History - Beginnings

The beginnings of Quakerism in Devon and Cornwall  Return to primary History page 


Most of what follows is based on ‘The Beginnings of Quakerism in Devon and Cornwall’, 1985, by Hubert Fox; shelfmark 097.23 FOX in Friends’ House Library. That history is based on six earlier books, one being “A Collection of the Sufferings of the People called Quakers......”, by Joseph Besse, Luke Hinde, London 1753. Some additional information is provided from ‘Our Quaker Heritage’ by Kenneth Southall, which includes text about the history of Marazion and Come-to-Good meetings, as well as pictures of the meeting houses.

The diarist John Evelyn (1620-1706) was a close contemporary of George Fox (1624-1691), who perhaps expressed the general public’s opinion of Quakers in the early days when he described them as: “a near fanatic sect of dangerous principles, who show no respect to any man, magistrate or other, and seem a melancholy, proud sort of people, and exceedingly ignorant”.

The convincement of the young by the young has always been one of the most effective ways of spreading ideas.Thomas Salthouse, the steward at Swarthmore Hall, was 22 when George Fox first went there.He gave up his post to travel as one of the ‘valiant sixty’, the Quaker ministers or ‘publishers of truth’ who set out from the North to spread the word.Another was Miles Halhead, a young farmer from Kendal.From London, Salthouse and Halhead travelled west. They reached Plymouth in May 1655, but were thrown into Bridewell Prison in Exeter as vagrants.Halshead eventually returned to Kendal, but Thomas Salthouse later became known amongst Friends as ‘the apostle of the West’.

In the summer of 1655 George Fox came, accompanied by Edward Pyott of Bristol, who had been a captain in the Parliamentary Army.They described Totnes as a ‘dark town’. Next they went to Kingsbridge, where they asked to see the sober people of the town, and were directed to Nicholas Tripe and his wife, who were convinced by them.Then to Plymouth, where they had a meeting at Robert Cary’s house, and Elizabeth Trelawney, daughter of a baronet, was convinced.The Trelawney family (celebrated in the unofficial anthem of Cornwall “A good sword and a trusty hand! A merry heart and true!........”) were friends of the Grenvilles, and did not at all approve of Elizabeth becoming a Quaker.

At Marazion, known then as Market Jew, Fox and Pyott were joined by William Salt from London. Fox describes their encounter with the authorities at Marazion in his Journal:

‘....... having taken up our lodging at an inn, we sent out over-night for inquire for such as feared the Lord.Next morning the mayor and aldermen gathered together with the high-sheriff of the county; and they sent first the constables to bid us come before them.We asked them for their warrant, and they saying they had none, we told them we should not go along with them without......

So they went away and came again; and when we asked them for their warrant, one of them plucked his mace from under his cloak; we asked whether this was their custom to molest and trouble strangers in their inns and lodgings.

After some time I said to Edward Pyot, “Go thy ways, Edward, and see what ails the mayor and his company”, and Edward Pyot went to the mayor and aldermen, and had much discourse with them; but the Lord’s power gave him dominion over them all. When he had returned, several of the officers came to us, and we laid before them the incivility and unworthiness of their carriage towards us, who were the servants of the Lord God, thus to stop and trouble us in our lodgings, and what an unchristian act it was’.

At St Ives on 18 January 1656 they were arrested by Magistrate Major Ceely, and taken in stages to Redruth, then Falmouth, and finally to Launceston Castle, where they were held until the assizes in March. It started thus:

‘When we came to St Ives, Edward Pyot’s horse having cast a shoe, we stayed to have it set; and while he was getting his horse shod I walked down to the seaside.When I returned I found the town in an uproar; and they were haling Edward Pyot and William Salt before Major Ceely.I followed them into the justice’s house, though they did not lay hands on me.When we came in the house was full of rude people; whereupon I asked whether there were not an officer among them to keep the people civil.Major C said he was a magistrate. I told him he should shew forth gravity and sobriety then, and use his authority to keep the people civil; for I never saw any people ruder; the Indians were more like Christians than they.

