From Bush River to Miami by Tom Hamm

This is the talk that Tom Hamm gave to our group on Saturday afternoon.  It was a very special occasion.  We met in the White Brick Meeting House.

Tom is the curator of Lilly Library's Quaker Collection and Director of Special Collections for Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana.

We invited Tom to bring some of his the books that he has written

Tom is exceedingly generous in providing a copy of his talk so that everyone can read it for themselves if you were unable to attend the homecoming:

From Bush River to Miami 
by Thomas D. Hamm
Presented at the Bicentennial Celebration of Miami Monthly Meeting of Friends
Waynesville, Ohio
10 Month 2003

   Quakers like to pride themselves on their peculiarity--difference, not for the sake of being different, but because difference marked some superiority, some way in which Friends were more conscientious, or more scrupulous, or more enlightened than their neighbors.  Even when they behaved just like their neighbors, Friends might have a better reason for so doing.  Pride, of course, is a fault that Friends traditionally would have shunned.  But I think that Friends are entitled to a bit of pride as we tell the story of how Friends came to South Carolina, and why, early in the nineteenth Century, they determined to leave for the Miami Country of Ohio.

     Being a historian, I cannot begin the story at the obvious starting point, the migration that brought Friends from Bush River to Miami and that culminated in the establishment of Miami Monthly Meeting in the autumn of 1803.  For historians are interested in the roots, and no matter what event we are considering, it had roots in events that came before.  So I want to begin by talking about the history of Friends in South Carolina.

     South Carolina Quaker history generally divides into three periods, which, for the most part, neatly coincide with geographical divisions in the state.  The first begins with the establishment of the colony in the 1670s and ends around 1740.  In these years, the first Friends arrived in South Carolina.  They were relatively few in number, and they established only one monthly meeting, in Charleston.  Indications are that they came, like many other European colonists in the first two generations, from the West Indies, from Jamaica and Barbados.  They were English in background, some shopkeepers and merchants in Charlestown, as it was then called, some planters in the Low Country outside the town.  Even after North Carolina Yearly Meeting was established, they considered themselves responsible only to the yearly meeting in London.  Traveling public Friends sometimes visited them, and a few Charleston Quakers were weighty by any standard.  Mary Fisher, the contemporary of George Fox and Margaret Fell who actually traveled to Constantinople in the 1650s to witness to the Sultan (and was received and treated respectfully), spent her last years in Charleston.  So did Sophia Hume, one of the most influential women Friends of the first half of the eighteenth century.  But Friends had little influence in a colony that was dominated by rice and indigo-planting grandees and the Established Church.  And these first-generation South Carolina Friends, like their neighbors, had no qualms about owning and dealing in slaves.

     In the late 1740's and early 1750's, a second strain of Quakerism developed in South Carolina, as white settlement pushed inland.  These new arrivals were also immigrants, some from England, but more commonly from Ireland, and they formed a new community near Camden.  We know relatively little about them,  since the records of the monthly meeting that they formed, first called Wateree and later Fredericksburg, have been lost.  But they included families whose names would be familiar for the next century to Friends.   Some came directly from Ireland: O/Neall, Kelly, Milhous.  Some came from England:  Furnas.  Some from New Jersey:  Gauntt.

    The third, and most important, wave of migration began in the 1760's, and came from the north.  These Friends established what would become the largest and most important cluster of Quaker communities in South Carolina, centered on Bush River Meeting in what later became Newberry County, but spreading into adjacent Laurens and Union Counties as well.

     The Bush River Friends were part of a mass movement that changed the American South.  After the Treaty of Paris ended the Seven Years War in 1763, and fear of Indian attacks diminished, thousands of white settlers migrated into the interior, or "back country" of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.  In some cases, they came from older parts of the same colony, but most were coming down from the north, after living for some time in the Delaware Valley.  Some were German immigrants; the largest single ethnic group were Scots-Irish.  Friends were also among them, and these Friends with roots in Pennsylvania and New Jersey would transfer the Quakerism into the colonial south.

