As Historically Practiced in the Society of Friends[1]

Jenny Duskey

Larry Kuenning

Charlotte Kuenning

Licia Kuenning


I believe it is . . . great darkness which leads people to believe that we cannot disown individuals and love them. [2] When Phebe J. Hall wrote these words some 35 years ago, the word disownment had already been dropped from the annual statistics of Ohio Yearly Meeting for several years, to be replaced with the more ambiguous membership discontinued. Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, having just reunited with the Hicksite branch (which had not used the category for 33 years), had ceased to record any kind of involuntary membership termination, unless such cases were intended to be covered by the term released. Clearly disownment was unpopular.

In much of the ensuing discussion of disownment we speak in the past tense. This is not because we think the Quaker principles of discipline no longer valid nor because our interest is merely historical. It is because disownment is now so rare that it would be impossible to generalize about it if we wrote in the present tense. A questionnaire that some of us circulated at the 1984 conference of the Quaker Theological Discussion Group in Wichita revealed that although Friends from all branches and a wide selection of geographical locations were present none of them knew of a recent disownment in their meetings.[3] This would be joyful news if it meant that Quakers had stopped sinning. Unfortunately the same questionnaire results showed that the whole spectrum of what used to be disownable offenses were being practiced by members of the meetings represented. Ensuing discussion brought out that the opinion Phebe Hall called great darkness was quite commonly held: modern Quakers think that we cannot disown individuals and love them. One respondent stated, We have never considered disowning anyone but rather seek to help them find wholeness again. For most of their history Friends did not think these two things mutually exclusive.

The authors of this paper don't think it impossible to disown individuals and love them, as it seems to us that Friends at their best often did just that. We think that very few Friends today know what disownment really means. The traditional principles of Friends on this subject are not a living tradition; they have been forgotten, and misconceptions on the subject amounting almost to a phobia prevent most Friends from looking into it.

The history of the Society of Friends reveals a remarkably clear and consistent tradition about disownment that was practiced from the 1660s into the early 20th century. This is not to deny that the discipline was applied more strictly in some times and places than in others, that details of procedure could change, that the practical exercise of love in the disciplinary process had its ups and downs, or that irregular and unusual cases can be found. We will not say much about how the historical development of Friends' practice has been influenced by internal and external political pressures, as although this could be an interesting study our purpose is in bringing out the general principles involved, which really did not change much. Therefore we have quoted rather freely from 17th-, 18th- and 19th-century sources.

The Word Disownment

To disown is the opposite of to own, in a sense of that term that is now somewhat archaic but was in frequent use at the rise of Quakerism. A Puritan asked George Fox whether he owned election and reprobation, meaning, did he acknowledge these doctrines to be true.[4] And for the scriptures which he quotes, they are owned, but not to cover the wolf withal, said Fox in response to another critic, meaning: we acknowledge the authority of those scripture texts, but not the application he is making of them.[5] To own is to acknowledge, accept the authority of, or admit; correspondingly to disown is to deny, or reject, especially that which was formerly owned, or which one might be thought by others to own. As applied to persons it means to declare one's disunity with the person, to deny responsibility for his or her behavior.

Braithwaite attributes to Francis Howgill what may be the earliest technical use of the word ‘disown' in the following incident. A Puritan plot to overthrow the monarchy was discovered in 1662, and Quakers were rumored to be involved in it. One former Friend, Reginald Fawcett, was in fact part of the abortive uprising; when Howgill was challenged in court about this he replied, Fawcett has been disowned by us these six years. [6]

Friends sought to be a people whose lives, as well as words, testified to the power of Christ to teach and lead his people. Those whose lives said something different were undermining this objective. They provided ammunition to the enemies of Friends who maintained that reliance on an inward Light would lead to anarchy and libertinism. If disorderly individuals could not be persuaded to mend their ways, then Friends would go on record as not owning that person to be a member of their community.

Disownment, then, is a statement. It is closely tied in with the concept of testimony that runs all through Quaker history. To testify, as a people, against war and fighting, meant being willing to testify, if need arose, that a certain person given to violence was not a Friend. To testify against, to deny, to declare disunity with, are all expressions that are used synonymously with to disown in Friends' literature.


We deny all their . . . excommunications, cursing, with bell, book, and candle, for the scripture saith, bless and curse not. [7]

In testifying against an unrighteous action or even in disowning a sinful member, Friends were not excommunicating in the sense that other Christian churches did.[8]

Because other churches also at times revoke the membership of individuals on account of their disapproved behavior it is natural to think of disownment as another word for excommunication; however, the two concepts are not identical, and Friends have usually repudiated the term excommunication. The precise difference may be difficult to pin down, but we think it basically consists in this: that excommunication is aimed at the offender, whereas disownment is aimed at the world. This needs some clarifying.

