Friends lived ‘under discipline’ as a means to avoid disorder

Quakers have always faced an inherent conflict in trying to uphold a community of faith predicated on a personal experience of the Divine. How do you know you’re not being deluded or misled? You have to turn to others. (I’d say this is a great value in marriage, as well!)

This is further complicated by the profession of embodying an eternally unchanging Truth while acknowledging shortcomings in our human comprehension and changing social conditions.

I’m convinced that when the Friends movement first burst forth in Britain, anti-blasphemy laws precluded them from fully articulating the scope of their theological vision. They couched some of that by referring to the Light rather than Christ, and focused on daily conduct, or “walking in the Light.” And, no, it was never “Inner Light,” not until the late 1800s, but rather “Inward Light” or some variant. Light pouring into oneself, like a lighthouse beacon. Well, that’s the thrust of my pamphlet Revolutionary Light, available as a free download at my Thistle Finch site.


BY THE END OF THE 1600S, Quaker leadership had resolved to push away from theological correctness in favor of right daily practice – orthopraxis rather than orthodoxy.

The choice has come back to bite us repeatedly.

What we did inherit was a system of unique decision-making.

First is the organization of Meetings designated by the frequency of their decision-making sessions.

The local body is called a Monthly Meeting, and this is where memberships are “held” or recorded. A Monthly Meeting likely encompassed smaller neighborhood bodies of worship within it, such as Preparative Meetings (so called because they might “prepare” items for the monthly business session) or Indulged Meetings or, nowadays, a Worship Group.

Thus, Dover Monthly Meeting over time included Sunday and midweek worshiping bodies on Dover Neck and Cochecho Village, as well as in Kittery/Eliot, Berwick, Rochester, Lee, Barrington, New Durham, Wolfeboro, and Sandwich. In time, those that survived were set off as their own Monthly Meetings and then included in Dover Quarterly Meeting.

Which leads us to the way neighboring Monthly Meetings joined four times in a Quarterly Meeting, for mutual nurture and the resolution of lingering issues. These could be a kind of holiday that Friends and family spent together. I’m told that the local meetinghouses were closed on these occasions, because everyone was away, together.

And once a year, a regional Yearly Meeting gathered, essentially uniting a common discipline and practice for the Quarterly and Monthly Meetings within it. For Dover, this was New England Yearly Meeting, which gathered in the haven of Newport, Rhode Island. And those present were largely representatives who could afford to be away for a week.


SECOND, AND UNIQUELY, Friends developed sets of Queries and Advices to guide practice. At each Monthly Meeting, a few questions would be pondered, personally and then collectively, and a written response would be drafted and sent to the Quarterly Meeting, which would then draft a summary to be considered at the Yearly Meeting.

Until the late 1800s, business was done by the men’s “side of the Meeting” and by the women’s – the meetinghouse had interior dividing shutters that could be opened for worship and closed for business – and each half had its own responsibilities. If there were problems in a marriage, for instance, the man had to report to the women’s Meeting. Or at least, more privately, to its elders.

The Quaker marriage process reflected the faith’s discernment and discipline, as I explain in my new book.


THIRD, FROM THE DUTCH MENNONITES, via the General Baptists they influenced in England, was our recognition of ministers and elders (aka bishops within a Meeting) and, by extension, overseers.

Through them, we also gain our peace testimony, Plainness, even anti-slavery plank.


AND, YES, WE’VE COME TO APPRECIATE “continuing Revelation.” That is, an awareness of our own human fallibilities combined with some flexibility.

If only that had come more fully into Quaker awareness earlier. Instead, at times, we’ve fallen under a deadly legalism.


Check out my new book, Quaking Dover, available in your choice of ebook platforms at

Welcome to Dover’s upcoming 400th anniversary.

Chuckles, anyway

knock, knock, in the name of the law in the Name of Jesus let us pray together naming and claiming in either case not quite the letter but the spirit of authority bet your life beginning as a child traversing the expanse of your own moniker with some Divine confrontation and wonder, as they’d say, Warmly with the chattering monkeys

Giving the devil his due

In researching a project of any scope, you can’t ever read everything touching on the subject, and sometimes that can be a blessing in disguise.

For one thing, it may mean you have to examine points afresh and unguided rather than relying on another’s assumptions or conclusions.

And, for another, you may find reassurance or in seeing how another researcher has come to the same results you have independently or, in another vein, you may strengthen your disagreement.

