Memorial to James Emlen (1792-1866)

This memorial to my 4th great-grandfather, James Emlen (1792-1866) was published in the minutes of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting in 1867. I have done my best to transcribe the text faithfully, including spelling errors. The long passages of religious musings from James’ writings have been included in a separate post: Writings of James Emlen.

Birmingham Meeting House

Testimony of Birmingham Monthly Meeting held Tenth Month 2nd 1867, concerning our friend James Emlen, deceased.

From the lively recollection we have of the exemplary walk, meek and quiet spirit of our late beloved friend James Emlen, we feel engaged to preserve some record of his life and Christian experiences, in order that others, seeing his good works, may be encouraged to follow him, even as he endeavored to follow his Divine Master.

He was the son of James and Phebe Emlen, and was born at Middletown, Delaware County, Pa, the 17th of the Six Month 1792.

Emlen 1792 Birth James Phebe.jpg

Being the youngest of six children and but six years of age at the time of his father’s death, (his mother having previously deceased) his early training devolved almost wholly on his grandparents, Caleb and Ann Pierce. At an early age he was entered at the Boarding School at Westtown, and after completing his education he removed to New York city, where he served a four years apprenticeship to a mercantile business.

manhattan 1807 - Copy
Plan for Manhattan, c. 1807

It was during his stay here that he so far yielded to the temptations of gay society, as to cause him in alluding to it in after years to say, “It was a dark spot in my life form which nothing but Infinite Power could have ever delivered me; a life of dedication is poor return for such mercy.”

A few weeks previous to his decease, in conversing with a friend, relative to this period of his life he said, (in substance,) he was a gay and fashionable young man, but having been brought under the powerful hand of his Heavenly Father, one of the first things in which he was required to take up the cross, was in relation to the arrangement of his hair, which he had been accustomed to wear in the fashionable mode of that time. This sacrifice, he said, although it may seem, and is a very little thing, was much against his inclination, but he yielded and experienced the reward of a peaceful mind. Another requisition of duty which he found enjoined upon him, was the use to a single person of the pronoun “thou”. He remarked that this was a great trial to him, but the peace which followed, amply compensated for this sacrifice. He was sensible, he said, that the work of religion was going on in his heart, before he made any change in his personal appearance or in his mode of language.

Emlen 1816 Marriage James Sarah

About the twenty second year of his age he removed to his farm at Middletown, Pa, and at twenty four was married to Sarah Farquar [Foulke], an approved minister of the Gospel who for thirty years proved a true helpmate to him.

Finding his strength inadequate to the labor and exposure of properly conducting a farm, he opened there a school for boys, where, besides mental training, he endeavored to sow good seed in the hearts of those entrusted to his care.

At the age of twenty six he was, after deliberate consideration by the Chester Monthly Meeting appointed to the important station of Elder.

Chester Meeting House

In 1828 he was released by his Monthly Meeting to accompany our late valued friend Thomas Shillitoe on a religious visit to the meetings within the Yearly Meetings of Ohio, Indiana, North Carolina and Virginia. He was favored with ability to perform most of this journey amid many trying scenes in our religious Society, which took place about this period.

In relation to their parting at Sutton’s Creek, North Carolina, Thomas Shillitoe remarks in his journal, “We parted in near affection after having travelled many months in much harmony”.

In the spring of 1835 he removed with his family to Westtown, and was usefully occupied as a teacher in that interesting seminary until near 1849 when feeling himself released from further service there, he removed to reside in West Chester, and became a member of this Monthly Meeting, by which he was soon after reappointed an Elder.

Margaret Ewing Hoag's Westtown boarding School Album 1917 (Gammy)
Westtown School

A fervent desire for the advancement of the cause of Truth in the earth, and especially for the spiritual welfare of those of the same household of faith, was conspicuous in the character of our dear friend, and was frequently manifested in the way of epistolary communications; from some of these following extracts are taken.

“O! for a succession of such as love the Truth, and who desire none of the novelties of the present day; very thankful indeed to be permitted to share in the inheritance left by our forefathers; to drink of the old wine”.


He was on several occasions in acceptable companion to valued ministers on religious visits in other, as well as various parts of his own Yearly Meeting; was faithful to apprehended duty in little, as well as more weighty matters; a kind of sympathizing friend to the poor, his foot many times pressed, and to the couch of sickness and suffering he was a frequent and ever welcome visitor.

