The Religious Society of Friends/Quakers

1650 until present

The Religious Society of Friends were a new group of people outside the Church of England who had very different ideas from the other religions in England and began in the1650s.   They met with a great deal of persecution yet continued their active, vocal sharing of their beliefs with any and all they met.  This proved to be disruptive to the Church of England as it appeared they were growing quite fast. Punishment and persecution became common.  Many left their homeland to practice their new religion.  At that time there were trade ships and others going to the New World.  They felt, though the voyages were difficult, they were better than the treatment in England.[12]

As the settlers moved to the west from Jamestown and explored areas along the Nansemond River, the Friends (or Quakers, as they were sometimes called) moved and settled in the area of what is now known as Chuckatuck. The beginning of their presence in the Chuckatuck area is recorded as early as 1670-72, although there is record of Quakers in the New World since 1655. Although the record is not clear, there was a missionary from England (a woman), who came by way of the Barbados, who later appeared on the east coast of southern Virginia in1650. The proof was only a letter she wrote back to her home in England that was thought to be hers.[13]

A fascinating characteristic of this group of settlers is the importance they gave to record keeping. The earliest is called Chuckatuck Record. As avid record keepers, they kept track and recorded all church meetings as well as their births, marriages and vital information about each one of their members. Their records were extremely detailed, including names, dates and even civil records.[14] They have played a huge part in research of historical information as they were the first to record many of the facts we need today. All of this information makes it possible for us to better understand and remember this period in history.[15]

At first in the Americas, the Quakers met in their own homes. “The first meeting house in Nansemond Co. was the General Meeting House, where Henry Wiggs and Katheren Garret [Yarret] were married, 1674, 12th month, 3rd day.  As their membership increased, they began to build small churches. The Summerton Monthly Meeting was 20 feet in length and 20 feet in width.”[16] It was suggested you could trace their movement today by the buildings which once were their churches in the small towns across the country. They were usually square, plain, and built with clear panes windows and probably similar measurements as above.[17]

Another very distinctive characteristic of this particular group is they were willing to establish friendly relationships with the Native American Indians that lived in the area.  They believed that every human individual had value and the light of God within. They also were great believers in peace in all circumstances. They did not believe in wars and would not fight in them.  If they were called to action they would participate in non-violent ways; some chose peaceful ways, such as Conscientious Objectors or participation in the medical field.  This was especially noted in World War II.   They were strong believers of civil rights for all people.  They did not believe in slavery, although in the early days of settlement, there were some who owned slaves. They were known to participate in the Underground Railroad during the Civil War.[18]

The Quaker members and churches in the Chuckatuck area settled part of Virginia and what we know today as North Carolina. They were visited by George Fox, who was their founder from England, in 1672.[19]  One of those Friends churches was Somerton Friends Meeting, in the present City of Suffolk (formally Nansemond County).  In recent years there has been the erection of a monument which commemorates that occasion.

Josiah Coale wrote in a letter to George Fox in England in 1660 after he returned to Virginia, regular meetings were being held “…at Chuckatuck, in Nansemond County between Nansemond River and Chuckatuck Creek”.[20] There are no known buildings present today that may have been churches in the Chuckatuck area.  However, there are recordings that suggest there were meetings early on in homes and some of those homes may still be in use.