In timing my book for Quaking Dover for the 400th anniversary of English settlement in town, I gave myself a deadline that ensured it would actually be done. Otherwise, I’d still be researching it.
In some cases, that meant I didn’t simply follow a conventional account but came to my own original conclusions. In others, post-publication findings confirmed in what I’ve deduced. Besides, in a period of Covid restrictions plus my own relocation to the other end of Maine, opportunities in the archives were limited.
One of the works I’m glad I waited to read until my own work was done is Henry Bailey Stevens’ three-scene play, Mother Whittier’s Meeting. It was premiered outside the Dover Friends meetinghouse on August 17, 1963, to mark what he thought was the 300th anniversary of the Quakers’ presence in town. As I now see, the celebration was four or five years late.
Had I read the play first, I might never have written my own take of the history. He covers the heart of the plot in 200-some fewer pages.
Stevens himself is an interesting character who turned up around the time that the Dover meetinghouse was reopened for regular worship in the 1950s. He was the head of the Cooperative Extension Service at the University of New Hampshire in neighboring Durham but also harbored a deep interest in both history and dramatic literature, as well as an ardent vegetarian and pacifist. He even penned a series of Quaker family profiles for Dover’s daily newspaper.
The play itself is what we’d call “talky” – more dialogue than action. There’s no dancing or sword-fight scenes, as it were. The central focus shifts between Meeting as the community and as the house itself, or even turns to Abigail Hussey Whittier herself. Not that you really notice as you follow along.
There are points I’d heatedly contest. The first meetinghouse, for instance, was most likely not a log cabin.
But then I feel like cheering when Annie Pinkham shows up as a character. Her mimeographed brief history contained tidbits that would otherwise be lost to oblivion. She had every reason to believe she’d be the last Quaker in town once she locked the meetinghouse door.
Not so, as things turned out.
As for Stevens? His play, published by Baker’s Plays in Boston, isn’t his only significant book-length publication. Finding those, though, can be a challenge.