Newly-Discovered Pages from the Journal of Margaret Fell
The origin of the Society of Friends in England is generally dated from the acquaintance of George Fox with Thomas and Margaret Fell in 1652. Judge Fell and his wife used their established position in the community to draw hundreds of new followers to the charismatic itinerant Fox. Margaret Fell and eight of her nine children became Quakers. Judge Fell, though he never adopted the faith himself, helped defend the Friends against persecution at the hands of the English courts. After Thomas's death in 1658, Margaret traveled with George Fox as missionaries of a living faith. Eleven years later they were married.
These pages, recently discovered among the historical papers of an old Philadelphia family, appeared to have been torn from Margaret Fell's Journal for the year 1652. Presumably their content was too sensitive for her to risk their discovery by her husband. She secreted them among books which subsequently found their way to the New World. Their content, complete and unedited save for modernization of the spelling, has been published here for the first time.
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This day forenoon hath been brought into my acquaintance a man as remarkable in his self as his tenets are wholesome. Having come to Ulverstone Church with the children for the morning's prayer, and all having done with singing, but the sermon having yet to be delivered, I wondered to see a man tall and youthful, fairhaired and of plain attire somewhat unattended, who rose amidst the congregation and asked might he have liberty to speak. And this liberty having been granted from the pulpit, he commenced to discourse in a manner both bold and prepossessing concerning the wantonness of those who would profess a faith to which their conduct doth not attest, and that the forms of a man's prayer are in the eyes of God less well regarded than the content of his deeds, and that the defect common to our age is the preoccupation with forms and ritual while the inner spirit remaineth impoverished, and all the intemperance and depravity of our time do bear witness to this inner lack. Though the substance of his words was of a harsh and accusing nature, his deliverance thereof was accomplished with such innocence and gentle compassion as to ease their passage into my heart.
"You will say Christ saith this, and the apostles say this;" he continued, "but what canst thou say? Art thou a child of light, and hast walked in the light; and what thou speakest, is it inwardly from God?" This opened me and cut to my heart; and I sat in my pew and cried bitterly. So that served me, that I cannot well tell what he spake afterwards, nor was I noticing of the response he evoked of our congregation in general. But afterwards I did inquire as to his disposition and was given to know his name as George Fox and that his mission had brought him to this country together with his divers followers but that they had not as yet received offer of lodgings. Thomas being gone to London this fortnight, my first and only thought was that he must have occasion to meet this extraordinary man and to experience his discourse as had I, and I thought he should not be discomforted if I offered the hospitality of Swarthmore Hall for George Fox and his company.
His response was as singular and as true to his person as were the teachings I had from him thus far, for he declared he was much moved by my generosity, but that it was his conviction to follow only where the revealed word of God should dictate; so that he could not give answer at once yea or nay, but must first seek guidance from the Spirit. He left then and walked into the fields, but sometime after I had returned home he appeared and was announced by the servants, and he gave me answer that it was the Lord's will he should pass a stay at Swarthmore Hall if I was still inclined to permit it, and I answered I should be quite grateful for the favor of his presence and to hear his interpretation of the Scriptures as it had been revealed to him. And so it is arranged that he is a guest of Swarthmore Hall.
18th day Ninth month
So much is changed in my own convictions and relation to God since last I put pen to paper! It would seem almost that another language must be required to evoke the spirit that now infuseth my every thought and act. I will not say George Fox hath brought the light of the Lord into this house, for he would be the first to disclaim any such powers. Yet so well hat he taught me to open myself to my own inner light that I now feel the presence of the Lord with me constantly, and know Him in a way I had not previously, My eyes have been opened and my heart convinced. To serve God shall for me nevermore be a matter of prayers properly chosen, for I need not the words of any prophet to know God's way and his will. All things shall be mine to know as it becometh congruent with His purpose to reveal them unto me. My faith is alive, and I carry it about in my heart, or rather it carrieth me and leadeth me always to do aright.
