Mike F.
A Brief History of Quakers in Maryland

Quakers are believed to have first come to the colony of Maryland in the mid-1600s when Elizabeth Harris, a traveling Friend (Quaker missionary) visited the state. Less than a half-century later, over 3,000 Quakers lived in the colony. Quakers were not bothered much in their daily lives and ultimately lived distraction-free in the colony of Maryland. In 1649, An Act Concerning Religion, published in Maryland, tried to end religious persecution in the colony, especially for Catholics, with Quakers benefitting as well; however, this did not ultimately end religious discrimination within the colony. Quakers were still often persecuted for their beliefs; this persecution continued well after the seventeenth century ended and even past the end of the Revolutionary War. The basic Quaker principles involve non-violence and equality. These core values were often scoffed at by members of other religions. However, it is undeniable that Quakers had an important impact on the history of Maryland. This impact can especially be seen in the years following the War of 1812 up through the Civil War years (5).

The principle of equality that Quakerism preaches was put into action in the time following the War of 1812. The majority of Quakers at the time did not own slaves; many of those who did ended up releasing them at the realization that it was against their religious ideals to hold slaves. Quakers became prohibited by the Maryland Constitution from buying slaves; just as quickly as the Quakers would purchase slaves, they would as soon set them free. This outraged the slave owners in the state; thus, Maryland Quakers were outlawed from buying slaves. Quakers in Maryland at this time played a key role in helping runaway slaves, both from Maryland and other states, escape to freedom. Many of the worship houses in Maryland serves as pit-stops on the Underground Railroad, a unit of houses, plantations, and other stops at which slaves could receive housing and food before continuing their journeys. The meeting houses and homes of individuals homes of Quakers were always subject to searches. However, the help that Quakers provided runaway slaves was important to the eventual decline of slavery within the country.

Maryland Quakers had many settlements and posts in the state, but the small town of Sandy Spring, in Montgomery County, proved to be a hot-spot for the Underground Railroad and Quaker assistance to runaway slaves (link 1). The Sandy Spring Friends' Meetinghouse, where Quakers would worship regularly, has been identified as a spot where Quakers would meet to discuss ways in which to help runaway slaves. Quakers also likely discussed how to limit the appeal of slavery within the state of Maryland. Nearby, in the same town, were individual homes of Quakers who would often assist runaway slaves (2). Another building in the town that served as a station for runaway slaves include the Sharp Street Church, which was established in 1822 by Quakers and newly freed blacks. Also in Montgomery County was the Madison House in Brookeville; this house has ties to the Sandy Spring Quakers. The Madison house served as a safe haven for runaway slaves. The Quaker influence on Montgomery County and the help that Quakers provided runaway slaves there is of great importance in Maryland's history as a border state.

Baltimore also served as a center for Quakers in the time following the War of 1812. The Stony Run Meeting of Friends (check pictures) has maintained a presence in the Baltimore community for over 200 years (3). The meeting house, not located on North Charles Street, sharing property with Friends School, provided Baltimore with an ever-increasing distaste towards slavery in the nineteenth century. Quakers in Baltimore helped many runaway slaves find freedom. Many Baltimore Quakers, also, have been significant in the working and social world as well. On the Patapsco River in what is now Howard County, three brothers, John, Joseph, and Andrew Ellicott established flour mills; Ellicott City in Howard County is named after this family. Quakers also played a role in the founding of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad; Philip E. Thomas and his brother, Evan Thomas, were instrumental in helping the railroad "gain steam." Johns Hopkins University, is, in fact, named after Baltimore Quaker Johns Hopkins (4). Hopkins, upon his death in 1873, left $8 million with which to start the university which now bears his name. Baltimore Quakers not only upheld their religious principles by helping runaway slaves escape to freedom, but also left an impact on Baltimore that still stands today.

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Maryland: A History of Its People (textbook)
Quaker Help on the Underground Railroad (1)
Sandy Spring, Maryland (2)
Two Centuries of a Quaker Presence in Baltimore(3)
Johns Hopkins (4)
History of Quakers in Maryland (5)
Photos by Mike Fitzpatrick (11/2/09)