Researching From Home

With Dr Herbert Eiden

Dr Herbert Eiden is the research assistant of The People of 1381 project (https://www.1381.online/) and former assistant editor of Victoria County History of Essex.

Where is your ‘office’?

I have a dedicated downstairs office containing my reference library, a laptop and a desktop because I work from home regularly.

Do you have a view out of a window when you are working? What is it and is it a distraction?

My view is into our side garden south-east facing with a big shrub (currently in white blossoms) in front of me.

What Essex research are you catching up on? Will this result in something published?

I am building up Excel sheets of relevant manorial documents for five counties; Essex is one of them. I took lots of images of Essex manorial court rolls before the ERO closed and can work with those now (at least for a few weeks).

Do you set yourself a strict timetable to work to or just pick up your research as and when?

I normally start at 8.30am, have a lunch break (cooked lunch!) and finish around 4.30pm.

Do you have a favourite online resource?

Manorial Documents Register; ERO online catalogue; NROcat; The National Archives Discovery catalogue; British Library Manuscript catalogue.

What is your favourite research beverage and snack?

 Nuts, sweet chilli crisps; juice, peppermint tea.

Apart from the news, is there anything that distracts you from your research?

Children

What are you most looking forward to when you are able to visit ERO again?

Manorial court rolls (late 14th century) and, of course, the staff, who are always friendly, extremely helpful and hugely knowledgeable.

Back to the Future: The impact of science across Essex

Our conference on the 7th March is almost upon us and it is about time that we introduce another one of our speakers.

Ian Vance has worked in Telecommunications technology for over 50 years. He designed the first complete radio on a silicon chip that has since become the standard for all mobile phones. He held may posts in ITT, STC and Nortel and was managing director of the world-famous Standard Telecommunication Laboratories (STL) in Harlow Essex where usable fibre optic cables were invented.

Ian will talk about the world of Telecommunications and how fibre optics research at the world-famous Standard Telecommunication Laboratories (STL) enabled cheap telephone calls around the globe, on-line everything, and mobile phone connections

“Telcoms is all about connecting A to B. For over 140 years the technical problem has been that lots and lots of connections have been needed. Over 50 years ago a practical possibility of using fibre optics was proposed at Standard Telecommunication Laboratories in Harlow Essex and this proved to be the only solution that has been found, or indeed, proposed, to the problem.”

“How many Nobel Prize in Physics laureates have resided and done their work in Essex? Well one for starters is Charles Kao – the father of Fibre Optics who worked in Harlow and enabled the modern digitally connected world”

Charles Kao

“If you watch Netflix or Amazon Prime or any online service, it would not happen if usable fibre optics had not been invented in Essex in 1966”

“Mobile phones obviously use radio waves to link up the actual phone in your pocket but the cell towers are ultimately connected using fibre optics. So an invention of a practical type of fibre in Harlow in 1966 is still affecting all our lives every time we pull out our iPhone”

Ian Will be one of 6 fantastic speakers at ‘Back to the Future’ on the 7th March. Don’t miss out on your chance to hear Ian, and don’t forget to have a look at the rest of our speakers introductions on our blog.

Book here:
https://www.essexrecordoffice.co.uk/events/back-to-the-future-the-impact-of-science-across-essex/

Back to the Future: The impact of science across Essex – The Science of Brewing

Over the centuries science has had a massive impact on the lives of the residents of Essex. Join us on the 7th March for a day of talks celebrating some of the everyday developments in technology that have transformed lives in the past and how we live today.

This one day conference is positively brimming with no less than 6 speakers talking on 7 different subjects.

  • Peter Wynn will be talking about gas manufacture and water purification;
  • Zoe Outram will discuss the science of archaeology;
  • David Crease will talk about the science of  brewing;
  • Ian Vance will look at the development of fibre optics at STL in Harlow;
  • John Miners will explore the science of cloth manufacture, and;
  • Tony Crosby  will wrap up with a whistle-stop tour of the industrial archaeology of Chelmsford

Over the next few weeks we will be introducing some of our speakers and their topics in a little more detail right here on our blog.

Our first introduction is for Dr David Crease. David is, amongst other things, one of the founding fathers of Woodforde’s brewery in Norfolk where he was for many years the head brewer. David and his Friend Ray Ashworth pioneered the new wave of handcrafted beers in the 1960’s. Having produced thousands of barrels in his career, who better to talk to us about the science of producing the perfect pint? David may have even hinted that he might bring some samples of medieval brews, so we have made sure to schedule him to talk just before lunch!

