Tax Resistance Mentions in Hirst’s “Quakers in Peace and War”

A reader informed me that Margaret Hirst’s The Quakers in Peace and War: An Account of Their Peace Principles and Practice (1923) is available on-line.

This book may help us find the earliest threads of war tax resistance as they developed in the Society of Friends before that practice became prominent among American Quakers.

(Tithe resistance, and resistance of similar taxes intended for the maintenance of the established church, were common from the earliest days of the Society, though I’m not going to show all of the many examples of this here.)

The first mention of war tax resistance I noticed in the book was from a footnote in the opening chapter, which covers non-Quaker pacifist sects and themes through the history of Christianity:

The Huterites (led by Jacob Hunter [sic]) took refuge in Moravia about . English Quakers found them at Pressburg in Hungary in . Their general views were almost identical with the Mennonite Baptists, but they practised communism, and carried their peace principles to the point of refusing payment of war taxes. A few Churches founded by emigrants exist in South Dakota.

This suggests an avenue for future research (memo to myself…).

Chapter Ⅱ concerns the founding and early years of the Quakers. It includes this mention of Quakers being fined after being appointed Militia Commissioners under Oliver Cromwell but refusing to equip and man militias:

In Cromwell appointed new Militia Commissioners for the English and Welsh counties, upon whom rested the duty of raising a force. The horses, arms, and money required were to be obtained from Royalist estates, and used to equip the well-affected, who were formed into regiments and trained. Those who refused to train were to be fined £20, and the obstinate imprisoned. The policy of mulcting Royalist estates was soon abandoned, but the militia was maintained throughout the Protectorate, and heavy fines “for not sending a man to serve in the train-bands” soon became a common form of Quaker suffering. The earliest known instances are found in records for fines and distraints in kind at Colchester in , but it is almost certain that these were not isolated examples. After the Restoration, when Friends noted their sufferings with great accuracy, these fines are very frequent in all parts of the country.

Here, Hirst quotes from Norman Penney’s The First Publishers of Truth: Being Early Records (Now First Printed) of the Introduction of Quakerism Into the Counties of England and Wales, which reproduces records from the Richmond Monthly Meeting that say of one Richard Robinson:

…[He] was truly Valiant in bearing his Testimony for ye Truth, both under ye Conventicle Act & against Tythes & Steeplehouse Assessmts, &c., and also for not Paying as sending to ye Malitia, for wch faithfulness upon these Accounts he suffered Deeply & Chearfully both by Imprisonmt & Spoiling of Goods for ye Lords sake…

And, in another spot:

He Likewise Bare a faithfull Testimony against the paymt of Tythes, and Bearing or finding a man to the Militia, for he was all along Charged with finding a man, But always kept very Clear and never after his convincement would pay anything directly or Jndirectly, but suffered for the same by fines & distresses, frequently Jncourraging other friends to stand faithfull in their Testimony for Truth.

The “earliest known instances” of militia requisition resistance that Hirst mentions she also footnotes, and references this to Joseph Besse’s A Collection of the Sufferings of the People called Quakers for the Testimony of a Good Conscience, where these instances (amidst others which I’ll reproduce below) are given as follows:

John Furly of Colchester, for refusing to send a Horse and Man, when summoned to serve in the County Militia, suffered by Distress to the Value of 3l. 5s. Also, Arthur Condon, for a Demand of 4s. toward the Charge of the Trained-Bands, had a Coat taken from him worth 20s.

Chapter Ⅲ notes that there is documentary evidence of George Fox’s war tax being paid:

[A]s the military system of the country was reorganized upon a settled basis, Friends inevitably came into conflict with its demands. Acts were passed levying a poll tax for the maintenance of the war against the Dutch in , and of that with France in . From the account book kept by Sarah Fell of Swarthmore Hall, which still survives, it is evident not only that the women of the Fell family paid the tax for some property they held jointly with other owners, but that it was also paid by, or on behalf of, their stepfather George Fox.

That line item reads:

by mo pd to the Poll money for ffather & Mother0010200

(A note accompanying a reprint of Sarah Fell’s account book says: “It is noteworthy that payment was made of direct war taxes. Assessments on behalf of ‘Souldiers pay’ and ‘maimed Souldiers’ were also paid, and the Militia.”)

