Saturday, December 18, 2021

Our Mixed Quaker Heritage

The Quakers, also known as Friends,
are a small group of devout people
who worship in silence,
believing that all
have the Light of God in them.
-Karen Brooks

The Quaker religion has had a great impact on our family. They have had an important place in our nation from its beginning and have had a strong impact on our family history as well. My Grandmother Bura Davis Shepard was the Grandchild of Melinda Wright Davis, whose Quaker ancestry reached back over 100 years to the Quaker beginnings in England. Historically the Quakers were pacifists, abolitionists, evangelical, and strict in their Christian beliefs. The following are Quakers from our family tree who illustrate these particular qualities.

An artist's rendering of a
 typical 18th century Quaker
Nathan Bangs Gatchell (1756-1813), my 5th Great Grandfather, was an English immigrant during the time of the Revolutionary War. As a devout Quaker and pacifist, he was not allowed to take up arms against the enemy. But as a patriot he was compelled to help in some way, so he simply cleaned the guns of colonial soldiers during the Revolutionary war. But even that participation in the Revolution was too much for his pacifist Quaker brethren and he was "disowned" as a result.

The Newberry Community. My 7th Great Grandmother Rachel Wells Wright (1720-1771) was an influential Quaker leader from Maryland, who led the effort to spread the Christian faith into the frontier of colonial America. The Quakers always believed in gender equality and were welcoming of women leaders and preachers. Rachel and her family caught the pioneering spirit and gave themselves wholeheartedly to the spread of their Quaker faith and the growth of their new nation.

Rachel was also one of the leaders of the Quaker settlement in Newberry, South Carolina, a bustling community of Quaker activity. South Carolina, however, was a slave state. Being adamantly opposed to slavery, the Quaker community was distraught. Prodded by the abolitionist hell-fire-and-damnation preacher Zachary Dicks, the Quaker community of Newberry struggled with life in South Carolina. At the turn of the 19th century the entire Quaker community abandoned Newberry, South Carolina and settled in Southwest Ohio and other regions. All because of their strong abolitionist stance.

A 19th Century Apostle Paul.  Rachel's daughter Charity Wright Cook (1745-1822) exceeded her mother's accomplishments and became one of the most influential Quaker preachers of the early 19th century. She was a virtual Apostle Paul as she traveled extensively to visit and strengthen Quaker fellowships throughout the new world. Supported by the larger Quaker establishment in Pennsylvania, she even journeyed to Europe to build up the Quaker gatherings there. She was the embodiment of Quaker evangelism and leadership and became one of the best-known colonial Quakers.

Quaker Assembly with a woman preaching
Several books have been written about the remarkable life of our ancestor Charity Wright Cook, including one by the late Quaker scholar Algie Newlin, and another by my 5th cousin Jean Chesley Schubert of Western Washington. Contemporary Quaker writer Barbara Leutke of Seattle is in the process of writing yet another book about Charity Wright Cook. 

The Quakers have had a very positive impact on the history of our family. This is true despite the fact that there was a narrowness about their approach to Christianity. Early Quaker leadership tended to be harsh and overbearing. They strongly believed that Quakers could only marry within their faith. Marrying someone who was not a Quaker was grounds for ouster from their fellowship. That very thing happened to my 3rd Great Grandmother Matilda Reynolds (1814-1876) who was from a respectable Quaker family in Pennsylvania. In 1834 she fell in love and married James Shepard (1813-1887), though he was not a Quaker. As a result young Matilda, at just 20 years old, was booted out of her Quaker fellowship. 

Despite their strictness, the Quakers have contributed in many positive ways to the life of our family over the last 3 centuries. We can be grateful that they have left us a legacy of strong faith, patriotic citizenship and steady engagement with our culture. The most inspiring legacy of our Quaker progenitors is simply the stories of their lives, many of which are found in the posts of The Shepard's Crook.

A note of thanks. I want to say thank you to all of you who are readers of The Shepard's Crook. It is a labor of love that I began writing 14 years ago this month. After 710 posts and over a thousand family pictures I can still say I have enjoyed the research and the work very much. Best wishes to all of you for a joyous Christmas and a wonderful New Year. That greeting even extends to the anonymous troll who continues to play the part of the family grinch! 
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Steve Shepard

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