Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Quaker Alphabet Blog Week 21 - K for Knitting

 I have just returned from Britain Yearly Meeting where I observed several people knitting during sessions, although usually only during introductions and reports. I sat next to one woman and asked her why she was doing it. She replied that having something to do with her hands stilled her mind and stopped her becoming distracted. That seemed reasonable to me but unfortunately others found her hands' constant movement distracting and asked her to stop.

Illustration to QWG Swarthmore lecture
I have never knitted in meetings, partly because I am not proficient enough to knit without giving it most of my attention, but I do have some history with Friends and knitting. I was part of the Quaker Womens Group who were asked in 1983 to give the Swarthmore lecture. Over the next three years we read, researched and wrote. We met together to talk, edit and make decisions. During that process some of us also knitted and in the end we joked that we had produced not only a lecture and a book but several sweaters. We even used two of them to punningly illustrate part of a quotation from Mary Elson about the London women's meetings ' blessed be the name of the Lord who hath quickened and made alive unto himself and hath knit and tyed and bundled up and hath united us together in one spirit.'
An Ackworth School pin-ball with ribbon

Historically Quaker women and girls have sewn and knitted useful things, such as stockings. Pupils at Ackworth School sewed distinctive 'plain' samplers with geometric designs and subdued colours. They also made round knitted pin-balls (pincushions) in two halves, sometimes with a strip between to make them fatter and with a ribbon attached as a handle. Their designs often included mottos and initials and there are examples made to promote the anti-slavery cause.
Anti-slavery pin-ball front

Anti-slavery pin-ball back

Shetland knitting sheaths

The pin-balls were knitted in silk on very thin needles or 'makkin [making] wires'. To protect the knitter from the sharp ends of the needles and to make them easier to handle knitting sheaths were sometimes used. The narrow end of the knitting sheath was tucked into the right side of the knitter's skirt or apron, and the knitting needle was inserted into the open end among the quills.

Modern finger loom
When Rebecca Jones visited England from1784-8 she kept a memorandum book with a note of her expenses among other things. In Birmingham in 1787 she bought 3 pairs of ivory knitting pins for 2 shillings and 3 ivory finger looms (another way of knitting) for the same price. Rebecca also notes the 'Tokens of Love' which she was given by the Friends she travelled among. These include 'silk for knitting' from Elizabeth Hoyland, a 'Tin Case for knitting' from Esther Tuke and a 'Knitting Sheath' from S. Baker. Rebecca was an accomplished needlewoman so perhaps on her travels she was knitting pin-balls to give as tokens of love to others. She visited Ackworth School too and shared her experience of running a school so there may have been some cross-pollenation of ideas going on there!

Knitting then and now has both practical and spiritual aspects, as the introduction to the Woodbrooke course to be held in October this year called Knitting your Peace reminds us. 'Knitters know that the knitting process is a short cut to the bubble of inner peace. Whilst hands carry out the steady, rhythmic, repetitive movement of making each stitch with needles and yarn, hearts and minds are released to reflect on the here and now within ourselves, within our day, within our lives.' 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Quaker Alphabet Blog Week 20 - J for Rebecca Jones

Sampler worked by Rebecca Jones
Rebecca Jones was born in Philadelphia in 1739 and remained attached to that city and to the welfare of its people all her life. Her father William Jones was a sailor and was lost at sea when Rebecca was a young child. Her mother Mary, left with the sole care of Rebecca and her elder brother Daniel, supported the family by setting up a school. Rebecca later praised her hard work which 'brought us up reputably, gave us sufficient learning and educated us in the way of the Church of England.' Mary wanted to pass the school on to her daughter and to that end educated her not only in book-learning but in other 'accomplishments' such as music, dancing and needlework. Rebecca studied needlework with Anne Marsh, a celebrated Philadelphia needlewoman, and one of Rebecca's beautifully worked samplers from this time survives in the Philadelphia Atwater Kent Museum.

Rebecca seemed to be following the path which her careful mother had set out for her but she had an independent, restless side to her which brought her into conflict with her family. Before she was twelve she got her mother's permission to go to Quaker meetings with the children of neighbours who were Friends and she kept going, not really knowing why, even when her mother began to be uneasy. Soon she was attending meeting without her mother's knowledge, sitting at the back near the door where she could come and go unnoticed.

