John Comly.

Journal of the life and religious labours of John Comly, late of Byberry, Pennsylvania online

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Online LibraryJohn ComlyJournal of the life and religious labours of John Comly, late of Byberry, Pennsylvania → online text (page 1 of 61)
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Parentage and tender impressions of early childhood — The family
library — Early school-days — Fondness for reading and study — In-
structive seasons during thunder-storms — Employment on the farm —
Remarks — Illness of his father — Renewed visitations of Divine love —
Simplicity of habits in dress — Maternal influence — Concern to attend
■week-day meetings — Mechanical operations and literary pursuits
favourable to improvement of mind — Inclination for the amusement
of gunning — Convictions therefor, and remarks on the subject — Diffi-
culties of first attempts at composition— Convictions of the duty of
making a silent pause at table, before and after meals— Further
manifestations, requiring the morning sacrifice and evening oblation —
A strict self-examination on the use of "idle -words"— Frequent
reading the Scriptures ^


Trials of his fidelity to the dictates of Truth— Scruples in regard to
using West India produce— Grateful mention of his aged aunt Grace
Townsend— Letter to four young friends on attending week-day meet-
ings — Association of young men for mutual improvement in literature,
&c.— Attends Latin school— Intercourse with students of other reli-
gious denominations — Exercises in sustaining Friends' principles —
Walk to week-day meeting— Instances of tenderness toward inferior
animals— Reflections— Return home from Latin school— Retrospect of
the time spent there — Commenced teaching school — Reflections on the
important trust ^'^


Trials of opening manhood— Remarks on political privileges— Taking
and reading newspapers— Views thereon— Death of his grandmother,


and some account of her — Increasing interest in the concerns of

society — Attendance of Yearly Meeting, 1797 — Death of an amiable
pupil — Importance of numbering our blessings — Yellow fever in Phila-
delphia, 1798 — Attendance of the Yearly Meeting same year, and
notes of its proceedings — Death of a younger brother — Solemn impres-
sions thereon — Instance of reconciling a difference — Journey to Ches-
ter county, and visit to West-town Boarding-School — Memorandums... 53


Diary — Religious exercises — Prospect of going to West-town as teacher
— Diary continued — Journey to West-town — Settled prospect of re-
moving there — Attendance of his brother's marriage — Continuation
of diary 69


Removal to West-town — Reflections thereon — Diarj^ — Visit to his family
and return to the school — Diai'y continued — Visit to his relations — •
Exercises of mind — Appearance in the ministry at a funeral — Retm-n
to West-town, and diary continued — Visit to his friends at home —
Diary continued — Release from West-town, and return to Byberry —
Prospect of marriage 94


Diary continued — Exercise of mind in regard to a place of settlement —
Visit to West-town — Requests a certificate on account of marriage —
Much occupied with building, &c. — Marriage, and review of several
years — Visits to families of coloured people, and appointed meetings
for others 133


Journey to New York and New England — Meetings on Staten Island —
New York Yearly Meeting — Meetings on Long Island — Attends meet-
ings in New York State — Travels in New England — Visits to Comfort
Collins and other aged Friends — Return home 150


Memorandums— Death of Margaret Porter — Death of M. Adams — Visit
to S. Watson — Her death — Attends and appoints meetings in Bucks
county — Has appointed meetings within his own quarter — Records the
death of several Friends, and other striking events — Attendance of
funerals, &c 211



Journey to New England — Encounters trials and discouragements —

Arrives at Lynn — Proceeds to attend meetings — Deep exercises of

mind — Visits meetings in Maine — Quarterly meeting at Dover — Meets

with many dear friends — Conversation with a Methodist — Visit to T.

