Preservation news: highlights of 2015

Though we are well into January, here’s a look back at some of the exciting and varied work done over the past year to preserve the Library’s collections for future generations of users.

We were delighted to have back the final two volumes in our Swarthmore Manuscripts conservation project, dis-bound, conserved, photographed and sewn into slender fascicles, thanks to a grant from the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust. This was the last phase of a programme, carried out over several years, to preserve one of our most well-known, and well-used, collections, a key resource for the study of early Quakerism and seventeenth century history. Cause for celebration – and an opportunity to explore the Swarthmore Manuscripts through a forthcoming Quaker Strongrooms blogpost later this year.


A folio from Swarthmore MSS Vol. 6 before repair

A folio from Swarthmore Manuscripts volume 6 (MS Vol. 358) before repair. Photograph by Elizabeth Neville

One of the most frequently consulted items in the Library reading room is a bound set of The Friend: the Quaker weekly journal, published continuously since 1843. Rich in articles, reports, biographical detail and photographs, the heavy leather bound volumes take a great deal of use. Despite careful handling (including using an unbound set or microfilm for any copying), the sheer weight of the volumes means that simply lifting them off the shelves and opening them causes strain to their structure and consequent damage. Three volumes of The Friend were re-cased in 2015.

The Friend 17/2/1939

The Friend 17 February 1939 (volume repaired 2015)

Users of the Library will know that the reading room also houses a wealth of 19th and 20th century books of vital importance for Quaker studies, including an unparalleled collection of Quaker biographies (men’s and women’s shelved separately – an unusual feature of our 1920s classification scheme with unexpected resonance for researchers in the era of gender studies!). Ostensibly less rare and vulnerable than the older closed stack material, many of these heavily used books show signs of wear and tear. Last year we started a programme of repair to books on the open shelves: 25 of them were repaired, re-sewn and re-bound or re-cased, always retaining unique characteristics, such as former owners’ bookplates, inscriptions, or special bindings.

Friends School Whittier portrait provenance inscription

One of the reading room books conserved in 2015, from the library of John Bright (Proceedings at the presentation of a portrait of John Greenleaf Whittier to Friends’ school, Providence, R.I. … 1884)

Our ongoing retrospective cataloguing project provides the opportunity to note the condition of items being catalogued. Under the direction of the project cataloguer, our fabulous NADFAS team of volunteers has been visiting the Library once a fortnight for several years to prolong the life of many 19th and 20th century pamphlets by removing staples and re-sewing. As they steadily progress through the collections, they highlight more serious problems that require professional conservation. Several dozen have received treatment over the past year – cleaning, skilful paper repair (and removal of damaging old repairs, such as the dreaded sticky tape), re-sewing and re-casing, as necessary.

Conserved pamphlets

A handful of the pamphlets conserved in 2015

A rather more visually appealing conservation project was Benjamin West’s Elements of drawing, a set of engravings from West’s paintings published in 1820, the year of his death. The engravings (not previously catalogued) were welcomed as a donation to the Library in 1935, because of West’s Pennsylvania Quaker origins. We know of only one other copy in the country, held at the British Library. The sheets were dry cleaned, treated for foxing, repaired and rehoused in a clamshell box.

Sheet from Elements of drawing (1820) after treatment

Sheet from Elements of drawing (1820) after treatment. Photograph by Sussex Conservation Consortium

We continued our programme of conservation of the Library’s tract volumes – over 600 bound volumes of pamphlets dating back to the 17th century. They have a varied and fascinating provenance, including many identifiable as from the personal libraries of early Friends. And they present the conservator with equally varied problems. Is the volume’s structure still working? Can it be handled and contents still read without risk of further damage? How can we preserve the volume, which may have folded, damaged or protruding contents, while retaining important original features and ensuring that any treatment is reversible? Over the past year 16 tract volumes have received professional conservation treatments, including sewing, surface cleaning, paper repairs, attaching loose items, strengthening and consolidating leather covered spines, boards and corners, re-hinging boards, and repairing joints and headcaps.

