Introducing the 2020 University of Essex MA placement student

Grace Benham, MA History student at the University of Essex, has recently embarked on a twelve-week placement with the Essex Record Office. She is working with a collection of oral history interviews in the Essex Sound and Video Archive, which documents the establishment of domestic refuges in London and the East of England (Acc. SA853).

When I chose to apply for a work placement as a part of my MA programme, applying to the Essex Record Office was an easy choice. As a Colchester resident born and bred, being able to engage with local history on such a practical level, working with an institution that holds interviews of my own grandmas on their lives – it was incredibly exciting to be accepted. I wanted to do a work placement as I wish to pursue a career in history, particularly archives, exhibitions or museums, and so such an experience is invaluable, as well as simply just really interesting.

Due to the unfortunate circumstances which have affected us all, I was unable to participate in the original placement project which required collecting oral history interviews. I therefore had a choice on which archives I would like to engage with remotely. It, again, was another easy choice: to get involved with the ‘You Can’t Beat a Woman’ collection of oral history interviews and to research, catalogue and produce blogs about it. A subject dear to my heart, I have found the study of the founding of women’s refuges in Essex and London is as inspiring as it is difficult to listen to. I have chosen to start this project by homing in on Colchester specifically, as the collection is vast and a geographical focus was the most obvious and compelling place to start.

What is immediately apparent in listening to these interviews is the incredibly dedicated and tenacious people who founded Colchester Refuge from the ground up. The practical, legal, economic, societal and emotional work required to provide a safe place and an abundance of resources for female victims of domestic violence is extremely evident and it is nothing less than admirable the way in which these predominantly women, with little to no previous experience in any related fields, fought for, and eventually founded, the refuge against the odds. I even had the honour to talk with Dr June Freeman, a key founding member of Colchester Refuge, author, and lecturer who compiled these interviews and who was the subject of several of these interviews. June made a great emphasis on what an uphill struggle they faced, as domestic violence was not even known as it is today. It was seen as a problem that should be kept private and within families, a problem which held little support from the police, courts, doctors and even social workers. The founders had to work tirelessly to convince Colchester Borough Council of the importance of a refuge and to finance such a venture without help.

Moyna Barnham describes the first steps towards starting up a women’s refuge in Colchester and the challenge of convincing people of the need for a refuge.

Sadly, another recurring theme in the interviews is a feeling that at the time of the interviews (2017) a loss of funding and interest in domestic violence is occurring in Essex and across the country. This rings unfortunately true as current circumstances have led to a rise in domestic violence. Domestic abuse charity Refuge reports that calls to the National Domestic Abuse Helpline have increased by about 66% since lockdown began in March, while the website received a 700% increase in visits in one day. As such the opportunity to listen and learn from these oral histories is more important than ever.

Alison Inman mourns the continuing need for refuges.
Friends of Historic Essex logo

We are grateful to the Friends of Historic Essex and the University of Essex for their financial support in making this placement possible.

If you need support to deal with domestic abuse, please call the helpline below or check out the following guidance.

National Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0808 2000 247

Local support: https://www.essex.gov.uk/report-abuse-or-neglect/domestic-abuse

COVID-19 Domestic Violence Guidance: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-and-domestic-abuse

An Essex Quaker’s Wife – The Indomitable Mary Farmer & her Daughters

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 part 8 of this series, we change tack to explore the life of John’s wife Mary Farmer.

There is an old saying that behind every great man there is a great woman.  In the case of John Farmer, wool comber, Quaker, traveller and slavery abolitionist, this is certainly true, in that he had an unusually independent wife.

Mary Wyatt was born 8:9mo 1665 (8th November 1665) to Thomas and Etheldered Wyatt, the eldest of twelve siblings. An annotated list of the births of her numerous brothers and sisters, and sadly the deaths of four of them in infancy, is held in the Essex Record Office archive, an unusual survival of a complete family list from the time.

The Wyatt family appear throughout the Thaxted and Saffron Walden Quaker archives, a large family who left a lasting mark on the records of their community in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Annotated list of Wyatt siblings ERO A13685 Box 49 Bundle of birth & burial notes Thaxted 1665-1686 [i]

Mary Wyatt married Samuel Fulbigg of Haverhill in 1689.  Their only daughter, also called Mary was born on 16th day of 5th month 1690 (16th July 1690) in Saffron Walden.[ii]

Birth Record of Mary Fulbigg : ERO A13685 Box 49 Bundle I.1 of birth & burial notes Thaxted 1665-1745

Tragically this marriage was not to last long.  Another note in the archives tells us that on 1st of 10 mo 1692 (1st December 1692) Samuel was buried, having been killed when the funnel fell from his brewing copper the previous Monday (2nd Day). This awful accident left Mary as a widow at 27 years old, with an 18-month-old baby to look after.

Burial Record of Samuel Fulbigg : ERO A13685 Box 49 Bundle I.1 of birth & burial notes Thaxted 1665-1745

Originally from Somerset, John Farmer came to Saffron Walden in late 1697 or early 1698.  I first find him in a Monthly Meeting at Thaxted in April 1698 showing as donating a shilling for the relief of a Quaker in need[iii].  He was an itinerant wool comber, as was fellow Quaker Zacharias Wyatt, the younger brother of Mary Fulbigg.  It is possible that as they shared a common employment, perhaps Zacharias brought John Farmer to Saffron Walden.  Or perhaps they met when John Farmer joined their Quaker meeting, but at some point it is likely that Zacharias introduced his widowed sister Mary to John Farmer.

Mary had not been idle since being widowed.  According to a comment in John Farmer’s journal she had travelled 1400 miles in the ministry before he met her, and she had “a gift of prophesy or preaching given her by ye Lord before she was my wife”.[iv] Marriage was a welcome gift to John Farmer who had agonised in his diary about the fears of giving into temptation and vanity.  Farmer wrote in his journal that when they married 27:5mo 1698 (27th July 1698)

Ye Lord preserved mee in many Temptations from being destroyed by them. In & by his advice and help I took an honist Friend to bee my wife in ye way of marriage used amongst us”.[v]

Married life does not appear to have stopped either Mary or John from traveling. In July 1700, Sampford Women’s Meeting heard from Mary Farmer that she intended to take a journey along with another Friend, Elizabeth Spice of Saffron Walden “upon the sword of truth through Huntingdonshire and Bedfordshire to visit meetings there” and permission to travel was granted. A month later the Thaxted Women’s meeting received 15 shillings from Mary, perhaps collected on her journey. [vi]

18th Century Quaker Woman, London Life 1700

Ten months later John and Mary Farmer’s only daughter Ann was born 1:3 mo 1701 (1st May 1701).[vii]  Now having two young children one might have expected Mary to settle into domestic life.  But Farmer’s journal comments that by 1714 she had travelled a further 1700 miles in her own ministry.

