ECW welcomes guest author Max Longley
John Bacon Crenshaw was clerk (chief executive) of the small Cedar Creek Meeting, a Quaker congregation in Richmond. During the war, he became an uncompensated lobbyist who strove to alleviate the sufferings of Quakers and others in the Confederacy, mostly in the Quaker-heavy region of central North Carolina. The people he tried to help, for reasons of religious conscience, fell afoul of the Confederate military. After the war, Crenshaw risked defying a rich and weighty fellow-Quaker to help the Confederate official who had so often helped him.
Quakers in Virginia and elsewhere in the South held to the Quaker teachings (“testimonies”) against military service and slavery. Their antislavery attitudes made life tough for Quakers in antebellum Virginia – Crenshaw’s father suffered for his opposition to slavery. Most Virginia Quakers simply got up and left – departing for what is now the Midwest to take up farming in these economically-growing free states. The Cedar Creek Monthly Meeting, with reduced numbers, found it convenient to relocate from Hanover County to next door Henrico County – Richmond. It seems that Crenshaw was able to cross religious and political barriers to the extent of getting to know some influential people in the Virginia capital.
Castle Thunder, Richmond Confederate prison where Crenshaw sought to persuade Tilghman Vestal to pay his conscientious-objecor tax.
As the leader of the Cedar Creek Monthly Meeting, Crenshaw oversaw the affairs of his diminished flock. During the war, “Our poor little meeting [was] nearly broken up,” but Crenshaw remained busy in Richmond.
Appeals to Crenshaw began to pour in earnest in 1862 when the Confederate Congress passed a conscription law. Southern Quakers mostly held to the Peace Testimony and the tradition of refusing military service.
Two developments somewhat improved the situation. For one thing, the Confederate Congress passed a law exempting four traditional peace sects – Quakers, Dunkards, Nazarenes, and Mennonites, from conscription. What the conscript had to do to get out of service was to pay a special $500 tax. Also, the conscript would have to get a certification from his religious congregation attesting that he was a member in good standing as of October 11, 1862, the date the exemption law was passed. Crenshaw arranged to pay the taxes of several conscripts – both Quakers and Dunkards – and obtained their release. Crenshaw founded a paper, the Southern Friend, to keep the Confederacy’s Quakers informed of developments, and to appeal to the sympathies of non-Quaker readers. Continue reading