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The Diary of Priscilla Kirk Townsend in Fourteen Small Books, 1848-1861 (review)

From: Quaker History
Volume 101, Number 1, Spring 2012
p. 34 | 10.1353/qkh.2012.0000

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Friends have been more prone than most Protestants to journal keeping, and their diaries have been among the richest resources for Quaker history. Friends long saw great value in reading them as a source of religious inspiration, and, before 1900, editors took great pains to prepare manuscripts of deceased Friends for the press. (We now know how often they carefully omitted any material that reflected badly on their subjects: at least one nineteenth-century separation—the Kingites and Otisites in New York—grew out of a controversy over a reference in a published journal that one group found objectionable.) Published, unexpurgated Quaker diaries are all too rare. Thus Dana Dunbar Howe's careful transcription of the diaries of her great-great-grandmother is most welcome.

Priscilla Kirk Townsend (1785-1862) was a Philadelphia Hicksite Friend. Born in York, Pennsylvania, she attended Westtown School, then in 1803 married Charles Townsend (1777-1859). He was a druggist in Philadelphia. The Townsends, although not wealthy, were affluent enough to live comfortably—one of Priscilla's persistent complaints is about unsatisfactory servants. They were the parents of twelve children, five of whom died in infancy. Two other daughters died unmarried and before their mother—Priscilla's fears about their health and admiration for their spiritual resignation are other recurrent themes.

The Townsends were among the minority of Friends in the city of Philadelphia who sided with the Hicksites in 1828. They were among the founding members of the Spruce Street Meeting in 1833. Much of Priscilla's diary focuses on her life as a Friend. In her first entry, she notes although she was in her sixty-fourth year, she had never kept a journal. Sitting in meeting, she felt a leading to do so, "for my own improvement," and to keep a record of her faults, in the hope that she would also be able to record their correction. Although a recorded minister, she was not nearly as well known as her contemporary Lucretia Mott, who appears occasionally.

The Hicksite Philadelphia Yearly Meeting was in an uneasy state in the 1850s. Bitter controversies over Quaker involvement in abolitionist and other radical reforms had broken out in the 1840s. By 1853, some of the most radical Friends, mainly in Chester County, had separated to form a yearly meeting of Congregational Friends. Priscilla was obviously torn. She often bemoaned the widespread departures from primitive simplicity she saw, especially among young Friends. Yet she did not stand in the way of her own children joining reform groups, since they were acting in a good cause.

The Townsend diaries are still privately held, so we are indebted to Dana Dunbar Howe for making them available. They provide a revealing portrait of Philadelphia Quakerism on the eve of the Civil War.

Copyright © 2012 Friends Historical Association
Project MUSE® - View Citation
Thomas D. Hamm. "The Diary of Priscilla Kirk Townsend in Fourteen Small Books, 1848-1861 (review)." Quaker History 101.1 (2012): 34-34. Project MUSE. Web. 8 Jan. 2014. <http://muse.jhu.edu/>.
Hamm, T. D.(2012). The Diary of Priscilla Kirk Townsend in Fourteen Small Books, 1848-1861 (review). Quaker History 101(1), 34. Friends Historical Association. Retrieved January 8, 2014, from Project MUSE database.
Thomas D. Hamm. "The Diary of Priscilla Kirk Townsend in Fourteen Small Books, 1848-1861 (review)." Quaker History 101, no. 1 (2012): 34-34. http://muse.jhu.edu/ (accessed January 8, 2014).
TY - JOUR
T1 - The Diary of Priscilla Kirk Townsend in Fourteen Small Books, 1848-1861 (review)
A1 - Thomas D. Hamm
JF - Quaker History
VL - 101
IS - 1
SP - 34
EP - 34
PY - 2012
PB - Friends Historical Association
SN - 1934-1504
UR - http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/quaker_history/v101/101.1.hamm.html
N1 - Volume 101, Number 1, Spring 2012
ER -

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