Hirst then notes:

An ancient document in the Friends’ Reference Library endorsed by Fox, “A paper concerning trebet [tribute] by g.f.,” apparently refers to one of these Acts, as it is also endorsed: “This is a copy of a letter sent to some Friends concerning the Poll Act.”

I found this in another source under the title “a paper consaring trebet by gf.” It reads:

Concerning ye in closed: paper: about ye poll act wch then montioned: it is knowne for this cause wee pay tribute or Custome & giue Cesar his due yt wee may Liue a godly and peaceable life vnder theme who are for the punishmt of Evell. Doers & for ye praise of them that doe well: & soe to the Earthly wee giue ye earthly. That is to Cesar: we giue vnto him his things & to god wee giue vnto him his things & soe in ye other pouers dayes wee did not forget on our parts though they did faile on theires who went aboute to hinder vs many times from our godly & peaceable liues soe in this thing soe doeing wee can plead with Cesar & plead with them yt hath our Custome & hath our tribute if they seeke to hinder vs from our godly & peaceable life wee haueing not been behind on our parts wch are for ye punishmt of evill doers, then might they say & plead agst us how can wee defend you against foraigne enemyes? & protect every one in theire estates and keep downe theeves & murderers yt one man should not take away anothers estate from him? much more I could say but wee haue not been behind for wee haue giuen vnto Cesar his things & Custome & tribute to whom it belongs for Conscience sake for ye punishmt of evill doers yt wee might liue a godly & peaceable life, though many haue let in evill doers vpon vs whom God hath Judged who pleads our cause vnto whom wee haue given his things.


(This is a Coppy of a letter sent to some friends concerning ye poll Act.)

(That’s hella hard to read, huh? I’ll put a modern-English version of it below.)

Fox’s argument here is the standard triple-whammy of 1 Peter 2:13–15, Romans 13:1–7, and Matthew 22:15–22, that has been employed by Christians against people trying to assert scriptural support for tax resistance. If you’re searching for an authoritative word about war tax resistance from the founder of the Quakers, this is probably it, unfortunately.

In another place, Fox writes (around ) a bit more ambiguously, but to much the same effect:

All friends every where, who are dead to all carnal weapons, and have beaten them to pieces, stand in that which takes away the occasion of wars, in the power which saves men’s lives, and destroys none, nor would have others. And as for the rulers, that are to keep peace, for peace’s sake, and the advantage of truth, give them their tribute. But to bear and carry carnal weapons to fight with, the men of peace, (which live in that which takes away the occasion of wars,) they cannot act in such things under the several powers; but have paid their tribute. Which they may do still for peace sake, and not hold back the earth, but go over it; and in so doing, Friends may better claim their liberty.

Hirst notes in Chapter Ⅲ that:

Kent [Quarterly Meeting] Friends were evidently men of small means, for the liabilities laid upon them are curious fractions of the normal claims. They are brought before the courts for “refusing to send out three parts of an arms,” “not finding arms for the quarter part of a musket,” “not contributing to the quarter part of the charge of finding a musket 30 days at 2s. a day,” and, strangest of all, for “not sending in half a man to a muster with a month’s pay.”

These being some examples of many kept in the records of “sufferings” kept by Friends Meetings. These particular ones were from , I believe.

Thomas Lurting was seized from a merchant ship around and impressed onto a military vessel, where, as a pacifist Quaker, he refused to do any service. The captain taunted him, saying “Thou art no Quaker, for here thou bring’st corn,” [he had been on a ship that was shipping grain] “and of it is made bread, and by the strength of that bread, we kill the Dutch; and therefore [thou art] no Quaker — or art not thou as accessory to their death as we?”

Lurting had to explain where he drew the line between direct and indirect support for the military (he had refused to do any labor on the ship, even to serve as a rope-hauler, cooper, or doctor’s assistant). He told the captain: “I am a Man that have, and can feed my Enemies; and well may I you, who pretend to be my Friends.”