Vose — Also T. Wolcott — Exercise of mind while at Boston — Burning of

the Exchange — Visit to Noah Worcester and others — Sympathy with

those who endure hardships and privations — Visit to Moses Brown,

&c. — Takes passage for New York, and reaches home 229


Travels in Chester county — Obtains a minute to appoint meetings —
Attends Cropwell meeting — Appoints meetings in Bucks county —
Visits meetings in Chester county, Abington quarter, &c 289


Sketch of the state of Society — Attends quarterly meeting in Philadel-
phia — Exei'cises of mind — Travels — Yearly Meeting 302


Attends neighbouring meetings — Abington quarter — Attends Southern
quarter — Conference at Green-street — Illness — Review of religious
labours — Yearly Meeting in tenth month — Visits meetings in New
Jersey — Yearly Meeting — DiiSculties and privations encountered in
newly-settled countries — Attends various neighbouring meetings, &c... 333


Jotirney to New York — Meetings at Pottsville — Effect of prejudice —
Trials and exercises — Meets with Friends from Bucks county — Reflec-
tions on pride, superfluity, state of society, civil and religious — Visit
to an intimate friend — Remarkably gloomy day — Exercises and try-
ing circumstances — Conversation on "remission of sins" — Views of
the origin of evil in man — Concern for the spreading of publications
tending to enlighten the mind on the vitality of religion — Exercised
on the subject of returning westward — Released therefrom — Conver-
sation on the subject of miracles — Returns home — Retrospect of the


Attends New York Yearly Meeting— Exercises — Attends meetings of
Westbury quarter — Returns home on account of his wife's illness —
Visits the meetings of Purchase quarter — Retrospective remarks —
Attends Concord and Cain quarterly meetings — Journey to parts of
Maryland and Virginia 432




Travels with Yearly Meeting's committee — Visits Southern and Western

quarters — Travels over the mountains — Attends meetings in Bucks
county — Visits meetings of Salem quarter — Attends Bucks quarter —
Yearly Meeting — Exercises — Attends Philadelphia and Shrewsbury
quarters, and other meetings — Obtains a minute, and attends meet-
ings in various places — Death of his wife — Extracts from private
memoirs concerning her 460


Visits meetings in various parts of the Yearly Meeting — Journey to
Ohio — Journey, and attendance of Genesee Yearly Meeting — Closing
account of his life 521

Reflections or Essays, and Miscellaneous Memorandums 559

Appendix 627


In preparing tliis volume from the materials left by our
beloved father, "we have desired scrupulously to give his reli-
gious experience in his own language ; inserting such para-
graphs only as were deemed requisite for connecting links in
the narrative.

It may be proper to state, it was his wish that his manu-
script Essays, Journals, Narratives, Memorandums, &c. should
be carefully preserved ; and if any of them should be deemed
suitable for publication, as being likely to promote the pre-
cious cause of Ti'uth and Righteousness, they should be
examined by judicious, well-qualified Friends, previously to
being offered to the public.

This has been done, and the general approval of those to
whom the manuscripts were submitted, has encouraged us in
their publication. The care and responsibility of which having
devolved chiefly on the children of the deceased, we have
endeavoured to perform with fidelity the duty which filial
affection has required at our hands ; and we trust the critical
reader will make due allowance for any defects resulting from
our inexperience.


The author of the following Journal has left, in his \n-itings, such
ample means to inform the reader of his character and conduct as a
member and minister of the religious Society of Friends, as to render
unnecessary any extended notice of them in this place. Having,
during the arduous struggle which terminated in a division of that
society taken an active part, his conduct was the subject of much ani-
madversion; and through the warmth of party feeling, common to such
events, was greatly misrepresented. In refemng to this subject, it
is not the desire of those to whom has been committed the care of
his manuscripts, to revive on either side of the question any un-
pleasant feelings. It would be far more agreeable to them, and to his
friends generally, by a kind and forbearing course, to soften asperities,
and prepare the way for a more Christian and brotherly communion;
tnd. we believe, if the part taken by John Comly, and the great body
of those who acted with him on that occasion, could be viewed in its
true light, it would go far, very far, to produce these happy effects.
"We are not without some hope that the publication of his writings
will ultimately have this tendency. The purity of his motives in all
his movements, during the eventful period alluded to, wiU, we confi-
dently believe, be satisfactorily demonstrated. None who knew him
well, will doubt his integrity. Meekness, patience, and forbearance,
were prominent traits in his character; and through countless occa-
sions of irritation and close trial, we believe they never failed to
preserve him in a truly Christian demeanor.

