Quakers entered North Carolina early during the colonial period, settling first in northeastern North Carolina and later as part of a southward migration from Pennsylvania into the Piedmont. By the 1740s a significant number of Quakers, or members of the Society of Friends, were in Guilford and surrounding counties and by the 1750s there were enough in the area to form a Monthly Meeting, a regular service in which Friends worship together. The first meetings in the Piedmont alternated between Cane Creek and New Garden until 1754 when New Garden was selected to host all future Meetings.
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The peaceful and hardworking Friends were dedicated opponents of slavery. As such, they became both targets and heroes during tumultuous times. During the Revolutionary War, the New Garden Friends found themselves distrusted by neighbors because they were pacifists. They were also in the middle of the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, conflict between Patriots and the British that would leave hundreds of dead and wounded from both sides in the hands of the Friends for care and burial. The New Garden Meeting House, on the periphery of the battle, was used as a shelter by Patriot marksmen and became a target for British volleys.
Prior to the Civil War, the Friends continued to oppose slavery and worked to alleviate the slaves’ suffering. In order to help, the Friends purchased slaves whenever possible, and would help runaway slaves escape to the North through the Underground Railroad. Levi Coffin, born in the vicinity of New Garden, is credited as being the leader of the Underground Railroad. During the Civil War, the policy of Friends to resist taking up arms was tested through North Carolina’s conscription acts, forcing them oftentimes to fight or work for the war effort against their will.
Always interested in the education of their children, the New Garden Friends formed a boarding school in 1830 which opened its doors with new buildings in 1837 for boys and girls, making it the first co-educational institution in the state. The school grew and, despite financial troubles, in 1888 was re-organized as Guilford College. The college is now one of the leading private institutions of higher learning in North Carolina and still maintains its roots in its formation by the New Garden Friends, incorporating original buildings into its campus.
Seth B. Hinshaw, ed., Carolina Quakers: Our Heritage Our Hope (1972)
Algie I. Newlin, The Battle of New Garden (1995)
Alexander R. Stoesen, Guilford College: On the Strength of 150 Years (1987)
Dorothy L. Gilbert, Guilford: A Quaker College (1937)
New Garden Friends Meeting home page: http://www.ngfm.org/
Guilford College website: http://www.guilford.edu
Minutes of North Carolina Yearly Meeting of Friends, Held at New Garden on Second-Day, the Fifth of Eleventh Month, 1866 (1866), electronic edition, Documenting
the American South, University of North Carolina:
Guion Griffis Johnson, Ante-Bellum North Carolina (1937) electronic edition, Documenting the American South, University of North Carolina:
Levi Coffin, Reminiscences of Levi Coffin (1880) electronic edition,
Documenting the American South, University of North Carolina:
New Garden Friends Meeting