And for all this have I George Fox to thank His presence about this house hath served to awaken me continuously, for there is not any thing that he doth but he asketh the Lord's guidance. The words of God are continuously upon his lips, and it is not the Gospel of the Apostles which he repeateth nor the words of the scriptures but it is a new
and present testimony which he speaketh even as it is revealed to him . I wonder that such wisdom may be married to such youth, for he is but eight and twenty years, and how cometh to him his knowledge of human affairs, him who hath never been husband nor father nor statesman. So gentle is his way, and so uplifting. I have watched him with the
children, and his manner is most simple and unassuming and suiteth well their nature, and they have each been quite transformed by his example. This morning I heard Isabel and she was chiding Suzanna, saying the Lord would smite her if she did not attend to her sister's words, for she must honor her elders, and Suzanna stood proud and invoked the name of Christ, that He had spoken to her and bid her do otherwise. And I hearing Suzanna maintain her own pride in her sister's challenge was taken at once to think how uplifting was the guidance of God's light within each human breast, that God availeth Himself to each person that openeth his conscience to receive Him, and how noble and blessed are we, God's creatures, by the grace of Christ Jesus.
It is thus with the way in which George Fox regardeth every human person, that he seeketh by his word and by his gesture a communion with the light that lighteth him within, and it mattereth not if his outward self be proud or humble, or whether his wit be quick or dull, but George Fox doth regard him as peer, and impelleth him toward the apprehension of God's word revealed. The house servants, have all received his teaching and it hath changed them manifestly, if my eyes yet serve me, I see a pride in their work where before there was resignation, and a smile that hath supplanted their complaining. The grace is the grace of Jesus, but the inspiration belongeth to George Fox, and the teaching and the manner of the teaching that toucheth all so deeply, these are of George Fox.
21st day Ninth month
This day have I discovered that the teachings of George Fox have power not only to inspire right conduct and a conscience open to the light of God, but there also be those who respond in jealousy and fear and who would have him silenced. Justice Sawrey hath acquired an unshakable prejudice against him, and hath accused him, calling him blasphemer and apostate. He speaketh with great passion, but his words lack both for truth and reason. Nor is he alone in his accusations, for among the priests and the magistrates there are those who say George Fox corrupteth the hearts of the faithful, and that he leadeth men astray.
My thoughts are turned today toward my husband, that any coach from London may announce his return, He shall find much changed in the house and family he hath left only last month, and I know that by the strength of his reason and his conscience he must also be greatly moved by the teachings of George Fox; yet I fear lest he be influenced aforehand by Judge Sawrey, his trusted friend, and by the others who do not understand.
23d day Ninth month
I am much vexed by Thomas's response to our new ways. I must ascribe it to his weary ride from London, and to the lies and rumors to which he hath perforce been exposed concerning George Fox and his followers; else there is no explaining his very uncharacteristic impatience with the facts of the matter. George and his company being no longer housed at Swarthmore Hall, I must pray there may be yet an opportunity for Thomas to hear him at length, and that the Lord may cause his heart once again to be opened.
25th day Ninth month
Though George Fox hath been in absence from this house three days, yet his spirit continueth to live with me constantly. I am walking by the door of the kitchen and I remember his figure, tall and gentle and bold and noble, and he is opening the Scriptures for the benefit of the kitchen servants. I am reading in the sitting room and I pause to ponder the correct interpretation of what I have read, and looking up, I see George's face plainly before me, clean and youthful, with no line of regret, no mark to tell a tale of lying or deceit, but his eyes are soft like a lamb's and his cheeks robust with goodness and compassion. He speaketh unto me and I am given to understand Christ's message of love, that love is the beginning and the end of His teaching, and I read in the face before me what signifieth those words, "The light of love shall soothe thy heart and love shall guide thy hand and thou shalt live all thy days by the light."
And I see the mission God hath set before me, that I am to share the gift of these revelations with my husband, and yet I, having not George's eyes and gentle face with which to show him, must build my case with words alone, and hope that by their power he may yet be convinced. And more, my task is doubly burdened by the prejudicial words he hath already been given to hear. He knoweth of George's ostentation only, his defiance of the law and famous protestations; but of his gentle self he knoweth nothing.
29th day Ninth month
This forenoon Thomas wished to attend church as usual, and I declared my wish that we should worship silently in the way I have newly learned. In the end, we did go to church and saved for the afternoon the discussion of George Fox and his teachings.
Then we sat in the parlor, and I tried as best I knew to discourse the tenets I had yet newly learned and the Lord gave me words to speak clearly of my faith, and with good conviction, And Thomas listened in spite of his doubts, and opened his ear to me. I spake first of that which I believe to be of first import, namely that man is good in his heart by nature, and that there is that within each man which we call conscience and to which we may always appeal and meet with good result. And having said these words I felt at once a great relief and a burden lifted, and the distance that had separated my husband from myself was no longer. So with more ease now the words flowed from my lips, and I extolled the charity and good works of George Fox and his friends, for there can be no better test of a. man's faith but that it leadeth him to perform good works in his life. And the words flowed easily now, for which I claim no due but that my tongue was graced. Truthfulness and honest dealings with all men, I continued, are tenets of George Fox's faith, together with a spirit free from ill thoughts and a solemn determination to inflict no violence upon God's creatures. For the proud and the humble are equally our brethren; good men and evil are all children of God and deserving of our compassion. And if we speak direct to the conscience of any man, we may always expect to hear his conscience reply, and his heart shall open soon or late whence the light of God's guidance shall be his.
