March 19, 1748|
Hempstead, New York
|Died||February 27, 1830
Jericho, New York
|Known for||Traveling Quaker minister|
|Spouse(s)||Jemima Seaman (married January 2, 1771)|
Elias Hicks (March 19, 1748 – February 27, 1830) was a traveling Quaker preacher from Long Island, New York. In his ministry he promoted doctrines that embroiled him and his followers in a controversy which caused the first major schism within the Religious Society of Friends. Elias Hicks was the older cousin of the painter Edward Hicks, also a Quaker preacher.
On January 2, 1771, Hicks married a fellow Quaker, Jemima Seaman, at the Westbury Meeting House and they had eleven children, only five of whom reached adulthood. Hicks eventually became a farmer, settling on his wife's parents' farm in Jericho, New York, in what is now known as the Elias Hicks House. There he and his wife provided, as did other Jericho Quakers, free board and lodging to any traveler on the Jericho Turnpike rather than have them seek accommodation in taverns for the night.
In 1778, Hicks helped to build the Friends meeting house in Jericho, which remains a place of Quaker worship. Hicks preached actively in Quaker meeting, and by 1778 he was acknowledged as a recorded minister. Hicks was regarded as a gifted speaker with a strong voice and dramatic flair. In November 1829, the young Walt Whitman heard Hicks preach at Morrison's Hotel in Brooklyn, later recalling his "resonant, grave, melodious voice".
Elias Hicks was one of the early Quaker abolitionists.
In 1778, he and Phebe Dodge, his Quaker neighbor, manumitted their slaves. They were the first Quakers at Westbury Meeting to do so and, gradually following their example, all Westbury Quaker slaves were freed by 1799.
In 1794, Hicks was a founder of the Charity Society of Jerico and Westbury Meetings, established to give aid to local poor African Americans and provide their children with education.
In 1811, Hicks wrote Observations on the Slavery of Africans and Their Descendents and in it he linked the moral issue of emancipation to the Quaker Peace Testimony, by stating that slavery was the product of war. He identified the economic reason for the perpetuation of slavery:
Q. 10. By what class of the people is the slavery of the Africans and their descendants supported and encouraged? A. Principally by the purchasers and consumers of the produce of the slaves' labour; as the profits arising from the produce of their labour, is the only stimulus or inducement for making slaves.
and he advocated a consumer boycott of slave-produced goods to remove the economic reasons for its existence:
Q. 11. What effect would it have on the slave holders and their slaves, should the people of the United States of America and the inhabitants of Great Britain, refuse to purchase or make use of any goods that are the produce of Slavery? A. It would doubtless have a particular effect on the slave holders, by circumscribing their avarice, and preventing their heaping up riches, and living in a state of luxury and excess on the gain of oppression …
Observations on the Slavery of Africans and Their Descendents gave the free produce movement its central argument. This movement promoted an embargo of all goods produced by slave labor, which were mainly cotton cloth and cane sugar, in favor of produce from the paid labor of free people. Though the free produce movement was not intended to be a religious response to slavery, most of the free produce stores were Quaker in origin, as with the first such store, that of Benjamin Lundy in Baltimore in 1826.
Hicks supported Lundy's scheme to assist the emigration of freed slaves to Haiti and in 1824, he hosted a meeting on how to facilitate this at his home in Jericho. In the late 1820s, he argued in favor of raising funds to buy slaves and settle them as free people in the American Southwest.
Hicks influenced the abolition of slavery in his home state, from the partial abolition of the 1799 Gradual Abolition Act to the 1817 Gradual Manumission in New York State Act which led to the final emancipation of all remaining slaves within the state on July 4, 1827.
Hicks considered 'obedience to the light within', the Inner Light, to be the most important principle of worship and the foundational principle of the Religious Society of Friends.
He discounted the virgin birth of Christ and denied the complete divinity of Christ, seeing Christ as the Son of God in the same sense that all people intrinsically are, but having achieved divinity through perfect obedience to the Inner Light.
In 1824, Hicks set out his doctrinal standpoint in A Doctrinal Epistle Purporting To Be An Exposition Of Christian Doctrine, Respecting The Nature And Office Of Jesus Christ.
At Philadelphia Yearly Meeting in 1826, Hicks said that the leading of the Inner Light was more authoritative than the text of the Bible.
Now this seems to be so explained in the writings called the Scriptures, that we might gain a great deal of profitable instruction, if we would read them under the regulating influence of the spirit of God. But they can afford no instruction to those who read them in their own ability; for, if they depend on their own interpretation, they are as a dead letter, in so much, that those who profess to consider them the proper rule of faith and practice, will kill one another for the Scriptures' sake.
The most original aspect of Hicks' theology was his rejection of the notion of the Devil as the source of human 'passions' or 'propensities'. Hicks stressed that basic urges, including all sexual passions, were neither implanted by an external evil nor were they the product of personal choice, but all were aspects of human nature as created by God. Hicks claimed, in his sermon Let Brotherly Love Continue at Byberry Friends Meeting in 1824 that:
'He gave us passions—if we may call them passions—in order that we might seek after those things which we need, and which we had a right to experience and know'.
Hicks taught that all wrongdoing and suffering occurred in the world not because human nature harbored evil 'propensities' but rather that they were a consequence of 'an excess in the indulgence of propensities'.
In a wider context, Hicks may be seen as being within the quietist tradition of the traveling Quaker minister John Woolman and the earlier Quaker theology of Job Scott who had considered all the manifestations of the external world to be obstructive to the direct experience of the Inner Light. His religious views were also consistent with a freethought tradition already prevailing in the United States, particularly among deists of Quaker heritage, such as Thomas Paine.
