To celebrate the 50th anniversary of William Penn’s Charter of Privileges — the forerunner of America’s Bill of Rights — the colonial Assembly of Pennsylvania approved the purchase of a great bell for the statehouse, which is today known as Independence Hall.
In 1751, Quakers still formed the majority of the Assembly, and its speaker chose the inscription from Leviticus 25:10, which begins “Ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land” in its King James translation.
The bell itself was widely known as the Great Quaker Bell until July 8, 1776, when it was rung to celebrate the adoption of the Declaration of Independence and became known as the Liberty Bell.
Here is Everett Fox’s translation of the text:
You are to hallow the year, the fiftieth year,
proclaiming freedom throughout the land and to all its inhabitants;
it shall be a Homebringing for you,
you are to return, each-man to his holding,
each-man to his clan you are to return.
This, the jubilee year, introduces a revolutionary concept of redistributing all the land’s wealth every 50 years. Likewise, Penn’s Charter was a revolutionary recognition of the rights of individual conscience. And the event celebrated on this day honors a third revolution in human society. All, to be hallowed.
The library in many Friends meetinghouses may have a few shelves like this. From a similar bookcase in Ohio I once borrowed Joseph Besse’s 1753 two-volume A collection of the sufferings of the people called Quakers, for the testimony of a good conscience from the time of their being first distinguished by that name in the year 1650 to the time of the act commonly called the Act of toleration granted to Protestant dissenters in the first year of the reign of King William the Third and Queen Mary in the year 1689. Alas, we don’t have that one in our collection – those big books are a genealogical treasure. We still have plenty for a serious scholar or bibliophile to engage. It’s likely that many of the authors visited Dover as travelling ministers.
We’re getting ready to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the erection of our meetinghouse in June 1768. It’s our third and went up in one day, like an Amish barn-raising nowadays. The big sign stashed in the gallery upstairs announced a play one Friend wrote and the rest of the Meeting performed in honor of the 200th anniversary. Yes, poet John Greenleaf Whittier’s parents were married in our meetinghouse.
Representatives from neighboring Quaker congregations get together four times a year to check in on each other and events in their home meetings. The practice, called Quarterly Meeting, has its own clerks, treasurer, and other officers, as needed.
In the past, it was a big event. The smaller meetings, in fact, would not have their own worship that Sunday — everyone would be off to wherever the Quarter was gathering. I suspect much of it was a family reunion, one filled with a holiday spirit.
Nowadays is a different matter, especially as we struggle with finding a better fit between our Monthly Meetings (the local groups that worship each week but conduct business once a month) and our much larger Yearly Meetings — in our case, New England Yearly Meeting of Friends.
These photos are from a session of Dover Quarterly Meeting that took place in the newly renovated West Epping meetinghouse.
For that matter, the memorial service falls between a liturgical rite and an event with a eulogy or two. Quaker focus is on the spiritual growth of the individual and the resulting service to others. Our candor often leads to laughter as well as tears.
This 1959 statue by Sylvia Shaw Judson sits on the grounds of the Massachusetts State House in Boston.