Saturday, February 9, 2019

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: SURPRISE, Quakers in the Family

Amy Johnson Crow challenges us to remember our ancestors and their families through this task: 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks. I completed ’52 Ancestors’ in 2014 & here I go again. This post is in response to that challenge. The topic for this week is ‘SURPRISE.

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: SURPRISE: Quakers in the Family

During the years I have researched my various family leaves & branches I have uncovered relatives with various religious beliefs. Considering the wide range of people and places that is not surprising but I was surprised to find Quakers in the family. Why was this a SURPRISE to me? I suppose I have thought of Quakers as a relatively small group of people, primarily in rural Pennsylvania and Maryland. I did not know there were Quakers in the early southern colonies.

The Religious Society of Friends, also referred to as the Quaker Movement, was founded in England in the 17th century by George Fox. He and other early Quakers, or Friends, were persecuted for their beliefs, which included the idea that the presence of God exists in every person. Quakers rejected elaborate religious ceremonies, didn’t have official clergy and believed in spiritual equality for men and women. Quaker missionaries first arrived in America in the mid-1650s. Quakers, who practice pacifism, played a key role in both the abolition and women’s rights movements. Many, but not all, Quakers consider themselves Christians.[1]

In 1657 Josiah Coale and Thomas Thurston arrived in Virginia and were successful in reaching out to the people and sharing their Quaker beliefs which spread steadily. The Colony had no tolerance for the Quakers. They had previously enacted anti tolerance laws against Roman Catholics and did the same in an attempt to prevent Quakers from thriving because they were considered a menace to the stability of social life in the colony. A fine of 5,000 pounds of tobacco was imposed for ‘entertaining Quakers to teach or preach’.[2]

I found that my Lawrence family in Nansemond, Virginia appeared in Quaker Records as early as 1683. Brothers Robert Lawrence and John Lawrence, sons of Robert and Elizabeth Lawrence, and their wives, Mary and Joane, were members of the Society of Friends. Those records continue until 1707.[3]Further research may find more Quaker records for the family.

SURPRISINGLY, I discovered my Brown family in North Carolina also belonged to the Quaker society. Edward Brown [c1730 – c1797], my 5thgreat grandfather, was a Quaker.[4]There is evidence of the Edward Brown family in Jones County as related to the Quaker meetings. Oldest sons, John and Aaron, were old enough to join on their own. John Brown was a member in 1788 and Aaron in 1789. Edward, Moses, Daniel and Hardy were brought along by their father in 1789 to become members.[5]This later caused a division in the Brown family. The Quakers were opposed to slavery. They moved north to Ohio. The Browns who were not Quakers lived in Mississippi and owned slaves. Eventually, when the Civil War began, the Browns fought against each other.

Despite attempts by government bodies to halt the spread of the religion branches of our family embraced the Quaker beliefs. 

We never know where our genealogy research will lead us but we can be sure it will be filled with SURPRISES.

[1]Quakers. Digital image, History Channel ( accessed January 2019) 268 – 272; digital image, accessed January 2019.
[2]The Quakers in the American Colonies (London:Macmillan, 1911) 
[3]White, Miles Jr. Early Quaker Records in Virginia (Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 1977).
[5]North Carolina Quaker Meeting;; Edward Brown and sons.


  1. Hmm, I wonder how many more ancestors you'll find who were Quakers? With such a common surname, it must be quite a challenge to distinguish YOUR family from other Browns.

  2. I never knew there was such animosity toward the Quakers.


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