Iowa History Project


The Quakers of Iowa




Louis Thomas Jones


Part III


The Minority Bodies of Friends In Iowa





The Hicksite Friends in Iowa


            While the difficulties arising out of the Anti-slavery separation were being worked out at Salem, another settlement composed of Hicksite Friends, with which the Salem Monthly Meeting had no connection, was forming in the northern part of Henry County.

            For nearly a century and a half after the Friends came to America almost unbroken harmony reigned among them. Then, as outside persecution and oppression of this peculiar people ceased, disruption took place within their ranks which split the Society into two irreconcilable camps, each nursing its animosities down to the present time. This upheaval had its origin in the preaching of Elias Hicks, a strong, eloquent, and powerful minister from Long Island, New York, who traveled far and wide, spreading religious views which to the heads of the church seemed to be unitarian and unorthodox. The movement focused at the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting in 1827, where amidst intense feeling, antagonism, and commotion, the Hicks sympathizers effected a separation from the main body and organized independently. The disaffection, already widespread, was carried to a similar issue in the Yearly Meetings of Baltimore, New York, Ohio, and Indiana. In places there was great disorder and confusion, followed by appeals to courts of law for the possession of lands, meeting-houses, and schools which each faction claimed. The Yearly Meetings of Genesee, held at Coldstream, Ontario, Canada, and the Illinois Yearly Meeting, held near McNabb, Illinois, to which the Iowa Hicksite Friends belong, did not figure in the bitter scenes of this early separation, but were largely the result of later migration and expansion.(201)

            This movement, which so violently disrupted American Quakerism, came to Iowa as a spent force. The first Hicksite Friends to appear in Iowa, so far as there is record, came from the Monthly Meetings of Hopewell, Goose Creek, and Fairfax, in Virginia; and in the northern part of Henry County (Wayne Township) they planted their settlement in 1855 or 1856, giving to it the appropriate name of Prairie Grove.

            With an acknowledged minister in their midst, and with some who in their earlier home had occupied the station of elder, these Friends opened up a meeting in a neighboring schoolhouse and made application through their respective monthly meetings to the Fairfax Quarterly Meeting for the establishment of a new Monthly Meeting among them. This request, “expressing in touching language and great tenderness their painful situation in being deprived of an opportunity of attending religious meetings”, awakened in the Quarterly Meeting “a feeling of deep sympathy with our absent brethren and sisters, in their remote and tried situation.” A committee was first appointed to correspond with those making the request; but in November, 1856, the plea was granted , and in the dead of winter, 1856-1857, a committee of five members made their way to this far distant settlement, to assist in officially opening the desired Monthly Meeting.

            Providing themselves against the scarcities of the new West, the “Committee took out with them books, suitably prepared, in which to keep a register of their members, and a record of births and deaths amongst them, to record the minutes of the Monthly Meeting, to record certificates of removal, and marriage certificates. They also took out several copies of our discipline for the use of the members of that meeting.” They arrived at their destination in safety; and on the 6th day of December, 1856, opened the Prairie Grove Monthly Meeting with all due solemnity.

            The one problem which gave the Virginia committee concern in its work of organizing the new Monthly Meeting was the fact that there was no regular meeting-house. The schoolhouse could, as before, be used for First-day services; but the mid-week and business meetings, in consequence of the regular school which was conducted during the week, were left unprovided for—a grave matter in point of the Society’s discipline. This difficulty, however, was obviated by the gift of three acres of land as a site for a meeting-house and burial grounds by two resident Friends; while the construction of a meeting-house, estimated at a cost of $1300, “including sliding partitions, and seats”, was also provided for, the Prairie Grove Friends and the Fairfax Quarterly Meeting each paying half of the expense.(202)

            While the Hicksite Friends from Virginia were thus building their settlement in Henry County, a prosperous community of the same sect was developing about West Liberty, in Muscatine County, to the northward. Among the earliest and most prominent Friends settling in that neighborhood were John Wright from Ohio in 1845, Nehemiah Chase from Ohio in 1848, Witham Haines prior to 1853, Joseph M. Wood from Ohio in 1853, Stephen Mosher from Ohio in 1853, Stephen Mosher from Ohio in 1853, and George and Reuben Elliot, both from Maryland, in 1855.(203) Before long a meeting was established at West Liberty by the name of Wapsinonoc,(204) which in June, 1866, united with Prairie Grove to form the Prairie Grove Quarterly Meeting, then under the Baltimore Yearly Meeting but now under the Illinois Yearly Meeting of (Hicksite) Friends.

