William Evans was with Jeremiah Hacker in North Carolina on a missionary visit. Beside him in the gallery sat a Friend in a bright blue coat with brass buttons.  After meeting, William Evans said,  "I have been troubled as we sat together by the style and color of thy coat. Is it right for one who sits at the head of the meeting to wear such a coat?"

    The man replied, "Since thee has spoken so, it opens the way for me to tell thee that I have been much troubled by thy clothes. They are plain to be sure, but of very expensive broadcloth.  I am a poor man, too poor to buy a coat, and this one was given to me."

Charles, Helen White.  (ed.)  Quaker Chuckles.   1961.  The Cullen Printing Company.  Ohio.  pp 116-117.

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Plain-speaking is not for the faint of heart either!   It does suggest our own judgment of others to us, doesn't it?

Thanks, Olivia, I have tons of these searing anecdotes that underscore the  foolishness of the period of time when some Friends got a bit carried away with outward expressions of faith and began to measure the size of the bow on the  bonnets of any suspected to be getting a bit out of line!  I assure anyone who has a concern, however, that the bow on MY bonnet is well within legal limits and parameters to meet inspection by each and every branch of every Friends Meeting that ever was.  Oh,  If one could measure the inward heart by the size of one's bow things would be a bit more simple!  Instead, we have to wait and taste the fruit of the bonnet-wearer or the bare-headed, the Plain Dresser or Follower of Fashion! 

I love it. And "inward heart by the size of the bow" .... Great point.

Fantastic!  Thank you for sharing.

Rick Massengale said:

I love it. And "inward heart by the size of the bow" .... Great point.   

I do treasure my collection of Civil War era Quaker bonnets, now possessing one just like Lucretia Mott's and I belive I can say I have a Gurneyite bonnet now too.  Mine are bit tattered and I like to think of the women who once wore them.   I cannot fit into them as women had much smaller heads in those days and I often wonder if the women who wore them felt free in their bonnets or oppressed. That I cannot know.  Because one can feel both freedom and oppression from religious practice including observant dress.

Jennifer Winters said:

Fantastic!  Thank you for sharing.

Glad thee liked it!  I do see the value in observant dress, but I also see some cautions!

Hello, Laura!  I have mixed reactions to this story.  I just found a copy of William Evans' journal yesterday.  I haven't read it, but I know that he was a controversial figure.  It is easy to take anecdotes out of context, to impugn the reputation of those we disagree with.  I don't know what Helen Charles' motives were, but the criticism in this "Quaker chuckle" is quite obvious.

William Evans was attempting to uphold Friends' testimony on nonconformity.  I know only a little about him, although I hope to read his journal soon.  About the Friend seated in the [ministers'] gallery wearing the bright blue coat with brass buttons, I know next to nothing!  It's not too hard or costly to have the buttons on one's plain coat replaced if one is uncomfortable with them.  I know because I had it done once!

I saw a cartoon in the paper some time ago about a minister and his coat.  The coat was flashy, and he got challenged for wearing it.  He replied that it was a gift, absolving himself of responsibility for its gaudiness.  So, a clever person can generate lots of rationalizations for having little or no control over what one wants to do anyway!

The testimony on plainness was hard for Friends to maintain.  I think William Evans' motives were probably good, and I regret the apparent attempt to ridicule him.

By the way, my current suit is 15 years old.  It is rather threadbare, and I think the time has come to replace it!  I want to buy an American-made suit, which won't be cheap.  I think that buying one suit every 15 years is not too much of a luxury.

Sign me,

Contrarian Plain Friend

Hi Contrarian!   I do love Contrarianism in all its manifestations!

I am sure many of the anecdotes in this author's books are rather like the urban legends of Quakerism.  Since the book is called  Quaker Chuckles   I don't post from it as a source of authority, but as a source of historical color to be taken with a grain of salt.  Also though, because there may be some grains of truth in it,  it also serves as a catalyst when that humor reflects tensions in Quakerism.   Humor is certainly known to reflect tensions!

