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.”)

The Radnor Friends Meeting House, part 3

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.

The Radnor Friends Meeting House, part 2

On one of last week’s warm summer afternoons the writer left the swift flowing traffic of Conestoga road to turn right at the corner of Radnor-Chester road in order to reach Newtown road. On the left, in a triangle bounded by three roads, stands the quaint little building once used as a Friends School and now home of F. A. Chidsey, Jr. Across Newtown road is the entrance to the old Radnor Meeting House, the original building dating back to the latter part of the 17th century, with the present building erected only about twently-five years later.

Once inside the gateway, the noise of the busy thoroughfare seemed at once muffled and far away. Low headstones in the burying ground to the west of the Meeting House marked old graves and new. A soft breeze, cooler here than on the road, swayed the branches of the trees surrounding the Meeting House and the tall grasses and flowers in the field beyond.

The front door was ajar . . . softly I stepped across the threshold of the old building that has stood in quiet serenity just off the busy highway for so many a long year. A peace and quietness that is difficult to feel in these days of fear and of unrest seemed to flow from the beautiful pine-banelled walls and to come in with the setting seem through the old panes of glass. It was a moment for pause, for reflection and for prayer that we of a generation so far removed from that of those who first worshipped here should face our future as courageously as they did their’s.

Softly I closed the door behind me and went out again along the highway. But in spite of the constant flow of automobile traffic the past seemed closer to me for the moment than did the present. Perhaps it was because Conestoga road is rather narrow between the Old Store and Ithan Station and with its cool woods for a short distance along each side suggests the narrow pathways trodden by our forefathers and the Indians who were their neighbors. For the moment at least I could almost see that sparsely populated settlement of Radnor in the “Welsh Tract” that William Penn sold to Welsh Friends in the early 1680’s.

Houses of these early Welshmen were few and far between. At first some were built of logs, later ones were of stone. Life must have been lonely and rather terrifying at times, especially to those who had come from the well populated parts of Wales. The wilderness of the forests through which Friends passed in going to meeting, is reflected in the Minutes of Radnor Meeting of 1693: “It is ordered by the Meeting & Consent of the Inhabitants of the Townships of Haverford and Radnor . . . ye (that) ye Inhabitants . . . should pay 1s (one shilling) per hundred (one hundred acres of land) towards ye takeing of Woolves”.

But at least the Pennsylvania Colony founded by that famous Quaker, the good William Penn, was free form the religious persecution which they had suffered in their homes overseas. The Quaker movement took root in America in 1656 and twenty-six years later, in 1682, Penn founded his colony as a “holy experiment” in the application of Quaker ideals to the State. Although later settlers were hostile to their ideals, the Quakers were consistent in using their influence to keep peace with the Indians and to protect them from fraud and debauchery. They always worked for popular education, peace, temperance and democracy and championed effectively the cause of religious liberty.

The founder of the Society of Friends was George Fox, an Englishman, whose followers were first called Quakers, because he had exhorted the magistrates “to terrible at the word of the Lord”. Believing himself to be the subject of divine call, he wandered from place to place spreading his views on religious reforms. he made missionary journeys through Ireland, Scotland, the West Indies, Holland, and even North America. Generally speaking, the Society of Friends exhibits a “form of Christianity widely divergent from the prevalent types, being a religious fellowship which has no formulated creed demanding definite subscription, and no liturgy, priesthood or outward sacrament, and which gives to women an equal place with men in church organizatioon.”

The “Welsh Tract” of 40,000 acres promised by William Penn to Welsh Friends included the present townships of Haverford, Merion, Radnor and part of Goshen. Among the purchasers was a Richard Davies, who bought 5000 acres and in turn sold it to Friends of Radnorshire in Wales. These were the Friends who first settled the present township of Radnor.

According to Miss Dorothy Harris of the Historical Library of Swarthmore, who has compiled form many sources an interesting history of Radnor Meeting, “As soon as homes were built, Welsh Friends began meeting together in them for worship, and continued meeting in homes for about ten years until their Meeting Houses could be built. Gradually four distinct worship groups developed, one in Merion, one in Haverford, one in Radnor, and one on the west bank of the Schuylkill River. This last one was held in the home of Thomas Duckett, whose farm occupied the ground on which the former West Philadelphia Station, at 32nd and Market, stood. Business meetings each month of the four groups began to be held in 1684 and at first rotated irregularly among the other localities of Schuylkill, Haverford and Merion. This was the beginning of Radnor Monthly Meeting–called in the early period Haverford Monthy Meeting.

