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Voices of Spencer Creek

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Quakers in the British Virgin Islands

The Singing Methodists May Have Influenced History of Tortola --Here is How

By Lois Barton

Posted on Aug 11, 2006

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Fragments of an old Quaker gravestone on Tortola

A chance remark made by a friend led me to research a forgotten chapter of Quaker history in the "new world." My Eugene-based Quaker friend has a vacation home in the British Virgin Islands. While exploring local historical sites, she found an old Quaker cemetery on Tortola Island, developing a desire to upgrade it, and to bring it to the awareness of Island leaders. She carries a "letter of introduction" from the Eugene Friends Meeting to those leaders as an aid in reaching her goal. She would like this cemetery to become an historic place of interest to tourists, as well as to those who live on Tortola as a significant part of their Island history. Pictures she has shown to Friends (Quakers) here depict a tangled overgrowth covering graves. A name on one grave may be Pickering.

Research on the Internet brought up a "History of the Virgin Islands" from Wikipedia, the free online, do-it-ourselves encyclopedia. Excerpts follow: "The English, Dutch, French, Spanish and Danish all jostled for control of the islands for ...two hundred years; the final act seeing the English oust the Dutch and gaining a permanent foothold in Virgin Gorda and Tortola."

"The English introduced sugar cane to the Islands, which was to become the main crop, and source of foreign trade. Slaves were brought from Africa to work on the sugar cane plantations".

A subsection of this history dealing with Quakers reads as follows: "An important change occurred when a group of Quakers emerged in the islands sometime around the 1740s. Their history is recounted in the book 'Tortola', by Charles Jenkins, who describes how the sect only lasted 45 years in the colony. Quakerism was entirely impractical in a colonial frontier society, primarily because of their refusal to bear arms in times of war. The defence of a colony was reliant on a local militia which would be summond to arms, once the alarm had been given. During the 1700's, a period noted for the regularity of colonial wars primarily antagonised by trade benefits, the local population had to be ready to fight. This lack of fighting spirit amongst the Quakers created serious tension between them and other planters who despised their lack of martial inclination. The Governor during this period, John Pickering, was a practising Quaker and, in essence, was neglecting his gubernatorial duties by refusing to fight. He consequently reliquished his post and was succeeded by John Hunt, who was described as a 'great enemy and despiser of friends.' Hunt's wife, Mary, 'threw in her lot' with the Quakers and was consequently beaten by her husband, but outlived him to remarry a Quaker called Samuel Nottingham. It was this husband and wife partnership that donated all of their lands and buildings in the colony to their slaves, who subsequently became known as the freed Nottinghams of Long Look, a district in the east end of Tortola."

A variety of tidbits from the web and other sources indicate further Quaker history in the Islands:

"During the 1730s a number of Quaker missionaries visited the islands proselytizing a large number of planters and their African Slaves...

".John Pickering, a wealthy planter and leader of the Quaker community, became the first Lieutenant Governor of Tortola in 1741."

"Quakers arrived on Jost and Little Jost Von Drake in the 18th century, fleeing the religious tyranny of England."

"Tortola was originally settled by Quakers in 1726."

"Quakers came to Tortola and helped stamp out slavery."

"Another reason for decline of Quakers was competition from the "singing' Methodists whose service contrasted so acutely with their long silent meetings for worship."

"A member of the Meeting was disowned for frivolous living here on earth when he should be looking forward to the joys of heaven."

This quote from a talk given to the Historical Society of Haddonfield, NJ by Betty Lyons in March, 2005, tells about the graves identified in the drawing: "When a few Quakers in Tortola, the British Virgin Islands, wrote asking for help, Thomas Chalkley, a Quaker minister, responded. Chalkley died upon arriving at the island. Because of his own health problems, John Estaugh tried to assit by corresponding with the Tortola Quakers. But when it became obvious that they needed more personal involvement, Estaugh and John Cadwallader decided to go. Cadwallader became ill on the ship and died shortly after landing. John Estaugh preached at the funeral but succumbed to a high fever several days later, He died just after his 40th wedding anniversary on December 6, 1742.

"Today the actual burial site of the three ministers is inaccessible. A small craft can land on a tiny beach in Fat Hog Bay, but briars and prickly bushes, spreading out for about half a mile leading to the high hill make it impossible to reach the site."

One hopes our local Quaker finds interest and support in the Islands for restoration of this Quaker history.

Lois Barton

July, 2006

This drawing of a Quaker settlement on Tortola was made by George Truman and is available in a collection at Swarthmore College.

Copyright © 2006 by Lois Barton

Look for more stories about Hawaii coming to The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte soon!

Writer and historian
Lois Barton

Lois Barton is an 88 year old mother of eight children. She has lived on the same rural acreage just south of Eugene, Oregon for more than 50 years. All their children learned to milk, to keep the woodboxes filled, to do their share of household and garden chores. Her first book, Spencer Butte Pioneers, was published in 1982 when her youngest started to school. Since then she wrote five other books: Daughter of the Soil, now out of print; One Woman's West; A Quaker Promise Kept; and Through My Window, autobiographical sketches, sequel to Daughter Of the Soil.

Through the years Lois has been a 4H leader, president of the neighborhood association, a precinct committee woman, election board clerk, editor of the Lane County Historian, and a life-long Quaker. She spent a month in Southeast Asia in 1974 as a member of a church peace mission, after working for ten years as director of the Eugene Chapter of the World Without War Council.

Follow the links of the Voices of Spencer Creek for the most recent articles by Lois Barton, including:

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Manta Rays, and Dandelions, A Poem, also introducing Carolann Krohn

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Those Husky Macadamia Nuts

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Fender's Blue, a Nine Day Wonder

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Frannie and the Arrow

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Bhavia's Cambodia

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: The Saga of the Smoking Chimney

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: The Saga of Big Oak Stables

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: A Fishy Story

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: A Different Peace

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Hal and the Mountain

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: A Rogue River Adventure

Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Obituary for a Country Cat

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: The Cortesia Sanctuary

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: The Tree and Me and Lady Slippers

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Cranberries

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Endurance Riding

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Butterflies and Community Development

and The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: The Last Gift.

See more of Lois Barton's articles in West By online magazine's archives:

Visit the Heron Rookery

Sauerkraut and All That

Charlotte's Overdose - Just who is Charlotte and what did she take?

The Midwife–The midnight call awoke an unusual midwife.

The Mystery of Fox Hollow - Fact and fiction meet in this story of the origins of Faith Rock.

Trees, Tame Trees and Squirrel.

© Copyright 2000-2004 by West By

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