But while either our motives to action, or our religious principles,
are deemed unsound or corrupt, no approximation to religious fellow-
ship with those who thus judge, can reasonably be expected. The
cause of division, whatever that cause may be, must be removed
before the effect can cease. There is, and ought to be, in every


honest mind, a repugnance to hold religious communion with those
whose sentiments and conduct are inimical to gospel truth. Toward
those who are in error, Christian charity enjoins forbearance, kind-
ness, and benevolence, but not unity and fellowship. While we
sincerely regard either individuals or societies as alien to the Chris-
tian state, we cannot unite with them as members of the Christian

Under this view of the subject, every movement tending to correct
error or remove prejudice, will be hailed with joy by all the lovers
of truth and concord. So far as these ends shall be attained, obstruc-
tions to a Christian intercourse among Friends will disappear, and
the day be hastened, when all who desire the prosperity of Truth, as
understood and preached by our jjr; m iVh'c Friends, may join hand to
hand, and shoulder to shoulder, in the support and promotion of the
all-important testimonies, which tlu-y were called upon to hold up to
the world.

Notwithstanding all that has been said, and, we doubt not, sincerely
believed by many, John Comly and the body of Friends with whom
he acted, never had the remotest intention to reject any of the views
of Christian Truth, which were preached and explained by George
Fox and his fellow-labourers. These views were considered by us,
and continue so to be considered, as identical with the doctrines of
Christ and his apostles. The corruptions which had crept into the
church, as predicted in the clearest terms by several of the Scripture
writers, had been accumulating therein from the earliest periods of
evangelical history. They had marred the beautiful simplicity of the
gospel, and loaded it with lifeless forms and pompous ceremonies,
eminently calculated to captivate the senses, and lure away the soul
from the contemplation and feeling of Divine Truth. We unite with
George Fox, and all our faithful brethren in his day, and in every
generation since his day, in believing that he was raised up and
called of God to point out the corruptions then in the church; to
declare its apostacy in faith and practice, in doctrine and worship ;
and to preach this infinitely important truth, that under the gosiprl
dispensation Christ has come in spirit, according to his own express
promise, to teach his people himself, and to gather a church and esta-
blish it ''a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such
thing, but that it should be without blemish." (Eph. v. 27.)

Neither John Comly, nor the society to which he belonged, ever
attempted or desired to invalidate any of the doctrines of our early


Friends in relation to the Holy Scriptures ; 'belie\nng, without any
hesitation or resei-ve, and, in entire accordance with our brethren
from the beginning, that "holy men of Grod spake as they were
moved by the Holy Spirit;" that the Scriptures contain a full and
ample testimony to all the chief principles and doctrines of the Chris-
tian faith; that whatsoever any do, contrary to the Scriptures,
under a pretence of being led by the Holy Spirit, they are under a
delusion. They believed with Robert Barclay, that "from the reve-
lations of the Spirit of Grod to the saints, have proceeded the Scrip-
tures of Truth;" and that, "we do therefore receive and believe the
Scriptures because they proceeded from the Spirit." No higher
testimony to their authenticity and Divine authority was maintained
by George Fox and our primitive Friends than by John Comly.
By his ministry, in his conversation and through the press, he pro-
mulgated these views with an earnestness which evinced his sincerity,
and with a perseverance which showed they were dear to his heart.

To him, the separation of the Society of Friends into two parts,
was a subject of paivful contemplation. He laboured earnestly and
faithfully to prevent it; and, it was not until its members were
essentially divided by differences of opinion in a variety of cases, that
he was willing to entertain the subject. He did not become an
advocate for dividing the society, until it became evident to him,
that the consequences of remaining to act as one body, under the
discordant views and hostile feelings of both parties, would be far
vtorse to the whole than a quiet separation.

