Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

September 19, 2013

The Quakers among us: 17th and 18th centuries

Andover Stories
Kimberly WhitworthAndover Historical Society

---- — The Quaker faith is not the first thing that comes to mind when you look out over Andover’s hills and view the many weather vane-topped church steeples dotting the landscape. Andover, along with most of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, was founded by English Puritans.

North Parish Church — as well as other churches throughout Andover and North Andover — traces its roots to the Puritans who arrived during the Great Migration of the 1630s and settled the town. And within these Puritan communities, Quakers were present.

The story of Quakers among the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay is not one of acceptance and harmony. During the 17th century, both the Quaker and Puritan movements emerged in rejection of the Church of England. But this is where similarities in the two religions end.

Quakers professed tolerance and peace toward all, believing that God could speak to people directly. In contrast, Puritans believed the Bible supplied all religious authority. This led Puritans to strive for conformity in their communities, permitting no other religious groups within the borders of Massachusetts Bay.

Quakers began arriving in Massachusetts Bay during the 1650s. They challenged the established order, interrupting church services by shouting their disagreements with Puritan ideology. According to published accounts, one Quaker woman, Lydia Wardell, took her protest so far as to fully disrobe during services in Newbury while another Quaker woman, Deborah Buffam Wilson, protested in a similar fashion by walking naked through the streets of Salem.

During this time, a number of Quakers began settling in Salem. While the Quakers in Boston seemed far away from Andover, their presence in Salem felt alarmingly close to home.

Massachusetts Bay leaders acted quickly and passed a law against the “cursed sect,” banning Quakers from the colony. This law also imposed fines against anyone bringing a Quaker to the colony and proscribed corporeal punishment against any Quaker who returned to the colony after banishment.

The first members of North Parish Church agreed with the law enacted in 1657. Andover’s early congregation believed in religious conformity and saw toleration to be evidence of a lack of faith.

Historians and writers generally view Simon and Anne Bradstreet as moderate in their views, with Simon Bradstreet often described as a “just and benevolent leader.” Nevertheless, even though no Quakers disturbed the peace in Andover, some of the church’s members were prominent in Quaker persecutions, especially Simon Bradstreet in his capacity as magistrate.

Records show that at “... court in Ipswich, and in the ministerial councils at Newbury, he was zealous against offenders.” Bradstreet’s most notable persecution was that of Nicholas Phelps, a Salem resident whose descendants later settled in Andover.

Over time, Puritans accepted the presence of Quakers, but they remained a minority in Essex County. The most notable Quaker living in Andover during the 18th century was a man named Thomas Houghton.

Houghton left a wealth of letters, some of which are housed at the Andover Historical Society. From these letters and others, we learn he emigrated from England after his paper manufacturing business failed due to a lawsuit over what he considered an unjust tax on his product.

He arrived in Andover around 1789, finding employment at a new paper mill being set up on the “Shawshin River” by Judge Samuel Phillips. Phillips did not take an active role in the business, trusting the running of it to Houghton.

Houghton’s letters speak of his economical and moral habits, both of which find their origins in Quaker teaching. It is clear he applied these teachings to his work life because the paper mill became a profitable concern within a few years. By 1795, Phillips brought Houghton on as a partner. Houghton’s son eventually succeeded him in the business.

Next Week: The Quakers among us: 19th and 20th centuries