Thomas did listen to this doctrine, and when I had done he could say it no ill, but did recount to me of the divers histories which were related concerning George Fox. And listening I could well imagine they bear some considerable portion of the truth, for I had known him to inflame with his oratory as well as to inspire, and that he is yet young and hath been younger and his fervor for the doctrine that his heart bears may have been at certain times in excess. And this much I granted Thomas with the felicitous result that we were restored quite handily to a state of agreement and good relation. And Thomas said that if I wished I might invite George Fox to Swarthmore Hall for an evening when he might hear his preachings and form his own judgment in the matter.
After Thomas had risen from the chamber, I was taken with gratitude for the Lord's goodness, and I knelt to pray, and this message was given me in answer: that the right seeking of God's guidance and assistance dependeth on faith alone; when in faith we do seek him our prayers shall be answered and we shall be guided aright, and the fruits of our acts shall be our just reward.
7th day Tenth month
That the Lord God should have created two such minds as these! Tonight they have held discussion and debate between George and Thomas, which debate hath ranged over a great multitude of points concerning theology and how we may be in correct relation to God. And as many objections as Thomas raised as to George's beliefs and his mission and the conduct thereof, so many times did George rise in sterling defense of his notions and himself. So clear it was as each man spake that truth and wisdom were both embraced in his words, yet no sooner had the one come to rest his argument than the other would rebound, also with truth and wisdom of a contravening sort that tended to bring the arguments of the other more closely in balance and harmony with God's great purpose. This eve having heard them both speak, I am inspired with confidence that I know what it is to live according to God's purpose and I am awestruck and exceeding grateful that God hath permitted me to live in the company of two such minds.
When they had finished with their philosophic discourse, I observed an atmosphere of friendship and respect did exist, wherein Thomas asked of George very amiably and without detraction from him how it came that he should have been cause for so much disquiet that was drawn upon himself and his followers, and upon their chosen ways. And George answered it must always be necessary to challenge hypocrisy where it is found and where there is a mindless repeating of words to question the meaning of those words, and that whosoever endeavors to put such questions must expect there will be those who respond in anger, according to their habit and unthinking ways. Thomas did admit this must be so, but he continued, for he had heard tell of George Fox who walked with bare feet by the market square in Lichfield, crying and hollering to the people, "Wo to the bloody city of Lichfield;" and he wondered what was the purpose of this crying and ostentation, and did he not foresee a danger that he would be seized and cast into an asylum, and justly so, and how came he to think that the townfolk might be edified by his calling the city "bloody", &c, &c. And I hearing this tale thought it could not have been told of George Fox I knew, but perhaps it had been invented by his detractors, and therefore I hearkened to hear him answer yes, it was indeed a true story of his adventure in Lichfield market square. With respect to the reason whereof he was caused to act thusly, George said: he had had no intent of visiting Lichfield, but only of passing nearby, but that the Lord had spoken unto him commanding that he should pull off his shoes, and enter the town and cry, "Wo to the bloody city of Lichfield!" and he questioned not the commandments which he had received of the Lord but always performed as he was bidden. At these words of George I was puzzled exceedingly, for I would not have thought the Lord God so to command him, yet in many other things had he received the word of the Lord truly, as best I could judge; and I could not remain silent but said to George I was puzzled for what purpose should God have commanded this thing; and George was quick to answer that God may sometimes reveal His ways to us but His purpose oft remaineth mysterious beyond our comprehending.
George recounted to us a story wherein God's purpose could more clearly be discovered: He had come to the steeplehouse at Derby upon a First day morning when were gathered there a great number of people, and after the priest had delivered his sermon there was a woman rose to ask a question, whereupon came the preacher's reply: it was not a woman's place to speak in this church but only for a man. And George was given of the Lord to protest loudly, saying that God speaketh through all His children, and again who dareth to silence the words which He commandeth to be spoken! And there followed a great debate in which several of the members were convinced and reformed in their ways and others were angered and set themselves upon George with stones and branches, driving him from the steeplehouse. George said that having been freshly filled with God's power, he was not greatly sensible of their blows, but that he hurt to feel their sins and know the darkness wherein they dwelt. And listening, I thought: here can God's purpose be more easily discerned, but I am yet puzzled that the Almighty should be content with George's protesting and did not see fit to set His daughters free within His temple. George replied that God dwelleth not in the steeplehouse men call church, but only in the hearts of them that receive Him.
