Saturday, June 11, 2011

Baptized in the Oneness of Feeling

I ran into the above quote and was taken by the poetry of the words -"baptized in the oneness of feeling", a Friend’s description of the atmosphere at Abington Pa. regarding a meeting with Nicolas Waln as speaker, 1797

Apparently after this guy gave a very inspirational sermon, the assembly did not want to leave the building and it continued for a short time trying to come down from a spiritual high.

Funny how the use of words like “baptized in” is used as metaphor in that Quakers don’t do baptism.

I was doing some historic research using old maps of Philadelphia on the Internet.  I was looking up spaces I grew up in sections of Philly that might be labeled as Tacony or Frankford.

I did some further research after I realized that a lot of colonial mansions and summer homes had once existed, and disappeared, long before I came along and co-existed with factories and national trucking firms on massive lots. 

The most deciding factor that changed everything, from rural to inner city and industrial was with the railroads starting about 1860 and or the Civil War era.  War does make jobs and progress of sorts somewhere, sometimes or it used to.

Looking for a defunct borough of White Hall led to a White Hall mansion on old maps across the street from the old Frankford Arsenal where my grandfather had once worked as a “millwright” whatever that is.  Have to look that one up.  Oral family history said he was a “rigger”.   Whatever.

The White Hall mansion led me to the Waln family, one of the founding Quaker families of the Philadelphia area.  Starting with a thousand acre grant from William Penn as incentive to uproot form England and religious persecution. 

One of the reasons another Quaker in England spent seven years in jail there was because he refused to pay a tax or assessment for the rebuilding of the local COE church’s steeple.  Thank God for separation of church and state here these days.  Small favors.  Buy me a ticket to the new world – fast.

Well anyway, I did not want to do too much research on this Quaker family.  I was curious to a point but not obsessed. Not much material on the Net in any case.  No doubt a lot of papers and diaries exist at Quakers colleges, libraries and archives but are not as yet digitalized etc.  

You can see and or wonder how in less than a hundred years, a virgin forest got chopped up, turned into farms and or plantations, mills, roads and in time to give all four foot eleven inches (150 cm) of George III a pain in his royal ass. 

Amazing stuff.  Some of these Quakers built small ships, brigantines, out of their forests.  Farming, trading, mills, foundries, and all in just a few generations.

From this background came Nicolas Waln, itinerate Quaker preacher.

"...He was a lawyer of some repute… He also had a dry wit. For instance:

"One time Nicholas Waln was visiting one of his sick friends who said to him, ‘Nicholas, I am very sick, I think I am about to die.'

Nicholas was a great joker and, no doubt to distract his friend's attention, replied, ”Yes, I think though wilt and when thou gets to heaven, please ask the Apostle Paul to return to earth and explain some of the hard things in his letters."..."

"Waln began his career as a lawyer, but as the following antidote illustrates he soon became disillusioned with the profession. When traveling home from trying a case in Bucks County, Waln stopped by his friend's country home and is reported to have said, "I did the best that I could for my client, gained the case for him, and thereby defrauded an honest man out of his just due. " After this he never practiced law again and instead became a Quaker minister..."

Apparently some of that old fashioned Quaker religion rubbed off on him.  A victim of conscience – pangs of it – walking away from a profession at the top of his form but one which he suddenly lost his passion for.  “What does it profit a man…”

Further research sees that the name of Waln has disappeared locally in the phone book. The name Waln still exists, as a minor historic footnote, on a small stretch of a back street in Frankford near a still existing Quaker meeting house.

The idea of following your conscience might explain why there are fewer Quakers these days than might be expected given their head start from Billy Penn.   Apparently the Quaker push for the abolition of slavery took its toll internally and nationally. Their ranks were thinned in border states like Maryland as an example where many Quakers joined mainstream Protestant sects.  This, in order to keep their property and still go to church on Sunday without hearing anything favoring the abolition of property. 

And so it goes.  Or went.