Mattapoisett Meeting is one of a cluster of Quaker Meetings found in Rhode Island and on Cape Cod and fanning out from there. The meetings started and flourished where persecution of Quakers was either non-existent or less than in the Boston area.
The present Mattapoisett Meetinghouse was built in 1827. There were two prior meetinghouses before this one was built. In 1992, the present day community of Mattapoisett Meeting made the preservationist choice of adding a community building in back of the Meetinghouse which has modern conveniences and a large hall. There is also a cemetery and a restored carriage shed on the grounds.
The Meetinghouse, however, stands front and center as you view the property from the street. The Meeting community is about to begin restoration on some rotting floor boards and have been engaged in active fundraising for awhile. Such is the preservation life of Friends who attend Quaker Meeting in old meetinghouses.
One of the common features in these old buildings is a winching system. I found these in Sandwich, Yarmouth, West Falmouth, and Mattapoisett meetinghouses. This system is ingenious. It is a mechanical, handmade series of ropes, pulleys, wheels and counterweights used to raise and lower the partitions in the meetingrooms. It is interesting and charming to look at and to photograph. It is not as charming to use, I think. Originally, they were used to divide the meetingrooms into separate rooms for separate men's and women's Business Meetings.
On the face of it, separate Business Meetings would seem an unequal treatment for men and women in early meetings as there were often separate doors and separate staircases as well. However, this is really not the case. Women were accorded equal status to men from the beginning. This stems from a central belief in Quakerism: Everyone has the Light within, and so all are equal in the eyes of God. The fact that there were women's Business Meetings at all was a significant fact in the 1600-1800's. Quaker women had equal rights for vocal ministry and for preaching. Mary Dyer was hung in Boston because of her equal right to minister to others. Separate Business Meetings were laid down in the 1800's, so the winching system was not as necessary to the life of the Meeting as it was originally. Today the partitions are sometimes lowered to conserve heat in the winter or to divide a room as in the West Falmouth Meeting. Sometimes, they are just left in the up position, leaving the original meetingroom as is: square in shape, symmetrical, with lots of light.
Because of this central belief in the Light within everyone, Quakerism is a very inclusive group. Today, there is a wide range of beliefs accommodated within the meetings. There is also a range of ethnicity, color, and a wide range of lifestyles. All are welcome.
The picture below is of robes found in Mattapoisett Meeting. These are not usually seen in Quaker meetinghouses, and illustrate inclusion better than my inadequate words can. The Mattapoisett Meeting community is small and close, with an average attendance of 14 on Sundays. One member enjoys wearing organist robes and playing the organ prior to Meeting, and so the robes are there. Included, accepted, part of the life of this Meeting. I think it is great.
This picture says a lot.
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