      These Friends coming down from the north were following a migration that began in the 1730's.  Fifty years after William Penn had founded Pennsylvania, the lands around Philadelphia were filling up and becoming increasingly expensive.  The goal of every Quaker farmer was to be able to acquire enough land to settle his children on farms around him, and now only the wealthiest could afford that.  Friends thus began seeking new lands.  Some would move west, into what are now Lancaster and Berks and York Counties, but there they competed with the thousands of German and Scots-Irish immigrants who were flooding into Pennsylvania.  And west of that lay the forbidding barrier of the Appalachian Mountains and the territory of the formidable Iroquois Confederacy, the Six Nations.  So about 1730, Friends from Chester and Bucks Counties began to move south, onto the upper reaches of the Potomac River in the vicinity of Winchester, Virginia.  Here for a generation would sojourn some of the families who would be central to Bush River:  Wright, Hollingsworth, Taylor, Roberts, Pearson, Coppock, Whitson, Pugh.  By 1750, however, these lands were filling up and Friends began to look farther south into the Carolinas.  Initially they looked toward North Carolina. Friends began to settle on Cane Creek, near the present town of Snow Camp, late in the 1740's.  By the early 1760's, Rowan and Orange (largely what is now Guilford, Randolph, Alamance, and Chatham Counties) had become a major Quaker center.  In the records of Cane Creek and New Garden monthly meetings one finds many names that would be important at Bush River, such as Cook, Bray, Henderson, Cox, Brown, Jones, Mendenhall, and Wickersham.

     By the 1760's, however, a combination of forces was pushing some Friends even farther south.  Early in the decade, the Wright family became involved in a tangled controversy within Cane Creek Monthly Meeting, and it appears that they sought escape by moving on.  After 1763, a legal thicket halted the sale of previously unsettled lands in much of North Carolina, creating new pressures for those seeking more land to move on.  And by the late 1760's, the North Carolina back country was at the center of the political and social controversy that became known as the Regulation movement in which small farmers, including many Friends, protested their treatment by the provincial government.  While South Carolina was not immune to such pressures, they were less acute there.  These forces also pushed Friends who continued to come down from the Delaware Valley, such as the Coate, Evans, Jenkins, Pemberton, Wilson, and Hawkins families, to look farther south.  They joined many non-Quaker neighbors in looking to the South Carolina up country, as the land above the fall line was known, as a desirable location.

     By 1770, enough Friends had settled on Bush River to form their own monthly meeting.  And there for a generation they flourished.  In the next twenty years, Bush River Monthly Meeting established several preparative meetings or meetings for worship---Cane Creek, Padget's Creek, Raburn's Creek, Rock Spring, White Lick, Allwood's.  In 1789, Friends at Cane Creek were numerous enough to be set off in their own monthly meeting, although it remained closely linked to that at Bush River.  (For convenience, I will continue to include these Cane Creek Friends as part of the Bush River community)  And they attracted some converts, who had either no previous Quaker ties or only tenuous ones--Inmans, Sprays, Jays, Bensons, Herberts, and Millses.  Land was relatively cheap, abundant, and fertile.  Friends were able to settle themselves on farms with the prospect of being able to add to their holdings.  The American Revolution does not seem to have had much impact on the Bush River Friends.  As pacifists, both sides harassed them, and a few young Bush River Friends were forced into the militia or guerrilla groups.  But with peace, prosperity apparently returned.  The Bush River Friends acquired the reputation of being hard-working, thrifty, sober people, good mechanics and artisans.

     Their prosperity was not just economic or numerical, however.  The Bush River Friends were also fortunate to have among them a group of gifted ministers.  Of these the best known was Charity Wright Cook, whose parents had been among the founders of the Bush River  Meeting.  As a young woman in North Carolina, she had actually been disowned on suspicion of improper conduct, but regained her membership and was soon recognized as a powerful minister.  She traveled widely in North America, and even across the Atlantic to visit the British Isles and the European continent.  English Friends found her engaging, although some looked askance at her use of a red pocket handkerchief, which they found inappropriate for a "public Friend".  One tradition has it that when Charity returned from her voyage across the ocean, she arrived back at Bush River on First Day while meeting was taking place.  She simply went into the meetinghouse and took her accustomed place on the facing bench.  Then her husband, Issac Wright, came over and kissed her.  Some Friends were scandalized, but Isaac simply told them:  "If thee hadn't seen thy wife for three years, thee would kiss her, too."

