Kendall of Colchester’s Quaker Connection

Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 43/52

Bible from Northern France, Haverford College, Quaker & Special Collections, 1250 J2.16.10, fol. 1r

A thirteenth-century Parisian Bible, held until 2002 at the Monthly Meeting of Friends Library but now on permanent deposit at Haverford College, represents an unusually early arrival of a European manuscript in the Philadelphia region, and in the New World more generally.1 In the introduction to the Leaves of Gold: Manuscript Illumination from Philadelphia Collections exhibition catalogue, James Tanis briefly mentioned the manuscript’s early provenance in America and illustrated one of its historiated initials.2 This was the first time that any image of the manuscript had been reproduced. Now, of course, the volume has been entirely digitized as part of the Bibliotheca Philadelphiensis project. In his essay, Tanis drew attention to an autograph inscription on the flyleaf written by John Pemberton, a leader of the local Friends community, which records his purchase of the book from John Kendall of Colchester, Great Britain, on 13 June 1787, for the sum of 1 Guinea. 

1250 J2.16.10, flyleaf 1 verso

An investigation of the circumstances leading to this purchase reveals links to a prominent member of the Society of Friends in England. As it turns out, Kendall was a noted Quaker minister and writer in England, the son of a printer and bookseller in Colchester.3 Among Kendall’s writings is an autobiographical tract, published in 1815, entitled Memoirs of the life and religious experience of John Kendall.4 The volume includes transcriptions of correspondence from earlier in Kendall’s life, and includes several mentions of John Pemberton, specifying that he was visiting from America in January 1784, that he was ill by 1794, and that he died the following year.5 Fascinatingly, one letter, written from Colchester on 26 June 1787 (a mere 13 days after the John Pemberton’s purchase of the manuscript) to a certain John Vanderwerf of Amsterdam, describes a recent yearly meeting of the Friends:6

I may inform thee concerning our Yearly Meeting in London, that it was large this year. Many friends attended from the counties, and some from Ireland, with seven or eight from America; the meeting was held by adjournments for more than a week, and was concluded in much harmony, under the influence of that love which is the strength of society, and foundation that stands sure in times of adversity.

Pending further research, we can assume that Pemberton was one of the “seven or eight from America” who attended this meeting, which would have given him occasion to purchase the rare Bible from Kendall. After all, who can resist a good book display at a mega-conferece? Another manuscript that may be traceable to John Kendall is a fifteenth-century Book of Hours now at Yale (New Haven, Beinecke MS 550), though it does not have the early American provenance of the Friends’ Bible. Upon his death, Kendall bequeathed a large library of theological works to the Friends’ School at Colchester, which was put up for auction by the school in 1865, fifty years after the donor’s death, in order to raise funds. That sale catalogue, rare today, contained at least three further medieval manuscripts.7 One of these manuscripts, an impressive early trecento Bible from Tuscany recognizable by the signature of its scribe Phylippus and its early or original ownership by the Gaetani family of Pisa, is now in the Schoyen Collection (MS 661), while another, a Speculum christiani, is part of the Takamiya Collection at the Beinecke library (MS 96).8

My introductory essay in the recent catalogue to Making the Renaissance Manuscript: Discoveries from Philadelphia Libraries, which builds on what Tanis had achieved for Leaves of Gold, exposes Kendall’s identity, but also retraces some of the Friends’ Bible’s early reception history in Philadelphia.9 Gratifyingly, the latter question was also discussed independently, and in somewhat more detail, in a recent blog post by Innocent Smith, entitled “(Mis)understanding Medieval Manuscripts in 19th Century Philadelphia.”

As could be imagined, the scholastic character of the Vulgate text seems at odds with the precepts of Quaker simplicity; the group was not known for its Latin philology. Indeed, the catalogue of the Monthly Meeting of Friends’ library published in 1831 not only egregiously misidentifies Pemberton’s gift based on the prologue incipit as Saint Ambrose’s “ancient manuscript Commentary,” but includes an appendix dedicated to the manuscript, written by Joseph James, which contends that the book must have been written before the year 900!10 As justification for this date, James states that “prior to the tenth century, the manuscripts [sic] were frequently written without any division between words,” adducing a manuscript of part of Ambrose’s commentary that he had seen in the Library Company’s collections that bore the date “Anno 1016,” but that had separated words, as supporting evidence. Ironically, he was no doubt referring to the thirteenth-century Bible which had been donated to the Library Company of Philadelphia by George Vaux and bears the inscription “written in 1016” on its flyleaf. This curious piece of amateur paleography demonstrates the naiveté of the first American-born antiquarians in Philadelphia and the scarcity of comparative material in local collections.

Bible, Philadelphia, The Library Company of Philadelphia, MS 9, flyleaf 1 recto and flyleaf 1 verso

As Smith pointed out in his recent blog post, by the time a new edition of the catalogue of the Friends’ Library had been produced in 1853, local understanding of the Friends’ Bible’s contents had improved somewhat. In that catalogue, while it is still said that the manuscript is “supposed to have been written about A.D. 900,” the contents of the text have been correctly described as the Vulgate text of the Bible.11


  1. Formerly Monthly Meeting of Friends Library, Q No. 10.
  2. James Tanis, “Collecting Illuminated Manuscripts in Philadelphia,” in Leaves of Gold: Manuscript Illumination from Philadelphia Collections, ed. James Tanis (Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2001), 5–13.
  3. David J. Hall, “Kendall, John (1726–1815), Quaker Minister and Writer,” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 23 September 2004; accessed 5 August 2019.
  4. John Kendall, Memoirs of the life and religious experience of John Kendall (London: William Phillips, 1815), 200–201.
  5. Kendall 1815, 169–70, 281, and 290.
  6. Kendall 1815, 200–201.
  7. Catalogue of the valuable collection of English and foreign theological works, works relating to the Quakers, &c., bequeathed by John Kendall … the the Friends’ School at Colchester … Which will be sold … by Sotheby … 9th … Mar., 1865, Sotheby & Co. (London, England), 1865. See Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts entry here.
  8. See the respective Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts entries here and here.
  9. Nicholas Herman, “Material Present: Collecting Late Medieval and Early Modern Objects in (and around) Philadelphia,” in Making the Renaissance Manuscript: Discoveries from Philadelphia Libraies (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Libraries, 2020), 1–53, esp. 4–5.
  10. Library of Friends of Philadelphia, Catalogue of the Books Belonging to the Library of the Four Monthly Meetings of Friends of Philadelphia (Philadelphia: Printed by Joseph Rakestraw, 1831), 4, and Appendix, 151– 52.
  11. Library of Friends of Philadelphia, Catalogue of the Books Belonging to the Library of the Four Monthly Meetings of Friends of Philadelphia (Philadelphia: Kite and Walton, 1853), 34.