N O T I C E
Permission has been granted to re-publish this article on this web page by G. Erickson, Southern Friend Editorial Board, North Carolina Friends Historical Society on December 17, 2001, along with permission from the author, George H. Cox, Jr. Letters of permission are on file with the Webmaster. The Webmaster extends special thanks and appreciation to the North Carolina Friends Historical Society and George H. Cox, Jr.
This article first appeared in THE SOUTHERN FRIEND, Journal of the North Carolina Friends Historical Society, Volume XI, Spring 1989, Number 1.
The Southern Friend is published semiannually in spring and autumn by the North Carolina Friends Historical Society, P.O. Box 8502, Greensboro, NC 27419-0502. Members of the society receive the journal without charge. Single issues and back issues may be purchased by writing to the North Carolina Friends Historical Society.
This article is NOT to be reproduced in any other format or method of distribution without prior written permission of the North Carolina Friends Historical Society.
The Peace and Social Concerns of
George H. Cox, Jr.
This is the second essay in a three part series concerned with the Wrightsborough Monthly Meeting in Georgia. The initial article addressed how Georgia's colonial Quakers dealt with the issue of "Living with the Indians." We now turn our attention to how these Friends viewed the political revolution of 1776 and the war which it brought to the frontier. The third and final essay will look at the introduction of slavery into the Georgia backcountry after the Revolutionary War, a development which marked the end of Quakerism in eighteenth-century Georgia.
Indian raides and the problem of renegade bands of Indians and whites led the Friends at Wrightsborough to seek police protection from their patron, Royal Governor James Wright. Their generous land grants and productive farms were worthless without guarantees of public safety. The governor responded to the need for security by stationing rangers on the frontier and making preparations for quickly dispatching regular "red coat" troops from Savannah and Augusta when crises arose. When these measures proved inadequate, he built a fort for the protection of the Wrightsborough Township.
It was therefore the case that the Wrightsborough Friends had practical experience with living their peace concerns before the advent of the American Revolution. They had come to realize how vulnerable they were on the frontier, far from the centers of English law and order. Also, recall that a very supportive royal governor had aided settlement west of Augusta. Most white settlers lived on lands ceded to the Georgia colony by the Creek Indians for the repayment debts owed to Augusta merchants. Many backwoods settlers therefore held royal land grants and enjoyed special tax incentives. Many, including the Quakers, had good prospects for the future under English rule. This loyalty to a benevolent government and the frontier dependence upon the government in Savannah for protection bound Georgia Friends and many of their neighbors to the royal government.
The American Revolution developed gradually along the colonial frontier. In the northern and western parts of Georgia, the preliminary reaction to revolutionary talk was almost universally negative:
Frontier communities like Wrightsborough had nothing to gain and everything to lose by rebelling against the English authorities. Their livelihoods and even their very lives depended upon the support of Governor Wright and the Royal Assembly in Savannah.
The governor recognized the loyalty of the Friends in a number of tangible ways. In 1774, he held a major Indian council to try to settle lingering differences between the white settlers and the Creeks. He contributed money for a new meetinghouse at Wrightsborough. He supported the American proposal that the colonial assemblies manage all taxation "on requisition of the King."2 This would have avoided the central colonial concern of taxation without a mechanism of representation appropriate to British subjects. However conciliatory the frontiersmen or the governor, continental events swept the colony into open conflict.
In 1775, actual rebellion broke out, and bands of Whig and Tory irregulars skirmished in the backcountry. Individuals and communities were pressed to take sides. Each faction was electing representatives, taxing local homesteads, raising and provisioning militia, and directing military operations. Individuals and communities were pressed to take sides.
Reports from the Georgia Quakers indicated that they either escaped the notice of legal revolutionaries or were ignored by them at the outset of hostilities:
However, the Friends were in a difficult situation, and their faith soon would be tested. It was only a matter of time until the pressure for taking sides caught up with their determination to remain neutral and peaceful in the foray.
The Georgia Quakers followed their denominational teachings concerning war, militia service, and the denial of the worldly concerns used to justify warlike behavior. They may have been aware of John Woolman's advice that "It requires great self-denial and resignation of ourselves to God, to attain that state wherein we can freely cease from fighting when wrongfully invaded...."4 They were certainly receiving clear guidance concerning the conflict from their own yearly meeting:
Yet the unity of the monthly meeting began to erode as some Wrightsborough Friends joined the conflict. Several of the young men joined the region's Whig militia. For example, John Carson, Jr., served with Elijah Clarke's force. For some, enlistment was a response to threats. For others, it meant signing papers and drilling on the common. Few probably realized how barbarous the war on the frontier would become.
Others in the meeting, especially some of the older established members, openly supported the Tory militia and the regular British Army. Joseph Maddock, the Wrightsborough clerk from 1773 to 1775, was one of these English supporters. His name appears on virtually every partisan declaration favoring the loyalist position. He was appointed to several responsible posts by the royal government. He was deeply involved with the Savannah merchant, James Habersham, and his debts threatened the solvency of many Wrightsborough ventures. In 1779, Maddock assisted a British agent who was recruiting a regiment of loyalist militia in the Augusta area.6 He was arrested for this offense by Whig officials and briefly imprisoned in Charleston. He was forced to flee Wrightsborough in 1781; he went to the English stronghold at Savannah and there continued to serve the Tory cause as a cattle buyer for the loyalist militia.
Some of the people in the community who called themselves Quakers had always refused to live under the discipline of the Wrightsborough Monthly Meeting. They had produced certificates of membership or other documents required by the English government for settlement in the Quaker Reserve, but they never followed through by affiliating with the local monthly meeting. This was a problem throughout the western areas of the American colonies because it meant that individuals could benefit from the association with Friends but escape responsibilities like peacekeeping which had brought the Quakers good repute as settlers. These persons might be termed "peripheral Friends" and must be considered outside of the control of the true Quaker religious community. Several of the peripheral Friends at Wrightsborough were associated with the Whig cause, some like William Candler, in leadership roles.
