Early Settlers Of Nantucket
their associates and descendants.
Lydia Swain Mitchell Hinchman
Printed by J.B. Lippincott Co.
[Transcribed by Coralynn Brown]
EXTRACTS FROM JOURNALS OF JOHN RICHARDSON AND
THOMAS STORY, GIVING SOME ACCOUNT OF THE RISE OF FRIENDS ON NANTUCKET.
JOHN RICHARDSON says, " It was much with me, when on Rhode Island to visit Nantucket, where there were but very few Friends. . . .
" We landed safe, and as we went up an Ascent we saw a great many people looking towards the Sea, for great Fear had possess'd them, that our Sloop was a French Sloop loaded with Men and Arms, who were coming to invade the Island; I held out my Arms and told them, I knew not of any worse Arms than these on board.
"They said, they were glad it was no worse, for they had intended to have alarmed the Island, it being a time of war. I told the good-like People, for so they appear'd to me, That Peleg Slocum near Rhode Island, was Master of the Sloop, and that we came to visit them in the Love of God, if they would be willing to let us have some Meetings, amongst them. They behaved themselves very courteously towards us and said, They thought we might.
" We then enquired for Nathaniel Starbuck, who we understood was in some degree convinced of the Truth, and having Directions to his House, we went thither and I told him, We made bold to come to his House, and if he was free to receive us we would. stay a little with him, but if not, we would go elsewhere ; for we heard he was a seeking religious Man and such chiefly we were come to visit;
" He said, We were very welcome. And by this Time came in his Mother Mary Starbuck who the Islanders esteemed as a Judge among them for little of Moment was done there without her, as I understood.
" At the first Sight of her it sprang in my Heart, To this Woman is the everlasting Love of God. I looked upon her as a Woman that bore some Sway in the Island, and so I said and that truly, We are come in the Love of God to visit you, if you are willing to let us have some Meetings among you : She said, She thought we might.. . .
" The next Consideration was Where shall this meeting be ? She paused awhile and then said, I think at our House.
" I from thence gathered she had an Husband, for I thought the Word our carried in it some Power besides her own, and I presently found he was with us : " I then made my Observation on him, and he appeared not a Man of mean Parts, but she so far exceeded him in Soundness of Judgment, Clearness of Understanding and an elegant Way a expressing herself, and that not in an affected Strain, but very natural to her, that it tended to lessen the Qualifications of her Husband.
"The Meeting being agreed on and Care taken as to the Appointment of it, we parted, and I lay down to try if I could get any Sleep, . . . but Sleep vanished away from me, and I got up and walked to and fro in the Woods until the Meeting was mostly gathered. I was under a very great Load in my Spirit, but the Occasion of it was hid from me, but I saw it my Place to go to Meeting, the Order of which was such, in all the Parts thereof, I had not seen the like before ; the large and bright rubbed Room was set with suitable Seats or Chairs, the Glass Windows taken out of the Frames and many Chairs placed without very conveniently, so, that I did not see anything awanting, according to the Place, but something to stand on, for I was not free to set my Feet upon the fine Cane Chair, lest I should break it.
" I am the more particular in this exact and exemplary Order than in some other things, for the Seats both within and without Doors, were so placed that the Faces of the People were towards the Seats where the publick Friends sat, and when so set, they did not look or gaze in our Faces, as some I think are too apt to do, which in my Thoughts bespeaks an unconcerned Mind. The Meeting being thus gathered and Set down in this orderly and ample manner (although there were but very few bearing our Name in it) it was not long before the Mighty Power of the Lord began to work, and in it my Companion [James Bates, who was born in Virginia.] especially did appear in Testimony in the fore Part thereof. . . . I sat a considerable Time in the Meeting before I could see my Way clear to say anything, until the Lord's heavenly Power raised me and set me upon my Feet as if one had lifted me up, and what I had first in Commission to speak was in the words of Christ to Nicodemus, viz : Except a Man be born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God : . . .
"As I was thus opened, and delivering these Things with much more than I can remember, the great Woman I felt for most of an Hour together, fought and strove against the Testimony, sometimes looking up in my Face with a pale and then with a more ruddy Complexion ; but the Strength of the Truth increased, and the Lord's mighty Power began to shake the People within and without Doors; but she who was looked upon as a Deborah by these People, was loth to lose her outside Religion, or the Appearance thereof; When she could no longer contain, she submitted to the Power of Truth, and the Doctrines thereof, and lifted up her Voyce and wept.
" Oh ! then the universal Cry and Brokenness of Heart and Tears was wonderful ! From this Time I do not remember one Word that I spoke in Testimony, it was enough that I could keep upon the true Bottom, and not be carried away with the Stream above my Measure. . .. I remember Peleg Slocum (before mentioned) said after this Meeting, that the like he was never at, for he thought the Inhabitants of the Island were shaken, and most of the People convinced of the Truth. However a great Convincement there was that Day, Mary Starbuck was one of the Number, and in a short Time after received a publick Testimony, as did also her son Nathaniel."
It would appear from a journal of Thomas Story, who was at Nantucket three years later, in 1704, that there was no settled meeting of Friends until sometime after his visit, wherein he felt it required of him to lay his concern before Mary Starbuck as the " instrument to bring it about."
Friends' Records of Nantucket Monthly Meeting state that it was established in 1708.
Thomas Story says, " Before I proceed I think proper just to give a general Relation of the State of the People on the Island of Nantucket with respect to Religion at this Time. This small Island lies about 20 Leagues from the main Land of New England, inhabited by a mixed People of Various Nations and some among them called christianized Indians, but no settled Teachers of any Kind. . . .