By their very nature, broadsides – large single sheet publications – are unlikely to survive as long as books. Which makes volume 67 of the Hawkins Collection particularly remarkable. Frequently consulted, it was an unwieldy composite of three substantial works (George Fox’s Great mistery of the great whore unfolded, the Battle-door for teachers & professors to learn singular & plural Fox’s wonderful defence of plain speech, and For the King and both Houses of Parliament, the 1660 appeal to King Charles on behalf of those suffering for their testimony against oaths) sewn together with a whopping 58 broadsides, mainly published during the years 1659 to 1661. The volume’s structure was damaging to its contents, the sewn-in broadsides with multiple foldings were dirty and torn – and a nightmare to unfold for use. After careful consideration of treatment options, the broadsides were withdrawn from the binding, flattened, repaired, and stored in a new clamshell box alongside the conserved volume, preserving the original components of the earlier binding. You can read more about the fascinating story of the Hawkins Collection in an earlier blogpost.

Unless otherwise stated, all this conservation work was made possible by our BeFriend a Book fund. We are hugely grateful for the generosity of BeFriend a Book donors, who have enabled so much to be done to preserve the Library’s unique and irreplaceable collections.


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Readers’ stories: Quaker women of the north east

The fifth in our series of readers’ stories is by Liz O’Donnell, who first used the Library 20 years ago. Her original research focused on local Quaker women in the north east in the 19th century, but she found valuable additional resources here at Friends House. We’re glad to see her back in the Library working on her latest project – researching the life of Newcastle Quaker Teresa Merz (1879-1958)

Liz O'Donnell

In 1994, at the age of 42, I had the astonishing good fortune to be awarded a three year PhD studentship at the University of Sunderland. I was to be the first student of the newly-established Centre for Quaker Studies (now located at Woodbrooke Centre for Quaker Studies), set up through the enthusiasm of the late David Adshead, then a Senior Lecturer in Religious Studies at Sunderland. I was also granted three years’ leave of absence from my teaching post in a college of Further Education and supported by a modest bursary jointly funded by the university and Sunderland Meeting. My area of interest was the link between women Quakers and ‘first-wave feminism’ in the 1860s, and it was this that brought me to the Library of the Society of Friends for the first time in April 1995, clutching a letter of recommendation from David and a long list of sources that I wanted to consult.

To be honest, it was not primarily an interest in the Society of Friends which led me to apply for the studentship. For my MA dissertation a few years earlier, I had examined Newcastle Ragged and Industrial Schools, started in the 1840s in response to the large number of child vagrants on the city streets. The same surnames – Richardson, Watson, Priestman, for example – cropped up repeatedly in the schools’ management committees, and eventually the penny dropped – the leading figures were all Quakers. Further poking around revealed the same people involved in every social and political reform movement of the period. I thought I knew a lot about the economic and social history of north-east, but I could not recall reading anything that specifically highlighted the importance of Quakers in the development of the region’s civic culture. I was particularly fascinated by the activities of women Friends and their place in the fight for women’s rights. I wanted to shine a light on this corner of hidden history, but family and work got in the way until, in the early summer of 1994, I spotted the advertisement for the Quaker studentship in the Guardian. By October, I had set out on my research adventure.

Jane Sturge, Sarah Ann Richardson, Catherine Richardson, Elizabeth Spence Watson and Emma Pumphrey at Gables 1918

Jane Sturge, Sarah Ann Richardson, Catherine
Richardson, Elizabeth Spence Watson and Emma Pumphrey of Newcastle Monthly
Meeting (1918). Friends and relations, they all feature prominently in my thesis. From the private collection of Kate Palmer

This was ‘only’ 20 years ago, but technologically it was a very different world for researching and handling large amounts of data. Yes, personal computers were around, but I had written my MA dissertation on an Amstrad word processor and had very limited experience of using the new technology as anything other than a glorified typewriter. The internet was slowly coming into its own, but digitised archival records were limited and there was no facility for tracing individuals and making genealogical connections without leaving the comfort of your own home. Part of my thesis involved an analysis of 619 activists in Newcastle Monthly Meeting of Women Friends between 1785 and 1903. The meeting records, on microfilm at Tyne and Wear Archives, yielded a lot of information but I needed material only available at the Library of the Society of Friends at Friends House – the Dictionary of Quaker Biography, a full run of Annual Monitor and The Friend, for example. Eventually I managed to dig out biographical details for 527 women, enabling me to understand something of their domestic lives, economic status, and so on (this is not the place to examine my methodology; suffice it to say that it involved index cards, colour coding and a lot of floor space!).

The Library also yielded essential sources in the form of private papers, tracts and other publications. I recently found the list I brought with me for a visit to the Library in late January 1997 – it included F. Smith, On the Duty of a Wife (1810); Henry Corder, A Short Life of Elizabeth Spence Watson (1919); A Map of the Meetings Belonging to the Quarterly Meetings of Lancaster, Westmorland, Cumberland, Northumberland, Durham and York (1773); and a long list of women about whom I lacked sufficient details. Many of the names had been ticked, indicating that I was successful in my quest to find them.

