How to Research Quakers from Colonial Virginia
Updated: Jan 6
One of the easiest topics to research involves the Quakers or Society of Friends. Unlike the challenging task of searching for Presbyterians, Quaker records are more readily available. Dedicated to preserving information for future prosperity, they documented several aspects of their society. From births, deaths, marriages, disownments, confessions and other situations, a variety of facts have been recorded. To fully understand how to research these documents, though, one needs to better understand the Society of Friends.
Considered “the radicals of the Protestant Reformation,”1 many of their religious and cultural practices differed from other dissenting Christians. One of these doctrines centered on the issue of slavery. Condemning the slave trade, they disowned those who sold “men into bondage.”2 One of the first religious groups to reject slavery, they viewed slave owners as “immoral and anti-Christian.”3 As a consequence, slave-owning Quakers, like James Crew, who refused “to redeem” their slaves were shunned.
However, this wasn’t the only reason how a member could be renounced. Nicholas Crew, for example, was “disowned for drunkenness and adultery.”5 Required to live a moral life, even “using ill words” could get one kicked out of the denomination.6 There was; however, a way to get back into the good graces of the Society of Friends. By formally confessing, they could be forgiven. On February 17, 1787, Edward Terrell, writes “I have some time past acted in a disorderly manner in fighting and thereby brought a scandal on Truth and a wound to my own mind, the practice I do utterly condemn myself in so doing, and if Friends will pass by my conduct in that respect, am in hopes through Divine assistance never to do the like again.”7 Although, expressing guilt wasn't always successful, there are plenty of instances where people tried to do so. For those who remained in good standing, you can find detailed lists of births and deaths.
Documenting all the children of married couples, the month, day and year of birth are present. This can be seen where the “Children of Richard and Ann Bloxsom of Louisa County” are concerned.8 Beginning on December 14, 1764, Sarah Bloxsom is born who is later followed by Obadiah, who dies on April 8, 1790.9 Although, he did not live long, it is because of their meticulous documentation that we know about him.
It is often the case when researching colonial Virginia that you find challenging situations. From a lack of documentation, encountering indirect evidence, and experiencing genealogical brick walls, this is not an uncommon occurrence. However, if your goal is to search Quaker records you will find it is an easier task. Whether they were disowned or kept in good standing with their fellow friends, their culture differed from other denominations. But it is this characteristic that allows you to access information that could solve a family mystery.
1. J.P. Bell, Our Quaker Friend of Ye Old Time (Bowie, Maryland : Heritage Books, 1905), 171.
2. J.P. Bell, Our Quaker Friend of Ye Old Time (Bowie, Maryland : Heritage Books, 1905), 145.
3. Augustus Charles Bickley, George Fox and the Early Quakers (London, England : Hodder and Stoughton), 317; digital image, Google Books (http://www.books.google.com : accessed 28 April 2019).
4. Bell, Our Quaker Friend of Ye Old Time, 145.
5. Bell, Our Quaker Friend of Ye Old Time, 145.
6. Bell, Our Quaker Friend of Ye Old Time, 145.
7. J.P. Bell, Our Quaker Friend of Ye Old Time (Bowie, Maryland : Heritage Books, 1905), 161.
8. J.P. Bell, Our Quaker Friend of Ye Old Time (Bowie, Maryland : Heritage Books, 1905), 3.
9. Bell, Our Quaker Friend of Ye Old Time, 3; J.P. Bell, Our Quaker Friend of Ye Old Time (Bowie, Maryland : Heritage Books, 1905), 44.