Quakers in Stafford County

Quakers in Stafford County

Quakers were long associated with iron working and manufacturing both in England and colonial America. In the early 1720s, substantial deposits of high-grade iron ore were discovered around the periphery of the Chesapeake Bay. Several English companies sent groups of skilled and unskilled laborers to build bloomeries and furnaces in Maryland and Virginia. Chief among these was the Principio Company. Governor Alexander Spotswood recognized iron’s financial potential as well. While he hired German workmen to operate his furnaces and forges, most of these early ironworks utilized Quaker employees who had for years been involved with the English iron furnaces. Great iron ore deposits were present in the Quaker colony of Pennsylvania and that region abounded with highly-skilled craftsmen engaged in a variety of iron-related occupations. Men of the Quaker faith dominated 18th-century manufacturing in the Chesapeake region. Because demand for their talents exceeded the number of men available to fill the jobs, many of these skilled workers were itinerant, relocating to other facilities upon receipt of more lucrative job offers.

The construction and early operation of Principio’s Accokeek Furnace was overseen by Quaker John England who died 1734. When James Hunter of Falmouth commenced producing iron and other manufactured items around 1759, he hired Quakers who possessed the necessary skills to design, build, and operate the water-powered equipment. Some were also talented gunsmiths, engravers, and blacksmiths. As a result of employment opportunities at Hunter’s facility, at least two waves of Quaker workers settled in Stafford. The first of these, which included Daniel Antram (1721-1819), George Fallis (1727-1798), Robert Painter (1738-after 1814), John Strode (c.1735-c.1820), and Joseph Wright, along their families, came here c.1759/60. On Nov. 27, 1760 Isaac, Jacob, and Mary Fallis and Robert Painter of Stafford witnessed a wedding at Hopewell Meeting House[1] near Winchester (Wayland 242). These early Quakers bought land and settled in the Hartwood area of Stafford. Two other Quakers who seem to have arrived with this early group were Samuel Chester and Thomas Branson.[2]  In the late 1760s, William Allason listed both men in his Falmouth business ledger and noted that Chester was a farmer in the Poplar Settlement in Stafford (Allason, G-182, F-37). This first influx was followed in 1776 by a larger contingent, who were recruited from New Jersey and Pennsylvania to work at Hunter’s rapidly expanding works.

By coincidence, the arrival of this second group occurred at the same time Charles Carter’s (1738-1796) administrators were selling his land to satisfy his numerous creditors and settle claims on his father’s estate. The newly-arrived Quakers purchased tracts of Carter property, establishing their own settlement. Much of their land was along Poplar Road, though their holdings extended over to what are today Stefaniga and Mountain View roads. This area became known as the Quaker or Poplar Settlement. Some of the Quakers, including the Holloways, also owned land on Aquia Run. In all likelihood, the names of some of these folks have been lost.

There being no meeting house in Stafford when they arrived, these Quakers joined with the previously-mentioned Hopewell Monthly Meeting. Traveling between Stafford and Winchester was an ordeal, and by 1769 the Potomac Run Quakers were seeking permission to establish their own meeting house nearer their homes. On Aug. 7, 1769, Joseph Wright, Daniel Antram, John Antram and their families requested this permission. Hopewell named a committee to look into the matter, but they decided to defer action until they could determine whether these families were rightfully living within Hopewell’s geographical limits. The Hopewell committee was also concerned “whether they had complied or were likely to comply with their contracts in purchase of the lands they were settled upon, and whether they were capable of holding a meeting” (Wayland 81).

The committee was also concerned that the Potomac Run families might be within the limits of the Fairfax Monthly Meeting, but in October 1769 it was determined that they were not (Wayland 82). In November 1770, a committee from Hopewell was sent to Stafford to conduct further investigation. This group finally determined that the Potomac Run Friends “seemed in a likely way to comply with their contracts reputably, and were, if they proved careful, a sufficient number and compactly enough settled to hold a meeting for worship reputably” (Wayland 82). Exactly when the Friends began meeting in Stafford isn’t known. Hopewell’s records from 1771-1779 are missing, but on Sept. 4, 1780, Hopewell determined that Stafford “be further indulged as heretofore,” indicating that meetings had been conducted for some time in Stafford.

Robert Painter donated the land for the meeting house though no deed was ever executed (Wayland 94). The earliest marriage held at Stafford for which there is a record was between John Fallis and Mary Antram, which was conducted on Apr. 10, 1776 (Wayland 262). George Fallis and Daniel Antram were overseers for the Stafford meeting house, though it’s not known during what years they served in this capacity (Wayland 529).

After the Revolution, activity at Hunter’s Ironworks declined and had all but ceased by about 1806. The Stafford Meeting was discontinued on Aug. 3, 1807 (Wayland 549). On June 6, 1817 a committee at Hopewell recommended that Abraham Branson and William Jolliffe be appointed as trustees to sell the meeting house at Stafford, reserving the graveyard (Wayland 73). If a deed was drawn for this conveyance it’s been lost. By this time, many of Stafford’s Quakers had moved west, some settling in Ohio. Some of the Holloways remained in Stafford and continued their involvement with grist milling here but seem to have given up the Quaker faith.

Sources:

Allason, William. Ledgers and Daybooks. Williamsburg, VA: John D. Rockefeller Library.

Eby, Jerrilynn. Laying the Hoe: A Century of Iron Manufacturing in Stafford County, Virginia.

                Westminster, MD: Heritage Books, Inc., 2003.

Vogt, John and Kethley, T. William. Stafford County, Virginia Tithables: Quit Rents, Personal Property

Taxes and Related Lists and Petitions, 1723-1790. Athens, GA: Iberian Publishing Co., 1990.

Wayland, John W. Hopewell Friends History, 1734-1934, Frederick County, Virginia. Baltimore, MD:

                Genealogical Publishing Co., 1975.

 


[1] The Hopewell Meeting House stands seven miles north of Winchester, near Clearbrook, and one mile west of Route 11 on Hopewell Road. It opened in 1733, the first house of Christian worship west of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It is still in operation.

[2] Based upon information gleaned from the land tax records, the Bransons seem to have resided on Oakley on the east side of Poplar Road (Route 616).