Some Interesting Quaker Roots Threads
Out-of-Wedlock Children, etc.

Date: Mon, 16 Feb 1998 16:25:24 -0500
From: Jean Leeper
Subject: Children out of wed-lock

My mother's line is all Quaker and my father's line are about half. I have found one person in all of my early Quaker families that had a child out of wed-lock and the church disowned her and the father. Later she by a statement of faith, rejoined the Quaker Church. A statement that children born out of wed-lock was a common thing in the Society of Friends, I do not find to be true; at least not in my families. The Quakers were quite strict in disowning for this behavior.

Date: Mon, 16 Feb 1998 18:01:05 -0500
From: Sioux Prifogle
Subject: Re: Children out of wed-lock

No, I wouldn't call it "common".... I would say a child born out of wedlock happened "none too often"... I would say a child being born too soon after marriage (that is, you get married in May, the child is born in September, or something like that) occurred in "some" cases... in fact, I have it a few times in my Quaker families... And I bet anything, although I can't prove it, of course, that pre-marital sex (without conception) happened a lot more often than Quaker records show....

Date: Mon, 16 Feb 1998 16:18:28 -0700
Subject: Re: Children out of wed-lock

... in several of the old journals of Quaker ministers that I have read, it was not an infrequent cry of ministers to note that there was great moral laxity and sexual immorality among Friends, especially during the mid 1700 to mid 1800's. Many times fornication was the explicit charge made in the journals. I have never read a printed Quaker history that made any reference to this in relation to the Orthodox/Hicksite split in 1827/1828. But it is readily acknowledged the power of the elders that sought doctrinal purity to be one of the causes. I would suspect that many instances of the "imposed doctrinal purity" thrusts of elders had no less than the problem of moral impurity at mind and heart that made the free-spirited Friends that tended to the Hicksite faction later rage with indignation of impingement against their dearly held freedoms. Unfortunately those journals were ones read between the ages of 9-23 when I made no reference notes, and there were more than 3 dozen journals of Friends ministers that I read. Of course, you can tell by this perspective where my sympathies lay with the Schism. But, I must concede that sexual immorality was a real part of 18th Century American Quakerism.

Date: Tue, 17 Feb 1998 02:40:22 -0500
From: B Medlin <>

In preparing a book on Quaker religious experience several years ago I made extensive study of Quaker journals, reading over 100 published journals of Quaker ministers of the period cited above. In researching other Quaker history projects, I have studied portions or all of many other published and unpublished journals. I do not recall even one single instance of a Quaker minister ever suggesting a "great moral laxity and sexual immorality among Friends" though I do remember a few references to loose sexual morals in the community at large, with expressions of appreciation that Friends had not fallen into those patterns and a hope that they did not in the future. I have known of a few cases in which those opposing Friends accused them of immorality, with Friends answering the charges with strong denials. As thee said, the Hicksite-Orthodox separation was over doctrinal questions (as well as some matters of authority and rural-urban conflicts). Be assured that Hicksite Quakers had the same strong Christian moral standards as orthodox Quakers, and on no question were they more careful than sex. As far as the "long delay" in marriage said to be caused by the Quaker marriage process, it was certainly not long for that day and time. The process could be as short as a month and a half between proposal and wedding, though several months were more normal. It is interesting that each of the cases cited as "evidence" of widespread or acceptable premarital sex among Friends is proof of quite the opposite. Having a child out of wedlock or too soon after marriage brought swift, certain, and severe disciplinary action by the Meeting. Certainly, some Friends committed these sins, just like those of other faiths did, but it is simply not true to suggest that this was either acceptable or widespread conduct as far as the Quaker movement was concerned. Among my own non-Quaker ancestors, there were two cases where someone had a whole family of children born out of wedlock. But Friends of the 17th to 19th centuries were very concerned "for the reputation of Truth" of the whole Society of Friends, and made a public point of this in their disownments. Be assured that sexual misconduct was not acceptable behavior in the Society of Friends. Perhaps it would be best to discuss this subject on the Quaker-L list, where it is more appropriate, and save Quaker Roots for genealogy.