After a while they brought forth the paper aforesaid, and asked whether I would own it. I said “Yes”.Then he tendered the Oath of Abjuration* to us; whereupon I put my hand in my pocket and drew forth the answer to it, which had been given to the Protector.After I had given him that, he examined us severally one by one.He had with him a silly, young priest, who asked us many frivolous questions; and amongst the rest he asked to cut my hair, which was then pretty long; but I was not to cut it though many times many were offended at it.I told them I had no pride in it, and I did not put it on.At length the justice put us under a guard of soldiers, who were hard and wild, like the justice himself; nevertheless we warned the people of the day of the Lord, and declared the truth to them. The next day he sent us, guarded by a party of horse with swords and pistols, to Redruth’.

* An oath asserting the right of the present royal family to the crown of England, and expressly abjuring allegiance to the descendants of the Pretender.

At the assizes they refused to remove their hats. Judge Glyn, who was then Chief Justice of England, eventually fined them 20 marks each for not removing their hats, but they refused to pay the fines.For this, Fox was held in the ‘Doomsdale’, where mud urine and excrement reached the top of his shoes.Of this he wrote, when he refused to pay the gaoler to look after him and his horse, that the gaoler:

‘... grew very devilish and wicked, and carried us and put us into Doomsdale, a nasty stinking place where they said few people came out alive; where they used to put witches and murderers before their execution; where the prisoners excrements had not been carried out for scores of years, as it was said....... A great while he kept us of this manner before he would let us cleanse it, or suffer us to have any victuals but what we got through the grate’.

Later on from Launceston Gaol, George Fox wrote a stirring exhortation to Friends in the ministry, ending with these gentle words:

“Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations, wherever you come; that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them.Then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone; whereby in them ye may be a blessing, and make the witness of God in them to bless you”.

He had so many visitors that the magistrates set up watches on the roads into Launceston (stop and search!).Hugh Peters, a Cornishman, was sent to report on Fox when Cromwell heard of his imprisonment, and on 13 July Colonel Bennett, the Governor of the prison (himself an Anabaptist) set the Quakers free without the fine having been paid.They went to Humphrey Lower’s house, and had a fine meeting there: many being convinced. Then they went to Loveday Hambley (or Hamley), a widow at Tregangeeves (or Tregongeeves) near St Austell, who was convinced – her home became a centre of Quakerism known as ‘the Swarthmore of the west’. She was persecuted in 1657 by William Upcott, the priest of St Austell, and also in 1663 for non-payment of tithes.She allowed Quakers to meet in her barn, and in 1706 the Earl of Mount Edgecumbe gave the adjoining land to Thomas Lower of London, Doctor of Physick, who in 1717 gave the same land to Friends as a burial ground. Buried there are the Williamses from Falmouth, the Foxes from Wadebridge, Daniel Elliott and others.

After his release from Launceston George Fox visited in Exeter prison the Quakers who had been arrested on their way to see him at Launceston Castle.One was Henry Pollexfen of West Alvington in South Devon, who had been a magistrate for 40 years.Later in the year Fox was back in Exeter from the Midlands, and held a general meeting at the Seven Stars, the inn by the bridge, with Friends from Cornwall and Devon including the Lowers, John Ellis from Land’s End, Henry Pollexfen, Friends from Plymouth, Elizabeth Trelawney and many others.But the persecutions continued, made worse because the Quakers didn’t join in the general rejoicing at the sea victories over various Spanish ships.Some meetings were broken up with violence – for example at Penryn and Liskeard in 1659.In the same year George Fox came again, to Plymouth and then Land’s End, where Nicholas José of Sennan – a fisherman – was convinced, only to be imprisoned the following year.

On 25 May 1660 King Charles II came back to England, and Oliver Cromwell’s body was removed from Westminster Abbey and hung at Tyburn, the head being cut off.Fox was arrested again, but on 21 November presented the new King with the Quaker Peace Testimony – “We........ do utterly denyall outward wars and strife, and fightings with outward weapons.......”.By law at that time Quakers were to be punished if five or more assembled, if they were absent from public worship, didn’t pay the tithe or refused to take the Oath of Allegiance to the King.Many were in the Bridewell in Exeter, but their wives continued to meet.At Cullompton two sons of Richard and Mary Old died in infancy and the Olds were persecuted by neighbours because the boys had not been baptized: so the second son was buried in Grindle, a field in Collaton Raleigh which was the first property owned by the Quakers of Devon.In August 1662 Thomas Lower and Thomas Salthouse and another Friend were arrested at the house of Thomas Mounce at Liskeard, though later set free.

