"Fewer inducements to vice": Brookeville's Quaker Identity

In 1814, most of Brookeville's leading citizens were members of a religious group called the Society of Friends, more commonly known as the Quakers. Friends lived by a strict set of rules which set them apart from the rest of American society. Quakers strongly value kindness towards everyone and have garnered a reputation of being charitable and welcoming. By 1814, Brookeville was widely regarded as a generous and inviting community for everyone— from
President James Madison to newly freed slaves. The town's devotion to their Quaker faith would greatly impact the surrounding region, and it is an important part of Brookeville's story.

    Brookeville's Religious Origins 

From its foundation, Brookeville was a Quaker town descended from the old Quaker families that settled in the area earlier in the eighteenth century. Those families established the first weekly religious meeting there on James Brooke's property sometime around 1753. Brooke and his neighbors called their new meeting Sandy Spring, after the freshwater spring which flowed nearby the meeting place.[1] When Richard Thomas Jr., a member of Sandy Spring (and husband of one of James Brooke's granddaughters), founded the town of Brookeville on tracts of James Brooke's original property, he brought with him his Quaker heritage and kin. Thomas sold most of the town's quarter-acre lots to fellow members of the meeting. And even though non-Quakers lived in Brookeville too, for decades after its founding around 1800, the town maintained its distinct Quaker identity. 

meeting house
The Sandy Spring Quaker Meeting House built in 1817. John O. Brostrup, 1936. Historic American Buildings Survey. Library of Congress.

As Quakers, the members of the meeting at Sandy Spring followed the teachings of a seventeenth-century English Christian reformer named George Fox. Fox preached that humans needed no mediator between themselves and God and should instead follow their "inner light," God's presence within each individual. Fox and his followers asserted that anyone, regardless of sex, education, wealth, or race could receive individual revelations and guidance from God.[2] Quakers sought to remain distinct, if not separate, from other Christian denominations and from the outside world. But Brookeville's location, situated only miles away from the rapidly-developing cities of Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, made maintaining their distinctiveness and devotion to Quaker values a unique challenge.

     A Well-Defined Community

Brookeville's leading residents were metropolitan and business-oriented, but maintaining traditional Quaker values was still important to them. One way that they protected their values was by carefully guarding membership into meeting. Quakers divided membership into two types: "birthright" Friends born to Quaker parents, and "convinced" Friends, people born outside the Society and admitted after a formal application process. David Newlin, one of Brookeville's most intriguing residents, was one of those converts. Not born a Quaker, Newlin applied for application into the Society with his wife in 1812. After months of visits from Friends and many questions about the family's beliefs, the meeting accepted Newlin's family as full members.[3] 

In addition to controlling who could become a member, the meeting also closely regulated members' marriages. Because a Quaker who married someone outside of the Society jeopardized both their faith and that of their children, Yearly Meetings across the country recommended that these members be removed from membership, a process called "disownment." At Indian Spring (the monthly Meeting which oversaw both Brookeville and Sandy Spring), intermarriage was the most common reason for disownment. Those who married outside the faith were released quickly and without question. Even Deborah Brooke Thomas, the wife of Brookeville's founder, was disowned for marrying her husband by a Catholic priest outside of the Meeting.[4] Happily for the Thomas family, disownment was not permanent. Richard and Deborah were both allowed back into the Meeting after submitting written apologies in 1792.[5]

    Traditional Quaker Values

Quakers held a specific and unique set of values which all members were expected to uphold. Failure to do so could result in repetitive visits and chastisements from neighbors or eventual disownment from the Meeting. Like all Quakers, Brookeville's Friends wore less-ornate clothing so that members did not "conform to the vain and changeable fashions of the world."[6] While Brookeville's Friends were among the wealthiest men in Montgomery County, as Quakers, they sought to lead non-materialistic lives. This devotion to simplicity is likely why Caleb Bentley's home is less ornate than comparable homes from the time. Even though many of Brookeville's Friends could afford the luxury of a carriage, Caleb Bentley and Bernard Gilpin's families made a point of walking the five miles from Brookeville to the Quaker meetings held in Sandy Spring. 

