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The Friendly Virginians: America's First Quakers

by Jay Worrall, Jr., clerk of three Friends' Meetings in Virginia

Iberian Publishing Co., Georgia, 1994

cup of java

Worrall is a pleasant storyteller, and his familiarity with the records is obvious. This is a more "human", less technical or political history, loaded with information on individuals. I will gladly check it for any surnames of interest to my visitors here, but if you're interested in this time and place, I recommend getting the book. My own interest is especially in any clues for tracing Branson families in Virginia, as Thomas Branson of Burlington, NJ, had early land grants in the Valley. Worrall's book is not just about the early days, however; the last chapter covers "1950 to the present." This book was a delightful find at the Virginia Historical Society, Richmond. You can ask Amazon Books to search for a copy. Buy the book!


These passages are quoted from:

Chapter VI: "West of the Blue Ridge 1733-1750"

The Blue Ridge Mountains stood as a barrier against the Virginians for four generations. Only a few young men had climbed into them. On winter nights around the fireplaces, and in summer in the dooryards while families took the breeze and watched the fireflies, they speculated on what might be there beyond the Mountains. Rumors, about Indians, game herds and rich land, were told.

Governor Spotswood organized an exploring party in the summer of 1716, to cross the Mountains and find out for sure what lay beyond. A troop of horsemen clattered out of Williamsburg that August with the 40-year-old governor at the head. They rode to the foot of the Blue Ridge and climbed it (along presen day Route 33 from Stanardsville west), contending with hornets, blackberry thickets and the late summer sun. They reached the summit on September 5, then peered down at the grand sweep of the Valley of Virginia. John Fontaine, the expedition's chaplain, noted that "We drunk King George's health here and all the Royal Family." Then they descended into the Valley (near present day Elkton) and camped two nights by the Shenandoah River. Once back in Williamsburg, Spotswood advertised the Valley. He gave each member of the expedition a pin, a miniature golden horseshoe engraved "Sic Juvat Transcendere Montes" (What a Pleasure It Is to Cross the Mountains). So he dramatized the Valley and created a wave of interest. Presently a few brave families dared to move there.

The very first of these families was Quaker connected. They were the Stovers or Staubers, Jacob and Sarah and their children who moved in 1727 from their farm near present-day Reading, PA. They settled in sight of Massanutten Mountain in what is now Page County. The families of Adam Miller and eight more German-speaking families from the Pennsylvania Colony either accompanied the Stovers or followed them there. Jacob Stover, born in Switzerland and a kind of German Baptist by religion, married Sarah, the Quaker daughter of George Boone in 1715. The Stover children were reared under the influence of both parents' religious backgrounds, for their son Daniel, when he testified in a Caroline County court case in 1742, refused to swear on the Bible. He explained that he was a Baptist but a kind of Baptist who professed the same tenets as the Quakers; after which the court allowed him to affirm the truth of his testimony.

The next Valley settlers, who came in 1729, were out-and-out Quakers - 43 year old Abraham and Anne Hollingsworth, their four children and niece Lydia. They came from the New Ark Meeting in Delaware to Virginia, settling near an Indian camp at the Shawnee Spring, in what is now the south end of Winchester.

* * *

Ever since the Huguenots had been seated in Manakin Town, Virginia's politicians favored the idea of inducing "societies" to settle on the Western frontier, to be "buffers" against Indian attacks. In September 1701, the Burgesses had passed an act "For the Better Strengthening of the Frontiers and Discovering the Approaches of an Enemy." This law empowered the Governor to allot 10,000 to 30,000 acres of unclaimed frontier land to any suitable "society."

The law was little used for 26 years, until William Gooch became Virginia's governor in 1727. Governor Gooch immediately began to promote the Valley as a place to live. He was acting on instructions from London, where there was growing concern that the French in the Mississippi Valley might be planning some military move against England's Colonies.

The new governor was not troubled at all that the Indians, ancient inhabitants of the Valley, were the real owners of the land. But his effort to people the Valley was somewhat impeded by the fact that hundreds of square miles of the northern Valley were already claimed as private property by an Englishman. This was Thomas, sixth Lord Fairfax, Baron of Cameron, a 34 year old bachelor who lived in a towered castle in Kent. King Charles II, in exile in 1649, had given outright the whole Northern Neck of Virginia - all the land between the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers - to some of his "right trusty and well beloved" companions in exile; and the patent to this mighty tract had come down to Lord Fairfax through his mother.

Robert "King" Carter was Fairfax' land agent in Virginia and he was also the senior member of Governor Gooch's Council. He objected strenuously to Gooch's plan to grant away the Valley land claimed by Fairfax. But the Lords Commissioners in London, fearing the French, pressed Gooch to get on with it. And so, between 1728 and 1736 the Governor signed Orders in Council which granted 15 or more huge virgin tracts of Valley land to various applicants. The grants ranged in a magnificient arc north to south, from large "Fairfax" acreage along the Potomac taken by Richard ap Morgan of Pennsylvania, to 105,000 acres taken by William Byrd around the present-day city of Roanoke. Typically the grantees paid 10 shillings per 100 acres for the land and also promised to settle a given number of families on their tracts - usually one family on each 100 acres.