Brewing of some kind has a history almost as long as humanity and it will forever be intertwined with the human story. Essex was no exception, when a medieval agricultural labourer in the Dengie reached for a drink it was undoubtedly an ale he grasped and when the workers at STL went out for a drink after work, there were more than likely a few beers consumed.

Brewing has had a huge impact on our landscape and our society, but how many of us know how our beer and ale is made now and how it was produced by our forebears.

Make sure to come along on the 7th March to learn about the whole brewing process from field to glass.

To secure your place visit our website
http://www.essexrecordoffice.co.uk/events/back-to-the-future-the-impact-of-science-across-essex/

Part of:

An Essex Quaker in the Caribbean 1713-14

Julie Miller, a masters student from University of Essex, has taken up a research placement at the Essex Record Office, conducting an exploration into the story of John Farmer and his adventures, particularly in pre-revolutionary America, and has been jointly funded by the Friends of Historic Essex and University of Essex.  Julie will be publishing a series of updates from the 12-week project

This time we are looking at the most exotic leg of John Farmer’s first American journey when he toured the islands of the Caribbean.

In the course of nearly two years Farmer had travelled through Pennsylvania, the Jerseys, to New York, Nantucket Island, Long Island, Boston, Rhode Island, and Virginia, holding meetings wherever and whenever he could, bringing his Quaker Testimony and gathering Certificates of Unity from the various Friends’ Meetings he visited along the way.

Certificates were important documents as Quakers travelled only with the agreement of their fellow Friends, and their home meeting would issue a Certificate confirming their unity with the testimony that individual gave, and in return meetings who received that testimony would give a certificate confirming their satisfaction. 

An example here is from Thaxted, held here at the Essex Record Office, confirming their approval for John Farmer to travel in 1707, and their unity with him and his testimony. Note it is signed by his wife Mary Farmer as well as a number of other Quakers.[i]

Essex Record Office A13685 Box 47 Certificate for J Farmer to travel 29.3rd mo. 1707 (29th May 1707)

Arriving in Philadelphia at the end of October 1713 John Farmer reviewed his progress so far:

“I cast up my account of the miles I had traveled in North America & found it to bee 5607 miles. Friends of Phyladelpha & Samuel Harrison merchant a friend of London beeing there & having there a ship bound to Barbados were very kinde to mee & John Oxly (a minister of Phyladelpha) who went with mee: som in laying in Provishon for us & Samuel Harrison in giving us our passage to Barbados. Wee went on board the latter end of the 9th month 1713 [November 1713] [ii].

Wee had a pritty good voyage & had som meetings on board in our passage to Barbados where wee arrived the 5th of the 11th month 1713’ [5th January 1713/14].” [iii]

Quakers had been appearing in the Caribbean since the early 1650s, some coming as transported slaves from Britain, punished for being Quakers but others seeking the religious and career freedoms denied in their home countries.  In Britain religious dissenters were denied the option of going to university or taking up the professions, so many became businessmen, and the Caribbean colonies offered opportunities for trade, running large plantations and owning ships, as well as a greater freedom of religious expression than in Britain in the second half of the 17th Century.[iv]    

 The trade in cotton, sugar, coffee and tobacco required huge numbers of slave workers, many owned by Quaker families. There was a divided spirit within Quakers about the trade in human beings, and the owning of slaves.  As early as 1671 the founder of Quakerism George Fox had suggested slaves should be considered indentured servants and liberated after a given period of time, perhaps 30 years, and that they should be educated in Quaker religious beliefs[v].  The difficulty this caused was that Quakers believed all men to be born equal, and therefore by bringing their slaves into the Quaker brotherhood it meant they should be considered of one blood with their white masters. This dilemma meant that there was disquiet for the next 100 years in Quaker communities as they wrestled with the issue of whether or not they should keep and trade in slaves. 

Quakers in the Colonies[vi]

Despite travelling through the slave owning states in America and the Caribbean Islands John Farmer passed no comment on the slavery situation in his 1711-14 Journal.  For now he was silent on the matter.  Almost inevitably, John Farmer eventually waded into this highly controversial dispute, with catastrophic results, but that is a story for another day.

John Farmer made a four-month tour of the Caribbean islands of Nevis, St Kitts (which he called Christopher’s Island as Quakers did not recognise saints), Anguilla and Antigua holding several meetings.