That’s where I find myself on The Devil of Great Island: Witchcraft and Conflict in Early New England, Emerson W. Baker’s 2007 examination of a paranormal outbreak of flying rocks in an inn on an island in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, ten years before the infamous Salem witch trials just to the south. Now that I’ve finally read it, I can say he’s cleared up some questions I had on events upstream and provided backup for some of my deductions.

My new book, Quaking Dover, takes place one colonial town upriver from Great Island, today’s New Castle, and shares some of the same cultural and historic influences. While I examine a sharp divide in Dover between its English settlers from Devonshire and the Puritans from East Anglia, Baker identifies this in Portsmouth and much of the rest of New England as the Old Planters, of Anglican faith, being pushed aside by the newer Puritans, and their rigid Calvinism. Quite simply, the tensions were more prevalent and widespread than I’d assumed.

The target of the airborne mineral projectiles was innkeeper George Walton, along with his family and guests, evening after evening through an entire summer.

Baker labels Walton repeatedly as a Quaker, as he also does for the identity for Nicholas Shapleigh, continuing a widespread misconception. The prominent Shapleigh proved a valuable ally but, as his descendants point out, he was never a member of the Society of Friends (Quakers). While Major Shapleigh suffers persecution for maintaining some of the Friends positions, nothing in Walton’s life or character suggests he did so. Quite the contrary, there were many reasons he would have been disciplined and disowned, if he had been part of a Quaker Meeting, the closest one being at Hampton.

As Baker, a Salem State University history professor, lays out Walton’s family and neighbors, what becomes clear that just about everyone had good reason to target the contentious innkeeper. As for a devil on Great Island, I’d have to say it was Walton himself.

Baker sees the New Castle incident as a precursor to similar events that culminate in Salem, and he traces individuals who would have been familiar with the Walton stoning incidents to the outbreaks elsewhere. He further finds common elements that include contested land claims and political upheaval, which far outweigh theological issues.

Baker has since written much more about witchcraft, befitting his locale. The Devil of Great Island is a fun and fast read and a fine introduction to a definitive moment in the American experience.

As I’m arguing, there’s much more in New England’s past than you were ever taught. Or maybe even suspected.


A little more heaven on earth

The day I shot these, I encountered only one other person in two hours … and that was just as I was leaving. Admittedly, I arrived around 7 as a foggy dawn lifted and then listened to a mournful foghorn in the neighboring Bailey’s Mistake cove much of the morning. How could I not be elated?

In 1988, the Maine Coastal Heritage Trust secured the property now known as Boot Head Preserve, saving it from a planned 35-lot subdivision and instead opening it to public enjoyment. It’s a gem that includes coastal hiking, a cove with a cobble beach, and an arctic peat bog.

Promise me you won’t tell anyone else.

Just six-tenths of a mile from the parking lot, the trail opens out on this.


And this.


And passes beside wild iris.


To this.


And this.


And then this.


It really does need a soundtrack of the ocean’s endless crests striking the rocks below.

A few memorable camping adventures in my life

I’ve mentioned the impact of my rogue Boy Scout troop on my life via hiking. Camping was related. We used homemade square tarpaulins – three rows of muslin our mothers sewed together that we then dyed and waterproofed.

Here’s the general idea for pitching a trail tent.

We called them “trail tents,” though “tarp tents” seems to be more universal. They could be set up in any number of ways – a two-sided triangle with the front open was most common, using a second one as the ground cloth – or in good weather we could even roll our sleeping bags into one and stretch out in the open.

We took pride in our primitive camping abilities.

Our vintage umbrella tent was like this, with the poles inserted along the ridges inside.

My family, on the other hand, had a clumsy and often smelly “umbrella tent,” so named for the way you had to set it up from the inside and then remove the aluminum center post – well, they’re now called “cabin tents,” and apparently more flexible.

I inherited the tent and used it for many of my escapes in the Pacific Northwest, my complaints aside. It got a lot of miles over the years.

The result in either case was some memorable opportunities to get closer to nature. Among them:

