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Conditions the Quakers faced 300 years ago

"IN THE days which should have been my gayest, I knew nothing out of school but terror and horror." This is how James Logan, who was born at Queen Street, Lurgan on 20th October 1674, later described his boyhood in that town. Poverty, alienation from the world around him, insecurity and fear, were the conditions which the Quaker family to which he belonged had to put up with, 300 years ago.

Lurgan's Quaker Meeting, established 20 years earlier by Edmundson (described by his followers as "The great hammer of Ireland") was the oldest in the country. For their refusal to Worship in the Established Church, pay tithes, or swear oaths, they suffered constant persecution, including seizure of property.

James Logan's father, Patrick, had held a secure position in Scotland, and his wife Isabel was well connected there, but when they embraced Quakerism, life became impossible in that Calvinistic land. He, Patrick, moved to Lurgan where he got a job as schoolteacher with the Lurgan Quaker Meeting, but pupils were few, and their parents poor, since their goods were frequently seized to pay tithes and fines (often to the tune of several times the amount owned).


At 13, James was apprenticed to a Dublin Quaker merchant, Edward Webb, but within six months, he was summoned home to Lurgan due to the worsening state of unrest. In 1688 the town was sacked by James 11's army on its way to besiege Londonderry, and the Logans fled back to Scotland. By the spring of 1689, they were in Edinburgh destitute, and dependent on charity, with James a constitutional wreck (but a scholarly one)!

In spring 1690, Patrick went to London for the Quakers' annual meeting, where friends from Bristol offered him a post as schoolteacher. James was then around 16. Patrick continued unsettled, however, and in the autumn of 1693 he returned to Lurgan, leaving James in charge of the school at Bristol.

James stuck that job for a few years, but by 1697 he had decided to close the school, go into commerce, and move to Jamaica, as an agent for a Bristol merchant before he left Bristol, he was offered a good position as Master of Grammar school, but he refused it, as he would have had to conform to the Church of England

When he went home to take his farewell of his parents, his mother, who had lost seven of her children, appealed to him not to go to the West Indies. He consented and went back instead to his old Dublin Master, Edward Webb, and asked for a post as agent in Bristol. This was not possible but he went back to Bristol, anyway, where he struggled to break into the local "closed shop" of cloth merchants, with what limited capital he had amassed.


In the spring of 1699, William Penn, by then the most influential living Friend (Geo. Fox the founder being dead) sent for him. Penn was, to say the least of it, "well heeled"! He had actually founded Pennsylvania and was by law its proprietor! He offered James Logan a job as his Secretary. In September when James was not yet 25, they set sail for America to receive the equivalent of a Royal welcome, on arrival.

The Royal Charter of Pennsylvania have given Penn both ownership and sole responsibility for the administration of Pennsylvania. This Charter stipulated that he had to govern with the advice and approbation of the freemen of the province, which suited Penn, who was a Whig by political conviction.

Even as early as the end of the 17th century Philadelphia's commerce rivalled New Yorks. It was situated in the heart of the fertile Delaware Valley, and drew firs and skins from the dense forests to the Westward, grain and tobacco from the lower Counties, lumber and Indian corn from West Jersey, wheat, beef, pork and flour from the farms of Bucks and Chester.

Brigs sailed from it, carrying lumber and provisions to the Caribbean and the Wine Islands, and tobacco and furs to England, returning with sugar, molasses, rum, textiles, and hardware - people as well. Most of the Philadelphians were Friends who had fled from persecution in the British Isles, but small groups of Anglicans, Swedes, Lutherans, Presbyterians and Baptists were there as well.

The Quakers had several Meeting Houses, which were by far the largest houses of worship in the city, though furnished in the traditional austere style, without pulpits or altars. The thriving Quaker merchants carried the weight of Government and enjoyed the support of the proprietors i.e. Penn's special favour. Logan soon became Penn's right hand man and when Penn left for England, in 1701, the whole burden of administration fell upon him. He was in addition, a man determined to make money (which he did)!


As a scholar, government official, diplomat, scientist and bibliophile he made a significant contribution to the growth of science and learning is early America. He spoke 13 languages including Arabic, and was thus closely involved with the culture of early America. Historians have in fact described James Logan as "one of the three or four most considerable men in colonial America."

His library of over 2000 volumes was one of the finest in America. This was no mean achievement for the son of a penurious Scottish Quaker schoolmaster! His father, Patrick, was a man of learning (MA Edinburgh) and had once been in Holy Orders, and had enjoyed a comfortable position as chaplain to the wife of a Scottish peer. He was converted to Quakerism by a travelling Quaker preacher and gave up his comfortable living to join the Friends.

"One biographer (Tolles) has recorded that the Delaware Valley Quakers of the 17th century believed that the farmer at his harvest, the tailor with his needle, the cooper at his bench, the tradesman in his shop - were all doing God's will and they could in return expect, if they were faithful, to receive His blessing in the form of material prosperity. "Sainthood and wealth seldom go together but by the end of the century, i.e., within 25 years of the Quakers' coming, the Valley was a countryside smiling with prosperity and teeming with activity.

It must have made a nice chance for James, considering his unhappy boyhood in Lurgan: "Easily the most considerable man in the Delaware Valley in his lifetime" is how Tolles has summed up the Quaker boy from Queen Street. In Lurgan he has been "summed up" by an unpretentious plaque on the wall at Queen St., and his name on an unimpressive Lurgan Street.


P.S. "Clerk and Chief American business representative for the proprietor of Pennsylvania - William Penn later secretary of the Province; President of the Council and Chief Executive (1736-1738) - appointed Judge of Philadelphia and later Chief Justice of the Supreme Court."

These are some of the entries in the Biographical Dictionary opposite the name of James Logan (1674-1751) who was a Lurgan man by, shall we say, an accident of birth.

His home at Philadelphia which was still standing and in the care of the Colonial Dames of Penn a decade ago. I have readers in that City, who have roots locally. Maybe they will tell me if the house still stands.