In early colonial times, the Quakers not only lived out this principle within the civilized communities, but sought to make it known to the savage Indian as well. Even at times when it would naturally be considered impossible to follow this principle, a hundred years of history attests to the fact that God honored this simple faith.
In the seventeenth century, as New England colonists spread inland and further encroached on Indian lands, skirmishes broke out regularly between the Indians and settlers. These conflicts, known as The Indian Wars, ranged from sporadic fighting to full scale wars. During one of these outbreaks, while the Indians were actively burning settlements and killing settlers, the Quakers were left undisturbed despite the fact that they traveled the country and held large meetings. While most New Englanders went to their meetings armed, the Friends carried no weapons, having their trust and confidence in God.
One summer morning in the year 1775, Robert Nisbet, a Quaker preacher, had set out on Friday to arrive at a new and remote settlement by Sunday, to preach. Every day there were stories of fierce fighting between settlers and the Indians and as he walked, Robert thought about what he would preach. He settled at last on Psalm 91: 4. “God will cover you with his feathers. Under his wings you will find refuge. Do not fear the terror of the night, or the arrow that flies by day.”
As the group of the Friends gathered in the cabin they used for a meeting house, it was a warm, sunny day, but the hearts of many were troubled. Even the children knew that something unusual was in the air and sensed that the older folks were ill at ease.
It came as a relief when Robert rose to speak. Speaking, he said, “The Beloved of the Lord shall dwell in safety by Him; and the Lord shall cover him all the day long.” His voice faltered and then went on, calmly and tenderly: “And how shall the Beloved of the Lord be thus safely covered? Even as the psalmist says: ‘He shall cover thee with His feathers, and under His wings shalt thou trust.’”
Silence descended: the community was worshipping. The doors and windows were left open, and a gentle breeze blew through. There was no sound within the cabin, but outside, there seemed to be a faint rustling in the bushes. Suddenly, an Indian chief appeared in the open doorway. With piercing gaze he scanned the group. The quiet air crackled with tension. Each one looked to Robert. He motioned with his hands to keep still, to continue in prayer. Minutes passed, and slowly the Indian’s eyes shifted downward. In a low voice, the Chief murmured to his Braves. Silently, one by one, each brave laid his weapons on the ground and one by one they filed into the crowded cabin. Then began one of the strangest meetings ever held in the Society of Friends. Not a Quaker stirred, and the silent Indians sat peacefully with them.
Minutes passed, and the oldest of the Friends, a man called Zebulon Hoxsie, closed the meeting with a blessing. Approaching the Chief, he wordlessly motioned him to follow. At the Hoxsie home the Indians shared the afternoon meal.
Before their departure, however, they spoke to one of the members who spoke and understood French. They informed him that they had surrounded the meeting house with the intent of destroying all who were inside, but when they discovered the members sitting with the door open and no weapons of defense, they had no disposition to hurt them, (though they had human scalps with them).
Before leaving, the chief took an arrow, broke it in two pieces and placed the white feathers from the shaft firmly over the doorway, saying, "Indians will understand that this is a place of peace and will not harm this house when they see this feather."
He then turned and, with a sign to the others, led the way into the forest while the Friends watched in silence—except for Robert Nisbet's quiet words: “He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under His wings shalt thou trust.”
Speaking of earlier uprisings in Pennsylvania, it is said that only three members of the sect were killed by the Indians. It is interesting to note that they had so far abandoned their trustful attitude as to carry guns.
To be strictly correct, only two of these three actually carried weapons. The third, a woman, took refuge with an armed party in a fort. She, being seen leaving the fort, was killed.
A later Quaker author, Dr. Thomas Hancock, in writing of the early experiences of that people in America observed that “It is a fact of not infrequent occurrence that, when things have been brought to the most critical juncture and, according to human apprehension, death or bondage has been inevitable, those who have been able to trust with meekness in divine help have experienced wonderful preservation.”
“The angel of the LORD encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them.”