A. Glenn Crothers has spun a multilayered tale of religion, gender, borderland, and Old South in his book about the Society of Friends in Northern Virginia. For over a century, Friends in this region were dissenters but always struggling with the tension between the larger community and their faith. Push too hard and they risked suppression; push too little and they risked their faith. Consequently, Northern Virginia Friends lived in the "Lion's mouth," the metaphor of Lydia Wierman, a visiting minister, and Crothers's title.
Crothers's story of complexity and variation begins in the middle of the eighteenth century when Friends arrived in Northern Virginia from Pennsylvania. They contributed diligence and progressive farming to the growing prosperity of the region, but Quaker antislavery and pacifism brought conflict with other white Virginians, especially during the America Revolution and the War of 1812, when British troops briefly occupied Alexandria.
Friends emerged from the Revolutionary era more committed to reform of their fellowship—they expelled remaining slaveholders—and to changing society, especially regarding bondage. Yet as Friends further embraced outsiderness, the mainstream pulled more strongly. A mill owner, for example, who employed only free labor might nevertheless process slave-grown grain, and a Quaker-led bank might issue loans that expanded the slave-based economy.
As sectionalism intensified, Virginia Quakers shaded towards the middle. Friends toned down their antislavery and spurned the abolitionist movement, which they believed aroused white opposition and was counterproductive. (It was hard to be different in the Old South.) Instead, as true borderland moderates, Friends attacked slavery [End Page 98] by employing and educating free blacks, a path Crothers portrays as pockmarked with paternalism and other racist assumptions. The 1828 schism between Orthodox (evangelical) and Hicksite Quakers further encouraged moderation because many Friends blamed the rift on extremism.
Meanwhile, out-migration, usually by males, pressured Northern Virginia Friends and affected gender roles. Women increasingly held Quaker society together through their domestic roles and nurture of the larger Quaker community. Females also became a larger percentage of elders although men still made most of the decisions.
Crothers's narrative ends with the Civil War, an event that upended basic patterns of life. Quaker Virginia became a shifting military front where Friends suffered from depredations committed by both sides. Thus, with pacifism, antislavery, sectionalism, prosperity, British occupation, out-migration, gender-role shifts, and Civil War, Living in the Lion's Mouth is a history with twists and turns. Crothers might have pushed his case a little harder by briefly comparing the encounter of other minorities, similar to the Quakers, with the southern mainstream. The small nonconformist, antislavery German groups of the Shenandoah Valley, in particular, also felt the influence of the white mainstream. Valley Dunkers, an Anabaptist group, accepted the opposition of their denomination to slavery, but they repudiated abolition as impractical in Virginia. Where would the suddenly freed persons go, they wondered? The Valley's United Brethren—camp-meeting evangelicals—feared that the abolitionist denominational periodical mailed to them would ignite local opinion against them. Both Dunkers and United Brethren were southern extensions of northern denominations, as were Northern Virginia Quakers. Additionally, Baltimore Conference Methodists occupied some of the same borderland territory as Crothers's Quakers, and they, too, were self-conscious moderates.
These small suggestions aside, Living in the Lion's Mouth is impressive, well researched, and convincing. Crothers has written a straightforward, evidence-rich, comprehensive, somewhat lengthy [End Page 99] book—not a quick read—but it should become the definitive work on its topic.
Steve Longenecker is professor of history at Bridgewater College in Bridgewater, Virginia. He is the author of Shenandoah Religion: Outsiders and the Mainstream, 1716-1865 (2002) and Gettysburg Religion: Refinement, Diversity, and War in the Antebellum and Civil War Border North, forthcoming in 2013 from Fordham University Press.