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Friends Past and Present: The Bicentennial History of Cincinnati Friends Meeting (1815-2015) Paperback – January 26, 2015
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That said, I can honestly say that I was pleasantly surprised with my reading of Friends Past and Present. I donâ€™t know what I was expecting- something dry and historical I suppose- but what I found was an interesting narrative that moved me right along. It doesnâ€™t hurt that the early years provided interesting material- the formation of a new Quaker Meeting in a rough border town on the Ohio River, followed shortly by a dramatic split in the congregation due to a visit by the widely known itinerant Quaker minister Elias Hicks. At first the â€œHicksitesâ€ and the â€œOrthodoxâ€ shared the meetinghouse (while wrangling over the keys) and then the Orthodox built their own meetinghouse on the same property. That is soap-opera material!
And if that werenâ€™t enough, the slavery issue soon propelled the forward thinking Quakers into the forefront of the abolitionist movement, with the arrival of Levi Coffin in Cincinnati. He had been sent to open what we might call a â€œfree tradeâ€ warehouse in the thriving port and commercial hub of Cincinnati. More soap opera: the meeting was divided on whether to accept the firebrand Coffin into membership or not. Quakers were universally opposed to the institution of slavery, but not all wanted the notoriety that came with radical abolitionism. Some supported an alternate movement called colonization, which involved shipping the slaves back to where they came from.
And then, breathlessly, we are plunged into yet another controversy as the Civil War erupts, putting the pacifist Quakers once again in the middle of a controversy: whether or not to take up arms. Since most of them could not, in good conscience, be a part of the killing that comes with war, they came under heavy fire of another kind, this time from the local press, who viewed the anti-slavery Quakers as one of the instigators of the war. How dare you start a fight you wonâ€™t participate in! It would be years and another war before the term â€œconscientious objectorâ€ would come into use and be accepted as a legitimate alternative to armed service.
I will admit that some of the 200 years that this book chronicles are not as interesting as the early years; but their story is well told, with careful research, dignity, and humor when appropriate. For instance, when it came time for the Quakers to move out of the basin of Cincinnati up the incline to the neighborhood of Corryville, she says, â€œAfter nearly 200 years of worshipping in the heart of the city, Cincinnati Friends were heading for the hills.â€
You do not need to be a member of Cincinnati Friends Meeting to enjoy this book. Any student of the history of the United States will find it worth reading. This book tells the story of the history of Quakerism in the Midwest, seen through a particular lens. (Quakers are by definition regional; CFM was a member of Indiana Monthly Meeting for many years until it finally joined Wilmington Yearly Meeting.) And it is also a history of the Midwest itself, again seen through the lens of the Queen City of the Midwest as it developed from a river town to a canal city and then a railroad hub and then then an Interstate hub as I71 and I75 were brought through the downtown, forever dividing the city, and the membership of CFM, into West, Central, and East.
Did you know that the silent-worshipping Quakers played a part in the revival movement known as the Great Awakening? How and when they dropped the characteristic simple clothing and plainspeak (with its thee and thou)? How and when they started hiring ministers? Singing hymns? How do they worship today, what do they look like, what do they stand for? Read on!