When the Roman Catholic Church denies a person the right to communicate (a technical term for receiving the eucharistic sacrament), they are denying him or her something which they believe to be an important, or even an indispensable, channel of the grace of God. If the excommunicated person believes in the doctrines of the church then he believes the salvation of his soul to be in serious jeopardy not merely because of the sin he was excommunicated for but because he cannot get the sacrament.

Historically excommunication has also involved other penalties, including exclusion from worship services, social shunning by other church members, and loss of civil rights in church-dominated nations.

Other churches that practice excommunication have often differed from the Roman Catholic view of sacraments, but they have not discarded the underlying idea of excommunication as something done to an offender, of such nature as to motivate compliance based on fear of the church; in other words, it is a punishment. It can be a very severe punishment, putting a person into a far worse position than he or she would have been in had s/he never joined the church. Some Anabaptist groups have carried this so far that a husband and wife may not eat or sleep together if one of them has been excommunicated;[9] and in communal churches excommunication can mean loss of one's home, possessions, and means of livelihood.

By contrast Friends, when they disowned a person, were not trying to do anything at all to that person. They were trying to define for the world's benefit what Quakerism was; in particular that it was not consistent with the type of behavior for which the person was disowned. The individual did lose a few rights (chiefly the right to sit in Friends' business meetings), but only to such an extent as was unavoidable if the Society was to maintain its self-definition; it was not done to make him feel bad, and he was in no worse position than any other nonmember.[10]

Friends were often concerned to dissociate themselves from punitive disciplinary practices and to stress the limited nature of what they did in disowning:

Misapplied censures have attached to the Society of Friends, called Quakers, in consequence of their practice of this nature, being (but not by themselves) denominated excommunication. This term though never used by them, sometimes confounds their dismemberments, in the ideas of many, with those interdictions which deprive of temporal advantages, and consign the soul to eternal wrath. On this account it may be proper to observe, that a simple declaration of disunity, and of the ground on which it has arisen, is the utmost that is practised by the Society of Friends.[11]

For when any, by their inconsistent or disorderly conduct, or by imbibing and adopting principles and practices contrary to the doctrines which we hold, have first openly manifested their disunity with the society, it is just and requisite, that after endeavouring to restore them without effect, the body should testify its disunity with such erring and refractory members; at the same time earnestly desiring, that they may be convinced of the error of their ways, and that through unfeigned repentance, and a consistent orderly conduct in future, they may be reunited. This being the utmost extent of our discipline respecting offenders, it is very evident that from the right exercise thereof, no degree of persecution or imposition can be justly inferred; for the imposition would rest entirely on the part of those who might insist on being retained as members, whilst at open variance with the Body, either in principle or practice.[12]

This is the extent of the Society's censure against irreclaimable offenders, they are disowned as members of our religious community; which is recommended to be done in such a disposition of mind, as may convince them, that we sincerely desire their recovery and restoration, considering ourselves, lest we also be tempted. Gal. vi. 1.[13]

As can be seen from the context, the reference to irreclaimable offenders in this last passage did not mean that Friends thought anyone permanently irreclaimable but only that Friends had done all they could, for the time being, in efforts to persuade the offender to repent,[14] so that the integrity of the Society required a testimony of disunity.

The Disciplinary Process

If thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault, between thee and him alone; if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses, every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it to the church; but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen-man and a publican.[15]

It is agreed in the unity of freinds that all professing the truth, who have or shalbee guilty of any disorderly walkinge by which the name of the Lord comes to bee dishonour'd, shalbee by a particular paper for every such disorderly walking, condemned publiquely by freinds; if so bee they who are or may be concern'd shall refuse after foure or five exhortacions & admonitions, according to the good order of the gosple, to give forth a publick testimony, under their hands by which such particular disorderly practices shalbee judged & condemned.[16]

1694. . . . And that all that walk disorderly, should be tenderly dealt withal, in the same love wherewithal God hath loved us; but, if they cannot be reclaimed, they ought to be denied, and Truth cleared. . . . (Yearly Meeting).[17]

It is advised, that where any transgress the rules of our discipline, they may, without partiality, be admonished and sought in the spirit of love and divine charity, so that it may be seen by all, that the restoring spirit of meekness and christian love abounds, before church censure takes place, and that a gospel spirit is the spring and motive to all our performances, as well in discipline as in worship.[18]

When a member's offense came to the attention of the Monthly Meeting which was not supposed to happen before one or more Friends had already admonished the offender without success[19] the meeting would appoint a committee (usually of two solid Friends) to ascertain the facts about the matter reported, and (if the member complained of was guilty) to learn whether he or she was repentant. It the individual did not seem contrite the visiting Friends would labor with him or her in meekness and brotherly compassion, hoping to bring the offender to sincere repentance. If this was successful the Friend would offer a written apology (often called an acknowledgment ) expressing that what he or she had done was contrary to the principles of Friends, that s/he was sorry for it and intended with God's help to behave better in the future. This was also referred to as condemning one's action. The reason for its being in writing was so that Friends' disunity with the action would be on record. How widely the repentant Friend would be asked to circulate such a paper would depend on how far the scandal had been known; the point being to make the position of Friends clear to those who might otherwise through a member's deviant action have been in doubt about it. To read an acknowledgment in a public meeting might be a humiliating task for the contrite Friend, but humiliation was not its purpose, and it was felt that if the Friend was sincere he or she would be motivated to clear the reputation of the Society. It sometimes happened that a Friend felt so convicted about a misdeed as to make an acknowledgment even though the transgression had not come to the meeting's attention.