            By way of comparison, the Orthodox and Hicksite bodies of Friends in Iowa now present an interesting subject for study. While the former are progressive in spirit and modernized in outward appearance; the latter are more conservative, though not eccentric, attempting to preserve the distinctive features of Quakerism in their manner of worship and home life. The Orthodox Friends in this Sate have for the last twenty-five years placed great emphasis on evangelistic activities, upon a developing pastoral system, and upon both home and foreign mission work; while the Hicksite Friends have at no time adopted popular evangelistic methods. They have no pastoral system or paid ministry, and they maintain no distinct missions, either home or foreign, although they most energetically support works of general philanthropy. In the various departments of activity in the Illinois Yearly Meeting, such as “Rescue Work”, “Indian Affairs”, “Lotteries, Gambling, etc.”, “Peace Arbitration”, “Prison Reform”, “Temperance”, “Education and Equal Rights [for women]”, and “Interests of Colored People”, the Hicksite Friends resident in Iowa usually hold prominent places and take and active part.

            In like manner the fields of labor, the numerical strength, and the problems confronting these two bodies in Iowa present an interesting and striking comparison. As has been pointed out, the Orthodox Friends have seventy-one Monthly Meetings, with a total membership in 1912 of 8383; while the Hicksites are limited to three Monthly Meetings, with a membership of 191 persons. As has been the case with the Society in America as a whole,(205) the Hicksite Friends in Iowa show almost a steady decline from 393 members in 1893, to 191 members in 1912.(206) The causes for this decline are in many respects identical with those which are responsible for the decline among the Orthodox Friends. The increase of death-rate over the birth-rate, the sifting of their young people into the more progressive denominations, the migratory tendency of their people—all these are causes for the present precarious condition of the Society. During the decade 1903 to 1912 the records of the Prairie Grove Quarterly Meeting show but three births. In 1912 less than ten per cent of the membership was made up of minors; while in the same year almost fifty-two per cent of the membership of the Quarterly Meeting was non-resident, scattered over various parts of Iowa, and the states of Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Washington.(207)

            As the older members of the Hicksite Friends in Iowa now assemble on Sabbath mornings at their little meeting-houses to sit down together in quiet and peaceful worship, worship, they have the consciousness of a past that is full of rich labor; but before them lies an uncertain future. Like their Orthodox brethren, they too are located in agricultural communities, far removed from contact with the life and issues of the modern world. To-day they seem to have little part in the worlds work. At the same time the results of years of simple living, linked with a devoted religious faith, are evident among them. Clear of features, clean of soul, natural in manner, open of heart, these Friends, few though they are in numbers, may be said to have more nearly preserved the true characteristics of the primitive Quaker than have the sects going by that name in the State of Iowa, with the possible exception of the Springville settlement of Conservative Friends in Linn County.

            In view of the common Quaker name which the Hicksite and Orthodox Friends bear, the question is often asked by the present generation: “Why do not these two religious sects reunite and combine their efforts upon grounds that are common to each?” The impossibility of such a reunion because of the divergent religious teachings of three-quarters of a century ago has been pointed out in the pages of the Evangelical Friends(208) but it is safe to say that these religious differences exist more in imagination than in fact between the two sects in Iowa to-day. In the most simple phraseology, the Illinois Yearly Meeting of the Society of (Hicksite) Friends states the essence of its religious position as follows:


            The Society of “Friends” had its origin in 1647-1648 with George Fox, who was educated in the doctrines of the “Church of England,” but who, at an early age, became dissatisfied with its teachings, and its interpretations of the Bible; and being led into periods of solitary meditation and prayer, there came times in which the truths of this book were opened clearly to his spiritual vision.

