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JOSHUA EVANS, 1731-1798: A STUDY IN EIGHTEENTH CENTURY QUAKER SINGULARITY Donald Brooks Kelley* Joshua Evans ofWest Jersey stands in a venerable line of religious eccentrics spawned by the Society of Friends. He remains a monument of sorts to the power of eighteenth-century Quaker ethics in forming life styles ofa most exacting, scrupulous, and peculiar sort. Untutored, semi-literate, and virtually uneducated, he taught his Quaker kin by the power ofexample. Though he would not necessarily have realized it, Evans was a substantial figure in what Jack D. Marietta has called "the reformation ofAmerican Quakerism" in the second halfofthe eighteenth century.1 He claimed no special role for himself in that significant eighteenth-century alteration of the Society of Friends and no doubt would have been embarrassed had he perceived himself as attracting untoward attention in the way of any creaturely accomplishments. In earlier decades he might have cut an odd figure as a bizarre but ineffectual religious fanatic in the tradition of a James Nayler, a Ralph Sandiford, or a Benjamin Lay,2 but circumstances ofhis own era kept him in continuing contact with a church in the process of reforming itself along lines that he both approved and furthered. In the diversity of the eighteenth-century Quaker world Evans described himself as "a shrub to many tall Seders who lived in worldly greatness."3 He appeared indeed lowly by the standards of ^Donald Brooks Kelley is associate professor of history and chairperson of the history department, Villanova University. 1.See Jack D. Marietta, The Reformation ofAmerican Quakerism, 1748-1783, especially chs. 1-5 on the social reformation of the church. 2.In the exuberance of his religious conversion James Nayler, in the midseventeenth century, had entered Bristol, England, in a kind of imitation of Christ's entry into Jerusalem and had received the homage of his infatuated followers, much to the scandal of the church; by the early eighteenth century, Sandiford and Lay had created their own scandal, had provoked outrage, and had gotten themselves disowned by verbally attacking weighty Friends individually for their slaveholding. See appropriate entries in the Dictionary of Quaker Biography, Quaker Collection, Haverford College, Haverford, Pennsylvania (hearafter cited as HCQC). 3.MS Journal of Joshua Evans, 1731-1793, [Abraham Warrington, transcriber ], 19. AU materials are from the Joshua Evans Papers, Friends Historical Library, Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, unless otherwise indicated (hereafter cited as FHLS). 67 68Quaker History conventional wisdom and political savvy displayed by Friend Isaac Norris II who served as speaker of the Pennsylvania Assembly during the opening years ofEvans' religious career. Neither could he match the urbanity and wealth of Israel Pemberton, Jr. who presided as clerk of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting after 1750, with one eye to political-mercantile concerns and another to the cares ofthe meeting house. At his death in 1779 Israel Pemberton, Jr. had left—according to Anthony Benezet—60 to 70,000 pounds currency as a device to his children to "fly above truth."4 Still, Pemberton had refused to vote for the "war-like" and "corrupt" Pennsylvania assembly of 1756 even though his brother was running for reelection and he had lent his immense wealth and the prestige offamily connections to the church renewal so dear to Evans' heart. Among "tender" Friends active in the eighteenth-century reformation of the church, Joshua Evans lacked the breadth of vision and the philosophical depth of a John Woolman, with whom the young Evans was a neighbor in Mount Holly, New Jersey, during the 1750s, though he shared with Woolman a sensitivity to all suffering creatures of the earth. Neither did he stand in the forefront of public affairs as had John Churchman in 1748 when the latter lectured the Pennsylvania Assembly on its threatened complicity in warfare. Evans complemented the religious zeal of an Anthony Benezet but suffered by comparison the lack of training in correct language, the educational finesse, and the cosmopolitan élan of that Quaker schoolteacher who dashed off almost at will anti-slavery petitions or pacifist tracts to the Queen of England or other members of European royalty. As compared to a Samuel Allinson, his neighbor in West Jersey, who had written in 1780 "Reasons...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1934-1504
Print ISSN
0033-5053
Pages
pp. 67-82
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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