Disowning was not done lightly. Overseers labored sometimes for years with offenders. [20] A reading of the Upperside Monthly Meeting minutes for 1669-1690 shows that the meeting would postpone disownment as long as there seemed the least tenderness in an offender, and sometimes when there didn't, if a member felt concerned to make some further effort.

If, however, the erring Friend persistently refused to offer a satisfactory acknowledgment,[21] then the meeting would eventually write a paper indicating its disunity with the action and its disownment of the offender. The purpose of such a paper was the same as the purpose of the acknowledgment would have been to keep the moral or doctrinal standards of the Society of Friends a clear matter of record. The extent of publicity would likewise be the same.[22]

When a minute of disownment had been written by the Monthly Meeting, a copy of it was given to the person disowned, who was informed that he had a right (within a limited time) to appeal to the Quarterly Meeting, which could overturn the disownment.[23] If the Quarterly Meeting upheld the disownment, an appeal could be made to the Yearly Meeting, whose decision was final. A testimony against an individual would not be published until the case was settled.

Purposes and Nonpurposes of Disownment

We have discussed the primary function of disownment in maintaining the public credibility of Friends' corporate testimonies. Another, closely related, purpose was that of maintaining the internal consistency of the Society in its decision-making bodies. Attendance at Monthly, Quarterly, and Yearly meetings for business was select that is, limited to members in good standing.[24] These members could be assumed to have the same convictions and therefore to be approaching the questions before the meeting with a common purpose. Throwing the doors open to people who were at open variance with the Body, either in principle or practice, would make it difficult or impossible to find the unity that Friends sought in their deliberations. That true unanimity is now regarded as an impossible ideal in most Quaker meetings may be a direct result of the fact that disownment is no longer practiced.

To sharpen up these concepts it may be helpful to list some things which were not the purpose of disownment.

Disownment was not for the purpose of doing the offender good (nor for doing him or her harm). The admonitory steps that preceded disownment did aim at the spiritual welfare of the erring Friend, but disownment occurred at the point where the community felt it had done its duty to that end and must proceed with disownment for the sake of Friends' testimony. Presumably in some cases disownment might have produced a salutary shock that would awaken the sinner and motivate reformation, while in other cases it might have led to the person's hardening; but Friends did not try to predict which of these outcomes was the more likely in a given case and did not use this type of consideration to determine whether disownment was in order.

Disownment was not done to get rid of the company of someone whom other Friends disliked. Members were disowned only for specific transgressions, and their company was removed only from business meetings. In other spheres there might be as much social interaction with an individual after disownment as there was before.

It was not the purpose of disownment to define the individual's standing with God. Jack Marietta states, Friends did not claim that admission to the Society indicated salvation or a state of grace. They were singularly quiet about the inner state of members. Quite consistently, then, they did not claim that disownment signified a fall from grace or damnation. [25] This is true, though it should be modified with the observation that Friends did believe that the Light of Christ was available to all and would, if heeded carefully enough, prevent Friends from committing those acts which put them out of unity. Such expressions as J. T. . . . for want of duly attending to the dictates of Truth within himself has so far deviated from the wholesome Rules established amongst us as to [violate them in such-and-such a way] [26] were not unusual in minutes of disownment. But it was the outward misdeed, not the inferred inward carelessness, that J. T. was disowned for. Friends did not consider conversion to be instantaneous and hence did not make assertions about who was or was not born again.

Consequences of Disownment

The chief consequence of disownment for the disowned person was that he or she no longer had a right to attend business meetings; for the Society it was that they no longer had an obligation to oversee his behavior. This did not necessarily mean that pastoral concern for him ceased; numerous accounts exist in the journals of Friends' ministers of visits to disowned persons and counsel offered them. But such efforts were undertaken at the ministers' own initiative in obedience to the leadings they felt; the meeting as such would not usually feel any need to delegate someone to visit a disowned person.