      By the 1790's, however, two forces menaced this world.  Once again history was ironic, since it was an invention perfected on the Georgia plantation of ex-Quaker Nathaniel Green that was responsible.  That was, of course, Eli Whitney's cotton gin.  Before 1790, South Carolina had been a state divided.  The Low Country along the coast, with its center at Charleston, focused on rice and indigo cultivation through the heavy use of slave labor.  In some parishes around Charleston, slaves outnumbered whites eight or nine to one on the plantations of the Middletons and Balls and Izards and Rutledges and Pinckneys and Heywards.  But the South Carolina Up Country before the Revolution had been a place of small farmers; slaveowners were the exception rather than the rule, and their holdings were usually small.  It was unattractive to the Low Country rice grandees because it was unsuitable for cultivating their staple crops.

     The cotton gin, which made it economically feasible to turn vast amounts of raw cotton into easily spun and woven fiber, changed this world forever.  The Up Country was well suited to cotton cultivation, and ambitious South Carolinians rushed to take advantage of the first cotton boom.  Rice planters began to acquire Up Country lands to diversify their holdings or settle sons growing the new crop.  In many cases, they bought several small farms and combined them.  In other cases, Up Country settlers, Scots-Irish families like the Calhouns who had been there for a generation, saw the opportunity that cotton offered and began its cultivation as well.  And wherever cotton grew one found slaves.  As Low Country families established new plantations, they transferred slaves from their coastal holdings.  The growing demand for slaves made South Carolina the only state to reopen the African slave trade after the ratification of the Constitution.   Thus the world around the Bush River Friends began to change.  In 1790, only about a tenth of the population of Newberry County had been slaves.  By 1800, it had doubled.  Therein lay two problems for Friends.

     The first problem was economic.  By 1800, the farms on Bush River had been worked for nearly half a century.  By eighteenth century standards, they were close to becoming "old fields" their fertility reduced significantly.  While hardly exhausted, they were no longer virgin land.  But while they may not have been as rich as they had been when the first Friends arrived, they were much more in demand, partly from the simple increase in population, partly because of the growing demand for cotton lands.  Increasingly, Quaker families found themselves competing not just with other small farmers, but with rich, even rapacious, cotton planters.

     For Friends, however, slavery was not just an economic problem.  It was a moral challenge as well.  The search for new lands explains why the Bush River Friends looked west,.  Slavery explains why they looked northwest, across the Ohio River, instead of farther south into Georgia or Alabama or Mississippi as would be the case with many of their neighbors.

     At one time, Friends had been slaveholders.  Quaker merchants in Providence and New York and Philadelphia used their ships for the slave trade.  Friends not just in the Carolinas and Virginia but in the Delware Valley owned slaves as well.  Indeed, at least one historian has concluded that before 1750 Friends around Philadelphia were more likely than their non-Quaker neighbors to own slaves.  But some Friends had always been uneasy about slavery, and after 1750 these doubters grew in influence.  Led by Friends like John Woolman and Anthony Benezet, they moved Quakers toward a recognition of the evils of slavery, both for the slave and the slaveowner.  By 1784, all of the yearly meetings of Friends in the world had ruled that no Friend could own a slave, and that Friends who did must emancipate their slaves immediately.  To be sure, some Friends, faced with a choice between their membership and their slaves, chose the latter, and joined other denominations, or none at all.

     We know that the first South Carolina Friends, the Low Country Quakers around Charleston, had been slaveholders.  But slaveholders were uncommon among the Up Country Friends, and there were few at Bush River.  While emancipation often meant significant economic sacrifices for slaveowning  Friends in Virginia and the Carolinas, that apparently was not the case at Bush River.  Instead, their antislavery stance put Friends at odds with their neighbors and was at the root of a growing sense of difference and unease.

     We have hints that Southern Friends found themselves the focus of increasing suspicion, if not hostility, in the 1790s, largely because of their antislavery views.  When in 1790 Philadelphia Yearly Meeting had presented an antislavery petition to the first session of the United States Congress, members from South Carolina and Georgia were almost apoplectic.  One South Carolina congressman argued that the Constitution involved mutual acceptance of perceived evils--slaves in the South and Quakers in the North.  In North Carolina, where Friends were more numerous and where they had freed dozens of slaves, a hostile state legislature took steps to reenslave many of these freed people.  By 1797, courts or grand juries in sixteen North Carolina counties had sent petitions or memorials to the legislature asking that it do something about the horrible activities of the Quakers, who by their antislavery stance were implanting dangerous ideas of freedom in the slave population.
And we have hints that even slaves saw Quakers as different from the rest of the white population.  When the abortive slave uprising that became known as Gabriel's Rebellion was planned in Virginia in 1800, participants allegedly agreed that they would spare whites who were sympathetic, namely Frenchmen and Quakers.

