The East Central Indiana territory which became Randolph County was first settled by Quakers (the Society of Friends) from North Carolina in 1814. By 1873 Quakers established weekly worship services in the city of Winchester. In 1874 a group of seven Monthly Meetings around Winchester formed Winchester Quarterly Meeting of Friends. The Winchester Quarterly Meeting built a meetinghouse on this site in 1874. Over the next 23 years an increase of Quakers in the area required a larger space and a new meetinghouse was built on the same site in 1897. At that time there were twenty-seven Friends Meetings in Winchester Quarterly Meeting with a total membership of 3,917. This made Winchester Quarterly Meeting the largest Quarterly Meeting of Friends in the world in 1897.
Quakers’ were actively involved in Randolph County from 1814 through 1874. When Randolph County was organized in 1818, five of the original eight county officials were Quakers. Randolph County Quakers were involved in the education of black Americans in Randolph County’s Union Literacy Institute, and they supported work of the anti-slavery movement and the Underground Railroad work in the county.
After the formation of Winchester Quarterly Meeting, individual members with concerns for the welfare of the citizens worked to make a difference in the county. A Quaker banker, James Moorman, gave the county money for a monument to honor those who gave their lives during the Civil War. James Moorman also left money in his will for the establishment of an orphanage in the county. Randolph County Quakers were active in the temperance movement within the county.
The Quaker concept of religious life inspired humanitarian concerns which compelled Randolph County Quakers beyond county lines. Those efforts were supported by Winchester Quarterly Meeting.
v Quakers from Randolph County were involved in relief efforts in Mississippi for freed slaves during and immediately after the Civil War.
v In Arkansas, Randolph County Quakers started and supported an orphanage for freed slaves. This orphanage evolved into a black teachers college that continued to be supported through financial and material contributions, volunteers, administrators and teachers from Winchester Quarterly Meeting.
v Quakers from Randolph County were involved in the temperance movement and traveled throughout the United States with their message in addition to holding national offices in the Temperance Movement.
v Randolph County Quakers encouraged and recognized women in ministry.
v The first recorded pastors of Winchester Friends Meeting, and ministers recorded by the Quarterly Meeting, Elkanah and Irena Beard, were from Randolph County. They were one of the first American overseas Quaker missionaries to India in 1869. Beards also traveled among the Oklahoma Native American Indians in the 1880’s to help with education efforts of the government.
From the Indiana Historical Marker Committee approval:
“Quakers were an influential part of Indiana’s development as a state. A state marker would allow the Historical Bureau to chronicle some of their contributions to Indiana history. From early settlers, Underground Railroad activity, allowing women in the clergy, setting up schools for Native Americans, offering assistance to freed slaves after the Civil War, and championing temperance, Quakers affected Indiana history. Additionally, this Quarterly Meeting is reportedly the largest in the world during the 1890’s"
Comments for Quarterly Meeting Oct. 17, 2010
Pam Ferguson and Walter Mills in front of the marker, Oct. 18, 2010
About 3 years ago, Greg Hinshaw suggested that I look into the possibility of placing a historical marker in front of the meeting honoring Winchester Quarterly Meeting for being the largest Quarterly Meeting in the world when this meetinghouse was built. It took several years to get from that suggestion to this day, but I am thankful the marker is now a permanent part of the future of Quakers in Randolph County.
I quickly learned that being the largest Quarterly Meeting in the world was not historically significant enough to warrant a historical marker. The historical marker process sought to recognize contributions of statewide and national significance. The fact that this was probably the easiest part of the research for the marker for me, speaks louder than anything else.
Early in the process I came across this quote from John Smith and Lee Driver in the 1914 history book of Randolph County:
“Much of the first settlers of the county were members of the Friends or Quaker church. They had emigrated from the southland because of their disgust and antagonism for the institution of slavery. They believed that men were created equal and did not care to live and rear their families surrounded by the institution of slavery. These Christian people had been sober, devout worshippers in the southland and they brought with them, deeply settled in their inmost souls, the love of God and man and their hope in Christ and their sense of obligation to Him and their fellowmen.”
The historical marker out front lists the contributions of many Quakers in this county for humanitarian work, temperance work, women’s suffrage, the education of American Indians and blacks, and Quaker work against slavery. These contributions came at a very dark hour in our nation’s history when civil war, violence, hunger, injustice and discrimination were an everyday part of life for the citizens of this country. In the midst of this reality, a group of Quakers arose to do what they could to change the world and to make their relationship with Christ visible.
I believe the marker in front marks an important point for Winchester Quarterly Meeting. It gives witness to where we came from and it provides vision for our future. The task for this day is to be a living, changing, growing, and forward thinking faith community: a faith community that does not worship Quakerism, a faith community that remembers and understands its heritage. One day someone will write another Randolph County Indiana History Book and I pray that when they mention Quaker contributions to Randolph County that Friends will once again be mentioned as people who continued to be deeply settled in their inmost souls for their love of God and man, their hope in Christ and their sense of obligation to Him and their fellowmen. I pray Winchester Quarterly Meeting will continue to make a difference in Winchester, in Randolph County, in Indiana and in our world.
I am thankful for Greg’s encouragement to apply for this marker and for his own efforts in documenting the history and heritage of Indiana Yearly Meeting and Winchester Quarterly Meeting. I am especially thankful for his ongoing work and influence in Randolph County, Indiana Yearly Meeting, and Friends United Meeting.