Episodes of Quaker War Tax Resistance around the American Revolution

In Alexander Graydon’s autobiography Memoirs of a Life, chiefly passed in Pennsylvania within the last sixty years; with occasional remarks upon the general occurrences, character and spirit of that eventful period, he briefly mentions a Quaker who refused to pay militia exemption fines.

The context is the early years of the United States. Graydon had been in the American army during the Revolution, was enrolled in the milita, but declined to serve. For this, he was fined “a sum, which I do not now recollect, but which, when reduced to specie, was far from inconsiderable.” He thought this was unfair to do to a military veteran like himself, and got Joseph Reed, who was president of the “Supreme Executive Council” of Pennsylvania at the time, to intercede on his behalf. He also became interested in the case of “a Mr. Thomas Parvin, of the society of Friends, [who] was an object of much wanton oppression.”

[Parvin] resided at Maiden creek, about six miles from Reading, and was nearly broken up by the levies on his property for taxes and militia fines. A cow or a horse, for instance, was often taken and sold for some trifling demand, and no surplus returned. Having sons grown up, and enrolled in the militia, he was the more exposed to rapacity. …[T]alking with him, one day, on the subject of his grievances, I was drawn into a discussion of the non-resisting principles of his sect; and urging their impracticability in the present state of the world, in a manner that discovered sympathy for his sufferings, he was not displeased, and proposed lending me a treatise in defence of their tenets, which he begged I would read and give him my opinion of. In a few days, he accordingly sent it, accompanied with a very long letter, so accurately written in all respects as to convince me that Mr. Parvin was a well educated man and no mean polemic.

Graydon answered with a letter of his own, and then received a surprise package of additional tracts with a cover letter from Anthony Benezet. He doesn’t go into much detail about any of this, though, and quickly moves on to other subjects.

Thomas Parvin () was the son of Francis Parvin. Francis was a member of the Pennsylvania Assembly, and one of those Quaker legislators who resigned in because, as they put it: “many of our constituents seem of opinion that the present situation of public affairs [attacks by the French-allied Delaware Indians] calls upon us for services in a military way, which from a conviction of judgment after mature deliberation we cannot comply with.”