Arch Street Meeting House, site of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting

Having, through submission to the teachings of Divine Grace, attained to the possession of an even cheerful spirit, he was in social intercourse kind and courteous to all, and was careful not to hurt the “oil or the wine” in any.

His solid reverential waiting in our religious meetings, was instructive; and his occasional exhortations will be reinvented by many, especially his earnest appeals to mothers as heads of families, to commence the training of the infant mind at a very early age.

He was taken unwell in the autumn of 1866, and his constitution at no time robust, gradually yielded to the inroads of disease; growing weaker day by day, he lay, for the most part quiet and peaceful, and was enabled to look forward to the end with a calm confiding faith, that He who had through a long life been his guide, his stay and his comforter, would graciously condescend to be with him, and support him to its close.

Emlen 1864 Will James
James Emlen’s will, prepared May 1864

The following expressions preserved during that interesting period, were thought worthy of insertion here.

“I have been mercifully preserved in resignation to the Divine Will; I desire none of you may ask my life, fearing I might never again be blessed with the same peaceful state”.

“I have endeavored not to abuse my Heavenly Father’s mercies; not to presume upon them; my prayer has been ‘Keep me Lord from presumptuous sins.’”

“I have prayed that if it be the Lord’s will, I might be taken to his nest now, and that you, my dear children, may all be, in the Lord’s time, gathered home to his nest.”

“What an awful thing it would be to me, at such a time as this, not to feel his presence near; but my Saviour is altogether lovely, and I long to be in his arms.” “My life has been wonderfully prolonged in this sickness for what end I cannot see. I don’t know how it may terminate with me, but if I should recover I hope to be a more dedicated man to his cause.”

“Though I have never at any time in my life felt less worthy of Divine love and compassion, I can truly say they have never been so graciously and abundantly extended to me.”

“I can truly say we have followed no cunningly devised fables, but the everlasting Truth.”

“My Saviour has been very sweet to me since I have been lying on this bed, and indeed all my life long He has been very precious to me”. “What shall I render unto Thee for all they benefits.”

On being removed on one occasion he was noticed to tremble considerably. He remarked “It is only the frame of my tabernacle that is trembling, I have no guilty conscience to contend with.”

“I esteem it a great favor, that the disease has made no serious inroads upon my head; I desire to have my understanding, that while I live, I may appreciate the kindness of my Heavenly Father.”

“I have always had rather a dread of the cold embrace of death; but latterly it has seemed as though it would be a relief.”

“My love to you is very great; but it is not all of myself; it is the love of God, which is boundless—boundless—extending the world over.”

On being asked if the nights seemed long, he replied: “I don’t feel them long at any time, if I can feel my Saviour near.”

The evening before his close, he said “I think I shall be very thankful to be released when the right time comes”. And near the close, when it was thought the powers of articulation had ceased he was aroused with the words: “This will soon all be over, there is nothing in the way” to which he very audibly replied “Nothing—nothing—nothing” These were his last words.

He quietly passed away on the evening of the 23rd of Tenth Month 1866 in the seventy fifth year of his age.

Emlen 1866 Death James Philadelphia Yearly Mtg

“The memory of the Just is blessed.”

At Birmingham Monthly Meeting of Friends held the 2nd of 10th Mo 1867. The committee appointed for the purpose in the 3rd Month last produced an essay of a memorial concerning our friend James Emlen (deceased) which was read and on deliberate consideration approved; and having been united with by the women’s meeting was directed to be forwarded to the Quarterly Meeting.

Taken from the minutes

William Forsythe, clerk

Susanna F Sharpless, clerk for the day

At Concord Quarterly Meeting held 11th Mo. 12th 1867. An instructive memorial prepared by Birmingham Monthly Meeting concerning our late beloved friend James Emlen, was now read to our satisfaction, and being united with by this women’s meeting, the clerk was directed to forward it to the Meeting for Sufferings in dire season together with a copy of this minute.

Taken from the minutes

Aaron Sharpless

Susanna F Sharpless, clerks

Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. USA. Philadelphia. Minutes, 1686-1850. 1867. EMLEN, James. U.S., Quaker Meeting Records, 1681-1935.

Featured image (top): Middletown Friends Monthly Meeting House, where James attended as a youth and young adult, as well as the site of his marriage to Sarah Foulke.

All photos in this post are in the public domain.

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