with unplaned boards, was erected adjoining the Quarterly [Spring Creek] Meeting House. This shed was 66 feet long by 50 feet wide. Raised galleries were erected, and rough benches set on the ground sufficient to seat about 750.” Here the men were to assemble; while in the adjoining “Meeting House, 35x60 feet, to which was attached a shed 15x60”, the women were to gather.(116)

            When the appointed day arrived everything was in readiness for the meeting. The Spring Creek meeting-house, once the western outpost of Quakerism, was the center of attention. Though the weather proved inclement, the people gathered from all directions, some coming in heavy cumbersome wagons, some in carriages or buggies, and some on foot. From the five Quarterly Meetings there came the appointed committees,(117) together with large numbers of the members from the many meetings in Iowa. From the Indiana, Western, Baltimore, and New York Yearly Meetings there were likewise officially appointed committees(118) “to attend the opening and organization of this meeting” and to give “comfort and encouragement… in the weighty engagement of conducting the concerns of a Yearly Meeting”. In addition to this enthusiastic company the second annual “Conference of Teachers and Delegates from Friends’ First-Day Schools in the United States”(119) was then being held at Spring Creek. Consequently, the whole number present was from 1,200 to 1,300… Fourteen ministers were in attendance with minutes for religious service…The meeting was mostly of young and middle aged Friends of great energy and force of character, and much religious weight existed amongst them.”(120)

            How to accommodate and shelter so large a number of people in the open country was a problem. At the Spring Creek Boarding School some fifty or sixty of the visitors from other Yearly Meetings were entertained; while many of the Iowa Friends came in covered wagons, bringing their bedding and their food with them. Dr. J. W. Morgan, at that time one of the teachers in the Boarding Schools, writes:


            These structures [the meeting-house and the school building] were in the edge of about 40 acres of fine timber; and much of this grove was filled, during the Yearly Meeting time, with tents for sleeping, cooking, eating, and stalls for horses, as nearly all came with horses and covered wagons, with a few carriages; for the nearest Rail Road was about 25 miles away. Yet the great crowds of people were remarkable, and the great crowds of people were remarkable, and the great interest and earnest devotion shown by all, indicated an abiding faith in Quakerism.(121)


                    To further care for the visitors two regular bus lines with four-horse teams were operated between the then thriving little village of Oskaloosa and Spring Creek, carrying the passengers the round trip of five miles for one dollar each.

            The vitality and vigor of western Quakerism was well attested by the amount and character of the work which the Iowa Yearly Meeting of Friends accomplished at its first gathering. In the early part of its session the new Yearly Meeting adopted as its form of church government the “Book of Discipline of Indiana Yearly meeting, as revised and approved by that meeting in 1854, with the alterations and additions since mad”, five hundred copies having been furnished by the Indiana Meeting for Sufferings for distribution in Iowa.(122) The problem of the new meeting-house was then taken up, and with equal dispatch the plans of the committee were approved and the erection of a building to cost $16,000 was directed. Furthermore, the long and troublesome dispute over the building site was finally settled.(123)

            With due consideration the various fields of labor were reviewed, and large and representative committees were selected to have charge of First-Day Scripture Schools, the work among the “people of color”, education, and the proper distribution of books and tracts. A survey of the conditions then existing in the Iowa field was also entered upon and this proved of special interest to those who were visiting the West for the first time. From the two Quarterly Meetings of Pleasant Plain and Red Cedar there came requests for the establishment of two new Quarters, namely: Spring Creek Quarter, embracing numerous growing settlements in Mahaska and Jasper counties; and Winneshiek Quarter, now extending as far as Minneapolis in Minnesota and Baraboo in Wisconsin.(124) Internally the Society in Iowa was shown to be in a most prosperous condition. Harmony and enthusiasm prevailed throughout the order; and “those present form other Yearly Meetings were impressed with the belief that the establishment of the Yearly Meeting will prove to be a blessing to our Religious Society.”(125)

            Then came the close of the gathering, and in the intense spiritual feeling that prevailed the Presiding Clerk was moved to record: “we feel…our humble but fervent sense of gratitude to God and Father of all our sure mercies, who from day to day has deigned to own and cover us in our several sittings”.(126)


Notes and References


114- Minutes of Red Cedar Quarterly Meeting of Friends, 2 mo., 14th, 1863, p. 105.


115- At the time of his letter to the writer, December 31, 1912, Charles F. Coffin wrote with trembling hand: “I am nearing my 90th birthday and am the only living member of the Committees to attend the opening of the Yearly Meeting.”


116- The Saturday Globe (Oskaloosa), February 27, 1909.


117- The following named persons came from the several Quarterly Meetings:

            “Salem—Joseph D. Hoag, Willet Dorland, Ephraim D. Ratliff, Stephen Hockett, and Thomas Siveter.

            “Pleasant Plain—Barclay Johnson, David Morgan, Benjamin Hollingsworth, and Wm. Pearson.

            “Red Cedar—Olney Thompson, Enoch Hoag, Israel Negus, Wm. Harris, Laurie Tatum, Elisha Strattan.

            “Bangor—Wm. Hobson, David Hunt, Henry H. Macey, Jacob B. McGrew, Thomas Moore, Ira Cook, Lindley M. Hoag, James Owen, Wm. Fahrquhar, and Wm. Reese.

            “South River—Benjamin Smith, John Tomlinson, Nathan Craven, Jesse Hadley, and Isaac Starbuck”.—Minutes of Iowa Yearly Meeting of Friends, 1863, p. 8.


118- Of the representatives officially appointed by other Yearly Meetings to be at the opening of the Iowa Yearly Meeting there were twenty-eight persons present.—Minutes of Iowa Yearly Meeting of Friends, 1863, pp. 7, 8.


119- The second national conference of the “Friends First-Day Scripture Schools” was held at Spring Creek on the 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th of September, 1863.


120- The Saturday Globe (Oskaloosa), February 27, 1909.


121- A Sketch prepared by Dr. J. W. Morgan of Oskaloosa, Iowa, in 1912, at the request of the writer.


122- Minutes of Iowa Yearly Meeting of Friends, 1863, p. 9.


123- Minutes of Iowa Yearly Meeting of Friends, 1863, pp. 11, 22, 25.

            The contention over the site for the yearly meeting-house was presented “to the Friends in attendance by appointment of other Yearly meetings” by two members from each of the Iowa Quarters; and after patiently listening to all the claims and personally visiting the sites in question, John White’s lot on the north side of Oskaloosa, was selected “with the understanding that the title shall be unconditional,…and that the meeting house lot shall be free of cost to the Yearly Meeting as has been proposed to us.”



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