In December 1702 Mary Farmer was asked by the Monthly Meeting to work with two other women Friends to sell the property of deceased widow Elizabeth James and settle her funeral expenses, bringing any residue back to the Meeting.  Clearly this was a task which required someone to be held in the utmost trust and seems to have gone well.

In 1704 Mary went on an extended five-month long journey travelling in the South and West of England,  recorded in John Farmer’s journal, while he was left at home to care for the children:

“In ye year 1704 my wife was moved & inabled by ye Lord to travel 5 months in his service in ye west & south of England. Shee had a good journey & did service for ye Lord in it.  & came well home to mee & our children wch bee also well.  Blessed bee God for it. Before she went shee told ye monthly meeting of it & recived a ceirtificate from them to carry with her.”[viii]

However her husband’s description of Mary as an ‘honist friend’ was possibly a little dubious.  A significant issue had hung over the Farmer family both before, and for some years after, their marriage and related to a legacy for Mary Fulbigg (Mary Farmer’s daughter from her first marriage) from Grace Fulbigg, her grandmother, and it came to a head in 1705.

John Farmer commented in his journal that

“In ye year 1705 the enemy strove to destroy severall of us in & by a difference about Earthly things.  But blessed bee ye Lord for his making use of our friends called Quakers to save us whereby also by his Spirit in us hee ended ye difference & saved us from disstruction.”

 It was noted in the Monthly Meeting on 26th July 1698 (the day before the Farmers got married) that the permission was granted “Depending on the resolution of £10 owed to Mary Fullbigg Junior from her grandmother’s will”.[ix]  At the time £10 was worth £1070 in today’s money, the equivalent of 4 months work for a skilled tradesman at the time[x].

 It seems this issue remained unresolved until 1705 when the matter was raised by John Mascall who noted in the Monthly Meeting on 20th March that he “desires ye judgement of ye said meeting concerning JF”.  At the next meeting on 24th April John Farmer himself raised the subject, asking if the £10 given for the use of his daughter in law (step daughter) could be placed in his own hands against him offering his house as surety.  In June the Monthly Meeting asked John Farmer to sign a double bond of £16 for the use of Mary Fulbigg, and trustees were appointed, one of whom was Thomas Wyatt, Mary Farmer’s father.  But at the meeting on 28:6mo 1705 (28th October 1705) the whole family dispute came to a terrible head when Thomas Wyatt and his son Zacharias came to the monthly meeting and publicly accused Mary Farmer of destroying Grace Fulbigg’s will:

The case of difference beingthe said Mary of destroying a widdows will made by the advice of her relations before marriage to the said John and left in her own hands to address wherein was ten pounds given to a daughter which the said Mary had by a former husband.”[xi]

The meeting insisted this “mischief” be resolved immediately and at the first meeting of 1706 the Friends gathered at Henham to witness a bond given from John Farmer to John Wale of ten pounds by the direction of the quarterly meeting for the use of Mary Fulbigg.  The Meeting directed that Henry Starr should keep it for her and John Farmer eventually confirmed to the Monthly Meeting on 25th February 1706/7 that the bond was signed and sealed, and now in the hands of Henry Starr. Having sorted out the mess his wife appeared to have caused, at the same meeting John Farmer then advised them he would be heading off on his travels, but not surprisingly the somewhat irritated meeting advised him to request permission of the Quarterly Meeting first.

Perhaps the reluctance to allow him to travel was because in 1703 Zacharias Wyatt had to advise the Meeting that John Farmer had “gone forth a journey into ye Northern parts” [xii] and he had not waited to get a certificate, but asked Zacharias to procure one, and get Mary Farmer to send it on to him.  It seems clear John Farmer was always going to be a rule-breaker and Mary Farmer was something of a willing accomplice.  Perhaps it was Farmer’s need to travel that had prompted the Friends to pin down the details of Mary Fulbigg’s legacy before he took off again. 

When John Farmer travelled north eventually in 1707 Mary accompanied him to Nottingham and then came home to wait for him.  When he reappeared in September 1708 he immediately moved his family to Colchester where they then resided for three years, him working as a wool comber and she as a nurse before he decided to go travelling again, this time on a 3-year trip to pre-revolutionary America.  John Farmer moved Mary and her daughters back to Saffron Walden and the Monthly Meeting accepted them back on 20th September 1711. He noted that Mary was working as a nurse and she had decided to be amongst Friends at Saffron Walden while she nursed her now lame daughter Mary.

Despite her husband being in America Mary did not stop performing the ministry work she also felt called to do, and in March 1713 she requested and was granted a certificate to visit churches in Suffolk and Norfolk.  In July 1714 she appeared in the records again having returned a certificate for travelling in the North and had acquainted the Friends that she now intended to go to Holland[xiii]

John Farmer arrived back in the Thaxted Meeting records on 30:9mo 1714 (30th November 1714) and they were delighted to receive the many certificates he had collected from America.   However at the same meeting he announced he would be returning immediately to America and they drafted a lengthy certificate allowing him to go.  Interestingly although several women did sign the certificate, Mary Farmer was not one of them.

Before he travelled back to America John Farmer wrote out in full his journal, from the notes he had gathered on his travels, and attached to it an epistle with instructions that the Journal was to be published.  It seems this never happened, and we have to wonder with whom he left the document.  A tantalising clue lies on page 6 of the document.  Farmer is discussing financial matters and mentions when he married Mary “Her estate was valued at upwards of …” and the next word has been neatly cut out of the page.  Then he mentions “I saved for my selfe by my labour and God’s blessing upwards of …” and again the word had been cut out of the page.  It’s only a theory, but my hunch is that Mary may have removed this personal information – she did after all apparently have previous for destroying financial information! [xiv]

Extract from John Farmer’s Journal showing excisions –  Essex Record Office A13685 box 51 – page 6

A couple of letters from John Farmer to Mary survive at the Essex Record Office. One particularly poignant one is from him in Virginia dated 1st of 4mo 1716 (1st June 1716) instructing Mary to send her belongings to Philadelphia, via Anthony Morris and detailing how she and the children were to travel to him, as he now planned to settle in America.  But for some reason, which we do not know, she never went, and never saw her husband again[xv].

