Children of Peace

Children of Peace

Copyright Date: 1994
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    Children of Peace
    Book Description:

    The Children of Peace, which existed from 1812 to 1890, was started by former Quakers from the United States who set up a utopian community near Toronto. With their propensity for fine architecture, music, and ritual, adherents to the sect attracted the attention of the religious, political, and social élites. Their leader and founder, David Willson, was one of the most prolific religious writers and theorists in Canada at the time. The Children of Peace sought to create a church where God spoke directly to all and where both Christians and Jews could find a home.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-6477-0
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Figures and Tables
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-2)
  5. 1 A Gathering of Friends
    (pp. 3-13)

    On the eve of the War of 1812, travellers could go north from York (later called Toronto), the tiny capital of the colony of Upper Canada, and for mile after mile see nothing but unbroken forest and a few scattered clearings. The road in front of them, named Yonge Street in honour of former British secretary of war, Sir George Yonge, was little more than a trail, muddy during much of the year. Here and there, another path led off to the side to avoid a creek or marsh, but the road was clearly intended to go due north, as...

  6. 2 Meeting House and Camp Meeting
    (pp. 14-29)

    The religious life and beliefs of the Quaker community may be found written in the fabric of their Yonge Street meeting house. It stood as a symbol, yet was more than a symbol: its structure, floor plan, furnishings, and detail embodied the beliefs of the Friends. It spoke to the faithful of their roots, their traditions, and their beliefs, and it preached those beliefs to the unconverted. Anthropologist Robert Plant Armstrong has used the term, “the affecting presence,” to describe that aspect of a work of art or artifact that embodies emotion, thought, or values and goes beyond symbolism.¹ By...

  7. 3 Visions
    (pp. 30-46)

    In 1812, religious controversy shook the Yonge Street settlement as a new sect, the Children of Peace, came into being. Part of this story may be traced in the records of the Yonge Street Meeting, in the writings of leader David Willson, and in a study of the secular conflicts – social, economic, and military – of that troubled year. Of equal importance, however, are two painted banners (Figs. 5 and 6) made and used by the Children of Peace. Objects such as these are often considered only as “folk art,” prized by antiquarians, but shunned by social historians, except...

  8. 4 Meeting House and Temple
    (pp. 47-81)

    After their disownment by the Yonge Street Quakers, David Willson and his followers set about their mission to rescue and purify the Christian church. In 1812 they began holding meetings in Willson’s farmhouse on Queen Street, East Gwillimbury Township,¹ and in the carpentry shop of Amos Armitage, south of the Yonge Street meeting house.² These were difficult times. War continued until late in 1814 and, with it, continuing harrassment and persecution. Following the war, three years of bad weather led to crop failures, scarcity, and high prices for food.³ Against this backdrop, Willson condemned both those who made a profit...

  9. 5 Doctrine, Worship, and Ritual
    (pp. 82-107)

    These words summarize the thoughts of many nineteenth-century writers who tried to describe the doctrine of David Willson and the Children of Peace. Captain Thomas Sibbald, a member of a prominent Anglican family, looked in vain for a neat summary of Willson’s beliefs – a counterpart, perhaps, to the Apostles’ Creed, which was inscribed on the walls of Anglican churches of his day.⁴ While Captain Sibbald’s dilemma is understandable, more surprising is the statement by several elders of the Children of Peace, venting their own confusion and frustration. The third quotation, from William Lyon Mackenzie, is very perceptive. A dissenting...

  10. 6 Life and Work in the Community
    (pp. 108-139)

    In 1803, scarcely two years after his arrival in Upper Canada, David Willson had a dream that would later provide a pattern for community life among the Children of Peace. Willson dreamed about a poor man who had no money to find lodging in the city where he had moved. The man decided to move out onto the lake that lay in front of the city. There he built a church that was shaped like a house, but surmounted by a tall spire and flooded with light. Beside the church, he built a house that was also very bright, although...

  11. 7 House and Home: The Ebenezer Doan House
    (pp. 140-150)

    Written documents of many sorts can be put together to provide a picture of life and work in Sharon at various times during its history. Imperfect and incomplete as it may be, that picture offers us glimpses at the way the Children of Peace lived day by day: how they worshipped, farmed, practised trades, fed and clothed themselves, purchased goods, cared for each other, educated and controlled their young, furnished their houses, and practised a rule of plainness. Alongside written documents, houses can offer insights as well. Unlike most documents, however, houses usually change over time. Paper that has been...

  12. 8 Religion and Politics
    (pp. 151-177)

    From the beginning, the Children of Peace looked beyond their own affairs to the world at large. While seeking to build a new church and a model community, they were influenced by events in the world around them and, in turn, often sought to influence the course of those events. When David Willson and members of the Children of Peace attended a political convention in Toronto in February 1834, they walked in procession and carried two banners: “a black one with white border, and ‘the constitution’ inscribed in silver, and a sky blue one, with an amber border, motto ‘Peace...

  13. 9 The Last Years of the Children of Peace
    (pp. 178-185)

    The 1851 census described the Children of Peace at what was probably the height of their numerical strength, listing 298 members. Over the next ten years, that number decreased alarmingly to 168. In 1871, only thirty-four were listed, nearly all of them members of four closely related families.¹ What happened to reduce the sect’s numbers so quickly? The Children of Peace had seen times of crisis before – the 1837 rebellion, for example - but they had managed to weather those difficulties. In the very different world of the third quarter of the nineteenth century, new forces were at work...

  14. 10 The Children of Peace and the World Around Them
    (pp. 186-210)

    The story of the Children of Peace began and ended in East Gwillimbury Township. It started amidst high expectations of a new church that would usher in an era of peace, but ended in courtroom challenges, declining membership, and extinction. The millennium did not come to East Gwillimbury. Yet the story of the Children of Peace extended beyond the bounds of a township. It was shaped by its broader environment – natural, social, religious, and political – as well as by the particular characteristics of its leaders. It drew deeply on the Quaker heritage of its members and on widespread...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 211-236)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 237-252)
  17. Index
    (pp. 253-260)