Reprinted with Permission from Lost
Material taken from Hull, Henry. Memoir of the Life and Religious
Labor of Henry Hull. Philadelphia, 1864.
The term "Quaker"
often brings to mind the image of a man with a long white beard dressed
in antique clothes staring from the face of a Quaker Oats box. Quakers
are often confused with the Amish or with Shakers, two independent
groups with whom there is no direct historical or theological connection.
Despite a shared concern for peace and a historic emphasis on simplicity,
Quakers are a unique body of Christians, formally called the Society
of Friends, who draw their name from Jesus statement in John 14:14-15:
are my friends, if you do what I command you. No longer do
I call you slaves; for the slave does not know what his master
is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that
I have heard from my Father, I have made known to you."
Friends do not withdraw from the world
into private celibate communities, as did the Shakers to the point of
extinction. Nor do Quakers isolate themselves from the modern world,
indicating their uniqueness by the wearing of unusual clothing and by
rejecting technology as do the Amish. Instead, Quakers are a diverse
group of Christian believers who seek to maintain a personal relationship
with God while remaining active participants in the world around them.
fact that many are unaware both of the existence and the importance
of Quakers in Tennessee, The Society of Friends has had a powerful
historical impact on Jefferson County and on East Tennessee.
This ignorance is indicated by the omission of any significant
mention of Quakers in the Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and
Culture. Yet, Lost Creek Monthly Meeting, the second Friends
Meeting established in Tennessee and the oldest still in existence,
has been a significant center of faith and worship and a powerful
voice for freedom through over 200 years of East Tennessee history.
the significance of Lost Creek in particular, it would be in
order to briefly examine the beginning of the Society of Friends.
The movement began in England with a young man named George Fox
who was ardently seeking for a deeper spiritual experience than
he was finding in the established churches of his day. His family
urged him to settle down and marry and find solace in a wife.
He sought counsel from a variety of different ministers who were
of no help to the young seeker. One minister suggested that he "take
tobacco and sing psalms," while another Fox described as
"like an empty, hollow cask." A third got angry at
him for accidentally stepping in a flower bed, while another
wanted him to take a physic (a purgative) and then to be bled.
Finding no help from the established ministers, Fox left his
home at the age of nineteen and began a quest for spiritual truth.
As he traveled, he gathered a group of other seekers who were
disenchanted with the established church. In 1647, at the age
of 23, Fox began the ministry which came to be known as the Society
of Friends. As was the case of such other reformers as Martin
Luther and John Wesley, George Fox did not intend to start another
church. His desire was to form a religious society that would
work for reform and restoration of the founding principles of
the primitive Christian church.
of George Fox was a very traditional, Biblical Christianity with
a radical twist. Fox rejected all ceremony and ritual, stressing
the essential need for a vital living relationship with Christ.
He rejected the concept of a professional clergy, teaching that
all believers were ministers of God. He also rejected the idea
of a church building as a sacred place or as a "house
of God." They strongly emphasized the New Testament concept that
the church is not a building but a group of believers. Members of the
Society of Friends met first in homes and later in buildings that they
distinctly referred to as "meetinghouses" to clearly distinguish
them from the church buildings and cathedrals of other groups which
were mockingly referred to as "steeplehouses." The
Quaker movement, despite ardent persecution from other churches,
grew explosively in England, reaching an estimated 50-60,000
in England before Fox's death in 1691. By that time there were
also strong Quaker Meetings in Ireland, in the Americas, and
of Lost Creek Friends Meeting begins with the movement of settlers
from North Carolina into what is now East Tennessee. Many of
those settlers were members of the Society of Friends. Some of
these early Friends settled near Jonesboro and started a meeting
that came to be known as New Hope. Others settled near what is
now called New Market, Tennessee along Lost Creek and in what
they called Quaker Valley (now known as Rocky Valley). John Mills,
a Quaker from Guilford County North Carolina, brought his family
to Lost Creek where they built a log cabin. Mills began meeting
with other Quaker families that were settling in the area such
as the Beals, the Haworths, the Thornburgs and the Swains. By
1787 the local Friends were having what was referred to as a "Voluntary" meeting.
