Free Quaker Meeting House - Philadelphia, PA
Posted by: Groundspeak Regular Member Math Teacher
N 39° 57.148 W 075° 08.915
18S E 487308 N 4422492
Quick Description: Crazy as it seems, there was a devout group of Quakers who were prevented from practicing their religion because of their political views during the Revolutionary War. They were forced to establish their own meetinghouse for prayer.
Location: Pennsylvania, United States
Date Posted: 8/21/2013 10:21:17 PM
Waymark Code: WMHX2R
Published By: Groundspeak Regular Member Math Teacher
Views: 2

Long Description:

Quakers aren't nearly as tolerant as one might be led to believe, just ask Betsy Ross, who advocated taking up arms against the British and supporting the bourgeoning country in their fight for freedom against a cruel and harsh dictator (king). So inspired for the cause was a Patriot named Betsy Ross that she pi$$ed off the other Quakers and was given the pacifist boot as were her emotionally violent and troubled friends who also supported taking up arms. The group of approximately 200 who truly believed in the Revolutionary cause, called themselves Free Quakers and founded a meeting house of their own in 1783, this meeting house! Naturally, after the war and some time had passed and the 19th century was what it was, everyone became chummy again and slapped each other on the back and the Free Meeting House closed their doors permanently in 1834.

Political Divisiveness & Turmoil
This building sure offers a tumultuous history. During the Revolution, when the call went out for able-bodied men (and apparently women) to bear arms in the colonial militia, an unusual group of Quakers answered. These were "fighting" Quakers who could not reconcile themselves to the Quaker principle of pacifism when it came to defending their country. To join the war effort was a painful decision, for they knew they would be disowned or "read out" of their meetings, and, they were. In 1783 this separate force of nationalistic minded citizens had build their own house and thus the Free Quakers & their Free Quaker Meeting were born. Thirty to Fifty men and women, including Betsy Ross, regularly attended this meeting. After the war, differences among the Quakers diminished, and by 1834 services stopped and the building no longer served as a place of worship. I suppose the War of 1812 prevented the reconciliation from happening earlier. Today the building is operated by Once Upon A Nation which conducts living history performances throughout Independence Park. They have a great act and do a swell job and are worth seeing.

The building is a more or less square brick structure facing Fifth Street. The façade features Flemish bond brickwork with glazed headers, a double brick belt course, molded water table and substantial pilasters at the corners. The large 8/12 sash windows are topped with lintels and keystones. Decorative elements include a wide box cornice with dentil molding and a pedimented wood doorway with recessed paneling. There is an “inscription stone” in the north gable that reads: “By General Subscription/for the/ FREE QUAKERS/Erected in the year/of OUR LORD 1783/of the Empire 8.” The reference to Empire offers evidence of the unsettled political climate in the years immediately after the war and before the Constitution. SOURCE

Today this historic NRHP building is operated by "Once Upon A Nation” which conducts living history performances throughout the park. Step inside and relieve Old Philadelphia. Although not a traditional museum as one would expect with fancy display cases, expensive admission and a cinematic presentation, this museum still fits the profile of museum, and then some. Inside (admission free) are workers which conduct living history with visitors. They play or pretend they are the Quakers who attended this church in the 1780s. Everything is preserved as it was during the Revolution so in effect, it is a museum.

The interpretive out front also bills this as a museum. I would never have though of this meeting house in this aspect were it not for the sign and an aha! moment. The signs says The Society of Free Quakers built this meeting house as a place of worship in 1783. Free Quakers took an active role in supporting the American Revolution and split from the traditional and "non-fighting" Quakers (Society of Friends). This building is now preserved as a public museum. What I found most off is of all the potential tourist attractions in Philadelphia, some mundane as a statue, this was the only one not on the VisitPhilly website. Perhaps the chief editor is a staunch Quaker?

American Guide Series
Clearly the AGS is more progressive and liberal than those rotten tomatoes at the VisitPhillt Tourist site. And, what historic site would be complete without a shout-out in the AGS? Certainly not this one:

Free Quaker Building is on the southwest corner at Fifth Street. It was erected in 1783 by those Friends who defied the principles of the sect and took up arms in the Revolution. The two-story building is enriched by the delicacy of the pediment above the main doorway and flat stone arches above the windows. Flemish bond brickwork with black headers adds color to the building. --- Philadelphia: A Guide to the Nation's Birthplace, 1937; page 390

Personal Narrative
When I visited there was a Quaker woman playing an unusual instrument for a group of people sitting in the worship area. I was able to simply walk in and sit down. This meeting house is still a very inviting and relevant site to the current cultural climate of Philadelphia. From various historical accounts, I learned Betsy Ross met her husband here. The actors in their period garb broke character at the end and entertained questions. The visit was free and I was allowed to take all the pictures I wanted, a Waymarkers dream!

Relevant Website: [Web Link]

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