World of Trouble: A Philadelphia Quaker Family’s Journey through the American Revolution by Richard Godbeer

Like the title says, Richard Godbeer’s World of Trouble explores the problems faced by Quakers living in Philadelphia during the Revolutionary War. He focuses on one specific family to illustrate the problems faced by many.  During the Revolutionary War, many Quakers refused to take sides, not only due to their non-violent religious beliefs, but because Quakers formed a merchant class which did not welcome the disruption to trade or the drastic changes in class structure the Revolutionary War brought.

Before the War, Henry Drinker was a successful merchant engaged in international trade.  He and his wife Elizabeth enjoyed a pleasant, prosperous life, one that becomes more difficult after Henry decides to sell British tea during the tea boycott. In September 1777 Henry Drinker and 20 other Quakers were arrested on suspicion of supporting the British enemy and sent to a prison in Virginia.  During this time, Elizabeth has to contend with both Americans and British trying to seize her property and commandeer her home as the city changes hands from one side to another.

We know so much about this time in the Drinker’s lives thanks in large part to the diary Elizabeth kept throughout her life.  She recorded many details about day to day matters, like her family’s health issues and the struggles of dealing with domestic servants.  It’s a wonderful source to learn more not only about the Drinkers, but also about the paternalistic way Quakers treated their servants and their attitudes towards illegitimate children and interracial relationships.

World of Trouble is not a flat chronological read.  The author takes key moments in the lives of the Drinkers, like Henry and Elizabeth’s engagement, and shapes a narrative that includes information about general customs while telling a story specific to Elizabeth and Henry. The couple are interesting enough to keep the story going and the historical facts flow easily around them.  The footnotes are exceptional and will help anyone with a research interest in Philadelphia Quakers or the city of Philadelphia during the Revolution.

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