Teresa Merz carte de visite

Teresa Merz as a girl. Her mother was the sister of Elizabeth Spence Watson.
From the private collection of Ben Beck

When I finished my studentship and returned to work, visits to Friends House Library unfortunately tailed off, but my research interest in Quakers did not. I have had several articles published in Quaker Studies and contributed to The Oxford Handbook of Quaker Studies, for example, as well as giving talks to many local history societies and taking an active part in my local bicentennial commemoration of the abolition of the slave trade in 2007 (those women activists again!). These undertakings have often involved a flying visit to the Library from my home in Northumberland. And over the last couple of years, now working part-time, I have at last been able to go back to the stories of the women of Newcastle Monthly Meeting. I am currently looking into the life of Teresa Merz (1879-1958) – suffragist, volunteer with the Friends’ War Victims Relief Committee in Serbia, member of the War and Social Order Committee and indefatigable amateur social worker in Newcastle-upon-Tyne until two days before her death – intending to rescue her from undeserved obscurity and enjoying a renewed relationship with the ever-helpful and friendly staff and marvellous resources of the wonderful Friends House Library.

Dr Elizabeth A. O’Donnell

Thesis title: Woman’s Rights and Woman’s Duties: Quaker Women in the 19th Century, with special reference to Newcastle Monthly Meeting of Women Friends (PhD, University of Sunderland, 2000)


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White Feather Diaries latest instalment and researching World War I

The latest instalment of The white feather diaries, an online project of British Quakers, goes live today. Updated daily on @wfdiaries, they tell of the challenges faced by five people who followed their consciences as the horror of World War I enveloped their lives. All of them were, or became, Quakers – Bert Brocklesby, John Hoare, Hilda Clark, Howard Marten and Laurence Cadbury.

The date is late 1915: the threat of conscription is imminent and opposition to war is censored. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, Quakers work for individual conscientious objection to be recognised by the state.

The white feather diaries storytelling project contains an up-to-date twist, posing questions for readers. How important is it to challenge majority opinions if you hold a different view? Are there times when it is easier to keep quiet rather than speak out? How can we support people facing abuse because of their beliefs? Parallels are drawn between events a century ago and the choices we make in the world of today.White Feather

If you’ve followed the project before, or read about it on here, you’ll know that The white feather diaries include rich background material about the diarists, their contemporaries, and the issues they faced, some of it researched here in the Library.

We highlighted some of the Library’s resources for World War I research in a series of Quaker Strongrooms blogposts last year.

Since then World War I interest and work continues to flourish, and the Library welcomes all who want to delve deeper. A wide range of researchers – peace activists, academics, playwrights, curators, novelists, Quaker meetings, local historians, genealogists and others – have been busy using the material highlighted in last year’s blogposts and other World War I resources offered by the Library. We’ve been able to add more archival material from the period to our online catalogue, such as the huge archive of the Friends Emergency & War Victims Relief Committee, and the small but fascinating collection of FAU motor stores records. World War I Friends Ambulance Unit record cards have been digitised and put online for all to see. And Cyril Pearce’s magnificent Register of conscientious objectors, the product of many years research in this Library and elsewhere, has at last been added to the Imperial War Museum’s Lives of the First World War website, where it can be freely searched.

Quaker Strongrooms blog will return to explore some more World War I themes in 2016, as the anniversary of the introduction of conscription approaches.

Meanwhile, for an insight into the lives of individuals who confronted the horror of World War I a century ago, drawing parallels with our own lives and times, you can follow the latest White feather diaries. Engage with them online on and @wfdiaries.


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The life of a photograph and an extraordinary woman

Anne Knight, photograph by Victor Franck, c.1855 (LSF MS BOX W2)

Anne Knight, photograph by Victor Franck, c.1855 (LSF MS BOX W2)

The Library’s Visual Resources Development Officer, Melissa Atkinson, talks about one enduring image in our collection.

I am fascinated with historical material culture and how it translates into modern society. When a researcher in the Library is interested in any of the visual resources such as a poster, piece of crockery or a photograph, I am keen to see how they reinterpret the material for today’s audiences.

When the United Nations contacted me about a photograph of an elderly woman staring defiantly into the camera, clutching a placard on her knee which states:

By tortured millions
By the Divine Redeemer
Enfranchise Humanity
Bid the Outraged World

I wondered about the extraordinary journey this photograph, and the woman in it, had taken.