There was no shunning involved in disownment; familial and secular relationships continued as before. This can be seen not only by the absence, from books of Discipline, of any injunction to shun former Friends, but by the lack of any disciplinary concern, in the minute books of meetings, about familiarity with disowned persons.[27] Had such relationships been frowned upon we would know it: it would have been a major agenda item, for most disowned Friends were close relatives of Friends in good standing. In this respect there is a notable contrast with the discipline of some Anabaptist groups, in which the community has to struggle with the question of how much familiarity between a member and an ex-member is permitted and even at times to excommunicate members for being too friendly with the excommunicated. Friends felt they should be friendly toward the disowned, without compromising their testimony:

The right exercise of the discipline in relation to offenders was feelingly adverted to, with desires that friends may particularly regard the obligations of the gospel spirit, which, whilst it inculcates the painful necessity of placing judgment upon the obdurate and unrepenting, regards with affectionate sympathy every appearance of returning rectitude, and also calls upon us to act with such propriety and circumspection relative to those who have been disunited from the society as that it may be obvious to them that even though the causes of the separation continue to exist, yet we nevertheless retain towards them that good will which remains to be one of the essential and distinguishing characteristics of the truly Christian mind.[28]

Disowned Persons in Meetings for Worship

Friends were as zealous for the public character of their meetings for worship as they were for the select character of their meetings for business. As Richard Vann states, Quaker meetings for worship were in every sense public meetings, open to all who cared or dared to come. [29] Dared was very much to the point in that Friends would put up with a great deal of abuse rather than limit access to these meetings; though they might be attended by informers who would supply persecutors with lists of Quakers; or by violent persons with or without judicial authority, who entered them to assault Quakers and drag them away. There was always the hope that the power of God in the meeting would reach the heart of the hostile attender.[30]

During the Wilkinson-Story controversy one of the complaints against the separatists was that they would hold their meetings in secluded places to avoid persecution.[31]

In fact the public character of Friends' worship was part of the reason why disownment had to be instituted not to keep disorderly persons away from meetings but to signify to the world that these people's attendance at Quaker meetings did not imply Friends' approval of their life styles. Thus a 1677 minute of Upperside Monthly Meeting, testifying against a couple living in adultery, states:

We therefore ye People of God called Quakers (who live in ye parts adjacent) being met together in ye name & fear of ye Lord Jesus . . . do solemnly declare, yt although ye said J C & E W have at sometimes come to our Meetings (whose Meetings are wel known to be publick & open to al) yet were they never received or owned by us . . . .[32]

Bristol Friends stated, we dare Not for Conscience Sake, keep any out of our Metinge how profane soever. [33]

In most cases, and especially in later years when Friends' principles were more generally known and persecution was not an issue, disowned persons were positively encouraged to attend Quaker worship. One example of such outreach toward former members is a small book entitled A Compassionate Call and Hand Reached forth in Tender Gospel Love, to all such Persons, as having once made Profession of the blessed TRUTH, yet by some Misconduct or other, have unhappily forfeited their Unity with the Society of Friends; in what Capacity, Post or Station soever in the CHURCH they may have been; or in what Circumstance of Life soever they now stand, in their present disunited Situation. The author writes:

that sometimes Persons that have given real Occasion for the Line of Judgment to be stretched over them, have taken such a disgust at the just Censure, when past upon them, that they have forsaken religious Assemblies; who by so doing do evidently demonstrate great Weakness, and that they give way to the Spirit of the Enemy, who is always seeking Advantage against us frail Mortals, in order to draw us farther and farther from the Truth, . . . Wherefore, I again most earnestly intreat you, in much Love and Good-will, that ye who have taken Offence of this kind, would forthwith endeavour to lay aside all Resentment, and Dislike, that you may have unwarily let in, and wait to feel the peaceable Spirit of meek Jesus, our blessed Redeemer and therein attend religious Meetings; . . . .[34]

Marietta lists ``How well had he attended meetings for worship?'' as one of the criteria that would be considered if an offender petitioned for readmission.[35]

The vocal contributions of disowned persons were not always as welcome as their presence. An 1809 Discipline advises

friends every where to avoid public opposition to a minister, not disowned by the monthly or quarterly-meeting to which he or she shall belong, by keeping on their hats in time of prayer, or any other token of disunion.[36]

Joseph Hoag relates the following incident:

We then proceeded to Sugar Creek, arriving there on sixth day. Seventh day, we had a meeting with the few Friends of that place, who were much tired with a person, who had been disowned and had frequently come into their meetings, and took up much time in preaching, to the burdening of Friends; and what made it more grievous, he preached what were not Friends' principles, and when spoken with, he justified himself, saying, that if he could not preach among them agreeable to his own conscience, he would not meet with them. After weighing the subject, I believed it right to tell Friends, that I thought it would be best for them to let him know they could not receive his testimony, and why; for if you suffer him to continue on, and he preaches as you have stated, it will do more hurt in this new country, by your giving him countenance where Friends and their principles are but little known than all he can do, should he make a noise abroad; for you can then inform the people why you rejected him.[37]

After the highly controversial disownment of Isaac Hopper in 1842 (he was connected with a political Abolitionist magazine that had attacked another Friends' minister as soft on slavery) Hopper

attended meeting constantly, as he had ever done, and took his seat on the bench under the preachers' gallery, facing the audience, where he had always been accustomed to sit, when he was an honored member of the Society. Charles Marriott [disowned for the same cause], who was by temperament a much meeker man, said to him one day, The overseers have called upon me, to represent the propriety of my taking another seat, under existing circumstances. I expect they will call upon thee, to give the same advice.

