ELIAS HICKS*

(1) Elias Hicks was born on March 10, 1748, at Rockaway, Long Island. Neither he or his parents were connected with the Society of Friends before his birth. When Elias was eight years of age, they moved to the South Side and located on a farm inherited from their grandfather Thomas Hicks. Young Elias was apprenticed to a carpenter. At the completion of his apprenticeship, he became enthused with the doctrine of the Friends. His marriage to Jemina Seaman, January 2, 1771, brought him to live with his in-laws, in the Williams Plantation. When they died, Elias made his wife's home his residence for the remainder of his life.

(2) Having become a preacher, he was extremely popular, both at home and abroad.(1) There was nothing shown in Elias' background to account for his great gifts as a preacher. It is said that as he rose to a commanding height, straight as an arrow, eyes burning, voice ringing, you just had to listen. He travelled first through the island, and held one or more meetings in most of the towns. His greatest following was in Philadelphia. (2)At subsequent periods, he journeyed through most of the United States, and Canada. His official journeys have been estimated, in the aggregate at 10,000 miles; and his public discourses on those missions at 1,000.

It was not till an advanced period of his life, that serious suspicions began to be excited, that the doctrines he taught, were not in strict accordance with the views of the founders of Quakerism. The apprehension, however, at first confined to a few minds, gradually gained ground, till it gave rise to spirited discussion, and eventually to fierce contention; and in some instances, to tumultuous proceedings. The extensive acquaintance and great personal influence of this celebrated man caused these discussions to become general throughout the country; and a disposition to try the strength, and determine the members of the respective parties, was manifested in every part of the land. This introduced a new order of things into the meetings, and led to measures hitherto unknown to this denomination. Instead of calm cool deliberations, in which every measure was settled by general consent, without the formality of a vote; now, each party was found striving for the mastery, and every question was contested, and finally settled, by a stern and uncompromising majority. In numerous instances, the weaker party was excluded from the premises, and doors were locked and barred against their intrusion. This state of things necessarily laid the foundation for much litigation, and in several States, protracted and expensive lawsuits were resorted to, to determine who were the rightful possessors of the public property, and consequently, which party had the claim to the title of true and genuine Friends. In some instances, these disputes were settled by a compromise between the parties. But in both cases, a complete division has been the result, and the two parties form distinct societies, each claiming the original appellation, distinguished in common parlance, by the names Hicksites and Orthodox,.

This separation has taken place in several societies on Long Island, but here the Hicksite party is far the most numerous. Taking the state of New York at large, the are about equally divided; but the Orthodox are in the majority in the United States. Actual separation took place in the yearly meetings of New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Ohio, and Indiana. No schism was made in Virginia and North Carolina, and only a few individuals seceded in New England. The yearly meetings of London and Dublin keep up their usual intercourse and correspondence with the Orthodox, but have no communication with the other section.

This division, which was consummated about the year 1827, has laid the foundation for the existence of two distinct denominations, both retaining the dress, the language, and the forms of the disciples of George Fox, but differing materially in their theological sentiments. The Orthodox assign, as the cause of the division, "certain opinions promulgated by Elias Hicks, denying or invalidating the miraculous conception, divinity, and atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ, and also the authenticity and divine authority of the Holy Scriptures. These, with some other sentiments, were so entirely repugnant to the acknowledged and settled principles of the society, that endeavors were used to prevent the promulgation of them."

Of the truth or falsehood of these allegations, it is impossible to obtain any evidence from the Journal of Elias Hicks, published since his death, as that work is strangely silent on all those disputed topics. He often records the fact that he met with strong opposition, and was sometimes denied admittance into the Friendsí meeting-houses; but the reason does not appear. And while, on other occasions, he tells us that he "had strength and utterance to open many important doctrines of the Christian religion, in a clear and impressive manner," by which many of the hearers "were tendered and contrited, not the least intimation is give what those doctrines were.

It is due to the memory of Elias Hicks to say, that there is a letter extant, written by him only a few months before his death, in answer to six queries propounded by a "Friend", in which he declare his belief of the miraculous conception and divinity of Jesus Christ, the use and excellency of the Scriptures, the doctrine of human accountability, and a future state of rewards and punishments. It is a matter of gratification, if he was led deliberately to adopt correct views on these important points, before he was summoned to his final account; but it is manifest, from his letters and public discourses, that, for many years preceding, his sentiments on those topics were of a vastly different character. As early as 1821, he declared, in his letter to Thomas Willis in regard to the miraculous conception of Jesus Christ, that he thought "there was considerable more evidence for his being the son of Joseph than otherwise." And in regard to these two opposite sentiments, he adds, "I conceive, in regard to our salvation, they are both non-essentials; and I may further say, I believe it would be a much greater sin in me to smoke tobacco, that was the produce of the labour of slaves, that it would be to believe either of these positions." And it certainly will not be disputed that, in his subsequent discourses delivered in different parts of the land, as well as in colloquial discourse, he frequently and unreservedly declared his opinion, that "Jesus Christ was a mere man, begotten and brought forth as other men, and undoubtedly was the son of Joseph." On the general subject of Christís divinity, the inspiration of the Scriptures, and other kindred subjects, it is well known that he promulgated sentiments vastly different from those expressed in his last letter. A man has a perfect right to change his sentiments, even at the close of life, and it is no disparagement to his character to acknowledge his errors, when convinced of them; but such change, however complete, cannot nullify the fact that he had previously entertained and advocated views of an opposite character.

(1) His wife died in 1829.In the same year, after a journey to western New York State, he was stricken with paralysis and died, February 27, 1830.

He had three daughters: Abigail, who married her cousin Valentine Hicks; Sarah, who married Robert Seaman; and Martha, who married Royal Aldrich. Each of these daughters shared in the division of Elias' property which included the Hicksville area.


(1)-Hicksville's Story
300 Years of History 1648-1948
Hicksville Library
Notes: taken from Hicksville's Story;
many of the facts stated concerning Elias Hicks were taken from: Journal of the Life and Religious Labours of Elias Hicks, written by himself; 3rd Edition, (New York Published by F. T. Hooper 1832)
(Edition printed for sons-in-law, Valentine Hicks and Robert Beaman)
Collection of Elias Hicks' letters in the possession of Robert Seaman of Jericho (1948)
Discover of Long Island by William O. Stevens
History of Long Island by William S. Pelietreau 1903

(2)-History of Long Island by Nathaniel S. Prime.
1845


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