After a number of adventures in America detailed in my previous posts John Farmer died in 1724 and in his will he left all his English possessions to Mary Farmer. He left his American possessions to his daughter Ann.  Mary promptly sent Ann to America to claim her inheritance and Mary began her own foreign adventure, travelling to Holland and Denmark in the ministry in 1725. She also left a handwritten account of her journey, where alongside her testimony she revealed encounters with pirates, fierce storms and other adventures. [xvi] 

Extract from Mary Farmer’s Journal 1725 ERO A13685 Box 51

John’s stepdaughter Mary Fulbigg stayed in Saffron Walden and kept a notebook for many years. Her book noted that her mother Mary Farmer had died 13th of 2nd month 1747 (13th of April 1747) at the extraordinary age of 82. [xvii]

Extract – Mary Fulbigg’s Journal – ERO A13685 Box 51

So far I have found no record of what finally happened to Mary Fulbigg. The last entry in her notebook is dated 3mo 24 1762 (24th March 1762).  She would have been nearly 72 years old so perhaps she died not long afterwards. Hopefully the record lies somewhere still to be found.  Both Mary Fulbigg and Mary Farmer’s handwritten books are here in the Essex Record Office and will be part of my future study plans.

Ann Farmer finally travelled to America in early 1725. The daughter who hadn’t seen her father for ten years applied to the Thaxted Friends Men’s Meeting for a certificate to attend Philadelphia Meeting on 23: 12th 1724 (23rd February 1724/5)[xviii] to claim her inheritance. Her certificate also indicated helpfully that she was clear of any attachments in England and free to marry, should she wish to.  Ann went on to become a small part of the American founding story.  She married Benjamin Boone, uncle of the frontiersman Daniel Boone, on 31st October 1726 and had one son, John Boone born in December 1727, but sadly Ann died very shortly after of complications from childbirth, at the age of only 26[xix].  John Boone was reported to have been brought up at his Uncle Squire Boone’s house alongside his cousins including the famous Daniel (b 1734), until his father remarried in 1738.  John Boone went on to have 9 children, founding a Boone dynasty in Hunting Creek, Rowan County, North Carolina the eldest of whom, Benjamin Boone became a Baptist Reverend [xx]

I am not sure John Farmer would have approved.

Thus we come to the end of the story of the Essex Quaker and his family for now.  It is by virtue of the fact that the Thaxted and Saffron Walden Quakers kept such comprehensive records that the family’s adventures, squabbles and dedication to their faith have come down to us in such glorious detail and nearly 300 years after John Farmer died we can still hear his voice, in the twenty-thousand-word journal that he laboured over, “Written in obedience to God for ye good of souls in this and future ages[xxi].  If only he could have known just how far into the future his words would travel.


[i] ERO A13685 Box 49 Bundle of birth & burial notes Thaxted

[ii] ERO A13685 Box 49 Bundle I.1 of birth & burial notes Thaxted 1665-1745

[iii] ERO A13685 Microfilm T/A 261/1/1

[iv] John Farmer Journal, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 51, p.22

[v] John Farmer Journal, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 51, p.22

[vi] Essex Record Office A13685, Microfilm T/A 261/1/11

[vii] For more information on Quaker dating practises please see my earlier post: An Essex Quaker Goes Out into the World

[viii] John Farmer Journal, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 51, p.26

[ix] Essex Record Office A13685, Microfilm T/A 261/1/1

[x] National Archives Money Converter http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/currency-converter. Compare £10 in 1700 with 2017 values.

[xi] Essex record Office A13685, Microfilm T/A261/1/1-5

[xii] Essex Record Office A13685 Box 1 Thaxted Monthly Meeting Minutes book 1697-1723 – 29:4m 1703 (29th July 1703)

[xiii] Essex Record Office A13685 Box 1 Thaxted Monthly Meeting Minutes book 1697-1723 – 27:5mo 1714 (27th August 1714)

[xiv]Extract from John Farmer’s Journal, Essex Record Office A13685 box 51 – p. 6

[xv] Essex Record Office A13685, Box 51 John Farmer letter from America 1:4mo 1716 (1st June 1716)

[xvi] Extract from Mary Farmer’s Journal 1725 ERO A13685 Box 51

[xvii] Extract from Mary Fulbigg’s Journal – ERO A13685 Box 51

[xviii] Essex record Office A13685, Microfilm T/A261/1/1-5

[xix] For more information relating to Ann Farmer Boone and the family see:

https://www.geni.com/people/Ann-Anne-Boone/6000000001744943746

[xx] For more information relating to Benjamin Boone the younger see:

https://www.geni.com/people/Rev-Benjamin-Boone/6000000009592914585

[xxi] John Farmer Journal, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 51, p.1

An Essex Quaker’s Indiscreet Zeal – the Final Chapter

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 part 7 of this series, we reach the end of John Farmer’s travels.

Just over a year after he came home from his epic American journey in 1715 John Farmer travelled back to America as he had planned.

In a letter held in the journal collection at the Essex Record Office, dated Virginia 1st June 1716, he wrote to his wife Mary asking her to pack up her goods and join him in Philadelphia where they would settle permanently.  He instructed her:

‘It is best for thee to send what goods thou shalt bring into Phyladelphia to Anthony Morris but com in thy self and ye children by ye way of Maryland excypt you think it best to come in ye ship with Anthony Morris when he doth return home.’[i]

Extract of Letter John Farmer to Mary Farmer dated Virginia 1706.  Essex Record Office Cat D/NF 3 addl. A13685 Box 51

However for some reason that didn’t happen. Mary stayed in Saffron Walden, possibly still nursing her sick daughter Mary Fulbigg or perhaps she had heard that John Farmer was already sowing the seeds of personal disaster and Mary decided not to put her self and her children at odds with the wider Quaker community. For what ever reason, Mary decided not to go to America to join her husband of 17 years and as a result she never saw him again.  

John Farmer had arrived back in America as the first abolitionist arguments were at their height amongst Quakers. He had not passed comment in his journal of 1711-14 but must have witnessed the suffering of slaves in the Caribbean and on the plantations of Virginia and Maryland.  Quakers had been troubled by the slave question a few times previously[ii] but had chosen to wait for a common agreement to be felt in the Yearly and Monthly meetings, almost certainly because the senior Quaker leaders were often slave owners with significant vested interests.  The dichotomy was that Quakers believed all men were equal under God, and slave owning certainly didn’t sit well with their philosophy, but they were not yet ready to make any radical changes.