The monthly meeting took actions to stop the drift toward partisan affiliation and warlike behavior among its true members. They investigated, counseled, and ultimately disowned several of the young rebels. They cautiously but steadily pressed influential Quakers like Maddock to conform to church teachings, and even he was ultimately eldered and disowned.
In taking a strong position against involvement in the conflict, the core of the Wrightsborough community followed the advice of the yearly meeting:
The situation at Wrightsborough became very serious once many of their leaders came to be identified with the Loyalist cause. "Passive innoscence [sic] on their part was of no avail; the torrent of rage levelled all distinction, age or sex afforded no security against violence...."8 Whig militia units would come in the night to raid the Quaker Reserve:
Many Friends were ruined by the war. Although only about one-fourth of the Quakers at Wrightsborough had been involved in either Whig or Tory politics, the settlement itself was ruined by the shifting occupations of hostile forces. The economic situation was desperate by the end of the hostilities.
In 1782-83, the Friends at Wrightsborough received assistance from the yearly meeting and the meeting for sufferings in London. The political exiles in Savannah had requested the help from London, and this embarrassed the regional Quaker leaders who might have been expected to look after the cares of their fellows in Georgia. Of course, Maddock's militaristic inclinations and history of controversy within the religious society had made him suspect in the eyes of mainstream pacifist Friends. Yet all of these yearly meeting concerns were largely invisible to aid officials in London, and the money was sent.
When Maddock drew on the relief funds to cover some of his losses from the war, an uproar resulted.10 The very person who warlike behavior had brought so many reprisals on Wrightsborough was trying to benefit from the recovery effort. Maddock was accused of misappropriation of funds by his monthly meeting and was officially investigated by the yearly meeting. His letters of explanation were not accepted by Friends, and it took the intervention of outside intermediaries finally to resolve the dispute.
Wrightsborough families who had supported the revolutionary cause also suffered during the war. Henry Candler, son of the peripheral Friend Colonel William Candler, went with Elijah Clarke when they "escorted the women and children from upper Georgia across the mountains, into East Tennessee when their homes were overrun by the British and Torries [sic] in 1780."11 The Tory militia had been no gentler with area families than had the Whig faction. So, households were ravaged on both sides, and the majority of Quaker families suffered even though they had taken no side at all. The Georgia frontier was genuinely devastated by the American Revolution.
None of the Quakers at Wrightsborough was singled out for retribution by the winners of the Revolution, not even Joseph Maddock. The only possible exception to this was the peripheral Friend William Manson. He made an issue of not affirming allegiance to the new government and was expelled under the terms of Georgia's Act of Confiscation and Banishment. He was also the only professed Quaker from Georgia to file a petition with the commissioners of the American Loyalists in London. He asked for compensation for property in Savannah and Wrightsborough which was seized when he was arrested by revolutionaries in Augusta.12
There was some local confiscation of communal lands at Wrightsborough. The tract that James Wright had set aside for the Friends meetinghouse was treated as his personal property and was seized in 1783. However, the land was sold again in 1787 to Daniel Williams and John Stubbs, Jr., "as Trustees for the Soceity of People, known as Quakers," so the meetinghouse was restored.13
The 1100-acre horsepens tract left Joseph Maddock's hands when he went bankrupt in 1775. James Habersham bought the property at auction, but it was later repurchased by the Quaker Camm Thomas in 1796. Jonathan Sell and his family left the state for western North Carolina in 1787, and he transferred trusteeship of the 500-acre cowpens tract to Friends Joel Cloud and Camm Thomas when he left. Sell declared that his fellow Friends would be in charge of the land "as long as there remain one of the People called Quakers in said place."14 It is therefore the case that most of the common lands owned by the Quakers before the Revolutionary War later came back into their hands as private holdings.
Joseph Maddock appealed to a Commission on Petitions associated with the Georgia House of Assembly in 1783, probably for debt relief or on appeal for seizure of the meetinghouse tract. Her certainly never recovered financially after the war, but he was likely forgiven his past transgressions by the Friends. He died in 1796, destitute but not hounded for his loyalist activities during the war.
The Wrightsborough Quaker Reserve became simply the town of Wrightsboro after the war. The Friends were no longer privileged: they had no lands reserved for them, they could no longer approve new settlers, and they received no special tax and office-holding consideration. All of the special settlement inducements evaporated with the demise of English rule. Some Friends left the area for new opportunities in western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee. Others remained and tried to rebuild the community. But times were changing.
Before the Revolution, the Quakers had prospered with their free-labor crops and the cash crop of tobacco. After the war, Georgians became interested in slave-cultivated crops, especially cotton. Before the war, Wrightsborough had been a sparsely settled area with small satellite meetinghouses dotting the countryside. Now, a wave of new settlers was washing over the area, many with land grants for service in the colonial army. All sorts of denominations built churches in what had been the Quaker Reserve. There were also more taverns and other meeting places which were of a decidedly non-religious character. The quality of life for devout Friends was slipping, and many younger members were causing disciplinary problems and even leaving the Society. Georgia Friends began to look around for a new "promised land," a place where they could once again live apart.
George Fox is the Clerk of the Ogeechee Friends Monthly Meeting (Southeastern Yearly Meeting) in Statesboro, Georgia. He is also Associate Professor of Political Science at Georgia Southern College. Martha Franklin Daily assisted with the research for this project, and Crystal Glisson drew the period map showing the Wrightsborough Township.
George White, ed., Historical Collections of Georgia (New York:
Pudney and Russell, 1855), pp. 603-604.
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