Evesham Friends Meeting House
Backstory and Context
The Evesham Friends Meeting House is a quintessential Quaker meetinghouse with typical eighteenth-century Quaker architecture. Built in 1760, it is the second oldest meeting house in Burlington County (local Quakers continue to use it for services). Today, the meeting house sits in Mount Laurel, New Jersey, a village that was once part of Evesham. There exists some evidence that when the British Army came through town in 1778, General Henry Clinton and his troops used the meeting house as a command center.
In 1676, Thomas Eves, an Englishman, purchased a large tract of land, which he sold in 1693 to his daughter Elizabeth Hanke and her husband, William Evans, a Quaker Minister. They helped settle 300 acres of land that would serve as the genesis of Evesham Township; the township incorporated in 1692. William and Elizabeth hosted the area's first Friends meeting in their home in 1694 and then built the first meetinghouse in 1698. Decades later, in 1760, the Monthly Meeting of Evesham organized, and the subsequent construction of the historic structure began.
The building consists of a locally quarried stone exterior and an interior abounding in wooden pews and vertically sliding partitions in the center that could divide the space into two rooms, typical of larger Quaker meeting houses during the era. In the tradition of Quaker philosophy, the woodwork and detailing exude simplicity. A split among the Quakers led to an expansion of the meetinghouse in 1798; the Orthodox Friends met in the older eastern end, while the Hicksite Friends held their meetings in the newer western part. In fact, a divider that hung on weights and pulleys separated the two ends when necessary.
The Meeting House also has a place in military history. Though Quakers are pacifists and generally did not take sides during the Revolutionary War, the Quaker meeting house sat in the direct path of marching British troops in June 1778. Under General Henry Clinton's command, the British army occupied Philadelphia from September 26, 1777, until June 18, 1778, when they decided to march towards New York City. By June 19, and during a heavy rainstorm, they camped in Evesham. (A few days later, they met George Washington's troops, who left Valley Forge, and fought them at the Battle of Monmouth, the longest continuous battle of the war.) Though sources are not clear as to if they used the meeting house, they did camp on the property, and given the rain and general habits of the military of the day, it seems likely they used the building (at least the officers).
Its tiny existence as an actor within the Revolutionary War story aside, the home today stands not only as a part of Evesham's (and Mount Laurel's) history but of the Quakers' influence in what is now New Jersey's Philidelphia suburbs (and much of New England). As they did in Evesham, Quakers routinely settled areas that evolved into incorporated towns and cities. Though cathedrals associated with Roman Catholics and other religions may offer more impressive architecture, the simplistic nature of Friends Meeting Houses reflects their beliefs and the societies they cultivated.
Coles, John. "About Mt. Laurel Meetinghouse." quakercloud.org. Accessed February 16, 2021. https://www.quakercloud.org/cloud/moorestown-monthly-meeting/pages/about-mt-laurel-meetinghouse.
"National Register of Historic Places Multiple Property Documentation Form: Historic Resources of Evesham Township, New Jersey." National Register of Historic Places. nps.gov. November 7, 1990. https://npgallery.nps.gov/GetAsset/4ae99a49-ef3f-469b-bdcc-bdfeec6b4ad2. Especially Sec E.1, "Early Settlement and Development of Evesham Township, 1684-1810."
Pillsbury, Nan. "Nomination Form: Evesham Friends Meeting House ." National Register of Historic Places. nps.gov. April 22, 1982. https://www.pym.org/meetings/meeting/mount-laurel-evesham-meetinghouse/.
"Revolutionary War Sites in Mount Laurel, New Jersey." Revolutionary War New Jersey. revolutionarywarnewjersey.com. Accessed February 16, 2021. https://www.revolutionarywarnewjersey.com/new_jersey_revolutionary_war_sites/towns/mount_laurel_nj_revolutionary_war_sites.htm
By Apc106 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21702831