A cool breeze, a brilliant blue morning sky, and hilltop Quaker meeting house in Adams in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts becomes at once a thing of sacred stillness, and a communion with the past.
It is vacant now, maintained by descendents of those first Quaker settlers who established this township once called East Hoosuck, but it is owned by the Adams Historical Society, and so the place of worship has become a place apart, the centerpiece of a colonial graveyard, and an artifact of town history.
This denomination of the Society of Friends moved here from the area around Dartmouth, Massachusetts and Smithfield, Rhode Island in the late 1760s. The meeting house dates from 1782.
At that time their beliefs, which varied from opposition to slavery, to war, and to the equality of men and women to a degree that was unknown among non-Quakers, as well as their silence services in which each person is allowed to be guided by his own “inner light” rather than a church or clergy to bring them closer to God, were cause for the Quakers to be persecuted. In the 1600s, they were hanged on Boston Common.
In this quiet and peaceful spot they were removed from that horror, but did not shut themselves off from the injustices of the world. They promoted the humane treatment of prisoners and the mentally ill. They extended their friendship to the Indians, and to slaves. Massachusetts had abolished slavery in 1790, but it was still permitted in New York until 1826. Several runaway slaves from New York State found refuge here among the Quakers.
The Friends also engaged in another bitter aspect of society, and one which was for them especially agonizing. Despite their espoused opposition to war, some Quakers from this community fought in the Revolutionary War at the Battle of Bennington in nearby Vermont. Below the meeting house, among a cluster of headstones, there is a memorial boulder on which a plaque is dedicated to those Friends, “laying aside their religious scruples took up arms in defense of their homes and liberties.”
The struggle of scruples for Quakers on this point was recently discussed in a review of “Friendly Persuasion” on my Another Old Movie Blog.
A total of 40 Quaker families lived and gathered for meeting here in 1819, and afterwards there was a decline in membership as more and more members of the community headed west as pioneers, even as their ancestors headed west from Rhode Island and eastern Mass. The last official Quaker meeting took place here in 1842.
The old Indian trail called the Pontoosuck Path is now Friend Street that leads up to the hill on which the Meeting House is perched. Look above the rooftop to the massive Mt. Greylock, and the observation tower that looks down, from the highest point in Massachusetts, that can just be seen. One remote world still silently observing another.
For more on the Adams Quaker Meeting House, have a look at this website.