Historical Collections Relating to Gwynedd

By Howard M. Jenkins

Second Edition


Chapter 9. Establishment of the Friends' Meeting

In any narrative of the early life of Gwynedd, the Friends' meeting occupies a conspicuous place. It and the first settlement are associated in all accounts. The meeting is substantially as old as the township; the erection of the meeting-house was almost the first object of the people's common efforts; and for three-quarters of a century it was the only place of public worship within the township. Located at the geographical center, for the common convenience, it was the center, likewise, of the most important and serious interests of the community. These fervently religious people held sacred their house of worship, but , besides, it was dear to them as the place where they celebrated their simple but solemn ceremonials of marriage, and where, with repressed but not the less strong sorrow, they committed the remains of their dead to the final rest. Closely attached to each other, not only as countrymen whose race feeling is proverbial, but by ties of kindred which made them almost a single family, they formed in the beginning a singularly compact and united body, and when they gathered at the meeting-house, it was a re-union of members whose interests, feelings, and ideas were all in common. The First-day morning gathering, the exhortation by Robert Evans, or his brother Cadwallader; the greetings when meeting broke, the chat outside, under the white-oaks and buttonwoods, made a most important feature in the quiet life of the little community; while the visit of Friends from Merion or Plymouth, with a sermon by Hugh Roberts, Ellis Pugh, or Rowland Ellis, was an experience awakening its special interest; and such extraordinary occasions as an appointed meeting by a famous preacher, --Thomas Chalkey, or John Fothergill, perhaps, --were events that stirred it to its depths.

The minute-book of Gwynedd monthly meeting begins in 1714, with several minutes, reciting the authority (from Haverford monthly and Philadelphia quarterly meetings) for organizing the new monthly meeting, and it also gives the following historical account:

"This place hath been orignially settled by the present inhabitants, most of them yet living, and called by the name of Gwynedd township, in the latter end of the year 1698, and beginning of the year 1699. The Principal Settlers and Purchasers among others were William Jones, Thomas Evans, Robert Evans, Owen Evans, Cadwallader Evans, Hugh Griffith, John Hugh, Edward Foulke, John Humphrey, and Robert Jones. Amongst all those concern'd in this settlem't, there were but few particulars that publickly appeared for Truth before they came from their Native Country, though several among them were convinced and had a Secret Love to Truth and Its followers, and soon after gave Obedience & Gradually Joined in a new Society. These few mentioned, with the first Conveniency often met together to wait upon the Lord, at the houses of John Hugh and John Humphrey, until more were added to their numbers.

In the year 1700, two years after our arrival in this land, a Meeting House was Built, and meetings kept therein by the Consent and approbation of Haverford Monthly Meeting, unto which we a first Joyn'd ourselves, and under whose care we were for a time.

And finding our number to Increase, and Truth prevail, it was thought necessary to Build a new Meeting House, which was erected in 1712, and on the 19th of the Ninth Month in the same year the first meeting of worship was held therein.

Our numbers still Increasing by many adjacent Settlers Coming in, and a young Generation arising, and not having the opportunity of a Monthly Meeting of worship amongst ourselves, for benefit of the People in General, more especially the young and rising Generation, yt are not so well acquainted with the Discipline of Truth, a Consideration arose in the minds of Fr'ds ot Gwynedd and Plymouth Meetings, and a religious concern to have the same settled among us, and in order thereto profess'd their Inclination to Haverford Monthly Meeting for their approbation. The which was obtained, Together with the Concurrence of the Quarterly Meeting att Philadelphia, and immediately was put in practice."

This minute contains the substance of the history of the meeting, from the arrival of the settlers until 1714, but some further details may conveniently be added. The following is from the records of Philadelphia Monthly Meeting: "10th mo. 4th, 1699. Rowland Ellis, in behalf of Haverford Monthly Meeting, having acquainted this meeting that several Welsh people, Friends and others, are lately settled on ye East side of Scuylkill, in this county, about 20 miles off from this place, who for some time have had a First day's meeting by ye advice and consent of ye sd meeting of Haverford, which is also a Third day's weekly meeting, is approved, and in regard ye said people understand not ye English tongue, they desired to be joyned to Haverford Monthly Meeting for ye present, which is also approved of."

