The early organisation of the Society of Friends was based on letters. Hundreds were sent to and from Swarthmoor Hall, home of Margaret Fell and her family, giving encouragement and support both moral and financial. The majority of these letters survive in the Swarthmore manuscripts, held in Friends House Library in London. Letters were the foundation of the networks between family members and between travelling ministers at home and abroad which sustained Quakerism in the succeeding centuries.
18th century Friends often wrote earnestly to other Friends in almost wholly religious terms. They sometimes took the time to copy out their drafts neatly, correcting spelling and adding and subtracting words and phrases, but when in a hurry this could not always be done so we are left with errors, crossings out and much more mundane post-scripts. Writing to Richard and Patience Chester in 1769 Catherine Phillips ends with the following post-script My Cousin pressed forward wth his usual diligence & speed we got to Dimchurch ye Evening we left you and he reached Home ye next day about 11 o’clock ye next morning – had I not been afraid of making him uneasy if he waited for me at Dunstable I should not have chose to have let my Frd P.C. after kindly coming to meet me have returned alone to Dunstable in a Chaise, but I saw he was in too great a hurry to be stopped ... Upon reviewing the foregoing I find that I have indeed committed many blunders but I cannot well spare time to transcribe.
In another letter, mainly about her health, to Priscilla Farmer Catherine concludes Had I strength I wd willingly put ye foregoing in a better dress but I continue very languid & weak I got to Meeting yesterday with considerable difficulty... My Love to all as due. Don’t shew any Body this scrole [scrawl].
|Extract from a letter from Samuel Fothergill to Mary Pemberton|
|One of George Dillwyn's notebooks|
Today when we communicate more by email or text or through Facebook than by letter, have we lost a way of networking, of encouraging and supporting one another in the things that are eternal as well as in the everyday and of revealing ourselves as we really are?