Iowa History Project


The Quakers of Iowa




Louis Thomas Jones


Part III


The Minority Bodies of Friends In Iowa





The Anti-Slavery Friends in Iowa


            In the year 1688 the Friends of Germantown, Pennsylvania, drew up the famous “Germantown Friends’ Protest Against Slavery”;(186) and from that time on until the last vestiges of the slave power had been banished form America, the Society of Friends stood in the forefront of the struggle for human freedom. The Quakers had been firm and outspoken in their position on this great question for generations. But as the first half of the nineteenth century drew to its close, the Society stood charge by the Abolitionists with having changed its colors and turned pro-slavery.

            As has been seen in a previous chapter, most of the Friends who early came into Indiana were form the southern States, where they had come into direct contact with slavery. Having moved into the Old Northwest for the specific purpose of getting away from slavery, these Friends might well have been expected to champion the cause of abolition; but such was not the case. Reserved in manner of life, it had never been “the practice of Friends to make a parade before the public of their efforts in the cause of humanity”. “Silently and steadily to persevere in the path of duty, unawed by the frowns of the world”, was, and ever had been their characteristic attitude. It is not strange, therefore, that in spite of their deep desire to see the complete overthrow of the institution of slavery, the Society of Friends as a whole in America refused to ally itself with the Abolitionists.

            In 1838, however, within the Society there began a movement of immense importance to the Indiana Yearly Meeting and to the Quaker settlements growing up about Salem in Iowa. In that year a few interested members convened at Newport, Indiana, to consider what should be their rightful attitude towards the growing anti-slavery movement of the day. Before adjournment twenty-five dollars were subscribed for the purchase of anti-slavery books, tracts, and papers, to be circulated throughout the community. About two years later this work received a decided stimulus by the visit of Arnold Buffum, a Friends an done of the original founders of the American Anti-Slavery Society, who, with the aid of Levi Coffin and others, labored for several months in various parts of the Indiana Yearly Meeting. The New Garden Quarterly Meeting, near Newport, became the focal point for the anti-slavery activities of the Friends in the West, much to the chagrin of the leaders of the Yearly Meeting.

            Passing from mere abolition sympathizers to active propagandists, some of the bolder spirits among the avowed Quaker abolitionists undertook to force the Indiana Yearly Meeting for Sufferings into the same activity; but they were at once frowned down by those in authority. The crisis came at the Yearly Meeting in 1842. It was in the early autumn, and the great American compromiser, Henry Clay, was in Richmond, Indiana, on an electioneering campaign. Upon hearing that the Indiana Friends were in attendance at their annual gathering. Clay let it be known that he would like to visit the meeting; and soon the desired invitation was forthcoming. Fearing the effect which the presence of so distinguished a slave-holder might have upon their cause, the anti-slavery leaders called upon him with a petition signed by about two thousand of their number, requesting him to free his slaves. In his adroit manner the petition was put aside; while on the morrow (Sunday) Clay was conducted to the yearly meeting by its chief clerk, and was given “one of the most conspicuous places in the house”.(189) On that day, says an eye witness, “Colonization triumphed over Abolitionism in a large Yearly Meeting of Quakers” and “Henry was informed, that Friends had neither part nor lot with the Abolitionists!!”(190)

            Events led rapidly to disruption. Eight prominent members of the Yearly Meeting for Sufferings—among whom was the well known Thomas Frazier of Salem, Iowa—were summarily proscribed for having “unhappily joined in with these [abolition] views, and opposed and rejected both privately and publicly, the advice of that body”. When about one hundred of these dissatisfied members undertook to hold a meeting in the yearly meeting-house “to consider what course it would be proper for them to pursue”, they were ruthlessly thrust form the building. A committee was also appointed to visit all Quarterly, Monthly, and Preparative Meetings composing the Yearly Meeting for the purpose of reading to each community the “direction” that all members refrain from uniting with any abolition societies, or even allowing their meeting-houses to be used for anti-slavery meetings upon pain of being dealt with.(191)

            It was now clear to all that any who desired to array themselves openly against the slave power must do so outside of the Indiana Yearly Meeting of Friends. There was, therefore, but one thing for the abolitionist Friends to do, namely, to organize independently of the parent body. This they did; and at their chief stronghold, Newport, on February 7, 1843, there was founded the “Indiana Yearly Meeting of Anti-Slavery Friends”,(192) with four Quarterly Meetings (of which Salem, Iowa, was one) and with a membership which soon numbered about two thousand.

