In the first half of the 18th Century, the first settlers came over the mountains from
western Connecticut to settle what is now called "Quaker Hill" in the area known as the Oblong, now part of the Town of Pawling. For the most part, they were farmers who were brought forth by ancestors steeped in the tradition of fearlessness in personal religious beliefs, ancestors who had fled the strict precepts of the Puritan City on the Hill to establish the more accepting colonies of Rhode Island and the English settlements under the Dutch on Long Island. There they were receptive to the new teachings of George Fox and Quakerism. Those first pioneers brought their ancestor's beliefs with them and in 1741 were granted by the Purchase, Westchester, Monthly Meeting permission to build their meeting house, the earliest mention of a Quaker
"meeting" in Dutchess County. By 1744 , the Oblong Meeting became a permanent legislative congregation. The Quaker farmers flourished on this verdant hill and by 1764, the congregation had so expanded, a larger Meeting House was built, the structure that is still standing today and celebrating its 250th Anniversary this year.
At this time, slavery was quite prevalent in the Hudson Valley and on Long Island, where the Oblong's parent Meeting was located in Flushing. The Hudson Valley and Long Island were still generally agricultural communities. Slaves still provided an enormous convenience in man power over the alternative of indentured servants. The Quakers believed in a moral way of life, but they were also astute businessmen. Freeing slaves altogether would have been an economic hardship.
Nevertheless, the Oblong Friends carried their beliefs to the logical conclusion - in 1767, they approached Flushing with this query:
If it is not consistent with Christianity to buy and sell our Fellowman for slaves
during their lives and their Posterities after them, then whether it is consistent
with a Christian Spirit to keep those in slavery that we have already in possession
by Purchase, Gift and any other ways?"
If God was in every man and obviously you could not own God, then you could not own another man. Their parent meeting, many of the members who owned slaves themselves, did not have the courage to give them an answer at that time, but by 1777,
not waiting for an answer from their parent Meeting, all members of the Oblong Meeting had voluntarily freed any slaves they may have still owned. And they were welcomed into the Meeting . There are records of black weddings in the Oblong records.
The Society of Friends continued throughout the 19th Century to work on behalf of the slaves. There were Quaker homes that were stops on the Underground Railroad. The strong beliefs of the Oblong Meeting in this regard attracted other members of the Society of Friends in Dutchess County to attend this particular meeting instead of those closer to their own homes. One family doing so were the Andrew Skidmores of LaGrange. Andrew and Eliza were married at the Oblong and in their home they hid the "sojourners" until it was safe to transport them in a wagon under cover of night to the next stop at Clinton Corners. Ironically, their home has been moved to the property adjoining the Oblong Meeting house and owned by this writer.
One can still visit the remarkable symbol of freedom from May until October on weekends at Meeting House Road, Pawling, New York . It is still in its quiet contemplative setting where one can imagine those 18th Century participants struggling over that fundamentally significant query, ahead of so many of their countrymen in their beliefs of human rights. Later in this year, there will be a celebration of its 250th Anniversary. Be sure to check it out.