Quaker Ann Branson on War Tax Resistance

Last year I shared some excerpts from Joshua Maule’s book Transactions and Changes in the Society of Friends, and Incidents in the Life and Experience of Joshua Maule. These concerned Maule’s frustrating efforts to get his fellow-Quakers to take a strong stand against paying war taxes.

One paragraph from these excerpts, from , concerned Ann Branson, one of Maule’s allies in this:

Ann Branson was at our meeting at one time when this matter was under discussion, and, the shutters being opened at her request, she directed her communication very much towards it. She compared those who were paying and encouraging others to pay the war money to the man with an unclean spirit, “who came out of the tombs;” and said it was a “swinish spirit” that promoted this evil work, declaring that the covering would be stripped off them; and, suiting the action to the word, she stripped her shawl from her shoulders.

Branson’s journal was published in , and it tells her opinions on the subject in her words:

— … I told Friends that I had been held captive amongst them week after week, whilst my face had been covered, that I had not seen the ground, or cause of my tarriance, or exercises; that I had to bear my own burdens, and dig through a wall of opposition in order to walk in the obedience of faith; but now I believed it right for me to tell them, that it had appeared to me that I was set for a sign amongst them. Many no doubt querying, What do you? Why tarry you so long amongst us? What good can such a strange and unaccountable act as that of keeping your Minute so long, do? But now it was for me to tell them, that unless there was a deepening in the root of life and speedily turning to the Lord, they would go into captivity, even the princes of the people, and die there, though they should see it, or know it. That this vision concerns the princes of Jerusalem, and all the house of Israel that are with them. Sampson was a strong man, a judge in Israel, but through the importunity of Delilah, he was shorn of his strength, and those who were in any way compromising our precious testimony against war were in danger of being shorn of their strength, and those who could pay a bounty tax to induce volunteers to join the army, had already some of their seven locks taken off. I knew of none in that meeting that had done so, but if there were any, they were in a dangerous situation. Much more I had to say in the way of warning, counsel and encouragement, to turn with the whole heart to the Lord.

.— Received a few lines this morning from a leading Friend of this meeting, saying, that he believed my communication yesterday towards the close of their Monthly Meeting, was in the authority of Truth, and partly, if not altogether for himself. That he had been drawn into a snare to pay the bounty tax, not only for himself, but for several of his friends; that no act of his life had given him so much uneasiness, though it was altogether unintentional, when he went to pay his common tax, to pay the bounty; yet for want of making proper investigation into the matter, and not properly keeping the watch, he had been drawn into the snare, and balked that precious testimony, which he ought to have been the first, or amongst the first, to have supported. Friends have now in the limits of that Monthly Meeting, with one exception, paid the bounty tax upon whom it was levied; several not living in that county (Jefferson) of course not included in the number, or implicated in this breach of our Christian testimony; but some, and I believe most, consider it better to pay, than suffer, or contend. Oh, what a breach! Though several Friends, for whom the tax had been paid, as before stated, were very much tried and distressed therewith. May the Lord heal the wounds that have through unwatchfulness been made.

An additional section from Maule’s book, which I did not include in last year’s entry, also concerns Branson. It comes from a period only three years later —  — at which time things were more tense between Branson and Maule:

On Third day we went to Flushing, and Thomas and Samuel thought it would not be right to pass by the home of Ann Branson without calling to see her. I told them of the reception I had met with some time before, and I felt an aversion to going where I might hear such condemnation of honest Friends; but as we approached her residence I became satisfied of the propriety of our going to see her, and my feeling of unwillingness was removed. We found her still quite unwell, and we took seats in her room. Without waiting to see if Thomas had anything to communicate, she acquainted him with her belief that “he was engaged in giving his strength and encouragement to wrong things,” which she recounted and described… She introduced the subject of the war tax, saying: “You make a high profession about that, but you get it paid: smuggle it through; every one has paid it here at Flushing but W. Williams and myself; the tax-collector told me so.” I told her she was mistaken, and that David Conrow had not paid the tax. She went on to condemn some statements in our published address, but I showed her they were true, and that the leading members of her meeting certainly had used their influence to prevail on members to pay the war tax and “avoid trouble;” that Joseph Hobson, a prominent elder, had told me “he was thus influenced to do what he knew to be wrong;” and that the same kind of influence had been exerted in meeting for discipline.

Further on…

Some days after Thomas left us he sent me a letter for Ann Branson, requesting that my wife and myself would take it to Flushing and read it to her. This was a fresh trial, in regard to which I reasoned with myself for some days before complying.… It was a plain, clear testimony, placing the Truth over her accusations and condemnation of Friends in a good measure of authority. She objected to some parts, but did not deny any statement or make much comment, but soon recommenced on the subject of the war tax, saying our friends at Flushing had paid, and that W. Williams had paid it since we were here. David Conrow said “he did not believe William had done so,” and he adverted to the untrue reports about his own having been paid. Both Ann and Rebecca Branson, who also was present, urged it upon us that as we made much profession about the tax we ought to disown our members who had paid it. David assured them we would try to attend to our own members.… We next went to W. Williams, and found that his war tax had not been paid.