" There was in this Island one Nathaniel Starbuck, whose Wife was a wise discreet Woman, well read in the Scriptures, and not, attached unto any Sect, but in great Reputation throughout the Island for her Knowledge in Matters of Religion, and an Oracle among them on that Account, insomuch that they would not do any Thing without her Advice and Content therein ;"
It would appear that several ministers of other religious denominations had visited the island from time to time, and had desired a settled maintenance there. This was opposed by Mary Starbuck as " being contrary to the practice of the Apostles and Primitives and the Nature of the Maintenance of a Gospel Ministry, but she would consent so far, as that when any Preacher came among them, that they liked and staid some Time, and took Pains among them, every Family might give unto such what they pleased for the Help of themselves and their Families, if they had any, as Indian Corn (Maze) or other grain, Meal, Flesh, Fish or such other Provisions as they happened to have at the Time to spare, and Wool &c for Cloathing, but nothing certain or settled : For Ministers of Christ ought to travel abroad in the World in that Calling, and not to sit down in one place, unless they have Families to take care of and cannot leave them.
" And Some Time before this John Kinsey, one of our Ministers from Philadelphia, had been to visit them with good Acceptance and had good Service for Truth among them, and had been instrumental in the Hand of the Lord to beget a good liking in them to the Way of Truth, but received nothing from any of them, (for that is not our Way) on account of His Ministry ; And I finding a like Concern at this Time and accompanied by Several Friends of both Sexes, we on the 13th Day of the Fifth Month, about the tenth Hour in the Morning, set Sail for the said Island in a Shallop belonging to our Friend Peleg Slocum, before mentioned, which under divine Providence, he himself chiefly conducted, and landed there the next Morning about six.
" At our landing we went up to the House of the Widow Mary Gardner where, after some Refreshment had, came to us Nathaniel Starbuck (Husband of Mary Starbuck before mentioned) and his son of the same name, and we proposed to them to have a Meeting that Day, but there being a court to sit then by Special Commission, . . . . we found it improper at that Time, and some of our Company went Home with Nathaniel Starbuck, the elder, and others with his Son, where we were kindly entertained, tho' Strangers, and they at that Time, not in the Profession of Truth with us.
"On the 15th we had a Meeting at the House of Nathaniel Starbuck, the elder, which was pretty large and open, several of the People being tendered and generally satisfied with what they heard and felt of the Goodness and Mercy of God.
" On the 16th being the First Day of the Week, we had another Meeting there, which was not so large as was expected, by reason of two Priests, an elderly Man and a young one, the first from the Isle of Showles; and the other from Martha's Vineyard, who had a Meeting near us, the former being come to try if he could obtain a settled Maintenance among that People.
" And several being curious to hear this new Preacher in the Presbyterian Way, it made our Meeting something less than otherwise it might have been, yet it was considerably large, very open and encouraging, for the good Presence of the Lord was with us."
"Many of the Inhabitants of this Island are convinced of the Truth of some Points of the Doctrine of Truth, and some of them have been reached by the divine Virtue and Power of it, but some other Things they do not yet see, and, if there were no Cross, would, in all Appearance, come generally under our Profession ; some few are for a Priest and to allow him some Maintenance (for they walk not by Faith but Sight), but the Majority is against it. So that one of these not being able to effect his Purpose went Home in a few Days, but the other staid a little longer. .. .
" This evening we ascended toward the upper Part of the Island to John Swains (one who came to our Meetings and there was only one more, that is Stephen Hussie, in all that Island under our name)."
"But one night before we returned from this Island my sleep was taken from me under a concern of mind for the Settlement of a Meeting there; (And though there were two Men under the Profession of Truth among them .. . . the chief Instrument pointed to in my Thoughts, by the Truth, for this Service, when we should be gone was Mary Starbuck, before mentioned, to whom I made it known, and in the Opening and Mind of Truth laid a Charge upon her to endeavor to have a Meeting established in their Family once a week at least, to wait upon the Lord with all who were convinced of Truth in the Neighborhood, and in the Island as they had Conveniency.
" This she received with Christian Gravity and it affected her much and became her Concern.
"Having first mentioned it to the Friends who were with me I proposed it likewise to her Children (her Husband being freely passive only in such Things, and naturally good temper'd) who were all discreet young Men and Women, most of them married and hopeful; being all convinced of Truth, they were ready to embrace the Proposal.
" Then I advised them to wait sincerely upon the Lord in such Meetings (for they had no instrumental Teachers) and assured them that I had a firm Confidence in the Lord that he would visit them by his Holy Spirit in them, in his own Time, if they were faithful, held on and did not faint or look back.
" And accordingly, some time after we departed the Island, they did meet, and the Lord did visit them and gathered many unto himself, and they became a large and living Meeting in Him and several living and able Ministers were raised by the Lord in that Family, and of others, to the Honour of His own Arm, who is worthy forever."
For many years the Society prospered, and its large meeting-houses were well filled.
The experience of Nantucket has been a repetition of the history of the Society of Friends in many localities ; other religious denominations have attracted the younger people, and the older members, one by one, have passed from works to rewards until a handful only remains of the once flourishing Society of Friends upon Nantucket. Of late, monthly meetings have been held alternately at Nantucket, Lynn, Providence, and Centreville.
In 1894 one meeting-house on the island was sold, and is at present the property of the Historical Society.