Four of the grants involved Quaker applicants -

  • Alexander Ross, 48, a Friend of the Nottingham Meeting in southern Chester County, PA, and his Scotch-Irish partner, Morgan Bryan, went to Williamsburg in October 1730. There they obtained an Order in Council for 100,000 acres of beautiful land on both sides of Opequon Creek just north of present-day Winchester.
  • Robert McKay, also a Nottingham Meeting Friend and his German partner, Yost Hite, went to Williamsburg a year later in October 1731. They obtained 100,000 acres to the south of Ross and Bryan's grant. They also bought 40,000 acres allotted to the Van Meter brothers north of present-day Front Royal.
  • Jacob Stover, the first settler, acquired two Quaker partners - Johan Ochs the Younger and Ezekiel Harlan of Kennett Square, PA. The three went to Williamsburg in 1730 to ask for an enormous wedge of Fairfax-claimed land along the Potomac where they proposed to establish a colony of Protestants from Switzerland. When they were turned down by Governor Gooch and King Carter, they went on to London. There they appealed to His Majesty's Commission for Trade and Plantations. They were opposed there, however, by Lord Thomas Fairfax in person and were turned down again. Ezekiel Harlan died in London during the hearings. Stover and Ochs were granted parcels totalling about 14,000 acres further south in the Valley.
  • Benjamin Borden (1692-1743), a Friend from Freehold, New Jersey, was an ambitious businessman with his eye on the main chance. When King Carter died in 1732, Borden sailed to England and applied to Lord Fairfax to succeed Carter as Fairfax' land agent. When Borden did not get the job, he promptly returned to Freehold, moved his family to Virginia and finally, in 1736, got a patent for a "Great Tract" of 99,129 acres around present-day Lexington.

* * *

Borden, and William Beverly who owned the patent north of Borden's, around present-day Staunton, induced many Scotch-Irish families, Presbyterians from Pennsylvania, to settle their land - and the middle Valley remains to this day dotted with Presbyterian churches. Stover and Ochs attracted Germans. But Alexander Ross and Robert McKay persuaded many Quaker families to people their patents, and so five Friends' Meetings sprang up north and south of Winchester beginning in 1733.

These Friends were the grandchildren of the immigrants who came with Penn to Pennsylvania. They came from farms around Philadelphia, from Chester and Bucks Counties in Pennsylvania and Burlington County in New Jersey - very few from Philadelphia itself. The families began to come in the summer of 1732, bringing furniture and farm tools on strings of packhorses. Fathers walked and mothers rode, carrying the baby. Frisky small fry explorer the path sides, while the oldest son tailed the pack horse string or drove along the family cow.

They came by the wagon road from Philadelphia to the frontier town of Lancaster. Then they struck the Indian path, the Great Warriors Path, one horse wide, that ran southwest through virgin woods to the Susquehanna River. Only God knows now how they forded or swam or rafted across the Susquehanna. By the evening camp fires they thanked God for his care. A hundred miles after the Susquehanna they splashed across the Potomac at Pack Horse Ford. Then the Valley of Virginia came into their view.

It was and is a kind of green Eden. The land was open and park-like; for the Indians had periodically burned it over to make hunting easier. Great mountains loomed blue on either side, east and west. The spring comes a few days earlier here than in Chester County, PA. Presently, somewhere around Opequon Creek, Alexander Ross or Robert McKay would meet them, gravely smiling, and lead them to their new home sites.

Six days in the week, those first Friends in the Valley, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, worked hard - raising log houses and barns, breaking the sod for new corn fields, planting kitchen gardens. On Sunday or First Day, however, they gathered with their neighbors to tend the spiritual dimension of their lives.

The five Quaker meeting places established in the Valley in the 1730s were these:

  • Providence Meeting was the northern-most, on Richard and Charity Beeson's place along Tuscarora Creek (two miles west of present day Martinsburg, West Virginia).
  • Hopewell Meeting held in a log house near Alexander and Catherine Ross' farm (about six miles north of Winchester). Hopewell was the largest meeting and the headquarters of Quaker activities in the Valley. The meeting house when it was built in 1734 was the first building for Christian worship west of the Blue Ridge. No other denomination is known to have put up a church building west of the Blue Ridge until Opequon Presbyterian Church was built in 1736.
  • Hollingsworth's (or Parkins' Meeting), now called Centre Meeting, met at Abraham and Anne Hollingsworth's, or in Isaac Parkins' house, just south of Winchester.
  • Crooked Run Meeting held in Robert McKay's home, three miles north of Front Royal. The home built of squared chestnut logs still stands, in Cedarville on U.S. Route 522.
  • Linville Creek, later Smith's Creek, met at first on land owned by Robert McKay, about where Broadway is now located - some 70 miles south of Providence Meeting and furthest south of the five Valley meetings. John Churchman of Nottingham Meeting made a rather critical judgment about these Friends when he visited them in fall 1739: "I went to a few families settled up Shenandoah, above the Three-Topt Mountain," he wrote. "I believe that the delight in hunting and a roving idle life drew most of them under our name to settle there."

