Our knowledge and understanding of the Quakers has been minimal. So,when we came across this building, we thought this would be a good opportunity to learn more.
Quakers, also known as the “Religous Society of Friends,” first appeared in the mid-1700’s as a religous group that expressed views in opposition to those of the established Protestant groups, such as the Church of England. They were pacifists and “...would not take up arms,pay War taxes, or take an Oath of Allegiance.” As a group, Quakers came to America to seek religious freedom. During the American Revolution, a schism developed among the Pennsylvania Quakers. One group of around 50 men and women, including Betsy Ross, rejected pacifism and supported the Revolution. They called themselves “Free” Quakers. After being shunned by the mainstream group, the Free Quakers established their own place of worship in 1781. Two years later, they had constructed the current red brick building, on the corner of 5th and Arch streets, in which to hold their services. The 2.5 story structure served this purpose until 1836. By that time, the differences between the two Quaker groups had decreased and the “Free” Meeting House no longer was used as a place of worship. The building was then used by the Apprentice Library of Philadelphia (the nation’s first free circulating library). Today, the building is operated by “Once Upon A Nation” and is part of the Independence National Historic Park.
A Yellow fever epidemic in 1793 killed 1/10 of Philadelphia’s population. The Free Quakers formed the “Female Society for the Relief and Employment of the Poor.” The House of Industry branch of the Society spun wool and sewed fabric, such as this quilt which was put together and signed by 76 of the Society’s members, to help those impacted by the epidemic.