Catherine Payton
Rebecca was in spiritual turmoil and had no-one to confide in until in 1754 when she was fifteen Catherine Payton (later Phillips) was visiting America from England as a travelling minister and came to Philadelphia. Rebecca was very struck by Catherine and her ministry and got up enough courage to write all her spiritual turmoil down in a letter, which she could not bring herself to sign, and slip it into Catherine's hand as she was going into meeting. Catherine asked the Friends she was staying with who this young woman might be and Daniel Trotter, a near neighbour of the Jones family said, 'I do not know who it can be without it's that wild Becky Jones, who has got to coming to meeting and sits by black Rose', for Rebecca unknowingly sat on the back benches usually reserved for African Americans.

Catherine wrote a reply full of encouragement and became a kind of mentor to Rebecca, continuing their correspondence when she returned to England. Rebecca was set on her path towards Quakerism but this also set her against her mother. Rebecca now felt that she could no longer continue to study or teach to others 'the lighter and merely ornamental branches' of learning and her mother, seeing the ruin of her hopes, tried to stop her attending meetings by any means she could. Rebecca stayed true to her calling and eventually, at the age of nineteen, was recognised as a minister by Philadelphia Friends. This acknowledgement of her daughter's gifts and the kindness and tact with which Friends treated both mother and daughter reconciled Mary Jones to Rebecca's choice. Rebecca did teach in her mother's school and took it over on Mary's death in 1761, together with her friend and fellow Quaker Hannah Cathrall. The school thrived and taught all branches of learning including practical, rather than ornamental needlework.
Silhouettes of Hannah Cathrall and Rebecca Jones

Rebecca became one of the pillars of Philadelphia Quakers. She was particularly assiduous in helping the poor, having known hardship herself and having to rely on her own efforts for her livelihood. She was a devoted friend of John Woolman and supported his campaigning against slavery. She might have remained in Philadelphia but in 1784 she gave up her school and laid before her monthly meeting a long-considered calling to visit Friends in England. She was given a certificate and set out on a journey which would take her four years. During this time, with a variety of women companions, her memorandum book reveals that she travelled thousands of miles in the UK and Ireland and attended hundreds of meetings of various kinds. She was particularly concerned with servants, apprentices and labourers and also spoke particularly to the young, remembering her own spiritual journey. Rebecca also managed to visit the ageing Catherine Payton Phillips and renew their loving acquaintance in person.

In 1788, under a sense of 'fresh and sure direction' Rebecca returned to Philadelphia. Having given up her school and with her eyesight deteriorating, she needed to find another way of earning a living and set up a
Rebecca in later life
small shop in a room of her house where she sold fabrics and haberdashery, some of it supplied by her Friends in England. In a letter of 1790 she acknowledges that the change brought some regrets, 'Thou hast doubtless heard that I have shaken my hands from the gain of school keeping – tho’ by the way I may tell thee my present gain is not so delicious, nor do I feel so every way complete as when my uncontrolled sway was love, serving my numerous tribe of various dispositions, circumstances, and ages – but as I cannot… renew my youthful sight & other requisites for the service, I endeavour after contentment in my present situation...'

In 1793 Rebecca fell ill in the yellow fever epidemic during which 4,000 Philadelphians died, but lived to resume her ministry and the wide correspondence which was a major activity of her later years. In the mid-1790s, she contributed her knowledge of Friends' education in England to the founding of Westtown  School, a boarding school which opened in the spring of 1799, patterned after the Ackworth Friends School in Yorkshire.

Over the years Rebecca retained, in her unassuming way, a certain 'queenly dignity' as well as an easy and gracious manner. and among women of her time she stood out for her intellectual capacity, quick wit, strength of character and 'sanctified common sense.'  She was a trusted counsellor and informal almoner, 'eminent for leading the cause of the poor.' Her modest home was always open to those in trouble or wishing her advice and it was said of her that she possessed 'singular penetration on discovering cases of distress and delicacy in affording relief.' 

In 1813, she suffered an attack of typhus fever and for the last five years of her life, she was confined almost entirely to her home, where she was devotedly cared for by Bernice Chattin Allinson, a young widow whom she had taken in as a daughter. Rebecca Jones died in Philadelphia in 1818 aged 78 and was buried in the Friends burial ground of  Arch Street meeting house. on the morning of the yearly meeting of ministers & elders.

Arch Street Meeting House in Philadelphia today

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Quaker Alphabet Blog Week 19 - J for Journeys

The report on my fellowship
When telling others about the path they have taken to Quakerism Friends often refer to their spiritual journey. This metaphor goes back many centuries and encompasses a great variety of stories. I have the same kind of narrative to share and this blog has been and continues to be one of the ways in which I have done and am doing that. In Quaker terms journeys have always been physical as well as metaphorical and when I travelled around the UK in 1994 as a Joseph Rowntree Quaker Fellow encouraging Friends to write and then share their spiritual autobiographies I felt that my journey continued both sides of the tradition.