[A section here omitted.]

Friends in the Valley in 1730s were isolated. The living was primitive and dangerous. While old Thomas Hollingsworth from Delaware was visiting his son at the Shawnee Spring, he was killed by a charging woods buffalo. Friends came to their meetings for worship carrying guns against wild animals. One Quaker woman riding home from meeting sidesaddle with her baby in her arms was chased by wolves right to her cabin door.

Yet these back country Friends did enjoy their lives. They had good times while helping one another to build cabins and raise barns. They were just settled in their new homes and hardly had time to build Hopewell Meeting House before young couples fell in love, and married after the manner of Friends. The whole Quaker community gathered to witness these weddings and to celebrate them. First Quaker bride in the Valley was Hannah McKay, Robert's daughter. She married in 1734 to George Hollingsworth, 22. He was Abraham and Anne's oldest child.

Quaker ministers criss-crossed and knit together the Quaker world on both sides of the Atlantic in those days. The first minister to reach the Valley was Joseph Gill, 60, of Dublin, Ireland. He visited the meetings on "old" Virginia during the summer of 1734 and then came right across the trackless Blue Ridge, accompanied by Samuel Jordan and William Duff, Virginia Friends. Joseph Gill wrote cheerfully in his journal that he found the Valley Friends in a thriving way, with divers young ministers appearing among them. He was enthused about four brothers, Thomas, John, Hur and Henry Mills, who "one after the other appeared in the ministry in wilderness Virginia." But Hannah McKay was about to be married when Joseph arrived at Hopewell Meeting, and he was dubious about "the great preparation for a marriage entertainment and the crowds (sic) which assembled to partake of it." He spoke closely to Friends about the need for moderation and temperance.

* * *

The Valley was still Indian country when the first white settlers came. A treaty was still in effect, made in 1722 at Albany between the chiefs of the Five Nations and the governors of New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia. By this treaty the Iroquois and their allies agreed to stay west of the Blue Ridge with the east side reserved for the whites. So the Valley Quakers and the other whites in the Valley were trespassers in terms of the Albany Treaty. In the 1730s it appears that no particular tribe was based in the northern Valley, but rather it was a hunting ground visited periodically by hunters of several tribes. Nevertheless the white settlers had moved west of the Treaty line.

Clearly, however, the tribes welcomed the coming of Pennsylvania Quakers to the Valley. Were these not the children of Onas, of William Penn, whose loving justice had been told around the council fires of the tribes now for two generations? Indians feared and avoided the few families from old Virginia who moved to the Valley. "Long Knives" or "Tuckahoes" the Indians called them -- but the Friends they welcomed. The Great Warrior's Path running north and south along the Valley floor -- now Route 11 -- went close by four of the five Quaker meeting places (all except Crooked Run Meeting's).

Stories have come down about the visits of Indian hunters to Quaker homes in the Valley of Virginia:

  • The Holingsworths of Seneca Spring lived right by a major Indian camping place and kept up friendly relations with the Seneca families who sojourned there.
  • Joseph Carter and his family came from Bucks Co., PA, to settle on Spout Spring on Opequon Creek about five miles east of Winchester. Across the creek was a grove, where two or three hundred Indians at a time would stay for weeks. Joseph Carter was a shoemaker and as the story goes, two Indians visited his shop one day. One of the men slipped a pair of new shoes under his blanket, but Joseph saw him do it and recovered the shoes before the culprit left the shop. The Indian's companion reported the incident to the chiefs and that evening the culprit was being severely chastised. Joseph, however, waded across the Opequon and asked for the punishment to cease.
  • William and Joseph Lupton, brothers, came from Buckingham Meeting in Bucks Co in 1740 and passed the winter sheltered under a fallen tree. They built a cabin there near a spring on the edge of a wide meadow two miles west of Winchester, and Joseph Lupton, 54, brought his wife Mary and eight children to set up housekeeping there. The spring was an Indian camping place and many came to camp there near the Luptons' cabin.
  • Benjamin Allen and family settled on the Great Warrior's Path where it crosses Smith's Creek, about 1734. An aged man of the Senedo tribe frequently visited the Allens. He told that their farm was the place of a great slaughter in his boyhood where the southern Indians (Catawbas) "killed my whole nation" excepting only himself and another boy. A great burial moung on the Allen farm was the grave site of the slaughtered Senedos. The extinction of that tribe may explain why no tribe was based in the northern Valley when Quakers arrived there.

I have begun posting the Branson records that I have found in early Virginia. Check the sitemap for current pages.

There is a website for the Robert Mackay family.

Buy the book!





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