The History of Maryland and Virginia Quakers

By Jeannette Holland Austin

The Quaker records are some of the most complete you will ever find, in Hinshaw'sEncyclopedia of American Quaker Genealogy. They include dates and places of meetings, births, deaths, marriages. This set of books were first published in 1936, then later in 1950 by Genealogical Publishing Co., however, several volumes are out of print. And the goodnews is that all Family History Centers have the fiche collection of Hinshaw's books! ManyArchives also have this collection, in book form. The books are divided by Meetings andPlaces. In other words, most of the Virginia Meetings are in one volume, and North Carolina Meetings in another volume, and so on. In all, there are 6 volumes.

As Quakers moved about, from Meeting to Meeting (where records were kept), It is a good idea, however, to search the index in all 6 volumes. It was George Fox who started the Society of Friends 1652 in England, quickly becoming known as "Quakers". The first known missionary of George Fox's was reportedly Elizabeth Harris who came from London in 1656, and spent about a year in Maryland, near Annapolis, where she and her husband later purchased a plantation and settled.

In July of 1657, she returned to London. Gerard Roberts, also of London, says of her:"The Friend who went to Virginia is returned in a pretty condition and there she was received bymany who met together." She may have meant to say Maryland. There is dispute on this. Later,in the winter of 1657, Josiah Cole and Thomas Thurston migrated, but were immediatelythrown into prison at Jamestown where they were deprived of all writing materials andcommunication with citizens. The master of the ship which brought them was fined and ordered to carry them back from whence they came. Naturally, opposition was widelybroadcast....some of it caused William Penn to be beaten by his father, who was a nable andfriend of King Chares II. His father beat him because he was defamed, and so young Penn wasforbidden to attend his London home. Another sufferer was James Naylor of London, whom theybranded with a "B" (blasphemer) on his forehead , also put a hot iron to his tongue, and put inprison.

With the atrocies committed in England against church members, they began migratingto America. It was in 1656 that the first Quakers arrived in Boston, being two womenmissionaries. The Puritan ministers there pronounced them "heretics" and "witches". The resultwas that they were seized at the ship, stripped to the waist and lashed. They left the colony underorders, but continued to suffer, being branded on the hands with "H:, thrown in jail. In 1659, fourmissionaries were hanged in Boston.About the same time, in Virginia, William Robinson, whomigrated on the ship "The Woodhouse" in 1657, was accused of heresy, his personal propertybeing seized, including his clothes, and sold by the sheriff. Ultimately, he was one of the fourhanged in Boston. Further, in 1659 the Virginia General Assembly passed a law against the Quakers, fining 100 lbs. sterling to any ship's master who brought in Quakers. Too, prison termswere imposed on Quakers who refused to leave the colony. This caused church members to fleeto a colony which welcomed settlement ? Maryland, where fifty acres of land were offered tosettlers in the Annamessex?Manokin area (Somerset Co.)

Also, some Quakers left Accomack and Northampton Counties, Virginia to settle along the Great Annamessex River, but in October of 1663, Colonel Edmund Scarburgh, with forty ormore men, with the blessing of the Virginia Assembly, assaulted them. Yet soon thereafter, his daughter, Matilda Scarburgh West, became a Quaker convert. Those who did not leave the Eastern Shore were severely punished as nonconformists. During the latter half of the seventeenth century, hundreds of Quakers poured into Maryland where they prospered. Ambrose Dixon, formerly of Accomack Co., Virginia, and fined there for breach of laws concerning Quakers because he, and others, refused to take the oath of allegiance and supremacy, held a respectible office. Most of the persecution was done along the Eastern Shore.

The authorities refused to accept Quaker marriages as legal, and they were fined for fornication. For this reason, there are very few records of the first converts to the church. Is it any wonder that they maintained their own records, took them with them, not publishing them in State or County? It was not only until 1688 that the Religious Toleration Act was passed.

The first known converts to Quakerism was Elizabeth Hooten and George Wilson who gave his life in James Town dungeon. In 1661, George Rofe came, and wrote: "The truth prevaileth through the most of these parts (Barbadoes), and many settled meetings there are in Maryland and Virginia and New England." The Chuckatuck record is known as the oldest record in the State (Virginia) and began in 1673 by a motion or order of George Fox, the servant of God, however, an entry in the book dated 1647, the birthdate of a child of Thomas and Alice Hollowell of Elizabeth River.

The last entries date to 1727.Meetings were held in member's houses. In Nansemond Co. ?Thomas Jordan (1678),Elizabeth Outland (1678), Alice Hollowell in the Elizabeth River (1679),Thomas Hollowellin Elizabeth River (1680), John Copeland in Chuckatuck (1680), WilliamSanders in Nansemond (1682), Elizabeth Belson in Nansement (1683), and so on. George Foxcame toVirginia from Maryland, crossing the Chesapeake Bay on the fifth of November, 1672,writingin his Journal that three days later he came to Nancemund. This is where a great meetingwas held, and several officers and magistrates who "were much taken to the truth", Col. ThomasDewes of Nansemond Co., being mentioned.

The first meeting house in Nansemond Co. was the General Meeting House, where Henry Wiggs and Katheren Garret (Yarret) were married, 1674, 12th month, 3rd day. The Summerton Monthly Meeting stood on a spot of ground belonging to Levin Buskin, and was 20 feet in length and 20 feet in width. Sommerton Creek is located in today's Holland, Virginia, about 13 miles south of Suffolk.

Ref: History of the Eastern Shore by Jennings Wise; Encyclopedia of Quaker Genealogy by Hinshaw.

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Jeannette Holland Austin

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