The Records of the New England Yearly Meeting of Friends (NEYM) offer rich documentation of three and half centuries of Quakers in our region and the culture in which they lived. The heart of the collection are the records of the Yearly Meeting itself, but most Quarterly and Monthly meetings are represented as are some Quaker schools and other organizations, and there is a substantial library of Quaker books and periodicals, including the libraries of Moses and Obadiah Brown.
This volume is a guide for any researcher interested in the records of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in New England. In addition to providing a comprehensive list of the official records created by New England Quakers, it also gives a brief history of each meeting.
The bulk of the guide is arranged by meeting. To use it, a basic understanding of the administrative structure of the Society of Friends would be very helpful. The largest body is the Yearly Meeting. For many rather confusing reasons, there have been several different yearly meetings active in New England. The largest, New England Yearly Meeting, has covered almost the entire region since 1661. The yearly meeting has been composed of quarterly meetings since the early 18th century. They in turn are composed of monthly meetings, which are the basic administrative unit of the Society of Friends. Almost all of the membership information is recorded on the monthly meeting level. The monthly meeting is sometimes subdivided into smaller meetings: preparative meetings, which prepare business for the monthly meetings; and meetings for worship, which generally create no records.
The records of the yearly meetings appear first in this guide, then the quarterly meetings, then monthly meetings. There are no separate entries for preparative meetings or meetings for worship; they are discussed under the appropriate monthly meeting.
The entries for each meeting include the following information:
- Name. If a meeting changed names over the years, only one entry is made, under the name the meeting held for the longer time. “See…” references are made under all other known names. If two meetings merged to form a new meeting, all three are given entries. If the name of one of the merging meetings was retained, however, it is not given a new entry.
- Place. The place given is the town the monthly meeting was based in for most of its life. It is mainly provided to give a general idea of a meeting’s region; many meetings met on a rotating basis in several locations. For quarterly meetings, the states which it covers are listed. This can help narrow down a search for a specific area.
- A brief history of the meeting. For monthly meetings, this history will generally describe the meetings for worship that preceded the monthly meeting, tell where the meeting was set off from, list name changes, and describe which monthly meetings were set off or joined to the meeting. The history will also try to explain any confusing circumstances regarding the structure of the meeting. However, the histories generally make no effort to explain where the meetings met, or when meeting houses were built. Nor do these histories describe prominent members or dramatic events. This would be impossible to do well in a volume of this size. Published histories are available for many of the older meetings, and these are mentioned in the notes when possible.
- Quarterly meetings (given only for monthly meetings). Since 1705, all monthly meetings in N.E.Y.M. have been con- stituent parts of a quarterly meeting. Before 1699, they were direct constituents of the Yearly Meeting.
- Constituent meetings. Many different sorts of smaller meetings are listed here. This information is provided mainly as a way to determine where residents of a certain town may have attended monthly meeting at a specific date. The information is somewhat unreliable, especially regarding dates.
Formally constituted preparative meetings met for business, and reported monthly to their monthly meetings. Their dates, except in very early meetings, are generally easy to discern from monthly meeting minutes. Sometimes, a monthly meeting would have only one preparative meeting, or none. Generally, preparative meetings named after their monthly meetings are not listed. One problem is that there was no formal provision for preparative meetings between 1901 and 1950. Many preparative meetings continued to meet for business during this time, usually under the heading of “particular meeting”, and are listed as preparative meetings.
Other sorts of meetings may or may not have been formally connected to their monthly meetings, and include particular meetings, meetings for worship, indulged meetings, worship groups, allowed meetings and midweek meetings. No attempt has been made to distinguish between these types of meetings, which are all listed as “W.G”. The dates are often impossible to determine, as they kept no records, and monthly meetings have not always kept track of their existence. However, they are important, being at the center of the spiritual life of Friends. Generally, any meeting for business is also a meeting for worship, but is not listed separately as such.
- Records. These tables show all the records of each meeting known to be in existence. For many of the newer meetings, no records have yet been sent to the archives; as a rule, very recent records can often be obtained only through the clerk of the meeting. The records are arranged in the following order: men’s minutes; women’s minutes; joint minutes; rough minutes; vital records; ministry and counsel or equivalent; committee records; miscellaneous loose papers; newsletters.
The information given includes the type of record, the dates covered by each record, the quantity, the location of the original, and the microfilm number (if any). See the glossary and list of abbreviations for details. All of the records with microfilm numbers are available on film at the Rhode Island Historical Society Library. In addition, those with asterisks are available at the Maine Historical Society, those with plus signs are available through the Family History Centers, and those with an @ symbol can be found at the Nantucket Historical Association. In some cases, records have been missing for many years, have never been sent to the Archives, and are presumed to be irretrievably lost; an effort have been made to show this. Researchers should know that meeting minutes are generally closed for a period of twenty years before being open to the public, except for the printed Yearly Meeting minutes.