In the 17th century one of the ways in which Quakerism was spread through the country was by pairs of travelling Friends, known as ‘the Valiant Sixty’ by Quakers and as ‘Morris-dancers from the North’ by their opponents. They were supported, financially and spiritually, by the organisation based in Swarthmoor Hall under the leadership of George Fox and Margaret Fell. On their journeys they were often welcomed and set up a network of meetings throughout England. Sometimes they were attacked and imprisoned but this often spoke for them even louder than their words and brought more to the Quaker way. Some also went further afield to Ireland, America and Europe.
Swarthmoor Hall

As Quaker practices became more established a need was felt for more regulation of Friends’ journeys. In the early 18th century a formal system of elders and overseers was set up and it became unacceptable for Friends to go on religious journeys without the approval of their meetings. A local meeting would ‘recognise’ those who it believed to have a particular gift for vocal ministry and would support them if they had a concern to travel either locally or further afield. Each minister would apply for, and usually be given, a certificate which approved a particular journey. This was to be presented to and endorsed by local Friends at each stage who would be expected to aid the traveller with hospitality and whatever other assistance was required. If a concern arose for the minister to travel further then another certificate from their home meeting was required. On their return to their own meeting  the minister would return their certificate and give an account of their journey.

As more ‘recognised’ Friends began to travel further their names were ‘recorded’ centrally in London and this practice was formalised in 1773. Recorded Ministers were also known as ‘Public Friends’ and many of them did indeed gain a national reputation, helped by the widespread publication of their journals and records of their journeys. Many of the Friends whose lives I am trying to make more widely known through my part in the Quaker Alphabet blog were Recorded Ministers and Public Friends.

During my year as a Joseph Rowntree Quaker Fellow I visited 58 groups in half the Monthly Meetings  in Britain Yearly Meeting and spoke to more than 750 people. I travelled over 9,500 miles, mostly by rail and far more comfortably than Public Friends in earlier times. They often travelled hundreds of miles by foot or on horseback on appalling roads and in dreadful weather. They crossed the Atlantic in both directions and often found themselves in uncharted territory. They suffered accidents and ill-health but were not deflected from their task. Given the conditions under which journeys were undertaken in the 17th and 18th centuries it is not surprising that the words ‘travel’ and ‘travail’ were used interchangeably!

Susanna Morris's account
There are so many examples of the rigours encountered by travelling ministers on their journeys recorded in their journals that it is hard to choose between them  but here are just three. 
Susanna Morris from America having problems in the West Country in 1752, 'My companion and I visited all down the south parts of the west of England from Portsmouth to Land's End, though a very hilly country and bad roads, I thought it was very hard for me to get up and down the hills, for some of them were more like to stairs in an house than any other thing, and so stony that my creature threw me off many times, but (forever blessed be my great Master and preserver) I was never much hurt and sometimes not hurt at all; for the creature bowed herself so low with me that it was like laying me down and the last time it was in the soft mud.'
Catherine Payton Phillips
Catherine Payton Phillips, travelling from Cornwall to Bristol in 1776, ‘The weather was extremely cold and the snow so deep that the roads in Devonshire, and thence to Bristol, had been impassable, and were then dangerous; but through Divine favour we got along safe, although the cold was so extreme that it was hard to bear. The road in some places was cut through the snow, so that it looked like passing through a deep hollow way, which had a very striking appearance.’
and lastly Joseph Wood of Yorkshire walking to a meeting at Dewsbury in 1804, 'I set out from home ye 15th. of ye. 1st. Mo. 1804 and 1st. day of the week, about 10 o clock in the forenoon being accompanied this journey by Frances Field my housekeeper. We went by Shelley, Roydhouse and Briestfield, to Dewsbury were we got betwixt 3 and 4 o.clock in the afternoon, having called to rest us twice by the way and got some refreshment we brought with us from home The roads were extremely bad and difficult owing to the very heavy rains which had lately fallen, and when we got near Dewsbury the river was much out so that in one place we should have had to have waded up to the knee had not a man kindly let us through his mill, and in another place the water was upwards of a yard deep in the road for a considerable way so that we were obliged to go through the fields on higher ground.'

Joseph Wood
Journeys of different kinds have always been an integral part of Quakerism and physical journeys can still help to develop our own and others’ spiritual journeys. We do not necessarily have to feel a concern to travel in the ministry or ask or a minute from our meeting.  Visiting Friends and attending meeting for worship when away from home for our work or when on holiday can also lead to a greater understanding of both the  variety among the wider Quaker family and also the similarity of many of our concerns.  Sharing our experiences when we return to our own meeting can also strengthen our home community.