This first split in Quakerism was not entirely due to Hicks’ ministry and internal divisions. It was, in part, also a response within Quakerism to the influences of the Second Great Awakening, the revival of Protestant evangelism that began in the 1790s as a reaction to religious skepticism, deism and the liberal theology of Rational Christianity.
However, doctrinal tensions among Friends due to Hicks’ teachings had emerged as early as 1808 and as Hicks’ influence grew, prominent visiting English evangelical public Friends, including William Forster and Anna Braithwaite, were prompted to travel to New York State in the period from 1821 to 1827 to denounce his views.
Their presence severely exacerbated the differences among American Quakers, differences that had been underscored by the 1819 split between the Unitarians and Congregationalists. The influence of Anna Braithwaite was especially strong. She visited the United States between 1823 and 1827 and published her Letters and observations relating to the controversy respecting the doctrines of Elias Hicks in 1824 in which she depicted Hicks as a radical eccentric. Hicks felt obliged to respond and in the same year published a letter to his ally in Philadelphia Meeting, Dr. Edwin Atlee, in The Misrepresentations of Anna Braithwaite. This in turn was replied to by Braithwaite in A Letter from Anna Braithwaite to Elias Hicks, On the Nature of his Doctrines in 1825. Neither party was persuaded by this exchange.
In 1819, Hicks had devoted much energy into influencing the meeting houses in Philadelphia and this was followed by years of intense organizational turmoil. Eventually, due to both external influences and constant internal strife, matters came to a head there in 1826.
After the 1826 Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, at which Hicks' sermon had stressed the importance of the Inner Light before Scripture, Quaker elders decided to visit each meeting house in the city to examine the doctrinal soundness of all ministers and elders. This caused great resentment that culminated at the following Philadelphia Yearly Meeting in 1827. Hicks was not present when the differences between the meeting houses ended in acrimony and division, precipitated by the inability of the Meeting to reach consensus on the appointment of a new clerk required to record its discernment.
Though the initial separation was intended to be temporary, by 1828 there were two independent Quaker groupings in the city, both claiming to be the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. Other yearly meetings split along similar lines during subsequent years, including those in New York, Baltimore, Ohio and Indiana. Those who followed Hicks became termed Hicksites and his critics termed Orthodox Friends, each faction considering itself to be the rightful expression of the legacy of the founder of the Friends, George Fox.
The split was also based on marked socioeconomic factors with Hicksite Friends being mostly poor and rural and with Orthodox Friends being mostly urban and middle-class. Many of the rural country Friends kept to Quaker traditions of 'plain speech' and 'plain dress', both long-abandoned by Quakers in the towns and cities.
In 1828, the split in American Quakerism spread to the Quaker community in Canada that had immigrated there from New York, the New England States and Pennsylvania in the 1790s. This resulted in a parallel system of Yearly Meetings in Upper Canada, as in the United States.
The eventual division between Hicksites and the evangelical Orthodox Friends in the US was both deep and long-lasting. Full reconciliation between them took decades to achieve, from the first reunified Monthly Meetings in the 1920s until finally resolved with the reunification of Baltimore Yearly Meeting in 1968.
On June 24, 1829, at the age of 81, Elias Hicks went on his final traveling ministry to western and central New York State, arriving home in Jericho on November 11, 1829. There, in January 1830, he suffered a stroke that left him partially paralyzed and on February 14, 1830, he suffered an incapacitating secondary stroke. He died some two weeks later on February 27, 1830, his dying concern being that no cotton blanket, a product of slavery, should cover him on his deathbed. Elias Hicks was interred in the Jericho Friends' Burial Ground as was earlier his wife, Jemima, who predeceased him on March 17, 1829.
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- Carol Faulkner (2011). Lucretia Mott's Heresy: Abolition and Women's Rights in Nineteenth-Century America. University of Pennsylvania Press. Retrieved 2013-02-18.
- Richard Panchyk (2007). A History of Westbury, Long Island. The History Press. pp. 23, 24. Retrieved 2013-02-18.
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- Elias Hicks (1832). Journal of the life and religious labours of Elias Hicks. I.T. Hopper. Retrieved 2013-02-21.
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- "Historical Sketch", 4. Quietism, Division and Reunion, Baltimore Yearly Meeting, 2014, retrieved 2014-12-10
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- Tom Calarco; Cynthia Vogel; Melissa Waddy-Thibodeaux (2010). Places of the Underground Railroad: A Geographical Guide. ABC-CLIO. p. 153. Retrieved 2013-02-21.
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- Gross, David M. American Quaker War Tax Resistance (2008) pp. 208–210 ISBN 1-4382-6015-6
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Elias Hicks.|
- Abbott, The Life and Religious Experience of T. Townsend, Indiana University–Purdue University Fort Wayne (IPFW)
- Anecdotes about Elias Hicks (1888) by Walt Whitman
- Elias Hicks, A Doctrinal Epistle, 1824
- Elias Hicks, "Let Love Be Without Dissimulation", a sermon
- Elias Hicks, "Observations on Slavery"
- Elias Hicks, "Peace, Be Still", a sermon, QH Press
- History of Jericho, NY, Best Schools website
- Larry Kuenning, "Quaker Theologies in the 19th Century Separations", 1 December 1989, submitted at Westminster Theological Seminary
- Observations on the Slavery of Africans and Their Descendants and on the Use of the Produce of Their Labor, by Elias Hicks - from the Antislavery Literature Project
- Pacific Yearly Meeting 2001 Faith and Practice
- "Elias Hicks Manuscript Collection, Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore College". Swarthmore College. Retrieved 3 May 2016.