      White hostility was not Friends' only fear.  Slavery gave them a brooding sense of human sinfulness, perhaps even of doom.  Increasingly Friends saw slavery as the embodiment of almost everything that they disliked in the society around them:  violence, fornication, sloth, poverty.  A number of Friends who left the South between 1800 and 1850 did so, they recorded out of a concern that their children would grow up and marry slaveholders and thus become part of this society.  But perhaps even more frightening was a conviction that such a society faced God's judgement.  Friends had only to look to the Carribbean, to the island of Santo Domingo, where in the 1790s slaves had risen up against their masters and had indiscriminately massacred much of the white population.  While most Southern whites saw the lesson of Santo Domingo as the need for even harsher repression, Friends saw it as a warming of what would befall the South unless it repented.   Friends were fearful of being caught in the middle of a race war in which neither side would be merciful to noncombatants.

It was into this worried, apprehensive world that in 1802 and 1803 a messenger seemingly sent of God came.  His hame was Zachariah Dicks, a recorded minister from the Cane Creek meeting in North Carolina.  He was an old man, close to seventy at this time, and he had been active in Quaker affairs for over forty years.  This man was Tom's gr-uncle seven generations back.  As a minister he had traveled widely in North America and had even crossed the Atlantic to visit Friends in the British Isles, which was the ultimate imprimatur of acceptance and approval for an American Friend.  Most importantly,  Zachariah had the reputation of possessing gifts of foresight and discernment, even to see future events.

     I have seen what purports to be a transcript of Zachariah Dicks's exhortation to Bush River Friends, but I'm not certain of its authenticity.  Of the thrust of his message, however, there can be no doubt: "Woe unto you, Bush River.  The flower of your glory has faded.  Get you hence out of this land of slavery and Egyptian darkness into the free territory of the Northwest"  Writing in the 1850s, Judge John Belton O'Neall of Newberry, who came of a Bush River family that had remained in South Carolina and left Friends, recorded that Dicks warned Friends that they would be caught up in a terrible war between rebellious slaves and their masters, like that in Santo Domingo.  Another account was left by George Carter, a young Friend from North Carolina who accompanied Dicks.  Carter recalled that Dicks predicted that there were present those who in their lifetimes would see South Carolina devastated by a war over slavery.  George Carter lived until 1868, and remembered Zachariah Dicks's vision when Union General William T. Sherman's army devastated much of South Carolina in January and February 1865 (although it should be noted that Sherman's army never reached Newberry).

     To be sure, even before 1800 South Carolina Friends had been looking west.  As early as 1797, Abijah O'Neall had explored land on the Little Miami River and in 1799 his family, with that of two other Bush River Friends, William Kelly and James Mills, had taken up residence near what would become Waynesville.  John Belton O'Neall recorded that Bush River Friends initially opposed Abijah O'Neall's plan to move west, but within a decade, most of them would follow.  Between 1802 and 1807 a flood of families came into what would become Miami Monthly Meeting, spreading into what would become Clinton and Greene counties as well.  To be sure, not all of these immigrants were from Bush River.  The Miami country drew Friends from the Delaware Valley, from Northern Virginia, and from North Carolina.  But the Bush River Friends would form the single largest group within the monthly meeting in early days.  This was even more true of Caesars Creek.  It was set off as a monthly meeting in 1813.

     Meanwhile, Quakerism in South Carolina and Georgia was coming to an end.  By the 1820s, when the sisters Angelina and Sarah Grimke were drawn to it, the meeting in Charleston had only two or three members left.  Wrightsborough Monthly Meeting in Georgia was laid down in 1805.  A few families remained behind.  IN 1858, the English Friends Robert and Sarah Lindsey discovered one Joel Cloud, a birthright Friend who still used the plain language, living near the site of the meetinghouse, but it had been years since he had seen other Quakers and his wife and children were slaveowners.  Ironically, descendants of the Wrightsborough Quakers who remained in Georgia would  produce two of the most notorious race-baiting Southern politicians of the twentieth century, Tom Watson and Lester Maddox.