By early 1717 John Farmer had started an antagonistic anti-slavery campaign.  It’s not clear what exactly triggered his impassioned fight, but it may possibly have been as a result of reading or hearing the testimony of seasoned abolitionist campaigner and fellow Quaker William Southeby.  Southeby had been campaigning since 1696, and in 1714 had taken the Philadelphia Meeting to task saying, “it was incumbent on them ‘as leaders of American Quakerism, to take a high moral position on slavery”.[iii]   He insisted Philadelphia did their Christian duty regarding slavery without waiting for recommendation from other meetings.   The Philadelphia meeting of June 1716 censured Southeby and forced him to apologise for publishing unapproved pamphlets. By December 1718 they were warning him of disownment as he had retracted his apology and published a further paper on the subject.

For John Farmer the fight to stop Quakers owning slaves wasn’t the first time he had made a challenge against the status quo.  Back in Saffron Walden in 1701 he had infuriated the local mayor and church-wardens for refusing to pay a combined tax for repairs to the church (which Farmer scathingly called a steeple-house) and poor relief. He was only prepared to pay for the portion relating to relief of the poor, and not for church maintenance, arguing he shouldn’t pay for a roof he didn’t worship under. He wrote letters and published pamphlets explaining why Quakers should not pay tithes and was so dogged in his protest that eventually the mayor gave in and accepted a reduced payment. 

The people of Saffron Walden did inlarge ye poor tax On purpose yt there might bee thereby mony enough gathered for ye poor & for to repair ye steeple- house.  Thus they put church tax & poor tax together & called it a rate for ye relief of ye poor.  I was told yt heretofore ye church wardens of saffron walden had caused a friend to be excommunicated & imprisoned till death for refusing to pay to their worship house.  Thus they put ye parrish to charge & their honist neighbour to prison without profit to themselves.  Which troubled the people & therefore they go no more…  When they demanded ye said tax of mee I could not pay it all because I know some of it as for their worship house.  I offered to pay my part to ye poor: But ye overseer would not take it: excypt I would pay ye whole tax.[iv]

In April 1717 Farmer presented the Nantucket meeting with his pamphlet ‘Epistle Concerning Negroes’ deriding the Quakers for owning slaves, and it was received with satisfaction.  Unfortunately the pamphlet has not survived, as far as we know. Obviously emboldened by the reception he had received in Nantucket, and with his customary fervour, in 1717 John Farmer requested a meeting of Elders and Ministers at the June Yearly meeting in Newport Rhode Island which took place on 4th June 1717 and there he presented them with two documents, one his ‘Epistle Concerning Negroes’, the other his criticism of ‘Casting Lotts’ (gambling) and his opinions were not well received by the audience there. They felt he was undermining unity and stirring up division which was unacceptable. As a result Farmer was disciplined for refusing to surrender his pamphlets and continuing to campaign. Records from the time report twenty Friends laboured with him overnight to encourage him to set aside his views.  But he would not and the following morning they refused him access to meetings until he was prepared to back down which he never did. [v]

New England Yearly Meeting: Committees: Ministry: Minsters and Elders, 1707-1797

Minutes of the 1717 Newport Yearly meeting quietly record their decision on the subject of importing and keeping slaves as being to “wait for the wisdom of God how to discharge themselves in that weighty affair” but also that merchants should write to their “correspondents in the Islands to discourage them from sending anymore.” They would review it again at the 1718 meeting.  That was as far as they were prepared to go.[vi]

New England Yearly Meeting: Administrative Minutes, 1672-1735

The Friends of Philadelphia found it necessary to take subsequent action in the matter because John Farmer was undeterred and continued to disturb meetings, shouting over ministers and making a general nuisance of himself. He appealed to the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting in July 1718, but the Yearly Meeting felt no good would come from listening to his complaints, and that he could not be received in unity until he had accepted his writings were unacceptable. When he refused to condemn his own work he was disowned. This seemingly harsh action by the Philadelphia Quakers appears to have been a matter of some embarrassment for years to come.  John Farmer had been intemperate in his language, and impatient for change to be hurried through, but to the gentle Quakers he employed what was later described witheringly as “Indiscreet Zeal”  in the Biographical Sketch published in the journal The Friend of 1855[vii]. The editor and author John Richardson says that

his actions might have been suffered to have slept in oblivion if it were not that Friends of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting have been charged several times with silencing him, because of his testimony against slavery’. “

Extract from The Friend, Vol XXVIII, Vol 40 page 316, Philadelphia, 1855

Presumably being disowned meant John Farmer lost access to the network of contacts he normally used to help him travel.  He remained in America, perhaps too poor, or too ashamed to return to England or perhaps because he was determined to keep fighting for the anti-slavery cause. The Friend Journal ponders how he may have had more success.

John Farmer may have rightly, as well as forcibly pled the cause of the slave.  If, after doing this, he had left the matter to the great Head of the Church, and whilst proclaiming his truth had endeavoured to cultivate in himself love and good will to those who differed from him, he … would have done more towards advancing the cause dear to his heart than could have been effected by denunciation or irritating language.”[viii]

Farmer is recorded as being located in and around Philadelphia for the remainder of his life, holding small meetings of like-minded friends whenever he could and presumably continuing in his trade as a wool comber.  He died in Germantown near Philadelphia in late 1724 or early 1725 at the age of about 57, having never made it back home to his family. In his will, written in August 1724, he left all his British possessions to his wife Mary, and his American possessions to his daughter Ann.  He left instructions to the executors that they put:

“no new linen on my dead body, but my worst shirt on it, and my worst handkerchief on ye head and ye worst drawers or briches on ye body and ye worst stockings on ye legs & feet. And invite my neighbours to com to my house & there thirst in moderation with a Barrel of Sider & two gallons of Rum or other spirit.”[ix]

John Farmer may have been an old sober-sides, but he made sure he got a decent send off.  Probate on the will was granted 11th January 1724/5.[x]  

Thus the story of John Farmer the Essex Quaker in America, comes to an end.  But in my last post we will look at the extraordinary women in John Farmer’s life, his daughter Ann, step daughter Mary Fulbigg and especially his wife Mary Farmer all had a role to play in the wider story of this man and their stories also deserve to be told.


[i] Letter John Farmer to Mary Farmer dated Virginia 1706.  Essex Record Office Cat D/NF 3 addl. A13685 Box 51

[ii] See my previous post An Essex Quaker in the Caribbean for more information.