            Unique, indeed, in the history of the Friends is this schism over the question of slavery. By setting aside the intense bitterness and the charges and counter-charges flung back and forth between the two factions it is now clear that the real differences lay not so much in the question of the final abolition of slavery, as in the manner by which this end was to be accomplished.

            Naturally a disruption within the Society of Friends on this question attracted wide attention. The London Yearly Meeting, long committed to the cause of abolition, took a deep interest in the affair, and in 1845 sent a deputation of four of its prominent members to the Indiana Yearly Meeting to bring about a reconciliation. The deputation, after a long and wearisome journey, arrived in Richmond, Indiana, on September 29th, just in time to attend the sessions of the Yearly Meeting. Here they perceived the real situation and decided to visit “these dear soi-disant anti-slavery friends in their own respective neighborhoods.

            Immediately upon the close of the Yearly Meeting the four English Friends set out for Salem, Iowa, the most western settlement wither the disaffection had spread. For two long weeks these messengers of good will journeyed westward. On the 26th day of October they reached the village of Salem and from there, on the following day, William Foster, a member of the committee, wrote to his wife:

            Here we are, twenty miles west of the Mississippi, 1140 from New York, and, as far as I know, we have now arrived at the most remote point of our travels.

            Having crossed the river late Saturday evening, the party arrived at the New Garden meeting on the following morning, “before Friends were all assembled”; and of the place Foster writes: “A log house in the open prairie… pretty well filled with new settlers and their children; such a lot of babies as I had never before seen in so small a meeting.”(193)

            Upon entering Salem, these English visitors had, as will be seen later, reached the chief station on the “Underground Railway” in southeastern Iowa. Owing to its close proximity to the Missouri border, there had appeared almost at the beginning of the settlement at Salem a line of cleavage between those members of the Society who stood for open defiance of the slave power and those who insisted upon the necessity of working under cover of secrecy. Unable to conform to the latter policy, a number of the prominent members—among whom were Aaron Street, Jr., Thomas Frazier, Elwood Osborn, Henderson Lewelling, Marmaduke Jay, James Comer, Eli Jessup, Nathan Hammer and Jonathan Cook—early withdrew from the Salem Monthly Meeting, set up a monthly meeting of their own, built a new meeting-house, purchased a five-acre tract of land for a burying ground, and termed themselves the “Abolition Friends”.(194)

            In accordance with the strict orders of the Indiana Yearly Meeting concerning the Anti-slavery Separatists, complaint against Jonathan Cook and Elwood Osborn was on March 25, 1843, laid before the Salem Monthly Meeting because of their “neglecting the attendance of our religious meetings and for detraction”.(195) Care was extended to these two Friends, and after a period of several months Osborn was brought to retract his position, presenting to the meeting the following statement:


            Dear Friends I have given way so far as to unintentionally be guilty of detraction and also for taking a part in setting up a separate meeting and attending the same; for which deviation I am sorry and desire friends to pass by the same and continue me a member as long as my future conduct may deserve.


Elwood Osborn(196)


                    From this time on, as the anti-slavery feeling became more and more intense at Salem, scarcely a monthly meeting convened without one or more members being complained against for joining the “Separatists”. Jonathan Cook, refusing to acknowledge that he was sorry for the course he had taken, was disowned; and before the year 1845 had drawn to its close, no less than fifty of the most vigorous members of the Salem Monthly Meeting had been dealt with, most of them being disowned.

            Having spent Sunday, October 26th, at New Garden, the visiting deputation of English Friends drove into Salem toward evening. There they found rest and comfort; and on Tuesday, the 28th, in response to a call which had been issued by them, they met in conference with the Anti-Slavery Friends in their little meeting-house. “After the meeting had been gathered a few minutes, George Stacey arose to his feet, made a few remarks explanatory of their mission, read the Minute of their appointment, and then the Address from London Yearly Meeting”, which, in part, runs as follows:


            To those who have recently withdrawn from Indiana Yearly Meeting of Friends:


Dear Friends—This meeting has from time to time been introduced into a feeling of much brotherly concern and interest on your behalf, in consequence of your having withdrawn from the body of Friends in Indiana Yearly Meeting; and those feelings are attended with an earnest and affectionate solicitude for your re-union with them.



            The considerations which have led us to address you are confirmed on reflecting on the comfort and strength which have arisen from that Christian fellowship and harmony which have prevailed in our religious Society to so large an extent from its rise to the present period; which we can only ascribe to the power of the Holy Spirit, so conspicuously manifested at its first gathering; and every interruption to which blessing must be regarded as a very serious evil.



