American Quaker War Tax Resistance Before the Revolution

A good summary of the Quaker Peace Testimony and its relation to military fines and taxes can be found in Stephen B. Weeks’s Southern Quakers and Slavery: A Study in Institutional History ().

Today I’ll reproduce some excerpts from that book that speak to Quaker tax resistance in the years before the American Revolution. Some of this I may end up cutting from the book I’m preparing on Quaker war tax resistance because it deals with the tangential (but interesting to me) issue of the Regulator War and the Whiskey Rebellion, both of which were tax rebellions, and in both of which a certain fighting Quaker — Hermon Husband — played a prominent role.

Before the Revolution

Southern Quakers have been pretty uniform in their testimony against war. Their position met with small respect in any of these colonies. They refused to train and were fined. They refused to pay the fine and it was collected by distress or they were imprisoned. They were alike unmoved by distress or imprisonment. The officers were forced to abandon persecution by the firm meekness of the persecuted.

Friends were always careful to put their sufferings on record. Whatever else the Quaker might suffer, he could not bear for the shade of oblivion to come over the record of his testimonies. They seem to have suffered from militia laws at an earlier period in Virginia than in North Carolina. The first law that comes under our notice is the one of , which recites that “divers refractory persons” have “refused to appear upon the days of exercise and other times when required to attend upon the public service,” and then imposes on them for each neglect a fine of 100 pounds of tobacco. The new militia act of makes no exemption of Quakers. The fine was the same as before. It was collected by distress, or imprisonment was inflicted, and the records indicate that Friends suffered from the law.

The first trial of this kind in North Carolina dates from . In the Culpeper rebellion in this colony in , Friends first gave their allegiance to the government of Miller and Eastchurch. When the party of the people came into power, in accord with their well-known principles of non-resistance, they submitted to it; but declared themselves a “separated people,” and that they “stood single from all the seditious actions” which had taken place in Albemarle in .

“Then some suffering fell upon friends which we not finding in ye old Book, we thought good to insert here; so that it may be seen generations to come,” says the chronicler, writing of the year . “It was thus, the government made a Law that all that would not bear arms in ye Muster-field, should be at ye Pleasure of ye Court fined, accordingly friends not bearing arms in ye field; they had several friends before ye Court, and they fined them he that had a good Estate a great sum & ye rest according to their estates; and Cast them into prison, & when they were in prison, they went & levied their fines upon their estates; There were nine friends put in prison, viz. William Bundy John Price, Jona Phelps James Hogg John Thusstone Henry Prows Rich. Byer Saml Hill Steven Handcock. They were put in prison about .”

This record of persecution comes to us from the manuscript records of the Society. It is a new one, and one which the author is inclined to attribute entirely to the disordered state of the colony. The “rebellion” of Culpeper was at an end, but its leaders were still the controllers of the policy of the government, and the persecution may have been due to vindictiveness against the publishers of the protest which we have noticed. This is borne out by the fact that of the nine Friends imprisoned, the names of three, perhaps of five, were signed to the protest. There seems to have been no further persecution.

The North Carolina Quakers were prominent in the first part of the “Cary Rebellion,” . This was a war of words only…. They refused to fight in the Indian war of . They steadily exhorted each other not to go to this war, and even punished such of their members as paid the five pound penalty attached to the refusal. As soon as the Government ceased to persecute them, they settled down to quiet and made good citizens.

North Carolina Quakers seem to have had a comparatively easy time. In theory they were under disadvantages from muster laws, but in reality they suffered little. In they protest against the tax levied to provide a magazine for each county, for that would be “to wound” their tender conscience. In they consult London Friends as to paying the tax levied in provisions to support troops. We do not know the answer. Committees were appointed from time to time to confer with the authorities on this and similar matters. They seem to have come to little conclusion. Muster fines, sometimes collected by distress, are reported at nearly every meeting, but they were small in amount, and the muster law, like the tithe law, seems to have been spasmodically enforced.

