Quakerism on the Eastern Shore of Virginia became of a great interest to me when I discovered that my family had originally settled on the Eastern Shore near a small town called Nassawadocks and had Quaker connections.
The search for my family history began nineteen years ago during the last year I was in college. I was studying to become a history teacher when I was given a project in one of my history classes to construct a family tree going back as far as I could from interviews with relatives and original source documents such as Bibles, death certificates and other records my family might have in their possession. It wasn't very long before I realized how little my immediate family knew about my father's side of the family.
My father died when I was only five years old. My mother told me that she never knew my father's mother or father because they had died before my parents were married. She knew his brothers and sisters, but very little other information.
I never realized the journey I would begin from what seemed like a small project. My search lead me to the small North Carolina town of Columbia, the birthplace of my father.
Columbia is situated in northeastern North Carolina along the Scuppernong River which empties into the beautiful Albermarle Sound. It was originally called "Hearts Delight" by the early settlers. My first visit was anything but a "hearts delight". I spent the entire day viewing microfilm and checking records. At the end of the day, driving back to my brother's house in Elizabeth City my eyes were blurry from reading microfilm and I was going home with more questions than answers.
Several years of additional research and writing hundreds of letters was required in order to finally construct a family tree from Peter Brickhouse who moved to Tyrrell County, North Carolina in December, 1755 down to me. That is where I found myself up against a wall or should I say a "Brick" wall. The trail ended in Columbia.
Genealogy begins as a small school project or a hobby and ends up becoming an obsession. I wanted to know how Peter Brickhouse and his family first arrived in Tyrrell County and where they lived before moving to Tyrrell County. This quest for knowing would consume many hours and days of my time. Checking libraries and indexes in books became my favorite pastime.
After continuing my investigation for several years, I discovered an article published in The Virginia Magazine, by Dr. Kenneth L. Carroll who is a Professor of Religion at Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas, and is considered an authority on Quakerism in Colonial America. In Dr. Carroll's article on page 176, George Brickhouse was listed as a member of the Quaker congregation at Nassawadox, Virginia. Dr. Carroll again mentioned George Brickhouse on page 178 of his article by saying,
After reading this article, I felt as if I had struck gold. My search now turned northward to Virginia's Eastern Shore. Not only did this article point me in the right direction for family research, but it sparked within me a desire to research my Quaker roots.
It was only a short time before I located a copy of the Encyclopedia of American Quaker Genealogy. This book provided me very little information about George Brickhouse that I did not already know, but did begin to shed some light on the Quaker community that had existed of the Eastern Shore of Virginia.
Quakers first arrived on the Eastern Shore as early as 1655/56.2 The first meeting house was built at Nassawadox in 1657 by Levin Denwood.3 George Brickhouse provided the second meeting house which was built on his land sometime before 1688 near Franktown.
I was almost heartbroken to discover that all of the records for these early meetings of Quakers at Nassawadox and Accomac had been destroyed or misplaced over the years. Many of these records would have given me a better understanding of George Brickhouse and the other members of the Quaker congregation.
So what happened to these records? They were last in the possession of a Society member, William Waters. He died in 1733 and the records were to be delivered to the custody of the Third Haven Monthly Meeting in Maryland, but they never arrived.4
Because Quakers refused to be married by "hireling priest" of the Church of England, many of the early marriages are not recorded in the public records of Northampton County. Quakers kept records for births, marriages and deaths for their own purposes, but never recorded them in the public records. Many family researchers probably wonder why so many marriages do not appear in Northampton County records. Many of the missing marriages are probably Quakers. Later I was to discover that Virginia refused to recognize the marriages of Quakers as legal. England and Maryland accepted Quaker marriages, but Virginia would not. The Quaker marriage ceremony consisted of a simple ceremony without the aid of a priest or minister. Quakers believe that marriages were ordained in Heaven and sealed in the presence of God and not performed by any "hireling priest" as required by Virginia law. Many Quakers were fined for not obeying the laws concerning marriages. Their children were considered illegitimate and their parents were made to suffer accordingly.