In relation to his own feelings and conduct on that occasion, he has
left a manuscript account, evidently intended to show his innocency of
charges made against him about that time, and to manifest his integrity
in the part he took, in conjunction with the body to which he adhered.
In reference to the charge of promoting a division in the Society
of Friends, as it related to the period of separation in 1827, he
says : " Society was already divided in sentiment, in feeling, and in
its views. Condescension was lost; tenaciousness of opinion was
maintained; and no business that had any bearing on the subjects
of controversy, could be done in unity and harmony. Jarring and
contention had increased, wherever such subjects had been discussed.
in meetings for discipline. Divisions were spreading, parties in-
creasing in numbers, manifesting more harshness and warmth of
opposition: and, as no hope of reconciliation remained, common
prudence demanded that a separation of the contending pai-ties


should be made. I saw with sorrow the waste of brotherly feeling,
the i^rostration of those principles from which flow meekness, gentle-
ness, forbearance, and condescension, virtues which had long been
the cement of religious society. Instead of these, I beheld strife,
shyness, coldness, and reserve; and, finally, a disposition to judge
and condemn one another. Under the influence of such feelings, I
perceived, in my dear friends, an increasing difiiculty of perception
and understanding, a confusion of language, so that, even those who
desired to be governed by right motives, could not understand one
another's speech. The eye became diseased, so that it could not see
clearly ; the ear could not hear for the noise of the passions ; and the
feelings of brotherly love and charity were palsied. This diseased
state of the body, with its fruits, I saw spreading, and the sight grieved
my heart. The unity, harmony, and peace of a society, professing,
above most others, the necessity of loving one another, were pros-
trated, broken, and destroyed; while yet the jarring parts remained
nominally united.

''In this state of things, many of the prominent active members
on both sides, acknowledged that it would be expedient and more
reputable to separate. It was said that Abraham and Lot did so,
without criminating each other; but, acknowledging they were
brethren, they separated as such, and peace was restored between
them. Friends might have done so likewise, had they possessed a
like conciliating disposition. If they had come to an understanding
in the coolness of their spirits, they might, after due and quiet re-
flection, have discovered the true cause of the difiiculty, and, like
Abraham and Lot, remembering that they were brethren, might soon
have come again together. But, alas ! the spirit of reconciliation was
wanting, as facts have since demonstrated.

"Was I the cause of this division? Did I promote this state of
society ? To the Searcher of hearts I can appeal for my innocency. I
can appeal to those who have known me from my childhood, to those
who have had the most ample opportunity to judge of my temper, to
estimate my character by my conduct in the private walks of life, as
well as in the narrow sphere of my more public labours, whether strife
and division have been my pleasure or my pursuit. However short I
may have been in coming up to the standard of a faithful Christian,
I have ever loved peace, and delighted in promoting unity, harmony,
and brotherly love among my fellow-creatures. Peace has been my
delight, my joy, my happiness. I have no consciousness thus far in


my life, that I ever delighted in contention and strife. To me they
have always been painful. Even the conflicts of the lower animals
have been distressing to my feelings."

The foregoing is part of the above-mentioned manuscript account,
which, it is evident, he originally intended for publication, in order
to clear his chai-acter from some charges against him, which had
appeared in print. In a note appended to the writing, he says, " I
had intended to reply to the several unfounded and untrue charges,
and insinuations, preferred against me, in that pamphlet, in order to
clear my character of them, and attest my inuocency. But pausing
a little, I remembered that when he, whom I have called my Lord
and master, our great pattern, was accused by the chief priests and
elders, 'he answered nothing/ and therefore, why should I attempt
a defence of my innocency, when, heaven is my witness, that I am
not guilty of what was laid to my charge. So I laid down my pen,
and committed my cause to Him who judgeth righteously, and is a
refuge to the oppressed."