In Virginia, on the other hand, Friends had a harder road to travel. Fines were heavier and were more rigidly collected. As early as the Yearly Meeting recorded that “Friends are generally fined for not bearing arms and that grand oppression of priests wages, though the magistrates are pretty moderate at present and truth gains ground.” In Governor Spotswood came in conflict with Friends over this testimony. He undertook to force assistance from them on the ground that otherwise the lazy and cowardly would plead conscience; some Friends yielded so far as to assist in building forts. The sense of the Yearly Meeting was “that those Friends who have given away their Testimony, by hiring, paying, or working, to make any fort, or defense against enemies, do give from under their hands to the monthly meeting for the clearing the truth.”

It is to be understood, of course, that there was no recognition or exemption of dissenting ministers in the military acts. The military law of exempted “ministers,” while that of confined it to ministers of the Church of England. This indicates that dissenting ministers had claimed exemption under the broader law, and that the Assembly was not willing to recognize them.

The act of , exempted all Quakers from personal service, but required them to furnish a substitute, or to be fined for neglect. This law, while seeming to be one looking toward recognition of the peculiar views of Friends, was not in reality such. To a society which condemns war and all its paraphernalia in toto, personal exemption can be no favor. It was no favor to a Quaker to allow him to send a substitute or pay a fine. In they record that their sufferings had been “very considerable,” both on account of “militia and priests’ wages,” and are of the opinion that they “are likely to increase greatly on that account.” In they say “the men in military power act toward us in several counties with as much lenity and forbearance as we can reasonably expect, as they are ministers of the law; though in some places they are not so favorable,” and Friends had been in prison for neglect of military duties during the visit of Bownas.

and the period just preceding it were times of great trial to Friends in this matter. The English settlers believed that French agents were trying to stir up the Indians, and that in the onslaught against English civilization the Indians would be led by Frenchmen, little more civilized or humane in their conduct of war than the savages themselves. To guard against this the Assembly of Virginia passed various acts in , , , , , , , for raising levies and recruits, for the better training of militia, and keeping them in readiness. The Assembly also undertook to increase the number of available troops, and, to fill the quotas of the militia, passed laws in and , requiring the members of the county militia who had no wives or children to stand a draft; but any person drafted might secure a substitute, or be released on the payment of ten pounds. If they refused they were imprisoned until they agreed to serve, to procure a substitute, or paid the fine. From time to time it voted various sums to be expended on these matters and on the better defense of the province.

The tax, since it was laid for war purposes, was a source of trouble. But Friends generally complied in paying this tax without inquiring too closely into the way it was spent. English Friends wrote that this was their custom, and it was also the custom of the Pennsylvania Friends. This caused some of the Friends who were not anxious to pose as martyrs to treat the fine for refusing to stand the draft or procure a substitute as a part of the general levy. This fine when paid also went for war purposes, but the Society as a whole denounced the practice and warned their members against it.

The act of , did not exempt the Quakers.…

Here, a footnote reads: “The next act, for ‘the better regulating and training the militia,’ in prescribing accoutrements says ‘that every person so as aforesaid enlisted (except the people commonly called Quakers, free mulattoes, negroes and Indians),’ etc., which indicates that they were not on the same footing as others, but that this did not mean exemption is shown clearly from their records. Nor are they included in the list of exempted persons mentioned in section three of the same act.”

…An act of , provided that every twentieth man of the county militia should be drafted and sent to the frontier at Winchester under Col. Washington. This is followed by another for “better regulating and disciplining the militia,” which exempted ministers of the Church of England, but no dissenting ministers. Nor were Quakers mentioned in the section directing the accoutrements, as was done in the similar act of . They were shown no favors, and the Yearly Meeting records of state that seven young men had already been carried to the frontier. They asked advice of London Yearly Meeting in the case. They exhorted the men thus tried to remain faithful to their testimony, took up a collection for their relief, and recorded that Friends were “pretty generally faithful.” In their epistle to London Yearly Meeting in they stated that those Friends were now released who had been imprisoned the year before, that application had been made to the Assembly about this requirement, and that the officers now had a more favorable opinion of Friends. This was probably the severest trial through which Virginia Friends were called to go because of this testimony.

