Chapter 24 » 24.39

Practical expressions of our peace testimony


During the American War of Independence, the Quaker whaling community on the island of Nantucket suffered heavily from both sides for their neutrality. William Rotch, one of their leaders, had in a disused warehouse a consignment of bayonets which had been taken from muskets which he had accepted twelve years earlier in quittance of a debt, and sold as fowling pieces. In 1776 the bayonets were demanded from him by the Americans.

The time was now come to endeavour to support our testimony against war, or abandon it, as this very instrument was a severe test. I could not hesitate which to choose, and therefore denied the applicant. My reason for not furnishing them was demanded, to which I readily answered, ‘As this instrument is purposely made and used for the destruction of mankind, I can put no weapon into a man’s hand to destroy another, that I cannot use myself in the same way.’ The person left me much dissatisfied. Others came, and received the same denial. It made a great noise in the country, and my life was threatened. I would gladly have beaten them into ‘pruning hooks’, but I took an early opportunity of throwing them into the sea.

A short time after I was called before a committee appointed by the court then held at Watertown near Boston, and questioned amongst other things respecting my bayonets.

I gave a full account of my proceedings, and closed it with saying, ‘I sunk them in the bottom of the sea, I did it from principle. I have ever been glad that I had done it, and if I am wrong I am to be pitied.’ The chairman of the committee Major Hawley (a worthy character) then addressed the committee and said, ‘I believe Mr Rotch has given us a candid account, and every man has a right to act consistently with his religious principles, but I am sorry that we could not have the bayonets, for we want them very much.’ The Major was desirous of knowing more of our principles on which I informed him as far as he enquired. One of the committee in a pert manner observed, ‘Then your principles are passive obedience and non-resistance.’ I replied, ‘No, my friend, our principles are active obedience or passive suffering.’

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