And again George related to us of a high priest of the church at Beverly, and in his sermon he had taken for his text these words: "Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters; and he that hath no money, come ye, buy and eat, yea, come buy wine and milk without money and without price." And when he had done, George was moved of the Lord to rise and say unto him, "Come down, thou deceiver; dost thou bid people come freely, and take of the water of life freely, and yet thou takest three hundred pounds a year of them for preaching the scriptures to them? Mayst thou not blush for shame?" And he told us the way he lived was truly like unto Christ; neither had he home nor possessions, that he slept beneath the hedge when the weather was wet, and when it was cold upon a haystack, and as many times as he was struck down, so many times did he climb to his feet to proclaim the truth. This I bethought did not fit the George Fox I knew as he was guest at Swarthmore Hall, for that one was a gentleman and seasoned in all regards, who did not sleep under haystacks but in fine linen. And I asked aloud how is it that God wishes His children to live, and must they always suffer and struggle and sacrifice to be in obedience to God's law? And though we must be always resisting iniquity, doth it serve the Lord's purpose that we suffer and our bodies be pommelled and exposed to great pain? Or can we better serve to spread His word and perform our mission upon the firmament if ourselves are comfortable and in good health and have not been crippled by wounds?
And Thomas said when I had done there is no great cause that is won but by suffering in the effort, yet he could not understand wherefore would a man add wittingly to his burden of suffering, as when he fasteth and refuseth food, as he knew George was in the habit of fasting from time to time, and on holy days.
Of all these things George answered simply: his ear is ever open to the word of God, and he doth always as God biddeth, though he understandeth Hit purpose or not. And of others he asketh not that they live like unto himself, but only that they open themselves and receive God's word in their own conscience, and that they also follow as that which hath been revealed to them.
As this evening hath ended I have changed my opinion of George, but not much, I have seen him a valiant, truthful man. He hath the fire of the colt within him, and a passion to set the world aright. I have seen his eight and twenty years stand beside my husband's four and fifty, and that both men have got a spirit that befitteth their ages; whereas Thomas is quiet and wise and softly spoken, who hath a tolerance for all men and a measured response to every thing, but George is full with youthful fury which hath caught my heart and excited me, though he often lacketh for prudence to rescue himself. I have lain awake and without desire for sleep this night long, and written my memoirs of this evening, and have heard God call me in His future service, in a mission beside George, I know not how.
14th day Tenth month
I suspected not that I would respond so much in my heart as I have this day, unto this event. A hateful and frightening wrong hath occurred and I am sick and distraught for George's sake. He is arrested and hath been charged with treason, and no bail hath been offered, nor arrangements set for trial, and there is no one speaking on his behalf. I am greatly troubled, and cannot think for what to do, I am so alone in this burden, for there is no one's aid on which to rely. I dare not speak of the matter with Thomas.
Yesterday morning George returned to the steeplehouse at Ulverstone wherein he had been well received at one time and thought to be so again. At the close of the morning service he rose to speak, but he had not more than begun when a man appeared at the back of the church with red waistcoat and sword in sheath, who proclaimed himself to be a constable of the court, and then declared that he had a warrant for the arrest of George Fox. There were two in plain garb, but also armed, who approached George from behind and seized him most roughly, though he offered no resistance to their attack, and struck him to the ground with such a force that he cried aloud, whereupon they beat him repeatedly, and tied his hands, and raised him to his feet as I sat and dumbly watched, though my arm would nearly have touched them had I but reached it out. And when again he stood, his hair was stained with blood, and blood dripped down upon his clothes, and he was taken awkwardly between the pews, for he walked with difficulty, yet there remained with him a dignity and even scorn that marked his eye, and he said only, "Takest me where thou wilst. The truth of the Lord will not be silenced." I do not well recall what followed thereupon, until I found myself outside the church and walking home, and Thomas spake to the children as we walked, and my cheeks were wet with tears,
The picture hath remained all this day in my eye, of George's face besmeared with blood. Much I wonder that he raised not a hand in his own defense, nor spake a word of harshness to them who were smiting him. I do admire this spirit that can do no violence but answereth force with gentleness; yet I could not but wish that it were otherwise so that he would not allow himself so to be abused. And again I wonder that I may be large enough to contain both of these opinions, though they see between themselves no common ground. I have heard and do believe with all my heart that all men, whatever else they may be, are also vessels of God's light. But George will not admit that there be darkness and not only Godliness in the hearts of men, and why not, and why doth he not take pain to keep himself from harm at their hands?