Friends only spoke informally, using the more familiar "thee" and "thy" to address others instead of "you" and "your." They also numbered the months and days of the week instead of calling them by their secular names- Monday was known as "first day" while January was known as "first month," and so on.[7] Quakers avoided other behaviors which were commonplace in the early republic, including the consumption of alcohol.[8] While the people in Brookeville mostly took this prohibition seriously, some of the Meeting's Friends partook in small amounts of alcohol at harvest time or for medicinal purposes.[9] Isaac Briggs, a Quaker who became entrenched in Washington D.C.'s political and social world, sipped spirits when dining as a guest of James and Dolley Madison. He even once scribbled down recipes for ginger and raspberry wine in his personal notebook.[10] Even with these exceptions, drunkenness was not a significant problem for Brookeville— in 1834, residents successfully petitioned the Maryland Legislature for a statute which made selling alcohol within a mile and a half of Brookeville's town center illegal.[11]

This painting of a small monthly meeting in Earith, England depicts what meetings in Sandy Spring looked like. Men and women, sitting separately, listen quietly while one member exhorts. "Earith Monthly Meeting." Samuel Lucas. Copyright Religious Society of Friends in Britain. Courtesy of the Friends House Library. 

Quakers also decried gambling, fighting, gossiping, and other similar moral "detractions." Friends avoided attending "stage-plays, horse races, music, dancing, and other vain sports and amusements," believing that these activities led to "debauchery and wickedness."[12] In addition, Quakers did not swear oaths to anyone but God, choosing to "affirm" instead of swear. Friends were also forbidden from participating in civil government or from running for political office. Quakers even refused to acknowledge formal titles such as "master" and "mistress," opting to call others "friend" or "brother" instead. Maintaining this tradition of informality, Friends refrained from greeting others in the traditional fashion. Their doctrine stated that "we cannot bow the body and take off the hat, in order to express our respect to man," as they believed that such displays of respect were reserved for God alone.[13]

Another of the Society's foundational principles was pacifism. Brookeville's Friends, like all Quakers, were forbidden to support war in any way. This included outright statements of support like joining the army or mustering with the militia, but also more subtle statements such as paying war taxes, lending supplies to the army, or affirming one's loyalty to the Colonies, a statement which was too closely tied to war.[14] Quakers who refused to support the Colonies' independence efforts faced looting, fines, and even imprisonment. In Baltimore, a Committee for Sufferings was created to compensate Friends for the considerable amount of money and goods lost to the war effort. Notably, no residents of Sandy Spring or Brookeville seem to have faced harassment.[15] Avoiding war was not easy. Richard Thomas Jr., Brookeville's founder, was one of many who could not resist the pressure to conform. In 1778, he was disowned (along with seven other men) for affirming his loyalty to the American colonies as required by Maryland law.[16] The Meeting even indirectly contributed to the war effort by raising money in 1775 for the inhabitants of faraway Boston after the start of the Revolution.[17] By contrast, the War of 1812 did not bring as many challenges to the Society's members. By that time, the Maryland Legislature had even created a process which released Friends from the duty of serving in their local militia.[18]

    Social Activism and Advocacy

Community was vitally important to Brookeville's Quakers. All Friends were required to attend the weekly religious meetings at Sandy Spring, but many prominent Brookeville citizens (including members of the Stabler, Thomas, Moore, Brooke, and Briggs families) became much more involved in the day-to-day operations of the Society. Active Quakers served as clerks, representatives, and committee members. Others served as ministers and elders, leaders and role models in the Meeting and broader community. 

In Brookeville, the fundamental Quaker values of charity and unity between all people thrived. Friends there were devoted to social activism. While Quakerism was not a proselytizing faith, members hoped that through outreach to their communities, the principles which they upheld might be copied. One way that Brookeville's residents involved themselves was by encouraging education by establishing public schools to educate both Quaker and non-Quaker children. In town, the Brookeville Academy (chartered in 1815) taught boys from around the state, while the Fair Hill School in nearby Sandy Spring welcomed Quaker children. Between 1811 and 1812, the Sandy Spring Woman's Meeting even considered erecting a school for free blacks in the area, though they never approved the measure.[19]

Brookeville's residents also furthered the Society's effort to aid American Indians by "promot[ing] their welfare, religious instruction, knowledge of agriculture, and useful mechanic arts."[20] Friends from the town attended a state-wide committee meeting on the subject and residents donated money to support that committee's relief efforts, which included sending agricultural tools, letters of advice, and even missionaries to tribes in Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, and other U.S. territories.[21] Gerard Brooke, Roger Brooke, Thomas Moore, Caleb Bentley, and Isaac Briggs are all listed among Sandy Spring members who raised a moderate total of $44.50 for "the civilization of the Indians."[22]