Minutes on the Haverford records are as follows:

1699. --There is a General Meeting appointed at Gwynedd, the second weekly Third-day (i.e. the second Tuesday) of every month, at the desire of Friends there.

1703. --Gwynedd Friends desire their Preparative Meeting removed from their General Meeting day to the last Third-day in the month; which was approved.

1714. --At the Monthly Meeting held at Radnor meeting-house, the 9th day of the 10th month, it is left for further consideration what time to appoint the monthly meetings of Gwynedd and Plymouth; which was left to the appointment of this meeting by the Quarterly Meeting [of Philadelphia]. Gwynedd and Plymouth Friends, after consideration what day is suitable for their Monthly Meeting, propose the last Third-day in every month; which this meeting acquiesces with.

But, returning to the time of the settlers' arrival, it must be understood that most of them were not then avowed Quakers. The language of the first minute quoted above is that there were "but few" who had publicly appeared as such, before coming over, though "several" had been convinced, and had "a secret love" for the Friends, etc. Of those who composed the "few" we are left uncertain, beyond the names of John Hugh and John Humphrey, but I am inclined to think that Hugh Griffith was another. The other settlers were still nominally members of the Established Church of England. It therefore resulted that at first the Friends met for religious service (as is stated in the minute) at the houses of John Hugh and John Humphrey; while others held a meeting on each Sabbath at the house of Robert Evans. The latter had no ordained minister, but Cadwallader Evans in part supplied the place of one by reading to them, as tradition says, from his Welsh Bible, --but, as very easily may have been, from the Church service-book itself. This meeting must have been composed, for some time, of a considerable number of persons, for it included most of the colony. In the winter's cold, next after their arrival, it is reasonable to presume that they crowded as best they could inside Robert's dwelling, but as the warmer days of spring came on, it may be believed that they found seats without, where upon the meadow bank that descends from the house to rivultet below, the Sabbath sun shone down upon them, and as he read, lighted the pages of Cadwallader's book.

Precisely how long this meeting was maintained is not certain; but probably not more than a year. When the first Friends' meeting-house was built, in 1700, it would appear that all joined in the work. The story is well-known how, according to tradition, the two bodies of worshipers were united, though there have been, at times, somewhat different versions of it. Jesse Foulke, of Penllyn, the great-grandson of Edward, the immigrant, seems to be our best authority. He was born in 1742, and had the society, until he grew to manhood, of his grandfather, Thomas Foulke, --who was nearly grown up, at the time of the settlement, and who lived until 1762, and could have been given Jeese details concerning the early experiences of the settlers. Jesse's account is this:

"But, as Cadwallader Evans himself related, he was going as usual to his brother Robert's, when, passing near to the road to Friends' meeting, held at John Hugh's and John Humphrey's, it seemed as if he were impressed 'to go down and see how the Quakers do.' This he mentioned to his friends at the close of their own meeting, and they all agreed to go to the Friends the next time; where they were all so well satisfied that they never again met in their own worship."

The other form of the story is that one of the brothers Evans was passing near a gathering at which William Penn was preaching, and that, hearing his voice, he paused to listen, and, deeply impressed, brought over his meeting to the Friends,

But it would be altogether unreasonable to attach very great weight to either of these stories. The first is the more likely, --the second being open to serious criticisms relating to dates, etc. The fact is that the settlement was made under the auspices and by the influence of the Welsh Friends, and must have been from the outset thoroughly sympathetic with them. Its close relationships of all kinds with the Merion Welsh, who were generally Friends, the leadership of Hugh Roberts in the immigraton, and facts known concerning the religious inclinations of the settlers, --e.g. Edward Foulke and his wife, --go to show that it was an easy and natural step for all to unite in one religious body. As to Robert Evans, indeed, the memorial of him by Gwynedd monthly meeting says that "some time before he left his native country he forsook the national worship, and went to Friends' meetings, and soon after his arrival entered into close fellowship with Friends." And as all accounts agree that it was at his house that the settlers who were churchmen assembled, it will be seen how unlikely it was that there was any considerable distance of religious opinion to be traversed between them and the others who were Friends. Robert and Cadwallader no doubt led them over, and the precise manner of change may easily have been according to the Jesse Foulke tradition.

