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