In the Yearly Meeting issued an Epistle reminding Quaker shipmasters that, although the law now commanded all English merchant ships to be armed with guns for their defense, Quakers must not arm their ships. In this Epistle, the Meeting contrasted this civil disobedience with taxpaying, saying:

You very well know our Christian principle and profession in this matter, both with respect to God and Cæsar, that, because we are subjects of Christ’s kingdom, which is not of this world, we cannot fight (John ⅹⅷ. 36); yet, being subjects of Cæsar’s kingdom, we pay our taxes, tribute, etc., according to the example of Christ and his holy apostles, relating to Christ’s kingdom and Cæsar’s, wherein we are careful not to offend (Matt. ⅹⅶ. 27; ⅹⅻ. 20. Rom. ⅹⅲ. 6, 7).

, a Quaker there complained that the English Army “take their corn, hay, oats, and provision, and pay them little for it,” which seems to distinguish their practice from future Quakers in the United States, who would refuse to accept any payment for goods so seized.

In the chapter on Robert Barclay, Hirst gives this quote from his An Apology for the True Christian Divinity ():

[W]e have suffered much in our country, because we neither could ourselves bear arms, nor send others in our place, nor give our money for the buying of drums, standards, and other military attire.

To which Hirst attaches the footnote: “This is the ‘Trophy Money’; distraints and imprisonments for its non-payment are often recorded among early ‘sufferings.’ ” This, however, is the first mention of resistance of “Trophy Money” in Hirst’s book, and in general Hirst seems to concentrate more on the development of the abstract peace testimony during this period than on the practical ramifications for conscientious objection.

I found some examples elsewhere, however. Here are some from :

In also were taken for Fines imposed for refusing to defray the Charges of the Militia,

Daniel Quare, two Clocks and two Watches worth1150
Thomas West, Goods worth1449
John Dew, of Paul’s, Joyner, to the Value of1326
Samuel Atlee, Pewter worth13100
Joseph Wilkinson, of Silver-street, Looking-glasses worth726
Thomas Lacey, Tobacco worth24411

Taken also for Claims of Trophy Money,

Samuel Atlee, of Bread-street, Pewter worth030
John Light, of Dowgate, Pewter worth024
Henry Doggett, Goods worth046

Here is one from :

Taken also in , for refusing to defray the Charges of the Militia,

Richard Jordan, William Chamberlain, John Vaughton, and Thomas Frith, Goods to the Value of850
John Marshall, Philip Oyles, and William Holland, of Limehouse, Goods worth15150
John Eaves, of Shadwell, Goods worth176
John Marlow, of Katherine’s, Mariner1170
Ralph Johnson, of Ludgate-street, and John Cooke, of Grace-church-street, for Trophy Money, Goods worth0137

Here are two from :

Daniel Bunce, for refusing to pay Trophy Money, had a Lamb taken from him worth 4s. and William Austell of Oare, for the same Cause, Goods worth 2s. 6d.

Refusals to contribute money for the militia go back even further. There are the “earliest known examples” mentioned earlier, from Colchester in , only about a decade after the Society of Friends began to collect around George Fox.

Here’s another example from Bristol in :

On , Samuel Taylor, Shoemaker and Edward Erberry, Soapboiler, and , Thomas Callowhill, a Shopkeeper, were taken from their Houses by Soldiers, for refusing to contribute toward the Charge of the City Militia…

Hampshire, also in :

William Gill, William Valler, and Elizabeth Streater, for refusing to pay toward the Charge of the County Militia, were imprisoned at Winchester fifteen Days, and afterward had their Goods taken by Distress to the Value of 8l. 5s.

Glocestershire :

Henry Howland of Tewksbury, for refusing to bear Arms, or to pay toward the Charge of the Militia, had an Horse taken from him worth 4l. 8s. The Person who took the Horse acknowledging, “that he did it against his Conscience,” Henry Howland told him, “he might then expect some Judgment would follow;” and it was observed, that the said Person, having ordered his Son to sell the Horse, as he was riding, the Horse ran violently with him against the Arm of a Tree, so that he died of the Blow immediately.

Hampshire in :

[F]or refusing to pay toward the Charge of the Militia, were taken,

Elizabeth Streater of Bramshott, Cattle worth700
William Valler of Heathly, Cattle to the Value of900

London in :

John Hewett, Thomas Gouchman, and Jeremiah Clarke, for refusing to pay towards the Charges of the Militia, had Goods taken from them to the Value of 8l. 10s.

