Tom Joad

For Those Who Seek Peace and Justice

Cornelius Harris

The Story of the East of Blue Ridge Seven that resisted War in 1756

Resistance to militarism in the Americas did not start in 1960's, it goes back to before there was even a United States. That's important to know. But I have a very  personal reason for listing Cornelius Harris here. Years after I began listing military resisters on this website in about 2004, I found out that my own great-great-great.. (you get the idea) grandfather was probably one of the very first military resisters of European descent in the Americas. Here is the story.

“I could by no means bring the Quakers to any terms. They chose rather to be whipped to death than to bear arms.”

Virginia‘s Assembly passed an act for drafting single men into the militia in 1756. (This is in response to the French-Indian War, war for empire) A number of young Quakers allowed themselves to be drafted, ignoring the advice of Virginia Yearly Meeting to resist the new law. However, some of the valley Friends’ young men were sentenced to Winchester‘s log jail for refusing to soldier, and some were flogged. George Hollingsworth–the same George who was the valley’s first Quaker bridegroom–was also jailed when he took part in a silent meeting of Friends under the jail’s windows to protest the incarceration of the draft refusers there.

East of the Blue Ridge seven young Friends absolutely refused to be drafted. They were marched under guard to Winchester–John and William Ellyson of Black Creek Meeting in New Kent County, Cornelius and John Harris and Archelaus, William and John Stanley of Cedar Creek Meeting, Hanover County. The seven were prodded along 140 miles to Winchester, refusing all the way to take the oath of allegiance, remove their hats, eat the King’s rations, or answer their names at roll call. Once in Winchester they were lodged in the guard house, refusing to hold muskets or to work on Fort Louden then being built in the town.

George Washington, the militia colonel commanding at Winchester, now 24 years old, threatened them with flogging. He held off, however, when Edward Stabler of Petersburg and Isaac Holingsworth of Winchester, Friends’ ministers, called on him [I suppose you can say an early version of “Courage To Resist” protecting draft resisters by working in solidarity actions] and asked him to wait until Friends could appeal to Governor Dinwiddie on behalf of the seven. Washington wrote to Dinwiddie for advice, and Dinwiddie’s instructions were “to confine them with a short allowance of bread and water till you bring them to reason.” But on 4 August 1756, Washington, frustrated, wrote Dinwiddie that:

“I could by no means bring the Quakers to any terms. They chose rather to be whipped to death than to bear arms.”

Meanwhile, Edward Stabler and four other Friends visited Governor Dinwiddie in Williamsburg. On August 19, Dinwiddie wrote to Washington "A great body of Quakers waited on me in regard to their friends with you, praying they may not be whipped. Use them with linity, but as they are at their own expense I would have them remain as long as the other draughts.”

Finally, in December 1756, Joshua Brown, 39, a minister of West Nottingham Meeting in Maryland, came to Winchester, “having felt a draft of love to visit Friends settled about Hopewell in Virginia.” He wrote:

There were seven young men who had been brought up out of Virginia by militia officers under Colonel George Washington, who had been condemned to imprisonment for six months because they were not free to bear arms. They had suffered much threatening and were taken out to be whipped. This was not done. The great Master had preserved them in faithfulness. They had gained the favor of the officers. Their time was now out and they requested me and my companion to go with them to Colonel Washington. He was very pleasant and discharged them.”

Above is based on info from:

Quaker Friends of Ye Olden Time, by James P. Bell