When one thinks of the word Quaker, what comes to mind? Perhaps it’s the Quaker Oats man, or the plain clothing, and silent church services? Did you know that “Quaker” is actually a nickname for the group formally known as The Religious Society of Friends? Did you know that they refer to church services as Meetings? And did you know that there are several meeting houses scattered all over Dutchess County? Here in the Local history department we have several great resources for researching Quaker history in Dutchess County. There are photographs, published stories, and even a list of Quaker burial grounds to help you locate your Quaker ancestors graves. Several of the old meeting houses in the area go back to the 18th century and have been added to the National Register of Historic Places. These old houses of worship have fascinating stories to tell. But first, let’s take a look at The Religious Society of Friends.
Quaker roots begin in 17th century England where there were several other dissenting Protestant groups who made a break from the Church of England. They had a central belief that rejected formal ministry and embraced what they called “the inner light” or “that of God in everyone” in other words, Jesus Christ’s direct working of the soul. In many services, or meetings as they were generally called, there would be complete silence until someone felt moved by the spirit within them to speak God’s word. For Quakers, both men and women could feel the spirit and be moved to preach; there was no concern over gender when it came to worship. Quakers are famous for their refusal to participate in war, their efforts to abolish slavery, and their work in prison reform. They also dressed very plainly and never consumed any alcohol.
On the eastern border of Dutchess County in the Town of Pawling, stands one of the many interesting meeting houses that date back over two centuries. The Oblong Meeting House on Quaker Hill was built in 1764 and is largely still intact with original frame construction and its old plain benches. This meeting house saw much in the way of important local historical events. It was here where the decision was made in 1767 to put an end to slavery. In a piece written be Mary K. Hoag for the “Quaker Hill Series” (LH – 974.733Q) she found that “the yearly meeting minutes of 1775 stated it to be the judgement of the meeting that all slaves owned by members should be manumitted” The last slave to be set free was in 1777. From that point on, the Quakers in Dutchess County would continue to play a major role in the abolition and aiding of enslaved people.
During the Revolutionary War, the Oblong meeting house found itself unintentionally taking part in the rebellion. It should be noted that for the most part, Quakers were Tories (people who choose to remain loyal to the Crown) because they did not believe in being a part of the war. However, in the 1770’s the meeting house would double as a hospital where wounded soldiers were tended to. This was not something the Quakers had wanted and they did not offer assistance in the process of aiding the soldiers, however they did not resist when the army took over their meeting house, simply because it was the biggest building in the area at the time. In 1778, there was a winter encampment nearby and members of the Oblong meeting house soon discovered (much to their disappointment) that soldiers who had died from sickness were being buried not far from their fellow “peace-loving Quakers” at the other end of their cemetery. Even though the Quakers are known for their excellent recordkeeping and detailed meeting minutes, they choose not to mention the intrusion of the army in their writings. There are only brief mentions of it in some of the George Washington papers and some of those of the continental army. But since then, the ancestors of this branch of Quakers have passed down the stories.
In 1828 there was a split in the Quaker faith and it was made quite clear at the Oblong meeting house. Around this time there was a growing discontent all around the country with the strict regulations and principles of Quakerism. Elias Hicks started a movement of more liberal Quakers which would break the Friends apart into two groups, the Orthodox and the Hicksites. In 1828, the Orthodox Friends, which consisted of mostly older members, left the Oblong Meeting house and created their own just down the road. The Hicksites stayed at Oblong until the 1885 when the last meeting was held. In the 1882 copy of The History of Dutchess County, it mentions the slow decline of other Quakers in the area, due to the temptations of modern-day life. That being said, there are still Quakers living in Dutchess County to this day and they hold active meetings at the Meeting house in Poughkeepsie on Hooker Avenue.
The Oblong Meeting House was placed on the National Register in 1973 and belongs to the Historical Society of Quaker Hill and Pawling. For more information on Quakers in the Hudson Valley you can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org