The Radnor Friends Meeting House, part 4

During the French and Indian Wars which lasted from 1754 to 1763, a number of the able-bodied men from Radnor Township joined the provincial forces, according to Henry Graham Ashmead in his “History of Delaware County.” Among those who served in the armies commanded by Braddock, Forbes, Stanwix and Boquet were eight young Friends who “were disowned by the Quaker fraternity, and prohibited from enjoying any benefits within the society for evermore”. Presumably, however, the Revolutionary War found these same men enrolled, perhaps as commissioned officers in the Pennsylvania Line. According to Ashmead, Colonel Evan Evans, one of the most prominent American officers in Chester County during the Revolutionary War, was a resident of Radnor. And since he was a son of a Friend, he was probably among the disowned ones above mentioned.

Soon after the disastrous battle of the Brandywine, General Washington, with his army, marched out from Germantown over the old Conestoga Road for the purpose of again engaging the invaders of this region. However, a heavy rainstorm compelled the General to countermarch his forces and return without a conflict with the enemy. But after the British obtained possession of Philadelphia, soldiers under orders from General Howe and Lord Cornwallis commited many depredations in Radnor Township and the adjoining districts. Many families were left wholly destitute after their livestock, provisions, clothing and household goods had been carried away.

This was, indeed, a trying period for Radnor Friends as shown in a Minute of the 9th Month 10th, 1778: “The Minute of the Meeting for sufferings was read here and Friends Considering that the time of Difficulty is now amongst us more especially on those who Endeavor to keep to the Testimony we as a People have Maintained from the beginning, and suffering for the same have been felt by some; which may probably increase more & more, the committee . . . are desired to meet at Haverford Meeting House the 21st Instant at 10 o’clock”.

In the winter of 1777-78, General Potter, with a considerable body of American militia, was assigned to guard the country between the Schuylkill and Chester, to prevent supplies reaching the enemy and also to protect the inhabitants from foraging parties sent out from Philadelphia by the British. Numerous skirmishes took place in Radnor and its vicinity between Potter’s men and the British invaders.

Radnor Friends Meeting House was occupied both as officers’ quarters and as a hospital early in the year 1778. Indeed it could not be used for meetings until 1780 because of the necessity of repairs occasioned by this use of the building. Radnor Friends supplied the food and fuel for the hospital. Many suffered for their testimony and in one of the old record books is a list entitled, “An account of sundry Effects taken from Friends of Radnor Preparation Meeting by the Contending Armies, Substitute & Non-Attendance in the Militia, Demands, Taxes, etc.” SOme of the names included in this list are those of Daniel Maule, Evan Lewis, Jesse Meredith, Abijah Richard, John Jones, James Espen, Jacob Walker, Abel Thomas and Samuel Richards.

According to Miss Dorothy Harris, whose paper of Radnor Friends Meeting contains so much valuable information, it was during the period preceding and during the Revolutionary War that Radnor Friends were also struggling with the problem of slave-holding. In 1774 the Minutes record “That we have done but little in Respect to treating with Possessors of Negroes as Friends here appear against further Purchases, and think the Testimony against Slavery will be Continued.” Later minutes state “The Friends sometime past appointed to treat with the Possessor of Slaves are Continued, and to bring an account to next Meeting of such who appear averse to the Measure.”

By 1775 “The Friends appointed report they have visited those possessed of Slaves, and found most of them in a Complying Disposition, One being set free, and others Intended when of age.” By 1779 the holding of slaves was no longer countenanced by Radnor Friends. Members who persisted in holding them were disowned.

With the close of the Revolutionary war more prosperity came to Radnor and its surroundings. New highways were laid out and many additional settlers established themselves. In 1792 the construction of the Lancaster Turnpike was begun, to be completed a few years later. This was the means of increasing travel through the central part of the township, and as a consequence numerous wayside inns were established.

Radnor Monthly Meeting entered upon a new period of growth. Farls in “Old Roads Out of Philadelphia” speaks of the time when large numbers of carriages, as many even as 200, gathered at the meeting house on First Days. This book also tells of the beautiful sycamore tree that stood until a few years ago at the end of the carriage sheds.

With the separation in 1827, the Meeting House at Radnor went to Race Street Friends. With the migration of Friends westward and an increasingly exacting discipline that disowned many members for marriage outside of the Society, their numbers gradually began to dwindle. By 1882 the Preparation Meeting at Radnor had so declined that it was found advisable to lay it down. on 12th month 13th, 1882, “The Committee appointed . . . met together and were united in proposing that Radnor Preparation Meeting be discontinued, and its members joined to Valley Preparation Meeting.”

But even after the Radnor Preparation Meeting had ceased to exist, Merion, Valley and Haverford Preparation Meetings, which still formed Radnor Monthly meeting, came together for their monthly meetings in the present Radnor Meeting House. And occasionally meetings for worship were held there on First Days.

In 1931, according to Miss Harris’ historical sketch, a group of Friends from both branches of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting began gathering regularly for meeting for worship in Radnor Meeting House. A forum period before meeting was started and gradually the little meeting began to take on new life, gathering strength from a varied group of students, visitors and faithful concerned Friends, many of whom found the quick meeting a source of spiritual power in their daily lives.

For a period of six years, regular meetings for worship continued to be held at Radnor on First Days. Then as a need for more permanent organization was felt, application was made to the two Philadelphia Quarterly Meetings for the setting up of a united meeting.

On 2nd Month 13th, 1937, the first session of Radnor United Monthly Meeting was held in the meeting house at Ithan with the approval of the two Philadelphia Quarterly Meetings. The meeting itself was a constituent of both Race and Arch Street Yearly Meetings. However, the property continued to be held by Radnor Monthly Meeting and is under the care of the trustees of Radnor Meeting.

At the first monthly meeting seven members were received on certificate to form a nucleus from which the meeting grew to a membership of 78 in six years. This membership is now 125. To quote Miss Harris’ closing paragraph: “To nurture a new meeting on the ground where devoted Friends for over two hundred and fifty years have gathered to renew their faith in worship has been not only a great privilege, but also a source of deep inspiration to the members of the new meeting.”


(The writer is indebted to Mrs. Ralph Unkefer for her copy of Miss Harris’ historical sketch on Radnor Friends Meetings and to Richard W. Barringer for his copy of Ashmead’s “History of Delaware County.”)