The first meeting-house, built in 1700, was of logs. It must have been small. It stood on the site of the present house. The ground was part of the tract of Robert Evans. It is nearly the highest spot in the township, and almost exactly in the township's geographical center. The place was then covered with the original forest, but standing on such an elevation, and looking away to the south and south-east, a beautiful view must then have been enjoyed, as now it is, of the valley lands of the townships below, and of the distant slopes of Chestnut Hill. The height, the prospect, the forest-clad hill-sides, were all elements in the situation agreeable to the Welshmen, natives of a hill country, and lovers of the picturesque.

The second meeting-house, completed in 1712, was of stone, and much larger than the first. It stood, also, upon the same site as the present one, and was torn down when the latter was erected, in 1823. The subscription paper for its erection, long preserved in the family of Edward Foulke's descendants, was in Welsh, with the dates 1710-11, and had sixty-six signers, headed by William John and Thomas Evans. The sums given by each ranged from eleven pounds down to one pound, and aggregated about two hundred. Joseph Foulke, in his Journal says: "Hugh Griffith assisted in building the meeting-house, in the years 1711-12. The subscription paper, the preamble of which is in the Welsh language, is yet in our possession; some of the members contributed as much as the worth of one hundred bushels of wheat in that day. The house they erected was a permanent commodious stone building, with two galleries for the youth, and several principal rafters in a hip-roof, firmly united, so that taking it down in 1823, in order to build a new house, we found no small difficulty in separating the ancient woodwork."

At the time of establishing the monthly meeting, in 1714, Gwynedd must have become a strong meeting. The Friends at Plymouth were not so numerous. The monthly meeting was held at Gwynedd entirely, those from Plymouth attending there. This arrangement continued until 1719, when it was agreed to hold the monthly meeting at Plymouth four times a year, --in the 3rd, 6th, 9th and 12th months.

Before 1714, all the records concerning Gwynedd Friends --including marriages, births, deaths, removals, etc. --were kept in the Haverford books; after that time the Gwynedd monthly meeting books preserved such records. The marriage list in the latter begins with the two weddings of 6th month (August) 25th, when two of the Evans daughters, first cousins, --Sarah, the daughter of Thomas, and Ann, daughter of Robert, --married two bridegrooms from the Welsh Tract, beyond Schuylkill, --Edward Jones, son of John Evans, of Radnor, and William Roberts, son of Edward, of Merion. These marriages took place, as was the usage, in the meeting-house, in the presence of a large assembly; and though many others had already been solemnized there (under authority of Haverford monthly meeting) we can easily believe that this was regarded as a remarkable occasion. It needs little imagination to picture the stir the double wedding would cause in the settlement, or how lively a topic of conversation it must have made from the hills of Gwynedd away to the farthest farm-houses of Radnor and Haverford; nor is it difficult to see the two young wives mounting on horseback behind their husbands, and riding down by the rude road through Plymouth to the ford over the Schuylkill at Spring Mill, with curious but not unkind eyes gazing upon the cavalcade from every cabin that stood along the way.

The following further extracts from the early minutes of Gwynedd monthly meeting will present some additional facts of interest:

11th mo. 22, 1714-15: It is agreed that the monthly meeting for Gwynedd and Plymouth meetings is to be called by the name of Gwynedd Monthly Meeting, to be held the last Third-day in every month, unless occation appear for another day. John Evans is appointed by this meeting to be clerk for ye same. Edward Foulke and Robert Jones overseers.

2d mo. 26, 1715: Perquioman [Upper Providence] Friends are granted liberty until the 9th month next, to hold a meeting on the first First-day of every other month.

5th mo. 26th, 1715. Perquioman ffrds propsed for Liberty to Build a meeting-house and settle a Burying-Ground; the matter is referred to further consideration. --[Next month:] the matter being considered, Liberty as to the burying-place at present is only granted.

2nd mo. 25, 1725. Gwynedd First-day morning meeting to begin at 10 o'clock, by reason of ye afternoon meeting being held at several places.