            Trusting that on the fundamental doctrines of the Gospel, and on the spirituality of divine worship, there exists no essential difference between you and the body from which you have withdrawn, we have felt much concern and sorrow on hearing that you have discontinued assembling with them to present yourselves together before the Lord. Accept, we beseech you, our earnest and affectionate entreaty that you will relinquish your separate meetings for this purpose—will wholly discontinue them, and again assemble for the public worship of Almighty God with those with whom you have been accustomed thus to meet.




            With sincere desires that the wisdom which is from above, which is pure, peaceable, gentle and easy to be entreated, may be granted to every one of you on the perusal and calm consideration of this our affectionate address, we are your friends:

            Signed in and behalf of the Meeting by

            George Stacey – Clerk to the [London Yearly] Meeting this year.(197)


            At the close of this address of admonition and appeal each of the visiting Friends had something to say concerning the occasion. “William Foster”, says one who was present, “expressed, in a feeling manner, his gratitude for the opportunity with us, and bore testimony to the precious solemnity which covered the meeting”. In response to the Address”, the “committee were informed that our English brethren did not know what they were asking of us, when they required our return to those from whom we have separated, without a removal of the causes of the separation”.

            After a “full and free expression of sentiment” by those present on the contents of the London “Address”, the London Friends withdrew; and the meeting further discussed the matter and appointed a committee to draw up a proper reply on the subject. Early the next morning the following statement, signed by six men and four women, was presented to the deputation:


            Esteemed Friends, William Foster, Josiah Foster, George Stacey, and John Allen.

            Upon duly considering the advice contained in the Address to us from London Yearly Meeting, to discontinue our meetings for worship, and attend the meetings for worship of those with whom we were formerly associated in religious fellowship, we believe it right to inform you, through this medium, that we cannot accede to the proposition, for the following reasons:

            First, because we occupy our present position more from necessity than choice, having no alternative left us, if we would enjoy the benefit of religious society [they had already been disowned]. Second, because we believe it would be a virtual surrender of our A. S. [Anti-Slavery] principles. Third, because by so doing we would not be securing to ourselves the benefits of religious society, nor the fellowship and unity so desirable, unless we are acknowledged by those you advise us to return to, as Friends in unity, with full privilege to continue our active exertions in the A. S. cause, as Truth may dictate, being accountable to the Society for violations of the discipline only… Fourth, because by so doing our influence in a society capacity will be lost, and thus, instead of advancing the cause of truth and righteousness on the earth, we would become a hindrance. And fifth, because we are in unity with Indiana Yearly Meeting of A. S. Friends, and believe the advice should claim the attention of our Meeting for Sufferings.

            And, in conclusion, we would further state, that we can but view the course of London Yearly Meeting, and your course as a committee, as very extraordinary. That without ever entering into an impartial examination of the causes that led to the difficulty that exists between us, and those we were formerly associated with in religious fellowship, you enter into judgment, and require us to return, without an effort to remove the causes of the difficulty that separates us; which removal would open the way for us to return on principles that would have a tendency to restore the unity that is so desirable, but which cannot be restored without the removal of those causes.

            In love we remain your friends.(198)


            Having thus failed in their mission to the Anti-Slavery Friends at Salem, the deputation prepared to leave for Nettle Creek, Indiana, where they would pursue the same course. Before their departure, however, on October 31st they attended the regular Salem Monthly Meeting, which recognized their presence in the following significant statement:


            Our Beloved friend William Foster, a minister in company with his brethren George Stacey, Josiah Foster and John Allen, all from England in the prosecution of their visit in passing through these parts have acceptably attended this meeting & produced a copy of a minute from our yearly meeting directing them to the attention of Subordinate meetings whose  company and labor of Gospel love amongs[t] us have been satisfactory & edifying.(199)


            A last attempt at conciliation on the part of the Anti-Slavery Friends at Salem was made on Saturday morning, November 1st. In response to the urgent request of these Quakers, the English deputation again convened with them to review the situation. The Salem Friends undertook to explain the causes for their separation and the situation in which they were placed; but the commission at once let it be known, positively and clearly, that they had not come to America for the purpose of investigating the right or the wrong in the separation, but that they had come with the specific purpose and under directions to summon the Anti-Slavery Friends, in the name of the London Yearly Meeting, to disband and to return unconditionally to the parent body.