The Society of Friends was also one of the earliest groups to actively campaign against slavery. By the time of Brookeville's foundation, Quaker doctrine officially condemned slave-holding by its members and others.[23] While Quakers in Brookeville supported this sentiment in many ways, their opinions of slavery were complicated. Many of Sandy Spring's Quakers manumitted their slaves as early as the 1770s and 1780s. Some even petitioned the Maryland Legislature to protect against the enslavement of free individuals. Despite their evident devotion to anti-slavery, many of Brookeville's residents continued to hold slaves well into the nineteenth century. Though these slaves were usually too young or too old to be legally freed, many Quakers continued using the labor of and selling underage slaves awaiting freedom.[24]

More on Brookeville and Quakers' unique relationship with slavery

By 1800, the Quakers' emphasis had shifted away from anti-slavery and towards caring for free blacks, mainly by providing education and job training for freedmen and by serving as legal advocates for African Americans. Brookeville's residents actively supported the free black community which began to grow around them as they steadily manumitted their slaves. Residents such as Gerard Brooke helped free blacks buy land off the record.[25] Others residents, Brooke included, employed the African Americans members of their communities in a variety of ways. Some Friends in town even encouraged the free black community in the area to establish a Methodist church in Sandy Spring. It was this character that made Brookeville and the surrounding area a welcoming community for freed slaves to settle in for decades to come.

More about free African Americans in Brookeville and the community they found in Brookeville

    A Faith Which Endures

Brookeville weathered a serious religious schism in the Society in 1828. Throughout the 1820s, the preaching of a New York Quaker named Elias Hicks rapidly gained popularity among Friends in the mid-Atlantic. Hicks and his followers believed that the Society had grown too much like other Christian denominations with centralized leadership, hired ministers, and strong emphasis on the Holy Bible. Hicks wanted Quakers to return to the Society's foundational doctrine which valued each individual's personal revelations from God over formal rituals, leadership, and Biblical scripture. At the Baltimore Yearly Meeting in 1828, those opposing Hicks (and calling themselves the Orthodox Friends) left the Meeting to form their own religious organization. More than four-fifths of the delegates remained with Hicks, however, including the representatives from Sandy Spring. The Meeting at Sandy Spring and the residents of Brookeville chose to follow Hicks' and uphold older, more traditional Quaker values. 

Though the debate over Hicks' theology did touch Brookeville, the community was not seriously fractured during the schism and a healthy Quaker community continued to flourish there. By 1834, one advertisement for the Brookeville Academy described the town's community as such: "The village is healthy and retired, and being situated in the centre of a 3 mile square in which the sale of ardent spirits is prohibited… and having few youths who are not connected with the Academy, presents fewer inducements to vice than most places…"[26] Increasingly after 1830, the descendents of Brookeville's original Quaker families began to move away. Some of the town's younger residents, like David Newlin's son Artemas who married outside of the faith and served in the militia, continued to live in Brookeville even though they were no longer devoted to their parents' faith.[27] Over time, non-Friends moved into the peaceful town and its strong Quaker character slowly faded. But despite these changes, descendents of Brookeville's original Quakers still live in the area, the Meetinghouse at Sandy Spring continues to hold meetings of worship, and the influential Quaker character of Brookeville has not been forgotten.

Megan O'Hern, 2014

   Return to Explore Brookeville's Community


  1. ^ Phebe R. Jacobsen, Quaker Records in Maryland (Annapolis: The Hall of Records Commission, State of Maryland, 1966), 19-20; see also Baltimore Quarterly Meeting: Minutes, 1710-1822 [MSA SC 3123 SCM 571-1].

  2. ^ Anna B. Thomas, The Story of the Baltimore Yearly Meeting from 1762 to 1938 (Baltimore: Weant Press, Inc., 1938), 9.

  3. ^ Indian Spring Monthly Meeting: Minutes (Sandy Spring), 1772-1817, 23 October 1812 [MSA SC 2978 SCM 638-1].

  4. ^ Indian Spring Monthly Meeting: Minutes (Sandy Spring), 1772-1817, 20 July 1792 [MSA SC 2978 SCM 638-1]. At the time of his marriage, Richard Thomas Jr. had already been disowned for affirming his loyalty to the Colonies during the Revolutionary War (see note 16).

  5. ^ Indian Spring Monthly Meeting: Minutes (Sandy Spring), 1772-1817, 20 July 1792 [MSA SC 2978 SCM 638-1].

  6. ^ Baltimore Yearly Meeting, Religious Society of Friends; Minutes, 1790-1850, p. 281 [MSA SC 2400 SCM 549-1].

