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  • Print publication year: 2019
  • Online publication date: March 2020

3 - ‘Upheld by His Mighty Power’: John Whitehead and the Restoration Quakers

Summary

Thomas Grantham's Restoration journey ultimately ended in an Anglican churchyard. He had, throughout the period, remained unshaken in his Baptist faith, but his relationship with the Church of England, and the perception of him within local society, had clearly altered over time. This change was wrought in part by Grantham's own acts of self-definition, and, as was demonstrated, one of the central conflicts that provided the context for these acts was with the Quakers. In particular, Grantham engaged in heated argument with his fellow inhabitant of Lincolnshire, John Whitehead. In Grantham's trajectory the Quakers had played the classic role of the Other. Anti-Quakerism, like anti-popery, could be a sanitising device, allowing dissenting groups to demonstate their relative respectability. And yet, even as Quakerism could play this role for other Nonconformists it was undergoing significant change itself.

Indeed, of all the Nonconformist groups the historiography of Quakerism has perhaps been most dominated by questions of change, and of the place of the Restoration in answering those questions. Two indisputable facts have shaped this focus. First, Quakerism was born of the civil war. It was part of the outpouring of prophetic energy that was understood by contemporaries as characterising the 1640s, but rather than fizzling out it took a definite shape in the 1650s and survived into the Restoration. This has inevitably raised questions about what allowed this survival. Secondly, in January 1661, in a Declaration that itself built on previous expressions of the same principle, the Quakers denounced ‘all outward Wars, and Strife, and Fightings with outward Weapons, for any end, or under any pretence’. This second fact seemed to provide a means of answering the questions raised by the first. So powerful was the Peace Testimony that it has been taken to be emblematic of a broader shift within the movement. It has been joined to a decline in ‘witnessing in the steeple-house’, and in the practice of going naked as a sign, in order to argue for a seismic shift in Quaker practice. The Quaker response to the cataclysm of Restoration was argued to be a move inwards, a withdrawal from the kinds of political engagement that had characterised the 1650s. This is the position taken by Christopher Hill and his student Barry Reay, and Restoration Quaker experience remains often written about, implicitly or explicitly, as an experience of defeat.

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