Dear God, may his youthful innocence not be the cause for his demise!
15th day Tenth month
This morning I visited the constable and made inquiry into George's case. I asked first at whose ordering he had been taken into custody, and was told Henry Porter, mayor of Lancaster had issued the warrant. I asked for a copy of the mittimus that I might see what had been laid to his charge, and this they would not provide, but only told me the charge was of treason against the king, And again I asked, how is this man guilty of treason and the constable would not say further, until I pressed him and threatened him that I would bring him before the magistrate. Then he admitted he had heard George Fox would not remove his hat in the presence of the mayor, and when the mayor's lieutenant did approach him and ask him why did he not remove his hat he had answered with impudence, naming him "thou" and still refused to remove his hat. As I heard this I raged mightily within myself, but to the outside I was speechless. Then I said at length, "And that is the cause wherein he hath been attacked and beaten and clapped in prison?" And the constable would say only it was the order of the mayor. But before I would leave I asked when would bail be set and he said the mayor had denied to accept of any bail.
All this day I have been incensed with rage and I have thought nothing but how he may be removed. We are a nation of laws, but the laws are of no avail and it is only the fancy of the mayor that decideth who shall be imprisoned and who shall go free. And what a small, and shameful thing it is that they have charged against him, that he did refuse the removal of his hat, and for this may a man languish in prison?
Again I return to ask of myself, what may be done on his behalf, and further what may be done by me? And I am at loss to think what, but only wish to rail against them that have perpetrated this thing. I think Thomas would be able to obtain his release, but what shall he think if I ask this of him? Already I have brought this man George Fox into his house, without his consent, and he hath won over my conscience, and Thomas is affronted that his wife hath fallen into such influence.
I dare not broach it to him.
16th day Tenth month
How great is the power of George Fox to touch people's lives! How he openeth their hearts with his ways! And how he leadeth people unto the power of God within themselves! Surely the truth of his teachings shall someday be accepted and the people convinced. But now he is locked away in a dungeon, and what good end doth this serve? He can open no hearts in a dungeon, nor perform God's holy works of charity, nor show to others by his example a good life and an inspired heart, And be this only for want of a gesture? Would it not better if he had removed his hat and said "you" to the officer, and it would be over and he would yet be enjoying his freedom and we receiving his teaching? In the things that are most important, he will remain true I doubt not. And further: he could be the more true for not having such inconvenience to bear as beatings and dungeons.
I do understand his youthful fervor that maketh him to stand up and do rightly, and pay no heed to the consequence. But also I wish it were otherwise, that he might counterpose righteousness with prudence and thereby avoid much suffering. I know that prudence shall come to him with wisdom, and wisdom with age, but there is danger he may be destroyed before that day arriveth.
Dear God, please save and protect him. May he live to speak freely again and spread Thy goodness among men.
I cannot leave the matter so. Entrust to God I must, but also must I do what one woman can do to set the thing aright.
This shall perhaps be my mission henceforward: that I shall convince him that he will temper his ways. I shall see him save himself from harm by his caution, And in his lecturing, I shall teach him to affront the people less and appeal the more to their conscience. People who are repelled by his shabby clothing need not be turned away, for I will see he is provided suitable clothes. And his strength need not be wasted in finding haystacks to keep warm, for he shall have lodgings and fires. In matters of small consequence I shall teach him to charm and not to draw strange comment with his manners. And thus shall his message be spread throughout the land, and they that have resisted shall open their hearts to God's light, and live in such manner as is true to His word, and to their conscience.
So in the future, I know how I shall serve, but of the present I am despairing still. The thought is ever with me: how might I obtain Thomas's help? With what words might I speak to him and not incur his jealousy?
17th day Tenth month
My thanks be to heaven! I am confident that George's release shall be obtained now, and without undue delay, I spake not with Thomas making the request, but he hath been moved of the Lord to come to George's aid, and hath written the mayor on his behalf. My husband is a man of rare good temper. His judgment doth not falter, Blessings are upon him and upon myself and upon George this day.
The Lord hath given me to know that we three shall be as one in spreading His word.
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