[iii] Quoted in Drake, T.E., Quakers & Slavery in America, Oxford University Press, London 1950 p. 28

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

[v] New England Yearly Meeting: Committees: Ministry: Minsters and Elders, 1707-1797. New England Yearly Meeting of Friends Records (MS 902). Special Collections and University Archives, UMass Amherst Libraries.

[vi] New England Yearly Meeting: Administrative Minutes, 1672-1735. New England Yearly Meeting of Friends Records (MS 902). Special Collections and University Archives, UMass Amherst Libraries

[vii] The Friend, J Richardson (Ed) Vol XXVIII, Vol 40 page 316, Philadelphia, 1855

[viii] The Friend, J Richardson (Ed) Vol XXVIII, Vol 40 page 316, Philadelphia, 1855

[ix] Philadelphia County Wills: The Will of John Farmer (1724) – Copy in Essex Record Office A13685, Box 51

[x] Philadelphia County Wills: The Will of John Farmer (1724) – Copy in Essex Record Office A13685, Box 51

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

An Essex Quaker’s American Adventure 1711 – 1713

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 this installment we will look at some of the encounters John Farmer had in pre-revolutionary America.

Having returned to Essex in England from his Irish adventures in May 1711, and not being one to stay in a place for long, by Autumn 1711 John Farmer was off on his travels again.  Before travelling John Farmer’s wife Mary, step daughter Mary Fulbigg and 10-year-old daughter Ann moved from Colchester where they had settled in 1708, back to Saffron Walden. John explained further in his journal:

“I staid at home a little with my wife & helped hur to remove to Saffron Walden. For shee thought it best for hur in my absence to bee there amongst hur relations with hur lame daughter whom she hoped there to help in to busness whereby shee might git hur a living: which shee could not doo at Colchester.  But Colchester is ye best place of ye 2 for my wifes nursing & my woolcoming.  Whereby wee earned good wages there untill my wife was taken from it by hur daughters sickness & I was taken from it by ye Lords sending mee to Ireland as aforesaid”.[i]

John Farmer Journal, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 51, p.46

After putting his affairs in order John Farmer set off from Gravesend on 1st November 1711 on a ship called the Thomas of London, captained by Master Benjamin Jerrum.  The voyage was uneventful, and John Farmer was allowed to hold meetings on board and landed in Maryland at the beginning of March 1711/12 having spent 4 months at sea.  Having been met of the ship by well-known Quaker Richard Johns Senior, John Farmer stayed with Mr Johns at his house ‘Clifts’, in Calvert County while he travelled within Maryland, and held several meetings along the Western Shore before travelling on to Virginia where he held a further eighteen meetings. 

In Virginia Farmer was troubled by reports that local Quakers had been imprisoned for refusing to help build garrisons or fortifications.  This reluctance was due to a key principle of the Quaker movement, the Peace Testimony declared by founder George Fox in 1660, which was a vow of pacifism that endures to this day.[ii]  Quakers refused to have any part in building fortifications and rejected all weapons of war. Farmer recounted stories of the harm done by the local Native American people to settlers who had been persuaded to take up arms, and the Quakers saved by tribespeople when they held no weapons: 

“For I have been cridditably Informed yt som friends hereaway for severall years (in obedience to Christ) have refused to make use of Garrisons & carnall weapons for their defence against Indians: & have Insteed thereof made use of faith in God  & prayer to God: & hee hath saved them from beeing destroyed by Indians …who did destroy their neighbours who did use weapons, particularly one man whom his neighbours perswaded to carry a gun, but the Indians seeing him with a gun shot him deadly and they afterwards said that it was his carrying a gun that caused them to kill him which otherwise they would not have done.”

Moving on to North Carolina John Farmer was troubled to hear of a recent massacre 20 miles away and reported in his journal that he heard a Quaker had forcibly taken land from the local native Americans, “whereas hee might have bought his land for an iron pottage pot.”

Herman Moll: New England, New York, New Jersey and Pensilvania, (sic)1729

Native American communities had suffered considerably at the hands of the new settlers who raided the villages and kidnapped the people to be sold into slavery and stole land. The tribes had also suffered substantial population decline after exposure to the infectious diseases endemic to Europeans. As a result, under the leadership of Chief Hancock, the southern Tuscarora allied with the Pamlico, the Cothechney, Coree, Woccon, Mattamuskeet and other tribes to attack the settlers in a series of coordinated strikes that took place in Bath County, North Carolina on 22nd September 1711 and which heralded the start of the Tuscarora War that lasted until 1715. [iii]

John Farmer described the suffering of that Quaker family in the Bath County Massacre though it is clear where he felt the fault lay.

“These Indians haveing been much wronged by English French & pallitins did at last come sudenly upon ym & kiled & took prisoners, as i was told 170 of them & plundered & burnt their houses. Amongst the rest ye said Friend was kiled as he lay sick in his bedd & his wife & 2 young children wer caried away captive & Induered much hardship.  But upon a peace made with ye Indians they were delivered & returned to Pensilvania.” [iv]

Travelling back to Virginia and then Maryland John Farmer attended the 1711 Yearly Meeting at West River on the Western Shore of Maryland but there he contracted ‘ague & feavor’ which made him too ill to travel for four weeks and began what he called a “sickly time for mee and others”.  This was almost certainly Malaria which was endemic at the time. Eventually he recovered, and travelled on to New York, Rhode Island and Nantucket Island before arriving in Dover, New England. He was not specific about the date, but it was sometime in 1712.  Farmer recorded that he held many meetings amongst Friends and others “notwithstanding the danger from the Indian Wars which had long been destructive in this part of New England.”[v]  

In the winter of 1712 Farmer was in Rhode Island where he nearly died after being injured in a fall from his horse.  But by May 1713 he was recovered enough to attend meetings at Long Island, East and West Jersey and back to Maryland where he spent some time working at wool combing again, presumably to increase his depleted funds. 

It was here that “I received fresh orders from Christ to have meetings amongst Indians in order to their conversation to Christ and to go to Virginia and Pensilvania and the West Indies in his service”.[vi]  And thus the next year’s travel was planned. 

And that is where we can leave John Farmer, planning his first expedition to take the Quaker message to the Native American people.  And those encounters will make up the content of the next article.