I expect they won't, was Isaac's laconic reply; and they never did.[38]


The route to reinstatement to Quaker membership was the same as that for avoiding disownment in the first place: the writing (and if need be publishing) of a statement acknowledging one's fault and expressing repentance. Though some Friends' writings give the impression that this was the only thing sought by Friends for restoring unity, there arose in practice occasions for questioning whether a particular acknowledgment was adequate. One individual who wrote to Upperside Monthly Meeting acknowledging his weakness and imprudence in a certain action was told by the meeting that he had been deceitful as well as weak and imprudent and his acknowledgment was not accepted.[39] A 1708 epistle of London Yearly Meeting states:

And forasmuch as some persons (who, by their ill conduct, have justly deserved, and come under, the censure of the meetings to which they belong) have thought to get from under the weight of this judgment, by signing a paper of Condemnation, and thereby suppose themselves discharged; it is therefore recommended to Friends' consideration, that they be careful not to admit such persons too early into fellowship (or to give them cause to think they are accepted,) before the meeting or meetings are satisfied in their repentance and amendment, notwithstanding such paper be given.[40]

Marietta mentions, as conditions of assessing the sincerity of a penitent, Did the gestures of the delinquent demonstrate humility? Was his confession declamatory or evasive? A period of time long enough to permit him to understand his guilt and show genuine contrition was also expected.

The normal period of disunion for those who were reinstated was a year or longer; some returned fifteen to twenty years after disownment. Nevertheless, within any category of offense, one finds disowned Friends who were later readmitted. Disownment was never final; there was no kind of behavior or belief which Friends in Pennsylvania never forgave.[41] Once a sin had been forgiven it was supposed to be forgotten:

And it is also our advice, in the love of God, that after any friend's repentance and restoration, he abiding faithful in the truth that condemns the evil, none among you so remember his transgression, as to cast it at him, or upbraid him with it; for that is not according to the mercies of God. 1675[42]

Concluding Remarks

Is it really a bad thing for our Religious Society to have principles, and to cease to acknowledge as members persons who insist on rejecting those principles? We have seen that disownment among Friends was not intended to hurt the persons to whom it was applied or to deny them love; that offenders were patiently and tenderly labored with before there was a decision to disown; that even after disownment they might be the recipients of Quaker ministry; that they were not socially ostracized nor denied the opportunity to worship with Friends; and that the possibility of reinstatement was always open. How did disownment get such a bad name?

We do not attempt here to answer that question as regards what historical events led to the forsaking of a tradition that Friends had maintained for two and a half centuries. Ronald Selleck, in his paper, Why Should the Doors Be Thrown Open? [43] presents an interesting historical discussion of the decline of Friends' discipline between 1887 and 1907, especially in the Gurneyite wing. He seems unaware that there has also been such a decline among Conservative Friends, though it took place a little later.

Phebe Hall wrote, Some say we must not disown, because the individuals may become hardened and never return, . . . I have read of many who did return after they were disowned and of some who became Gospel ministers. I do not believe it is the fault of the meeting if any fail to return, unless there has been a lack of exercising divine love towards them. [44]

Human beings, including Quakers, being what they are, there probably was an insufficiency of divine love in some disownment proceedings, but if so this shows only that Friends failed to live up to their principles. It does not prove that those principles were wrong.


A. What Offenses did Friends Disown For?

Any behavior thought inappropriate for a Quaker could become a matter of discipline; whether the process led to disownment depended less on the seriousness of the offense than on whether the offender made an adequate acknowledgment. (With serious offenses or public scandal, however, there is some indication that meetings were stricter about what sort of acknowledgment would satisfy them.) Marrying out was the commonest cause for disownment not because Friends thought it the worst deviation, but because it was the most frequent.

We offer the statistics below and on the following page for historical interest; it is not our aim in this paper to take up the question of what actions should be matter for discipline today.

Disciplinary Cases in Pennsylvania Monthly Meetings, 1682-1776[45]

Offense Number owned
Marrying contrary to discipline 4925 45.8
Fornication with fiance(e) 1311 39.6
Other fornication 727 70.6
Drunkenness 613 60.9
Debt 613 51.4
Military activity 504 71.0
Inattendance 497 70.8
Showing contempt for the Society's authority over one's conduct 408 77.1
Assault 391 41.3
Loose conduct 359 54.3
Profanity 231 68.9
Attending irregular marriage 217 27.4
Quarreling 214 41.1
Entertainments 178 39.9
Marrying too close a relative 174 75.7
Neglecting family responsibilities 142 49.6
Prosecuting another Friend at law without having exhausted the arbitration procedure of the Society 129 31.7
Slander 124 35.2
Slaveholding 123 22.0
Fraud 118 58.1
Gambling 107 48.1
Disapproved company 81 75.0
Business ethics 64 70.3
Theft 61 60.0
Schism 54 28.8
Adultery 46 87.0
Miscellaneous 42 31.7
Ignoring Quaker arbitration (other than by going to law) 38 56.8
Oaths 35 60.0
Voluntary withdrawal 35 94.3
Courting and fraternizing 23 54.5
Holding public offices that entailed activity contrary to Quaker ethics 22 50.0
Lying 21 76.2
Disobeying parents 21 81.0
Dispensing liquor 21 23.8
Violating laws 17 17.6
Theological 15 20.0
Destroying property 11 36.4
Dress and speech 11 68.8
Fleeing master 9 76.2
Counterfeiting 7 57.1
Printing 7 71.4
Smuggling 6 50.0
Misuse of the First Day of the week 5 60.0

