Mount Pleasant

In the charming old village of Mount Pleasant, Jefferson County, Ohio, stands a monument to one of the nation's small but influential religious denominations, the Society of Friends, or Quakers.  That monument is the large brick meeting house, erected in 1814 for the Ohio Yearly Meeting, which was composed of five quarterly meetings in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and the Indiana Territory.  It was the first yearly meeting house west of the Alleghenies, and from it all of Quakerdom west of Ohio may be said to have sprung.  The structure, measuring 92 x 60 feet and containing an auditorium with extensive galleries above, was acquired by the state in 1950 and has been restored and opened to the public by the Ohio Historical Society as a State Memorial.  It is located on State Route 150, about fifteen miles from St. Clairsville, Ohio, and the same distance from Wheeling, West Virginia.

The construction of the Mount Pleasant Yearly Meeting House was the result of the search of American Quakers, especially in the South, for a haven from slavery and an opportunity to make a better living.  There were Quakers in America as early as the 1650's.  George Fox, the father of the Society of Friends, visited America from 1671 to 1673, and left behind him a host of converts in the colonies.  William Penn made his colony the center of the Quaker faith for many years.  During the eighteenth century there was a constant procession of Friends into the southern colonies, especially Virginia and the Carolinas, many of them coming from Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
The southern Quakers discovered themselves in a land in which the human rights of a numerous people were unrecognized and denied.  The Friends in general struggled against the system of slavery in their own way, calmly freeing or encouraging the manumission of its victims although the southern colonies took action to prevent or discourage their operations.  After the Ordinance of 1787 provided for a large free territory northwest of the Ohio River, and after the Treaty of Greene Ville in 1795 opened much of the region that was to become Ohio to settlement secure from Indian attack, Quakers from the southern and middle states joined the great migration to the Old Northwest.  This new West offered economic opportunity and a land of freedom.

Quakers began moving into the West in 1796, when George Harlan and his family came into the Miami Valley.  Others followed soon in the Scioto Valley, coming from Pennsylvania, Virginia, and North Carolina.  But the great Quaker migration westward began in 1800, with the removal of an entire meeting and part of another from North Carolina to Short Creek, a few miles west of the Ohio River above Wheeling.

In January, 1800 these Quakers left their homes by wagon and by horseback, carrying with them their bedding and other household furnishings and driving before them their livestock.  They stopped for some months with the Quakers of the Westland and Redstone monthly meetings in western Pennsylvania, and finally moved into Ohio in September.  "Something like what happened here in Trent River, Jones County, N. C.," wrote Rufus M. Jones, the Quaker historian, "happened up and down the entire Atlantic coast from Georgia to Long Island, and in a less degree also in New York and New England.  Whole meetings in many instances moved westward in a body, while in other meetings many families left their old homes and associations, and pushed out to find new homes and a new career in the wilderness of the north-west." By the close of the year 1800, it is said, more than eight hundred Quakers had moved into the Ohio Country.

"None of us had a house at our command to meet in to worship the Almighty Being, " one of the newcomers to Short Creek recorded.  "So we met in the woods, until houses were built, which was but a short time.  In less than one year, Friends so increased that two preparative meetings were settled; and in last 12th month, a Monthly Meeting, called Concord, also was opened, which is now large." Concord Monthly Meeting was established in December, 1801, including in it Short Creek and Plymouth Preparative meetings.

The western monthly meetings at first were attached to the Redstone Quarterly Meeting in Fayette County, Pennsylvania, and the Baltimore Yearly Meeting.  As the Quaker community in eastern Ohio grew, Short Creek Monthly Meeting was split off of Concord in 1804 and became a quarterly meeting in 1807.  In 1813 the Ohio Yearly Meeting was established at Short Creek, and the new yearly meeting house was soon begun in the village of Mount Pleasant.

Mount Pleasant had been laid out as Jesse-Bob's Town in 1803 by Jesse Thomas and Robert Carothers.  Joseph Dew was one of the early settlers in the community, as were Benjamin and Abigail Stanton, the grandparents of Edwin M. Stanton.  It became the center of the hardy, industrious, and thrifty Quaker settlers, who gave it its permanent name.  They farmed, raising wheat and hogs especially, ran grain mills, and engaged in general commercial and business activities.  Mount Pleasant became an important milling center, with flour mills lining Short Creek.  It served too as a packing and shipping point for pork.  Blacksmiths, cabinetmakers, tailors, hatters, shoemakers, weavers, spinners, tanners, saddlers, coopers, and printers found markets for their products in the town and in the farming community around it.

The Quakers in and around Mount Pleasant early provided leadership for the antislavery movement.  As early as 1816 or 1817 they were harboring and assisting escaped slaves.  Charles Osborn began to publish the Philanthropist in the village in 1817.  It is considered the first antislavery newspaper in this country.  In 1821 Benjamin Lundy began his antislavery paper, The Genius of Universal Emancipation, which he compiled and made up in Mount Pleasant.  In 1837 the third annual convention of the Ohio Anti-slavery Society was held in Mount Pleasant, and in 1848 the Quakers of the village established a free labor store, in which no products of slave labor were permitted to be sold.

For nearly a century the Mount Pleasant Meeting House was the center of the Quaker faith in eastern Ohio.  The last regular yearly meeting was held there in 1909.  The Quakers of Mount Pleasant have continued to make their community a prosperous and pleasant one.  Some of their families have moved on to the West.  But the mother meeting house of the western Friends still stands as a symbol of the origins of Quakerdom in the West and a monument to their contributions to American life.  The old brick building, capable of holding some 2,000 persons, was an engineering achievement for its day, its design reflecting the simplicity of the way of life of the Friends, its architecture and construction a tribute to their ingenuity and industry.

The Ohio Historical Society is waiting for YOU!  Ask the site attendant for a membership application or contact:

 Membership Office Friends Meeting House
 Ohio Historical Society
 1982 Velma Avenue 614/769-2893
 Columbus, Ohio 43211-2497 800/752-12631
 1 800 686-1545 (in Ohio)
 or (614) 297-2333