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Notes and Documents SIR WALTER RALEIGH IN DEFENSE OF QUAKER ORTHODOXY: A PHINEAS PEMBERTON LETTER OF 1694 Edited by Jon Butler* However different their views on the causes of the Keithian schism, historians have long agreed that when George Keith challenged the authority of Pennsylvania's leading Friends in 1691, a major reason for his demise lay in the orthodox Friends' possession of a broad range of disciplinary tools and in their refusal to debate him on doctrine and theology. The tools cited are familiar ones— the monthly, quarterly, yearly and ministerial meetings, the continuing unity of Public Friends, the presence of important Quakers in politics, especially in the legislature and county courts, and a relationship with London Friends that used the ocean as a means of useful communication, not as a barrier to it—and the agreement to avoid theological debate has long been demonstrated in the fact that when Keith charged American Friends with doctrinal error, they in turn charged him with fostering controversy that destroyed religious faith.1 However, the letter from Phineas Pemberton printed below suggests that we need to add to the list of tools and kinds of argument that were used to defeat Keith. It reveals that a private correspondence among Quaker intellectuals reinforced the discipline obtained through meetings and social or political prestige and demonstrates how Pemberton used citations from English Renaissance scholarship to destroy Keith's arguments, citations which suggest that Pemberton knew materials long thought to be unimportant in the Quaker religious configuration. *Department of History, Unversity of Illinois, Chicago Circle. 1. Ethyn W. Kirby, George Keith (1636-1716) New York, 1942); Gary B. Nash, Quakers and Politics: Pennsylvania, 1681-1726 (Princeton, N.J., 1968); and Jon Butler, "'Gospel Order Improved': The Keithian Schism and the Exercise of Quaker Ministerial Authority in Pennsylvania," William and Mary Quarterly, 3d ser., XXXI (1974), 431-452. 106 DEFENSE OF QUAKER ORTHODOXY107 Pemberton's letter, which is now part of the Pemberton Papers at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, is undated.2 But since it was designed to expose errors in a pamphlet Keith published in New York early in 1694, Truth Advanced in the Correction of Many Gross & Hurtful Errors, it seems reasonable to suggest that it dates from the spring or summer of that year.3 Uufortunately also, the letter fails to provide the name of Pemberton's correspondent , whom he addresses as "Deare Friend." Here, however, its date suggests that Pemberton probably was writing to an English rather than to an American Quaker. By 1694 Pennsylvania Friends like Pemberton no longer viewed Keith's challenge to their authority as seriously as they had two years earlier, when they disowned him at the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting in 1692. But they worried much about his possible success in England. Keith had been well known as a Quaker leader there for thirty years, probably knew that some English Friends were bitterly critical of techniques used to defeat him in Pennsylvania, and was on the verge of pleading his case before the London Yearly Meeting, having left Philadelphia for London in May 1694.4 Although Pemberton reviews some of the common charges made against Keith, his letter is as important for those it fails to develop as for those it does develop. Most significant is the fact that Pemberton does not expand on the charge that Keith believed in the transmigration of souls and had done so since the early 1680's. Pennsylvania 's orthodox Friends frequently levelled this accusation against Keith during the dispute there. But the pamphlets published in the course of the schism fail to sustain this cbarge and both Pemberton and his probable English correspondent may well have known that when Keith did entertain such notions, as was, in fact, true a decade earlier, he did so as a result of conversing with the German mystic, Francis Mercury Van Helmont, a man who also engaged William Penn and George Fox in much talk and regularly con2 .The letter was kindly made available on microfilm by the Society, from which the transcription here was made. 3.Keith's pamphlet probably was printed by William Bradford, who sided with Keith during the Schism. 4...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1934-1504
Print ISSN
0033-5053
Pages
pp. 106-110
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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