     Bush River lasted a little longer.  Cane Creek Monthly Meeting was laid down first and then the quarterly meeting.  A committee appointed by North Carolina Yearly Meeting found about 140 Friends left in Newberry, Union, and Laurens counties in 1809, but a number of them subsequently moved west.  Bush River Monthly Meeting was finally laid down in 1822, although a few Friends kept up a meeting for worship until 1837.  Their membership was 150 miles north, with Springfield Monthly Meeting near what is now High Point, North Carolina.  Using a graveyard, the last reference I've found to a friend at Bush River is the disownment of Hannah (Herbert) Hunt in 1841 for joining the Baptists.  Twenty years later, her three sons would all be officers in the Confederate army, one of them emerging a general.

So Bush River came to an end.  But descendants of the Bush River Friends would continue to be prominent in Quaker affairs.  Names such as-- Cook, Hawkins, Kelly, O'Neall, Hollingsworth, Mills, Pearson, Jay-- appear over and over again in the records of every yearly meeting of Friends to the west, in national Quaker organizations, in the founding of Quaker organizations and colleges.  While perhaps as descendants told the story of the migration, they tended to emphasize the idealism of Friends' opposition as a motive, and to forget the more practical forces of  land and economics, slavery was ultimately at the root of this migration.  The Bush River story is a good one for Friends.

A note on Sources:

      The basic outline of Quaker history in South Carolina and Georgia can be found in two useful works.  Stephen B. Weeks, Southern Quakers and Slavery: A Study in Institutional History  (Baltimore, 1896, reprinted New York, 1968) is broader than its title suggests and brings together considerable material on Quaker migration.  William F. Medlin, Quaker Families of South Carolina and Georgia (Columbia, S.C., 1982), brings together a mass of information on meetings and families. A wonderfully engaging sketch of Bush River Friends can be found in chapter 5 of John Belton O'Neall and John A Chapman, The Annals of Newberry (Newberry, SC, 1892).  O'Neall's section was writen in the 1850s.  A mass of useful material on the settlement of Friends of Miami is found in Proceedings Centennial Anniversary Miami Monthly Meeting Waynesville Ohio 10th Month, 16, 17, 1903 (Waynesville, n.d.).  A purported transcript of Zachariah Dick's sermon at Bush River is found in Forrest Dicks, comp., Peter Dicks and His Descendents (N.p. 1977), but its origin is unclear.  George Carter's letter with his memories of Zachariah Dicks is found in the Christian Worker (New Vienna, Ohio), 12th Mo. 1, 1874, pp 362-63.  Abstracts of the surviving records of the South Carolina Friends meetings are found in Volume I of William Wade Hinshaw's Encyclopedia of American Quaker Genealogy.  Abstracts of Miami records are in Volume V.

     There were three penciled in notes at the bottom of Tom's paper.  To save my typing, I am going to just copy and paste Tom's explanation about the three notes:

I intended to add three other books to the suggestions for further reading. They are:

Rachel N. Klein, Unification of a Slave State: The Rise of the Planter Class in the South Carolina Back Country, 1760-1808 (1990)

Wilson S. Doan, Bush River: A Story of Quaker Migration to the Northwest Territory (n.d., a novel).

Thomas E. Drake, Quakers and Slavery in America (1950)


  1. Thanks Marsha,

    I have shared this with several friends (not FRIENDS) here in Memphis who may have ties way back to South Carolina and Miami County families.

    Kathie Johnston

  2. Thank you so much for the enlightening information on the Quaker families and their migration north. Looking forward to learning more through the recommended reading.
    This was very helpful for my family research. Thank you again!
    Sarah Wallace

    1. Thanks, Sarah, for your comment. I would be interested in hearing about your Quaker families.

    2. Hi Marsha! I am researching my Coates and Brown family ancestry and their possible Quaker connection as well. I just recently discovered that they might have been part of the group that went to Ohio from South Carolina and I came across your blog while doing some light research. Can you recommend any further resources or information that might point me in the right direction? Thanks!