Delaware Water Gap part of 'Peaceable Kingdom'

Pennsylvania artist Edward Hicks used the Delaware Water Gap as a background for some of his Peaceable Kingdom works.

By Amy Leiser, Executive Director
Monroe County Historical Association

Folk artist Edward Hicks was born in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, on April 4, 1780, during the American Revolution. Edward’s parents, Isaac and Catherine Hicks, were Anglicans who supported the British during the war.

When he was only 1½ years old, Edward’s mother died, and he was adopted by Elizabeth Twining, a family friend. Twining, a Quaker, raised Edward as one of her own children and instilled in him the religious beliefs of the Society of Friends that would stay with him for the rest of his life. Eventually, and with the guidance of the Quaker teachings that deviated from his parents’ beliefs, Edward Hicks embraced freedom and became a fervent American patriot. Hicks was a Quaker pacifist, but he strongly supported protecting the colony that William Penn had created.

As a young adult, Hicks “back-burnered” his faith and busily apprenticed as a painter in a coachmaker’s shop. Years later, he established his own business painting stagecoaches. Throughout his career in the stagecoach industry, though, Hicks’ memoirs disclose that he was unhappy and lonely. It wasn’t until 1803 that he re-discovered the Quakers and joined the Middletown Meetinghouse in Bucks County.

Through his reconnection with this peaceful religious group on the teachings of which he was raised, Hicks became revitalized. He married Sarah Worstall of Newtown, Bucks County and, in 1812, became a minister in the Society of Friends. Interestingly, Friends ministers received little to no pay, so Edward became a farmer to support his wife and five children. Farming did not come easily to Edward (he had never been a farmer), and it was not long before he found himself deep in debt. With the encouragement of a friend, Hicks started painting again, and he began to use his artistic talents to supplement his income by painting everything from furniture to business signs.

Fellow Quakers had no issue with Hicks’ painting useful items needed for society; however, some staunch Quakers did not appreciate it when Hicks began painting “ornamental” pictures. Quakers in 18th and 19th century Pennsylvania believed in living a simple and plain life, devoid of materialism and luxuries. Artwork on canvas intended to be hung on walls was considered a luxury. It appears that Hicks resolved the conflict by choosing to paint Biblical scenes - Hicks’ Peaceable Kingdom was born. Hicks was inspired by Isaiah 11:6, “
the wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the yearling together; and a little child shall lead them.”

In his first
Peaceable Kingdom artwork, Hicks (then 40 years old) chose Natural Bridge in Virginia as a background for his painting. True to his Quaker ideals, the piece features a small child embracing a lion as well as a number of predators and prey commingling in the foreground. Almost lost into the background, Hicks placed William Penn signing his treaty with the Indians under the bridge. The background scene in this first work is not only geographically inaccurate, but is also so small that it is easily overlooked.

Edward Hicks created over 60 variations of his
Peaceable Kingdom. Each painting features a child or cherub surrounded by animals (both predator and prey) living together peacefully. The symbolism of all living creatures at peace is something that Hicks believed in and desired his entire life. Different than his original, however, Hicks placed his Penn’s Treaty with the Indians depiction larger and in a much more predominant location within these pieces. He also stopped using Natural Bridge as the backdrop and chose a much more appropriate pastoral background – the Delaware River and the Delaware Water Gap.

By using this impressive Monroe County background and depicting William Penn and his treaty, it is undeniable that Edward Hicks is a Pennsylvania Quaker and artist. He died August 23, 1849 and is buried in the Newtown Friend Meeting Cemetery in Newtown, Pennsylvania.