Throughout my time with Quaker Meeting Houses, I have found a couple of oddly named ones including Old Gunpowder Meeting House in Maryland. However, it was a meeting house in T. Chalkley Matlack’s Notebooks that made me do a double-take. In the index to Book 12, a name jumped out at me. “Murderkill.” I thought that there must be some mistake. When I turned to the pages devoted to “Murderkill,” I realized that I was not mistaken.
Here is the particular passage from Book 12 that clarified things for me:
“‘A Friend writes: “The name of said Monthly Meeting I find to be variously spelled on the Quarterly Meeting records; which would be of very little importance, if they did not convey ideas essentially different from each other. By way of explanation, it may not be improper to state that Delaware having been settled by the Swedes, their word for stream, or creek, was in many instances retained with an English prefix, – as ‘Broadkil,’ and that a bloody battle fought by the Indians on the banks of one of those streams, gave it the name of Murderkil, which name was also imparted to a district of Kent County lying on said steam, and known as Murderkil Hundred, where the Friends’ meeting-house was located in which the meeting under consideration was held. The Friends, being a murder-hating, peace-loving, and simple-minded people, and not approving of the word murder, adopted in lieu thereof that of mother as a prefix to kil, making the name of Motherkil for this meeting. But the word kil is often, and I believe mostly, spelled kill, which, in combination with mother, makes a very inappropriate name for a Friends’ meeting, more objectionable than the one intended to be softened and improved. It is sometimes written Motherkiln, a name that conveys a totally different idea, and is not objectionable in itself.”‘”
The struggle to correct the name of the meeting house is quite interesting. I have a suspicion that Matlack found this name amusing since he listed it under Murderkill (with two ls) instead of Motherkiln. His choice was a good one because this passage may have escaped my notice if it had been titled otherwise.
For more information about T. Chalkley Matlack’s Notebooks, click here.