The Seeds of Activism


“The Calico!  O the Calico!”  Wrote Anne Cooper in 1762.  “I think tobacco and tea and calico may all be set down with the keeping of negroes, all one as bad as another.”


Anne Whitall Cooper Diary, 18,iii. 1762, Haverford.



“May we look upon our treasures, the furniture of our houses, and our garments, and try whether the seeds of war have nourishment in these our possessions.  Holding treasures in the self-pleasing spirit is a strong plant, the fruit whereof ripens fast.  A day of outward distress is coming and Divine Love calls for us to prepare against it.”


John Woolman, Journal, Whittier Edition (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1871), Appendix, p. 307






The Quakers of Iowa

By Louis Thomas Jones, 1914


Part I, chapter III “Western Migration”




 It may be asked: Why did the Quakers migrate from the South in such numbers? The answer to this question has a direct bearing upon the history of the Quakers in Iowa.

          For many years there had been forces at work within the Society of Friends which had made the holding of slaves not only incompatible with membership in the order, but had also rendered the institution of slavery extremely repugnant to the Quaker mind.(36) As the slave power seized with a firmer grasp the economic control of the South, the Quakers there, most of whom were agriculturists with small holdings, were thrown into unbearable competition with cheap slave labor, and at the same time were held in contempt, because of their objection to the holding of “property in man”, by those in authority. Numerous Quaker ministers, among them the well-known John Woolman, had traveled throughout the South, pointing out to their brethren the danger of their position. The whole situation came to a climax in 1803 and in the following manner.

          Zachariah Dicks, a prominent minister in the Society of Friends and supposed to have the gift of prophecy, appeared at the Bush River Meeting in South Carolina and began to warn the Friends of a terrible “internecine war”, which was to come upon America because of slavery “within the lives of children then living.” He there raised his voice in prophetic utterance and said: “Oh, Bush River! Bush River! How hath thy beauty faded away and gloomy darkness eclipsed thy day!(37) He continued southward with his words of warning, going as far as Wrightsborough, Georgia. Everywhere, the Friends took alarm and began their “hegira”. In 1800 the Quakers in South Carolina and Georgia could have been counted by the thousands; in 1809 they were nearly all gone. They “sold their lands, worth from ten to twenty dollars per acre, for from three to six dollars, and departed, never to return.” They poured into western Ohio, and on into the Whitewater Valley in Indiana. They sought a land where, by the Ordinance of 1787, there was to be “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude…otherwise than in the punishment of crimes”.

          Thus were the two sides of the Ohio Valley peopled with those who in derision were early called Quakers, and who were now to struggle with the social, economic, and political problems peculiar to the two regions.(38) Moreover, when the sons and daughters of these same pioneers once again loaded their heavy wagons and moved off to the westward they came directly to Iowa. Here upon the soil of the first free State west of the Mississippi River the lines from the North and the South converged; the varied habits of life, traits of character, manners, customs, and beliefs were to be moulded and fashioned together; and out of the combination was to come that which to-day is characterized as “Western Quakerism”.”


End Notes:


28- Weeks’s Southern Quakers and Slavery, p. 85.

32- Weeks’s Southern Quakers and Slavery, pp. 96-125.

30- Quoted in Ramsey’s Annals of Tennessee, p. 95.

31- Thwaites’s Daniel Boone, Ch. I.

32-Weeks’s Southern Quakers and Slavery, p. 252.

33- Weeks’s Southern Quakers and Slavery, p. 253.

34-The text of the Ordinance of 1787, together with a list of references, may be found in Shambaugh’s Documentary Material Relating to the History of Iowa, Vol. I, pp. 47-55.

35- For an excellent account of The Quakers in the Old Northwest see Harlow Lindley’s paper under that title in the Proceedings of the Mississippi Valley Historical Association for 1911-1912, pp. 60-72.

36- Sharpless’s A History of Quaker Government in Pennsylvania, Vol. II, Ch. X.

37- Weeks’s Southern Quakers and Slavery, p. 307. See note, p. 307, taken from O’Neall’s Annals of Newberry.

38- For the striking difference between the settlement of the Northwest Territory and that of Kentucky and Tennessee, see Roosevelt’s The Winning of the West (Prairie Edition, 1903), Vol. V, pp. 5-7.





“The migration of the Quakers into this new land of promise began even before 1787. Stragglers from Virginia and western Pennsylvania early moved across the Ohio and began the formation of the Quaker settlements in the present counties of Columbiana, Jefferson, and Belmont in the eastern part of the State of Ohio. Over the Kanawha, the Kentucky, and the Magadee-Richmond roads the Quakers came in from the South and all but took complete possession of the present counties of Highland, Clinton, and Warren in southwestern Ohio, where they built up numerous and prosperous communities such as Center and Miami. Later they entered into the fertile Whitewater Valley in eastern Indiana, there laying the foundations of the Indiana Yearly Meeting of Friends. To this latter region it is said that no less than six thousand Quakers came from the four States of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, between the years 1800 and 1860.(35)