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Samuel M. Janney (Samuel McPherson), 1801-1880
Memoirs of Samuel M. Janney: Late of Lincoln, Loudoun County, Va.: A Minister in the Religious Society of Friends
Philadelphia: Friends' Book Association, 1881.

Summary

Samuel McPherson Janney was born in Loudoun County, Virginia on January 11, 1801. His parents, Abijah and Jane Janney, were upstanding members of the Religious Society of Friends and raised their son in the Quaker tradition. When Samuel was twelve years old, his mother died, prompting his father to sell their mill and farm in Loudoun and settle in Fairfax County, Virginia. While attending school in nearby Alexandria for two years, Janney lived with his uncle, Phinneas Janney, and worked in his counting-house. An avid reader, Janney excelled in his studies and formed a literary society for the purpose of critiquing original works. However, he decided that his religious devotion took precedence over his scholarship, and he subsequently dropped his plans to become a classical scholar. He married Elizabeth Janney, a distant relative, in 1826. After a failed attempt at running a cotton factory in Occoquan, Janney opened the Springdale Boarding School for Girls in Loudoun County in 1839. There he pursued his love of learning through teaching. He also published essays on the Quaker religion and the anti-slavery movement, including a book entitled History of the Religious Society of Friends, from its Rise to the Year 1828 (4 volumes, 1860-67). He also published one volume of poetry in 1839, The Last of the Lenapé, and Other Poems. In addition, he contributed to biographies of William Penn and George Fox. Janney's anti-slavery efforts included founding Sunday schools and day schools for African American children, lobbying the District of Columbia to abolish slavery, and supporting emancipation and colonization societies. In 1869 his lifelong interest in the welfare of Native Americans led him to become a Government Superintendent of Indian Affairs for seven tribes based in Omaha, Nebraska. When ill health forced him to resign from this position, he returned to Loudoun County, where he died in 1880.

As The Memoirs of Samuel M. Janney attests, Janney tirelessly devoted his life to education and religious ministry in the Society of Friends. His Quaker faith is the driving force of both his life and narrative, and he connects the major events in his past with his religious conviction. After a detailed description of his ancestors and their involvement with the Society of Friends, he discusses his desire to focus his life on religion, in part for fear that following a literary career would lead him into the temptations of fame. Janney tells of his extensive missionary travels in the northeastern United States, as well as his involvement with both the anti-slavery movement and relief work for Native Americans. Around 1833 Janney was able to merge his literary interests with his religious calling, when he began to write and publish educational works about the Society of Friends. He includes excerpts of his writings concerning Quaker involvement in the anti-slavery movement, which was a heated topic that caused severe divisions among Friends. He also includes several letters on the subject of free public education. After documenting his fears and frustration during the turmoil of the Civil War, which limited his missionary trips, he concludes with a description of his experience in Omaha, Nebraska as Government Superintendent of Indian Affairs. The remainder of the narrative covers the final years of his involvement with the Society of Friends before his death in 1880. Because he never formally ended his memoir, it closes with a series of remembrances written by Janney's friends and family.

Works Consulted: Knight, Lucian Lamar, comp., Biographical Dictionary of Southern Authors, Detroit: Gale Research Co., 1978; Johnson, Allen and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1964.

Harris Henderson
Armistead Lemon

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