Question of the Week

Why was prominent Philadelphia Quaker James Pemberton exiled to Virginia in September 1777?

Saturday, 9/3/11

Answer: He refused to take up arms against the British army during the Revolutionary War.

Born in Philadelphia in 1723, Pemberton was a well-read and well-traveled Quaker. He attended the Friends School of Philadelphia and worked most of his life as a merchant in the city. An active civic leader, Pemberton supported the rights and welfare of Native Americans and became president of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society in 1790. 

Years earlier, however, Pemberton’s strongly held beliefs led to his brief exile from his home in Philadelphia (pictured at left).  In 1756, he resigned from the Pennsylvania Assembly because the governor declared war on the Delaware Indians. A year later, Pemberton published a text in his defense called “An Apology for the People Called Quakers, containing some reasons for their not complying with human injunctions and institutions in matters relative to the worship of God.”

By the beginning of the Revolutionary War in 1776, Pemberton’s beliefs had not changed. After refusing to take up arms against the British army, he was banished to Winchester, Virginia in September 1777. Pemberton was one of twenty men, the majority of whom were prominent Quakers, exiled by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania under instructions from the Second Continental Congress for perceived Loyalist sympathies.













Pembertons in Virginia

How long did James Pemberton and his brother John Pemberton remain in "exile" in Virginia? When did they return to Philadelphia and resume control of their properties and business interests?

Fate of the Pemberton's

Not much is known about James, but John became a patriot like character. He led the Over the Mountain Men militia company at the Battle of Kings Mountain. He also fought in 1812 after his wife Elizabeth Delany-Stanton died during the first month of hostilities. He died in 1813, but never returned to Philadelphia.

Pembertons in Virginia

According to "Lawmaking and Legislators in Pennsylvania: A Biographical Dictionary, Volume 3," the Pembertons were called to Lancaster, PA, in April 1778, and they were then taken to Pottsgrove, PA. James Pemberton was participating again in the Quaker meeting shortly thereafter it seems. As for John Pemberton, according to his diary, he noted on April 30, 1778, "returned from banishment to Philadelphia." And he later noted participating the Yearly Meeting. So, presumably, it was not long after their return in April 1778 that they reestablished themselves in the area.

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