Historical society launches comprehensive texts on 18th-century Dartmouth Quakers

Jul 23, 2023

After four years of effort, the Historical and Arts Society were able to “relax after a long voyage,” society president Bob Harding said at a luncheon on July 22 celebrating the completion of their two-volume book titled, Minutes of the Dartmouth, Massachusetts Monthly Meeting 1699 - 1785. 

The book is a transcription of a the first 1,500 pages of over 6,000 pages of Dartmouth meeting minutes, kept by the Quakers who resided in Dartmouth during the second half of the 1600s through the 1700s. The remaining pages not printed in the book are available in a digital format on the historical society’s website. 

The society hopes that the book will be used as a primary source in scholarly research.

The book was completed on July 4, 2023. Now the literature is available both online and in a hardcover book.

The process of transcribing the notes was one of the hardest parts, said society members.

“The [meeting notes] were written by the clerk, who was chosen for his ability to listen to ideas and decide on their validity,” said Andrea Marcovici, project manager for the book. “He was not chosen for his handwriting.”

The society had the pages transcribed by a third-party company, then volunteers from the society went back in to check and double-check the pages to ensure they were as accurate as possible. The book was edited and annotated by Thomas Hamm, a leading Quaker Scholar.

He explained that the Quaker religion was very progressive for its time. They believed that women were equal to men in the eyes of God. Because of this philosophy, the notes give perspective to both the men’s and women’s narratives at the time.

“Quakers had parallel business structures of men's monthly meetings and women’s monthly meetings,” said Hamm. “The record of the Dartmouth monthly meetings of women Friends is one of the oldest records we have of any organized group of women in North America.”

The meeting notes give insight into the culture and practices of the Dartmouth Quakers.

“The entries included information such as request for marriage, discipline, possibly meaning disownment … and raising and distributing funds,” said Marcovici.

Society members and Hamm explained that the notes give a timeline of slavery in Dartmouth and the Quaker’s ideologies of the proper treatment of slaves. The notes show when they expelled a woman for beating a slave through to when the Quakers decided that slavery was no longer acceptable.

“In short, in the Dartmouth records we see a lot,” said Hamm. “We see a lot of history, we see some sad things, we see some good things. We also see, perhaps, most of all how much is constant in the American experience.”

The work is dedicated to original project manager, Dan Socha, who led the way and had major directional influence on the whole system used to accomplish the goals of the project. Socha passed on December 29, 2020 and the Historical Society hired Marcovici to take over. She had worked closely with Socha prior to his sudden passing and had been an active volunteer in the society.

The original pages of meeting notes have been put into preservation at UMass Dartmouth and have been preserved digitally through photographs taken by the Historical and Arts Society.

The original and transcribed notes can be found at dartmouthhas.org and the printed book is available at local libraries and can be purchased from the New Bedford Whaling Museum gift shop and on Amazon.