John Hunt Describes Quaker Tax Resistance in the Early United States

This comes from the journal of John Hunt (), :

We went to Quarterly Meeting at Haddonfield… The meeting for Discipline was a favored opportunity and our testimony was raised and gained ground in several respects in regard to the use of strong drink and against wars or any way contributing thereto by payment of taxes or otherwise. A weightily conference was held on these subjects.

and :

[The Philadelphia Yearly Meeting considered] the request from the Western Quarter which was to propose to the Yearly Meeting and consider what might further be done to strengthen Friends in their tender scruples with respect to paying taxes or anyways joining or leaning or swerving from our testimony in any ways contributing to the support of war according to the former advices of our last Yearly Meeting. After a close conference, there being different sentiments amongst Friends concerning paying the taxes now demanded so that it seemed not suitable the case should be fully debated in the meeting, therefore a committee of six Friends out of every quarter with the Committee on the Epistles already appointed was nominated and sent out to consider that case. Friends from the neighboring yearly meetings now present were desired to attend with this committee.

and :

The most weighty matters that came before this [Philadelphia Yearly] meeting was concerning our testimony against wars, paying taxes etc. and against the excess and unnecessary use of strong drink, tavern keeping and the West India trade and the oppression of the poor Blacks.…

and :

[The] Quarterly Meeting at London Grove… is allowed to be the largest Quarterly Meeting and a very solid wise number of friends and much united in their testimony against taxpaying and superfluity.

and (also at the same Quarterly Meeting):

There was several very close searching sentences dropped concerning taxpaying and several Friends seemed to think it was time of more danger now than it was in the time of the war. Jacob Lindley spoke closely concerning Friends letting collectors etc. pay their tax and then settle with them. Another Friend dropped a caution to beware of the dragon’s tail and said what had been suffered to try Friends in years past might be like the teeth or the claws of the dragon.

and :

Some trials with the constable taking rye from us for taxes.

and (at “our” Monthly Meeting — Evesham perhaps?):

Jacob [Lindley] had something particular concerning tax paying, termed it paying up the debt for the expense of the war, and said as the Yearly Meeting had recommended it to Friends to preserve their accounts of suffering. He fully believed that suffering for not paying of taxes did come within the meaning of the Yearly Meeting and that the Yearly Meeting had owned that testimony and would never disown that birth which had been brought forth by the tender scruples of suffering Friends who refused to pay taxes for to defray the expense of war.

and :

Was Quarterly Meeting. Nothing more than common except about the affair of tax paying. Some tight rubbing work so that one of the first rank made an acknowledgment and Evesham seemed to be getting through with that job about suffering for taxes or recording such sufferings. Agreed or at least concluded to take the case to Yearly Meeting to have it settled now after three years or more scuffling with Salem Friends about it.

and :

Was Quarterly Meeting.… In the last meeting we had it up and down again about tax paying. They seemed like to knock Evesham in the head and throw us but by Warner Mifflin and several others stood tightly to the testimony and it was raised over all against paying of taxes.

and :

Was quarterly meeting… There was a tight scuffle about having some accounts of the suffering of Friends of Evesham for refusing to pay a tax for the support or to defray the expense of war read to the meeting. J[ames]. Thorington beat through all opposition and they were read and concluded to be sent forward to the meeting for suffering to be recorded and this seemed to be the end of three or four years debate in our quarter.

and :

The constable took our son Samme off to gaol for refusing to pay his tax. He went of in a composed commendable manner, having I believe well considered the matter.…

and later :

I went to Burlington to see my son in prison. He appeared to me to much favored to bear the trial in a proper commendable manner. William Savery, Daniel Troter, Thomas Scattergood, John Hoskins and John Cox had been to see him and he told us all he could not see wherein he had missed it in suffering himself to be put in prison for refusing to pay his tax to defray the expense of war.

and the :

This evening Samme got home from Burlington gaol. We had reason to think that doctor Beneville paid the constable his demands. Took a letter from him to the sheriff and so he was discharged and informed if he would go to Sterling’s the storekeepers he might ride home with Doctor Beneville in his chair. It was a favored time with us which made his imprisonment easy to us and so that we had no desire that any one should take him out in that manner. Joseph Gilkins came to me and I told him I had rather he would not so. After some [o]ther conference he concluded to drop it.

Evesham Monthly Meeting was more radical about its tax resistance than many other meetings, and when they sent their record of “sufferings” to the Quarterly Meeting, they included accounts of Friends who had suffered persecution for refusing to pay taxes where they felt most of the money being raised by the taxes was going to defray war debts. Other Quakers thought that was too radical a position, saying that Quakers should only resist those taxes that were explicitly declared to be for war. At first, because of this, the Quarterly Meeting that Evesham belonged to refused to pass along the Evesham record of sufferings to the Yearly Meeting. A debate ensued, which is mentioned in some of the entries from Hunt’s journal above.

For another account of this controversy, see David Cooper’s journal

Here’s an early example (mid-17th century) of Quaker war tax resistance, from the journal of Ambrose Rigge:

[M]y father-in-law, Thomas Luxford… hath also suffered many years, for refusing to send in arms from year to year, to the value of between twenty and thirty pounds, for which, one year, they took away his wife’s bed and bedding, as soon as she was risen out of it, for one year’s tax for drums and colours.