Anne Knight

Anne Knight (1786-1862) was born in Chelmsford to a Quaker family. From all accounts she was a formidable advocate of abolition of the slave trade without compensation for the slave owners. She also supported free trade and universal suffrage and campaigned fervently for women’s rights. Her sympathies were also with the European republican movements. By 1830 she was deeply involved in the attempt by Quakers to end slavery and spent much of her time arranging public meetings, distributing leaflets and organising petitions. As a member of the Chelmsford Ladies Anti-Slavery Society, she formed the first organisation for women’s suffrage in Britain, the Sheffield Female Reform Association.

Although the British Slavery Abolition Act came into power in 1834, this did not eradicate the problem globally, and British abolitionists still wanted to exert influence, especially over the situation in the United States. Anne Knight’s 1855 protest demanding the abolition of the slave trade, depicted in the photograph, still resonates with the world today.

New audiences

To mark International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, the United Nations in New York had an exhibition entitled ‘Powerful women against slavery” in the UN General Assembly entrance this spring which included this photograph. UN Information Centres globally will have the option to use this ready-made exhibition which includes an online study guide via the website –

The 2015 theme is Women and Slavery which celebrates the mental and physical strength of women and the unimaginable abuses they had to endure.

This image of Anne Knight is from her personal archive (LSF MS BOX W2). The photograph was taken at Saint des Vosges circa 1855 by Victor Franck. The original photograph, known as a carte-de-visite (visiting card), measures 64mm × 100mm (2.5 inches x 4 inches). This format of the carte-de-visite was very popular as they were affordable and easily mass produced. Victorian obsession with collecting made these cards into a novelty and they were traded between friends and large Victorian families. Popular figures of the time such as royalty became collectibles which led to the publication and collection of photographs of prominent persons.

The Library of the Society of Friends holds Anne Knight’s personal papers including diaries, correspondence and notes (references MS Box W2, MS Box G2/3, and MS Vol S 486).
One of our readers was inspired by her journey for his architectural creation for the Burgess Stream project in central Chelmsford. You can read about the historical research behind his architectural design work here:

This blogpost is about the life of a photograph and the woman within it. Anne Knight with her incredible influence and universal admiration for human dignity. If Anne Knight was around today she may have mixed emotions about the current state of women’s rights and modern slavery. Knight would have to admit that there has been improvement and progression to raise the world’s attention for universal suffrage but only so far. I think Anne Knight would look you straight in the eye and say we cannot forget the past but there is still a long way to go to improve the future.

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Opening up the manuscript collections: an update on our online cataloguing project

What do silhouettes, the  South Sea journals of Daniel Wheeler, press-cuttings on the General Strike, and a 100 year-old phial of anti-tetanus serum have in common? They’re all to be found in the Library’s main manuscript series, which currently comprises over 1,000 separate and extremely diverse archive collections. And until recently, only a quarter of them were on the online catalogue.

Extracts from the South Sea Journals of Daniel Wheeler (Library reference Temp MSS 366 vols. 3/1-3)

Extracts from Daniel Wheeler’s South Sea Journals for 1834-5 (Library reference Temp MSS 366 vols. 3/1-3)

Anti-tetanus serum phial from Alan F. Ardley papers (Library reference: Temp MSS 452/1/11)

Anti-tetanus serum phial from Alan F. Ardley papers (Library reference Temp MSS 452/1/11)

Since the launch of the new catalogue, a little over a year ago, we’ve been busy increasing the number of archive and manuscript collections users could find there. Once the project to catalogue the remarkable records of Friends Emergency & War Victims Relief Committee was complete, attention turned to the rich and varied main manuscript series.

We embarked on a 15 month project, to run from January 2015, with the aim of cataloguing the bulk of the remaining manuscripts to collection level, making them searchable by name, and overall description. As the project cataloguer would have to examine each collection individually, this was also a great opportunity to repackage the contents in archival standard storage materials – so we can happily say goodbye to collapsing file boxes and overstuffed folders! The collections span 205 metres of shelving and currently fill 1,366 boxes; an estimated 1,000 new archival boxes and 5,000 acid free folders would be needed for repackaging.

A delivery of new archive boxes in the Library

A delivery of new archive boxes in the Library

Now we’re six months through the project, here’s where we’ve got to so far.