In Barbados he held a large meeting in ‘Brigtoun’ (Bridgetown) where he remarked that the public were very civil.  In Anguilla he wrote disapprovingly that the Quaker congregation had “fell away into drunkenness and other sins which so discouraged the rest that of late they kept no meeting.” [vii]

Antigua was more successful, and he held 26 meetings and stayed five weeks bearing “Testimony for God against the Divell and his rending, dividing works on this island.’  But on one occasion in Parham, Antigua, Farmer again fell afoul of the local priest who “Preached against Friends [and] some of his hearers threatened to do me a mischief if I came there away and had another meeting.” [viii]

Map of St Kitts 1729

 In Charlestown on Nevis, Farmer again endured the tradition of protest by charivari (protest by rough music) something which had also happened in Ireland on a previous journey[ix], but this time with fiddles rather than Irish bagpipes and with somewhat darker consequences. John Farmer encountered a troublesome Bristol sea captain who decided to have fun at the intrepid Quaker’s expense, and paired up with an innkeeper to disrupt Farmer’s meetings by arranging for loud and continuous fiddle playing to drown out his preaching.  Farmer mused in his journal on the fact that the sea captain died a few days later of a “fevor & disorder” reflecting that God’s judgement may have come down upon the disturber of his meeting, reporting with some satisfaction that “at his buriell the Church of England preacher spake against people making a mock & game of religion”.[x]

Farmer wrote in his journal that while in Barbados he received instruction from God to go home to England for a short time before going back to America.  Perhaps this was a clue to the next phase of his life.  He took ship for England on the Boneta of London, sailing from Antigua 24th May 1714 and he landed safely back in London where his wife and daughters were waiting for him.  They then travelled on to Holland and also visited friends and family in Somerset and the south west before arriving home in Saffron Walden on 28th November 1714.

This is where the John Farmer journal finishes, but his story went on for another 10 years.  A story of passionate anti-slavery campaigning that cost John Farmer very dear. 

And that will be the story to be told in my next post about John Farmer’s extraordinary life.



[i] Essex Record Office A13685 Box 47 Certificate for J Farmer to travel 29.3rd mo. 1707 (29th May 1707)

[ii] A note on the dating processes used prior to 1751: Years were counted from New Year’s Day being on March 25th, so for example 24th of March was in 1710 and March 25th was in 1711.  In addition Quakers provided an extra difficulty as they refused to recognise the common names for days of the week, or months as they were associated with pagan deities or Roman emperors.  So a Quaker would write a date as 1:2mo 1710 which was actually the 1st April 1710 as March was counted as the first month.  In 1751 this all changed when the British government decreed the Gregorian form of calendar was to be adopted and the new year would be counted from 1st January 1752. See my previous post An Essex Quaker Goes Out into the World.

[iii] John Farmer Journal, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 51, p57

[iv][iv] For more information relating Quakers and the Slave trade see

Drake, T.E., Quakers & Slavery in America, Oxford University Press, London 1950

Rediker, M. The Fearless Benjamin Lay, 2017, Verso, London

Soderlund, J.R, Quakers & Slavery, A Divided Spirit, Princeton, 1985

[v] Drake, T.E., Quakers & Slavery in America, Oxford University Press, London 1950 pp. 6-9

[vi] Quakers in the Colonies: www.quakersintheworld.org/quakers-in-action/268

[vii] John Farmer Journal, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 51, p57

[viii] John Farmer Journal, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 51, p57

[ix] See previous post An Essex Quaker in Ireland, to understand more about protest by music.

[x] John Farmer Journal, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 51, p58

The Reach of The Marconi Photographic Section

Lewis Smith, the Essex Record Office’s Engagement Fellow, takes a look at some of the things in the Marconi Photographic Section’s archive.

Founded by Guigielmo Marconi in 1897, the Marconi Company (which held various names over its lifetime) were pioneers in wireless technology. Famously based in Chelmsford (regulars in the area will draw attention to places like ‘Marconi Road’ and ‘Navigation Road’), his technologies helped to shape the world we live in today: so much of our lives are a result of their research, from radio to navigation, from aeronautics to maritime, from communications continent to continent.


A11449 – 16748 MARCONI CO. TRADE MARK OR LOGO, 1947.

One part of the most interesting parts of the Marconi Company’s history was the Marconi Photographic Section, whom took hundreds of pictures over the organisation’s lifetime. These records are now stored at the Essex Record Office in Chelmsford. Unfortunately, this collection remains largely underused – so the British Society for the History of Science and Essex Record Office tasked me to spend some time scoping out the Marconi Photographic Section’s archive, working out what kind of images are within and, perhaps most importantly, work out how they can be used. Whilst I have only been in the archive for a relatively short period of time (since the beginning of October), there are some very interesting historical angles in desperate need of further research – from business to imperial history, from labour to marketing history.


