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Barnard, Hannah Jenkinslocked

(1754–27 November 1825)
  • H. Larry Ingle

Barnard, Hannah Jenkins (1754–27 November 1825), disowned Quaker minister, was born in Dutchess County, New York, the daughter of Valentine Jenkins and his wife (name unknown), farmers. Reared a Baptist in the Hudson River valley, Hannah Jenkins became a convinced Friend at the age of eighteen and in 1779 married a widower with three children, Peter Barnard, originally from the Nantucket Quaker community but then a struggling wagoner in Hudson; the couple was active in the local monthly meeting. They had no children together.

Hannah Barnard was mostly self-educated, reading deeply, according to one report, in the works of French revolutionaries. Recognized as a minister by her meeting, she won note for forceful and eloquent sermons among both Friends and others. She traveled extensively in New England and her native state to testify to the truth she found through reading, meditation, and prayer. Once her views became controversial, she was damned as an infidel and tarred with Unitarianism by fellow believers, but no contemporary hints of such liabilities survive. On the contrary, upon seeking approval in 1797 for a religious trip to the British Isles, her request was granted by monthly and quarterly meetings and even the New York Yearly Meeting.

Barnard was determined and democratic, confident, like generations of her Quaker forebears, of the rectitude of her religious leadings. When she crossed the Atlantic in 1798, she and her traveling companion, Elizabeth Coggeshall, undertook visits to Friends meetings in England, Scotland, and Ireland. Winning acclaim even among Methodists, Barnard first abraded the leadership of the London Yearly Meeting in May 1799 by insisting that Friends open their meetinghouses to ministers of other denominations in return for the same consideration from them. When visiting the homes of Friends, she refused to sit with her hosts until they included their servants. In Ireland she encountered some Friends who opposed the rise of evangelicalism and denigrated the growing stress in biblical literalism. Gravitating to the side of these “New Lights,” she began to question openly such orthodox doctrines as the virgin birth of Jesus and his vicarious atonement. More fundamental still, she doubted that God had commanded the ancient Jews to make war on their enemies, thus undermining the authority of the Bible itself. Wars, she insisted, occurred because of human passions and not because God ordered them.

These ideas did not offend Irish Quakers, who endorsed Barnard’s labors, but a different reception awaited at the powerful yearly meeting in London in May 1800. Not only did the English ministers refuse to approve her proposed journey with Coggeshall to Germany—a rebuke provoked by David Sands, also an itinerant from New York—but they also ordered her to cease preaching and return home. The formal charge centered on her alleged denial of the Scriptures, while pamphleteers attacked her as a deist supporter of Thomas Paine, an atheist. She did not bend, appealing her sentence, and defended herself with her usual eloquence. She refused money to pay her fare home lest she be seen as acceding to the London Friends’ decree.

Back in Hudson late in 1801, Barnard demanded that her meeting deal with her alleged transgressions. They responded by silencing her as a minister and in June 1802 disowned her, decisions that appeals to the quarterly and yearly meetings could not reverse. She occasionally attended her former meeting, but requests to use the local meetinghouse for gatherings of a peace society that she organized at the time of the War of 1812 were rebuffed. In 1820 she published Dialogues on Domestic and Rural Economy, and the Fashionable Follies of the World, a booklet featuring a didactic discussion between Lady Homespun and Miss Jenny Prinks. It served as a vehicle for her views on topics as diverse as spendthrifts to Paradise Lost, which she considered an assault on womanhood. Despite continued calumnies and charges of Unitarianism by Friends, she apparently never united with that sect. She died at her home in Hudson.

Barnard’s disownment caused a major stir in the small world of the Society of Friends, if for no other reason than that she was the only Quaker ever disowned because her principled opposition to war led her to question the authority of the Scriptures. A traditional Friend in her approach to the Bible, her theological position did not differ markedly from that of another New Yorker, Elias Hicks, whose name was attached to the Quaker separations of 1827 and 1828, after Barnard’s death. Her strength of character and determination, her eloquence, and her constancy remained with her, even as she also retained a broad tolerance exemplified by Lady Homespun’s warning that novels were not as dangerous for young women as superstition and religious fanaticism.

Bibliography

Letters from and about Barnard are included in the Preston family papers, in possession of Ann Preston Vail, Middletown, N.Y. Numerous documents concerning Barnard’s conflict with Quakers can be found in Thomas Foster, A Narrative of the Proceedings in America, of the Society Called Quakers, in the Case of Hannah Barnard (1804). For a contemporary sketch of the controversy in London, with documents, see The Records of Recollections of James Jenkins, ed. J. William Frost (1984), pp. 339–80. The most complete biographical sketch is David W. Maxey, “New Light on Hannah Barnard, a Quaker ‘Heretic,’ ” Quaker History 78 (1989): 61–86.