We’ve already added nearly 300 new entries to the online catalogue, with brief lists to help researchers retrieve relevant material. 380 archival boxes have been used to replace old brittle and unstable file boxes, and 28 outsized items – rolls, maps, etc. – have been repacked. Visual items that had been removed have been re-united with the collections they came from (for example family photographs of Mary Millior Braithwaite and R. Osmond Catford’s photograph albums of relief work in Poland and Russia 1920-1923).

The collections range in size from single documents (such as the Journal of Anna Louise Evens, relating to mission work in India 1886-1934), or a few folders (such as Theodore Burtt’s papers on Friends Industrial Mission, Pemba 1896-1930), to extensive and complex collections (such as J. J. Green’s copious collection of genealogical research papers, deeds, maps, letters and other documents; or the 22 boxes of Herbert Hodgkin papers – letters, notes, photographs and watercolours, spanning the period 1847-1962, mainly relating to foreign mission work, especially China).

Rachel Howard letter from Temp MSS 373

Cross-written letter from Rachel Hodgkin among the large family archive of A. Ruth Fry (Letters from Rachel Howard to Elizabeth Hodgkin and John Hodgkin, 1829-1836. Library reference Temp MSS 373 B1/1)

Reflecting the varied lives and interests of their original owners, the collections include material on Quakers and Quaker work around the world (in Ireland, Norway, France, India, Pemba and Poland, among other places), family archives spanning centuries, and the working papers, correspondence, research notes, and diaries of individual Friends (such as Isaac Sharp, Ann Mary Burgess, Thomas C. Foley, or Stephen Shipley Wilson).

Highlights include the A. Ruth Fry papers, among whose various treasures from branches of the Howard, Hodgkin, Eliot and Fry families are to be found one of the French revolutionary cockades that appeared in our last blogpost, as well as the two smallest books in our collections.

One of two

One of two “bijou almanacs” among A. Ruth Fry papers (Library reference Temp MSS 373 M4/6)

Another is box 2 of the Elizabeth Lee papers, whose contents include a volume of celebrity autographs (a form of collecting that took off in the 19th century even among some Friends), among them Robert Browning and Oscar Wilde.

Autograph of Ellen Terry (Autograph volume, Elizabeth Lee papers. Library reference Temp MSS 302/2/2)

Autograph of Ellen Terry (Autograph volume, Elizabeth Lee papers. Library reference Temp MSS 302/2/2)

Before the arrival of our combined Library and Archive online catalogue, users who wanted to search the Library’s unique holdings of official Quaker records and unpublished papers of Quakers dating back to the 17th century had to rely on the card catalogue and paper finding aids in the reading room. As more and more archive and manuscript collections are added, through projects like this, the online catalogue opens up the collections to users, wherever they may be, and makes them searchable in new and exciting ways.

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The French Revolution: Quakers and cockades

When our project cataloguer came across a cockade (a type of ribbon rosette for wearing on a hat or pinned to a garment) from 1792 revolutionary France among the A. Ruth Fry papers (TEMP MSS 373), belonging to John Hodgkin (1766-1845), we wondered what involvement Quakers had with the French Revolution. Quite a bit, it turns out, and with cockades themselves in particular!

Tricolour cockade, 17921

Tricolour cockade, revolutionary France, 1791, Benjamin Angell papers, (Library reference: TEMP MSS 58/8)

Quakers in France The story of French Quakerism is an interesting one. A group emerged in the Cévennes region of France around the time of the Camisard War (1702-1704), who chose to use nonviolence even in defence from brutal oppression. Known as the Inspirés du Languedoc, they later picked up the name Couflaïres, which in Provençal means ‘inflated by the Spirit’. Couflaïres worshipped in silence and had no appointed ministers, yet had never come into contact with Quakerism. They lived mainly in Congénies, Sommières, Saint Gilles, Fontanès, Aujargues, Calvisson, and Codognan. In 1785 contact was made between British Quakers and this group in France. One of the French group, Jean de Marsillac, was invited to meet British Friends. This visit, and several more, proved fruitful, and in 1788 the first group of British Friends went to visit Congénies. On this occasion, the French group were invited officially to join the Society of Friends. Around the same time, a group of Nantucket Quakers, led by William Rotch, had moved to Dunkirk and joined the French Friends in Congénies. Jeanne Henriette Louis called William Rotch “the most influential figure on Nantucket during the American Revolution”.[1] Rotch had led Nantucket Quakers in nonviolence and neutrality through the War of Independence and the Revolution, but felt they had to leave in search of better fortune, and ended up in Dunkirk. Quakers in revolutionary France An article by Peter Brock on conscientious objection in revolutionary France (Journal of the Friends Historical Society, vol. 57, no. 2, 1995)[2] sheds some light on French Quaker attitudes to the Revolution, and in particular to the levée en masse, a form of conscription for the army of the new French Republic. Brock remarks on the long held respect for Quakerism among the leading thinkers of the French Revolution, who viewed Penn’s experiment in Pennsylvania as an almost utopian ideal for society. He specifically mentions Jacques-Pierre Brissot de Warville, one of the most prominent Girondin leaders, who had formed a close relationship with French and English Quakers. Indeed a handwritten note accompanying one of the two revolutionary cockades in our collection reads: “Tricolor Cockades. brought by John Hodgkin from Paris in 1792. He himself wore one by advice of Brissot, the Girondist on the occasion of the Federation, in the Champs de Mars” (TEMP MSS 373/B1/5)

