Larry Pearce, with research done by cousins Caroline Austen Pinkers, Lynn Austen, and Marge Austen
My Great-great grandmother was Susan Austen Pearce (1791/4-1865). I will use her shortened informal American name to keep her separate from her mother, Susannah Beard Austen. Originally from Kent County, England, Susan married Richard Pearce in 1813 before coming to America with him, their children, her brother Charles Austen, sister-in-law Sarah Pearce Austen, their children, and other friends and family in 1821. Susan was named after her mother, Susannah Beard Austen, whose family were some of the earliest Quakers along the southern coast of England. It’s these fascinating roots that we shall explore. Unfortunately, our knowledge of any Beards coming to the New World is very limited. According to cousin Marge Austen, the Beards in the southeast corner of the Buckeye state were mostly Quakers. Lynn Austen reminds us to be open to the name being spelled “Baird” when we look more closely at several Beards who are known to have settled near our Great-great-great grandparents Ambrose Austen (1757-1843) and Susannah Beard Austen (1759-1839) in Jeromesville, Ohio. We aren’t certain what the relationship was between these families, but we’ve shown in an Austen article that Ambrose was very active in the Baptist Church while living in England. It stands to reason that British-born Susannah would have wanted other family to live nearby, but we can find no evidence of a Quaker meetinghouse near Jeromesville nor of their involvement in a Baptist church there. This article, then, traces the life and religious practices of my Great-great-great grandmother Susannah Beard Austen and her ancestors in England: her father Nathaniel, grandfather Daniel, and great-grandfather Nicholas. We think you’ll find the Beards very interesting and extremely independent people (1).
According to research done by cousin Caroline Austen Pinkers of Bellevue, Washington, Susannah’s father was Nathaniel and her mother was Mary (nee Weller?). His will of 1780 lists his address as Rottingdean, Sussex. All of our Beards before and after probably lived nearby. The unusual town name comes from the Saxon “rott” (leader of a group), “ing” (a tribe), and “dene” (a hollow). Just six miles east of Brighton on the coast, Rottingdean had the reputation of welcoming smugglers. In fact, many of the chalk cliffs there still contain a honeycomb of caves and tunnels, some leading directly to basements in the town (2). We find it ironic that our righteous Quaker Beards are associated with such a place. During a trip to England, Caroline saw homes still standing and very much in use that were built by the Beards in the 1600s and a manor house from the 1400s they once occupied. Nathaniel Beard’s occupation is listed in the will simply as “gentleman.” He owned a “Copyhold messuage or tenement, farm, and garden with appurtenances,” which is to say “an estate with various rights of way as recorded in the court of a manor, or large amount of land which was usually farmed and grazed with various livestock, held by a Lord who was authorized to hold court in enforcing British law” (3). As a gentleman, Nathaniel would not have engaged in either menial occupation or manual labor, so he would have either managed others or sublet the operation, in either event collecting rent. A portion of this then would have been passed on to the Lord, unless, as arguably was the case with Great-great uncle Charles Austen, he had been awarded use of the land for some extended period of time through some grace or honor bestowed by the Lord or King (4). Nathaniel and Mary had nine children, and his will awarded them in the following manner:
Mary, wife — 30 pounds a year, clear of deductions, equal to the land rent, and 10 pounds to be returned by each of the three oldest sons when they reached age 21,
Thomas, oldest son – the same that Mary got after she died plus “all the [live]stock of the farm, the husbandry tackle, utensils, household goods, linen, china, plate and furniture which shall be standing, lying or being in or about at the time of my decease” [we don’t know Thomas’ age when Nathaniel died, but Susannah was the fifth child and age 21, so some other provisions such as guardianship to several “good friends” to provide “support, maintenance and education of all my children during their minority” would not have applied to any but the youngest four children],
John, second child – 1,000 pounds,
Nathaniel, third child – 1,000 pounds,
Maria, fourth child and married to one of father Nathaniel’s “friends” [not capitalized until we establish Quakerism below] who was named guardian and who paid rent as a farmer on the Beard estate – 100 pounds,
Susannah, fifth child and married to our Great-great-great grandfather Ambrose Austen, Sr. – 100 pounds,
Charlotte, Philadelphia, Barbara, and Eleanor, the remaining daughters – 600 pounds apiece to be paid to them respectively when they reached age 21,
Nathaniel’s “good friends,” who were also executors and trustees – a mourning ring valued at “30/-“ [unclear],
Anything left after the youngest child reached age 21 was to be divided evenly among the children.
Cousin Caroline suggests that, because the probated will was sworn to “by oaths of the executors,” Nathaniel’s “good friends” may not have been Quakers, since Quakers refused to take oaths, although daughter Maria would not have been allowed to marry outside the faith. She says that perhaps “solemn affirmations” to faithfully carry out the terms of the will would have been made by the Quakers instead of taking oaths.
