Beaver Harbour – A dream has become reality for James Hawkins, curator of the Beaver Harbour Archives and Museum, with the completion of a replica of the Quaker Meeting House, on the Quaker burial ground.
A dedication ceremony was held Saturday for the building which was funded by the United Empire Loyalists Association of Canada, the New Brunswick branch of the United Empire Loyalists Association, the province’s Heritage Branch through a Canada 150 grant, and Fundy Community Foundation.
The plans, said Hawkins, came out of his head. Local resident Hartley Avery built the frame and the windows, Kim and Tony Munn, Claude Holland and Hawkins put on the shingles, while Clarence Blanchard of Future Nets provided the equipment to put on the roof.
Kings Landing historical settlement has supplied two chairs and a table for the meeting house, as well as a wood stove, while John and Doris Calder donated a plaque recounting the history of the Quakers arrival in what is now Beaver Harbour, noting it was “the first avowedly anti-slavery settlement in British North America.”
The original meeting house established in 1785, which was 25 ft by 22 ft, was destroyed by the 1790 forest fire, which also took most of the buildings in the settlement but the replica measures 18 ft by 12 ft.
Guest speaker was historian and author Deborah Coleman, immediate past president of the New Brunswick Branch of United Empire Loyalists Association of Canada, and treasurer of the New Brunswick Historical Society.
She said the Quakers originated in England in the 1650s, and were founded by George Fox. They based their religion and way of life on the Bible as interpreted by themselves, and wanted to eliminate ceremony, set prayers, robes, candles, and higher officials. They believed God is present in everyone.
The famous Quaker William Penn was expelled from Oxford University for his radical views, and imprisoned. He petitioned the King for territory in the “new world”, which was granted in 1681, and the land became what is now Pennsylvania.
During the American Revolution, the Quakers suffered greatly as they were opposed to war, and roughly 3000 were hounded out of Pennsylvania with the vast majority settling in Nova Scotia, of which New Brunswick was then a part.
In 1783, Joshua Knight met with a group of Loyalist Quakers and together they made arrangements to settle in Nova Scotia. No slave masters were to be admitted, and the place chosen for their settlement was modern day Beaver Harbour.
The ship named the “Camel” carried Loyalist Quakers, black settlers, Anabaptists, and indentured servants to Saint John then on to Passamaquoddy Bay. The passengers consisted of 104 men, 51 women, 30 children older than 10, 47 under 10, 13 black settlers, and seven indentured servants.
“It is of great historical significance to note that the Pennfield colony was the only place in all of British North America where slavery was not permitted.
“We must remember this was 50 years before the abolition of slavery in British North America and 80 years before President Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation put an end to slavery in the United States.”
The Quakers were ill prepared for the struggle before them and their sufferings were almost unbelievable but the Passamaquoddy people helped the colony ward off starvation by providing wild game.
They overcame their difficulties and built homes then, in 1786 the meeting house was erected close to the cemetery where they had buried those who did not survive. There were 15 streets and 800 residents when the town was incorporated.
“At the edge of town a large wooden sign was erected stating no slave master admitted.”
A forest fire in 1790, the second to hit the colony, destroyed every home but one. The colony scattered with families returning to Pennsylvania, England, Nova Scotia and “Upper Canada” but the families of Joshua Knight and Elias Wright remained to rebuild.
“The Pennfield colony had residents who were among the first civil rights leaders. They refused to believe that human slavery and human decency could exist together in the same land.”
Hawkins then thanked all those who gave money for the project as well as those who helped build the replica.
Doris Calder, current clerk of Ministry and Council of New Brunswick Quakers, historian and author of “All Our Born Days”, who dedicated the meeting house with her husband John, said that although the Quakers faced famine and fire in the new land they did not give up their dream of building a community free of slavery.
“No slave master admitted. These words ring out strong and clear across the centuries. They send an uncompromising message. The Quaker Loyalists of Pennfield were themselves victims.
“They made their stand during a dark and violent time – a time when the prevailing mindset and laws of white society endorsed enslavement of hundreds of thousands of people of colour.
“Today, we need to be vigilant and stand against the ugly rise of intolerance and racism in our time. This declaration of the Quaker Loyalists who came to Pennfield is the underlying reason we are here today.”
She said the replica was built by very dedicated people who care passionately and have worked very hard to make it happen. She said the meeting house was dedicated in honour of the founders of the Pennfield colony – the white Loyalists and the free black Loyalists who lived their belief in the equality of all persons.
“As we dedicate this meeting house, we are symbolically lighting a candle in honour of a vision of a world free of racial injustice.”