My Quaker Roots

Quaker Persecution

2012 is a significant milestone in Quaker history, as it marks the 350th anniversary of two acts of England’s Parlament that played a role in persecuting Quakers in England: The Quaker Act (1662) and The Act of Uniformity (1662). 2012 also marks the 330th anniversary of William Penn’s establishment of the Province of Pennsylvania under Quaker principles having penned the first draft of The Frame of Government of Pennsylvania in that year. Although many had already done so, it was at this point that the largest waves of Quakers left England for the Colonies.

By the end of the colonial period in America, Quakers ranked fifth among the various religious congregations. Consequently, many Americans who can trace their ancestry back to those days can often find a Quaker connection in their ancestry. In exploring my own family history I was surprised to discover that I had Quaker roots on both my paternal and maternal sides.

Apponegansett Meeting House (1790 building)

On my paternal side, my Quaker roots trace back to John Lapham (1635-1710), my 8th great grandfather. John was born in 1635 in North Molton, Devonshire, England the son of John Lapham (ca. 1612-1670) and Joanne Bottwell (ca. 1610-1650). Although it is not clear when he became apart of the Quaker movement, he is found actively involved in it in the Colonies after 1660, the year in which he is said to have arrived in Rhode Island aboard the HMS Hercules. He is noted as having been an “ardent Quaker” in Providence, where he was a weaver by trade. Following the burning of Providence after the outbreak of King Philip’s War, John fled to Newport, where he met and married Mary Mann (c. 1640-1712) at the Friend’s Meeting House in Newport on April 6, 1673. John and Mary had six known children between 1674 and 1689. In 1682, they left Newport and settled in Dartmouth, Bristol Co., Massachusetts. Quaker records reveal that John was also active in the Quaker community in Dartmouth. On January 6, 1699, a meeting of Quakers took place at his home where each man pledged in writting to “undertake to build a meeting house for the people of God in Scorn called Quakers.” John contributed £5 toward the cost of its construction. According to historians, this was the original building of the Apponegansett Meeting House, the first meeting house in Dartmouth, which was rebuilt in 1790. John died in 1710 and Mary in 1712, both in Dartmouth.

Typical Cheshire Quaker Meeting House

On my maternal side, my Quaker roots trace back to two individuals, the first of which is John Worthington (1604-1691), my 11th great grandfather. John was born in 1604 in Wilmslow Parish, Cheshire, England the son of Rodger Worthington (c. 1565-1635) and Ellen Hill (c. 1565-1630). In 1629 he married Marie Hobson (c. 1605-1658), and they had at least four children. Both John and Marie are said to have been early Quakers in Wilmslow Parish, with the Quakers being well established there “in considerable numbers” as early as 1654 or about four years after the movement was founded by George Fox. Although I have yet to uncover details of John and Marie’s involvement in the Quaker community in Wilmslow Parish, it is clear from historical records that Quakers were frequently persecuted there, particularly around 1660 and afterwards. Numerous records list the numbers of Quakers being arrested or committed for their “seditious meetings” or “refusing to take the Oath of Allegiance (as required by The Quaker Act of 1662). Despite the persecution, John and Marie did not leave, both dying Wilmslow Parish in 1658 and 1691, respectively.

Old Quaker Meeting House in Sandwich, MA

My Quaker roots on my maternal side also trace to William Gifford (c. 1615-1687), my 10th great grandfather. William was born in about 1615 in Devonshire, England the supposed son of Philip Giffard (c. 1589-1613) and Mary Turner (c. 1591-1613). William was married at least twice, to Patience Russell and Mary Mills, and possibly to a third (Elizabeth Grant) between Patience and Mary. His marriages produced at least nine children in total. It is reported that William was an early Quaker in Devonshire and the Colonies, for which he suffered persecution such as being whipped and possibly banished. He and his family left England by about 1654 and settled in Sandwich, Barnstable Co., Massachusetts, a site of an early Quaker settlement in Massachusetts. There he became a member of the Society of Friends, was a successful tailor, and eventually a prosperous land owner. William died in Sandwich in 1687.

The lines of my two maternal Quaker ancestors, moreover, converged with the 1906 marriage of Ernest Jacob Worthington (1885-1939) and Mae Josie Gifford (1885-?), the parents of my great grandmother Goldie (Worthington) Hamilton (1912-2006).

Since learning of my Quaker roots, I have always been fascinated by the fact that nothing of this faith or lifestyle made its way down to present day; and that at one point an ancestor from both my paternal and maternal side were living in Devonshire, England and were Quakers. It makes me wonder if they knew each other.

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