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The Minutes of the Dartmouth, Massachusetts, Monthly Meeting of Friends, 1699-1785
Men's Minutes: 1699-1762
Thomas D. Hamm
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The south coast of Massachusetts, adjoining the Rhode Island border, was throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries a safe haven for those seeking to avoid too close scrutiny by either provincial authorities or the Congregational establishment in Boston. Thus, this borderland provided a refuge for Native Americans, freed Blacks, and religious dissidents, especially Quakers who faced severe penalties in the Bay Colony. The Dartmouth Monthly Meeting was the first group of Friends to gather for organized worship in the region. Since their founding in 1699, they have collected and preserved their records well into the twentieth century. Recognizing that a continuous set of records over such a long span of time was indeed a remarkable survival, the Dartmouth Historical and Arts Society set about digitizing and transcribing these manuscripts, and the Colonial Society of Massachusetts has joined in the effort by publishing the eighteenth-century minutes of both the Men's and Women's Monthly Meetings.

Thomas Hamm of Earlham College has provided a succinct and knowledgeable introduction that will make clear to non-Quaker readers some of the religious group's most distinctive practices. The minutes of the monthly meeting might best be described as business and disciplinary records, rather than a description of what transpired in the weekly "First Day" meetings for worship. Quakers believed that God inspired women as well as men, that women had just as much right to speak and preach and pray publicly as men. Quakers were expected to marry other Quakers, and those who did not might be disowned. Cases of bastardy and fornication (generally understood as resulting in the birth of a child too soon after marriage) also came before the monthly meeting, as well as offenses against "plainness," sharp business practice, and the slander of fellow Friends. The refusal to take oaths and serve in the military brought Quakers into conflict with local authorities, and Friends were forbidden to profit from war-making in any way, either by repairing guns for soldiers, owning or serving aboard privateers, or even purchasing goods that had been seized from enemy ships. Thus, the Minutes of the Dartmouth Month Meeting constitute a rich hoard of information for social historians and genealogists alike.

Distributed for the Colonial Society of Massachusetts.

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