We know that Nathaniel’s father was Daniel (1672-1738) and that he had five children, the oldest of whom was John, born in 1712. In Daniel’s will he also calls himself a gentleman and lists the same general Rottingdean address and “hereditaments,” or property that could be passed on. It stated that he was “to be buried decently in the Burying Ground of the People called Quakers as near to my late relations who lie buried there as conveniently may be.” He gave his wife, Susanna, 50 pounds “over and above all such yearly or other sums of money as are secured to her,” but gave his children slightly less than Nathaniel gave his children (inflation?). Several interesting things catch the eye: Daniel seems to have a great deal of land holdings spread over a wide area of southern England. And, he specifically names various pieces of silver to be given to his sons: a tankard, a taster, a cup, two salts (shakers?), and many spoons.
Daniel Beard was the 18th child of 20 of Nicholas Beard, Sr. (?-1701). His wife was also named Susanna. Their first child was a daughter named Sarah in 1650, but they had at least 15 sons. It is Nicholas that we concentrate on today, because of his stubborn Quaker convictions. His will again lists Rottingdean, Sussex, but has his occupation as “yeoman,” defined in Websters as, “an attendant or officer in a Royal or noble household.” Other possibilities include “a Naval petty officer who performs clerical duties,” but the most likely in keeping with his descendants is “one belonging to a class of English freeholders below the gentry” (upper ruling class). His will indicates that Nicholas was“aged but of sound and perfect mind and memory” when he wrote it. He cites the original 1694 Indenture of Lease granted to his family by Lord George Bergavenny and Lady Diana Porter. Upon his death, he gave his wife 40 pounds and one-fifth of all his “household stuff within doors,” but he specifically excludes: two furnaces, two long tables, great irons and plates of iron from the hall and kitchen. He gave widely differing amounts to only some of his children and grandchildren. Apparently, many of his children had either grown up and moved away or died. Dated the day after Christmas, this rather short and simple will interestingly enough refers to December as the “tenth” month, so the reference is true to the Latin “dec” for ten and occurred before the addition of two summer months by England and her colonies in 1752. We refer to this as the Gregorian calendar.
In 1972, Jessie E. Dicks published a transcript of a 17th century document entitled The Book of Sufferings, which details the troubled lives of early Quakers in the Sussex County towns of Brighthelmston, Hove, Telscombe, and our Beard’s hamlet of Rottingdean. The original book was written based on records kept beginning in 1655 by a draper from Lewes named Ambrose Galloway. This was just three years after the Seekers, as the Quakers were originally called, became recognized as a legitimate religious and political force by establishing a home base in Swarthmore, Lancashire. When the British House of Stuart was founded by King James I (1566-1625) and furthered by Charles I and II and James II, all citizens in united Scotland and England were required to attend services at, belong to, and tithe to the Church of England. Any other religious activity was considered illegal, and both local authorities and the Anglican clergy were obliged to crush any opposition. The Quakers, or “Friends of Truth”, objected to the Calvinist doctrine of predestination and eternal damnation. One Internet source says, “Friends’ religious style was impulsive and non-ideological; Quakers seemed to ignore the orthodox views of the Puritans and pervert their heterodox ones. Though most Friends had passed through varieties of Puritanism, they carried the emphasis on a direct relationship between the believer and God far beyond what Puritans deemed tolerable.” They openly accused the State Church of “trampling down the truth.” Therefore these early Quakers had no protection under British law. They could be beaten or robbed and yet there was nothing they could do about it. When we look more closely at our ancestor Nicholas in a minute, just one of many treated horribly, it’s difficult at times to decide which side provoked whom. We wonder why these “saints” didn’t just obey the law, pay the tithes, and get the government off their backs. But then, I’m afraid it’s impossible for 21st Century Americans, so comfortable in our religious and political freedoms, to appreciate what drove immigrants to come to America. For example, one account claims that as many as 15,000 believers were held in prisons in 1685 alone. That number represents perhaps 10 percent of all Quakers of that day. Nearly 500 died in or shortly after being in prison. The Friends were bold in their convictions and meetings were held in public. It was not unusual to have government authorities break them up by force and drag the offenders through the streets to jail. Laws were strict:
Citizens must attend the King’s Church at least three Sundays a month,
Religious meetings with more than five persons present were illegal,
Tithes must be paid, often to a layman who had bought rights to collect them,
Additional money was collected for training “religion enforcers,”
No one was permitted to speak against the parish priest,
Everyone must take an Oath of allegiance to the King (remember that Quakers don’t believe in oaths, i.e. the Apostle James (5:12) said, “Swear by nothing in Heaven or on earth,”
Persons found out of their parishes could be cited as vagabonds (a particular hardship for Quaker missionaries)(5).
Punishment ranged from three months to eleven years in prison and confiscation of property, often far exceeding the penalty called for.
Nicholas Beard, Sr.’s name appears as an offender of religious law from nearly the beginning of Galloway’s records, 1655. One of his written remarks says:
Nicholas Beard and Clement Highland of the parish of Rottingdean were subpoenaed by Robert Baker, priest, into the Exchequer in the 9th month of this year 1657 upon the forfeiture of 100 pounds, who both of them appearing at the time and place appointed. Nicholas Beard was committed prisoner to the Fleet (prison) for not hiring an attorney to appear for him when he was there himself in person according to the warrant.