  1. Family summer vacations at Indiana state parks, especially Spring Mill with its limestone caves; Natural Bridge in eastern Kentucky with its old railroad tunnel at the base of a mountain with a stone arch at the top; Mammoth Cave in Kentucky; and Lincoln’s Old Salem in Illinois.
  2. There was also a Florida trip we shared with a Chattanooga family Mom and Dad were fond of from his Army-Air Force days. At age 12, it was my first exposure to the ocean and a Southern belle a year or two older than me. Our trip back included a night 17 miles back from the highway in Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia, where we were surrounded by masses of mosquitoes, more than a few three-legged deer (the result of encounters with ‘gators), and raccoons that could open the doors to the porches of the camp headquarters and then raid the top-slider Coke coolers. Let’s say simply we heard a lot of eerie sounds in the darkness and escaped with our lives once the sun rose through the Spanish moss.
  3. My first time in a trail tent was shared with another neophyte. We proudly set up our tent, tying the front line to an Osage orange tree – I remember the strange color when we split firewood. Alas, a storm blew in during the middle of the night and pulled up some of our stakes. I rolled enough of the ground cloth around my sleeping bag to get through the night. Not so, Jackson. He nearly froze and his bag the next day must have weighed a hundred pounds. After that experience, I always checked the wind direction before deciding where to raise the tent.
  4. Another Scout outing, remembered vaguely, was in May or June in a farmer’s woodlot. It simply felt magical, nothing like a designated campground.
  5. Our troop joined one or two others in the summer at a site in Lake Vesuvius State Park near Ironton, Ohio. This time we used wall tents, but it was still primitive. The park had the remains of an early stone blast furnace, and we spent a day in rowboats exploring the lake. One fall, we returned to plant trees in a strip mine. I’ve hated that form of mining ever since.
  6. Out-of-state hiking trips also included overnights, usually two. I especially remember those of the Lincoln trails and others around Lexington, Kentucky. And there was the near-perfect night in Indiana when we rolled out under the stars only to be interrupted at midnight and having to hustle our gear under a nearby picnic pavilion when a harsh storm blew in. And then the rangers showed up and scolded our scoutmasters. But the next morning, and for much of our drive home, we saw tornado damage.
  7. Roan High Knob, at the end of our week on the Appalachian Trail, turned into a festive array of unconventional trail-tent setups. It was like a camel caravan had moved in. At least until the big thunderstorm and repeated deluges.
  8. Later, as an adult, there was a week circumnavigating the Olympic Peninsula, an event I celebrate in a longpoem.
  9. Also in Washington state, a week I spent in the North Cascades – where poet Gary Snyder, especially, wrote extensively as a forest fire lookout. Silver Star Mountain was especially memorable and worth a return with my then-wife.
  10. Another week in the North Cascades included time at the base of Mount Shuksan and Mount Baker. Washing my dishes in the small river, I recognized gold flecks in my bowl – not enough to pan, if I could, but the valley had been the scene of a big gold rush once upon a time. I also noticed that the river level kept rising through the day, a result of melting snow and glacier ice upstream, up above me.
Imagine opening your tent flap and seeing this. I did, in the North Cascades.

Curiously, I haven’t camped since 1980, though there was a week I spent in a spartan, bare-bone cabin near Lake Sabago, Maine, in October ’99. That’s when I learned to canoe … and to steer clear of the middle of the water when it’s just me all alone.

The lighthouses around Eastport are rather modest

Unlike the two most photographed and visited lighthouses around here – East Quoddy on Campobello Island, New Brunswick, and West Quoddy in Lubec, Maine, both of which have been featured here at the Barn – the remaining lighthouses I encounter locally are small-scale. They’re beacons, all right, but to call them houses may push the definition.

You be the judge. Here they are.

Cherry Island Light, New Brunswick, is the one we see most clearly. It’s an 18-foot-tall tower with a white flash every five seconds. As a lighthouse, it was first built in 1824.
And at night it does this.
Deer Point, New Brunswick, is a 20-foot tall tower with a two-second red flash every 10 seconds. The famed Old Sow, the largest whirlpool in the Western Hemisphere and second largest in the world, is just off its shore.
Facing Deer Island, the Dog Island Light in Eastport flashes white/red every five seconds. As you can see, it’s no longer a house, much less manned.
The Pendleberry Lighthouse, or St. Andrews North Point Light, in New Brunswick is glimpsed here from Robbinston, just up the Maine shoreline from Eastport.
A “sparkplug” or “wedding cake” design, the Lubec Channel Light  can be seen framed by the bridge from Lubec to Campobello Island from points in Eastport, though never this distinctly. I shot this in South Lubec, where it stands 53 feet above Mean High Tide and emits a flashing white signal every six seconds.
Whitlock Mills Light on the St. Croix River in Calais is the northernmost light in Maine. It’s on private property, and I’m grateful to the owner who allowed me access. The second tower has both a bell and a foghorn. I find this 25-foot tower, despite its small size, particularly charming.

Kinisi 113

Once upon a time I thought I would have children with the woman of my dreams who would grow old with me.

Once upon a time I would have had a Rolls Royce or at least a Mercedes.

Once upon a time I would have lived in a city where I could ride subways
and subscribe to the opera.

Once upon a time I would have never believed in dragons.