Quaker Journals

Friends have always been known for emphasizing the practice of writing journals as well as reading the journals of deceased Friends. In this (long) posting, I hope to outline some issues surrounding journals and make some recommendations of good journals for others to read.

What is a Journal?

In this posting, I am using the word "journal" very loosely. Usually the word appears in the title of a particular book, such as the Journal of George Fox. However, in other cases, the title describes the book as an autobiography (fewer contemporary entries). Joshua Maule's journal was printed with an incredibly long title which is usually contracted to "Transactions and Changes" (but which is here called simply his journal).

Types of Journals

It can be tempting to think that ego is a major element in the keeping of a journal. The idea that a person would keep a series of entries in the hopes that after death hundreds of other Friends would publish and read it gives the more reserved Friends some pause. In fact, at least two Friends who kept journals destroyed them while alive to avoid this very pitfall – Thomas B. Gould and Elwood Dean. In the long run, succeeding generations have been deprived of much salubrious material as a result.

Most journals follow a set pattern. They begin with an introductory essay which describes the person's life from birth to the point where the official journal begins. Most of the time, this introductory essay is autobiographical, although in John Wilbur's case, his children wrote it after his death. The second part describes the spiritual awakening of the person in question, and succeeding chapters describe the person's life and progress in the Lord.

People who write or talk about journals usually discuss the two paragraphs I just wrote and leave it at that. However, I would like to suggest that journals fall into two categories.

  1. Private journals. These journals were kept solely for the reference of the writer and were not intended for publication. They are easy to spot due to the way they were written. In these journals, the writer wrestles much more with the inward struggle to be transformed by Christ. Chronology is important, but the details are not. Sentences are common such as "We visited Short Creek Meeting in the morning, Mount Pleasant in the afternoon, Harrisville on Second Day, and Concord on Third Day." In a private journal, additional information is only given if the author's memory required it. An author with excellent memory often writes little of what was said in worship, either by himself or others. Private journals often need footnotes to explain entries, as the author did not need to state the context of an entry. In general, private journals add a touch of mystery because the reader must consider issues such as "Why did he write this? What is the significance of this passage?"
  2. Public journals. In public journals, the author and/or an editor have prepared a full narrative of the person's life. Public journals assume that the reader has no information about the events being described. The little mysteries involved in keeping a journal are resolved, with information to explain the context of the entries. Often, travel itineraries are truncated to remove lists of meetings visited if there is no description of what occurred there. Public journals are usually better received than public journals, although for the historian they have almost always been more heavily edited.

Some Famous Journals

In this section, I provide a thumbnail sketch of eleven important journals. I begin with the two most-read journals and continue with nine lesser-known but very good journals.

John Woolman

John Woolman's Journal has probably been read by more people than any other journal. It is the story of a New Jersey minister who came to recognize the evils of slaveholding, his work in urging Friends to discontinue the practice, and his long travel to England, where he died in 1772. Woolman's journal is the most popular because it serves as an introduction to the mind of an eighteenth century public figure and to an extent as an introduction to the Society of Friends as well. I believe that this is an important journal but that is certainly surpassed by others.

George Fox

The Journal of George Fox is likely the second best known Quaker journal. It has gone through many iterations, some of which include portions of his letters. Fox's journal is one of two that I place in the category of "excellent." It is not the easiest to read, primarily due to Fox's sentence structure. However, what it lacks in difficulty is compensated by the abundance of interesting stories and interventions by Christ Jesus in his life.

Joseph Hoag

The other journal that I include in the "excellent" category is the journal of Joseph Hoag. Hoag was an early nineteenth century minister who was often given the gift of being able to read a person's mind or recite a conversation he did not witness. He also was given his vision of the Civil War in 1805, which was printed in his journal in 1859. The vision is dramatically accurate in its details. Hoag describes dramatic spiritual deliverances, interpersonal strife in meetings, and interesting conversations with ministers of other denominations. The book is especially helpful for current ministers, as Hoag's experiences provide some guidance for handling current situations.

William Evans

The journal of William Evans is one of two rather lengthy journals I describe here. Evans was a Philadelphia minister, a son of Jonathan Evans. His journal is very helpful in his description of the inward work of the minister. Not a quick evening read, but very well worth the effort.