In 1663 George Fox returned to the West Country.At Topsham he met Margaret Fell and her daughters Sarah and Mary, then went to Totnes where he likely visited Edward and Joanne Edmunds, and then Henry Pollexfen at Kingsbridge, where a large meeting was held.Henry went with Fox to Plymouth, and to Justice Porter in Cornwall, and to Thomas Mount where they held another large meeting at Halbathic, near Liskeard.There was yet another large meeting at Humphrey Lower’s, then a general meeting for the whole county at Loveday Hambley’s farm.Fox rode on to Land’s End and returned, holding meetings wherever he went. He was probably the founder of the meeting at Land’s End. He came into Devon over Horsebridge near Tavistock, and rode through Tiverton to Cullompton and Wellington.In his Journal he wrote that the officers who broke up meetings had to hire carts and lift Friends to take them to the Justices, and when the townspeople refused to pay the bill for the carts the officers had to pay it themselves!William Waldron, Squire of Bradfield, was a moderate Justice, so when a cartload of Quakers was brought to him he went into hiding.

While Fox was imprisoned in Lancaster Castle in 1664/5 the plague was at its height and the country was at war with Holland.Many Friends in London were in Newgate Gaol and other prisons – some were banished to Barbados and Jamaica.Captain Fudge had 37 men and 18 women on his ship the Black Spread Eagle: at Plymouth Thomas Lower, Arthur Cotton, John Light and others took provisions to them, but 27 died.Fox was released on 1 September 1665, a year before the Great Fire of London.He was 42, but incarceration and ill treatment had weakened him.He had decided that monthly and quarterly meetings should be established wherever there were Quakers, and travelled the country to set up the organization.In April 1668 he reached Devon and travelled with Friends of Minehead to Barnstaple and Appledore.(the Mayor of Barnstaple had persecuted the Quakers).Then his party rode to Humphrey Lower’s, to Truro and so on to Land’s End, visiting Friends all the way to Tregangeeves, where at Loveday Hambley’s farm they held a general meeting for the county, and decided the monthly meetings “in the Lord’s power”.After a meeting in Plymouth Fox went to the house of Widow Phillips (daughter of Nicholas Tripe) at West Alvington “where we had some men Friends from all the meetings together and there the monthly meetings were settled........”This was the last visit of Fox to Devon and Cornwall.

In 1668 Thomas Salthouse married Anne Upcott of St Austell (daughter of the priest William Upcott), who had been put in the stocks by her father and brothers for mending a garment on a Sunday.They married at Tregangeeves in a large meeting.In the summer Margaret Fell was released from prison, perhaps thanks partly to the efforts of her daughter Mary, who went to see the King on her behalf when she was only fifteen.On 26 August Mary married Thomas Lower, and they at first lived a few miles west of Tregangeeves – then later at Penance, on the road to Grampound.All Margaret’s six daughters married Quakers, including Isabel, wife of William Yeamans of Bristol.Margaret stayed with Isabel, where George Fox found her.He proposed to her, and with the agreement of her daughters and son-in-law, they were married in the meeting house at Broadmead, Bristol, on 27 October 1669.

From March 1670 Margaret was in prison again, only to learn on her release that her husband had decided to visit America.It was in 1670 that William Meade (future husband of Sarah, the only unmarried daughter of Margaret Fell) and William Penn, son of the Admiral, were charged under the Conventicle Act*, but acquitted by the jury at the Old Bailey before the Lord Mayor of London.Public opinion was starting to tire of religious persecution.Still, Widow Phillips was informed on for holding a meeting on 11 September 1670 at her house at West Alvington, which was attended by up to 60 people.John Biere, a JP, issued warrants “in pursuance of an Act of Parliament instituted........ for the providing......... more speedy remedies against the growing and dangerous practices of seditious sectaries”.The doors were broken down and her household goods divided amongst the officers.In 1676 she was arrested again, with others, for the non-payment of tithes.Of other West Country families, Nicholas Tripe’s daughter Anstice married Geroge Croker (or Crocker), of a family with an estate at Lineham near Plymouth which had been established in Devon before the Norman Conquest.George was imprisoned three times.Her sister Sarah married William Hingston of another Devon family. (In 1683 he was one of 72 Quakers imprisoned at Exeter - his son Henry published a pamphlet in 1703 protesting at the activities of wreckers).
* The First Conventicle Act (May 1664) penalised anyone who attended a Dissenters congregation or preached at one. Anyone who allowed his building to be used by Dissenters was also penalised.