[i] John Farmer Journal, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 51, p.44

[ii] To George Fox, this principle served a two-fold purpose, as a protest against the horrors of the English Civil Wars, and to try to mitigate the opportunity for violence to be done to Quakers, if they were perceived as peaceful, if rather disruptive, themselves.  For more information see M Rediker, The Fearless Benjamin Lay, 2017, Verso, London Ch 1, p.19

[iii] The Tuscarora War was fought in North Carolina from September 1711 until February 1715 between the British, Dutch, and German settlers and the Tuscarora Native Americans. The Europeans enlisted the Yamasee and Cherokee as Indian allies against the Tuscarora, who had amassed several allies themselves. Principal targets were the planters along the Roanoke, Neuse, and Trent rivers and the city of Bath. They mounted their first attacks on 22nd September 1711 and killed hundreds of settlers. One witness, a prisoner of the Tuscarora, recounted stories of women impaled on stakes, more than 80 infants slaughtered, and more than 130 settlers killed. The militia and approximately 500 Yamasee marched into Tuscarora territory and killed nearly 800, and after a second assault on the main village, King Hancock, the Tuscarora chief, signed a treaty. After a treaty violation by the English, war erupted again.  The militia and about 1,000 Indian allies travelled into Tuscarora territory. Approximately 400 Tuscarora were sold into slavery.  The remaining Tuscarora fled northward and joined the Iroquois League as the Sixth Nation.

For more information about these events see

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuscarora_War

https://northcarolinahistory.org/encyclopedia/tuscarora-war/

https://tuscaroranationnc.com/tribal-history

[iv] John Farmer Journal, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 51, p.46

[v] John Farmer Journal, Essex Record Office A13685, Box 51, p.47

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

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

‘Never look backward, always look ahead’: The First World War drawings of Gerald Rickword

As the centenary of the end of the First World War approaches, we are delving into our collection looking at some of the fascinating wartime documents we look after. Join us on Saturday 10th November 2018 to mark 100 years since the Armistice at ‘Is this really the last night?’ Remembering the end of the First World War.

Gerald Rickword’s advice to ‘Never look backward, always look ahead’ appears on his sketch of a First World War soldier whose gaze is set firmly on the drinks at the bar in front of him. While never looking back is not advice that we could advocate at the archive, it must have been one way of coping with life on the Western Front, where Rickword was based when he made the sketch.

‘Never look backward, always look ahead’; more than one of Gerald’s sketches feature the theme of alcohol and bars

Gerald Rickword was born in Colchester in 1886, the second of four children. His brother John Edgell Rickword also served in the war, and is the better known of the two. John Edgell was a poet, critic and journalist, and in the 1930s became a leading communist intellectual.

Both were the sons of George Rickword, who was Colchester Borough Librarian, and attended Colchester Royal Grammar School. In later life Gerald maintained a lifelong interest in Colchester’s history.

Before the beginning of the First World War, Gerald was an insurance clerk. During the war, he served first with the Royal Berkshire Regiment, and then with the Labour Corps as a transport officer. It was during this period that Gerald drew the sketches shown here.

A collection of about 30 sketches made by Gerald during the war survive today at the Essex Record Office, each full of evocative little details that provide windows into scenes that Gerald witnessed. The sketches are all in pencil, and most are monotone, with just a few in colour. The sketches are all loose, and on scraps of various paper stocks.

‘A Sentry, not one of the Lifeboat crew’ – a soldier is shown on sentry duty in driving rain

Some of the sketches show men of different nationalities and regiments observed by Gerald. One of these is dated 8 January 1917, and shows different soldiers Gerald had seen on the Boulevard Jacquard (he doesn’t give a town, but this could perhaps be the Boulevard Jacquard in Calais). One head and shoulders sketch is of a French Algerian soldier, while a full length portrait is of a French cavalry officer. The sketch is in black and white, but for the cavalry officer Gerald has noted the colours of his uniform – a red hat, a light blue tunic, red breeches, and red cloak lined with white.

Soldiers seen by Gerald on the Boulevard Jacquard on 8 January 1917

Several of the sketches are humorous, such as ‘A portion of the rear of the British line’, showing a rear view of a rather wide British soldier, his uniform straining around him. In another sketch, two mice help themselves to cheese and crackers. In another, a sentry stands in driving rain, his jacket buttoned up over his face, a large wide-brimmed hat hopefully ensuring he didn’t get rain water pouring down the back of his neck. The caption informs us that despite appearances, this man is ‘A Sentry, not one of the Lifeboat crew’. Other sketches are more haunting, such as the one of a soldier in a gas mask.

After the war Gerald returned to Essex, and in 1923 married Florence Webb in Colchester. He lived until 1969, when he died aged 82.


More of Gerald’s sketches will be on display at our Armistice event on Saturday 10th November 2018, ‘Is this really the last night’? Remembering the end of the First World War. Find full details and booking information here.

Also on 10th November, we will be at Chelmsford Library in the morning running a drawing activity for children based on Gerald’s sketches – find the details here.

First World War stories from ERO’s collections will also be featuring in a remembrance concert at Chelmsford Cathedral in the evening of 10th November – find the details here.


 

Document of the month, June 2018: ‘war and confusions’ in Colchester

Archivist Lawrence Barker tells us about his choice for Document of the Month: a newly accessioned Church Book from Colchester dating from 1796-1816 (D/NC 42/1/1A).

A year of ‘war and confusions’: this is how the Reverend Joseph Herrick (1794-1865) described 1815-16 at the Church of Christ in Colchester.

Revd. Joseph Herrick, who was minister of Stockwell Congregational Church in Colchester for over 50 years, from 1814 until his death in 1865 (I/Pb 8/16/2)

Herrick had been elected as minister of the congregation in 1814. At the time, the Church of Christ met in a building on Bucklersbury Lane, which is now St Helen’s Lane. (The congregation was later to build what would become Stockwell Congregational Chapel.)

Several new (to us) documents relating to Herrick’s early years at the church were recently deposited at ERO. The two most significant items are a commonplace book, a kind of journal kept by Herrick himself recording his activities as a preacher from 1813 to 1819, and a church book, which is a record of church activities and members from 1796-1816, which Herrick must have kept in his personal possession. After his death, it must have passed down through his descendants and has thus survived. It is an important record relating to the early history of the Congregational Church in Colchester which has remained hidden for 200 years.

One function of the church book was to record the names of members of the church, noting when they joined and when they either left, died or were ‘excluded’ during disagreements (D/NC 42/1/1A)

The book begins by recording the ministries of Herrick’s predecessors Isaac Taylor and Joseph Drake. Drake’s ministry was plagued by a quarrel over a man named John Church, who had been invited to preach in the church by some members of the congregation. The majority of the members, however, disapproved of Church’s views: he was an antinomian, that is, he held the view that salvation could be achieved by faith alone, and people were not compelled to follow moral laws by any external influence.[1] Such a row followed that Drake resigned, having been in post less than a year. From March 1812 and throughout 1813 the church was without an appointed minister, and nothing was entered into the church book during this time. At the time of Herrick’s official election in April 1814, the book records that:

This Church was thrown into a great deal of confusion in the year 1813 by a Mr Church, an Antinomian Preacher, of very vile character, being forced into the pulpit contrary to the wish of the generality of the people.