Envelope and tricolour cockade, revolutionary France, 1792

John Hodgkin’s tricolour cockade and note in A. Ruth Fry papers (Library reference: TEMP MSS 373 B1/5)

Brissot was in contact with Quakers as an abolitionist; his group, the Société des Amis des Noirs, was inspired by the English Quakers’ anti-slavery activities. He also wrote that Quakers should be invited to revolutionary France, as they had the same aims as the revolutionaries – liberty, equality and brotherhood, albeit desiring to achieve them through different, peaceful means: “We are all striving for the same object, universal fraternity; the Quakers by gentleness, we by resistance.” (Brissot New travels, quoted in Brock, p.169). As war approached, Marsillac, self-appointed spokesman for Friends in France, wanted to deliver a petition to the National Assembly. He consulted Brissot, amongst other Girondists, in putting together a petition that Brissot thought would gain ground with Mirabeau, the new leader of the Assembly. On 10th February 1791, Marsillac, William Rotch, and Benjamin Rotch took the petition to the National Assembly. They entered the packed room, refusing to remove their hats, in Quaker fashion. They also refused to wear the national cockade, despite being pressed to do so and informed that it was a requirement in law. The Assembly warned them that they would not be able to protect them from mob retaliation if they were seen on the streets without the cockades. Can we assume, from the existence of the cockades in our collections, that the English Quakers were not brave enough to follow their example when they travelled in France? The main thrust of the petition was to gain exemption from military service for Quakers, but also an exemption from taking civic oaths, and permission to carry on their own method of recording births, marriages and deaths. They appealed to the Assembly’s avowed religious tolerance and reminded them that Britain and America had already granted similar liberties to Quakers. They made specific mention of Pennsylvania, probably knowing the attitudes of many of the revolutionaries to Penn’s experiment there. While Mirabeau was respectful and admiring of some of the qualities the Quakers represented, his tone was ultimately lacking in understanding:

“The assembly will discuss all your demands in its wisdom, and if I ever meet a quaker, I’ll say to him, My brother, if thou hast a right of being free, thou hast a right to hinder thyself from being made a slave…”

(Address from the Society of Friends, resident in France, to the National Convention, 2nd of 10th month 1791. To which is subjoined the president’s reply. London: Printed for Edmund Fry, 1825 )

Published version of the Quaker petition to the National Assembly

Address from the Society of Friends, resident in France, to the National Convention, 2nd of 10th month 1791, (Library reference: Box 33/35).

Mirabeau declared that having won liberty, all French citizens must be prepared to defend that liberty from tyrants. However the Assembly agreed to consider the petition, and the Quaker petitioners were welcomed into various social circles while in Paris to discuss the issues arising. It seems however that no firm decision was taken before the Assembly’s dissolution. Marsillac was in contact with English Quakers and presented a lukewarm verdict on the treatment of the Quakers by the Assembly. It must have been in this uncertain time for Quakers in France  that their English Friends thought it worthwhile to go and show some support. The 1791 Yearly Meeting minute approving a small group of Friends to go over to Dunkirk is brief, and seems aimed at deciding whether the Nantucket Friends at Dunkirk should join the Yearly Meeting in England:

“The said friends are desired to consider whether their junction with any branch of this yearly meeting will be expedient, & if the same shall appear eligible they are authorised to carry the said Junction into effect.” (London Yearly Meeting minutes, 1791 Library ref. YM/M/39)

London Yearly Meeting minutes, 1791

London Yearly Meeting minutes, 1791 (Library reference: YM/M/39)