Quakers in the villages between Truro and Falmouth were meeting by the 1670s in the house of William Stevens.The meeting, which drew Friends from throughout the parishes of Kea and Feock, came to be known as Kea Meeting.

From 1679 onwards in Marazion, Meetings for Worship were held in the house of John Taylor. In 1687 the same John Taylor gave a plot of land for a meeting house and burial ground and it is on this site that the present meeting house was built. The deeds bear the date 5.ix.1688 and the first meeting in the new building appears to have been held on the following day. It is the oldest public building in Marazion.

In 1681 Benjamin Growden died and was buried at Tregangeeves, where Thomas Salthouse said a few words to the mourners. For this, all were taken to court.As a minister Thomas visited many meetings in Cornwall and Devon; his wife Anne kept a draper’s shop in St Austell and her goods were taken when fines were levied.In the late summer of 1682 Loveday Hambley took to her bed.Richard Tregennow, a farmer who helped Friends in trouble, and had spent four years in prison in the sixties, was with her and she died on 14 October, loved by her neighbours and all who knew her.Many hundreds followed her coffin, and the esteem in which she was held was recorded in the register of Cornwall Monthly Meeting.In 1683, 115 Quakers were imprisoned at Bristol while their children kept the meetings going, and in Exeter 72 were imprisoned including George Croker and William Hingston.There were 22 in Launceston prison, including the three young Tregennow daughters of Trenant in Duloe.

In those days Quakers had to marry Quakers, but later, some married the descendents of their oppressors.At first Quaker tradesmen suffered loss of business because they would not bow or flatter, but later it was realised that they would not cheat, so they prospered.Spiceland (or Spison) at Culmstock, though now in West Somerset Monthly Meeting, was the first purpose-built Quaker meeting house in Devon, and one of the first in England.It was completed in 1682, the year when William Penn took possession of Pennsylvania and made his treaty with the American Indians.There is no record of violence against the meeting, but many of its members had been imprisoned, including Robert Were of nearby Southdown Farm.Worshippers came long distances on horseback, the women riding pillion.They formed a self-contained, self-governing community which provided for its poorer members “that none should be chargeable to their parishes”.Six hundred are in the burial ground – most, as is the Quaker custom, in unmarked graves.

On 5 November 1688 William of Orange landed in Torbay.On 13 February 1689 he was proclaimed joint sovereign of England with his wife Mary, eldest daughter of King James II, and in the same year the Toleration Act was passed, giving dissenters liberty to hold religious meetings “provided the doors were not locked, barred or bolted”.Quakers were allowed to affirm instead of swearing on the bible.In 1691 John Banks of Pardshaw, whose paralysis (of the arm) had been cured by George Fox 14 years earlier at Swarthmore, came to Spiceland.He wrote that there were near a thousand people there when he attended.In the same year George Fox died in London, aged 67, which is perhaps a suitable point at which to bring this history to an end.

Some more information about Quakers in Devon and Cornwall may be found in the following sources in the library at Friends House, Euston Road, London:CORNWALL“Cornish Quakerism”.QuakerianaVol 1 (1894) p.57“Early Friends in Cornwall”.Cornish Post16v1925NEWS 097.13FOX, Hubert“The beginnings of Quakerism in Devon & Cornwall”. 1985.097.13GRIFFITH, PM“Early Quakers in Cornwall 1656-1750”.097.137 LEES, R.J.J.“Early Cornish Quakerism 1655-1800.”“These are they”.The FriendNS Vol 48 (1908)DEVONDYMOND, Robert“Early records of the Society of Friends in Devonshire (1873)097.134 DYMVol 532/19Box 23 Y2 (inc index)

FLEWIN, W.G.“Out of the Past”WayfarerNS Vol 3 (1924) pp6-7, 27, 29.

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