They had not yet been formally recognized by the North Carolina
Yearly Meeting, but were meeting regularly for worship. In 1793
Lost Creek was recognized as a worshipping group of Quakers,
and in 1795 became a Worship and Preparative Meeting. By this
time they were functioning in all respects as a fully organized
Friends Meeting except for one formality. They had not yet been
recognized as a Monthly Meeting by the North Carolina Yearly
The reason for the delay in recognition
was one that is of great historic significance to the Quakers. There
has been from the beginning of the movement a strong emphasis on social
justice. During the westward expansion in America, the Friends refused
to recognize any meeting that could not formally prove that they had
legitimately purchased their land from the Native Americans. On May
25th, 1796, John Mills deeded the present property, approximately three
acres of the land which he had purchased from the Native Americans,
to the Friends of Lost Creek. As this was the date that the Lost Creek
Friends met the conditions for formal recognition, this has been traditionally
considered to be the founding date of the Meeting. It was almost a year
later, however, before official sanction was granted by the North Carolina
Thus, by some accounts, the Meeting was
not established until May 10, 1797 at which time the Lost Creek Friends
Monthly Meeting held its first formally recognized monthly meeting.
For Lost Creek Friends, however, the stubborn pioneer spirit which led
to their departure from North Carolina, caused them to assert that they
were established May 25th, 1796, one month before Tennessee became a
state. Henry Hull, a traveling Quaker minister, made the following mention
of Lost Creek in his Memoir of the Life and Religious Labor of Henry
day were at the Monthly Meeting at Lost-creek (sic), where
we met a considerable number of Friends, who made a commendable
appearance, but evinced much rawness in the management of the
was a thriving center of Quaker life and worship in East Tennessee.
It became an evangelistic center as new monthly meetings were
started throughout the region under the supervision of Lost Creek
Quarterly Meeting. Hundreds of members attended regularly the
meetings for worship and business. Women and men were recognized
as equals before God and had their own separate meetings for
business. They had separate doors and sat on separate sides of
the building with a divider down the middle. Early meetings
were unprogrammed, as the members sat in silence waiting for
the Holy Spirit to move one of their number to speak. It was
not until the early 1800's that Quakers, influenced by the evangelical
events of the Second great Awakening, began to recognize a need
for pastoral leadership and for instructive preaching as an important
element of their worship. Some Friends meetings, Lost Creek among
them, embraced this evangelicalism and became "programmed"
Quakers, however, remained an active
part of their local community, a serious social issue of the early
1800's began to challenge the local Friends to make a stand. Friends
had begun to recognize the evils of slave ownership, largely due to
the influence of John Woolman. By the time of his death in 1772, it
was considered unacceptable for North American
Quakers to be slaveowners and by 1787 all Quakers are believed to have
freed their slaves. Manumission, the freeing of slaves, became an
important social concern to Friends and in January 1815 the Tennessee
Manumission Society was organized at Lost Creek Church under the leadership
of Elihu Swain, one of the members. This was, of course, a controversial
position, and many Friends chose to leave Tennessee, migrating North
to Ohio and west to Indiana. It is estimated that Lost Creek lost
400-500 members between 1803 and 1832 due to this migration. Many
other friends, however, chose to remain and stand firm for their convictions.
According to oral tradition, Lost Creek Meeting became a station on
the Underground Railroad. Members are said to have hidden escaping
slaves in a nearby cave until they could be smuggled north to freedom.
The location of this cave is no longer known, but some of the older
members have said that it was under the current location of route
Civil War, the building was burned by Confederate soldiers. The
current wooden building was rebuilt on the original foundation,
using many of the logs of the original building as part of the
structure. Later additions of classroom space, restrooms, and
a kitchen/fellowship hall followed as the church recognized needs
for such facilities.
In the late
1800's the Friends Meetings in Tennessee left the North Carolina
Yearly Meeting and joined with the Wilmington Yearly meeting
in Ohio. At this time the Quarterly Meeting name was changed
from Lost Creek Quarterly Meeting to Friendsville Quarterly Meeting,
signifying the shift in size and influence away from Lost Creek
to the Quaker community in Friendsville. Lost Creek today remains
a member of Friendsville Quarterly meeting and Wilmington Yearly
Meeting of Friends.
Of the many
Quaker Meetings that once met in East Tennessee, only six remain.
The vibrant spiritual fervor and social activism that characterized
the early Friends sometimes seems to be a fading memory. High
school teachers in Jefferson County, once a powerful center of
Quaker life, now confuse the Quakers with the Amish or the Shakers
and tell Quaker young people that they cannot be Quakers
"because the Quakers didn't marry so they all died out!" Many
people in the local area could not give a visitor directions
to the meetinghouse. At Lost Creek, however, the Quaker light
still burns brightly. Though relatively small in number, the
Friends at Lost Creek continue to maintain the commitment to
a personal walk with Christ and an active involvement with the
community that has characterized their existence for over 200
years. It is to be hoped that they will remain true to those
principles and continue to testify to the light for another 200
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