Disownments in Hopewell M.M., 1760-1809

From Morse, Baltimore Yearly Meeting, pp. 51-52.
Number Offense
280 going out in marriage
132 fornication
5 adultery
5 other sexual immorality
41 drinking to excess
28 a combination of offenses
22 military service
19 attending or conniving at an irregular marriage
13 quarreling or fighting
13 dancing
13 joining another denomination
9 nonattendance of meetings
4 taking the test of allegiance
3 false accusation
2 dishonesty
2 killing a mare
2 attending places of diversion
2 horse-racing
1 failing in business
1 nonpayment of debts
1 refusal to arbitrate
1 going to law
1 profanity
1 wife-beating
1 striking a man in anger
1 wounding a man
1 gaming
1 lending money for gambling
1 administering oaths
1 buying slaves
1 permitting fiddling and dancing at one's home
1 appointing meetings and preaching

Disownments in Fairfax M.M. and Goose Creek M.M., 1750-1799

Ibid., pp. 52-53
Number Offense
247 going out in marriage
133 fornication
7 other sexual immorality
20 military service
18 quarreling and fighting
15 drinking to excess
14 a combination of offenses
13 frolicking and/or dancing
9 attending or conniving at an irregular marriage
8 nonattendance of meetings
6 nonpayment of debts
4 vile language or profanity
4 taking the test of allegiance
3 horse-racing
3 in connection with slavery
2 refusal to abide by award of arbitrators
2 betting or gaming
2 joining another society
2 disturbed meeting by preaching, etc.
1 fraudulent dealing
1 stealing
1 slander
1 mistreatment of mother
1 taking an oath
1 paying priests' wages
1 hiring a substitute
1 going to law
1 taking watermelons without leave
1 denying authenticity of part of the Bible

Disownments in Somerset M.M., 1820-1869

From Kenneth Morse, A History of Conservative Friends (Barnesville, Ohio: Author, 1962), pp. 29-30.

Number Offense
142 going out in marriage
118 joining the Hicksites
28 joining another denomination
11 unchastity or fornication
10 nonattendance of meetings
9 attending or promoting a marriage contrary to discipline
7 nonattendance of meetings and departing from plainness of dress and address
6 military service
2 unjust dealing
1 adultery
1 offense regarding liquor
1 going to law
1 loose conduct
1 dancing
1 gambling
1 fighting
1 attending a place of music and dancing
1 denying the divinity of Christ
1 request
1 telling untruths

B. Some Sample Minutes of Disownment

1681 These are to certify to all People where this Writing may come, that whereas A.B. hath for divers years gone under the denomination of a Quaker, and yet in several things hath walked disorderly, and more especially hath been subject to the vile and notorious Sin of Drunkenness; and tho' he hath from time to time, for the space of ten years and upwards, been very tenderly admonished, both privately and publickly, yet still he persists and is subject to be overcome by that notorious Sin, to the great Dishonour of God, his Truth and People, and to the saddening of the Hearts of the Upright, . . . we can do no less than declare against him and his evil course of Life; and hereby signify unto all the World, that we do disown him and all such unsavoury Members and actions as he is found in. And the Lord our God, in whose Presence we are knows that this is not done in any Rashness or Prejudice towards him as a man, but in very much Tenderness and Humility. And if it shall please God so to work upon his Heart and Spirit that he be made sensible of his Sin and Transgression, and come, thro' Judgment, unto true and unfeigned Repentance and Amendment of Life, and, in true Penitency and Brokenness of Spirit, seek Reconciliation again with the Lord and his People, we shall in the same tenderness and unfeigned Love be glad and willing to receive him, as the Father did his prodigal Son, into Favour and Fellowship again, until which time we do Deny and Disown him and his Actions, and cannot account or esteem him to be one of us. (Castledermot)[46]

1720 Whereas E.F. hath made Profession of Truth several years, but by giving too much opportunity of Familiarity and Conversation on account of Marriage with A.B. who for committing Uncleanness with a young Woman, and afterwards refusing to marry her according to Justice, was testified against and disowned to be of us the People called Quakers, hath suffered herself, in a disorderly manner, to be joyned unto the said A.B. as his Wife, to the defrauding of the said young Woman of her Right, being yet Unmarried; we do hereby declare, that the said E.F. by her so going hath gone out of Fellowship with us the said People, and we cannot own her to be of our Society, until, by unfeigned Repentance, she obtain Mercy of the Lord, which that she may is our sincere Desire. (Dublin)[47]