Date: Tue, 17 Feb 1998 03:03:22 -0700
From: "Patty Jo Allen" <>

I understand everyone having their say about out-of-wedlock children , But really what does it matter? This is today and it happens all the time! Give the ancestors a break, they lived, they loved, they died, they are providing family trees for us, they lived with extreme hardships we don't think about today, or don't even want to think about. Remember it could be us living under those tight rules.

From: "Seth and/or BJ Hinshaw"
Subject: Re: Quakers & fornication

The specific incident quoted appeared in the minutes of Perquimans MM (minutes of NCYM are missing until 1708, and of course the YM did not consider this type of case except on appeal). Several people have indicated that the first Perquimans MM book is not abstracted in EAQG vol 1. I have not checked it out, so I'm not sure.

The first Perquimans MM book is not in chronological order, which is unfortunate. Actually, one of my ancestors was appointed as one of three men in 1727 to extract what was needful from the original minute book. They did the best job they knew how but left things in a challenging state for historians. While doing my master's thesis, I put the minutes of the MM in chronological order. Here is the information on William Bogue:

Fifth Mo. 3d, 1706. The case of Judith Henley's fornication was brought before the men's MM. (The women's MM was first mentioned in 1705.) She accused William Bogue (spelled Booge in this particular minute) of being her sexual partner.

Eighth Month 2d, 1706. The MM disowned William Bogue and Judith Henley. His paper of denial was directed to be read at each particular meeting, and a committee was appointed to place a copy of it on the door of the Perquimans County Court House (!).

Ninth Mo. 6th, 1706. The MM ordered another copy of William Bogue's paper of denial to be placed on the Court House door because the first one had been torn down.

Twelfth Mo. 23d, 1707/8. William Bogue condemned his prior misconduct and was reinstated into membership.

Date: Tue, 17 Feb 1998 06:53:17 -0600
From: "Vicki Titus"
Subject: Out of wedlock children

Help me to understand something here. I've heard various bits and pieces that indicate at one point the accepted idea was "babies came from God". When did the real truth come out to connect the two in Quaker records? I know this is probably an extremely simple question, but I've seen so many contradictory answers about it.

Date: Wed, 18 Feb 1998 05:14:38, -0500
Subject: Out of wedlock-maybe NOT??

I have but one lone instance in all my Quaker ancestors of "fornication". My Hannah SMITH was disowned in 1779 by Fairfax MM, VA due to having had an "illegitimate child". In 1780 Radnor MM, PA, disowned Samuel JAMES, the father of this child for fornication. My thought....if these 2 people were married, but not in a Quaker wedding, would the Quakers consider them NOT married??? And thus the child was illegitimate? Or would they have considered them married, but married contrary to discipline? I have not found a marriage record for them, but the records of PA and VA in that time period were very bad/non existent, so I'll never know if they got married or not!

BTW, they both apologized and were accepted back, so a happy ending for them! :-)

The JAMES family later became Hicksite Quakers in Henry Co, IN, but I have not run across any instances in studying the Indiana Quaker records of major "fornication" problems, so I'm not sure where that one previous posting about Hicksites having more pre-marital sex was coming from???? Or maybe I misunderstood the posting?

From: Booboopies
Date: Sun, 25 Jan 1998 20:09:39 EST
Subject: Re: Family Bibles and other sources, but a little off topic

I can't speak to what Mennonites would have done, but I can certainly state that Quakers would not have "hushed up" an illegitimate birth. In fact, monthly minutes from the 18th century are rampant with reports of illegitimacy. "Susanna Smith [not a real name] reported for fornication and bastardy" or Thomas Jones reported by Susanna Smith to be the father of her child or Susanna Smith refuses to name the father of her child." The people themselves were not being condemned, rather their behavior was, and the reporting of the incident gave the person an opportunity to express their understanding that what they had done was wrong and why.

