This is the the way it usually works here at Secrets of the Eastern Shore. I went looking for a tidbit about the time Presbyterian preacher Frances Makemie spent in Onancock, Va. I found my way to an 1885 book, The Days of Makemie: Or The Vine Planted. But I never did find what I was looking for. Instead, I got distracted by author Littleton Purnell Bowen’s account of the first visit to the Eastern Shore by the fiery Quaker preacher George Fox.
Fox was quite the controversial figure in the late 17th century, having done some well-publicized stints in jail in his native England for professing the “wrong” faith. One of his stops on these shores was in Rehoboth, Md. Today, that’s an unincorporated community in Somerset County, along the back roads between Pocomoke City and Crisfield.
Judging by the account that so struck me in The Days of Makemie, Fox pretty much brought the house down on that visit. Here is the description:
In 1672, the great apostle [of the Quakers], George Fox, landed on the banks of the Patuxent and began to preach. In December he left the Cliffs of Calvert and crossed the great bay. Now this famous Quaker revivalist, this weird, wild, anomalous mystic of the 17th century, goes thundering through our own Eastern Shore settlements.
Of course he strikes for the Rehoboth plantation. There the leading men, both whites and Indians, with many others, congregated to hear him. … The lips of the people are full of reminiscences of the wonderful man, how woods and streams rang with his appeals, his denunciations of ritualism, his laudations of the mysterious Inner Light.
Our friend Colonel Stevens [describes] the scene: “I imagine I hear him still. That day the house and yard were crowded with people flocking after him from the whole country around. If Paul or John the Baptist had reappeared, the excitement in the province could not have been greater. Fox’s followers believed him certainly under the inspiration of Heaven; and when he came through these forests and swamps, defying the wild beasts and the rigors of winter, they looked and listened with awe almost idolatrous.
“He who had faced the power of England and never faltered, … triumphing in spirit in a dozen prisons, seeing visions, casting out devils, receiving revelations from the eternal throne, arousing thousands of disciples to the wildest zeal, here he was, in all his marvelous fascination, on the banks of our little river. The plantations poured out their inhabitants to see. His fellow zealots regarded him with reverence, the ignorant with superstitious awe, all of us with intense curiosity.
“There at my door he stood in his leather breeches and preached to the eager auditors. That indescribable face, those unearthly, tremulous intonations, the abrupt, broken, inverted, almost unintelligible sentences, the terrific earnestness while his body shook and quaked, quivering like an aspen leaf, produced an impression not soon to be forgotten.
“The literal in the Scriptures was spiritualized into the most unexpected meanings, the figurative interpreted literally. Old beliefs were thrown scornfully away; new constructions were forced upon the Bible at every point. Scathing invectives were hurled at the learned and the powerful, while the Inner Light and the privilege of immediate fellowship with almighty God were held forth as possible glories to the poorest and meanest.
“Yonder sat the old Indian emperor with his dusky group, the dark upturned faces of these sons of our forests adding to the impressiveness of the scene. In the wild oratory of the preacher there seemed some thing near akin to the weird chants of their own medicine men.
“Matchacoopah remembers the great day when the emperor came home escorting the wonderful teacher up the river. A boy then, he sat among his people beneath the trees and listened to the awful voice, while the interpreter took his words and turned them into meaning. ‘He came talking out of the sea,’ says Matchacoopah, ‘and went talking back into the sea. His voice was the voice of the night wind when it shrieks and wails among the cypresses along the river-shore.’”
–Posted by Jim Duffy on May 4, 2018
• Here is the Wikipedia biography of George Fox.
• Here is a link to a downloadable edition of The Days of Makemie.
• Thank you so much for spending a few minutes here at Secrets of the Eastern Shore! Here is one last thing, a photo I took inside the serene little Tuckahoe Neck Meeting House (1802) in Denton, Md. There is so much Quaker history here on the Delmarva Peninsula–I hope to tell more stories about that soon.