Nantucket Quakers in North Carolina

The first Friends arrived in what is now eastern North Carolina sometime around 1665. The first documented religious service was held in 1672 by Friends minister William Edmundson. Quaker founder George Fox also visited that same year.

Friends from eastern North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Nantucket Island migrated to the Piedmont region of NC during the 1750–1775 period. More specifically, settlers from Nantucket began to join the New Garden settlers in 1771; however, migration from present-day New England abruptly stopped with the outbreak of the American Revolution. New Garden is located in present-day Guilford County, and the New Garden Meeting House is located approximately six miles from the historic Guilford County Court House.

NCpedia states that the Quakers actually entered a period of decline during the American Revolution that lasted a century, which led to their migration from North Carolina. The westward migration of Friends leaving the South for Ohio and Indiana began around 1800. However, they weren’t alone in their departure. During the first half of the 1800s, it’s estimated that roughly a third of North Carolina’s residents moved to other states (it dropped from being the third most populous state in 1790 to the twelfth in 1860). Many Quakers left specifically due to their opposition to slavery. For example, Levi Coffin, from New Garden, N.C., was a founder of the Underground Railroad, and he moved to Indiana in 1826. His home there is a National Historic Landmark, and it’s estimated that he and his wife helped more than two thousand escapees reach safety during the twenty years that they lived there.

There were, of course, Quakers who remained in N.C. The New Garden Boarding School opened in 1837, the oldest coeducational school in the South. It later became the present-day Guilford College (notably, it did not integrate until 1962). Quakers remaining in North Carolina also made efforts to fight slavery. For example, in 1808 the North Carolina Yearly Meeting began purchasing enslaved people in order to allow individuals to cease being slaveholders, since there were restrictions on manumission (they discontinued this effort in 1822). During the Civil War, Friends were persecuted by the Confederate army for their stance on slavery.

After the war, there were few Quakers left in the state. With assistance from the Baltimore Association, they were able to establish schools for both white students and freedmen as well as establish new meetings and set up a model farm near High Point, N.C. There were several revivals in the late nineteenth century that developed a new, uniform discipline and led to the emergence of the Friends United Meeting. The North Carolina Yearly Meeting formed in 1904, and has grown to become one of the largest yearly meetings in the country.

 

The Nantucket Historical Association preserves and interprets the history of Nantucket through its programs, collections, and properties, in order to promote the island’s significance and foster an appreciation of it among all audiences.

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