- Isaac Sharpless: 1848-1920
- Bulletin of Friends' Historical Society of Philadelphia
- Friends Historical Association
- Volume 9, Number 3, Fifth Month (May) 1920
- pp. 90-99
- View Citation
- Additional Information
goBULLETIN OF FRIENDS' HISTORICAL SOCIETY. ISAAC SHARPLESS 1848-1920. It is fitting that we should record our great sense of loss in the recent death of Isaac Sharpless, LL.D., late President of Haverford College, who was in fact the founder of the Friends' Historical Society and its first President. To him more than to any other we owe the organization of this body, which was the outcome of the Centennial celebration at Friends' Meeting House at Fourth and Arch Streets, Philadelphia, in the summer of 1904. On that remarkable occasion, before an audience of twentythree hundred, Isaac Sharpless, in his own inimitable way, reviewed the social conditions among Philadelphia Friends a century before. When the souvenir book of the Centennial was published soon after, his Introduction, which was also the first official publication of this Society, contained the following striking paragraph: "It is well occasionally to look into the past, and gather up the standards and principles of our ancestors in the faith. It is well if it lead us to reconsecrate ourselves to the cause for which they wrought—the pure religion of Christ. We may not adopt all their methods ; the testimonies which they upheld may in part be replaced by others more vital to our day. But those among us who see beneath the surface will feel no disposition to build on any other groundwork than theirs, nor to adopt modes of action essentially out of harmony with their principles . The lack of historic background, while compatible with much Christian goodness and zeal and openness of mind, seems, when applied to congregations, to lead to opportunismi ; the selection of methods dictated by the emergencies of the present, and to destroy that continuity of principle so essential to the preservation of the type. If the spirit and motives of the best Friends of the past were known and read by all of us who bear the name of Friend, they would be interwoven through our lives as through the pages of prophecy is interwoven, ' thus saith the Lord.' " Witìh this most characteristic setting forth of the principles which he felt should guide the future acts of this Historical Society, we ISAAC SHARPLESS.91 may pause for a moment's backward glance at the career of this Quaker historian. Isaac Sharpless, son of Aaron and Susanna (Forsythe) Sharpless , was born December 16th, 1848. A ponderous quarto tome of over 1300 pages, published in 1887, preserves the record of the immigrant ancestor John Sharpless and the thousands of his substantial progeny in the community in which Isaac Sharpless was a birthright Friend. The farm of ¡hi9 father and grandfather Isaac Sharpless, where he was born, had been the homestead of the family for several generations. It lay at the foot of Osborne Hill among the gently undulating hills of East Bradford, now (since 1856) Birmingham Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania . The impressionable years of boyhood were spent here, where his daily walks took him over the historic battlefield of the Brandywine, and where the semi-weekly worship of the family led a little southeasterly to Birmingham Friends' Meeting House (Orthodox)—the old Meeting House of the "Hicksite" body near by having served as the hospital on the battle ground. He was a diligent reader of the choice collection of books in the old Birmingham Library, supported by members of that meeting and others. From this little library fiotion was carefully excluded but its absence was filled by a double portion of biography,, history, travel and popular science. From childhood he had. listened to Revolutionary tales of the neighborhood and had seen, the graves of the British and American soldiers in the burial ground at the old Meeting House. Doubtless these early influences told upon his career, which began among the historic surroundings in which he grew up, but it was his home training that had more to do in making him what he was than the historic features of the country. His first school was that conducted by Friends near the Meeting House. From Birmingham Isaac Sharpless went to Westtown School in November, 1862, where, after completing its course of study, he returned to teach mathematics in 1868, and...