            Now came the final clash. Realizing the high-handed manner in which this representation from across the sea proposed to crush them, Quakers though they were, the Anti-Slavery leaders exhibited something of the spirit and pioneer courage of their forefathers. The London Friends were plainly told that their mission in America must inevitably widen rather than heal the breach between the two bodies of Friends in the West, and that it would likewise have a strong tendency “to retard the work of emancipation in the United States, by throwing the weight of the influence of the Society of Friends in England and America, against the honest laborers in the cause”. But such advice was utterly disregarded, and, having visited each of the separatist families at Salem, the visiting deputation left Iowa for the other Anti-slavery Quaker centers to the eastward, displaying at every point the same indisposition to enter into the merits of the controversy, and in turn being met each time with the same unflinching opposition.

            The remaining history of the anti-slavery movement among the Friends at Salem and in the Indiana Yearly Meeting can be briefly told. In Iowa these vigorous Friends made Salem one of the most hated spots to the Missouri slave-catcher in the southeastern part of the State. Here, as in Indiana, they gradually drew into their ranks the most energetic spirits of the main body, and forced the whole Society into a more open ad sympathetic attitude towards the abolitionists. Gradually throughout the North the term abolition lost its stigma; the leaders of the Indiana Yearly Meeting abandoned their proscriptive measures; and a change was made in the Discipline, making it easy for their brethren to return to the fold. At Salem the Anti-slavery meeting gradually declined through the death of some of its members, the removal of others to other communities, and the return of most of the rest to the main body. The meeting-house was finally abandoned and sold for a dwelling before the opening of the war; and in 1862 the Salem Monthly Meeting purchased the Anti-Slavery Friends’ burying ground for the sum of twenty dollars.(200) In Indiana by 1857 scarcely enough was left of the Indiana Yearly Meeting of Anti-Slavery Friends to keep up a Monthly or Quarterly Meeting, and in this year it, too, was abandoned.


Notes and References


186- The “Germantown Protest”, issued by the Germantown Monthly Meeting of Friends, Pennsylvania, in 1688 is usually cited as the first formal document issued against the institution of slavery in America.


187- In an article entitled The Society of Friends and Abolition, published in The Friend, Vol. XVI (1842-1843), pp. 374, 375, a clear and full statement is made of the reasons why the Friends held aloof from the early abolition movement.


188- See Reminiscences of Levi Coffin, the Reputed President of the Underground Railroad (Cincinnati: Western Tract Society), Ch. VII.


189- Quoted in Hodgson’s The Society of Friends in the Nineteenth Century, Vol. II, p. 25.


190- Osborn’s A Testimony Concerning the Separation Which Occurred in Indiana Yearly Meeting of Friends, in the Winter of 1842 and ’43; together with sundry remarks and observations, particularly on the subjects of War, Slavery, and Colonization (Centerville, 1849), p. 44.


191-An excellent account of the events leading up to the anti-slavery separation in the Indiana Yearly Meeting may be found in The Friend, Vol. XVII (1843-1844) pp. 85, 86, 93, 94.


192- The Address, from the Meeting for Sufferings, of Indiana Yearly Meeting of Friends, held at White Water, on the 6th and 7th of the Third month, 1843, cites this date.


193- Sebohm’s Memoirs of William Foster (London, 1865), Vol. II, pp. 198, 199.


194- See Western Work (Oskaloosa), May, 1908, pp. 2, 3.


195- Minutes of Salem Monthly Meeting of Friends, 3 mo., 25th, 1843, pp. 149, 150.


196- Minutes of  Salem Monthly Meeting of Friends, 9 mo., 30th, 1843, pp. 167, 168.


197- Osborn’s A Testimony Concerning the Separation Which Occurred in Indiana Yearly Meeting of Friends, in the Winter of 1842 and ’43, pp. 17, 18.


198- For the materials concerning what transpired among the Anti-Slavery Friends at Salem on this occasion the writer has depended largely on quotations found in Edgerton’s A History of the Separation in Indiana Yearly Meeting on the Anti-Slavery Question (Cincinnati, 1856), pp. 337-343; and in Hodgson’s The History of Friends in the Nineteenth Century, Vol. II, pp. 39, 40.


199- Minutes of Salem Monthly Meeting of Friends, 10 mo., 31st, 1845, p. 268.


200- Minutes of Salem Monthly Meeting of Friends, 12 mo., 17th, 1862, p. 292.

            For a full and careful account of this anti-slavery separation see Edgerton’s A History of the Separation in Indiana Yearly Meeting of Friends on the Anti-Slavery Question.



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