Wednesday, June 22, 2011

ARE YOU OF QUAKER DESCENT? -- The lost Quakers of the South

We all learn in American History that the Quakers emigrated to William Penn's colony of Pennsylvania in order to practice their religion freely and without persecution.  But, like most early settlers, the Quakers quickly began to spread out, seeking economic opportunities as the colonies expanded.  A substantial number of second and third generation Quakers moved south from Pennsylvania into western Virginia and from there to the Carolinas. At least three of the families from whom I am descended (Pugh, Cox, and Hicks) followed this route.  My husband's Boone ancestors were of this group, but by the time they reached North Carolina, most of them had been kicked out of the Quaker Meetings for various offenses, especially their practice of marrying non-Quakers.

QUAKER RECORD KEEPING -- For a genealogist, Quaker ancestors are a God-send, because the "Friends" kept careful, detailed records and many of these have been preserved in the colleges and universities they established.  They were followers of the "WORD," and literacy was an important link to God.  They established schools for their children and for the Native Americans (Indians) they encountered.

REVOLUTION AMONG THE PACIFISTS --  Since the Quakers are famous for their pacifists teachings, and rejection of war, it surprised me to learn that the catalyst for Revolution in the colonies was fomented in Quaker settlements in North Carolina.  These North Carolina "regulators" were years ahead of New Englanders in their protests against corruption and exploitation by crown-appointed Colonial Governors.  If you are interested in learning more about the "War of the Regulation" or the "Regulator Movement" (1760-1771) you will find excellent information on-line, much of it drawn from, or inspired by, the work of historian Marjoleine Kars in her book, Breaking Loose Together: The Regulator Rebellion in Pre-Revolutionary North Carolina.  (I've pasted some links at the end of this blog).  Anyway, the peaceful Quakers so irritated the corrupt Colonial Governor of North Carolina as to find themselves marked for special oppression.

WRIGHTSBOROUGH, (WRIGHTSBORO), GEORGIA -- To escape from their NC problems, a group of Quakers, approached the Colonial Governor of  Georgia, who agreed to make of grant of land for a Quaker settlement in southern Georgia.  This group of industrious Quakers built there the town of Wrightsborough. In the few short years between their "rebellion" and "flight" from NC, and the onset of the American Revolution, this group of Quaker families subdued a wilderness and built homes, a meeting house, and prosperous farms.  Their settlement began to disintegrate when the American Revolution came to Georgia.  In his book, The  Hornet's Nest, former President Jimmy Carter, tells the story of the American Revolution in Georgia, but gives few details specific to the Quakers of Wrightsborough.

PACIFISTS IN A TIME OF WAR -- As a philosopher once observed, pacifism is widely admired and respected by Christians, EXCEPT in times of War.  The Quakers of Wrightsborough were victimized by both sides in the struggle.  The Indian allies of the British made no distinction between the Quakers and the other Americans. They burned, and pillaged the Quaker farms.  Many Tories and Americans were persuaded that the world was divided between those who were "With Us" and those who were "A'gain Us." Both groups distrusted, and oppressed the Quakers.  Finally, and most tellingly, some of the Quakers of Wrightsborough found their faith tested by the atrocities practiced by the British and their Indian allies.  They abandoned their peaceful ways and fought, almost exclusively for the American cause.  The participation of some Quakers in the rebellion was viewed by the British and local Tories as evidence of Wrightsborough's collective guilt, and more attacks and suffering ensued.

NOT ALWAYS FRIENDS -- By the conclusion of the American Revolution, the Quaker community in Wrightsborough was disintegrating.  Those who fought were condemned by those who remained faithful to the Quaker teachings.  Neighbor was set against neighbor, brother against brother, and sons against fathers.  The settlement was devastated, and few had the heart to rebuild.  The town was abandoned.  Today, the historical site is marked, but Wrightsborough is only a memory perpetuated by a number of internet sites. (see below)

PACIFISM, ANTI-SLAVERY, and THE INDIAN QUESTION -- While pacifism was the foundation for the split among the Southern Quakers, two other issues also divided them from their neighbors.  Quakers viewed slavery as an abomination and an affront to God.  Further, they believed they were called to bring Christianity, education, and civilization to the natives.  Most of the post-revolution settlers rushing into Georgia were eager to exterminate or drive the Indians out, and willing to harness the labor of slaves to build their farms and fortunes.  Those Wrightsborough Quakers who held steadfast to the Quaker Faith moved north, joining with other Quakers from North and South Carolina in mass immigrations to Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois.  Most of those who fought in the Revolution left the Quaker faith and stayed in the South, moving first into north and central Georgia, and from there to the Alabama territory when that area was opened about 1812.  The Quaker families were divided, with many families in Georgia and Alabama having close friends and relatives in Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois.  Records show that in spite of difficulties, the broken families communicated and  even visited for many years after the split.

LEAVING THE QUAKER FAITH BEHIND -- The Southern refugees from Wrightsborough not only ceased to practice the Quaker teachings, they found that negative perceptions of Quakers were prevalent among their new neighbors.  They quickly buried their ties to the Quaker faith and to the implicated settlement of Wrightsborough.  The story of their Quaker roots was apparently first hidden, and then lost to their descendents. Quakers virtually ceased to exist in the South, and the backsliding Southern Quakers never told their children and grandchildren of their roots, although they proudly passed down the stories of their participation in the Revolution.

DISCOVERING THE QUAKER IN YOUR PAST -- My Quaker ancestors fought in the Revolution, and at its end, moved deeper into Georgia.  By 1812, they were settling in what is now Clarke County in Alabama.  From there, they migrated to Louisiana, primarily settling in DeSoto, Natchitoches, Winn and Red River Parishes. They were settled there before the Civil War.  My father's family is not notable for peaceful interventions.  My relatives have been know to express anger rather quickly, and sometimes with violence.  I never expected to discover that their ancestors were Quakers.  Indeed, by the time they settled in Alabama, they appear to have shed their Quaker roots.  Only their continued interactions with relatives in the North yielded clues to their origins.  Do you also have Quaker Roots?  You may be surprised.

TO KNOW MORE -- For more information I encourage you to visit some of the following sites, devoted to the Regulator Rebellion, Quaker history, Wrightsborough, or Georgia Colonial history.  The names of the Regulators and the settlers of Wrightsborough are listed.



  1. My family came to America as Quakers. Edward Carter of Aston township PA is a my 9th Great Grandfather. By the time of the Revolutionary war members of my joined the cause. One was even excommunicated in the process.

  2. I have a Quaker linage that chose to stand for the Peace Testimonies in the Revolutionary War. Several of my relatives from North Carolina have descendants who requested Patriotic status for their ancestors from the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Sons of the American Revolution. The Patriot designation was given to Quaker men who billed the government for food, animals and/or items taken by the troops. The receipts were used as proof of involvement in the war when members of the Society of Friends were just trying to survive in difficult times. In some cases, descendants used Revolutionary War soldiers with the same name as proof of their ancestor's involvement. Some applications have now been re-evaluated. My relatives had the surnames of Hinshaw - Thomas - Newlin - Maris - Andrew, etc.

    1. My maternal grandmother often spoke about her Quaker ancestors. She DID have a Nixon in the family, but I just found my Coffin and Gardner and Chamness ones. Coffin and Gardner were from Nantucket and moved to N. Carolina. The Chamness line moved from North Carolina to Illinois (as part of the migration). I can't find any records of any of them in the Revolution. So, Yes, I AM a descendant of Quakers.
      ~Cheryl Ann~