December 20, 2011

Quilters & Quaker Meetings

Some of the most comprehensive information about inscribers of 18th and 19th century Quaker quilts can be gleaned from Quaker records.  If the identities of those whose names are inscribed on quilt blocks can be identified as active members of the Religious Society of Friends, much can be learned about the lives of historical Quaker quiltmakers.

The extant records of Quaker meetings, in the form of minutes, birth, death and marriage records, investigative testimonies, and disciplinary actions were compiled at various levels of the organization of the Religious Society of Friends.  Its organizational structure can be viewed as a pyramid with its base comprised of Meetings of Worship.  Here members gathered twice weekly to feel God's presence and to contemplate their spiritual relationship with Him.  Both men and women attended these Meetings.

Upper Springfield Meeting House in Columbiana County, Ohio.
Built in 1856.  Photo by Lynda Salter Chenoweth.

The Meetings of Worship also provided the occasion for men's and women's Preparative Meetings where decisions were made about the business that needed to be addressed at the next level, the Monthly Meeting.  Information about the items to be addressed at the Monthly Meeting was recorded in Preparative Meetings for discussion and to provide a basis for decision-making .  Matters requiring investigation and possible disciplinary action usually originated at the Preparative Meeting level, as did requests to marry, proposed philanthropic work, and other matters concerning individuals or the work of the congregation.

                                             Example of actual minutes from the Men's New Garden Preparative Meeting, 
                                            Columbiana County, Ohio, taken in 1830.  These minutes reside at the Friends
                                                  Historical Library of Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, Pennsylvania.

Monthly Meetings were held as separate extensions of one of the Meetings of Worship.  Monthly Meetings considered requests by couples to be married, the actions that should be taken to address the misconduct of individual members, any requests for certificates of transfer to other Meeting sites due to departures from the local area, the receipt of new members transferring from other areas, the appointment of Clerks amd Elders to the congregation, the approval of ministers within their midst, and other matters of concern. Detailed records were kept of these transactions, as well as of the marriages, births, and deaths of members.  The Monthly Meeting minutes recorded at all Meeting locations of the Religious Society of Friends provide a wealth of personal information about each congregation's membership and are a boon to today's genealogists and historians.  One must know, however, which Meeting or Meetings a person attended to find relevant records.  (The Monthly Meetings tab above provides more information about early Monthly Meetings, names them by state, and indicates the counties in which they were/are located.)

Winona Meeting House and Cemetery.
Winona, Butler Township, Columbiana County, Ohio.
Photo by Lynda Salter Chenoweth.

Quarterly Meetings were attended by appointees from Monthly Meetings.  These were held at approximately three month intervals with representatives from two or more Monthly Meetings within a geographical area.  Here representatives heard messages and received decisions made at the Yearly Meeting level.  They also resolved some matters referred by Monthly Meetings (such as appeals of disownments) and determined matters to be referred to the Yearly Meeting level because they could not be resolved at the level of the Quarterly Meeting.

At the peak of the pyramid were the Yearly Meetings.  Although the only, ultimate authority recognized by Quakers was their personal sense of God (described in many ways such as the Light of Christ, the Inner Light, Spark of the Divine, etc.), these Meetings held jurisdiction over Quarterly Meeting areas, including the weekly and monthly Meetings that met under their care.  The Yearly Meeting was the final arbiter of member disagreements, the interpreter of Quaker "Disciplines", or general rules of behavior and doctrine, and the final authority on matters of governance.

Minutes were kept of the proceedings of Quarterly and Yearly Meetings and often contain information about the circumstances of individuals who appealed to, or were referred to, these levels to resolve matters of dispute.

From their letters and diaries, it is clear that many mid-19th century Friends enjoyed extended visits during Quarterly and Yearly Meetings.  These occasions would have provided perfect opportunities for quilting, exchanging, and inscribing quilt blocks.

(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare 2011

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