Among mid-19th century New England Quakers, were the writings of Robert Barclay associated more with the Gurneyites or the Wilburites?  Am I correct in assuming they were not associated with Hicksites?

Also, does "Orthodox" apply to New England Gurneyites of that era, and "Conservative" to Wilburites?

Was John Greenleaf Whittier orthodox or conservative?

Thank you for helping me understand which New England Friends identified most strongly with Barclay circa 1850 and the correct usage of orthodox and conservative in that era.

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Orthodox Friends encompassed both Gurneyite and Wilburite groups.

The Bureau of the Census refers to Conservative Friends as "Orthodox/Conservative".  I am not sure how it describes Gurneyite Friends.

The 1913 Synopsis of Conservative Friends' faith and practice uses the following language: "In common with other orthodox and evangelical religious bodies, we accept..."  New England Yearly Meeting (Conservative) was one of the bodies endorsing this statement of faith and practice.

Wilburite Friends in Pennsylvania mostly belonged to Philadelphia Yearly Meeting (Orthodox); only a minority in that yearly meeting was Gurneyite.

John Greenleaf Whittier belonged to the New England Gurneyite Friends.  However, he was liberal in belief, and would probably be seen as a conservative Hicksite if he were alive today.

Conservative Friends have traditionally endorsed Robert Barclay's Apology.  However, it is cast in a propositional format more in line with conventional systematic theology than with the Hebraic I-Thou approach of the early Friends and of the Wilburite Friends.  Lewis Benson argued that Robert Barclay is the wrong place to begin in formulating a Quaker theology.  Benson asserted that we need to begin with the prophetic, "dialogic" approach of George Fox.

Remember, Robert Barclay was a second generation Friend, not a member of the founding generation.  His religious training was, as I recall, Jesuit, and was very rigorous. Barclay's Apology focusses on the distinctive beliefs of Friends, and does not do justice to the doctrines they shared with other Christians.  So, Barclay's focus was "off center".


Hello, Peter (and David)!

I realized after posting my reply that I hadn't done a very good job of answering your questions.  I also digressed into a commentary on Robert Barclay.

By the time I came along (in the 1960s), there were not many of the old Friends left in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.  Fewer than a dozen Gurney Friends were still living.  There may yet be some of their descendants in the area, Russells and Birdsalls.  Since I live in Virginia, I haven't kept in close contact.

The Hicksites had died out long ago; some of them had joined the Spiritualist movement during the 1800s.  Rokeby is the last vestige of old time Vermont Hicksism, as far as I know.,_Vermont)

The Wilburite Friends represent a more complicated group than might first appear.  Some New England Wilburites were Rhode Island Yearly Meeting Conservatives.  Others belonged to various groups of Primitive Friends. I think some of the Vermont Wilburites switched affiliation from Primitive to Conservative.  When I was young, some of the elderly Gurney Friends remembered attending the Wilburite meeting occasionally.  It was held at the Jerusalem  school house, at Lincoln VT.  The preaching was intoned, they told me.

At some point the Wilburite group became too small to continue, and the more committed moved to the Barnesville OH area--where their descendants still live.  On the New York State side of Lake Champlain, some (including Persis Hallock of Keeseville NY) moved to the Finger Lakes region, where there was still a viable meeting of Primitive Friends.

Exactly how the Gurney and Wilbur Friends saw themselves, and the terminology they used to demarcate their identities, are very subtle questions.  I have a friend who probably could give you reasonably accurate answers because he is familiar with documents for New England from the 19th Century.  If you make a "friend" request, I will send you contact information for him.

Bill Rushby



The Wilburite meeting was held near Lincoln VT.  It was actually closer to South Starksboro VT, but at the Jerusalem school house.

There is also a Wilburite cemetery, in a field off the road between Lincoln and South Starksboro, near the site of the last Wilburite meetinghouse (which is no longer there).

Thank you William Rushby and David Seaman for your replies.

I would like to attempt to answer the question I asked regarding which Friends would have identified more strongly with the writings of Robert Barclay, the 19th century New England Gurneyites or Wilburites.  My logic may be too simplistic, and my understanding of the difference between these groups may be inaccurate.  Please do comment.

Based on what I have read, Gurney seemed to encourage Friends to seek guidance from Christ of the Scriptures, and Wilbur seemed to encourage Friends to be guided by the inner Christ.  If that is true, then Wilburites must have identified more strongly with Barclay, because in the Third Proposition of his "Apology" Barclay wrote:  

3. A full and ample account of all the chief principles of the doctrine of Christ, held forth in divers precious declarations, exhortations, and sentences, which, by the moving of God's Spirit, were at several times, and upon sundry occasions, spoken and written unto some churches and their pastors: nevertheless, because they are only a declaration of the fountain, and not the fountain itself, therefore they are not to be esteemed the principal ground of all truth and knowledge, nor yet the adequate primary rule of faith and manners. Nevertheless, as that which giveth a true and faithful testimony of the first foundation, they are and may be esteemed a secondary rule, subordinate to the Spirit, from which they have all their excellency and certainty; for as by the inward testimony of the Spirit we do alone truly know them, so they testify, that the Spirit is that guide by which the saints are led into all truth: therefore, according to the scriptures, the Spirit is the first and principal leader. And seeing we do therefore receive and believe the scriptures, because they proceed from the Spirit; therefore also the Spirit is more originally and principally the rule, according to that received maxim in the schools, Propter quod unumquodque est tale, illud ipsum est magis tale. Englished thus: "That for which a thing is such, that thing itself is more such."

