During the American Revolution, life could be hard for Quakers like me.
I was born in 1742 into a pious Quaker family in Haddonfield, New Jersey, in what was then called Gloucester County. My father was a shopkeeper, and when he died I inherited that business while my brother inherited a plantation. I was active in the Society of Friends and served as a clerk at our township and county meetings. We Quakers were increasingly opposed to slavery, and I’m proud to say our committee helped convince some of our members to free about fifty slaves.
The war with Great Britain was very difficult for Quakers. One of our core religious beliefs is opposition to any form of warfare. So, although we were opposed to the taxes that the English Parliament was levying against colonists, we were also opposed to laws requiring us to serve in the military. When we would get orders to serve, we would ignore them, and often have to pay a fine.
But in 1777, things got worse. I was arrested along with my brother-in-law, Mark Miller of Woodbury. We were told to pledge allegiance to the new State government, and we refused. We were thrown in jail, though neither our cell nor the jail itself was locked. When we were brought to trial, an attorney volunteered to defend us on the grounds that the State’s new constitution guaranteed us the freedom to practice our religion.
The court found us guilty but seemed embarrassed to be treating two honest, peaceful citizens as criminals. After some deliberation, they fined us token amounts – just five shillings apiece. When we refused to pay it, they threatened to put us back behind bars, but the sheriff simply stated that the fines had been paid, and let us go.
I went back to my shop, and continued to offer good merchandise at fair prices. My neighbors trusted me, and frequently named me executor of estates or arbitrator of disputes. I lost my dear wife Rebecca in 1803, and I lived until 1823.