« VorigeDoorgaan »
ical account of their doctrines, and discipline, in his celebrated Apology.
It is impossible not to admire the intense zeal of the Quakers during their early history in the promulgation of their principles, and the self-denial and snfferings they have endured in prosecuting their mission. Delicate and defenceless women have travelled as female apostles to distant parts of the earth, and endured the most cruel indignities. In 1656, Margaret Fisher and Ann Austin arrived at Boston in Massachusets. They were apprehended ere they could land, committed to close prison, searched in a brutal manner by being stripped naked, lest they should be witches. They with eight others who arrived afterwards were sent away as a pestilent sect; but the precaution was in vain, for their principles had entered the city, and remained behind when they left. An aged citizen and church member of Boston, who was found to be the first man favourably inclined towards them, was fined, imprisoned, and banished in the depth of winter. In Rhode Island he was hospitably entertained by an Indian chief, who offered, if he would live with him, to make him “a warm house,” observing “ What a God have the English who deal so with one another about their God.” What a rebuke to the persecutors of all sects and parties from the lips of the red man of the woods! The most savage laws were passed at Boston against the Quakers; the scourge was first applied without regard to age or sex; mutilation by cutting off the ears followed ; but as these brutalities were found insufficient to wear out the zeal of the patient and heroic sufferers, they were ordered to be sold for slaves; and though this law was too bad to be executed, it was soon followed by another which doonied them to death if found within the colony after a certain
time : and this statute of blood was fulfilled in the year 1658, in the martyrdom of William Robinson, Marmaduke Stevenson, William Liddra, and Mary Dyar, who were hanged at Boston. The persecutors in this case were undoubtedly Independents. It was now only thirtyeight years since, driven out by the fierce intolerance of the English hierarchy and the court of High Commission, the Pilgrim Fathers had sailed in the Speeduell and May Flower to the wilds of America, and gathered, in their varied sufferings the bitter fruit of persecution on that desolate shore ; now, while some of them might be yet living, and when the bulk of the acting generation must have been their children, did they exercise a cruelty which was an imitation of that which had driven them from their native country, and an improvement upon the copy. Spirit of Robinson, where wast thou, that, with frowning aspect thou didst not visit these thy descendants, now turned recreants to the cause of religious freedom! To the honour of the English Independents, however, it must be recorded that by the pen of Dr. Owen they wrote a letter to dissuade those of New England from pursuing the bloody work.*
The Quakers partook, in common with others, of the benefits of James's Indulgence; and then, with the rest of the nonconformists, came at the Revolution under the protection of the Toleration Act +
* In extenuation of this conduct of the Independents of New England, it is asserted that some of the female sufferers were guilty of great indecorum as signs of divine judgments; and that some of the other sex disturbed public worship by their conduct. If this were true, the magistrates should have known how to preserve
the peace of the colony without the sacrifice of humanity. + The conduct of Penn during the reign of James has always been the subject of severe animadversion, and Macaulay's History does but little to dissipate the clouds of reproach which even at the time, and fron some of his own body, had collected round his name.
As George Fox was born at Drayton in Leicestershire, and spent his early years in that place, it is natural that after he had received his impressions to commence a public ministry he should think of the neighbourhood of his birth-place, and that so important a town as Birmingham should attract his attention and excite his zeal. He states in his journal that in the year 1655 he held a meeting in this town, when several persons were convinced of the truth of his doctrines, and became his followers. It is also stated in a book of records kept at the meeting-house in Bull-street, that on the eighth of January, 1659, the people called Quakers were met at the house of William Reynolds, when William Dewsbury and others were present, who were pulled out of the house by John Cotterill, constable, and a rude multitude with him, with swords and staves. Some of these harmless and unoffending people were beaten and abused by the populace, and the windows were broken in the presence of the constable. The substance of this statement is also recorded in Basse's History of the Sufferings of the Quakers," who adds, “The like treatment the Friends met with when religiously assembled in the house of William Bailey:" and Basse states that in the same year, 1659, William Heath, of Birmingham, had his goods taken for tithe.
It is very clear, therefore, from this account, that the commencement of the society of Friends in Birmingham was about 1655, and that up to 1659 they had no place of public assembly, but met for worship in private houses. Tradition speaks of a meeting-house in Monmouth-street, where there is still a small buryingground, but no documents attest it. There is great probability, however, that this was the original seat of Quaker worship. The existence of a cemetery is a
strong presumption of there having been a place for worship. The meeting-house in Bull-street was erected, it is supposed, sometime between the year 1702 and 1705, and was enlarged in 1778, at a cost of between five and six hundred pounds; and an addition was made to it also in 1844. The present number of members, including children, is 380.
To the powerful influence of a national establishment of religion this small but truly respectable body of professing Christians, though more widely separated from it than any other, has not shewn itself to be insensible ; for though fenced in by the most stringent laws of fellowship, they, like the members of other nonconformist bodies, are often found withdrawing to join the Church of England. Still among them, as also among others, are many who retain their convictions, their profession, and their consistency.
It would be invidious to select and mention individuals, otherwise names might be inscribed on this page, not unworthy to be recorded with those of Joseph John Gurney and his illustrious sister, Mrs. Fry, the heroine of Newgate. Conspicuous in all works of Christian benevolence are to be found the members of this community. If the slave is to be emancipated, they are foremost to strike off his fetters : if the children of the poor are to be educated, they were among the first to set up schools for that purpose; if the victims of intemperance are to be reclaimed, they enrol themselves among the members of temperance societies; and if the starving and pestilence-smitten population of Ireland were to be rescued from misery and death, they took the lead in the liberality of their contributions, and the wisdom and energy of their active endeavours ;-in short, wherever the squalid form of human misery is to be seen, there also is to be seen the Quaker form of Christian mercy seeking to relieve it. Such are the Quakers of this town, as well as of every other place.
One of the most extraordinary men, which in modern times have lived in our world, was John Wesley. To that servant of God and man, millions in time and through eternity will turn with gratitude as the instrument directly or indirectly of their salvation. He was the founder of a society which is already planted in every quarter of the globe, and which is exerting a powerful influence over the moral interests and eternal destinies of its inhabitants. When the names of heroes will be detested, and those of statesmen, philosophers, and poets will be forgotten, his will stand out in memorials radiant with the glories of paradise, and lasting as the ages of eternity. Mr. Wesley, in the year 1729, was Fellow of Lincoln College, Oxford, where, under the influence of a vague notion of the importance of religion, he spent some evenings of the week in reading the Greek Testament, with his brother Charles and one or two more, who at length admitted three or four of the students to join with them in these exercises. This little band commenced visiting the sick in different parts of the city, and the prisoners in the jail. Two years after, they were joined by three others, of whom one was the celebrated George Whitfield. It was impossible that the candle thus lighted could be put