London Yearly Meeting minutes, 1791

London Yearly Meeting minutes, 1791 (Library reference: YM/M/39)

Benjamin Angell was one of the Kent Friends who joined the group appointed by Yearly Meeting and travelled to France. Our collection of his papers (TEMP MSS 58/8) includes one of the cockades, a French passport, and a small travel diary describing their visit. We can presume that, as well as the issue of membership, the matter of the petition to the National Assembly and the wider situation in France must have been discussed by the English and French Friends. Unfortunately Angell’s diary is mainly a factual account of the trip, and more taken up with the town planning of Dunkirk, than conscientious objection and issues of citizenship in the new Republic! It wasn’t until later in 1792 that Marsillac and others wrote of a much worsening situation for French Quakers, including rough treatment for refusal to wear the cockade. Marsillac himself was arrested for not wearing a cockade in public. He writes to an English Friend:

“It has pleased the lord to suffer us to fall under divers tryals, which in our weak state, we have found painful & grievious, the civic oath, the obligation imposed by the National Assembly to mount guard personally & the Arm, & to declare the arms every one had in his Possession, under the pain of being found guilty of treason & punished by Death….I was arrested at Paris because I had not the National Cockade, & signified my reasons for noncompliance, before the Judges of the Peace, & since that, before Petition Mayor of Paris, who had me set at liberty…” (Letter from Jean Marsillac, 10 July 1792, Library ref. MS VOL 314/70)

This letter is from a volume of original manuscripts relating to France held here at the Library, featuring several letters from Jean de Marsillac to English Friends (he drops the aristocratic ‘de’ from his name). We can see then, with the worsening crisis in France and the onset of war, that the Quakers’ petition failed. By 1793, the Dunkirk Quakers had left France for England, after run-ins with the authorities, and in 1795, Marsillac left for America. The whole affair shows an interesting clash of ideologies, with the enlightened basic principles of the French revolutionaries being truly tested by the small band of French Quakers.  It is a small episode in the gradual decay of the spirit of the Revolution by years of inward terror and war with other nations. It also demonstrates a close and supportive relationship between the English Quakers and the odd assortment of American Quakers and French ‘Inspirés’ in France, which is evident in the warm correspondence between Marsillac and English Friends in manuscripts in our collection and in the concern shown by English Friends over the French situation in minutes and epistles. [1] Jeanne Henriette Louis, ‘The Nantucket Quakers’ message as an alternative to Benjamin Franklin’s message to the French Revolution’ in Quaker studies: journal of the Quaker Studies Research Association, vol. 5, no.1 (September 2000), p. 10 [2] Peter Brock, ‘Conscientious objection in revolutionary France’ in Journal of the Friends Historical Society,  vol.57; no.2 ( 1995), p. 166–82

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Sole survivor? A Dutch broadside by an early 18th century woman Friend

A few weeks ago we were enthralled to discover that the Library holds what is possibly the sole surviving copy of an early 18th century broadside by a little known woman Friend, Margaret Langdale (1684?-1742). It’s an undated exhortation in Dutch to the inhabitants of various towns in Friesland and North Holland, with no printer’s name or place of printing, signed simply “En uwe waare Vrindin[1] / M. LANGDALE”.

Though it appears in Joseph Smith’s Descriptive catalogue of Friends’ books (1867), we couldn’t find the broadside recorded in any other library catalogue.

Langdale. Aan de Inwoonderen (1717)

Langdale, Margaret. Aan de Inwoonderen van de Steden Leeuwaarden, Harlingen, en Workum in Friesland, en Medenblik in Noord-Holland. Published about 1717 (Library reference: Vol. D/48)

As far as we know, this is the only published writing of Margaret Langdale. Who was she, and what was her connection with the people of Leeuwarden, Harlingen, Workum and Medemblik?

From the Library’s Dictionary of Quaker biography and the Digest registers of births, marriages and burials, we learned that Margaret Langdale was born Margaret Burton around 1684, married Josiah Langdale, of Bridlington Yorkshire, around 1710, and had several children, at least one of whom died in infancy. In 1723 they left England to settle in Pennsylvania, with their two surviving children, Mary and John, but Josiah Langdale died on the voyage. In America, Margaret Langdale remarried, to Samuel Preston of Philadelphia, in 1724, and lived on in America to her death in 1742.

Some Langdale burials

Some Langdale burial entries in the Yorks Quarterly Meeting Digest registers – Margaret and Josiah’s son(s) Josiah and (possibly) Thomas. Note Thomas’s burial in John Richardson’s orchard.