            The doctrines of the universality and efficacy of what he termed the “Inner Light;” that consciousness within, that tells us when we do right, and when we do wrong; the “still small voice” that spoke to Elijah of old, which has ever been the watchword of the true Friend, was revealed to him with such power, that he felt it to be his mission to proclaim it to the people at large, calling them from dependence upon priests and preachers for instruction in religious duties, to this inner guide.

            While we believe in the inspiration of the Bible, and that it is a record of God’s dealings with men in the past, and is a treasure house of sublime truths, which, if heeded, will be a great help to us, we believe the spirit that inspired their writing to be superior to them, an to it we look for guidance. We believe that the Spirit of Christ in the soul of every individual is most efficacious in governing action, and saving from sin.

            We believe Religion to be a life as well as a belief; a practice more than a creed.

            We believe in the baptism of the spirit of Christ, of which water baptism is but a symbol.

            We are firm believers in the divinity of Christ, which spirit has been always in the world, manifesting itself at different times, an din different degrees, and to different individuals, but in its fullness in Jesus, making him preeminently the Son of God, our elder brother and great exemplar.

            As to the manner of our worship we believe in silent communion with our Heavenly Father, during which times of quiet, if the Spirit prompts, we will give utterance to the Truth, as it has been presented to our minds.(209)

            A careful survey of this clear and simple declaration of beliefs reveals the fact that there is init scarcely a line which the Orthodox Friends could not accept as their own; and furthermore, there is scarcely one of their cardinal religious principles which is here omitted. The chief differences which now separate these two religious sects are, therefore, not differences in religious belief, but rather a mass of traditions and a lack of personal acquaintance.


Notes and References


201-The materials on the Hicksite separation are voluminous, including official addresses or declarations by each body on the subject; sectarian papers; personal journals; treatises; etc. In A History of the Friends in America, p. 122, A. C. and R. H. Thomas cite the following as the fairest representations on either side: “Hicksite, Elias Hicks, ‘Journal,’ New York, 1832; ‘The Berean,’ Wilmington, Del., 1825; ‘The Friend or Advocate of Truth,’ Philadelphia, 1828-1830, 3 Vols.; The Journal of John Comly; ‘The Quaker,’ Philadelphia, 1827-1832, Vols. 2-4; ‘Miscellaneous Repository,’ Mt. Pleasant, O., 1827-1832, Vols. 1-4; Journal of Thomas Shillitoe, London, 1839, Vol. 2.”


202- For an account of the founding of the Prairie Grove settlement, see Friends’ Intelligencer (Philadelphia, 1858), Vol. XIV, pp. 293-295.


203-The writer is indebted to L. O. Mosher of West Liberty for the information concerning the early settlement of Friends about West Liberty.


204-The Monthly Meeting at West Liberty was established about 1859 or 1860; the records for these first years being lost, the exact date is now obscured. Minutes of Illinois Yearly Meeting of the Society of (Hicksite) Friends, 1912, p. 42.


205- In 1906 the seven Yearly Meetings of Hicksite Friends in America reported a total membership of 18,560 persons, while in 1890 they reported 21,992, thus showing a loss of 3,432 in sixteen years.—Special Reports of the Bureau of the Census—Religious Bodies, 1906, Part II, pp. 300-303.


206-The following table shows something of the decline in numbers of the Prairie Grove Quarterly Meeting, composed as it is of the Monthly Meetings of Prairie Grove in Henry County, Wapsinonoc in Muscatine County, and Marietta near Marshalltown in Marshall County:






Number of Non-residents

























































1 A decline of nearly 55% of the young people.

2 This 10 year period shows a decline of over 67% of minors.


207- Out of a total membership of 885 persons in 1912 the Illinois Yearly Meeting of (Hicksite) Friends had 441 non-resident members; and of the 191 persons belonging to the Prairie Grove Quarterly Meeting in that year, 99 were non-resident. The Yearly Meeting has a most effective method, however, of dealing with this situation through a committee on “Isolated Members”, and publishing each year as an appendix to its Minutes the names and addresses of all its non-resident members by Monthly Meetings.


208- See the sketches by Luke Woodard on the subject of Hicksism in the Evangelical Friend (Cleveland), November 23, December 7, 14, 21, and 28, 1911.


209- Minutes and Accompanying Documents of Illinois Yearly Meeting of the Society of (Hicksite) Friends, 1908, p. 24.



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