In December 1813, Herrick came down from London and preached his first sermon at the Church of Christ on Christmas Day. After labouring amongst the church for 3 months ‘with a view to a settlement if things were mutually agreeable’, an invitation dated 16 January 1814 was sent to Herrick signed by the Deacon, James Mansfield Senior, and other members of the church.

Yet Herrick’s ministry does not seem to have restored harmony to the church, in the main because a conflict arose between him and the very Deacon responsible for his ordination, James Mansfield.  Things came to a head in June 1815.  Mansfield concocted a letter of dismissal (D/NC 42/6/6) dated 6 June to send to Herrick stating that ‘from and after the twenty fourth Day of June instant your services as Preacher at such Meetinghouse will be dispensed with.  And that from and after such time we shall Consider you entitled to no payment of a Minister for the performance of Divine Service in such Meetinghouse’.  The letter is signed by Mansfield and others of his cronies (some of which are thought to have been invented).

In the short term, Herrick seems not to have been affected by this:

June 14 1815

Our 15 Church meeting was held. – this was a special meeting called to consider the conduct of James Mansfield Senr Deacon, Mary Tillet and Mary Wright, when it was unanimously agreed that their conduct was highly inconsistent; and such as we could by no means tolerate. Mr M had abused his pastor, insulted the members, destroyed the harmony of the church, kept back part of the subscriptions etc etc – and the others had been concerned with him, and supported him in all his improper practices.  All suspended.

In August, an intermediary tried to help resolve the situation:

August 14, 1815

Our 16 Church meeting was held. This was a special meeting, to hear the report of the Rev W B Crathern, who had been requested to attempt an adjustment of the differences between the church and Mr Mansfield Senior etc. His interference had been, he stated, without effect, entirely owing to the obstinacy of Mr Mansfield. He advised the church not to consider him as suspended, but to try him a few months longer and if no alteration appeared, then, to cut him off. Agreed to etc. Joseph Herrick.

In September, having accepted (presumably) James Nash as his new Deacon, Herrick reported that Mansfield ‘refused to deliver to Mr James Nash, Deacon the sacramental cups which are the property of the church; awful sacrilege! We, however, bought one which we administered the Lord’s supper on the 10th’.

By February 1814, desperation seems to have begun to set in:

February 2, 1816

This day the following persons broke into our meeting. –

Quilter, carpenter, F Smythies, lawyer, J Mansfield Senior, J Mansfield Junior, S Mansfield, Isaac Brett, Chas Heath, John Hubbard, John Inman, Thos Podd, James Nevill. On hearing they were there I immediately went and took possession, and James Nash my Deacon went with me – after staying about 20 minutes they retired and left us in the possession of the place.

Our 22 Church meeting was held this evening, no particular business was attended to, excepting the above, which we shall refer to the Protestant Society for the defence of Religious liberty.

Joseph Herrick

Entry in the church book from 2 February 1816 when the church meeting was disrupted by several members of the congregation (D/NC 42/1/1A)

Eventually, so determined it seems was Mansfield to dispense with Herrick as Pastor that he went to the extraordinary expedient of organising the de-roofing the chapel so that it could no longer be used as a meeting place, a development laconically reported by Herrick as the last entry in the church book:

June 3 – 1816 –

Mansfield and his party, without any previous notice, sent a bricklayer to unroof the meeting which is now exposed to the weather etc.

Entry from the church book for 2 June 1816, when the roof was removed from the church by a disgruntled member of the congregation (D/NC 42/1/1A)

But that wasn’t going stop Herrick pursuing his mission.  He simply built a new chapel 50 yards further along St Helen’s Lane, on the corner with East Stockwell Street, which was to eventually become Stockwell Congregational Church. This new chapel was enlarged in 1824 and 1836 to accommodate a growing congregation.

This 1870s map of Colchester shows that by this time the chapel had seating for 750 people and an attached Sunday School (Ordnance Survey first edition map 27.12.3, 120”: 1 mile)

Herrick remained its minister until his death in 1865; he is buried in Colchester Cemetery, where a large obelisk dedicated to his memory stands. On his death it was estimated that he had conducted over 10,900 services in his 51 year career in Colchester. While he was never universally approved of, he clearly had a large band of very dedicated followers. An obituary for him in the Essex Standard of 8 February 1865 describes a man ‘Firm in purpose’, with ‘gravity and sobriety’, who was deeply knowledgeable not only on Christian theology but on a whole range of other subjects as well, who practiced what he preached and unaffectedly sympathised with ‘those in sorrow’. For his congregation, his loss after so many years must have been felt deeply indeed.

The church book will be on display in the ERO Searchroom throughout June 2018.


[1] Antinomianism is one of many debates within Christianity. The word itself literally means rejection of laws (from the Greek ‘anti’ meaning against, and ‘nomos’ meaning laws). In Christianity, antinomianism is part of the debate about whether salvation is achieved through faith in God alone, or through good works. An Antinomian in Christianity is someone who takes the view that salvation is achieved by faith and divine grace, and those who are saved in this way are not bound to follow the laws set out in the Bible. However, this is not to say that someone with antinomian views believes that it is acceptable to act immorally, rather, that the motivation for following moral laws should flow from belief rather than external compulsion. In this view, good works are considered to be the results of faith, but good works above and beyond what is required through faith were viewed as signs of arrogance and impiety.

“Neither freaks nor frumps”: two Essex Suffragettes – Lilian and Amy Hicks

On Wednesday 16 September 1908, Amy Hicks spoke at a suffrage meeting held at the Co-operative Hall in Colchester and declared that campaigners for women’s suffrage were ‘neither freaks nor frumps’.

This was the third of three suffrage campaign meetings that took place in Colchester that week, reported in the Essex Newsman on Saturday 19 September. The first meeting took place on Monday night in the High Street, where the speakers were ‘subjected to some humorous banter, and were “booed” by some small boys. The feeling was generally adverse to the Suffragettes’. When Miss Hicks spoke at the meeting on Tuesday night at St Mary’s school room, she said that the campaigners were ‘not at all disheartened by [this] noisy reception’.