A11449 – 78774, MAP OF NADGE RADAR CHAIN, 1968

One thing to note is that there are a lot of pictures of non-descript machines and circuitry – fans of the history of electronic engineering need look no further: historians of oscilloscopes, transmitters and receivers, power supplies, RADAR arrays, and pretty much all kinds of specialist electronic engineering will find something of interest here. These images present an extensive product history of Marconi’s inventions and patents. Perhaps more generally appealing, there is a lot for those interested in maritime and aeronautical history: one of the key ideas that came about from wireless communication was the idea of wireless navigation, and Marconi fitted many different pieces of equipment to aircraft and ships to aid in their navigation around the globe.


A11449 – 15771, TYPE D.F.G.26 RECEIVER WITH OSCILLOSCOPE TYPE O.R.3, 1945

But the view of higher international politics, engineering and industry are only one side of the coin: the prevalence of this technical equipment masks ordinary life. The archive presents us with a rich social history of the worker and their working practices. Workers, many male and female, black and white, British and international, are presented in the factories assembling intricate circuits. To look at the ethnography behind the people in these pictures reveals the clear shifts, both natural and forcible, in middle and working class employment. Notice particularly with image 2015 – everyone is happy and content, giving the viewer the impression that everything was okay working for Marconi. It wasn’t always this sweet.


A11449 – 2015, GIRLS WINDING & LACQUERING SHOP AT WORKS, 1919

As this is evidently the photographic archive of a business, there is huge scope for a business historian. These photographs are frozen moments in time, specifically captured because they want to show a particular angle, person, product or scene – why one moment and not another? Why one person over another? Why one place over another? More specifically, there are multiple photographs of how the Marconi Company attempted to market itself in a world of innovation: some of the most interesting pictures are of the exhibits set up to advertise wireless communication at various exhibitions.


A11449 – 2464, MARCONI STAND, AERO EXHIBITION, OLYMPIA, 1920

What is most interesting about the archive is the company’s vast spread throughout the globe: as with any history of the twentieth century, Empire remains front and centre. Imperial conquerors can come and go as they please, but radio technology meant the constant connection between colony and coloniser. Furthermore, the concept of technological Imperialism remained hot in this period: teaching others how to use Marconi equipment orients them towards using that equipment for a long time, forcing the colony to ask for technical help from the coloniser. This relationship is observable in the photographic archives as Marconi equipment was placed in different colonies, greatly expanding the imperial nation’s reach.


A11449 – 3070, MAHARAJAH USING A MARCONI TELEPHONE IN INDIA, No date.

Art lovers may also find something worthwhile in the archives. There are photographs of many different artistic drawings by members of staff in the collection depicting a variety of different scenes. The collection features many talented artists, as well as plastic models of Marconi scenes and vehicles, models of scientific principles, and copious drawings. It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that science and art are two separate unconnected topics, but the collection features some stunning images which clearly appeal to the art behind science.


A11449 – 14559, PAINTING ENTITLED “VOICE OF FREEDOM”, 1943.

This collection is for use in the Essex Record Office under Accession A11449 in over 100 individual boxes. This project hopes to eventually digitise and map these images to show the company’s reach. I have spent time electronically tagging the pictures with keywords: if you would be interested in looking at this spreadsheet or further discussing the project, do contact me at lcsmit@essex.ac.uk. Whether for research or for a casual perusal, this collection really has a lot to offer!

An Essex Quaker Visits the Native Americans

Julie Miller, a masters student from University of Essex, has taken up a research placement at the Essex Record Office, conducting an exploration into the story of John Farmer and his adventures, particularly in pre-revolutionary America, and has been jointly funded by the Friends of Historic Essex and University of Essex.  Julie will be publishing a series of updates from the 12-week project.

In May 1713 John Farmer was in Maryland attending the Western Shore Yearly Meeting of Friends..

“Afterwards I staid som time in Maryland & wrought with my hands at wool combing… While I was here I received fresh orders from Christ to have meetings amongst Indians in order to their convershon to Christ & to go to Virginia & Pensilvaina & ye west Indies in his service.” [i]

Farmer then set out to meet the local Native American communities properly and having had a good meeting amongst friends he commented that he had given testimony amongst “Indians and some Chief Indians and they were glad of it and marvelled that no such thing had been before offered to them”[ii]

He went on to say an interpreter spoke Farmer’s testimony and prayer at a meeting “to which the Indians several times gave their approbation in their way by giving a sound” [iii]. We can only wonder what form that sound took.

