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Jun 10th, 2007 - 17:47:51 


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Voices of Spencer Creek

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: These Stones Are Speaking

A garden club has fenced and landscaped a small cemetery where the grave markers are just stones.

By Lois Barton

Posted on Mar 8, 2007

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View from the Balcony of Old Government House, Tortola, BVI, photo by Mary Dwan

Several months ago we filed a story about Quakers on Tortola in the British Virgin Islands. Our local Eugene Quaker, Mary Dwan, has been back there since with her letter of introduction and returned with more information.

Several signatures on Mary's letter of introduction to leaders in the British Virgin Islands are by people whose last name is Penn. Some of these people claim descent from William Penn. We know that two of his sons by his first wife were banished from the Pennsylvania colony for rowdyism and landed in the British Virgin Islands (BVI).

Mary had a local friend on Virgin Gorda, Marlene Penn who is a direct descendant of William Penn. She went with Marlene eight years ago to look for the Quaker burial ground on Tortola without success. Marlene is now Marlene Penn Trottman and lives on Tortola.

Mary said, "Last year (2005) when I was in the islands I found on a map a little circle showing location of the Quaker cemetery. I was very excited that the place was recognized for the first time on a tourist map. So my husband and I went to Tortola and asked all the people in the little town who claimed 'Oh, We've never seen it. We think it is there.' We looked and looked and were about to give up when an Irish construction worker on a nearby project showed us where it was." Our previous story had pictures of Mary by the gravestones.

On this last trip she found persons who had continued research on Quaker history there. A Quaker Room was being installed in the former governor's mansion on Tortola. Evidence of other Quaker activity came to light, including information about building Fort Hodges by the early governor to conceal his area from the bay. The fort was actually only a partial fort around the seaward side and did not surround the settlement. People are guessing the imposing fort-like facade, which is very high, massive and long, was intended to fool enemies and pirates into believing it was as powerful as it looked so they would find some other place to attack.

That first governor's mansion behind Fort Hodges burned and the museum is in the second one built in that location.

Government House, Tortola, BVI, from the official invitation for the opening of the Quaker Room at the Old Government House Museum

A newspaper article in the Island Sun on December 31, 2006 tells of the opening of the Quaker Room and a Stamp Room in an extension of what is called Old Government House.

Mrs. Jillian Dunlop told the Island Sun newspaper that the Quaker Room "was set up to reflect the particular history of the involvement of the Quaker movement in the Virgin Islands."

When Mary visited the Quaker Room in progress, she was told that she would find only a few picture on the wall. One of those pictures was of a flower that Governor Pickering had popularized in the area. She gave a copy of our Faith and Practice (a Quaker book of discipline) to the museum.

She was also told she would have an invitation to the opening but when it didn't arrive she was disappointed and a little hurt. Three days after the event when she saw a notary public on Virgin Gorda, he handed her an envelope from his pocket, saying, "I was asked to give you this three days ago." The invitation was worded as follows:

The Governor and Members of the Old Government House Management Advisory Board request the pleasure of your company at the official opening of the Quaker and Stamp Rooms in the Old Government House Museum on Wednesday, 29th November, 2006 at 7:00 p.m. Dress: casual.

She explained to the committee that she hadn't received the invitation. "I called Jillian and Ermine and apologized. They were very nice about it and I was glad I'd called them."

A sidebar by Vernon Pickering to the December newspaper article includes details about the early Quaker settlers:

"In the early 1730s, Abednego Pickering, a Quaker immigrant with an English background, arrived from Anguilla and established himself at Fat Hog Bay. He was the only planter professing religious convictions.

"In 1727, Joshua Fielding, a Quaker preacher visited Virgin Gorda, the then residence of the Deputy Governor of the Virgin Islands. Fielding visited Tortola shortly after and found that there were no churches.

"In 1738 James Burkett, another Quaker, sailed to Tortola to organize religious meetings. Abednego Pickering had died in 1736 and his only son, John Pickering became the leader of a small group of Quakers."

Pickering's article continues with many details. We already know that John Pickering became the first Lieutenant governor and resigned over the problem of militia to protect his people. We've already learned about the Quaker missionaries from Philadelphia who visited the Fat Hog Bay Quaker settlement.

Vernon Pickering continues: "John Pickering died in 1768, at about sixty years of age; he was one of the largest slave owners in Tortola, but because of his religious beliefs, he was very popular with his slaves."

Pickering had been succeeded by John Hunt. After Hunt's death his wife, Mary, married Samuel Nottingham. Back to Pickering's article in the Island Sun. "Another visiting missionary, Samuel Nottingham, arrived in the islands in 1748 and found a very well organized group of Quakers. .... During the 1750s and 1760s Quakers in American and England had already organized anti-slavery movements and societies; Their position on this vital matter was also one of the major reason for their decline in the Virgin Islands". Samuel and Mary Nottingham donated all of their lands and buildings in the colony to their slaves, who subsequently became known as the freed Nottinghams.

A recent message from Jillian Dunlop notes that the Bicentenary celebrations of the abolition of slavery in 1807 are planned for England this year.

There is a move on foot to fence the Fat Hog Bay Burial Ground. On Virgin Gorda a garden club has fenced and landscaped a small cemetery where the grave markers are just stones. "We were told that the Quakers didn't use gravestones as being too high-faluting. They just used rocks." So there is one such burial ground on Virgin Gorda which may be a Quaker relic.

One book, Tortola, A Quaker Experiment of Long-ago in the Tropics, written by Charles Francis Jenkins may have much more specific history than we have so far uncovered, but it is an older publications and we have not yet secured a copy. Another more modern book, titled Early History of the British Virgin Islands; From Columbus to Emancipation, by Vernon Pickering is another good source.

Now, more than 200 years after the active presence of Quakers in the British Virgin Islands, their former presence is being recognized and preserved as a significant factor in the history of that area.

Copyright ©2007 by Lois Barton

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: Lucy McIver, Peace Pole Artist

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Telephones, Then and Now

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Remembering Bovine Tuberculosis

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: What Is a Quilt?

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

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 2000-2006 by West By

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