Friday, August 30, 2019

Outstanding 18th Century Ministers, August 30, 2019

When at our best, our family is a circle of strength, 
founded on faith, joined in love, kept by God.

In my last post I wrote about 6 ministers from the 20th century in our family tree. All 6 of them, including myself, are ministers of the Campbell-Stone Tradition, also known as The Restoration Movement. To find other ministers in our family history one has to search before the time of The Restoration Movement which began in the early 19th century. If you know of other ministers in our family history besides those I have mentioned I would like to hear from you.

This search to find full time ministers in our history brings to my mind the strong inclination in our family, over many generations, to be people of faith. This is true of many families with deep roots in American soil. Even though our culture is gradually becoming more secular and less religious, there is still great importance placed on faith-based lives among many within our extended family. 

This religious penchant can be traced back many generations. A number of our ancestors were 18th century Quaker ministers. This summer I have written here about a couple of them. Yet there are several others to be mentioned. First however it is important to note a couple of things about the Quakers. They were among the most influential religious groups in early America. In Pennsylvania during the time of the American Revolution some estimate that one in every 3 citizens was a Quaker. Their influence on the political, social and religious life of our country is remarkable. Among the important beliefs of the Quakers was their firm opposition to slavery, their support of Native Americans, their strict pacifism, and their belief in gender equality. Among the Quakers both women and men were equally allowed to be ministers, if they had the appropriate gifts and if they were called, "recorded," and certified by the appropriate church structures.

The following are brief profiles of some Quaker ancestors in our family tree who served as ministers.

James Wright Sr. (1671-1759). The earliest minister I have found in our family tree was my 7X Great Grandfather James Wright. We are related to James and his wife Mary through Malinda Wright Davis (1846-1920), the Grandmother of my Grandmother Bura Davis Shepard.   

Hopewell Monthly Meeting House and Cemetery
Winchester, Virginia
James and Mary Wright were originally from Chester County, in Southeast Pennsylvania. Incidentally, this is the very area where some Quaker ancestors on the Shepard side of the family originated. James Wright was a "distinguished minister of the Society of Friends who traveled widely in the exercise of his ministry," according to Quaker author Algie Newlin. In 1725 James and Mary  uprooted their family of 8 children and moved westward, to spread the Christian faith, and to provide ministerial leadership among the Quakers on the frontier. They helped found a new congregation on Monocacy Creek in the area around what is today Frederick, Maryland. Some years later they moved further into the American wilderness to help found another new congregation, the Hopewell Monthly Meeting, near what is today Winchester, Virginia.

Later in life Mary and James Wright continued to be held in high esteem by the Friends in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, the Quaker leadership in Pennsylvania. The Wrights had suffered so much hardship on the frontier during the French and Indian War, that they were almost destitute. As a result a significant financial gift was sent to them by the Quaker leadership back in Pennsylvania. It was a gift that reflected gratitude for the many years of ministerial service of James Wright and his wife Mary. In one historical record it is written that James, "an elder of the Hopewell Monthly Meeting, was a sober, industrious honest man, grave in manner, and solid and weighty in conversation. He departed this life May 15, 1759 in the 83rd year of his age. And we have reason to believe he is at rest with the Lord." (the National Genealogical Society Quarterly, Dec. 1982.)

James Wright then is the first of the 18th century ministers I have found in our Family Tree. Among all the accomplishments of his life and ministry, perhaps the most important was his family legacy of ministers. Five members of James and Mary's family, over three generations, also became ministers. The following is a profile of one of them. 

Martha Wright Mendenhall (1713-1794). James and Mary Wright's third child was Martha Wright who was "recorded" (the Quaker term for "certified") as a minister when she was 20 years old. Clearly even as a teen she showed that she had gifts for ministry. She was born in Pennsylvania but as a child moved with her family and settled in the Valley of the Monocacy (Frederick, Maryland today) where the Wrights were one of the founding families of the Quaker community there. Martha married John Mendenhall III when they were both just 18 years old. For over 60 years she was active in the ministry of the Quakers in Maryland and Virginia. She is buried today with her husband John in the Providence Quaker Cemetery, in Martinsburg, West Virginia. The following is part of a memorial found in the minutes of the Hopewell Monthly Meeting of the Quakers, September 25, 1797. 

Providence Quaker Cemetery
Martinsburg, West Virginia
"Concerning our esteemed friend Martha Mendenhall. She was called to the work of the Quaker ministry at age 19. Being diligent in the attendance of meetings, both for worship and discipline and humbly attentive to the pointings of truth in the exercise of her gift, she became an able minister of the gospel and sometimes visited the meetings of Friends in other parts of this continent. She was often enabled, in the decline of life, and even about a week before her departure, to communicate to the consolation of those present, her testimony being sound and edifying. She was a tender parent and a nursing mother in Israel. Being humble and meek in deportment, she was beloved by most who knew her. Her final illness was short, in which she several times expressed her desire to be unclothed of mortality and that she was satisfied she had not her day work to do. A few moments before her departure, she was heard to say, 'This is the happiest day I ever experienced; now Father, thou art come; I have been looking for thee all this day.' She then quietly departed this life, a minister for about 62 years, and was the next day interred in Friends' burying ground at Tuscarora."

A Nursing Mother in Israel. Did you notice in the above memorial that Martha was referred to as "a nursing mother in Israel"? That was a description I had never heard before. It was so interesting that I had to do some research into what it meant. "A nursing mother in Israel" is a reference to caring Quaker leaders, especially, but not exclusively, women ministers, and their unique gifts. It described their strong nurturing ability to do such things as help backsliders return to the fold, and to nourish, exhort, and build up the young in the faith.

James Wright and his daughter Martha Wright Mendenhall, then are two of the ministers I have found in our family tree from the 18th century. In my next post I will profile other ministers from this same Wright family, individuals whose lives and ministries we can celebrate.
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Steve Shepard
(he, him, his)

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