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This is the text of the historical lecture given by Bruce Mowday at Old Kennett Meeting on August 29th as part of the Old Kennett Tricentennial Celebration
Quakers and The Revolutionary War
Old Kennett Meeting Tri-Centennial
Sunday, August 29, 2010
This is an honor for me to be speaking at the Tri-Centennial of the Old Kennett Meeting. I want to thankLars Farmer and everyone at Old Kennett for asking me to speak. And I want to thank everyone attending on this fine Sunday afternoon.
The Old Kennett Meeting is the perfect place for this talk on Quakers and The Revolutionary War. This talk deals with many of the tough decisions that Quakers, and the whole nation, made in the 18th century and involves issues that exist today.
But first let’s talk about Kennett Meeting. According to Lars, the building was constructed in 1710, Old Kennett Meeting was constructed out of logs on land owned by Ezekiel Harlan, who received his land deed from William Penn. The original structure was torn down and the current building erected around 1730.
The Harlan family plays an important role in the Quaker history of the area and also of Chester County and the nation. Mary Harlan Murphy told me she was going to attend this talk and I guess there are other Harlan descendants in this Meeting House.
Most of the Harlans in America came from the family of three brothers. George and Michael Harlan lived in northern England and moved to County Down, Ireland, before coming to America and landing in New Castle,Delaware, in 1687, A third brother, Thomas Harlan, never came to America but his descents did.
To quote from a book that I helped to get published, “These original Harlans were Quakers and came to the new world seeking religious freedom.” That book is Eyewitness to the Settlement of the West: Jacob Wright Harlan’s California 1846-1888. Jacob Wright Harlan begins his story by saying, “My Americanism dates from a long way back. James Harlan, my grandfather’s great-grandfather, was an English Quaker, and came toAmerica with William Penn.”
The book contains an updated history of the Harlan family. George Harlan was one of the first governors ofDelaware. George later moved in Chester County where his brother Michael already settled. George Harlan elected to the Pennsylvania General Assembly. Most of the Meeting Houses west of the Brandywine were constructed by the Harlans.
Some descendants moved west and others stayed in the Chester County area. “But The American Revolution was approaching and with it the opening up of the West beyond the Appalachians. “Most of the east-coast Harlans, as Quaker pacifists, stayed out of the American Revolution, but the western Harlans did take part,” according to the Harlan history book.
You will find Harlans today throughout Chester County and most sections of the United States. One of the Chester County Harlans was the model for Kipling’s The Man Who Would Be King. President Lincoln’s son married a Harlan. There was a Supreme Court Justice who was a Harlan and Harlans were prominent in the Civil War.
The family has a rich history but they weren’t always on the mark. Jacob Wright Harlan, who wrote about his experiences in the West, owned land in San Francisco but sold the property because he didn’t think the town would ever amount to much.
For the Harlans and other Quakers in the Chester County area, the American Revolution posed serious questions. Ten days before the Battle of Brandywine a directive from the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting to forgo any assistance to the opposing sides. And some Chester County Quakers were disowned because of violating that directive.
There were a number of Quakers who joined Washington’s army and one was General Nathanael Greene, a Quaker from Rhode Island. In 1776 Washington told the Continental Congress he was the best officer to succeed him as commander in chief. Known as the Fighting Quaker – a book was written about him with that title – Greene did great service at Brandywine and was one of the main reasons England didn’t capture a majority of George Washington’s army on September 11, 1777.
Greene at first opposed the idea of the war but when English rule became oppressive, he joined a military organization and “put from under the care of the Quaker meeting on September 30, 1773.” The dilemma Greene faced was present in every Quaker household as the Revolutionary War spread. – that is from my book on the Battle of Brandywine.
When the news of the battles of Lexington and Concord reached Rhode Island, Greene was one of four men in his community who hurried to Boston to offer his services. Greene became great friends with Washingtonand Washington gave him many difficult assignments during the War of Independence. He was even made Quartermaster during the difficult encampment at Valley Forge.
Greene survived the war and lived with his family on a farm in Rhode Island. In 1786, Greene went toSavannah on a business trip and stopped to see a friend’s rice plantation. During his visit he became very ill and on June 19, 1786, he died.
Of course the Philadelphia campaign and the Battle of Brandywine on September 11, 1777, brought the war to the doorsteps of area Quakers.
On the afternoon of Sept. 9, Washington established his headquarters in the farmhouse of Benjamin Ring, a Quaker farmer and miller. The house stood within easy access of Chadds Ford where the British were expected to cross the river.
continued in next forum discussion...