These cases often dragged on for months before the person's acknowledgement was accepted. My 4th great grandmother had a daughter out of wedlock in June 1793 and it was almost a year before her acknowledgement was accepted. The illegitimate child is later referred to in her half-sister Rachel's will in 1858 as "my sister Sidney." While Rachel's father (not Sidney's) merely referred to her has Sidney So and So in his will in 1837, Rachel clearly did not see Sidney as anything other than her sister.

Last evening I read in Chester Monthly Meeting Minutes (Launey & Wright) of a young couple who passed meeting, then before the marriage took place, the young man said he'd never marry her (and other things besides). He was disowned for his behavior but had already left "the country". The following winter the young woman was reported has having "been delivered of a bastard child." The next month she acknowledged fornication with the young man. Her circumstances were unfortunate, but she was still expected to acknowledge and take responsibility for what she had done.

In both of these instances and in all of the others recorded in monthly minutes, there was hardly any way that people in the community would not have known since it was dealt with publicly at each monthly meeting before the matter was satisfactorily resolved or the person was disowned. Illegitimacy was an accepted, though not necessary approved of, fact of life in 18th century America. Pre-marital sexual relations may have been a hold over from earlier times when the "pre-contract" or betrothal was consider as inviolable as the marriage itself, so consummation of the relationship before marriage was not only not unusual but tolerated. So long as the couple married, at least in England (and there's evidence that this was true among New Englanders as well), everyone was happy. It was when there was a refusal to marry, especially when a child was involved, that things got sticky and legal. I don't know how long such things were legal (and this was NOT common at all among Quakers), but it was possible to obtain a divorce (generally for the man) if his spouse had been party to a pre-contract, whether that pre-contract had been consummated physically or not. This may have been one reason why Quakers required clearness in order to marry. However, times change, and attitudes change. 200 years after my 4th great grandmother had her child, in my grandmother's family, one of the girls had a child out of wedlock. When the girl married 10 years later (she was quite young when she gave birth), the family simply made the boy 10 years younger than he really was. My dad always said, "Tom can't be the same age as me, he was already a teenager when I was a little boy." It's important not to put 20th century values on 18th century society.

From: "Phil Pearson"
Subject: Re: Children out of wed-lock
Date: Tue, 17 Feb 1998 02:20:34 -0500

Folks before we start a real flame, please remember how easy it is to forget how much time (100-300 yrs. ??) we mull over. If one could validate a hundred of more cases of pre marital sex, how would those facts play over the timespan involved with those facts? To say that MANY did it would be very misleading if we were to just bring percentages into the picture. I would have to believe that the defense rest's their case as originally stated. It happened, but definitely was not mainstream. FYI, My ancestors (about four generations back were Quaker. I am Wesleyan.

From: "Seth and/or BJ Hinshaw" <
Subject: Re: Quakers & fornication
Date: Mon, 16 Feb 98 18:05:32 PST

Hello, everyone!

The recent posts about the Quaker attitude on fornication have been very interesting. Anyone who questions the ancient Friends' attitude on this topic might consider reading the unit on Quakers in the book Albion's Seed by David Fischer. He is an eminent historian who brought together the work of several other historians and added some important insights from his own research.

In this book, Fischer points out that the Quakers were the most strict religious group as far as sexual relations were concerned in the 1600s and 1700s. Their rate of fornication was the lowest in the colonies, and they definitely did not regard it as acceptable.

Is there anyone out there with an instance of a couple having a child too soon after marriage without being visited by the overseers? Do any of you have information of a meeting stating that fornication is acceptable? I have read the minutes of many MMs, and I do not know of one instance where the meeting felt that such behavior was acceptable.

For example, between 1680 and 1790 there were 114 men and 100 women disowned in North Carolina YM for fornication. The first instance I have found is that of William Bogue, who was disowned in 1706 for fornication. He was a leader among the Quakers and gave the land for the Wells Meeting House. But they did not spare his membership for his prior acts of faithfulness.