The words "by the inward testimony of the Spirit we do alone truly know them" seem unmistakable in their meaning.

I propose this logic with great humility,  for my knowledge of Quaker Theology is rudimentary.  Thus,  I solicit feedback from all readers of this forum.

Thank you.

Hello, Peter!

I would speculate that the Wilburites would have felt a stronger affinity for Robert Barclay than would the Gurneyites.  Gurney's most important theological treatise is Observations on the Distinguishing Views and Practices of the Society of Friends:

You could check this book to see what he has to say, if anything explicit, about Robert Barclay.  Probably the New England Gurneyites would have followed his line of thinking.  You could also check the periodical Friends Review which served the Gurneyite Friends in the East.

Gurney upheld the final authority of the Bible in matters of doctrine and practice but, in practical terms, his Quakerism did not differ much from that of the early Wilburites.  Part of what got him into trouble was his genteel lifestyle, fraternizing with Anglican and other evangelicals, and his enormous intellectual erudition.  His preaching style was very rationalistic (like a college lecture), rather than traditionally prophetic.



I'd like to make a tangential comment regarding Barclay's Apology.  My sense of Barclay is that it was written for, as the title indicates, apologetic purposes which is somewhat different from the purpose of writing a systematic theology.  The issues which swirled around England, and Europe, at that time had to do with the nature of the sacrements, their implementation, the authority, or lack thereof, of priests, the relationship between church and state, etc.  Barclay is defending the Quaker view against other reformation era views.  In particular I believe he has Calvinism in mind, though Arminians are also addressed; though more indirectly.  And the Baptists are also a foil for his own apology.  And of course the Catholic Church, and indirectly High Anglicanism, looms in the background of this kind of work


My view is that if Barclay's Apology is viewed as systematic theology we come up with a skewed understanding.  In a way Barclay's work is not a presentation of a theology.  Perhaps a contrast will assist in the point I am making.  I don't think, for example, that Barclay's Apology is a Quaker version of Calvin's 'Institutes'; but in some ways it is a response to the 'Institutes' from a Quaker perspective.  Another comparison would be to early Christian apologies defending Christianity from its Pagan critics; those works are not systematic theological treatises.  Rather they are designed to deflect unjustified criticism leveled agains the early Christian community.  In a similar way, I think that Barclay's Apology is meant to deflect the criticisms hurled against the ealry Quakers by other Christian communities. 


Barclay referred to his work as an 'Apology' and I think that tells us a lot.  He did not call it a 'Summa' or 'Systematic Theology' or such similar titles.  Keeping this in mind has helped me to enter into his work and perhaps others will find this of assistance as well.


Thy Friend Jim

Hello, Jim!


I think that your comments on Barclay are very enlightening.  You have, I believe, captured the context in which he wrote his Apology, and also the intended audience.  I do believe, however, that Barclay wrote a very systematic essay in the format of a list of propositions--which he sought to defend.


What would disqualify his work as "systematic theology"?  I looked up  "systematic theology" on Wikipedia, and it suggests a more comprehensive coverage of basic Christian doctrine than Barclay offers.  Is this why you judge his work not to be systematic theology?

Jim Wilson wrote: "My view is that if Barclay's Apology is viewed as systematic theology we come up with a skewed understanding."

I have often "puzzled" over why Conservative Friends' grasp of some basic Christian doctrines seems more tenuous that that of Evangelical Friends.  Take, for instance, the doctrine of Atonement.   Ohio Conservative Friends have historically upheld the doctrine of Atonement, but it has not been emphasized in preaching as it should have been, and is at risk of being lost.  I wonder if their focus on Barclay's Apology is responsible for the lack of emphasis on some basic Christian doctrines.  This hadn't occurred to me until Jim Wilson offered his observations on Barclay and systematic theology.

A notable Friend who emphasized the doctrine of Atonement is Ellwood Conrad (1850-1943).  His memorial is, in its entirety, available online at  Ellwood was born and raised a Hicksite.  He came under religious concern at an early age, and soon appeared in testimony.  Shortly thereafter, he was recognized as a minister.

Conrad's preaching was very popular among the young people of Philadelphia Hicksite Friends, and his doctrine was orthodox.  His forthright testimony for Christ scandalized and enraged some of the older Friends.  Ellwood soon identified with the Philadelphia Orthodox Friends, and then joined Ohio Conservative Friends.  Atonement was one of his prominent themes in preaching.  Enough of my pursuing historical rabbit trails!!

Thanks, Jim Wilson, for opening up a whole new line of thought for me concerning Robert Barclay and his role among Conservative Friends.