(To be continued.)

The Radnor Friends Meeting House, part 1 – preparation meetings of Haverford and Merion

In recounting the story of the old Ithan Store in last week’s column, we stated that Robert Curley, present owner of the property, has found that it was in 1681 that Richard Daves obtained 500 acres from William Penn as part of the original grant of land from the Charles II of England to Penn made one year earlier. Daves’ holdings were in what is now the Ithan section of Radnor Township and it was from him that John Jarman purchased the 100 acres on part of which the old store now stands. It was soon after 1688 that the store was built.

It was not until the middle nineties, probably somewhere between 1693 and 1695, that the original Radnor Meeting across the road was built. There is no record of the materials used for it. It may indeed, have been built of logs, as were some of the early dwellings. By 1717 Friends of Radnor were considering the erection of a meeting home to be built of stone. According to some of the old records encouragement for this undertaking was needed, for early records mention “A letter from one frd (friend) Benjamin Holm to this meeting recomending to their Consideration The Stirring up of frds (friends) In Ye Building of their Meeting house att Radnor.”

Benjamin Holm’s letter to the Meeting also states that those concerned with the building “should be concerned for ye prosperity of Truth.” David Morris, David Lewis, Edd. Rees and Robert Jones, Richard Hayes and Samuel Lewis were appointed “to assist In Ye contrivance and ye building Thereof, and they meet together abt (about) it on ye 21st of this instant, and report to ye next morning.”

The members of the Committee all belonged to the Preparation Meetings of Haverford and Merion. The next Meeting was held at Merion, and one of its minutes embraces the report of the Committee.

“Some friends of those appointed to assist Radnor friends in Ye Contrivance of a new meeting house, then having acct. yt. they have accordingly met and given their thoughts as to ye bigness and form thereof. To wch (which) Radnor frds Then there present seemed generally to agree with.”

The monthly meetings were held alternately at Haverford, Merion and radnor, and in course a meeting would be held in the early part of December, 1718. This meeting was ordered to be held at Haverford, “their meeting home at Radnor being not ready.”

The west end of the present building was constructed at that time but the east end was not completed for several years. It was in 1721 that Radnor Friends “Made a Motion . . . for some assistance to finish their Meeting House. And it is desired that the friends of the Severall parts belonging to this Meeting do contribute what they think Meet for so comendable a work.” The east end was still under construction in 1722 and was for a period used for a Friends School. Here Enoch Lewis, a well-known mathematician, and later a member of the Westtown faculty, went to school and later taught.

Today that meeting house, built in the closing years of the 17th century, with its addition made some twenty-five years later, still stands in its quiet dignity, at one of the busiest intersections of roads along the Old Conestoga Road. The building is in good repair, and in constant use, with a membership of some 125 Friends. It is a “united meeting,” that is, with membership from both Arch Street and Race Street meetings.

The old burying ground in its quiet serenity looks much as it always has throughout these many years. There is occasionally a new grave in the midst of the old ones. Although of course long outdated now, the old vault still stands as a reminder of the days when frozen ground made permanent burial impossible until spring should come. An endowment fund provides for lasting upkeep of the burial ground. There is still, too, the old block from which one dismounted from horse or carriage when coming to services.

Inside there is still the old division between the men’s side and the women’s, though that custom of seating has now fallen into disuse. the original old pine panelling is still lovely as is whatever old glass remains. Quite recently the “pot-bellied” stoves have been dispensed with, and a modern heating system has been installed.

Due to the large numbers who attend First Day School, an interesting use has been made of the old fashioned wagon sheds. Five of these now have been converted into connecting rooms for First Day School, the backs of these rooms still the thick stone walls of the sheds, and their fronts glass enclosed in a most attractive manner. Two more still remain to be converted when the demands come for more First Day School space.
Still standing after more than two hundred and fifty years, the Radnor Meeting looks much as it did originally, though some modernization has taken place. Like its close neighbors, Merion Meeting and Haverford Meeting, it is a living memorial to the faith of some of Pennsylvania’s earliest settlers, a faith still enduring in our present generation of the Society of Friends.
(The intervening years between the early days of Radnor Meeting and the present will be described in subsequent articles. For her information Mrs. Patterson is indebted to Miss Dorothy Harris, of the Historical Library of Swarthmore ; to Mrs. Ralph Unkefer, of Ithan and to the “History of Delaware County, Pennsylvania,” by George Smith, M.D.)