Historical Markers
Plymouth Friends Meetinghouse Historical Marker
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Plymouth Friends Meetinghouse

Philadelphia and its Countryside/Lehigh Valley


Marker Location:
Germantown Pike (old US 422) and Butler Pike at Plymouth Meeting, NE of Conshohocken

Dedication Date:
May 15, 1969

Behind the Marker

A watercolor of two, two story red brick meeting houses with many windows on each level. Surrounded by a red brick fence with five entrances.
Friends Academy and Meeting House
The American Revolution presented a major dilemma for the Society of Friends, namely whether Quakers could balance an allegiance to Pennsylvania government without deviating from their historic peace testimony. Despite their withdrawal from the provincial assembly in 1756, the Friends - as founders of Pennsylvania and its constitution - still exercised considerable influence over the colony's political life and, naturally, had difficulty divorcing themselves from a strong commitment to William Penn's "Holy Experiment."

At the same time, though, as professors of a testimony on peace in a time of war, Pennsylvania's Quakers floundered between competing loyalties. Complicating matters even more was the fact that the Society of Friends had never clearly defined their non-compliance in military affairs.

To be certain, there was a broad spectrum of compliance and non-compliance among Quakers during the Revolutionary War. While some Friends entertained pro-British sympathies and opposed the use of force against the mother country, the majority remained neutral, in strict observance of the Peace Testimony, and regardless of their political preferences.

Some Quakers willingly affirmed their allegiance to the patriot cause when Pennsylvania's legislature, in 1777, demanded such an action as the price of full citizenship. Others actively supported the American effort by paying taxes, helping to collect revenues to finance the war, and serving on committees for defense. Still others joined the Continental Army as a sign of their dedication to political freedom.
"To Our Friends and Brethren..." page 2, Society of Friends' Broadside,...
"To Our Friends and Brethren."  Broadside page 1
"To Our Friends and Brethren..." page 1, Society of Friends' Broadside,...

Among the pro-Revolutionary Friends was a group of 200 Free Quakers, who claimed to be "free of the ecclesiastical tyranny of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting," the governing body of Pennsylvania Quakerdom. The Free Quakers charged the yearly meeting with abandoning the liberty of conscience - the cornerstone of William Penn's "Holy Experiment" in government and his motive for resettling Europe's religiously-persecuted peoples in his American colony - and elevating pacifism, a secondary testimony, as the defining principle of Quakerism and a prerequisite for membership in the Society of Friends.

The Quakers of Plymouth Meeting in old Philadelphia County, now Montgomery County, were careful to abide by the discipline of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting and thus tried to avoid any involvement with either army during the Revolutionary War. Their meetinghouse, however, was strategically located along Germantown Pike between Philadelphia and Gen. George Washington's headquarters at markerWhitemarsh. During the early winter of 1777, when Washington decided to relocate his forces at markerValley Forge, the Plymouth Friends' meetinghouse served as a hospital and campsite for the Continental Army en route to their winter encampment near the Chester County village.

Generally, Pennsylvania's Quakers believed that their responsibility to mankind warranted non-military aid to the wounded and suffering, and allowed the use of their meetinghouses as hospitals. Other Quaker meetinghouses were simply requisitioned by the Continental Army for that purpose without the permission of meeting members.

Philadelphia Yearly Meeting took into account these special circumstances of its constituent monthly meetings and their members when determining whether or not they violated its discipline on non-compliance in the war effort. Patriotic Friends inevitably bore the consequences for their actions as 1,276 members were disowned from Philadelphia Yearly Meeting: 758 for military deviations, 239 for paying taxes and fines, 125 for taking an oath of loyalty to the new, revolutionary government of Pennsylvania, 69 for assisting the war effort, 32 for accepting public office, and 42 for miscellaneous deviations, including watching military drills and celebrating independence.

After the Revolution, Pennsylvania's Quakers would struggle to reclaim the trust of their fellow countrymen. Eventually, Friends carved out a new role for themselves as devoted humanitarians, founding a host of reform societies to abolish slavery and intemperance, and championing the causes of Indian and women's rights in the new nation.
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