Three Quaker meeting houses stand front and centre for having a key role in our past.
A huge wave of immigrants from the Pennsylvania area of the United States began arriving in our area beginning in 1801. Known as the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), they established homesteads along Yonge Street from Aurora to Newmarket and beyond. Gradually they would expand into East Gwillimbury (Sharon, Queensville) and east to Pine Orchard and Uxbridge.
The name Timothy Rogers is renowned in this area as it was Rogers and his family who acquired the land grants and organized this mass immigration to Newmarket. My relatives, the Lundys, were one of those families.
Many of us are familiar with the meeting house on the west side of Yonge, to the north of the Mulock Estate and south of the Newmarket Courthouse, but at one time there were three Friends buildings in Newmarket and one in Sharon reflecting the 19th-century Quakerism of our past.
A meeting is a type of worship where an assembled congregation came together in silent expectancy, waiting for the holy spirit to speak through one of the assembled to share the divine message (the Inner Light). There was no defined spiritual leader — no minister, if you will.
Initially, the meetings were held at individuals’ homes but with the rapid arrival of believers, it was soon apparent there was a need for a specially constructed meetinghouse. A log structure, likely having a simple wooden frame and bark roof, was built sometime before 1806. I do know it was not located on the site of the current meeting house.
It was not long until they outgrew that meeting house, and a second meeting house was built on land purchased by William Doan. It is this meeting house that still stands on Yonge. This meeting house was built between 1810 and 1812 and followed the Friends’ belief that the meeting house must be simple, yet functional, and its design reflected a typical farmhouse of that period.
The burial ground to the south of the property has been there since 1807 and contains a few of my early ancestors. The early burials were unmarked, following the belief that there must be no distinction based on wealth. However, over time, simple wooden or stone markers began to appear. An interesting fact is that internments were made in the order of death, there were no family plots.
Many people know the story of David Willson, from Sharon, who in 1812, split with this Yonge Street Monthly Meeting over idealistic disagreement, primarily questions arising out of the divinity of Jesus Christ. Willson and his followers created a group known as the Children of Peace, building the Sharon Temple and a meeting house of their own in Sharon. Known as more charismatic, less rigid in their beliefs, they sang and had an organ to raise their voices in worship, something that would never have been allowed at the Yonge Street meeting house.
A second schism occurred in 1828 when the Friends divided into the Orthodox and the Hicksite branches. The split centred around an American Friend, Elias Hicks, whose followers desired greater freedom of belief and more focus on personal divine revelation.
This group built their own meeting house just south of Mulock and Yonge, on the west side, in the hamlet of Armitage. The burial ground is still there, nestled behind Belinda’s Place. This took place in 1839, shortly after the group was barred from any use of the Orthodox meeting house to the north. Sadly, the Hicksite meeting house was demolished around 1940.
The final split occurred in 1881, when the Orthodox Friends divided into two groups, the Conservatives (Wilburites) and the Progressives (Gurneyites). Joseph John Gurney was an English friend who felt that the concept of Inner Light was delusional. His followers believed in the authority of scripture and rejected personal experience.
The American Friend, John Wilbur, believed in the need for a revival of the ancient truths that had been espoused since the 17th century. The Wilburites retained control of the Yonge meeting house, while the Gurneyites went on to establish churches much like the Protestant places of worship of the day.
There is an example of a Gurneyite (progressive) meeting house on the northeast corner of Botsford Street. I believe it is currently a daycare. Most people mistake it for a Presbyterian or United place of worship.
My purpose in this weekend’s article is to whet your appetite and get you interested in the story of our founding groups.
Below is a list of the names of the first wave of Friends to our area. Was your family one of them?
First Newmarket Quaker Families:
Armitage, Joel Bigelow, Bowerman, Brown, Chapman, Collins, Bela Clark, Henry Crones, Dennis, Doan, Doyle, Eves, Joseph Hill, Nathaniel Gager, Gould (Gold), Isaac Griffin, Obadiah Griffin, Nathan Farr, Haight, Haines, Heacock, Stephen Howard, William Howard, Hilborn, Hollingshead, William Huff, Hughes, Humphry Finch, James, Jacob Johnson, Kester, James Kinsey, Abraham Lepard, Lundy, Moore, Pearson.
Later Quaker Families:
Phillips, Playter, Henry Proctor, Nehemiah Rider, Timothy Rogers, Obadiah Rogers, James Rogers, Rufus Rogers, Wing Rogers, Jr, Asa Rogers, Isaac Rogers, Zebulon Smith, Starr, Ephraim Talbot, Tolle, Vernon, Wasley, Watson, Webb, Webster, Wiggins, Willson, Theodore Winn, Wisner (Weasner).
26 Quakers 1 Methodist
Sources: History of Newmarket by Ethel Trewhella; Stories of Newmarket by Robert Terence Carter; Newmarket Era, The Quakers in Canada – A History by Arthur G. Dorland, Quaker Meetinghouse – Key Part of Our Past – Town Crier March 29, 2000, Ralph Magel’s History of Yonge Street Project
NewmarketToday.ca brings you this weekly feature about our town's history in partnership with Richard MacLeod, the History Hound, a local historian for more than 40 years. He conducts heritage lectures and walking tours of local interest, as well as leads local oral history interviews. You can contact the History Hound at firstname.lastname@example.org.