The Quaker Influence

Susan B. Anthony of the Hoosac Valley

Susan B. Anthony lived in Adams only during the first six years of her life.  Nevertheless, her belief in women’s rights, temperance and abolitionism have origins in the Hoosac Valley.

In the late 1760s, Quakers and Baptists from Rhode Island settled the wilderness of the Hoosac River Valley headwaters. Among these pioneers were the grandparents and great-grandparents of Susan B. Anthony.  Born 200 years ago this February 15th, she was the daughter of a mixed marriage. Her father was a Quaker, and her mother was a Baptist.

The Quakers settled in East Hoosuck/Adams. The Baptists initially settled New Providence, on Stafford Hill in Cheshire, where they built the first Baptist church in Berkshire County. Baptists, too, settled in East Hoosuck/Adams and lived harmoniously within the only Quaker community in the county. The Shakers, a religious sect that had spun off from the Quakers, also established several villages in the Berkshires.

All new settlements in Massachusetts were required by law to support a resident Congregational minister. Rev. Samuel Todd lived in East Hoosuck, but he followed his congregation when they moved to better farmland in West Hoosuck. Agreeing to the terms of Ephraim Williams’s legacy, West Hoosuck changed its name to Williamstown and built a college called Williams. Adams, meanwhile, remained without a resident Congregational minister for 70 years. None was ever called to Cheshire.

Congregationalists considered Quakers and Baptists to be heretics. In the 1660s, their Puritan ancestors in Boston hung Quaker martyrs because they would not pay the state-imposed tax to support the church, refused to attend Puritan services, and wouldn’t accept banishment from the city. Quakers wanted to practice their religion, and the Puritans did not want them as neighbors.

A century later, Friends and Baptists were safe in the remote, mountainous corner of Massachusetts, at a considerable distance from the colony’s governmental center. Coming from Rhode Island, the first colony in New England to guarantee religious freedom, the Friends and the Baptists believed in the separation of church and state—an idea that eventually was codified in the U.S. Constitution.

The Quakers had a progressive religious outlook. They called themselves a Society of Friends, which is an unusually plain name for a religious denomination in comparison to, say, Episcopalian, Greek Orthodox, or Roman Catholic.

Simplicity was dogma to the orthodox Friends. They uncluttered their lives because they believed that undue distractions complicated their communication with the deity. They had no use for a minister/priest to serve as an intermediary since “there is that of God in all of us.” They considered dancing, music, smoking, and drinking “spirituous liquors” disruptive activities. They opposed war. They didn’t paint their houses, and they didn’t mark their graves. The Quaker Meeting House in the Maple Street Cemetery in Adams has never had a coat of paint, and the open land in front of it contains approximately 80 unmarked graves. Friends spoke a “simple speech” and replaced the names of the months and the days of the week with ordinal numbers.

The Friends’ “First Day” (Sunday) services took the form of an “appointed hour of silence.” In that quiet time, they listened for God’s direction. But they also allowed the silence to be broken by “speakers,” who shared reflections or even preached.

Friends did not ban women from being “speakers.” Susan B. Anthony’s aunt, Hannah (Anthony) Hoxie, was a speaker in the East Hoosuck Meeting, and she preached at other meetings as well. She was a role model for Susan, who, as a young woman, attended a Temperance meeting and raised her hand to speak, but the man behind the podium told her that women were invited to listen and to learn but not to speak. Anthony left the meeting in disgust.

After Susan B. Anthony’s parents, Lucy Read and  Daniel Anthony, were married, a “Committee of Three” was sent by the Friends Meeting to visit Daniel. Why, they asked, had he married outside of meeting (he was the first Anthony to do so), and why was he “dealing in spiritous liquors”? Daniel promised to stop selling liquor, but he would not be condemned for marrying the woman he loved. 

Friends opposed slavery. In 1783 the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled slavery unconstitutional, but New York didn’t phase out the immoral practice until 1827. Runaway New York slaves found refuge and aid in Adams.

While Friends were progressive in their religious beliefs, the local Baptists were ardent advocates for liberty. Next in this series—The Cheshire Baptists: Revolutionaries.


Note: Evidence for abolition of slavery in MA and NY

Author of this blog article:

Eugene Michalenko, President

Adams Historical Society


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