Beside these simple birth, marriage and death facts, we learned that Margaret Burton/Langdale/Preston was a travelling minister. That is, she felt called to travel to disseminate Quaker beliefs and nurture Friends in distant meetings. A large proportion of Quaker travelling ministers from the earliest days were women, often working in pairs, enduring considerable hardship to take their message to meetings around the country and overseas. At a time when women were discouraged from speaking in public this was bravery indeed.[2]

During Josiah’s second visit to America from 1715 to 1716, Margaret Langdale undertook a religious visit to Ireland (and her concern for Irish Friends is one of the subjects of a manuscript letter of hers in the Library – Portfolio 36/94)[3]. Among other visits at this time, she journeyed to the continent around 1717 (sources differ).  She continued her travelling ministry once she was in America, visiting widely – in the short period between 1724 and 1729 alone she visited Long Island, Rhode Island, Nantucket, New Hampshire, Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina[4]. Philadelphia Monthly Meeting’s testimony to Samuel Preston, included a paragraph related to Margaret’s ministry which describes her “excellent gift in the ministry” (Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, A collection of memorials (1787), p. 127).

Margararet Langdale testimony of Philadelphia MM

Testimony of Philadelphia Monthly Meeting, appended to a memorial of Samuel Burton. In: A collection of memorials (Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, 1787), p. 127

We can narrow down the printing date of the broadside Aan die Inwoonderen to the period 1710 to 1723, while Langdale was her married name. It seems fairly likely that it was written during or after a visit to Friesland and North Holland – probably around 1717 when she travelled to “Germany”. In the text she addresses the inhabitants (and also the “Vermaaner” – the Mennonite preachers) of the areas, exhorting them all to live upright lives, avoiding frivolity, strong drink, tobacco, and any worldly preaching, singing and praying not inspired directly by God’s spirit.

So we succeeded in identifying “M. Langdale”, and discovered that she had indeed travelled to Friesland and North Holland in the ministry, but tantalising questions remain. Who translated it into Dutch? Who printed the broadside? Did Margaret Langdale take copies with her to distribute? Or did Dutch Friends publish it either during or after her visit? Making works like this known through our online catalogue is a first step in helping researchers make links and find answers to such questions!

Over the weekend of Yearly Meeting we had the chance to show the broadside to visiting Dutch Friends, and to Gil Skidmore, the editor of Josiah Langdale 1673-1723: a Quaker spiritual autobiography (1999) – Josiah Langdale’s manuscript account of his spiritual journey to Quakerism (Library reference MS Box 10/10). We also reported it for inclusion in the Netherlands Short Title Catalogue, which records Dutch publications 1540-1800.

Dutch Friends in the Library

Dutch Friends in the Library during Yearly Meeting. Photograph by Trish Carn, courtesy of The Friend

Work on adding to our online catalogue is progressing fast: it now includes practically everything we hold published in the 17th and 18th centuries, most from the 1960s onwards, all our printed peace, anti-slavery and temperance material, and much more. The current phase of the project focuses on adding the remaining 19th and early 20th century books and pamphlets (over 7,600 existing collection items were added to our catalogue last year alone). We’ve been able to provide fuller, more consistent information through collaboration with other organisations, like the English Short Title Catalogue, Haverford and Swarthmore Quaker college libraries in Pennsylvania, Netherlands Short Title Catalogue and Copac.

Users can now search our holdings from anywhere in the world – and though we loved our card catalogue, we’re delighted there’s no longer such a need for you to come in to the Library and riffle through its drawers simply to find out whether or not we hold what you want.

M. Langdale catalogue card

The old catalogue entry for M. Langdale’s broadside – cut and pasted from Smith’s “Descriptive Catalogue”, with gradual accretions

[1] Note the feminine form “Vrindin” indicating that M. Langdale was a woman Friend

[2] You can read an excellent overview of the travelling ministry in Sylvia Stevens’ chapter in the Handbook of Quaker studies, edited by Angell and Dandelion (2013), and about 18th century women travelling ministers in Rebecca Larson’s book, Daughters of Light: Quaker women preaching and prophesying in the colonies and abroad, 1700-1775 (1999).

[3] Thomas Wight and John Rutty, A history of the rise and progress (1751), p.357

[4] Larson, Daughters of Light, p.93-4 and L. S. Hinchman, Early settlers of Nantucket, 2nd ed. (1901), p.319


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