As stated in last week’s column, business meetings of the four distinct worship groups of Friends in this general area began in 1684. And from that time on careful minutes of these monthly meetings were kept, many of them in existence to this day. Those for the period 1686 to 1693 are unfortunately lost. These are the ones that might have told of the building of the first Radnor Meeting House, that small structure possibly built of logs, which preceded by some years the present stone building erected in about 1718.
These first monthly meetings of the four groups were still held in the homes of members in the various localities since none of the Meeting houses were built. The very first monthly meeting was at Thomas Duckett’s farm, which was on the site later occupied by the former West Philadelphia Station. This was on the “Second Month, 10th”, 1684. But as the western settlements grew, monthly Meetings came to be held more frequently at Haverford, Merion or Radnor, until in 1698, the Meeting at the Schuylkill had ceased to be connected with Radnor Monthly Meeting, the members probably finding it more convenient to meet with Philadelphia Friends. (This early Schuylkill Meeting should not be confused with the later Schuylkill Meeting near Phoenixville.)
The westward movement is indicated by an excerpt from the monthly meeting records of 1686 which state, “At our Monethly Meeting at John Bevan’s home in Haverford ye 8th day of ye second month, it’s ordered . . . that whereas every Generall Monethly Meeting was formerly ordered to be kept at Thomas Duckett’s house in Schoolkill, It is ordered by this meeting that every other Monethly Meeting be kept at Havford for ye conveniency of Radnor friends and them who may settle upwards.”
It is interesting to note that in “the book of marriages”, Radnor marriages up to and including one on the 9th Month 17th, 1692, are recorded as having taken place in the homes of Friends. However, the next recorded Radnor marriage in 4th Month, 1693, that of Philip Philip and Phebe Evans, took place in “the meeting house in Radnor and in a publike assembly of friends then met together”. This would indicate that the first Radnor Meeting was completed sometime between 9th Month, 1692, and 4th Month, 1693, nine years after the earliest recorded monthly Meeting. The very first marriage known to have taken place at Radnor was that of Richard Ormes and Mary Tyder who were married 7th Month 3rd, 1686, in the house of John Evans, of Radnor.
According to Miss Dorothy Harris’s noteworthy article on Radnor Meeting House which has given us so much information for this series “The minutes of the monthly meeting furnish a wealth of material from which to reconstruct a picture of the early life of Radnor. In some ways the minutes are very much like those of today with frequent appointments of representatives to Quarterly Meeting, Certificates received and sent, and business relating to the care of the meeting house . . .
“In the early days the Monthly Meeting was a body of considerable authority in civil matters. It settled disputes among its members, saw to it that debts were properly paid, and administered legacies . . . Sometimes, too, the exigencies of farm life affected the time of holding meetings, as when in 1717 ‘In Consideration yt (that) ye next monthly (meeting) hapening SO in ye harvest Time Its thought convenient yt It be removed to ye 3rd 5th day in ye next mo (month) and frds (Friends) are Desired that they remember It So Agreed on In this meeting.'”
Only a few years after the building of the first meeting house, a meeting-library for the “service of Truth” was established there. The first minutes in regard to it state: “It is ordered that friends booke belongeing to this Monethly Meeting be brought . . . once a moneth In order that they may be dispersed among ffriends & that they may have ye Service of them.” One David Maurie was ordered “to mke a Chest for to keep” these books.
Even in those faraway days there were visiting committees whose mission it was to go to see families “Within the verge” of the meeting in order to arouse their interest in coming to the meeting house more regularly. Their reception was evidently a friendly one on the whole, since it is recorded in some of the Minutes that “The friends appointed to visit friends families brings an acc’t that they have visited most of friends’ families and that friends generally Received them in Love, and were very ready to put by their work and Come with their families to wait upon the Lord”.
Specially appointed meetings were often called for “Publick Friends” who were visitors in the vicinity, sometimes even coming from as far away as the Mother Country. For in spite of the difficulties of travel there was some intervisitation between Friends in Wales and those in the new “Welsh Tract”. However, Friends in the ministry who visited Radnor sometimes met with a strange custom, according to Miss Harris, who quotes the following from the Minutes of 1703: “It is the desire & advice of this meeting, that friends do not stand up, and turn their backs to Publick freinds when they are ministering, and be not Restless, & go forth out of Ye Meetings when they can avoid it, and that friends should advise their family as to it.”
There was evidently a warm spirit of neighborly helpfulness among these newcomers to a strange land that extended to others not of their own religious faith. In 1699 when Radnor Friends learned that assistance was needed by a contingent arriving on “Ye Last Leverpoole Ship” a goodly sum of money was raised for them. Even the distress of “Friends and others” in the New England conolny was alleviated by a fund to which members of Radnor, Havrford and Merion Meetings subscribed. Closer to home was the need of one Jonas Potts and his wife who “being poore, and haveing divers small children want assistance to buy a Cow”. Another member of the Meeting who wanted a horse to plow also received one.
The building of the present Radnor Friends Meeting, begun in about 1717 and completed in about 1722, was described in the first article of this series. The trying years of the Revolution, as it affected Radnor Meeting Friends will be told in next week’s column.