Saturday, July 8, 2017

Do You Have Quaker Ancestors?

Quite a few family researchers with early Muskingum County roots know or have at least "heard" of Quakers in their family trees. You can count yourself very lucky if you have ancestors who were members of the Religious Society of Friends, because no other religious group kept more precise records than the Quakers.

While many family historians can point to "Friend-ly" ancestors, it's probably safe to say that a large number of them know very little about what it meant to be a member of the Religious Society of Friends. There is a rather common mis-perception, for example, that Quakers, Puritans, Shakers and Amish are all one in the same, and nothing could be farther from the truth. If you have Quaker ancestors, you owe it to them to know something of the organization's history and of Quaker practices. So let's begin with a little history.

George Fox, c. 1650
The Religious Society of Friends arose in England in the mid-1700's under the leadership of George Fox.  It was one of many "dissident" religious groups rebelling in various ways against the beliefs and rituals of the Church of England (Anglican). Fox's basic message-- that God is in every person, and that every one can have direct communication with God--resonated with a great many of those dissidents, and Friends steadily increased in numbers and influence. Meetings sprang up all over the British Isles and some were established on the Continent, particularly in the Netherlands, France, and certain German states. (Germany was not one country at this time.)

The rapid growth of the Religious Society of Friends posed a problem for the Established Church and its control over the government and people's lives. Dissent was outlawed. To be a Quaker was to be subject to public harassment, imprisonment and confiscation of property. Despite persecution, Friends, unlike other dissenters, insisted on meeting in public. While that left them more vulnerable to arrest, it also increased their reputation for honesty, one of the tenets of Quaker faith and practice. That, in turn, increased the attraction to Friends, and further increased their numbers.
Interior of a typical 18th Century meetinghouse. This one was
built in Montgomery County, outside of Philadelphia, in 1708.

Like the Puritans, many Quakers came to America seeking freedom from religious persecution. The first Quakers came a bit after the Puritans established their first settlement in Massachusetts, but did not come in large numbers until William Penn was granted a huge tract of land by King Charles II in 1681. In 1682, Penn set out on the Welcome to establish his "great experiment"--a colony run according to the beliefs and practices of Friends. Thus began a huge influx of Quakers to America called The Great Migration. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania grew and prospered immensely because of Friends' influence.

Probably most Muskingum County family history researchers will find their Quaker roots among Pennsylvania and New Jersey (originally a part of Penn's land grant) Quakers, a number of whom eventually settled in and around Loudoun County, Virginia before migrating to southeastern Ohio. Interestingly, despite the number of Quakers who migrated to Muskingum County, there is no record of any Friends meeting established here, although there is a cemetery (Dillon or Dillon Falls) thought to have originally been a Friends burying ground.
Abington (Pennsylvania) Friends Monthly Meeting birth record (1694) for William Carver, Jr. His great-grandson 
migrated from Loudoun County, Virginia to Newton Township, Muskingum County in 1808.

The next blog will look at the beliefs and practices that governed how our Quaker ancestors lived their lives.

1 comment:

  1. Based on this information, I don't think that I have any Quaker ancestors. But I love the blog.