Faith and disunity: Samuel Galton and the Quakers
The exhibition ‘Faith and Action’ at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery about the Quakers and World War One focused on the themes of peace, war, conscience, relief and faith, and examines the difficult moral dilemmas Friends belonging to a largely pacifist denomination faced. The theme of peace was not new to the Quakers, who took a stance against war and supported peace early on in their history. By the time of the French Revolution when there was considerable tension and political division in Britain, the Religious Society of Friends became concerned about any involvement of Quakers in the production of weapons, the provision of ships or the financing of war. In 1790, the Yearly Meeting Epistle stated,
‘If any be concerned in fabricating or selling Instruments of War, let them be treated with in love; and if by this unreclaimed, let them be further dealt with as those we cannot own. And we intreat that when warlike preparations are making, Friends be watchful lest any be drawn into loans, arming, or letting out their Ships, or Vessels, or otherwise promoting the destruction of the human Species.’
In Birmingham, this was to force one member of Birmingham Preparative Meeting, Samuel Galton junior (1753-1832), gun maker and member of the Lunar Society, to choose between his business interests and his membership of the Religious Society of Friends, as is shown by records in the Galton Papers (MS 3101) and the Central England Area Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (SF). In 1792, concerns were raised in the Birmingham Preparative Meeting about the ethics of accepting subscriptions from Friends whose wealth had been accumulated through the manufacture and trade of guns. The matter was further discussed at the Warwickshire North Monthly Meeting in Tamworth on 8th March 1795, where it was decided that representatives of the Meeting should visit the Galtons:
‘Mention having been made at this, and some former Sittings, respecting the Case of Samuel Galton and Samuel Galton, jun. Members of this Meeting, who are in the practice of fabricating, and selling Instruments of War, concerning which divers Opportunities have been had with the Parties, by several Friends, under the Nomination of Overseers, and others, to some Satisfaction; but thinking it proper that they should be further labored with, respecting the Inconsistency thereof, with our religious principles : We appoint the following Friends to visit them, on behalf of this Meeting, who are desired to make a Report thereof, at a future Monthly Meeting, viz. Sampson Lloyd, Joseph Gibbins, and James Baker together with any other Friends, who are inclined to join them in the Service.’
Following several meetings between the Galtons and Sampson Lloyd, Joseph Gibbins and James Baker, it was reported on the 8th July 1795 that Samuel Galton senior,
‘has relinquished the business & declined receiving any further emolument from it, the minute as far as respects his case is discontinued…’.
Samuel Galton junior however, took a stronger stance and made an address to Warwickshire North Monthly Meeting on 13th January 1796 in which he defended his position. He argued that for over 70 years, his grandfather, uncle and himself, all Quakers, had been involved in gun manufacture, but the Religious Society of Friends had never before demonstrated, prior to the Yearly Meeting epistle of 1790, that this conflicted with the Society’s principles. He also stated that as all of his capital was invested in the gun manufacturing business, he was unable to end his involvement in the gun trade until he could find a suitable business to transfer his capital. He ended by stating that he would ignore any action the Society would take against him.
The full text of his address is available in the Galton Papers (ref MS 3101/B/16/2) and can be read here.
In response to the address, the following month on 10th February 1796, Warwickshire North Monthly Meeting concluded that they could not agree with Galton’s arguments and decided that the Meeting could no longer accept financial contributions from him while he continued to manufacture weapons. The minutes state,
‘…we cannot admit his arguments as substantial & ‘tis matter of real concern to us that he sh[oul]d attempt to vindicate a practice which we conceive to be inconsistent with our religious principles & this meet[in]g directs the Preparative M[eetin]g of Birm[ingha]m, not to receive any further collection from him while he continues in the practice of fabricating & selling Instruments of war as a testimony of our disunity therewith.’
Further visits from representatives from the Monthly Meeting could not make Galton change his mind, and at the Monthly Meeting on 9th March 1797 the Meeting went a step further,
‘This Meeting therefore declines to receive any further Collection from him or to admit his attending our Meetings for discipline, as a testimony of our decided disunity with the practice of fabricating & selling Instruments of war.’
In addition to this, the Warwickshire North Monthly Meeting reported the situation to the regional Warwickshire, Staffordshire and Rutland Quarterly Meeting. This meeting appointed John Cash, Thomas Harris, Joseph Burgess, Joseph Seymour and Jeffery Beavington to visit the Warwickshire Monthly Meeting to discuss the Galton case and meet with Samuel Galton junior. On 13th July 1796, it was reported to the Monthly Meeting that Joseph Seymour and Jeffery Beavington representing the Quarterly Meeting, and other members from the Monthly Meeting had again visited Galton but had still found him unwilling to give up the family business. The Friends gave Galton one more chance, and again sent members of the Meeting to discuss the issue with him but once more he stood his ground, refusing to compromise his business and confirming he would not give it up. On 19th August 1796, the Meeting came to its final decision:
‘This meeting therefore in order for the clearing of our Society from an imputation of a practice so inconsistent as that of fabricating Instruments for the destruction of mankind, thinks it incumbent on us after the great labour that has been bestow[e]d to declare him not in unity with friends, & herby disowns him as a member of our religious society; nevertheless we sincerely desire he may experience such a conviction of the rectitude of our Principles & a practice correspondent therewith as may induce friends to restore him again into unity with them. Sampson Lloyd & Joseph Gibbins are desired to read to him a copy of this Minute’.
Despite having been disowned by the Society of Friends and not being allowed to attend business meetings, Samuel Galton appears to have continued to attend meetings for worship and there is evidence in the minutes for Birmingham Preparative Meeting that after 1796 he continued to contribute funds to the Quaker school at Ackworth, and the Yearly Meeting.
Together with his son, Samuel Tertius Galton, Samuel Galton junior continued to run the family business until his retirement in 1804, when they both ceased their activities in the gun trade. They then became involved in banking and Samuel Galton junior was admitted back into the Society of Friends. He was buried in the Quaker burial ground at Bull St. in 1832.
Eleanor Woodward, Project Archivist (Birmingham and Warwickshire Quakers)
First published on The Iron Room blog on 24 January 2015 as part of the Birmingham and Warwickshire Quakers project, 2014-2017. For permission to reproduce, please contact:
Archives & Collections, Library of Birmingham, Centenary Square, Birmingham, B1 2ND