Two years before that, NC Quakers tried to convince the Governor, Robert Daniel, to separate from his live-in concubine. The Governor asked the Friends to take an oath of allegiance to the crown, knowing that they would refuse. They did, and he declared their seats vacant, calling for special elections to fill the 10 seats. (All 10 Quakers were re-elected.)

Finally, I might add that the first story presented does not mean that the parties involved had sexual relations. Clerks of that time were careful about the wording of such minutes (we still are). "Receiving Friends' love" did not mean having sexual relations, just as a man's "making satisfaction to her" did not mean having sexual relations (as has been suggested elsewhere). These were common Quaker phrases with entirely different meanings.

Story #1:

At the monthly meeting held at Chester the 30th day of the 5th mo. 1705, Thomas Martin, son of John Martin and Jean [or Jane] Kent, daughter of Rice and Ann Kent passed meeting and were at liberty to marry. Three months later, Friends visited Jean Kent who "stated that she could not love Thomas Martin well enough to take him to be her husband" and that "she was sorry she had proceeded so far with him." The next we hear is about 2 1/2 years later when Jean Kent and Robert Wharton of Haverford declare their intention to marry.

Seven months later Robert and Jean's father Rees (sic) explained to Chester Meeting why the anticipated marriage hadn't taken place. It seems that Robert was keeping ill-suited company and was drinking more than was considered proper. "They have released each other from all covenants and promises." Six months later at the meeting held 1st month 28th, 1709, John Smith of Elk River, Maryland and Jean Kent declared their intentions to marry. Friends were clearly not amused by Jean's previous track record as Elizabeth Prichett reported that Jean had said during a visit that "she received Friends' love and that she would not leave the man." Let's home that John was indeed the man for Jean. There is no further reference to Jean or Jane Kent, so it may be safe to assume that she and John lived happily ever after.

Thank you for your good reply about the Quaker attitude on fornication. But I am concerned about your example of William Bogue being disowned in 1706 for fornication. I do not have that record. I have that William Bogue married 5, 6m, 1689, Perquimans MM, NC Eleanor Perisho. Could you please give me the page number in the NC Yearly Minutes and what was reported?

Thank you very much.
Gwen Boyer Bjorkman

Date: Mon, 16 Feb 1998 20:28:56 EST
Subject: Re: Those rascal Quakers!

Guess we all have our minds in the gutter these days, whether we intend it or not.


Date: Mon, 16 Feb 1998 19:03:34 EST
Subject: Re: Those rascal Quakers!

Most of my Quaker ancestors have been disowned for:

1) premarital sex, of child out of wedlock
2) wearing loud clothes
3) profane language

And, of course, none of my family ever apologized for anything they did!


Date: Mon, 16 Feb 1998 18:11:35 -0500 (EST)
From: Heather Lynn Olsen <

Sue, like you, I have found many instances of "fooling around" before marriage among the early Quakers. I have done a lot of work with the minutes of the western NY state meetings, and have found many couples disciplined for the same: "having a child too soon after marriage" or for "marrying contrary to discipline", i.e., Quakers being married by a J.P., minister, etc. when the prescribed rules of discipline dragged on. Such is life!

Sue Kulp, Orchard Park, NY

Also, I have seen plenty of cases where couples were married out of union BECAUSE by the time the long drawn out Quaker process of marrying was over, the kid would have been born. If you can't find a good explanation for why a couple married out of union, look to see when the first child was born.

Heather Olsen

Date: Mon, 16 Feb 1998 21:14:41 -0600 (CST)
From: Lewis Wright
Subject: Those rascal Quakers!

I get the impression that some of you think that "Raging Hormones" are a modern day invention.

We must be careful what we read into such statements. It's too easy to place our latter 20th century interpretations onto 18th or 17th events. For example, "wearing loud clothes," reminds me that a woman in the Nantucket MM was disowned for wearing gold-rimmed glasses.

"Profane language" might have been something like, "Oh, bother that plow!"

As for fornication, I don't really believe that we can judge that issue based only upon what we read in the MM records. It would require an in depth study of, not only Quaker attitudes, but of 17th and 18th Colonial sexual mores, as well.


