We are thrilled to bring three translated articles from the Quaker Journal of German Friends (“QUÄKER, Zeitschrift der deutschen Freunde), to the blog over the next few weeks. Graciously translated into English by Birgit Adolph and reviewed by Rosemary Meier, the three articles discuss early Quakerism in Germany, nineteenth century Quakerism, and Quakers in twentieth-century Germany. Many early Canadian Quakers had German origins, particularly those who emigrated from New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.
Written by Lutz Caspers, the articles were originally published in 2015 to celebrate the ninetieth anniversary of the German Yearly Meeting. The articles are reproduced here with the permission of both the author and the journal.
“90 Years of the German Annual Meeting. Part II: 19th Century: Minden, Friedensthal and Pyrmont,” Quaker Journal of German Friends 6, (2015): 273–275.
German citation: Lutz Caspers, “90 Jahre deutsche Jahresversammlung. Teil II: Das 19. Jahrhundert: Minden, Friedensthal und Pyrmont,” QUÄKER, Zeitschrift der deutschen Freunde 6, (2015): 273–275.
In 1805, F.C.E. Schmid described the “beginning of the Pyrmont congregation”: in 1786, British missionaries had come to Hessen, as troops from Hessen had gone to America as soldiers and had had a favourable experience with Quakers there. They came to Rinteln, stayed for eight days, met “the Society of the Pious”, and “they left a powerful impression.”
In 1793, Ludwig Seebohm wrote a long letter to the town of Rinteln, detailing the principles of the Quaker faith. In 1790, in Hohenrode, Schaumberg, there apparently were people (including the Master craftsman Schüttemeier) who no longer attended Church nor were sending their children to school and who were “presenting themselves in speech, conduct and dress, showing all the peculiarities by which Quakers are recognised.” They wore simple clothes, addressed everyone with familiarity as thou, and did not take off their hats to anyone. A prison sentence did not make Schüttemeier change his views. In 1792, he was forced to endure the compulsory baptism of his child and the forced sale of his house, and to leave the area. He and his friends fled to Pyrmont.
British missionaries met with six families in Minden, who met monthly (although not tolerated until 1798). Sarah Groupp had visited them in 1796. Friedrich Schmitt and Johannes Rasche had then founded the Christian Society of Friends in Minden. A public meeting was held in the hall of the orphanage in which many Minden citizens professed the principles of Friends. Several pastors however urged that this hall be closed. Ludwig Seebohm then drafted a document which was delivered to the King. After several further petitions, the members of five families were permitted to hold further Meetings there. In his response, the King referred to the full freedom of conscience for everyone in Prussia. Nevertheless, this did not exempt Friends from having to struggle with many difficulties. In Minden, there still exists a Quaker cemetery with many graves of Quakers from Minden and the surrounding area, buried between 1798 and 2006. Even among Friends, difficulties arose. Their hopes for Clearness had been placed on John Pemberton of Philadelphia, but he died in 1795 and was buried in Pyrmont. Three Quaker women from Philadelphia preached to a large audience in the dancehall of Pyrmont “as Quakers did not yet have a public Meeting House.”
In nearby Friedensthal, English Friends helped to establish a flax spinning mill, a weaving mill and, in 1792, a knife factory. The goods however proved to be of poor quality and thus could not be sold in America. In 1804, the enterprise was closed. Seebohm, with support from American Friends, also set up a printing business, a paper mill and a soap factory. The area flourished, so other Quakers—who were persecuted elsewhere—settled there. “Weary of public executions,” the community submitted a petition to the Prince in 1796. They were permitted to establish their own school, with an enrollment of twenty-five children. Seebohm’s salary as a teacher was funded by London Yearly Meeting. Seebohm also wrote several textbooks.
As the school premises soon proved too small, British Friends hoped to be able to seize the opportunity to extend their religious activities “in the popular resort of Pyrmont.” With private English funds, they built a special Meeting House, which was used first in 1800.
At its opening, one thousand visitors were reported to have been present. Schmid wrote: “around 1800, the congregation finally built its own public church, or rather, as they don’t like this word, Meeting House … it is made of wood and, including the wall around the churchyard, cost about 4,000 Thaler, mostly raised by subscriptions from English Quakers.” The congregation consisted of 24-26 families and about 80 people in all, living in Pyrmont and Friedensthal. They established a Monthly Meeting which joined London Yearly Meeting.
During the turmoil of the Napoleonic wars, Friends from abroad were not able to visit Pyrmont until 1814. Stephen Grellet established a Council for International Service for the care and control of the communities of Minden and Pyrmont. Membership, however, continued to decline. By 1840, Meetings were usually attended by only 3-5 Friends. In 1868, London Yearly Meeting investigated possibilities for renewed activity, but came up with no solution. There was no one to keep the remaining Friends together.
Many Friends had emigrated to America. In 1893, London Friends decided to sell the Quaker House. The contract for purchase specifically emphasised that the House was to be used for neither commercial enterprises nor a dance hall. The proceeds were kept and in 1932 used to build a new Meeting House.
F.C.E. Schmid, Ursprung, Fortgang und Verfassung der Quäkergemeinde zu Pyrmont. Braunschweig (1805).
Wilhelm Hubben, Die Quäker in der deutschen Vergangenheit. QuäkerVerlag Leipzig, 1929.
Heinrich Otto, Werden und Wesen des Quäkertums und seine Entwicklung in Deutschland. Wien, 1972.
Friedrich Schmidt and Christian Schelp, “Geschichte der Freunde zu Minden,” 1999.
Wilhelm Rasche, Geschichte der Familie Rasche, 1961.