Daniel Wheeler

Wheeler's journal is a second lengthy journal. It is comprised of two parts: the private journal, which occupies the first quarter, and the public part, which is mainly devoted to his two-year trip to the Indian Ocean. Wheeler often includes excerpts from his sermons, which is interesting reading. The journal includes several golden nuggets and inspired passages which makes the book well worth reading.

Ann Branson

Ann Branson is probably the best known of female ministers. Her journal is undoubtedly in the top five in terms of most read. Like Hoag, she had insights into the thinking of others around her, and often in her travels she followed a leading to go to a particular house in an unknown area just to find that a former Quaker lived there.

Mildred Ratcliff

A lesser known (and shorter) journal than Ann Branson's is that of Mildred Ratcliff. At Ratcliff's death, she entrusted Ann Branson with the originals, and Branson edited them for publication. I find Ratcliff's journal easier to read than Branson's journal and of a slightly higher spiritual quality. Ratcliff occasionally makes a very obscure scriptural reference, so be sure to keep a copy of the King James Bible on hand.

Elizabeth Ashbridge

The journal of Elizabeth Ashbridge is the shortest of the eleven that I discuss here. It is a quick gem which can be read on a long train ride. The journal has always been popular, and was in print most of the time since its publication.

Henry Hull

Henry Hull was a close relative of John Wilbur. He was a New York minister who was a spiritual mentor for Mildred Ratcliff. Hull was another spiritually insightful minister of the very early eighteenth century, and his journal was popular to the end of that century. When I have felt callings to travel among Friends, I read Hull's journal to help me weigh the calling.

Joseph Oxley

Oxley was an English Friend of the seventeenth century. He was one of the brighter lights of British ministry of that era, although one of the young Friends in his meeting who rebelled against him was Joseph J. Gurney. Oxley treats with subjects such as appropriate businesses for ministers and interesting local characteristics of meetings.

Joshua Maule

Maule's journal, which was printed as "Transactions and Changes," is the hardest to obtain of all journals in this list. It is an enjoyable narrative of Quaker politics of the time, beginning with the Elisha Bates affair and continuing through the dissolving of Ohio General Meeting. The journal is very popular among the so-called Neo-Wilburites, and in Ohio Yearly Meeting today it probably ranks #3 or #4 in terms of the most-read journal. Maule is the only person listed here who was not a minister, but he discusses the problems of ministers not keeping to the Guide and the ramifications of those decisions.


An Undervalued Gift

Historically, Friends meetings had Elders who were appointed to do a number of important things. One of these things was nurturing the ministry.

When I was attending Stillwater Meeting, one of the Elders there would usually come to me after worship if I spoke and give me some feedback on what I said or on my delivery. I do not know if he was asked to do this or not - I was not a recorded minister so I don't know that there was any specific reason why he did this.

What I do know is that I found his words invaluable. He would sometimes speak on issues surrounding weighing a leading or testing the inward motion. When he thought that I had spoken without a divine anointing, I usually knew that very quickly. He would begin these types of conversations with an incident of some kind in which he was involved. Regardless of what he said to me, it was almost always helpful to me in the growth of my ministry, and I will always value his words.

Now I live in a part of the country where a different conception of the ministry exists. Around here, there is little sense that Friends speak from a divine unction or inward motion of Christ Jesus. In fact, around here the idea that Jesus directs people to speak in worship is mostly considered to be a minority opinion rather than a critical element of testing a leading. There are many exceptions, to be sure.

Recently I attended a meeting in which I was very uneasy with what one person stated during the worship. I have grown accustomed to people in liberal meetings outlining their own opinions or using worship time for autobiography or trying to figure out whether there really is a divine Creator. Any of these types of messages is acceptable around here but not in Ohio. One might question: if it takes a divine leading to speak in meeting, how can one speak on the topic of why (s)he has not decided yet if God exists?

Not everyone believes that God distributes gifts to those who are open to His leading. Some have the gift of ministry, some the gift of teaching, etc. These gifts are handed out for the encouragement and growth of the meeting as a whole. They need to be encouraged in each person in which they appear.

This gets back to the importance of Elders. Those who are, for whatever reason, more spiritually experienced have so much to offer the rest of us. Most of these people are quite modest, and getting anything out of them is not easy. That, of course, is what they should be - not dominating others, but nurturing us in a life of Christian faithfulness. We need to be warned when we have made a mistake in ministry or encouraged when we have been particularly faithful. And, regardless of what words the Elder has for us, we should recognize that the person is speaking with the specific purpose in mind of seeking to deepen our ministry and our ability to test our leadings.