Lynn Olsen wrote:

Also, I have seen plenty of cases where couples were married out of union because by the time the long drawn out Quaker process of marrying was over, the kid would have been born. If you can't find a good explanation for why a couple married out of union, look to see when the first child was born.

Sue wrote:

Isn't it interesting how we progressed from the Presidents & their lineages to pre-marital sex?? Interesting train of thought, isn't it??

Date: Thu, 12 Feb 1998 21:58:39 -0600
From: (Tarvin Jerry)
Subject: Re: Those rascal Quakers!

I think fornication and having children is hereditary, so don't knock it.


Date: Thu, 19 Feb 1998 04:23:06 -0700
Subject: Re: Out of wedlock-maybe NOT??
From: (William Byrnes)

I apologize for not being clear in the looseness of my statement about Hicksites. Trying to be brief, when I am not a brief person puts me into a great deal of difficulty I'm finding. Since being severely eldered by one Friend on the list I had decided I would respond to posts such as you off list, rather than cause the discomfort and ire of some that see the thread out of harmony with the purposes of the list. In rethinking this issue, I feel that in view of the fact that I made a posting that was public, I should somehow endeavor to amplify my thinking and reasoning behind words that came across giving an entirely different spin to the subject than what I meant in the first place. This post I suppose, is equally for those that read the thread, did not respond to it and found themselves chagrined at the outrageous conclusions that it seems to have engendered.

Anyway, the approximate 3 dozen journals of recorded Friends ministers that I read from the ages of 9-23 (from my birthright Monthly Meeting, its name is referenced in my e-mail address) that made several allusions to sexual immorality and outright pronouncements of fornication were probably about a third in manuscript form. My birthright Monthly Meeting Clerk, Clayton Doane, in discussing this issue with me when I was about 20 when I was seeking clarification on the subject told me that the particular journals that I was finding these comments were in relationship to traveling ministry among the Friends quarters that became Hicksite strongholds. My sloppy writing for the sake of brevity has caused most who read my comments to draw the conclusion I was making a rampant fornication = Hicksite Quakers equation. What I should have said were many of the recorded journal entries that mentioned concerns about fornication were among the areas along the eastern seaboard that became associated with Hicksite strongholds after the Schism. I am sorry that I cannot remember the exact names of or places of residence of the ministers that I read. I am more dismayed that most of those journals, especially the manuscripts were burned when my birthright meeting was laid down and attached to another meeting. I do know that some of those journals were the private property of members of the meeting that reclaimed them at that time and have either discarded them or lost them.

Most of those who held ownership of them were in my grandparents' generation and have been dead for 30-40 years and their children did not remain in the Religious Society and so thought the journals of little value and discarded them decades 2-3 decades ago. (I could hazard the hazy memory of a few Quaker surnames that were authors of these works but I would not be able to give any given names). My own nuclear family did not read them because when they learned that such material was in them as this they felt it unseemly reading and cautioned my taking too much to heart that I found in them, and even suggested that I desist reading them.

It would also be amiss not to say that for the general rule that anything in print by and about Quakers until 1827-1828 had to pass the approval of either a Publications Committee on the Yearly Meeting level or the Meetings for Sufferings that evolved into what is today known as the Permanent Committee or Representatives Committee at the Yearly Meeting level. During and after the Schism many things were put into print that was done through private printers and never went before a Quaker reviewing committee. To be sure those publications that did go before such a review were scrutinized to put the best possible picture of Friends and what was approved of in the public eye. The unpublished manuscript form of journals were those that probably would not have met the review of such committees because they did not give Friends the best possible picture that Friends wanted the Religious Society and the world to view them in. There is no official reviewing process of Quaker authored material today as it was up until 1828. Therefore I'm not surprised scholars and homegrown Quaker historians have not come across much on the subject matter of sexuality and fornication/adultery among Friends had things not been otherwise. When I read the statistics that the Keunings published several years ago I did not find it threatening or new after what I had read much earlier in my life.