By 1908 Amy Hicks already had a long background on the suffrage scene, having grown up with her mother, Lilian, campaigning for women’s voting rights. Lilian was born in 1853 in Colchester, to parents Edward and Thirza Smith. In a 1910 interview with The Vote, the magazine of the Women’s Freedom League, Lilian said that her father was ‘a great believer in women’s capability, and trained both his daughters to manage their own affairs and depend on their own judgment just as carefully and thoroughly as he trained his sons’.

Photographic postcard of Lilian Hicks issued by the Women’s Freedom League, c.1910 (from Yooniq images)

Photographic postcard of Lilian Hicks issued by the Women’s Freedom League, c.1910 (from Yooniq images)

Lilian married Charles Thompson Hicks in Colchester in 1873, and in 1877 Amy Hicks was born. The family lived at Great Holland Hall, near Frinton-on-Sea. As their children grew up, Lilian became increasingly politically active. In 1884 both Lilian and Charles were involved in the campaign for votes for agricultural labourers. From the early 1880s, Lilian worked for the women’s suffrage movement, organising meetings across East Anglia.

Amy was academically gifted, and in 1895 went to Girton College in Cambridge to study Classics. She completed her degree course in 1895, being awarded a first class mark, and several academic prizes along the way (although Cambridge did not formally award degrees to women until 1948). For the next few years Amy taught in London, Liverpool, and briefly in Pennsylvania.

By 1902 both mother and daughter we members of the Central Society for Women’s Suffrage, and in late 1906 they joined the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), led by Emmeline Pankhurst. Their membership did not at this point last long, as they were part of a breakaway group in autumn 1907 that formed the Women’s Freedom League (WFL). The campaigners of the WFL were unhappy with how the WSPU was being run, and while they supported direct action and militancy they were not in favour of attacking people or property.

Women's Freedom League badge, c. 1907.

Women’s Freedom League badge (from the Women’s Library Collection Flickr page)

In the summer of 1908, Lilian travelled throughout Surrey, Sussex and East Anglia with fellow WFL member Margaret Wynne in the WFL caravan, making speeches to recruit people to the women’s suffrage cause.

 

The following year, 1909, Amy became secretary to the WFL, and was at the founding meeting of the Tax Resistance League. The argument of no taxation without representation was to remain one of Amy’s key campaigning points.

Demonstrations, Strikes, Marches, Processions: suffrage parade, c.1908.

Women at a suffrage parade in c. 1908, holding a banner proclaiming ‘Taxation without representation is tyranny’. The fact that women had to pay tax but had no vote on how that tax money was spent was one of the cornerstones of the suffrage campaign (from the Women’s Library Collection Flickr page)

In July 1909 Amy was arrested and imprisoned for three weeks on charges of obstruction. The Times of 13 July described the scene that led to Amy’s arrest. Four members of the WFL had gone to Downing Street, which was an open thoroughfare at the time, to present a petition to the Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith. It was Amy who personally gave Asquith the petition when he arrived in a car outside number 10. Their defence counsel said that the four women had done ‘nothing but stand upon the pavement in a perfectly orderly manner’. Nonetheless, the magistrate imposed a fine of £3 or three weeks’ imprisonment; all four defendants chose the prison sentence.

Amy was arrested again, this time with her mother Lilian, on 18 November 1910 during the protest known as Black Friday, a struggle between suffrage campaigners and police in Parliament Square.

Photograph of the Black Friday protest on 18 November 1910. The woman on the ground is Ada Wright. The building in the background is the Houses of Parliament. The WSPU sent a delegation of around 300 women to protest the actions of Prime Minister Herbert Asquith in not allowing more time for a women’s suffrage bill that had been under discussion in parliament. About 200 of the women were assaulted as they attempted to reach the Houses of Parliament. 119 women and men were arrested.

Their experiences between 1907 and 1910-11 must have hardened Amy and Lilian to the WSPU’s more militant methods of protest, for Amy rejoined in 1910 and Lilian in 1911. In 1911 both women took part in the census boycott co-ordinated by suffrage campaigns.

In March 1912, Amy was imprisoned again, this time for four months for taking part in the WSPU window-smashing campaign in London’s West End. She spent time in both Holloway and Aylesbury, including a period in solitary confinement. The Home Office considered her to be one of the ring leaders of the hunger strike at Aylesbury, and along with her fellow campaigners, Amy was subjected to the brutal procedure of forcible feeding.

Illustration of a suffragette being forcibly fed in HM Prison Holloway. Prisoners were forcibly restrained, and a rubber tube inserted into their mouth and down to their stomach. Emmeline Pankhurst, founder of the WSPU, described her horror at the screams of the women being force-fed in Holloway prison.

After her release from prison Amy was back out campaigning. The Walsall Advertiser of 7 December 1912 records a speech she gave as a guest at the Walsall branch of the WSPU, in which she talked about how peaceable approaches to the government had not worked:

‘Miss Hicks, in the course of her address, said that women had found out that mere words did not carry them very far, and they now said to the Government, “You may take our goods, and sell them, you may take our bodies and put them into prison, but money, to keep up your unconstitutional government, you shall not have.” She thought that was a very good method, and she hoped it would be carried out more widely and would create a great deal of embarrassment for the present Government. Considering the way in which the Government had treated women the best thing the women could do was to embarrass them in every possible way. There was too much feeling that the women did not count, and they were not looked upon as responsible members of society, as they ought to be, especially in matters of the State. They had found that any amount of talking was useless, and that was why they took more drastic measures to get those things altered… The women could not trust their interests in the hands of a body of men who were not responsible to them.’

During the First World War Amy joined the Women’s Volunteer Reserve, which was founded by Suffragette Evelina Haverfield. Her brother Charles, a solicitor, joined in army in September 1914 and was sent to France in 1916. He survived until 21 July 1918 when he was killed in action near Hazebrouck.

The Representation of the People Act gave the right to vote to all men aged over 21, and to women over 30 who met a property qualification. Equal voting rights – for all men and women over 21 – were not granted until 1928.

From the 1920s Amy lived at Runsell Green in Danbury, and her mother joined her there. Lilian died in 1924.

In 1927, in her fiftieth year, Amy married John Major Bull, a widower twenty years her senior. In the same year Amy was elected as a rural district councillor in Chelmsford, a position she fulfilled until 1930. Amy was widowed in 1944, and sometime before 1948 was awarded an MBE. After John’s death she lived at General’s Orchard in Little Baddow, until her death in 1953.