The North Carolina Quakers also thought it necessary for them to attend the courts-martial in and give the reasons of Friends for not attending musters, and likewise to send a petition to the Governor against the militia law, but it does not appear that they were brought to trial on these points during the French and Indian war.

In Virginia Quakers appointed a committee to petition the Assembly for relief from military fines, etc. This petition may have had influence on the law passed in . By this law Quakers were exempted from appearing at private or general musters, and were not required to provide a set of arms as all other exempts were. So far the law is good; it is further provided that the chief militia officer in each county should list all Quakers of military age, and if needed, these would have to go into actual service just as other persons, except that they might furnish a substitute or pay a fine of ten pounds. But the number of Quakers who were thus required to serve or find substitutes was not to exceed the proportion the whole number of Quakers bore to the whole number of other militia. The law required also that no Quaker should be exempted from musters unless he produced a testimonial that he was a bona fide Quaker.

This law was a decided gain for the Quaker, although it was not a complete recognition of his position on war. It recognized this position absolutely in times of peace by exempting him from musters, and even gave him a privilege over other exempts by relieving him from the requirement to furnish a set of arms. But it failed him entirely in time of war. As early as an attempt had been made in North Carolina to get a law exempting Quakers, but it was opposed by the Council, who offered to substitute in place of the regular equipment of the soldier that of the pioneer — axe, spade, shovel or hoe. This failed to become law; but by the terms of a special act, which is substantially a copy of the Virginia law of , passed in for five years, Quakers were released from attendance on general or private musters, provided that they were regularly listed and served in the regular militia in case of insurrection or invasion. From a petition which the Quakers presented to the Governor and the Assembly of North Carolina in , we may conclude that Tryon had in some cases exempted them from the penalty of the laws. We find also certificates of unity given to some of their members, who were liable to military duty, in . These certificates seem to have relieved them practically from all militia requirements.

At the beginning of the Revolution, Friends had been exempted from attending musters in Virginia and North Carolina, but not from being enrolled in the militia or from serving in case of insurrection. I have found no indications that Quakers had been exempted at this time from military laws in South Carolina and Georgia. They were too weak in both of these provinces to affect their legislation. There had been some suffering in South Carolina on account of this testimony about the time of the Yemassee war in .

Quakers kept a careful record of all the fines they suffered by distress or otherwise. These sufferings varied from year to year according to the personal feeling of the officers. They were heavier in Virginia than in North Carolina; only in do we find an entry in that State of sufferings amounting to £85 and over for tithes and “malissia” fines.…

I have no idea what a “malissia” fine is. Any clue?

Oh. I get it. It’s a phonetic spelling of “militia” by someone who was unfamiliar with the word.

…The chief cause of suffering there was for tithes. In Virginia, on the other hand, the fines seem to have been about equally divided.

Another footnote here: “They have recorded fines for neglect of military duty in Virginia as follows: , £12 5s.; , £84 11s. 5d.; , £61 1s.; , £131 8s. 1d.; , £59 14s. 8d.; , £10 9s. 2d.; , £16 14s.; , £4 11s. 6d.; , £86 19s. 4½d., mostly military. From this time there is no distinction between ‘priest’s wages’ and militia fines. The sums are as follows: , £98 13s. 5d.; , £108 6s. 10d.; , £90 14s.; , £80 13s.; , £103; , £74 12s. 6d.; , £113 11s. 10d.; , £109; , £133; , £67; , £3 5s.”

There has been an extensive belief that Friends were active in the War of the Regulation in North Carolina in . This belief is founded partly on the charge of Governor Tryon, that the Regulators were a faction of Baptists and Quakers who were trying to overthrow the Church of England. This charge, like the similar charge made by the aristocracy in North Carolina in , is more easily made than proved. The Quakers are easily shown from their records not to have been Regulators. There were, of course, individual Quakers who took part in the Regulation; many more no doubt sympathized with the principles advocated; but no complicity with the events of was tolerated by the meetings in their organic capacity.

