Westchester's oldest Quaker meeting house was a birthplace of the anti-slavery movement in New York

The Quaker opposition to slavery served as a primary catalyst in its abolition in post–Revolutionary War New York.

News 12 Staff

Feb 16, 2023, 12:54 PM

Updated 461 days ago


One of the birthplaces of the anti-slavery movement in New York is the Chappaqua Friends Meeting House.
Chappaqua was first settled around 1740 by members of the Society of Friends, or Quakers, from Long Island. They built the meeting house around 1753 and then built the town around it.
It was during those early years that the Quakers began to challenge the morality of slavery in colonial New York.
"During the 18th century, it followed from the Quaker belief that all human beings were equal before God...and no one's property," says Gray Williams, New Castle town historian.
Williams says Quakers of the Chappaqua Friends Meeting agreed they couldn't stand for what was going on outside their walls. "The various meetings came to a consensus, because that is how the Quakers decided things, that it was not only wrong, but they were going to enforce it. Quakers were not allowed to own people."
The Society of Friends resolved that all of its members should release their enslaved people and seek to provide them with the means to support themselves and their families. The Quaker opposition to slavery served as a primary catalyst in its abolition in post–Revolutionary War New York.
Williams says one prominent Quaker, Moses Pierce, even became active in the Underground Railroad in Mount Pleasant. "In his house apparently, he put up slaves that were sort of on their way to Bedford and then upstate eventually heading for Canada."
All this time later, the Chappaqua Friends Meeting is still active, meeting every Sunday morning. Marion Walsh, a clerk of the meeting, says their support for racial equality is just as strong as it was in the 1700s. "We are progressive thinkers, we are against discrimination, against violence, we speak out for the disenfranchised, we speak out against poverty," says Walsh.
At local events and through symbolism, they have posted a large Black Lives Matter sign outside the meeting house. Since hanging it in 2020, it's been vandalized twice and even lit up in flames. "Today in New York, despite its progressive history, the legacy of discrimination is everywhere. We recognize the need to protect those who are victims of that discrimination, of the poverty. There still is a legacy of slavery," says Walsh.

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