In August 1713 Farmer was at the Mulberry Grove plantation in Maryland at an evening meeting at George Truit’s house, where they were joined by a Native American priest, an interpreter and a number of other Native Americans.  Later in the evening they were joined by the “Indian King” who “spake very good English” and invited Farmer to visit their settlement.   In September 1713 he had a memorable visit lodging with the “Shuana Indians” at Conestoga on the Susquehanna River, staying in what he described as an “Indian King’s Palace”, where he slept on “bare [bear] skins on scaffolds before a good fire, for it was a cold frosty night”[iv]

Extract of page 8 of Part 2 of the Journal of John Farmer dated December 1714.  Essex Record Office Cat D/NF 3 addl. A13685 Box 50

In September 1713 Farmer was at the Philadelphia yearly meeting where he told the assembled Friends that he wanted to spend more time with the Native Americans and he received a Certificate of Unity from the Philadelphia Friends and received help and translators to hold meetings in Pennsylvania and share his testimony of the story of Jesus.

Farmer spent six months travelling and preaching with the Native Americans.  On 9th October 1713 there was a

large meeting amongst Indians nere Brandy Wine River in Chester County in Pennsylvania. Where a honest Swede did well Interpret for mee. It was a large & satisfactory meeting to the Indians & to our friends & to mee at the End. Whereof the Indians said that they were pleased with what they heard in the meeting.”[v]

John Farmer was aware that the Native Americans had a belief in God and the Devil and a concept of heaven and hell:

“The Indians have a beliuef of God. & that hee hath a son. & that hee is Good. & that the good people when they dy goe to him: & bee alwais in pleasure. But after ye bad people dy they are alwaise in affliction. The Indians also say yt there is a Divel who is bad & ye Author of badness & they are afraid of him.” [vi]

Virginia and Maryland Map Augustine & Moll Hermann C1700

But he reported that much trouble was being caused in the Native American communities by rum.  One man told him about a dream story he had heard:

The Indian in a trance had one com to him & bid him goe back & live well & then when hee dyed hee should be amongst thouse Indians who were in pleasure. Hee was asked why then did hee live badly by drinking to much Rum. Hee answered that before white people cam amongst them they were good & kind one to another but now they are becom bad & hard to one a nother that they may have wherewithal to buy Rum.”[vii]

At a meeting on 18th October 1713 at Conestoga, Farmer met up with Philadelphia Friends Hugh Lowden and Andrew Job.  At a meeting they convinced the Native Americans there to send one of their sons to Philadelphia to be taught to read and write in order that he could translate and ensure that “the love that hath hitherto been between you and us continuew between our Children and your Children after us, which the Indians assented to” [viii].

Farmer was obviously interested in the Native American’s spiritual understanding of the world around them and he reported the story of one hunter’s unearthly encounter:

“Ye sd Indian had bad luck in hunting. At wch hee was troubled & then see a man in white Raiment stand before him. Who asked him why hee was troubled & further said dost thou not know yt there is a great God who ruleth althings & giveth good luck to whome hee please? Do thou live well & teach ye Indians to do so too & then hee will give thee good things. The Indian asked him his name where upon hee gave himselfe ye name of a bird (wch the Indians say is so holy yt hee never tocheth ye ground) & then vanished out of the Indian’s sight.” [ix]

Within the journal I have not found references to Native American communities resisting or objecting to the conversations with John Farmer in particular and the Quaker’s in general.   He was not the first Quaker visitor, Thomas Chalkley had been at Conestoga in 1706 and had a good relationship with a female tribal leader who he called “an old Empress” who had dreamed that a friend of William Penn’s would be visiting and had advised her people to allow them to preach. Thus the foundations had already been laid for Native Americans to be receptive to the Quaker message.  At least initially.[x]

By November 1713 John Farmer was back in Philadelphia where he tallied up the miles he had travelled since arriving in America and found it to be 5607 miles.   It was then time to start planning for the next part of his journey, to the Caribbean Islands.

And so we leave our intrepid Essex Friend in Philadelphia, waiting for the ship to take him all the way to Barbados.


[i] John Farmer Journal, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 51, p.50

[ii] John Farmer Journal, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 51, p.50

[iii] John Farmer Journal, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 51, p.50

[iv] John Farmer Journal, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 51, p.50

[v] John Farmer Journal, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 51, p.55

[vi] John Farmer Journal, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 51, p.56

[vii] John Farmer Journal, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 51, p.56

[viii] John Farmer Journal, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 51, p.55

[ix] John Farmer Journal, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 51, p.56

[x] John Farmer Journal, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 51, p.55

For further information see Thomas Chalkey’s Journal for 1706 chap 45: http://www.archive.org/stream/journalofthomasch00chal/journalofthomasch00chal_djvu.txt

A New World in Essex

The Rise and Fall of the Purleigh Brotherhood Colony, 1896-1903

On the 21st November we invite you to join us at to celebrate the launch of A New World in Essex by Victor Gray with a talk by the author here at ERO in Chelmsford.

