Our Quaker Beginnings

Larry Pearce
With research done by
Caroline Pinkers
And inspiration by
Jan Philpot

My Great-great grandmother was Susan Austen Pearce (1791/4-1865) [we use the shortened informal American name to keep her separate from her mother]. Originally from Kent County, England, she married Richard Pearce in 1813 before coming to America with him, their children, her brother Charles, sister-in-law Sarah Pearce Austen, their children, and probably 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 this time. Unfortunately, our knowledge of any Beards coming to the New World is very limited: what their faiths were or if we’re directly related. The tri-state area of Western Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia has a variety of families with the surname of Beard and no doubt a variety of religious preferences. Remember that Pennsylvania is called “The Quaker State” after her founder, William Penn [see The Encyclopedia of American Quaker Genealogy for more]. Yet, one prominent local family ran the large Lutheran Brotherhood financial services agency in multi-ethnic Johnstown for many years. The 1815 city directory of Pittsburgh lists a Peter Beard as a baker and confectioner, but we don’t know what his religious preference was when he arrived in America or if he was directly related to our Beards. A church friend’s Beard family in the “Almost Heaven” state contained some of the first Scotch Presbyterians there. Yet, according to 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 closer at several Beards that are known to have settled near our Great-great-great grandparents Ambrose (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 earlier 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. 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 them very interesting and extremely independent people [for additional background on Quakerism see the earlier article “Faith of our Fathers: Part I ” or go to WWW.BRITANNICA.COM].

According to research done by cousin Caroline Pinkers of Bellevue, Washington, Susannah’s father was Nathaniel and her mother was Mary (she may have been a 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 [for more, see the novel Smuggler’s Village, author unknown, and Rottingdean and the East Sussex Towns and Villages, by Herbert Julyan]. 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” (Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary). 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 [see Original Family Narrative and related commentary]. 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 [see earlier article “Faith of our Fathers”], 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 (WWW.BRITANNICA.COM). 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).
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 [this was a small cask holding about 8 or 9 gallons]. 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. I end with a story entitled “Beginnings,” by Jan Philpot from the Sunday Afternoon Rocking series:

“We will begin again”. How many times would the words be said in a family? We can trace them back as far as we can trace and trace no more. And we can know those words were said since time began. Those words would have been spoken, or words very similar.

Were those the words my fifth great grandparents spoke as they boarded a ship from Scotland and began the harrowing journey to America? Would they have stood arm in arm on a deck gazing across unending gray roiling waters, shivering, and wondering what was waiting? Would they have feared for their children in the hold below, and hoped only that the choice they made would yield a better life for those who could survive? Would the feeling in their hearts not be the same that so many of us have felt, in different times, under different circumstances, but making life choices just the same?

“I will begin again.” Were those the words an ancestor spoke when he fled the potato famine of Ireland? Would he have been so desperate that he little thought of what was waiting, and considered more the simple relief of running from a place that held nothing but emptiness? Or would he have believed the prevalent stories of the time, and thought of America as a place of richness with streets lined with gold for the claiming?

Would the words “begin again” have had new meaning as he realized that the richness of America could only be realized with hard work and the resolution of a survivor? That must have been so, for I know his story, and he bent to pick no gold from the streets. Yet he survived.

Were those the words another grandfather spoke when he indentured himself to come to the same country? He must have been a strong young man, sure of his capabilities to survive the hardships of indentureship he chose for himself, sure that he would be able to emerge from those years unscathed. And he would have seen the end of those years as his real beginning, would have clung to the date and memorized it, repeating it over and over like a mantra when times were hard. For this is what any human making his choice would have done.

“We will begin again.” Were those the words a Cherokee grandfather spoke when he left his homelands in North Carolina and shepherded his family into a white world? Were those the words other grandparents spoke to one another as the eastern shores became thicker and thicker with settlers, and the mountains to the west loomed with both dangers and promise? I suspect those words, or words very similar, have been said many times in a family. They would have been said always with a slight twinge of fear for the unknown, and always with a well of the hopefulness that is the legacy of all of mankind. They would have felt the same things we feel and have felt, each time we have begun again.

This week my mother spoke of beginnings in the 1950’s. “They thought we were crazy,” she said, as she described how my father had left a lucrative job because he did not like it. It was the second time he had walked away from a life that would have made mine very different. He had walked from the ancestral farm knowing a living there would be hard to coax in the times that were coming. He had walked from a factory job in the city because it held no joy. He had taken a job at half the pay, and together with his young wife and new baby, they had ventured to a town where they knew no one, far from kinfolk, far from cultures they had known before. And all they had to their name was a new car that would take half their income each month to pay for. “They thought we were crazy,” my Mama repeated, shaking her head. But “they” were wrong. We will never know how this family’s lives may have turned out had other choices been made, but we know that the choices made led to a good life for all of them. Perhaps there was wisdom in the choices, perhaps there was an angel on their shoulders, whatever, but it turned out. My parents were young, younger than some of my own children are now. It is difficult to imagine how young they were, how lacking in the wisdom of life they would have been, yet I know it is true for I have long surpassed the age they were at the time. They had much to learn of life, and they were making permanent choices that would affect all of their life to come. They must have been fearful, and hope must have outweighed the fear. They had decided to begin.

And I have decided to begin more than once. When one beginning waned to a hopeless ending, I would look around for another path, and choose another beginning. As all my ancestors have before me. And I suspect I have felt much the same feelings with each choice for a new beginning. As you have. As we all have. It is a time of new beginnings. And with the hope in our hearts that is the legacy of all mankind, with the angel on our shoulders that is ours to welcome, we will begin again many times over. (12/30/01)

5 Responses to Our Quaker Beginnings

  1. Susan Elizabeth Collier Lamont says:

    Sorry to keep bugging you, but I am having such a good time on your site. I have ancestors – John and Sarah Woodson – who left England in 1619. He became the doctor at Jamestown. but the story is that they left England because Sarah (Winston) would not be Church of England – possibly pre-Quaker in her leanings, who knows? Also, ancestors John and Joan Eaton – who were nonconformists in Wales, with family previously in Cheshire – who came to Philadelphia in 1687/88 and founded the Pennepack Baptist Church, which still exists. I’m really looking forward to more research on all this and appreciate yours. And, like Jan Philpot, I have often wondered what they thought as they stood on those ships!

    • admin says:

      You’re certainly not “bugging me.” Each of your replies went to a different family page and I’m thrilled to know that people are reading my work. I’m also excited to learn of your Jamestown family. My great-great grandparents, Pearce & Austen, were non-conformists too: Methodists and Baptists. Please stay in touch and forward all the new stuff you find! Regards,

  2. Peter Beard says:

    Nathaniel Beard was a Baptist. His Father and brothers were Quakers.
    Maria, his eldest daughter, was baptised into the church at Rottingdean
    on her wedding day (16/5/1777). She married John Farncombe, the good friend entrusted
    with Nathaniel’s children in his will. John then witnessed the marriages of
    Philadelphia (27/1/1789), Thomas (baptised 4/11/1788 and married 5/6/1792), and
    Barbara (25/10/1791). The youngest child Nathaniel was baptised at Bishopstone where the church notes,
    “Baptised at aged 20, having been brought up a Baptist (22/1/1796).
    Yes, Nathaniel was interred in the Quaker burial ground by his Quaker brothers.
    Hope this helps.

  3. Peter Beard says:

    Sorry, I try to be accurate.
    Nathaniel’s nephew was Steyning, according to his will proved 18/11/1779.
    The executors were named, “My father Nicholas and my Uncle Nathaniel, both Quakers.”
    Just when he changed is uncertain.

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