Friends came from England on the ship KENT and up the Delaware River to the present site of Burlington in 1677. They held their first meeting according to their manner of worship, under sails taken from the ship which had brought them safely to the new world.
“Since by the good Providence of God many friends with their families have transported themselves into this Province of West New Jersey the Said friends in these upper parts have found it needful according to our practice in the place wee came from to Settle Monthly Meetings for the well ordering it Should be done and accordingly it was done the 15th of ye 5th month 1678.”
In these words Burlington Monthly Meeting was established in 1678. It appears that Friends met quarterly with Friends at Salem until Burlington Quarterly Meeting was established in 1686.
Yearly Meeting was established in 1681 and was held at Burlington until 1685, when the first session in Philadelphia was held. From then until 1760 the Yearly Meeting met alternately in the two cities, and since in the latter place.
When homes were built at Burlington, Friends met for worship in them until a meetinghouse could be erected. This was started in 1683, hexagonal in design and constructed of brick, by Francis Collins, who was also building the courthouse. The Meeting House was not ready for use until 1687. The hexagonal meetinghouse was the only place in Burlington for public worship for nearly twenty years. It was found to be very difficult to heat, with its high, incomplete roof, so that an addition was built to the front of it in 1696. With the years the membership increased until it was necessary to provide a larger house, and the present one was built in front of the site of the hexagonal house in 1783.
Title for the land of the present Meeting House and burial grounds on High Street goes back to a deed in 1692. The next deed, 1708, conveys what is now the whole property. The seating capacity of the Meeting House was 500 persons or more. The house was divided by partitions of paneled cedar on ropes and pulleys, capable of being raised and lowered, used formerly for separate sessions for men and women. When raised these shutters allowed open meetings for worship; during business meetings the shutters were lowered.
Much of the ironwork is original and was probably made in Burlington. Some of the window glass is iridescent and may have been in the older house. The framing of the Meeting House is the old mortise and tenon type construction with wooden pegs to hold the hand hewn 10″ x 12″ tie beams and the rafters together.
The porches on the front and southern end were added at a later time. An addition to the rear of the house was made about 1904 for kitchen and dining room for Quarterly Meeting and other occasions.
The property had been enclosed with a post and rail fence about 1698, replaced by a solid board fence, and finally by the present brick wall in 1807.
Relics of the olden days are the sconces (candle holders on the walls). The pine writing table was made in 1698 when, according to the Monthly Meeting minute, Isaac Merriott, and Benjamin Wheat were appointed “to provide a pine table for the use of the meeting.” for many years this table was used by the Clerk. It has been witness to many a Quaker wedding, used by the groom and bride when signing the certificate which consummates their marriage and which is signed by those present, family and friends, witnesses to the marriage.
Behind the Meeting House, under the old Sycamore tree, is a boulder with a commemorative tablet bearing the inscription – “Near this spot lies the body of Indian Chief Ockanickon (see also the Cemetery page), Friend of the White Man, whose last words were ‘Be Plain and Fair to all both Indian and Christian, as I have been’. 1681.” You can read more about Chief Ockanickon and the Quakers here.
Farther back are headstones with names of notable Quaker leaders: Stephen Grellet, Frenchman and Quaker apostle; Joseph W. Taylor, founder of Bryn Mawr College for women; John Griscom, gifted scholar and teacher; Isaac Collins. Printer to the King; Nathaniel Coleman, colonial silversmith; Samuel R. and John Gummere, educators; James Kinsey, Chief Justice of New Jersey; Eliza Paul Gurney, Quaker minister; Margaret Hill Morris, journalist; and others. The oldest dated marker appears to be “D.B. 1726.”
Who Are the Quakers today?
Friends or Quakers — either name will do as they have the same meaning — are most easily described as those persons who belong to Friends meetings. These make up the religious bodies that as a group are known as the Religious Society of Friends.
“Quaker” was originally a nickname for those Children of Light or Friends of Truth, as they thought of themselves, friends of Jesus (John 15:15). They were said to tremble or quake with religious zeal, and the nickname stuck. But in time they came to be known simply as “Friends.”
Quakerism began in England about 1650 in the aftermath of the Protestant Reformation. It was a religious protest against the hollow formalism, which for many marked the Established Church of that time. Seeking spiritual reality, these early Friends found that they could experience God directly in their lives without benefit of clergy or liturgy or steepled church.
There is such a wide range of conviction and belief within the Quaker framework that persons of quite dissimilar views may find somewhere within it their spiritual home, opportunity to worship and serve with others of the same persuasion. Speaking truth to each other in love would be the Quaker way for Friends — with all their variations -• to feel themselves “members one of another” (Eph. 4:25).