|A Year of Colonial American Frontier History|
On January 7, 1861, Union High Academy held the first classes in the new high school constructed in Westfield, Indiana by members of the Society of Friends.
Society of Friends
Officially, the Religious Society of Friends, the Quakers refer to themselves as Friends. The unifying belief among all Friends is the doctrine of a "priesthood of all believers." They base this belief that all believers are priests on one verse in the bible:
1 Corinthians 4:1: "No one should regard us as anything else than ministers of Christ and dispensers of the mysteries of God."
Quakers believe they can have a direct relationship with Jesus without an ordained clergy. This, and other of their beliefs, got them into trouble with the Church of England. In spite of this, their numbers grew in their native England. Persecution in England and in North America became common. Only two colonies in the New World tolerated Quakers, Rhode Island and Pennsylvania. Rhode Island had a history of religious toleration. Converted Quaker William Penn had established Pennsylvania as a colony tolerant of religious thought. Many persecuted people fled to these colonies for refuge.
The Friends were involved heavily in the abolitionist movement in the years before the Civil War. They formed an important component in the Underground Railroad, a clandestine network of escape routes for blacks escaping the shroud of slavery in the southern slave states.
Indiana, designated a "free state" by the Northwest Ordinance and then by state law, provided an attractive emigration destination in the early Nineteenth Century. The inexpensive land in the developing state provided an additional incentive. In 1822, a group of Quaker families emigrated from Westfield, North Carolina to central Indiana. These families established a town, calling it Westfield after their former home. Many believe that they established the town to create a stop for the Underground Railroad.
Union High Academy
Secondary education during this time was scarce in the area in the mid-Nineteenth Century. The Friends place a high value on education. Thus, in 1860 they made the decision to establish a high school to educate their young people. During 1860, the Friends constructed a two-story brick building, which they called Union High Academy. This was the first high school in the area and its graduates became ministers, teachers, doctors, lawyers, and leaders. By May 1911, the need for a high school had diminished, as there were public schools. Union High Academy transitions into a training school for ministers and missionaries, becoming Union Bible Seminary, an institution still in existence in Westfield, Indiana.
A Year of Colonial American Frontier History
© Paul Wonning 2016