Bethpage began with Thomas Powell, an early Long Island settler who is believed to have originated from England in the mid 1600’s. Powell first appears in Huntington historical records as “Recorder” (Town Clerk) in 1658. However, he left Huntington in 1687 after being asked to pay a church tax, a mandate with which he strongly disagreed and he refused to do. In 1688 he purchased an 18 square mile tract of land later known as the Bethpage Purchase from three Native American tribes for 140 English pounds. Powell named this place Bethpage as it was situated between two other biblically named locations of Jericho and Jerusalem (now Wantagh). For a century and a half, Powell descendants and fellow Quakers were virtually the only inhabitants of this vast expanse of land.
Bethpage Quakers first held meeting for worship in the home of Thomas Powell in 1691. A Preparative Meeting was officially allowed by Flushing Quarterly Meeting by minute on 12th Month 26th, 1697/98. Meetings for Worship continued in the Powell home until the first Bethpage meeting house was constructed.
Now under the care of Westbury Monthly Meeting, Bethpage Preparative Meeting constructed its first meeting house in 1742. This simple structure at Bethpage was built on the south side of Quaker Meeting House Road. In 1743/44, Westbury Monthly Meeting accepted a transfer of the Bethpage meeting house from the private ownership of the Powell and Whitson families to general ownership and care of Westbury Monthly Meeting.
Bethpage Preparative Meeting flourished in its tiny meeting house until the house was destroyed by fire in 1816. Undaunted, Bethpage Quakers soon built a second, more substantial meeting house on the north side of Quaker Meeting House Road. It looked much like the present day Jericho Meeting house with separate sections for men and women as well as a gallery. In addition to a room for worship, it also had a schoolroom.
In 1826 after visiting the Bethpage meeting house, Thomas Shillitoe wrote, “the Bethpage meeting house is placed in a solitude and a retired situation and pretty much in the centre of a small full grown wood. The horses are tied to trees round the house. Everything has a rustic appearance, a simplicity that strikes a stranger.” Sadly, the second meeting house, so quaintly described by Shillitoe, burned on March 11th, 1888 during the Great Blizzard.
In 1789 Jericho Monthly Meeting was established and Bethpage Preparative Meeting came under its care. During this time, Bethpage Preparative Meeting was visited by the noted Quaker orator, Elias Hicks.
A third meeting house was built in 1889-90 on the north side of the road on a site near the second meeting house that burned down during the Great Blizzard of 1888. This third meeting house was relocated in 1935 to the south side of Quaker Meeting House Road, a short distance inside the Farmingdale Village limits, as its previous site was taken for park purposes.
In 1936, Nassau County Historian and Thomas Powell descendant, Jesse F. Merritt spoke at the re-opening of the re-located meeting house. He began his address by quoting Charles Lamb who said “The Abbey Church of Westminster hath nothing so solemn, so spirit soothing as the naked walls and benches of a Quaker Meeting.” Tragically, a third fire occurred in 1990 but from the ashes arose the present day building completed in 1992 and modeled in Quaker simplicity.
In 1998 Bethpage Preparative Meeting celebrated its 300th anniversary with over seventy Friends present at the celebration. The keynote speaker was noted historian Elizabeth Moger. Many of the Friends in attendance were descendants of the original Powell family Quakers and settlers of this part of Long Island.
Today, Bethpage Preparative Meeting counts among its members descendants of the original Powell settlers of Bethpage and Long Island.
Meeting for Worship is held every fourth Sunday and all are welcome to attend.
The Powell and Merritt Families of Bethpage
The Powell and Merritt families were among the first to inhabit Bethpage and they share a long and rich history. The first Jesse Merritt (1767-1843 buried at Bethpage Quaker Cemetery) was the son of Nathaniel and Anna Merritt. He married Mary Cornelius at the Bethpage meeting house in 1789. The first Jesse Merritt travelled with Elias Hicks, the famous Quaker minister of Jericho. His wife, Mary Cornelius, was a descendent of Thomas Powell renowned for the “Bethpage Purchase.” Jesse and Mary had three children and their great grandson was the Nassau County Historian, Jesse F. Merritt (1889-1957).
Jesse F. Merritt was born in 1889 in Bethpage, Nassau County, New York and was the son of Jesse Merritt and Pauline Willis, who were members of Jericho Monthly Meeting. In 1918, Jesse Merritt married Mabel Witte, who became a “convinced” Quaker in 1925. The couple settled on Long Island where Jesse Merritt owned and published a newspaper and was involved in local government and history. He would eventually become the Nassau County Historian, a position he held until his death in 1957. His wife, Mabel Merritt, was Clerk of Bethpage Preparative Meeting for forty years. Their two daughters, Jean and Jessica, attended Swarthmore College. Jean married Andre Hubbard and upon the death of her mother Mabel, assumed the position of Clerk of Bethpage Preparative Meeting. Jean Merritt Hubbard held the position of Clerk for almost forty years. Today, Jean’s son, Nathanial Hubbard, continues his family’s tradition and is Clerk of Bethpage Preparative Meeting. Meeting for worship is held in the little meeting house in the woods in Bethpage on the fourth Sunday of every month and all are welcome to attend.