He survived this period more than twenty years, whereby large
opportunity was afforded to his friends, and to the world, to make a
just estimate of his character, both as a man and a Christian. In
the domestic department, he was amiable and affectionate ; and there,
as well as in the more extensive circle of his acquaintance, he was
greatly beloved. It has been the lot of few to have so large a number
of warmly attached friends, as John Comly. His manners were
gentle, and his movements without hurry, indicating deliberation and
quietude of mind. In all his concerns he was governed by order, and
a close attention to the objects he had in view; by which, without any
bustle or appearance of haste, he was able to accomplish a great
amount of business, which, toward the close of life, was principally
either of a literary or benevolent character.

He had long seen and regretted the want of suitable books for the
religious instruction of Friends' children ; books which, while they
would interest and improve the understanding, might lead to serious
reflection, and prepare the fresh ground of the heart for the seed of
the heavenly kingdom ; which appeared to him the great object of a
religious education. He lamented, and sometimes expressed his
concern, to find in Friends' ftimilies, much light, unprofitable litera-
ture, and some that was pernicious, comparable to the fowls of the
air "which devoured the good seed." In a letter to a friend, dated
about three years before his death, he says, " I am very apprehensive,


if strict inquiry were instituted among us, it would be found that
young Friends, both in city and country, where children and youth
are rising up to years of thoughtful inquiry, have few Friends' books
in their families. True, in cities, and in the country too, we may see
their centre-tables, and other parts of their houses, displaying gilded
volumes and a variety of pamphlets ; but no such works as Penn's
'No Cross, no Crown/ 'Barclay's Apology,' or 'Woolman's Journal.'
Thou, and a few of our elder members, have an extensive collection
of Friends' books ; but where shall we find a young Friend, who has
even a moderate library of them ? This subject lies near my heart.
It is producing a silent, but deteriorating effect upon society."

Under a concern to remedy, as far as it was in his power, this
defect, and knowing the attractive character of biographical literature,
especially for young people, he turned his attention to the collection
and publication of manuscript accounts of deceased Friends, who had
been distinguished in their day for piety and usefulness. His brother,
the late Isaac Comly, uniting with him in this concern, by their joint
labours, beginning in the year 1831, and ending in 1839, they com-
piled and published twelve volumes of a work called " Friends' Mis-
cellany," which contains sketches of the lives and religious services
of a great number of the most valuable ministers of the Gospel, and
other distinguished Friends of America, who lived in the last and
present centuries. It also contains posthumous letters and essays of
an interesting character, not elsewhere to be found in print. This
work will not only delight and instruct the present generation, but
will go down for the benefit of posterity, and long remain a noble
and useful monument to the piety and devotion of its publishers.

He was during many years a serviceable member of the Meeting
for Sufferings, where he was eminently useful, in the various weighty
concerns claiming the attention of that body. On its book-committee
he cheerfully devoted much of his time in examining, arranging, and
preparing original works for the press. His large experience and
sound judgment, on such occasions, rendered his labours very valu-
able. In other departments of society he was equally useful. In
fine, wherever his services were called for, he was found to be a
faithful, laborious, devoted servant of the church.

As a minister of the Gospel, he was truly exemplary. His deport-
ment in our meetings for divine worship was retired and reverent; and
when called to public service, the solemnizing effect of his ministry
gave evidence that he was concerned to " minister in the ability which


God giveth/' well understanding the truth of that solemn declaration,
''Without me ye can do nothing." His manner in the exercise of his
gift was weighty and dignified, becoming the awful station of an
ambassador for Christ; his language plain, clear, and comprehensive;
his voice harmonious, though he avoided all affected tones and ges-
tures. As a labourer in the Lord's vineyard, we believe it may
truly be said of him, that he was "a workman that needed not to be
ashamed, rightly dividing the word of ti-uth." (2 Tim. ii. 15.)

Toward the close of life, he suflFered much from a neuralgic affection
of his limbs, which made it difficult to walk, and sometimes confined
him to his bed. This, and other heavy aflilictions, he bore with quiet

Online LibraryJohn ComlyJournal of the life and religious labours of John Comly, late of Byberry, Pennsylvania → online text (page 1 of 61)