Quakers remember Maryland's part in American founding 350 years ago

Galesville event commemorates the religion's arrival in the New World

September 18, 2006|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,Sun reporter

At the old Quaker Burying Ground in Galesville, two English religious rebels who came to "convince" Marylanders to embrace the new Religious Society of Friends were conjured up by actors yesterday in a celebration of the 350th anniversary of the faith's founding in America.

One was Elizabeth Harris, a traveling minister - unheard of for a woman back in 1656. The other, George Fox, was the founding father of the religious movement, which emphasizes an inner light, peace, equality, simplicity and silence in worship.

Three and a half centuries later, there are an estimated 100,000 Quakers in America - among some 300,000 in the world.

For the Annapolis Society of Friends Meeting, the milestone was a chance to mark the rural Anne Arundel County spot where the first Friends meetings for worship happened on this continent -outdoors and an ocean away from the king and church of England, then fiercely at odds with the new Christian sect.

Lee Lougee, a member of the Annapolis meeting, said outreach was also a reason for the free public event, which will be repeated the afternoon of Oct. 7. "This is our history here. People just drive by and see the [Quaker] sign and have nothing to put with it. It's kind of a big deal that this is the origin of Quakerism in America."

Fox, a shoemaker and shepherd who had recently founded and was leading the movement, was portrayed by Wes Stone, a local living-history actor. Also starring was his wife, who took the historical character of Harris, in 1656 the first Quaker minister to journey across the Atlantic.

Karen Stone noted that Harris chose Maryland as her starting point because it was known for religious toleration. The Stones, both 49, met in Massachusetts several years ago when they portrayed pilgrims in a Plymouth museum and learned to speak in Colonial dialect.

Quakers used thee and thou to address each other - and so did the Stones.

"'Tis writ there, that I've been here a number of months, speaking with folks in Maryland," Karen Stone said, standing by a white picket fence in the Chesapeake Bay sailing town south of Annapolis. "When your heart is open, then you trust. ... Many have been convinced that there is an inner light, in each of thee."

Wes Stone, impersonating Fox in a monologue, smiled as he told about 50 people that Fox won his jailer over to his faith - considered radical then - while he was locked up. "My first convincement was my jailer."

In the informal lesson, the hostility Colonial Puritans in Massachusetts felt for Fox and Quakers surfaced: "See what they will do with me in New England," Stone said in Fox's voice.

Quakers' stances on social issues seemed far ahead of their time when Stone's character narrative touched on anti-slavery and women's themes. "We need not keep women silent," Stone said, conjuring Fox.

Speaking of slaves arriving on Maryland's shores, he added, "Mammon in Maryland is tobacco."

Longtime members of the Annapolis Society of Friends, which organized the commemorative presentation, attended the gathering, along with area residents. Some expressed surprised on learning that Maryland - not the Pennsylvania governed by William Penn - was where the Society of Friends began in America, close to the ground where they stood.

Also news to Brian Czarnowski, a local boat rigger who with his wife, Karen, rode bicycles to the burying ground, was that Quakers were persecuted in England. "I didn't know they were arrested and imprisoned," he said.

Jack Smith, 82, who has lived in Galesville all his life, said he is Episcopalian. "But I am personally proud to have this history here. It means so much," he added.

Kim Finch, an Annapolis Quaker and member of the 350th anniversary celebration committee, said yesterday's event was a bridge between those in and out of the faith. "We met a lot of people with Quaker roots today," she said. "We threw open the gates, and they came."

As the event came to a close, Karen Stone said she had heard of one or two "convincements" herself in the course of the afternoon. That made it seem like a good day's work, even though she was more faker than Quaker.

"I feel very fine, I think," said Stone, who is a Catholic.

jamie.stiehm@baltsun.com

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