Sometimes the anecdotes in this book are about cultural matters so obscure  and out of my era  concerning the Religious Society of Friends that I simply don't get the joke, and I find those stories a good starting point to explore some new aspect of the RSOF.

Sometimes I pick up a certain leaning from this editor and then at times other leanings.  However, I am pretty sure her motivations are to share some lore in her old age.   Many of her stories are about relatives in her Friends family.   The  "chuckles" seem to reflect stories across the divide from many branches of Friends.  Some of the stories clearly name her relatives and the dates that the comedies occurred and others seem to most likely be standard religious jokes with the name "Quaker" exchanged for some other denomination.

On another note, I don't have anything against luxury and wearing things of the finest broadcloth.  My other comments (above) also reflect that I think there is much value in observant dress, but also some cautions.  This story, true or not is about  cautions from making too much of any outward religious practice, however laudable that practice is.  Also,  I find Plain Dress quite an important testimony.

I mentioned that I also have this collection of tattered Civil War era Quaker bonnets.   I quite cherish them.  I won't get into my own personal experiences with Plain Dress and the related interior contents of my soul.

I post these Quaker Chuckles now and then, not meant to offend anyone, but I am glad they stimulate some serious conversation and inquiry into the persons mentioned, in cases where a real historical person is referenced.

Laughter is good! Mocking others is not good, but a Merry Heart is Good!

P.S. Contrarian,  Don't Let Nobody Turn Your "Round.   And enjoy a beautiful American made suit, too! 

Hello all!

I took from the original post the observation that each of the people were bothered by the OTHER person's coat, not their own.  I like that it reflects back to us the danger of judging one another's behavior as "sinful" on some level or as "not Quaker enough".   

And also it reflects the value each had in being authentic to their own experience.  The poor man could feel rich with the coat given to him -- what a nice feeling!  [not a problem either, God wants us to have nice things!  just to have them on God's terms and not to cling to them....When given as a gift of God's abundance, why not enjoy it, instead of change the buttons to look more poor (which by the way consumes more buttons or simply is just not needed)?]

The rich(er) man William Evans was trying to be "plain" and "Quaker appropriate" and was not in error by doing that, but is shown foolish for calling others out and judging them according to his own behavior.  It's a good caution for any of us!

These to me are like the type of comments that ministers of all sorts use in sermons.  Their purpose being to teach us -- which certainly if shared well, will occasionally be instructive then, or even smart as we learn their lessons!   But funny as they can be too so that we can learn these lessons safely, and before we make a fool of ourselves in our "real lives"  :-)

Thanks for sharing, Laura.

Hello, Olivia!

"I took from the original post the observation that each of the people were bothered by the OTHER person's coat, not their own."  Good point!

"When given as a gift of God's abundance, why not enjoy it, instead of change the buttons to look more poor..."  Plainer buttons would not necessarily look poorer, as William Evans' suit didn't look poor.  There is an aesthetic in plainness.

"The rich(er) man William Evans was trying to be "plain" and "Quaker appropriate" and was not in error by doing that, but is shown foolish for calling others out and judging them according to his own behavior."  William Evans was judging according to the church's norms, which I think he agreed with.

Bill Rushby

I did enjoy reading this.  There are so many levels to this.  Judging others without complete information, inappropriate eldering, etc.  I have been interested in the resurgence of the "Plain Dress" movement or what some call "Modern Modest."  I do buy most of my clothes at thrift.  I take them as they are.  I am amused by postings on the plain dress where Quakers buy clothes from thrift and then cut off the collars or other bits to make the items look plain.  Knowing something of historical dress I think that perhaps folks don't understand that historically, men's shirts and women's dresses were plain.  Collars had to be added.  Men added the white collar and the tie, women added lace and fancy buttons, bows, undersleves, etc.  It made sense to stay plain by NOT adding to the garment, but it seems silly, to me, to take away that which was already manufactured just to make a point. 


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