1722. This meeting hath had in Consideration afternoon meetings & it is agreed yt our first-day morning's meeting begin at 10 o'clock, and in the afternoon at 4 o'clock.

1725. Gwynedd Friends acquainted this meeting [i.i. the monthly meeting, which included also Plymouth and Richland] "of their necessity to enlarge their meeting-house," and inquired whether they might take subscriptions from 'such as are frequenters' of the meeting. The latter question, "after some discourse is referred to ye Quarterly Meeting att Philadelphia;" [and in the same month following the report was made that the matter was left by the quarterly to the discretion of the monthly meeting.]

10th mo. 28, 1725. Gwynedd Friends have agreed with John Cadwalader, John Jones, and John Evans to perform ye enlargement of their meeting-house.

4th mo., 29, 1725. The Friends at Swamp [Richland, Bucks county] are granted leave to hold a Preparative Meeting.

1721. John Rumsford, from Haverford, and George Boone, from Abington, [present themselves] in order to joyn themselves to this meeting. "The said Friends also requested the concurrence of this meeting to fix a Convenient place for a burial, and liberty to build a Meeting-House thereon to accommodate the few Friends residing in them parts." [This refers to the establishment of the meeting at Oley, Berks county. A T

5th mo., 27, 1725. Friends at Oley granted a Preparative Meeting.

1725. Our Friends at ye Swamp moved att this meetting their necessity to settle a Burying-Ground, that by ye meetting being too rocky; desiring assistnace [etc.]. A committee is appinted to consult with them and endeavor to settle a place. [Next month:] The Friends appointed last meeting to assist Swamp Frds, having visited ye place proposed by them, Also concluding in some convenient time ye meetting-house may be removed there, They think it a proper place, and most of ye Frds residing there approve of it, and also this meeting does, too.

7th mo., 27, 1736. A Youth's Meeting is appointed on ye second Third-day of 2d and 8th months.

The quarterly meeting to which the Friends of Gwynedd originally belonged was that of Philadelphia. It was not until 1786 that Abington Quarter, composed of the monthly meetings of Abington, Horsham, Gwynedd and Richland, was established. This is now (1884) held at four several places once a year: at Abington in the second month, Horsham in the fifth, Gwynedd in the eighth, and Byberry in the eleventh.

From Gwynedd monthly meeting, after its establishment in 1714, other monthly meetings were presently set out. The Friends at Richland, increasing in numbers, and finding it a long distance to come to Gwynedd, had a monthly meeting granted them in 1742. In 1737, the settlement of Friends at Oley, which looked to Gwynedd as its parent, was allowed a monthly meeting. The Friends' settlement at Providence, (called commonly Perkiomen in the early records) was also an offshoot of Gwynedd, and Providence meeting, until it was "laid down", some fifteen years ago, belonged to Gwynedd Monthly Meeting. A minute, in 1723, of appointments of persons to keep "true accounts of births and burials, " names "Hugh Foulke and John Jones, for Gwynedd meeting, John Rees for Plymouth, George Boone for Oley, Andrew Cramer for Perquioman; none from the Swamp [Richland] at present."

The present meeting-house, much larger than that of 1712, ws built in 1823. At the time of its erection, the number of members and others who habitually attended warranted so large a house, but time is long since past when its benches are filled, except upon very extraordinary occasions [2001, editor's note - the nineteenth century saw a deep decline in Friends. After Jenkins' time (published 1897), the Friends rebounded and Gwynedd membership peaked again in 1960 at over 400, slightly above the numbers from the eighteenth century. Membership today is over 300, compared to less than 200 in 1897]. For a number of years it has been the custom to open only half the house --the southern end --on First-days, and even this is more than sufficient for the congregations that usually assemble.

footnote from p. 76: The Welsh Bibles of that day had prefixed a number of pages containing the Church of England services. The late Dr. J. J. Levick had the Bible of Thomas Jones, of Merion (son of John ap Thomas), and it is of this sort. It was "Printeedig yn Llundain gan John Bill, Christopher Barker, Thomas Newcomb, a Henry hills, Printyr, " in 1678; and Cadwallader's volume was probably of the same.

footnote from p. 77: source is Watson's Annals, Vol. II., p. 78-9

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