This little story is a favorite of Quaker historians. It narrates an actual happening in the Friends Meeting in Easton Township, Washington County, New York.
"The Feather of Peace: An Incident in Quaker History"
It was a summer morning in the year 1775, and the sun shone brightly on the little cabin which served as a Meeting House for the Friends of Easton, in New York.
It was a warm, sunny day, but the hearts of many were troubled. It was a time of strife, and reports came that bands of roving Indians were on the warpath. Even the children knew that something unusual was in the air and sensed that the older and weightier Friends of the Meeting were ill at ease.
Zebulon Hoxsie, the patriarch of the Meeting, sat on the facing bench, and beside him sat Robert Nisbet, a visiting Friend, who had walked through the forests for several days to meet with them. Brother Nisbet had come East to join the Quaker settlement following the terrible battle at Bennington VT. Just 20 miles further East, the turning point of the Revolution, the Battle of Saratoga was gathering. The Easton Quakers, who had come into this peaceful valley to escape the war's ravages, were surrounded with guns and armies.
The children were restless, and the silence of the Meeting weighed heavily upon them, so that it came as a relief when the visiting Friend rose to speak. Robert Nisbet was a kindly man, and he knew well the fear which lay heavily on the hearts of the Easton Friends. They had stayed in their peaceful homes even though their neighbors had all fled to the larger settlements where they hoped for safety from the Indian raids. The visitor spoke:
"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.'
You have done well, dear Friends, to stay on in your homes, even though all your neighbors have fled, and therefore are these messages sent to you by me. These promises of covering and of shelter are truly meant for you. Make then your own, and remember the words of the Scriptures, 'Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night, nor for the arrow that flieth by day.'"
Now the children knew why the stranger had come. Now they knew why their parents were troubled. It was the Indians! Would they really come, and, if they did, were they as terrible as people said?
All was quiet in the Meeting House. Here and there, a child managed to steal a look through the windows or through the chinks between the logs. Outside, there seemed to be a faint rustling in the bushes, though there was no breeze.
Suddenly, above the window sill appeared the tips of several moving feathers. Then an Indian chief appeared in the open doorway, looking with piercing eyes at each Friend in turn to see if there was any weapon present; but the Friends were entirely unarmed. Neither gun nor sword was to be found in any of their dwelling houses, so there could not be any in this peaceful Meeting.
A moment later, other Indians stood beside their chief. Yet the Friends sat on, without stirring, in complete silence. At last, Zebulon Hoxsie lifted his head and met the full gaze of the chief. No word was spoken. Steady friendliness to the strange visitors was written in every line of Zebulon Hoxsie's face. Brother Nesbit, who spoke a few words of the Indian's language extended an open palm and said, "Welcome friend!"
Minutes passed, and then the Indian's eyes slowly fell. He signaled to his followers, and each slipped silently into a nearby bench. 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. At last the Friends on the facing bench shook hands solemnly. The meeting was over, and the Friends greeted their visitors.
Then the chief spoke: "We came to kill the Bostonions (white man), but in the Abeneke way, if a man is speaking with the Holy Spirit, he must not be disturbed. We see white men all sitting quiet: no gun, no arrow, no knife; all quiet, all still, worshipping their Great Spirit. Great Spirit is Indian, too. Then Great Spirit say to Indian: 'You must not kill these white men!'"
The Friends, through gestures and speaking French, bade the Indians to follow them to the Hoxsie home where they shared the afternoon meal.
Then 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." Then he 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."