 "Uncle Barc" and Peter Miller's question about Conservative Friends' affinity for Robert Barclay:

It is common for people to name children after their heroes.  I recall now that one of my wife's father's brothers was named "Barclay Cope"; "Uncle Barc" was how she referred to him.   Her family was staunchly orthodox, and either Conservative or Primitive Quaker.  Naming a child "Barclay" says one thing; naming the child "Gurney" would indicate another.

Some Gurneyite Friends named their children after JJ Gurney; hence, for example, "Gurney Binford".  But I have never heard of a Wilburite Friend with that given name.  I think Uncle Barc's name tells us something about the Wilburite Friends' theological sympathies.




Your reply is far more pertinent to my original question than you might have guessed.

I am writing a biography of a Quaker woman named Jane Varney Durgin who lived in Wolfeboro and Sandwich, New Hampshire 1820 - 1895.  She lived in Wolfeboro from 1820 - 1837 and again from 1850 - 1855.  Otherwise, she lived in Sandwich.  The Wolfeboro Preparative Meeting was under the supervision of the Sandwich Monthly Meeting.

I am attempting to determine whether Jane was a Gurneyite or Wilburite.   There are no letters or diaries that would answer this question.  The principal clue, perhaps, is that she named her third and last born son Robert Barclay Durgin.   He was born in Wolfeboro in 1852.  By naming this child after Robert Barclay, she may have been making a statement about her convictions.  

Some other possible clues:  Several locally well known Quaker preachers were affiliated with the Sandwich and Wolfeboro Meetings.  These include Jane's first cousin Huldah Varney Hoag and Huldah's husband Lindley Murray Hoag.   Lindley was the author of the semi-famous "Memoir" of Huldah Hoag, which is still actively in print.  That memoir is the text  of a sermon he delivered.  Worship in Wolfeboro seems to have had both unprogrammed and programmed aspects.  

Lindley left New Hampshire in 1855, relocating to Rocksylvania (Iowa Falls), Hardin County, Iowa.  He was a noteworthy figure in that Quaker Meeting.  He was influential in bringing a group of Norwegian Quakers to Iowa, a fairly significant aspect of Iowa Quaker history.

My guess is that Jane Durgin sided with Lindley Murray Hoag philosophically.  So what was she, Gurneyite or Wilburite??

Thanks to all for your informed speculations.

Friend William; you are welcome.  I am rereading the Apology and finding it even more insightful than perviously.  I agree with you about the atonement; it isn't discussed in the Apology because it doesn't serve Barclay's interest in composing an apologetic work.  If he was writing a Summa, it would, undoubtedly, be included.  So would a chapter, or chapters, on the trinity, and other topics of note for those writing systematic theology.

I think it is worth noting that the Eastern Orthodox do not have any kind of summa, or systematic theology.  That is an approach that emerged in the West during the medieval period, but really took off during the reformation.  In some ways, the Orthodox approach and the Quaker approach to theological questions are similar.  At fist this, no doubt, seems a peculiar observation because Eastern Orthodox is strongly centered on outward ritual and sacraments.  That is a significant difference between the two traditions and I don't mean to minimize it.  On the other hand, the way the two traditions engage in theology is, to my mind, similar.

Thy Friend Jim


Peter Miller wrote: "Thanks to all for your informed speculations." (underlining is mine)

I think there were two noteworthy Huldah Hoags.  I have the document you are referring to.  Unfortunately, I had no formal training as a historian, and I don't know many of the tricks of the trade, including how to store pamphlets and other thin documents.  I am not sure I could put my hands on the memoir you have in mind.  I think the text is available online.

The other Huldah Hoag was Joseph Hoag's wife.  She was a Friends minister, and a very courageous woman.  She lived in the Ferrisburg VT area.  She probably has a memorial too; I am not sure.  There are accounts in The Friend of her ministry, which was favored (as the old Friends would say).  Joseph and his wife Hannah are buried in a small, obscure cemetery off of the road between North Ferrisburg and Monkton Ridge VT, on Cemetery Road.  The cemetery is rundown, but in a beautiful location.  Non-Friends are being buried there now.

I think that the Hannah Hoag you have referenced is a daughter-in-law of Joseph and Huldah's.   Seven of their ten children were recognized as Friends' ministers, some migrating to Iowa.  Joseph's son Joseph became a minister in the Gurneyite meeting at Hesper IA.

Joseph and Huldah were pre-Wilburites.  Since Lindley helped to prepare Joseph's journal, it is very likely that Lindley and his wife were sympathetic to the Wilburites.  More speculation on my part!

The surname Varney I connect with the Conservative Friends in Ontario; it seems likely that the Ontario group's members originated in New England.

All of these shaky speculations, and your "Robert Barclay Durgin" find, suggest to me that Jane Varney Durgin was Wilburite in outlook.

You could visit the Haverford and Swarthmore Quaker collections; they should be able to provide lots of help with your biography.  I also told you that, if you send me a private message on QQ, I can refer you to a friend who is very knowledgeable about these matters.





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