When I walked into the Apponegansett Meetinghouse in Dartmouth, Massachusetts, I was immediately reminded of the Adams Meetinghouse. (See blog entry in August, 2014.) Apponegansett is slightly larger, but that is really the only difference. And no wonder they look similar. After rechecking my notes, I find that settlers from the Dartmouth area were some of the original settlers in Adams. And the buildings were built around the same time. Like Adams, Apponegansett is rectangular with shingled siding, and there are two separate doors for men and women. Inside, both have men’s and women’s galleries and two fireplaces. Pulleys run the panels that separate the sides, with the exception of one panel that hinges. To my knowledge, these two Meetinghouses are the only ones that have this type of arrangement for partitions. However, this is the first time I have seen a floor panel in the upper gallery that can be raised or lowered, depending on the need for heat conservation.
I have to return to the past, as this area is so important to Quaker history in Massachusetts. According to the Dartmouth Historical Commission, the “Old Dartmouth” area was purchased from the Wampanoag tribe in 1652. There were 34 original investors in the land, some of them Quakers. Each purchased 200 acres. As the original investors sold off their land, more religious dissidents began to purchase it. Because there were no town centers and consequently no strong church or Puritanical control, the dissidents were free to worship in their own form, making the area very attractive to Quakers while persecutions were happening in the Boston area. Apponegansett was the original Meeting in the Dartmouth area, and it was like a Mother Meeting, with spin-offs everywhere. There were eventually 6 Quaker Meetings in the general area. Smith’s Neck, Allen’s Neck, Westport and New Bedford are still active Meeting communities. The North Dartmouth Meetinghouse is now located on Woolman Hill. Acushnet Meeting was discontinued, but the Meetinghouse is still standing.
The Apponegansett Meetinghouse that I visited is the second building. The current, newer Meetinghouse was required due to larger numbers of attending Quakers. The original Meetinghouse was built in 1699. The current Meetinghouse was built in 1799 and at its opening the records indicate that 2000 Quakers were in attendance. That is a lot of Quakers, especially in a sparsely populated area.
Today the Meetinghouse is under the care of Dartmouth Friends Meeting (also known as Smith Neck Meeting). It has been lovingly tended and restored by Brian Hawes and Christina Styan. And it shows. It is in beautiful condition. In the Meetinghouse, there is an early Sunday morning worship, attended by about 3 people, and occasional other use by the town. Though there is no heat and no electricity, there has been a composting toilet added on the property, making it fully usable in the summer months. There is also a large cemetery on the 14.5-acre lot. The rock walls and fences have all been rebuilt, and it looks beautiful.
In the 1960’s, Harvard University asked if they could place Wampanoag remains in the cemetery. After the Meetinghouse caretakers consulted with tribal leaders, they agreed to the request. They had a long and positive history with the Quakers in the area, having originally sold them the land. The Wampanoag gravesite area is marked with white rocks and shells.
The picture is of the interior of the Meetinghouse. I took it from the facing bench area looking to the back of the room. The two beams directly in the middle are the supporting beams for the partitions between the equal-in-size men’s and women’s sides. You can see the two doors in the back, one for men and one for women. You can also see the men’s and women’s stairways leading to the second floor galleries, one for men and one for women. The two fireplaces are to the extreme right and left, and are not visible in this picture.
I came across your blog while trying to reach a representative of the Allen's Neck Friends Meeting House. I am trying to assist an elder lady here in San Antonio to make final arrangements. Her parents are buried in the Allen's Neck Cemetery and she'd like to return there to be buried when she passes. I cannot find a good contact telephone number for the meeting house. I was wondering if you have a good number for someone.
This particular Meetinghouse brings home to me the great persecution of the Quakers by the Puritan establishment back in those early days. It looks like a place wherein you needed to be strong to be a Quaker.
Amazing that this enormous place is unused and smaller meetings in the area are still going.
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