Sunday, August 1, 2010

Our Quaker Predecessors

Yesterday, quite by accident, I discovered Anna Bradbury's History of the City of Hudson, published in 1908, online. I read it a few years ago and remember that it contains some wonderful anecdotal information about the beginnings of our town. So I decided to read it again and share with you some of the better bits. For this Sunday morning, I offer the following account of Sunday mornings with our Quaker forebears.

Stephen B. Miller, whose poem is quoted at the end of this excerpt, was the author of
Historical Sketches of Hudson, which had been published in 1862. In the Preface to her book, Anna Bradbury acknowledges her indebtedness to Miller's book: "Had that work been still in print this would not have been written. The fear that its valuable material would be lost, together with the numerous inquiries in relation to the early history and settlement of Hudson, led to the preparation of this volume."

Their places of worship were like their garb and language, devoid of all unnecessary ornament, not even a coat of paint being admissible on either the interior or exterior, which last possessed nothing to designate its character or use to a stranger.

The audience-room was divided by a high partition through the centre which entirely separated the sexes, and was furnished with hard wooden benches, while facing these were arranged a few elevated seats, for the elders of the society, and from which the preachers discoursed, whenever the spirit moved them.

The juveniles of the congregation were relegated to the rear of the respective divisions, and an early writer gives a graphic account of his efforts to keep awake, and thus avoid the rap on the head administered by the cane of a watchful elder. He relates that one Jethro Bell, the better to perform this duty seated himself among the youthful offenders, and on one particularly warm Sunday, while leaning forward, with his chin on his cane fell fast asleep!

An ungodly boy, pretending to flick a fly from the elder's nose, hit the cane and Jethro fell sprawling upon his face. We can imagine the horror of the whole assembly at this breach of decorum, and the deep but silent enjoyment of the boys. . . .

The same simplicity that marked their place and form of worship, was carried into every department of life. They never uncovered their heads in the meeting house or on any public occasion, and never made use of any titles in their address of each other, or of the "world's people," simply calling everyone by their given name.

The Quaker dress was severely plain. No jewelry was tolerated, and it never varied either in style or color, but there was a quaintness in the dove-colored dress and bonnet, and sheer crossed 'kerchief' that was very attractive.

Lovers of order, hospitable, benevolent, industrious, and peaceful in all their pursuits, were these fascinating members of a society, that not only originated and adorned, but was itself the best example of the "simple life."

A little rhyme by the late Stephen B. Miller well commemorates the "Friends" of those early days of the Proprietors; we give a portion of it.

Full four-score years and ten ago
From those lone and sea-girt places,
Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket
Came the Folgers, Jenkins, Macys
And the Paddocks, Worths and Daytons,
And there were Coffins, full a score.
With many more a home to find
Upon North River's quiet shore.

They are all gone! and in our streets
Of those plain days there scarce a trace is,
Little save names are left to tell
Of Bunkers, Jenkins, Barnards, Macys.
Simple in heart, peace-loving men
With sober-minded, worthy dames.
All sweet within and drab without,
And all with good old Scripture names.

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