1741 J.Y. disowned because he hath given way to a libertine spirit as to strip off his shirt in order to fight with another person with blows at a public house they being playing a game called hustle cap. John informed he must make a public acknowledgment, refused, saying he was assured to be at his liberty. And was disowned. (Goshen)[48]

1765 Whereas, W.M. hath had his education among us, and been deemed a member of our Society, but for want of enough regarding the dictates of Truth in his heart, which would have preserved him from evil, and enabled him to live a life of integrity and self-denial, he hath given way to his libertine inclinations, so far as to neglect his lawful business, and too much practice jockeying or dealing in horses, and several other things tending to a vain and idle life; whereby he involved himself in debt, and became unable to satisfy his creditors, by paying their just demands; and hath also, for a considerable time, almost wholly absented himself from our religious meetings, and doth not keep to the plain language, nor appear convinced of the necessity thereof; all which being reproachful, we disown him, . . . . (New Garden Monthly Meeting)[49]

1776 W.R. who by birth had a right of membership in our Religious Society but through levity and a disregard to that principle which would preserve if adhered to, he hath been seduced and drawn away with the Spirit of the Times so far as to inlist and join in the active part of war, leaving his place of abode to that end, and having given us no opportunity to treat with him on this sorrowful occasion, we, agreeable to our antient practice, think it requisite to deny him the right of membership among us, which is hereby confirmed by our monthly meeting and he so to stand until by due contrition he condemns his conduct which we can but desire on his behalf. (Fairfax Monthly Meeting)[50]

1779 G.N. having had his Birth and education amongst us the People called Quakers but for want of taking heed to the dictates of Truth in his own breast he has so far deviated as to be guilty of fornication; for which reproachful Conduct we deny him the right of membership amongst us until he is enabled to make suitable satisfaction for the same, which is desired on his behalf. (Fairfax Monthly Meeting)[51]

1795 Whereas M.H. hath been guilty of appointing meetings and preaching to the people contrary to the good order used among friends, for which conduct of his we disown him from being a member of our society untill he comes to a sense of his error so as to make suitable satisfaction for the same, which that he may is desired for him. (Hopewell Monthly Meeting)[52]

1829 W.M. Jr. has been guilty of dancing, attending a places of diversion and deviating from the truth and after having been treated with without the desired effect, we disown him from being a member of our religious society. (Somerset Monthly Meeting)[53]

1839 S.W. has neglected the attendance of our religious meetings and attended those of the Hicksites; and having been treated with therefor, manifested no desire to retain her right of membership with friends. We therefore disown her from being a member of our religious society. (Somerset Monthly Meeting)[54]

1882 R.M. formerly P. has accomplished her marriage contrary to our discipline and having been treated with there for did not manifest a suitable disposition to condemn her deviation. We therefore disown her from being a member of our religious society. (Somerset Monthly Meeting)[55]

1887 R.G. having neglected the attendance of our Religious meetings and joined the Methodist Society and being treated with therefor did not manifest a disposition to condemn her deviation, we therefore disown her as a member of our Religious Society. (Somerset Monthly Meeting)[56]

1963 Since K.J. violated our Christian testimony against military service by serving in the air force, and since he manifests no disposition to condemn his deviation, he is now disowned by this meeting. (Somerset Monthly Meeting)[57]

C. Some Sample Acknowledgments

1687 Whereas I G.B. of Chesham, having for divers years made Profession of the holy Truth and way of God wch ye People called Quakers walk in, have of late, through my unfaithfullness to ye Principle I professed, joyned myself in Marriage (with) one who is not in the same Profession of Religion, & have gone to the Priest for the accomplishing therof, agt. the perswasion & conviction of my own Conscience; wherby I have greatly offended God, caused the way of Truth to be evil spoken off, grieved his People among whom I walked, broken my own peace, & drawn the displeasure of the Lord upon myself, to my great trouble & sorrow: In the sense wherof, I do freely acknowledge ye Evill I have done & do sincerely declare yt I am heartily sorry for it. Nevertheless, I do hereby declare, yt I hold myself firmly bound, before God and men, to keep ye promise I made unto my husband in Marriage, & with full purpose of heart do intend to be unto him a loving and faithfull wife, according to the Covenant made between us. (Upperside Monthly Meeting)[58]

1716 To the Monthly Meeting, &c. Inasmuch as it hath been requested of me why I was not married according to the order used among us, my reasons are great. I would I had them not to excuse myself in this behalf, they are so plain and so manifest, having been unlawfully concerned with her that is now my wife before marriage. For the which deed I am right sorry as God knows. This I give forth for the clearing of Friends and the Truth. As witness my hand, T.S. (Kennett Monthly Meeting)[59]