Victor Gray, Author of A New World in Essex

In this title Vic examines a period of time in the 1890s when there was widespread concern about the ills of late-Victorian society. One group of Christian Socialists, known as the Brotherhood Church, fired by the writings of Leo Tolstoy, set out to build an alternative to the harsh realities of urban life. Their mission led them to seek out a place where they could live out their beliefs, going ‘back to the land’, seeking self-sufficiency and equality of labour and reward. Their search led them to Purleigh in Essex, deeply rural and in the midst of a depression.

Despite the commitment, enthusiasm and sheer hard work poured into it, the colony lasted barely three years, but it had a strong influence on many progressive thinkers and experiments in the following decades. The ideas behind it and the causes of its failure remain relevant to this day.

Victor Gray is a former County Archivist of Essex. He was awarded an Honorary Degree by the University of Essex in 1993 for his contribution to the study and publication of Essex history. In 2014 he was made a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at the University of Suffolk. He is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and was awarded an M.B.E. in 2010 for services to British archives.

During the event you will also be able to purchase your copy of A New World in Essex at the special event price of £8.99 (RRP £9.99).

Thanks to the support of the Friends of Historic Essex this event is completely free, but booking is still essential, please click the button below to book.

An Essex Quaker in Ireland 1710 – 11


Julie Miller, a masters student from University of Essex, has taken up a research placement at the Essex Record Office, conducting an exploration into the story of John Farmer and his adventures, particularly in pre-revolutionary America, and has been jointly funded by the Friends of Historic Essex and University of Essex.  Julie will be publishing a series of updates from the 12-week project.

At the end of the last post we left John Farmer living in Colchester.  He was a 43-year-old family man, a wool comber by trade and his wife Mary was working as a nurse.  They had two children, Mary Fulbig, Mary’s 20-year-old from her first marriage, and Ann, now about 8 years old. But John Farmer was also an itinerant Quaker minister who was regularly moved by Christ to travel, giving his testimony at inns and on the streets and he had already travelled widely in England, Scotland and in some of Ireland.

His journal says that in the 11th month of 1710 (January 1710/11) John Farmer received the  instruction of the Lord to travel to the West of Ireland where there were currently no Quaker meetings. Farmer went to Liverpool, taking ship and arriving in Dublin on 18th March 1710/11.  He travelled to the West of Ireland intending to hold meetings wherever he stopped.  But he was imprisoned twice at Castlebar, County Mayo by Justice George Bingham for holding meetings.

In Headford in County Galway, Farmer endured his first episode of charivari (protest by rough music) when he encountered a priest and some townspeople determined to stop his meeting at a local hall.  He reported glumly that the priest engaged a bagpipe player to interrupt proceedings:

‘ye priest instructed ye man to thrust his bagpipes in at ye window there he sounded to hinder ye people from hearing me speak. But ye people within thrust out ye pipe & shut ye window whereupon hee thrust it in at another but ye people thrust it out there also.  But he had a drunken souldier that assisted him in it by opening ye window again & again for him to thrust his bagpipe.’

Anonymous sketch of an 18th Century piper.

To the modern mind this episode is highly amusing. However the sober and godly John Farmer found the situation difficult, particularly as the priest then arranged a warrant for his arrest.  Farmer was much relieved when friendly townspeople advised his guide to take him out of town by another road and he ‘escaped ye snare which ye priest laid for me after hee saw his musicians were ineffectual’.

In Galway John Farmer was arrested again, having fallen out with the local priest Reverend Shaw, and all his notes, permission papers and certificates were confiscated before he was thrown into prison again.  He was forcibly removed from town by being placed on a boat which later came ashore in County Clare, where he held rather more successful meetings at Ennis, Quin and Sixmilebridge before moving on to Limerick where he preached at Bruff, Kilmallock, Tralee and Killarney and elsewhere.  Farmer finally returned to England via Wales, the West Country and the home counties where he had various meetings with Quaker friends and visited his family in Somerset to advise them of his plan to go to America.  He arrived home in Colchester on 9th July 1711.

So we leave John and Mary Farmer, and their girls Mary and Ann living quietly in Colchester, but not for much longer.  In my next post we will look at John Farmer’s exploits in pre-revolutionary America.

An Essex Quaker Goes Into the World -The Scottish Journey 1707-08

Julie Miller, a masters student from University of Essex, has taken up a research placement at the Essex Record Office, conducting an exploration into the story of John Farmer and his adventures, particularly in pre-revolutionary America, and has been jointly funded by the Friends of Historic Essex and University of Essex.  Julie will be publishing a series of updates from the 12-week project.

Before looking at the next phase of John Farmer’s life I wanted to look first at the complexities associated with the diaries or journals of people living before the 1750s.

The Wool Comber. Image from The Book of English Trades 1827.

In 1751 England and her empire, including the American colonies, still adhered to the old Julian calendar, which was now eleven days ahead of the Gregorian calendar, introduced in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII and in use in most of Catholic Europe. Years were counted from New Year’s Day being on March 25th, so for example 24th of March was in 1710 and March 25th was in 1711. In addition Quaker’s provided an extra difficulty as they refused to recognise the common names for days of the weeks, or months as they were associated with pagan deities or Roman emperors. So a Quaker would write a date as 1:2mo 1710 which was actually the 1st April 1710 as March was counted as the first month.

In 1751 this all changed when the British government decreed the Gregorian form of calendar was to be adopted and the year would be counted from 1st January 1752. At the 1751 London Meeting for Sufferings the Quakers issued a document advising Friends how to adjust to the new way of counting years but refused to acknowledge the naming of days and months as being based on ‘Popish Superstition’.i

London Meeting of the Sufferings Advice on Regulation Commencement of the Year, 1751, Essex Record Office – A13685 Box 53.

John Farmer’s Journal, stored at the Essex Record Office, is a handwritten account of one man’s travels in the eighteenth century taking the Quaker message to communities in Ireland, Scotland, America and even the Caribbean Islands. Because he was writing in the first quarter of the 18th Century he used old style dating , and the Quaker method for numbering days and months as described above. A first day is a Sunday, a first month is March, so I have calculated all dates into Common Era notation, and dual dated years for dates shown between January and March.

Farmer wrote the journal after he returned in 1714 from his first American journey. He was born in Somerset in 1667, brought up a Baptist, and almost immediately following his Baptism in 1684 he sought fellowship with the Quakers of Stogumber in Somerset and Cullompton in Devon and began work as an itinerant wool comber. He travelled throughout England with his trade before settling in Saffron Walden where he married a fellow Quaker, widow and nurse Mary Fulbigg in 1698 and started family life with his wife, her daughter Mary from her earlier marriage, and they were joined in 1701 by another daughter, Ann. However both John and his wife were also drawn to preaching the Quaker testimony and were prepared to travel many miles in the ministry.

John Farmer quotes numerous biblical tracts within his journal, but one resonates in particular as being his inspiration: “And he said unto ym go ye into all ye world & preach ye gospel to every creature.”ii Gospel of St. Mark, chapter 16, verse 15. And John Farmer certainly travelled far and wide to preach the gospel wherever he could.

The first section of his journal details his intention to have the book published, “for ye good of soules now and in future ages”. The second part details his religious testimony, his early life in Somerset before his conversion to Quakerism, and his struggles with keeping true to his faith. He goes on to describe his travels, alone or occasionally with his wife. He travelled throughout Britain and Ireland holding public meetings to preach his testimony, sometimes with disastrous and occasionally unwittingly humorous results.  The third section of the journal is an account of his journey through the eastern states of America, visiting Native American communities and travelling to the islands of the Caribbean, in an extraordinary expedition that lasted nearly 3 years. We will be looking at the various places he visited and the adventures he had in later posts.

In 1705 Farmer obtained a certificate giving the Thaxted Quaker Monthly Meeting’s blessing on his idea of travelling to ‘severall parts of England.”iii

Certificate for John Farmer to travel in the ministry, dated 24th of 2nd mo 1705 (24th April 1705) Essex Record Office – A13685 Box 47 Bundle F5.

However when he asked the Saffron Walden Friends to approve his revised plan which was to now include Scotland and Ireland in 1706 he reported there was some opposition to the scheme. A letter in the Essex Record Office archive gives us a clue to the possible attitude of the Thaxted Friends. Written by John Mascall of Finchingfield and dated 25th 2nd month 1707 (25th April 1707) Mascall tells the monthly meeting that “Reciting the case of the Talents Given; to some more, some lesse, which everyone is fitfull to and not go beyond it” he had advised John Farmer to “weight a while… to exercise his talents nearer to home…”iv which must have been very disappointing to a man so desperate to take his testimony out into the world.

This delay led to John Farmer suffering what he saw as God’s chastisement for the delay with a 4-month long bout of piles, an affliction he described as ‘Himrodicall paine’. Clearly this was not a condition beneficial to long expeditions on horseback.

Eventually a certificate was issued by the Thaxted meeting in May 1707 , interestingly signed by both Mary Farmer and the previously doubtful John Mascall, and so John Farmer began his travels in earnest. He and Mary went to Nottingham, and then John went on alone to Scotland.

Certificate for John Farmer to travel in the ministry, dated 29th of 3rd mo 1707 (29th May 1707) Essex Record Office – A13685 Box 47 Bundle F5.

Whilst in Durham on his way to Scotland John Farmer sent a loving letter to his wife Mary, dated 16th June 1707 where he asks her to send mail care of “Bartie Gibson the Blacksmith of Edinburgh”. He reminds Mary to keep the children reading the bible and “tell ym I would have them remember their creator & love him more than their Idolls”.vi

John made his first visit of six months to Ireland which he briefly covers in saying that he “attended all the meetings there and held several meeting at inns and on the street where people were attentive and civil.” He then headed back to Scotland again where he mentions preaching in Port Patrick, Stranraer, Govern, Ayr, Douglas and elsewhere. He complained some Scottish people were rude and in Penrith, Cumberland (Cumbria) he was assaulted at a Sunday meeting when: “the Divil raged & stired up a man to abuse mee by throwing dirt in my face & striking mee”vii

In Ormskirk John Farmer was imprisoned for a night by the Constable for holding a meeting in the street. From Lancashire where Mary met up again with her husband, the Farmers travelled homeward, stopping in London for the 1708 yearly meeting before going home to Colchester where they had now settled, and where they remained until January 1711 when the urge to travel struck John Farmer yet again.

In the next post we will look at Farmer’s 1711 visit to the West of Ireland, where he was not widely welcomed.


i London Meeting of Sufferings Advice on Regulating Commencement of the Year, 1751, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 52

ii John Farmer Journal, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 51, p1

iii Thaxted Monthly Meeting Minutes 1705, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 47 Bundle F5

iv Letter from John Mascall 1707, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 47 Bundle F5

v Certificate for John Farmer to travel in the ministry 1705, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 47 Bundle F5

vi Letter from John Farmer to Mary Farmer Durham 1707 Essex Record Office Cat D/NF 3 addl. A13685 Box 51

vii John Farmer Journal, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 51, p28 [1] John Farmer Journal, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 51, p28

John Farmer: An Essex Quaker in the New World

Julie Miller, a master’s student from University of Essex, has taken up a research placement at the Essex Record Office, conducting an exploration into the story of John Farmer and his adventures, particularly in pre-revolutionary America, and has been jointly funded by the Friends of Historic Essex and University of Essex.  Julie will be publishing a series of updates during the 12-week project.

John Farmer was born near Taunton in 1667 to Particular Baptist preacher Isaac Farmer and his wife Jane.  He learned a trade as a wool-comber and by the age of 18 he was travelling with his trade and seeking his faith along the way.  He accidentally found himself in a Quaker meeting house in 1685 and heard Jasper Ball speak and he knew he had found the faith he was looking for.  He married the Saffron Walden widow and Quaker preacher Mary Fulbigg (neé Wyatt) on 27th May 1698 and settled into married life in Essex.  On 1st May 1701 their daughter Ann was born.

So far so normal.

But John Farmer was a man who liked to travel.  His were not the random wanderings of a feckless young man, but the journeys of a dedicated Quaker who lived to share his religious faith wherever he could be heard. As he writes in his own words:

It hath pleased the (ye) Lord to make use of me as an Instrument to
preach his Everlasting Gosple (sic) so much as that I have at several times spent about
6 years & 6 months time & have travelled about 29200 miles by land
& sea in England Wales Scotland Irland (sic) North America & the
West Indies in it.

Journal of John Farmer dated December 1714 p 6. – D/NF 3 addl. A13685 Box 50

Fortunately, the Society of Friends in Thaxted and Saffron Walden held a comprehensive archive which has now been accessioned to the Essex Record Office and the handwritten testimony of John Farmer’s life and journeying in the Quaker faith along with his journal of his travels in America 1711 – 1714 were bound in a single volume and stored with associated papers for us to enjoy over 300 years later.

The opening pages of the Journal of John Farmer dated December 1714.  Essex Record Office Cat D/NF 3 addl. A13685 Box 51

The Quaker faith was based on a personal relationship with God, with no intervention from a priest.  They believed their actions were based on instruction received from God which made Himself known by bringing awareness of an Inner Light during silent prayer.   Thus, John Farmer wrote his own testament of faith and shared it at meetings throughout Britain, Holland and America.  He met with Native Americans and survived illness and injury on his first journey before returning to England to write up his experiences. Later he returned to America and became a radical anti-slavery campaigner, was ejected from the Philadelphia Society of Friends and died at the age of about 57 in late 1724 in Germantown Pennsylvania.