Sorry that I was unable to continue the blog during Ohio Yearly Meeting sessions. As soon as things started to get busy, I just did not have the time. I might try to post more in the next few days.

As most of you know, the ministry during the worship was outstanding. Another aspect of the worship I felt was particularly anointed this year was the praying.

As is sometimes the case, one person complained about a specific problem, and a series of messages on people's response to him followed. Some of these responses showed more signs of divine unction than others.

The First Day worship was one of the best in recent years. This particular meeting (Stillwater at 10:30 following yearly meeting) has had a reputation for nearly 20 years for being a popcorn meeting with less evidence of the Lord's leading for the messages given than at other times of the yearly meeting. The meeting before that at Ridge was rather quiet, which was refreshing in itself.


Fourth Day Morning

The morning began with a small prayer session on the porch of the Meeting House. I hoped to attend, but I stayed up too late last evening and did not get ready in time.

The morning session began at 10:00. Friends today sit in the left side of the meeting house, the historic women's side. In the yearly meetings west of the Appalachian mountains, I do not know of any Friends meeting house in which the women were expected to use the right side (usually east) of the meeting house. In the New York-Philadelphia-Baltimore corridor, the women used the east room in roughly 65% of the meeting houses I am familiar with. I might also state that Stillwater is oriented differently from most meeting houses. About 90% of Friends meeting houses constructed in the Quaker Plan have separate entrances on the main (south) elevation for the men and women. At Stillwater, the main elevation faces east rather than south. This allows a fresh breeze to flow through a window behind the clerks throughout the business meeting, which can be quite refreshing.

Three different Friends spoke in ministry. The first gave a message about the welcome we will receive on that final day when we meet the Lord face to face. The second message centered around the idea that while we are called to individual faithfulness, we are also called to be a people. The third speaker urged us to gather in Christ Jesus's name only, as no earthly place can be our real home.

The worship here has been outstanding. It is truly amazing to experience the healing, encouraging, and uplifting messages from so many concerned Friends.

The scriptures 2 Timothy 1:6-11, 14 were read.

Reports from the two Quarterly Meetings were read. Salem QM developed four brief queries they considered and forwarded for the Yearly Meeting to consider. All Representatives from the Quarterly Meetings save two were present.

The bulk of the meeting revolved around the Queries. The meeting read the first three, with the Quarterly Meeting answers, and Yearly Meeting summaries were approved. The handouts contained several typographical errors, which annoyed several Friends. Several changes were made to the text. One of the ministers urged Friends to keep their hearts and minds towards God in their God.

After the Treasurer's report and the report of the Yearly Meeting Property Trustees, the meeting adjourned for the morning.


Third Day Evening

The yearly meeting for ministry & oversight met this afternoon. The clerk read the scripture Acts 13:47-49 and 52. The major item of business was the discussion of the provisional queries adopted last year. One of the quarterly meetings answered the official queries, and the other quarterly meeting answered the provisional queries. The query answers included references to the simplicity of the gospel, that those who speak point us to Christ Jesus, and that "reference to scripture in ministry is common among us."

A second item of business was the CORE report. This committee, officially the Committee on Renewal and Encouragement, was formed about ten years ago to replace the earlier Spiritual Action Committee. It organized a FWCC regional gathering at Stillwater and was then inactive through the remainder of the year. The committee recommended that it be laid down - which the yearly meeting reluctantly agreed to do.

Salem QM's meeting for ministry and oversight had asked for guidance on whether they should cease to meet as a QM. However, their members felt that the use of the provisional queries might be an impetus for their continuance.

In the evening, a meeting for worship was held at Stillwater. Eight Friends sat on the facing benches - five ministers and three elders. Two of the ministers on the facing benches spoke in ministry, along with four others. One of the ministers on the facing benches speaks with an interesting variation of the traditional "sing-song" ministry which was universal among Friends in the nineteenth century. In her ministry, God speaks with first person pronouns in song. At the end of the meeting, one of the ministers on the facing bench appeared in supplication; among her words were the excellent request for guidance: "Give us the wisdom to keep quiet when we are thinking our own thoughts." How excellent!

