The 1851 Hicksite Quaker Meeting House is on the right driving south down Route 62, after passing through the tiny village of North Collins. Travelers will see a bright white building in front of a cemetery. An inquiring mind may stop to read the inscription on the building and the road-side placard.
The Hicksite Quaker Meeting House is also called The 1851 Friends Meeting House. The meeting house was erected in 1851 as a replacement for the previous one. It is not confirmed but Georgianne Bowman, a North Collins historian, said the Quaker meeting house which replaced the original one which burned down near Quaker and Wilcox Roads may have been moved to the Hicksite land.
It is an explanation why the standing meeting house was built so far back from the road. The building of today is the labor of volunteers who renovated the dilapidated structure of 1851 to the welcoming Quaker Hicksite Meeting House we now see in front of the North Collins Cemetery.
The meeting house’s opposite entry doors are for entrance by men and women separately. Quakers, also known as The Society of Friends, in the Hicksite Meeting House used shutters that closed down to separate the two rooms for business meetings. Although both genders were together for general meetings, they had private business meetings.
It is peculiar for women to have had isolated business meeting. In the 19th century, women in daily life were stinted from personal opinions. It was expected that either their father or their husband spoke for them.
Unlike familiar churches where a minister is spotlighted in front of a congregation at a pulpit, in Quaker meetings anyone moved to speak can do so and from anywhere. At Hicksite, elders and spiritually valuable people sat in the facing seats. They were the most frequent contributors but anyone could speak.
Three rows of seats faced the common pewed area leaving a place for heating stoves between. The original meeting house was mirrored on each side. Today the northern room is empty of pews.
Unusual for the period, most speakers were female. A typical Quaker meeting involved listening to the speakers and meditating afterwards. Quakers did not sing hymns at the meeting house but favored more demure behavior.
Quakers in the time of Hicksite Meeting House dressed modestly and did not like elaborate showings at funerals. They did not use headstones at first and then limited the height and size of them. It is noticed that the Quaker gravestones do not mention months of the year for deaths attributing the names to paganism. Instead they put the number of the month. A walk through the cemetery shows many markers flush with the ground.
The Hicksite Meeting House is famous for the 1857 speech by Susan B. Anthony. Anthony represented the Friends of Human Progress. Andrew Davis, a spiritualist speaker debated about women’s superiority to men because of their caring, nurturing demeanor. Anthony stressed equality. Jackson’s thoughts leaned toward the notion that there is one man that is the perfect match for every woman.
He thought that women were love and men were wisdom. The two would come together for a successful marriage. Part of the debate was about essentialism. Were men and women essentially different or similar?
The Quakers of North Collins had compromises to make. As confirmed pacifists during the Civil War, what should be their role in the military? Abolition of slavery was a strong concern for them. They had to balance their stand with a common agenda and the fact that military action and groups were as close as their neighbors.
Native Americans at Cattaraugus were not welcoming of religious groups telling them how to worship or what to belief. In an 1805 speech “Red Jacket Defends Native American Religion” Seneca leader Red Jacket said, “Brother, we do not wish to destroy your religion, or take it from you; we only want to enjoy our own.” The Quakers accepted the Seneca’s views and their relationship was symbiotic based on education and farming innovation.
North Collins Quaker archivist and author Christopher Densmore had these things to say when asked:
“What is a Quaker?” Densmore’s answer, “Quakers are a religious body known for their focus on simplicity, peace, justice, integrity, community and equality.”
“Are Quakers Christians and do they follow the Bible?” Densmore’s answer, “Yes and yes, while Quakers are not known for in-depth scholarly study of the Bible they abide by the basic tenants of a Christian-Christ-like.”
“Why are they called Quakers? Do they quake?” Densmore’s answer, “It has been said that they do tend to quake when moved by strong emotion.”
“What is the population of Quakers?” Densmore’s answer, “I would estimate that there are as many Quakers in America as there are Catholics in one city in America.”
“Are Quakers more prone to revere the Old Testament or just focus on the New Testament?” Densmore’s answer, “I find in my work with Quaker documents that more often Quakers refer to the Old Testament.”
Densmore’s advice to an aspiring historian was that the path to becoming a historian starts with “asking smart questions, searching through lots of microfilm, and recognizing patterns to develop a narrative from them.”