Did you know today is #WorldQuakerDay? Did you know there are still practicing Quakers? Quakers work for peace and justice, stronger communities and greener policy in their communities – we think those are universal Dartmouthian values too, and for a reason!
Easily dismissed as relics of the 18th century or as an ideology out of touch from the mainstream, Quakers and their faith seem to have made a major impact, not just on the world at large, but also here at home in Dartmouth; our laws, our society, our culture.
Starting in 1759, decades before the initial settlement of Quakers in Dartmouth, came our first law at the provincial level to recognize religious freedom.
“An act for permitting persons of the profession of the people called Quaker, to make an affirmation instead of an oath” recognized that Quakers believed “all who possessed the spirit of Christ would speak the truth on all occasions, in love for Him, and in obedience to His command”.
By 1785, the Quakers had settled at Dartmouth, and by 1789 Quakers successfully lobbied for the “Dartmouth Town Act, to enable the inhabitants of the Town Plot to use and occupy the common field as they may think fit.” This was our first local government in a province that rejected and resisted local self government of any kind.
Trustees, quarterly meetings, the ability to choose a clerk without appointment, the ability to sue or be sued, a mechanism to raise money for defraying the costs of lawsuits, the ability to create new laws and regulations as long as not “repugnant” to the laws of the Province, and finally restrictions from levies on those who do not use the Common – in other words, a corporation and the forerunner to the Town (and City) of Dartmouth.
By 1795, Dartmouth featured prominently enough in a circuit of Quaker communities that Joshua Evans, a prominent Quaker minister who ardently opposed slavery, came all the way from New Jersey to take part in public worship, meetings and a preparative meeting that allowed local Quakers to declare their intentions to marry.
By the 1820s, the children of those Original quaker settlers included Seth Coleman, a physician; who lived true to his Quaker faith, tended to those with ailments to the best of his abilities, regardless of the color of their skin, the religion they practiced, or their station in life.
It shouldn’t take a lot for us to acknowledge that Dartmouth was founded as part of a most extreme injustice: These lands were not empty, these lands were not without their own people and culture; these lands were stolen from the Mi’kmaw, the Wabanaki Confederacy.
These Quaker settlers, settlers as they may be in the most derogatory sense, made important contributions to Dartmouth society and helped to nurture a certain progressive sensibility that has always been present in Dartmouth, and remains to this day – regardless of the efforts of our Provincial government to destroy everything Dartmouth is about.
Would Joseph Howe, in his speech at Dartmouth in 1867, have had such an evolved perspective (for his time) on the affairs of the Mi’kmaw people, without the lineage of progressive Dartmouthians, Quakers, that came before him?
Would the Town of Dartmouth’s priority in 1886, to extend the franchise to women, have happened without the lineage of progressive Dartmouthians, Quakers, that came before them?
This inherent Dartmouth progressivism is seen in the past through Seth Coleman’s efforts to help ALL of those in our community, and it is seen even today, when the party Dartmouthians happen to vote for often bucks the Provincial trend.
As we struggle to retain our identity, to restore our legitimate municipal government; we remember how Joshua Evans described his visit to Dartmouth: “Many people, friends and others, coming together”.
That’s Dartmouth, still, and we thank you, friends, for being a part of this effort grounded in justice for ALL!