If the following examples of Quaker marriages did not appear in the court records in 1679 and 1690 in Northampton County, the record of their marriages would also have been lost forever.
"This day Susanna the relicit of Vrinson Foster deceased Exhibitinge an Account of the said decedent's Estate; whereupon it was demanded of her by Robert Foster, brother to the said Vrinson Foster, how shee could make it appeare shee was his said Brother's lawfull wife: Whereupon shee producinge a Testimoniall of her marriage to him after the manner of the people called Quakers - This Court humbly represents the same to the Right Honorable Lieutenant Governor and Councell for theire Honors' advice and direction therein; it beinge impracticable and without precedent in this Court's memory."6
The size of the Quaker congregation and its influence on the Eastern Shore community was considerable. It is impossible to give an exact number of the Quaker membership on the Eastern Shore, but a good estimate can be found by looking at the number of missing marriage records in individual families between 1655 and 1720.
In my particular family the only marriage I can find for the Brickhouses between 1655 and 1720 is the marriage of George Brickhouse to Hannah Luddington in 1661. This marriage took place in Hunger's Parish in Northampton County. It leads me to believe that George Brickhouse was not converted to Quakerism until after this date. From wills, deeds and other records, I have determined that there were at least nine other marriages during this time period that are not found in the public records of Northampton or Accomack Counties.
Another good indication of the size and influence of the Quakers was the acts passed against them by the General Assembly beginning in 1659/60, 1662 and 1663. These Acts instead of stomping out Quakerism, only caused it to flourish.
Although, we cannot say for certain how large the Quaker congregation on the Eastern Shore was, we do know, that ,
Others who seem to have been Quakers and yet whose identity as such is not positive are; John Winborrow, John Hudson, William Stephens, Jane the wife of William Micholl, Barbara the wife of John Winborrow, Edward Southerne, Mary Denwood and William Colbourne. All these were brought before court for some dissent in religious matters and the indications are that they were Quaker sympathizers if not official professors."7
Early Quakers were not well appreciated in Virginia. Virginia was the first permanent English colony in the New World and the Church of England was the official church of the colony. It was supported from the public treasury. Naturally, any attempt to bring about a "new religion", with strange beliefs such as healings, revelations from God and no ministers was considered heresy. William Robinson, the first know Quaker missionary to work on the Eastern Shore was hanged in 1659 in Boston for his activities in promoting the Quaker cause. Robinson was on the Eastern Shore prior to 1658, preaching and establishing Quaker assemblies. He,
Henry Vaux, mentioned earlier as a leader of the early Quakers on the Eastern Shore, was arrested and imprisoned in June of 1658 for allowing William Robinson in his home. He was again arrested in 1660 for putting Quakers ashore at Nassawaddox. He had pretended to be taking them up the Chesapeake Bay to the area of Annapolis-Patuxent in Maryland.9
The Quakers were extremely active in preaching on the Eastern Shore during 1658 and 1659. This fervent activity brought about the passage of laws against the Quakers in 1659-1660 trying to restrict their activities.
This new law against Quakers was very severe, and far reaching affecting every aspect of their daily lives.
Heavy fines were imposed on many of the Quakers living on the Eastern Shore. Some were imprisoned in the James City jail in Jamestown; others who refused to take an oath of allegiance and supremacy were by,
The persecution of Quakers became so widespread during that period that many of the Quakers were forced into exile in Barbados and southern Maryland. George Wilson, one of these unfortunates was imprisoned at Jamestown, during this period. He died in 1662,
During this same time period, Governor Calvert, desiring to populate the county from which Somerset County, Maryland would be formed, offered anyone willing to settle in this region fifty free acres of land as well as an offer of religious freedom. About fifty people left the Northampton-Accomac, Virginia area to settle in Maryland,
"With few exceptions the persons named in the above list came from Northampton-Accomack County, in Virginia, viz: [Stephen] Horsey, [Ambrose] Dixon, Thomas Price, [Henry] Boston, [Henry] Hart, Draper, George Johnson, [William] Coulbourne, Curtis, Hasfurt, London, Williams, Minshall, Tull, Catlin,Revell, Elzey, Thorne, Anthony Johnson, Furnish ( in later records Furnis and Furnes), Bosman, Westlocke, Barnabe, Boyes (Boyce), Nutter, Gillis, Covington, Waller, Jenkin Price, Walley, Wale (later Whaley), Dennis, Manlove, Quillaine, Townsend, James Jones and Rice."15
Many of the Quakers chose to remain in Virginia in spite of the religion persecution.