Please understand I was not making the equation statement that many have concluded I was making. The reasons and causes for the Schism are many and varied and there is no simple distillation of causes for the "Great Separation" as the Schism is generally called. After reading much on the subject I can attest it is a very complicated mess. The one pronounced area of great disagreement being over the authority of the elders to rigidly impose the Discipline happened in conjunction with the burgeoning additions to the Discipline in matters regarding outward behavior. One of the main "challenges" of the Hicksites toward the Orthodox Party was in part to allow membership the "freedom" to live according to the Light Within and not be shackled by the letter of scripture that killeth. With that in mind, I was thinking aloud wondering if there was in fact a relationship of disorderly walking, terminology that was sometimes used to cover a manner of multitude infractions of the discipline, including fornication and having out-of wedlock children.

It should also be remembered that even if there were a couple of "rebels" in the Hicksite party, the greatest majority of Hicksites within the first two decades of the Great Separation were in no way any different in piety, belief, and lifestyle than the Orthodox party. One may readily read the religious sentiments of Hicksite ministers within that period of time and not be able to make a discernable judgment of whether the writer was a Hicksite or part of the Orthodox Friends unless one is knowledgeable of the membership of the one who you are reading.

The overall point I thought I was unobtrusively making was that, yes, fornication and sexual immorality did occur within the rank and file membership of our Religious Society between 1750-1850, but it was not a prevailing weakness within the membership. In other words, it was not unheard of, but it was not what the majority of the members were involved in. I have found too many of my birthright Friends' relatives that like to paint a saintly, holier than thou picture of Quakers. I do think that the Religious Society of Friends have always been above and atop of other Christian sects in their deportment and holy living, but they were and we still are not totally without sin in our camp. We are human, and being human, we do fail to live up to the standards we understand the Light within to give us.

I do take exception to those that would squelch the general line of this thread because I feel it is just as important and revealing to where we as Friends have been and are at present with the issues of sexuality. My parents were raised that the subject was never mentioned and later in their adult lives when the subject was raised with my grandparents in my hearing, was told, "Well, we just expected you to learn the 'facts of life' from your older cousins. That's how we learned!" Too many of my Quaker relatives like to brag about the things Friends have done in the past about abolition, women's suffrage and Native American justice to the complete de-humanization of a people that were/are real and have real and serious character and moral faults, as well as great strengths, virtue and piety. We as a world realize today that humans are a tension of inconsistencies at our best. Quakers like to brag about their testimony against war but never (in my generation and the one immediately succeeding it) taught themselves how to deal with conflict and anger. For such a gentle and kindly people it is astounding at the incidents of present-day domestic violence and sexual abuse that is occurring. Not to mention how the movement of the Religious Society of Friends has been fraught with schisms and divisions even from the first two decades of its inception. Had we learned to deal with conflict Quakerism would not be fraught with five major sects in the United States today! For our sakes, Friends, lets be realistic about our humanity when it comes to our family trees! To loudly call for such a conversational thread to be removed from the list is the utmost in spiritual pride and arrogance than I've experienced among Friends in some time. To so boldly say, "I've read over 100 journals and never came across such garbage" is to loudly proclaim, "I'm and 'Expert'" in a field where there are no Experts! One only has to talk with those that have made trips to Friends House in London to do historical research to realize that there are volumes of material that have yet to be explored. So how can any Friend categorically say that such a thing as immorality never was treated in Quaker writings? Primary sources within the Society of Friends are not evenly distributed, so we must all be very careful of what pronouncements of "that does not exist!" in Quaker documents because "I've never read it, so it isn't so!" If this thread is to be squelched because the theme is thought unseemly and non-germane to the quest of genealogy, then I must say all the stories that have been posted on this list are just as un-germaine to Quaker genealogy--and that is all simply hogwash as far as I'm concerned. For genealogy must include family tradition--both oral and written that covers even the most unseemingly in the eyes of the most pious and innocent. One has no further to look than the scriptures themselves and to examine some of those that are shown in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew from the written record itself to know this.

Bill Byrnes
Denver, CO

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