The next year, Baker with his men took a pair of oxen from Nicholas “from whom he pretended (claimed) them to be worth an owed amount of 17 pounds. The priest helped to unyoke them as they were going to plough and drove them away.” Later that year, 1658, the priest returned with four bailiffs to arrest four Friends for speaking the truth “as they did believe.” One of them, Nicholas Beard, was committed to prison at Horsham. Things only got worse the next year when the priest, for payment of an annual tithe of about 110 pounds, took from Nicholas twelve oxen, six cows, and a bull. They were all sold that day for 111.5 pounds. Baker apparently said to Susanna that he wished he could have gotten more. Nicholas claimed that, even if he were to pay the tithe, he would have owed only 11 pounds. Part of Nicholas’ reasoning was that he had been in jail, unable to work, on two occasions that year. Over the next few years the conflict continued as Nicholas spoke out against the priest, who retorted by having wagonloads of wheat, corn, and barley removed from Nicholas’ fields. In the summer of 1660 Baker became so angry with Nicholas that he struck him with his cane. In 1663 the Church militia took an “ambling gelding” (young neutered male horse). Perhaps the worst and most unjust incident happened in 1664, according to writer Galloway, when 12 Quakers, including Nicholas, were ordered to appear before Judge Philip Packer without receiving a written indictment. The judge “passed a sudden and rash sentence, as it were in a breath, in a broken and confused manner telling them their goods and chattels (personal property except for real estate) were forfeited to the King forever and their lands and tenements during life and their bodies to be imprisoned during the King’s pleasure in a disturbed spirit that few knew whether it were in jest or in earnest, in wrath or in malice, he was so confounded in himself, and his spirit or mind so distracted or unsettled.” Fortunately, the judge was not serious and Nicholas was released, but ten of the twelve were sentenced that day to at least five years in prison.
Sheep and wool were favorite targets for the priest over the years, and in April of 1673 sixteen lambs and 100 fleeces were taken for payment of tithes. In August of that year, the priest formally subpoenaed Nicholas as to why he wasn’t paying tithes. An answer was given, but because Quaker Nicholas wouldn’t “swear it,” he was held in two different prisons for a period of two years and three months. After he was released, and as the years went by, Nicholas’ sons were old enough that they also became involved as good Quakers. Other Beards also protested the power of the National Church, but their reward was always the same: removal of grain, livestock and wool, and/or imprisonment.
By 1700, transcriber Dicks says, “The annual financial persecution of Friends seems suddenly to have ceased, and no further mention is made until almost the last page of the Book of Sufferings.” He relates that in mid-November of 1750, two churchwardens along with two constables, one of whom was had the last name Percy, entered the home of Quaker William Grover and removed three large books bound in parchment for tithes owed. That same day they took from the shop of Nicholas Beard half a firkin of soap for payment of tithe (6). What changed in the United Kingdom?
In 1689, after the bloodless and democratic Glorious Revolution under William and Mary, the Toleration Act was passed in Great Britain, and the Quaker movement entered an age known as “Quietism.” Britannica.com says, “Quietism is endemic within Quakerism and emerges whenever trust in the Inward Light is stressed to the exclusion of everything else. It suits a time when little outward activity is demanded and when the peculiar traditions of a group seem particularly worth emphasizing.” Apparently, our later Beards and Friends had gained most of their political objectives, thanks to the hardships of Nicholas and others. By the 18th Century 75 to 90 percent of Quakers had several generations of the faith behind them by which to identify. Nevertheless, English Friends were active in social concerns such as the campaign to end slavery. Most American Friends had voluntarily emancipated their slaves before 1800. Earlier, in Philadelphia, the many Quaker state legislators could not be convinced to vote for military operations against the French and Indians who were fighting settlers on the Western Pennsylvania frontier. The peaceful treatment of Native Americans by Quakers in treaties and business transactions was so notorious that it was cited by French philosopher Voltaire in his writings.
Our research continues on Beard ancestors, but it appears that they were people of both means and convictions, and I’m not referring to the prison time done by Nicholas. Surely, he represents that pioneering and ideological spirit that was necessary many years later when Susan and Richard, Charles and Sarah, and friends and family came to America to settle the wilderness in Pennsylvania and Ohio. Although it is difficult for us to picture their lifestyle and understand their motives, we are amazed at the determination of all of these ancestors.
1. For additional background on Quakerism see the article “Faith of our Fathers: Part I” or go to WWW.BRITANNICA.COM.
2. See the novel Smuggler’s Village, author unknown, and guidebook Rottingdean and the East Sussex Towns and Villages, by Herbert Julyan.
3. Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary
4. According to “Original Family Narrative”; also see various related commentaries.
6. This was a small cask holding about 8 or 9 gallons.