Dorsetshire in :

Sarah Bagg of Bridport, for refusing to pay 2l. 8d. for a Soldier in the Trained Bands, suffered Distress of Goods to the Value of 20s.

London in :

Several others suffered Distress of Goods for refusing to pay to the Charges of the Militia, viz. Philip Ford, who for a Fine of 4l. 13s. 4d. had his Goods taken away to the Value of 24l. 2s. And Thomas Witehel, who for 40s. Fine, suffered by Distress to the Value of 3l. 13s. Also Thomas Lacey, of Martin’s-lane, who being fined 4l. 13s. 4d. had Tobacco taken from him worth 6l. 17s. For the same Cause Thomas Cobb, of Martin’s-le-Grand, had Goods taken away to the Value of 4l. 2s. 8d. ¾d. And William Ellis, into whose House the Officers coming when his Doors were shut, made a forcible Entrance by breaking an Hatch, and opening the Door with a Sledge, had Pewter taken away worth 4l. 13s. 4d.

Wales in :

For refusing to contribute toward the Charges of the Militia, several Distresses were made, by which were taken

David Hitchins, of Tenby, Goods worth1160
Willian Jenkins, of the same190
John Burgess, of Haverford-West021
Arthur Bewes, to the Value of040

Glocestershire in :

Richard Bowley and Amariah Drewett, for refusing to contribute toward the Charge of the County Militia, had Malt and Hay taken from them to the Value of 4l.

London in :

[S]everal Distresses were made by Warrants from some of the Lieutenancy for refusing to contribute to the Charges of the Militia, by which were taken from Christopher Jacobs, Thomas Mincks, John Stokes, Thomas Barker, Thomas Witham, Simon Marshall, and John Robinson, Goods to the Value of 7l. 6s.

London in :

And for refusing to pay toward the Charges of the Militia, were taken

Samuel Wilkinson, of Pelham-street, Goods worth1150
Robert Chalkley, of Booth-street1112
John Pantling and Thomas Powel3169

Cornwall in :

In the following Persons, for refusing to bear Arms, or contribute to the Charge of the County Militia, suffered Distress, by which were taken

Richard Tregennow, for 13d. Demand, Goods worth100
Samuel Hancock, for 28s. Demand, Goods worth350
John Tregellis, of Falmouth, Goods worth0140
Stephen Richards of the same, Cloth worth120
Edward Bealing of Penryn, Goods worth400
John Scantlebury, Goods worth240

Surry in :

Anne Bax, a Widow of Capel had a fat Bullock taken from her by Distress, worth 3l. for her conscientious Refusal to contribute toward the Charges of the Militia for this County.

And there are other examples where a Quaker is fined for not serving in the militia and/or for not sending a substitute, and the fine is carried out by means of seizure, which probably indicates that the Quaker refused to voluntarily pay the fine.

This takes us up and pretty well covers the first generation of Quakers. Unfortunately, as I mentioned, Hirst seems more interested in the evolution of Quaker doctrine concerning war, and less with the practice of conscientious objection, so there may be some items we would have found interesting that she did not consider worth noting.

A Paper Concerning Tribute and the Poll Act, by George Fox

It is known that for this cause we pay tribute or custom and give Caesar his due: that we may live a godly and peaceable life under them who are for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. And so to the earthly we give the earthly. That is, to Caesar: we give unto him his things and to God we give unto him His things.

And so in the other powers’ days we did not forget on our parts though they did fail on theirs who went about to hinder us many times from our godly and peaceable lives. So in this thing, so doing we can plead with Caesar and plead with them that has our custom and has our tribute if they seek to hinder us from our godly and peaceable life, we having not been behind on our parts which are for the punishment of evildoers, for then might they say and plead against us, “how can we defend you against foreign enemies and protect everyone in their estates and keep down thieves and murderers, that one man should not take away another’s estate from him?”

Much more I could say, but we have not been behind for we have given unto Caesar his things and custom and tribute to whom it belongs for conscience sake for the punishment of evildoers that we might live a godly and peaceable life, though many have let in evildoers upon us whom God has judged Who pleads our cause unto Whom we have given His things.


(This is a copy of a letter sent to some Friends concerning the Poll Act.)