The foundation for this charge lies, no doubt, largely in the fact that Hermon Husband, the leader of the Regulators, had been a Quaker. He had been disowned by the Society, however, but not for immorality, as Governor Tryon states. Since no North Carolina Quaker is more widely known than Husband, it is desirable that we know as many facts as possible of his life. Hermon Husband was born , in all probability in Cecil County, Md. His grandfather, William Husband, made a will, . He writes himself as of “Sissil” County, Maryland; he had cattle, “Hoggs and sheape,” and negroes, and speaks of “the Iron works that belongs to me.” He had a good deal of land. William, the father of Hermon, was also of Cecil County. His will was probated . He also had negroes, and was not a Quaker. His son Joseph, born , was the first of the family to turn Quaker. His convincement influenced Hermon among others. Hermon became a prominent man among the Quakers of East Nottingham, Md. He once got a certificate to visit Barbadoes. He was first in North Carolina about , when he removed to Carver’s Creek Monthly Meeting in Bladen County. How long he remained here we do not know, but on , he presented a certificate of removal to Cane Creek Monthly Meeting. He returned from Cane Creek to Nottingham in , and, on , presented a certificate of removal from Cane Creek to West River Monthly Meeting, Md. He got a certificate to go back to Cane Creek, , and on , Friends report to Cane Creek that the marriage of Hermon Husband and Mary Pugh had been orderly.

Footnote: “At this period Husband also set up some claims to authorship, as the following title will show: Some | Remarks | on | Religion, | With the Author’s Experience in Pursuit thereof, | For the Consideration of all People; | Being the real Truth of what happened. I Simply delivered, without the Help of School-Words, or Dress | of Learning. | Philadelphia: | Printed by William Bradford for the Author. | . Octavo, pp. 88. (Hildeburn’s Issues of the Press in Pa.) The copy in Library Company of Philadelphia has the author’s name noted on the title-page in the handwriting of Du Simitiere. At the end of the tract it is said to have been ‘written about .’ ”

This year a commotion began in Cane Creek Monthly Meeting which led to the disownment of Husband, the suspension of others, and involved the monthly meeting, the quarterly meeting, and even the Yearly Meeting, in a religious wrangle. The origin of this trouble was as follows: In , Rachel Wright, a member of Cane Creek Monthly Meeting, committed some disorder. She offered a paper condemning the same. This seems to have been accepted, and in she asked for a certificate of removal to Fredericksburg, S.C. But some members of the monthly meeting thought she was not sincere in the paper offered and did not wish to give her the certificate. A wrangle resulted, and the case was appealed to the quarterly meeting, which recommended that the certificate be given. Husband, evidently a man who was accustomed to speak fearlessly, was thereupon “guilty of making remarks on the actions and transactions” of the meeting; he spoke “his mind,” and was guilty of “publicly advertising the same”; for this he was disowned by Cane Creek Monthly Meeting, . But in the meantime his party had grown, and a number of Friends signed a paper in which they expressed dissatisfaction with the disowning of Husband. The quarterly meeting then appointed a committee to advise with the malcontents, of whom the leaders were said to be Hermon Husband, Joseph Maddock, Isaac Vernon, Thomas Branson, John and William Marshill, and Jonathan Cell, “with divers others.” In , the committee report “that it would be of dangerous consequences to allow them the privilege of active members, or to be made use of as such in any of our meetings of business until suitable satisfaction is made for their outgoings.” Maddock, Cell and the Marshills felt “uneasy and aggrieved with the proceedings and judgment of this meeting,” and filed notice of an appeal to the Yearly Meeting. The Yearly Meeting decided that Western Quarterly Meeting did wrong in granting a certificate to Rachel Wright, “if it was to be made a precedent,” and that the minute of the quarterly meeting which suspended from active membership those who had signed the other paper expressing dissatisfaction with the disowning of Hermon Husband should be reversed. The quarterly meeting thereupon acknowledged itself wrong in the matter of Rachel Wright; Fredericksburg Monthly Meeting was informed of the conditions surrounding the certificate, and the parties under ban were restored to active membership, for we find Joseph Maddock and William Marshill serving as representatives from Cane Creek Monthly Meeting to Western Quarterly Meeting in . But this did not restore Husband. He had been formally disowned, and disappears from this time from the records of North Carolina Quakerism. It is probable that some of these discontented Friends were led by this trouble to join the Regulators. It does not appear that the trouble was healed, for we find that two men, Joseph Maddock and Jonathan Sell, laid the foundation of the Georgia settlement of Friends in . They were no doubt the same as the persons who have just been mentioned. It is probable that they carried a considerable contingent of settlers with them from Cane Creek.

