restricted access 1. Friends Come to Northern Virginia
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1 Friends Come to Northern Virginia In December 1754, just as the Seven Years’ War erupted in North America, Quaker minister Samuel Fothergill ventured across the Blue Ridge Mountains to visit Friends recently settled in the lower Shenandoah Valley. A “traveling Friend” from England who paid visits to Quaker religious meetings throughout Great Britain and North America, Fothergill was concerned that Quakers in the “remotest part of Virginia” might not continue to follow the ideological and moral precepts of the Society since they had moved some distance from the center of Quaker society in Pennsylvania. He worried that living in what Europeans considered a wilderness would corrupt Friends and turn them from the paths of spiritual “Truth.” What he found shocked him. “My passage seems through briars and thorns,” he wrote from the valley, “a too general languor having spread amongst the people.” “The state of the Church in this province,” he concluded a few days later, “is low and painful.” Catherine Phillips, an English itinerant minister who traveled from North Carolina to Pennsylvania “up the Sherrando [Shenandoah] River, and by Opeekan [Opequon] Creek to Fairfax,” was similarly disturbed by what she found among Friends in the region, concluding that “many of their souls” were “oppressed by a dark carnal spirit,” and “the discipline”—the moral and ethical rules of the Society—was “in some places so perverted, that this designed wall of defence, is rather a stumbling-block.”1 Traveling Friends such as Fothergill and Phillips worried that the southern frontier posed a threat to Quaker patterns of behavior, worship, and belief, and feared for the spiritual welfare of their coreligionists who resided there. Their successful settlement of the northern and western frontier after 1730 had won them a grudging toleration from colonial officials, and many Friends assimilated into the colony’s economic and social life. As a result, the community revealed signs of laxity in its attachment to Friends’ Friends Come to Northern Virginia · 9 faith and traditions, providing grounds for Fothergill’s fears. Yet Quaker spiritual values and practices—especially their pacifism and evolving egalitarianism —represented a continuing (if often unspoken) challenge to the hierarchical culture and society of white Virginians. Moreover, the experience of the Seven Years’ War made Virginia Friends more determined to live according to their values, setting them on a divergent path from their white neighbors. I By the time of Fothergill’s visit, Friends had lived in colonial Virginia for nearly one hundred years. The first Friends arrived in Virginia in the 1650s, a few years after their 1652 founding in England. Born in the unrest of the English Civil War and the Interregnum, a political climate that gave rise to a variety of religious sects committed to social and political equality or “leveling,” Friends grew out of the religious seeking of the charismatic George Fox. For nine years, Fox wandered England in search of spiritual enlightenment, seeking divine revelation, disputing with ministers and disrupting church services, facing frequent imprisonment, and gaining a few disciples. In 1652, he traveled to the north of England, where he attracted a large following of Seekers, one of the era’s small sects that had rejected the established church and sought a return to primitive Christianity. Margaret Fell, the wife of a wealthy and prominent judge, numbered among Fox’s converts, and her home, Swarthmoor Hall, soon became the focal point of the movement. In the 1650s, despite the fierce repression they suffered at the hands of English authorities, Fox and his most ardent converts began taking their spiritual message throughout England and gained a substantial following.2 By 1656, Friends had reached Maryland and Virginia, where they received a similar reception, gaining a growing number of adherents but facing official repression. In the next few decades, Friends established religious meetings on Virginia’s Eastern Shore and along the lower James River. George Fox’s visit to Virginia in 1672 gained Friends more adherents , and they began creating a more formal organizational structure. But growth took place in the face of a colonial government committed to ensuring conformity to the established Anglican Church. Beginning in the late 1650s, the Virginia House of Burgesses passed a series of acts designed “for the suppressing of Quakers.” The legislation banned all Friends’ religious meetings and publications, required Anglican ministers to perform 10 · Quakers Living in the Lion’s Mouth all marriages and baptize all children within the colony, fined ship captains who transported Quakers to the colony, and called...


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Subject Headings

  • Quakers -- Virginia, Northern -- History -- 18th century.
  • Quakers -- Virginia, Northern -- History -- 19th century.
  • Society of Friends -- Virginia, Northern -- History.
  • Dissenters -- Virginia, Northern -- History.
  • Pacifism -- Virginia, Northern -- History.
  • Antislavery movements -- Virginia, Northern -- History.
  • Quaker women -- Virginia, Northern -- History.
  • Religious pluralism -- Virginia, Northern -- History.
  • Whites -- Virginia, Northern -- Attitudes -- History.
  • Virginia, Northern -- Social conditions.
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