As has been stated elsewhere, the ministry here includes some variations of the old "sing-song" ministry which was experienced by all Friends a century ago. Today, one of our elder ministers speaks that way. Several other ministers speak in a moderate sing-song, in which sentences are broken down into phrases. Ministry with a conversational flow is common among the new members, especially those who are refugees from liberal meetings.
Third Day Morning

Several Friends ministers are here in Barnesville. This morning, many of them are visiting with various Friends - some who are ill and some who are going through hard times financially or otherwise. I visited with the woman who keeps the Heritage Room, a small Quaker museum in the former men's committee room at Stillwater. Her husband served in World War II. He has had health problems recently, and the VA has been cutting back on its funding of the local VA hospital - which has had to cut back on its services. He took a van from the county seat (Clairsville) to Pittsburgh, leaving home at 5:00 a.m., and he is scheduled to return home around 3:00 this afternoon.

Friends ministers in Ohio Yearly Meeting continue in the ancient Quaker tradition which operated before the divisions and in the Hicksite and Gurneyite world until the beginning of the twentieth century. They are not paid financially for their labors. During the worship, they speak as they are immediately led by the Lord, without the use of notes or outlines. I am staying with a woman who is a minister; here in Ohio the Lord's anointing appears to have been accepted by a few more men than women. The ministers, elders, and overseers meet together as the meeting for ministry and oversight; this body was historically called the meeting of ministers and elders (unofficially as the select meeting).

My devoirs right now are to print out the quarterly meeting answers to the queries with the proposed yearly meeting summaries and get copies made for handing out.

The price of gas here in Barnesville is a little less than where I live. The highest price here is $3.05, and the lowest is $2.95. Where I live, the price is in the $3.15 range.


This is my first attempt at posting an official blog, so please pardon any technical problems that I may have.

I am headed to Barnesville, Ohio, this week for Ohio Yearly Meeting of Friends. I hope to post here near the end of each day to tell a little of what has happened for those interested Friends who are unable to attend.

I might first post a little background for those unfamiliar with Ohio Yearly Meeting.

As you know, Ohio YM is the most traditional of the Wilburite yearly meetings. The divisions of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries resulted in several types of Friends. The Wilburites were historically centered in Philadelphia and Ohio Yearly Meetings, though the former did not affiliate officially with other Wilburite bodies.

Today, the Wilburite Quaker world is comprised of four types of Friends. Our yearly meeting includes most of those called the "plain Friends" due to their use of traditional Quaker clothing and folkways which have been mostly dropped by other Quaker groups. The second group is the "charasmatic" group, which includes both those Friends who speak in unknown tongues and those who associate with organizations where that is practiced. The third group is what might be called the core group of Ohio Yearly Meeting; this group includes many birthright Friends. The fourth group is the "liberal" Wilburite group, which includes those people who are liberal by Ohio standards. The latter group is the dominant faction in the two other Conservative Friends groups: North Carolina and Iowa Yearly Meetings.

Ohio Yearly Meeting has met at the Stillwater Meeting House near Barnesville, Ohio, since 1878. Our old yearly meeting house at Mount Pleasant, Ohio, constructed in 1814, was converted into a museum in the twentieth century. After the Wilburites, Hicksites, and Gurneyites vied for ownership of the building and its adjacent boarding school for years, the Wilburites signed over their interest in the property; the two other groups soon decided that they did not want it, either, so it came into the possession of the Ohio Historical Society. Both Mount Pleasant and Stillwater are examples of the Quaker Plan of religious architecture, the predominant type of Friends meeting house constructed during the years 1770-1870. This type of meeting house construction fell out of favor among the Hicksites and Gurneyites around the time of the Civil War (though some later examples are known), but it remained popular among the Wilburites into the early twentieth century.

The nearby town of Barnesville is a small community dating to 1808. The commercial center is mostly located along the two state roads in town (State Routes 800 and 147). Mosts houses are two-story brick buildings facing onto the roads. The town has a weekly newspaper named the Barnesville Enterprise, which is printed each Fifth Day. The old Barnesville Friends Meeting House, constructed around 1880, was considered the "liberal" meeting in the area; it was laid down around 1920. The parents of a distant relative of mine were the last couple married there. That meeting house was sold to the Nazarenes, who used it for some time, then demolished it in 1949 when they constructed their current meeting house.

Tonight I am headed to the meeting for ministry & oversight of Stillwater Monthly Meeting.