It is now time for us to return to Hermon Husband and the part taken by Friends in the War of the Regulation. Caruthers, who gives the traditions among the people who knew him, characterizes Husband as a man of superior mind, grave in deportment, somewhat taciturn, wary in conversation, but when excited, forcible and fluent in argument. He was a man of strict integrity and firm in his advocacy of the right. He had considerable property, and took the part of the people in their complaints against the extortions of the officers. He was a member of the Assembly in . His participation in the Regulation movement brought the Government down on him, and he was imprisoned for more than fifty days, awaiting trial on charges on which the grand jury could not agree to return an indictment. He was also presented for riot under an ex post facto law, and was six times acquitted by juries in Craven and Orange counties of all offenses alleged against him. He was expelled from the Assembly, and after the battle of the Alamance, at which he was not present, was outlawed, and a reward of $100, or 1,000 acres of land, was offered for his arrest, dead or alive. He soon left North Carolina, returned to Pennsylvania, and became prominent in the Whiskey Rebellion in .

Footnote: “I find in the minutes of Western Quarterly Meeting in a notice of the disorderly marriage of ‘Amey Allin now Husbands.’ Was this a second wife of Hermon Husband? In , William Husband was disowned by Cane Creek for fighting. Was he a son of Hermon?”

Husband’s career was clearly inconsistent with the unwarlike creed of the Quakers. His intentions were probably good, but because he had been a Quaker, the Society has had the credit of being a leader in the movement that culminated in the battle of the Alamance on . Without entering at all into the merits of that struggle, it is sufficient to say that Friends, as a body, had nothing to do with it, and in their official capacity condemned it to the fullest extent. A few extracts from their records will show this clearly. Cane Creek Meeting was in the center of the disturbance. The first mention we find of the troubles is in , when seven members were disowned for attending a “disorderly meeting,” probably one of the mass-meetings with which the country was then alive. In two Quakers were complained of for joining a body of persons to withdraw from the paying of the taxes. They were disowned. In Hermon Cox was disowned for joining the Regulators. In denials were published against Benjamin and James Underwood, Joshua Dixon, Isaac Cox, Samuel Cox and his two sons, Hermon and Samuel, James Matthews, John and Benjamin Hinshaw, William Graves, Nathan Farmer, Jesse Pugh, William Tanzy, John and William Williams, who all seem to have been Regulators. Thomas Pugh was also disowned for joining, and Humphrey Williams for aiding them. Three men were disowned by New Garden Monthly Meeting for joining, and a fourth condemned himself in meeting for aiding “with a gun.”

These are all the cases I have found that indicate the participation of the Quakers in the political and civil troubles of the day. They remained faithful to the Government. Governor Tryon made a requisition on them for twenty beeves and ten barrels of flour for his army. They agreed to furnish the things demanded, but pleaded that they could not do it within the limits of time set. In Friends asserted their loyalty and attachment to George Ⅲ., and at the beginning of the Revolution the Yearly Meeting, in its letter to the Society in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, gave forth their “testimony against all Plotting, Conspiracies, and insurrections against the king and government whatsoever as works of darkness.”

The Regulation, no doubt, had a bad effect on the Society in this section. The minutes of Cane Creek Monthly Meeting , fill but two pages, as if outside matters were attracting their attention. There were, moreover, many removals and few arrivals at Cane Creek. These troubles caused, no doubt, a considerable exodus of Quakers to Bush River, S.C., and to Wrightsborough, Ga., just as they sent many members of the Sandy Creek Baptist Association from the same section to the banks of the Watauga in Eastern Tennessee.