1776 ELIZABETH TUKE. Rare Female Quaker Manuscript Sermon Urging Against American Revolution.
1776 ELIZABETH TUKE. Rare Female Quaker Manuscript Sermon Urging Against American Revolution.

1776 ELIZABETH TUKE. Rare Female Quaker Manuscript Sermon Urging Against American Revolution.

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An absolutely superb bifolium measuring 10 x 16 inches containing an unpublished exhortation delivered to the York Quarterly Meeting of Quakers, c.1760's or 1770's by influential female Quaker preacher, Esther Tuke [1727-1794]. 

Beautifully written and boldly autographed, “Esther Tuke," this approximately 1200-word sermon is a significant little piece of history. 

The address likely dates somewhere between 1765 and 1776. The paper is watermarked IV for Jean Villedary, a fine French papermaker with roots in 17th century France who opened a branch in Holland in 1758. This increased distribution to England. And the watermark here appears to be consistent with the Holland marks. It must be post-1765, since she did not marry the influential Quaker philanthropist, William Tuke, until that year. 

This timeframe, i.e. 1765-1776, makes sense historically in light of the letters content as well; it was during the 1760's and 1770's that a significant debate regarding their commitment to pacifism was being had in Quaker circles. In America, some of the Quakers, often younger and born in what would become the "United States," began to get involved in embargoes and other non-violent ways with the budding revolution. Similarly, in England there were those who were inclined to become involved in non-military ways, exerting influence and pressure against the Colonies. 

This violated two very important theological values of the Quaker community. First, they affirmed that the Kingdom did not depend on or operate on the same system as that of the "world." This meant violence, pursuit of property through political maneuvering, financial violence, slavery, etc., were all off-limits. Secondly, they believed the unity of the Quaker community was not only something to be enjoyed as a gift from God, but also prophetic to the world around them. The idea that Quakers in England and America were support and engage in activities that would injure each other was simply a non-starter. This led to both British Quakers and American Quakers in many cases being viewed with suspicion for their “hard pass” on engaging other Christ followers in a brutal war over money, land, and political liberty.

Their views were very similar to those of John Wesley's once the war had begun as shown in his Seasonable Address [1776]"

"Stop here then, my brethren, and survey the desolation. Behold the weeping and disconsolate widow refusing to be comforted! Her beloved husband is fallen! is fallen! and is no more! See the affectionate parent holding down his head like the bulrush! Hear the broken language of his heart! 'My son! my son! would God I had died in thy place! O my son! my son!' This is far from the flight of imagination, or the colour of fancy. It is the real and actual condition of many amongst that unhappy people, and a part only of their manifold distress. In a word, they and we appear to be a people infatuated like the Jews of old, and ripening for destruction . . . here stop then, and drop a tear for the slain of our people, through the fire of contention that is kindled amongst them.

Then turn your eyes and behold superior number at a little distance, of their brethren, 'flesh of their flesh, and bone of their bone,' who only a few years since emigrated to the dreary wilds of America. These also are followed by the most tender feelings of wives, children, and countrymen. See, they advance toward each other, well prepared with every instrument of death. What are they going to do? To shoot each other through the head or heart; to stab and butcher each other . . . brother goes to war against brother, and that in the sight of the Heathen!"

We hear echoes of this same language in Tuke's address as she warns against taking up confederacy [by this she means alignment with worldly powers, i.e. likely the British Crown] and taking up war, nation against nation. She sees this temptation to join in the worldly warfare as a lack of wisdom and judgment and discernment directly attributable to a lack of vital godliness and experience of the true Kingdom. 

Of additional interest, we have here an important female manuscript sermon by an early advocate for full women's equity in the Church. The Friends were early adopters of females as exhorters and preachers. However, they continued to be prohibited from sharing in leadership. In 1784, Esther Tuke led a delegation of 8 other prominent female Friends to the Quarterly meeting to demand both a separate meeting for women and for equality in leadership. There is a fascinating account of it here.

Esther was a noted abolitionist, advocate for women's rights, the plight of the poor, worker for peace, and one of the most notable female preachers of the 18th century. She is buried by John Woolman and upon her death, manuscript copies of her deathbed confession were distributed all across America and England, such was her influence. 

The address, in full:

“To Friends of York Quarterly Meeting.

Dear Friends,

In Gospel Love, and under an apprehension of duty, I am led to communication a few hints to my beloved Friends in this County, which have for some time deeply affected me. It has appeared to me before the present outward state of things which have heretofore been, that times of trial spoken of by divers now gather’d to their rest, and by some who yet remain, are fast approaching, by which our foundation as a people may be deeply proved, and those buildings, which are like the home described to be built on the sand, will not be able to endure the storm.