William Berkeley, the Colonial governor, was relentless in his quest to stamp out Quakerism. The governor wrote letters to officials, in Lower Norfolk, expressing his displeasure at them for not ridding their area of the colony of Quakers.
Yor Loving ffrend,
ffor Mr. Richard Conquest: Sherr of Lower Nofl:"16
Three years later he sings the same song of hatred:
Yor most affectionate frend,
27th of June 1663 William Berkeley"17
Many Quakers were imprisoned by Governor Berkeley and their property seized. Some were banished because they refused to swear an oath of loyalty or promise to refrain from holding their meetings to worship God.
Just when you thought things could not get any worse for the Quakers, the Virginia Legislature (House of Burgesses) in Williamsburg passed,
They followed up with another act against Quakers in September 1663, entitled,
A Quaker could be fined 2,000 pounds of tobacco if he refused to baptize his children. The Unlawful Assembly Act prohibited Quakers above the age sixteen or older from gathering in groups of five or more to practice their religion. If you were caught violating the law against assembling, the first offense could cost them as much as 200 pounds of tobacco, the second offenseup to 500 pounds. If a Quaker was unable to pay a fine levied against him, it could be collected from other Quakers who had the means of paying the fine. The fines were used to promote others to inform on Quakers. Any person informing on a known Quaker would receive one half of the fined imposed. The remainder of the fine went into the public treasury.
The sex of a person provided no protection for Quaker women. Alice Ambrose and Mary Tompkins were whipped in 1663 for promoting their beliefs. 20 John Porter was thrown out of the House of Burgesses for being,
It is little wonder that many of the early Quakers in Virginia fled into Maryland seeking religious freedom.
In 1677, John Boweter (Bowater) visited the Eastern Shore of Virginia and held meetings in various Quaker homes up and down the Eastern Shore. He listed the meeting places as "Accamack, Pongaleg, by Accamack Shore, Pocamock Bay, Annamesia in the home of Ambose Dickson, Mody Creek in Accamack in the home of George Johnson, Savidge-Neck in the home of Robert Harris, the home of George Brickhouse, Nesswatakes (Nassawadox), Ocahanack in the home of Jonas Jackson, Mody-Creek in the homes of John Parsons, Annamessiah in the homes of George Johnson and George Wilson."22
By 1699, Quakerism, on the Eastern Shore was dying. Quaker leaders in Maryland were concerned because of "Friends marrying outside of their Society and intermixing in worldly affairs."23 They sent several Friends down to Virginia to report on the Quaker activities in that region. Their report was not good.
By 1750, Quakerism had all but disappeared from the Eastern Shore of Virginia, but its influence would continue for almost another hundred years. Quakers were the first to openly opposed slavery. Many Quakers would buy slaves just for the purpose of giving them their freedom, even though it was illegal to do so in Virginia. I found a deed of freedom granted by Ann Brickhouse in 1796 in which she frees twenty two slaves as they reached the age of twenty one. Shortly before this deed was granted Virginia changed its statute to allow for the emancipation of former slaves.
A Supplement to the 1810 Census of Virginia identifies one hundred and thirty one free black males living in Northampton County. A footnote to this census record notes that some of the slaves had been freed by Ann Brickhouse. I believe that it was this Quaker influence in my family that brought about the freeing of slaves sixty five years before the Civil War.
The 1860 federal census also attest to the Quaker influence for on this last census prior to the Civil War there were 963 free Negro residents of Northampton County, many of who had received their freedom as a result of the legacy left by the Quaker community of Virginia's Eastern Shore.25
This History can be found on G. G. Brickhouse's web page at: