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.

1 thought on “John Farmer: An Essex Quaker in the New World

  1. Interesting piece Julie. I love it that passionate Quakers have been behind so many great things in the world.

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