Great inconsistency of practice with our holy profession is lamentably discoverable; many having gone into the spirit of the world, in an inordinate pursuit after riches and a multiplicity of business far beyond divine limitations, which have become snares to themselves & as wings to their Children, whereby they have departed from under the government & simplicity of Truth, into the friendship, customs, & maxims of a delusive world. Thus in a time of outward care a departure from the purity and spirituality of our profession hath in general come over us; though the same power which first gather’d us to be a people hath mercifully preserved a remnant to this day. These have been led secretly to mourn, and to intercede that we might not be cast off, but like Jerusalem, be searched as with candles; and many have been rightly qualified & engaged to enter into this work, searching the camp as from tribe to tribe, & from family to family, wherein they have seen the state of the church as described by the Prophet, when death was come up into the windows, and had enter’d into the Palaces. So that many who, from their stations, should be as leaders and waymarks, are so much tinctured with the spirit of the world, its empty conversation & concerns, as to verify the declaration respecting Israel, “Thy silver is become dross, thy wine mixed with water;” whereby a want of heavenly wisdom, and an increase of the earthly, are manifest in many of our religious movements, especially in transacting the discipline of the church: & thus true judgment is often turned back & equity cannot enter: -

Humbly trust that the divine intention is still to strengthen the things which remain, and in a more powerful manner to turn his hand upon us; and also upon this land, which through accumulated evils, may seem as if the measure of its iniquity as nearly filled up; being now in a fermented state, something like that pot spoken of “whose scum was therein.” And tho the origin of these things may not become as scourges one to another, & thro all, bring forward his own work; causing that day more conspicuously to dawn, in which the promises will be fulfilled, that “nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more; but the Gentiles shall come to his light, and kings to the brightness of his rising.”

I have felt earnest desires that those who have known & in a good degree follow’d the Shepherd’s voice, should endeavour to be like minded with the prophet, who was not moved with the violent commotions of the earthquake, whirlwind, nor fire, but was prepared to hear the still small voice, and devoted to obey its commands. Thus these may be made the happy means of quenching the the false fire, and allaying the fermentation which, thro unwatchfulnesss, prevails among many of their fellow professors: enforcing this injunction, “Say ye not, a confederacy, to all them to whom this people shall say, a confederacy; neither fear ye their fear, not be afraid. Sanctify the Lord of hosts himself; and let him be your fear, & let him be your dread.” Whatever may be the allotment or portion of tribulation, during the commotions in the earth, when the “sinner in Zion may be afraid, and fearfulness may surprise the hypocrite,” yet the hearts of the faithful will be supported, and they will experience the fulfilling of that declaration in favour of the Lord’s people; “Thou shall hide them in the secret of thy presence, from the pride of man; thou shall keep them secretly in a pavilion, from the strife of tongues.” And it is cause of thankfulness that such a remnant is preserved, with an hope of increase amongst our beloved youth; tho many of that class administer cause for deep lamentation, like that of the mournful prophet, where he says, “Behold my sorrow! My virgins and my young men are gone into captivity.”

I feel the language of encouragement, like that of “Fear thou not, O Jacob, my servant,” to all in this day who have endeavour’d to keep their garments clean; especially to the younger sort of this class, believing they may be address’d in the apostle’s words, as being strong, having a good degree overcome the wicked one; and as being the Lord’s anointed for a royal priesthood; many of whom, if faithful, will feel increasing qualifications “for judges as at the first, and counsellors as at the beginning.” But these humble diffident may not conceive a fitness for such things; self being abased, and the judgment often taken away, they may feel themselves as fools, and like the Holy Leader as having no resting place, but often “like the pelican in the wilderness, and a sparrow on the house top.”

Well, dearly beloved Friends, these and many similar situations & dispensations have been, and may continue to be, the allotment of Zion’s travellers, doubtless for wise purposes; but in having the steppings of such, we find they have bever been forsaken. The time seems approaching for many of these to be brought forward in the holy warfare, and to repair to the ancient standard, leaving and endeavouring to draw others from, the commotions and bustles of this world; whereby the unwatchful are brought into a state of unsettlement, and perplexed anxiety; being unacquainted with, or departing from, that faith which giveth victory over the world, and affords an anchor to the soul, both sure and stedfast.

And now, dear Friends, feeling my mind relieved by this tribute of love, I commit it to your solid consideration; and if it afford a little encouragement to Zion’s travellers, and prove an incitement to those who are at ease therein, to consider that this world is not their rest, it will be cause of thankfulness. For my heart, according to its measure, travails for the prosperity of truth, and is nearly united to the living body, who, I doubt not, will receive this communication in that Love from whence it proceeds; and in which I remain their fellow travailer in the sufferings & peace of the gospel.

Esther Tuke”

Very finely preserved with light folds, small turns at edges. Bright and clear.