1738 J.T. offered an acknowledgment for his "going to a man [soothsayer] to be informed concerning my horse. I can only say I had no desire he should make use of any bad art in that affair; and if he could not tell me anything by his learning in an honest way to go no further. Likewise I was ignorant of Friends rules in that affair: But being better informed, hope for the future not to fall into the like again." (Concord)[60]

1751 Friends, Whereas I contended with my neighbor, W.S., for what I apprehended to be my right, by endeavoring to turn a certain stream of water into its natural course, till it arose to a personal difference; in which dispute I gave way to warmth of temper so far as to put my friend W. into the pond; for which action of mine, being contrary to the good order of Friends, I am sorry, and desire, through Divine assistance, to live in unity with him for the future. From your friend, J.W. (Wilmington)[61]

1776 Whereas I the subscriber have several times stood Centry in a military manner and having considered the same, I see it to be wrong, for which misconduct I am sorry, and hope to be more careful for the future, desiring that Friends would accept this my acknowledgment and continue me under their care as my future conduct shall render me worthy. J.L. (Fairfax Monthly Meeting)[62]

1778 Dear Friends, Whereas I have paid a fine imposed on me for not appearing in a militant order with Andrew Tranburg and company, for which act of so doing I have received considerable condemnation, and am sensible that it is not consistent with a Christian life to do so; therefore, for the clearing of Truth and my own conscience, I thus give my testimony against that misstep, and hope for the future to keep nearer the spirit of Truth, that leads and not astray. I am your Friend, I.H. (Wilmington Monthly Meeting)[63]

1778 (an unsolicited acknowledgment): S.D., under a sense of her own transgression, attended this meeting and offered a paper in order to acknowledge and condemn the same.

‘Whereas I, the subscriber, for want of giving heed to the dictates of Truth in my own heart, which would have preserved me from evil, have, in a most sorrowful manner, deviated therefrom, and given way to a libertine disposition in keeping company with a man in no way suitable for me; and was led away in such a manner as to be guilty of fornication. It is with shame and sorrow of heart that I expose myself; but it has often come before the view of my mind that the taking of the accursed thing formerly, although hid, even under ground, yet it was a hindrance to the battle of the Lord going forward. So I have been ready to conclude, that my endeavoring to keep this a secret might, in a spiritual sense, be a hindrance to the battle in this our day. And it is the sincere desire of my mind, that Infinite Goodness, which has been graciously pleased to visit me and set my sins in order before me, may not leave me nor forsake me; and that everything in me that is sinful or displeasing in his sight may be stoned, and the stump and root thereof be burned with fire, and that I may witness my sins to be washed away. Then I shall have more comfort that I sometime ago had, when I thought the time had come wherein I must appear before Him who knows the secrets of all hearts, and is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity with approbation. Oh, that I may often think of the distress that I was then in, for it passed through my mind, with many other things, that there was a woe pronounced against those that made the outside of the cup and platter clean, while the inside was full of hypocrisy; and it seemed to me that they were those who had the favor of man, but not of God. Now, as I felt myself, through my misconduct (though in a secret manner), disowned from the true unity of Friends, yet I think I can say that I am heartily sorry for all such misconduct as I have been guilty of, and do wish that Friends may find freedom so far to pass by my offence as to continue me under their care, hoping my future conduct may better desire it. S.D.' (Wilmington Monthly Meeting)[64]

1779 Whereas I the subscriber some years past was so off my watch as to accompany my sister in her outgoing in marriage, contrary to the good order used amongst friends, on which account friends laboured with me, but thro' obstinacy I rejected their advice and suffered myself to be disowned, but being since favoured with a sight of the inconsistency of such a conduct do hereby condemn the same as disorderly and request that Friends may receive me into membership again, hoping to conduct better in future. (Fairfax Monthly Meeting)[65]

1784 Whereas I have been guilty of strikeing and riding over a man, for which conduct I am sorry, desiring that friends may pass it by, and continue me under their care as my future conduct may render me worthy. Given from under my hand this 1st day of the 11th month, 1784. R.F. (Hopewell Monthly Meeting)[66]

1786 Whereas I have made profession of the Truth, but not being strickly on my guarde, gave way to passion, so as to throw a stool at a man, for which misconduct I am sorry, desiring Friends to pass it by, and I hope to be more careful. 1/2/1786, W.S. (Hopewell Monthly Meeting)[67]

1787 I have for some time past been desirous to be joined in membership with my Friends, and from the feelings of my mind, have requested the same, and do acknowledge the Meeting was just in disowning me from being a member of their religious society for accomplishing my marriage by the assistance of an hireling teacher, for which conduct I am sorry, and desire Friends may pass it by, and receive me into membership again, as my future conduct may recommend me. This from your friend, P.Y. (Hopewell Monthly Meeting)[68]

The use of written acknowledgments continued into the twentieth century. Ruth Pitman, in her paper herein cited, reports having seen one presented in Ohio Yearly Meeting (Conservative) in the 1950s.