  7. ^ Quakers continued to use the more familiar terms of address "thee" and "thy" instead of "you" and "your" in order to emphasize that all people were closely connected to and familiar with each other. Quakers also referred to January as 1st Month and Monday as 1st Day, and so on, believing that naming the months and days of the week was akin to idolatry. For information on carriages, see "Centennial of the Sandy Spring Meeting House" [MSA SC 5642-1-78].

  8. ^ Baltimore Yearly Meeting, Religious Society of Friends; Minutes, 1790-1850, p. 281 [MSA SC 2400 SCM 549-1].

  9. ^ See the report of the Committee on the Subject of Spirituous Liquors, Indian Spring Monthly Meeting: Minutes (Sandy Spring), 1772-1817, 9 June 1809 [MSA SC 2978 SCM 638-1]. See also the minutes from 20 July 1810.

  10. ^ Letter, Isaac Briggs to [unknown], 21 December 1815, Briggs-Stabler Papers, MS 147, Maryland Historical Society; see also Isaac Briggs' Notebook, Volume 5, Briggs-Stabler Papers.

  11. ^ Laws of 1833, Ch. 142, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 210, p. 163. 

  12. ^ "The Discipline of the Yearly Meeting of Friends held in Baltimore," 1806-7, in Baltimore Yearly Meeting, Religious Society of Friends: Minutes, 1790-1850, p. 252-253 [MSA SC 2400 SCM 549-1].

  13. ^ "The Discipline of the Yearly Meeting of Friends held in Baltimore," 1806-7, in Baltimore Yearly Meeting, Religious Society of Friends: Minutes, 1790-1850, p. 284 [MSA SC 2400 SCM 549-1].

  14. ^ For a more complete description of American Quaker doctrine, beliefs, and values, see "The Discipline of the Yearly Meeting of Friends held in Baltimore," 1806-7, in Baltimore Yearly Meeting, Religious Society of Friends: Minutes, 1790-1850, pp. 232-307 [MSA SC 2400 SCM 549-1].

  15. ^ Meeting for Sufferings: Minutes, 1778-1936 [MSA SC 2400 SCM 556-2].

  16. ^ GOVERNOR AND COUNCIL (Oaths of Fidelity) 1 March 1778, Montgomery County, Return of Edward Burgess, box 4, folder 6, page 13, MdHR 4648-6 [MSA S963-61]; See also Indian Spring Monthly Meeting: Minutes (Sandy Spring), 1772-1817, 6 August 1778 [MSA SC 2978 SCM 638-1].

  17. ^ Indian Spring Monthly Meeting: Minutes (Sandy Spring), 1772-1817, 27 October 1775 [MSA SC 2978 SCM 638-1].

  18. ^ Indian Spring Monthly Meeting: Minutes (Sandy Spring), 1772-1817, 15 April 1808 [MSA SC 2978 SCM 638-1].

  19. ^ Sandy Spring and Indian Spring Monthly Meeting of Women Friends: Minutes, 1811-1824, 20 December 1811 [MSA SC 2411 SCM 667-2].

  20. ^ Baltimore Yearly Meeting Committee on Indian Affairs: Minutes, 1795-1815, blank page after title page [MSA SC 2400, SCM 562-1].

  21. ^ Baltimore Yearly Meeting Committee on Indian Affairs: Minutes, 1795-1815 [MSA SC 2400 SCM 562-1].

  22. ^ SPECIAL COLLECTIONS (Brooke Collection), List of Subscriptions [MSA SC 418-1-773].

  23. ^ Kenneth L. Carroll, "Maryland Quakers and Slavery," Quaker History 72, no. 1 (Spring 1983): 27-42.

  24. ^ During the eighteenth century and the first part of the nineteenth century, Quakers did not free slaves who were under the age of 18 (if female) or 21 (if male), as the meeting considered this to be cruel. Owners could manumit underage slaves, but those owners were still responsible for maintaining those children. The manumission would include the date or age at which each slave would become free. It was a document that all subsequent owners had to respect.

  25. ^ SPECIAL COLLECTIONS (Mary Farquhar Green Collection), Account book of Gerard Brooke, 1812 transaction with Caesar and George Williams [MSA SC 566-1-98].

  26. ^ Advertisement, "Brookeville Academy," Baltimore Patriot, 18 July 1834.

  27. ^ Indian Spring Monthly Meeting: Minutes (Sandy Spring), 1772-1817, 9 May 1832 [MSA SC 2978 SCM 638-1].