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About the Quakers in the Chestnut Hill Community 1771-1825

Quakers formed a congregation east of Galax along Chestnut Creek in what is now Carroll Co., VA about 1782. A monthly meeting was not formed until 1801 (Hinshaw, Vol. 1). This meeting was established after most of the Quakers on the Swift list had already left old Grayson county and had been replaced by Quakers migrating from central New Jersey (Lundy, Schooley etc.) and elsewhere (e.g. Stoneman). It was attended by persons from what is now Grayson (formed 1793) and Carroll (formed 1842) counties (Mt. Pleasant MH). The deed for the meeting house was recorded in 1798 in Grayson county with Joseph Middleton, John Lundy and Amos Lundy providing their seal. There is a large cemetery on the hill beside the meeting house. Mt. Pleasant was renamed Chestnut Creek MM (there was, I think, another Mt. Pleasant in northern VA) . Chestnut Creek Meeting was laid down in 1825 due to the migration of most of its members to Tennessee, Ohio and Indiana. Before 1793 the Quakers would have met at someone’s home or gone to Westfield meeting in Surry Co., NC. During the Revolution some had maintained their membership at Cane Creek MM in North Carolina.

Mt. Pleasant MM meeting was part of North Carolina Yearly Meeting (not Virginia). Many of the families found at Chestnut Creek 1771-1782 were amongst the earliest families at Cane Creek MM in North Carolina, arriving in the years 1751-3. Included in this migration to the Piedmont of NC were the Cox, Carr, Davis and Ruddick families. After their removal to Chestnut Creek they remained members of Cane Creek until 1778. The area they were in became part of that served by New Garden MM about 1778. Many of the Chestnut Creek names are also shown by Hinshaw to be present at New Garden at its founding including Beals, Cook, Ruddick, Williams, Cox, Pearson and Edwards. About 1786, at the founding of Westfield MM (formerly Tom’s Creek Preparative Meeting) the Chestnut Creek Quakers are found in records there. Their membership was then transferred to Mt. Pleasant MM at its establishment in 1801.

Several associated Preparative meetings formed in the New River valley of Virginia, according to the map on the fronts piece in Hinshaw’s Encyclopedia of Quaker Genealogy (Volume 6). Maple Spring meeting was formed in Grayson county about 1802, Pine Creek in Wythe county, Fruit Hill about 1797 in eastern Carroll county and Ward’s Gap about 1802 in eastern Carroll county. All of these individual “Prepatory” meetings were part of Mt. Pleasant monthly meeting. Hinshaw gives the date of founding of Chestnut Creek Prepatory meeting (not monthly meeting) as 1781. Amongst the founding families of Mt. Pleasant MM in 1801 were Ballard, Betts, Bond, Cadwallader, Chew, Coffin, Commons, Green, Hiatt, Jessop, Lerow, McCane, Middleton, Morris, Newby, Overman, Parishaw, Peal, Pickrell, Pierce, Pike, Reese, Robinson, Stoneman, Talbot and Williams (Hinshaw, Vol. 1). The minutes of the women’s meeting and a volume of birth, death and marriage records survive, but the records of the men’s meeting has been lost.

Most Quakers, whose founder, “” George Fox, was a pacifist, would have officially been neutral in the Revolution while privately supporting one side or the other. Rural Friends (Quakers) typically favored the American side. In the area of Virginia to the north of the New River area (Bedford and Campbell county), the Quakers were mainly “fighting Quakers” who fought on the American side. Friends in Philadelphia engaged in trade with England would have favored the British. From the list of fines handed out by Captain Swift about 1783 and family traditions it appears that about half the Quakers may have actively participated in the militia company, but that after 1783, this number declined to include only some of the disowned Quakers and Jacob Elliot. The Baptists appear to have actively participated, including some going to North Carolina to fight in some of the more well-known battles. The militia company after the war became composed of the local Baptists, a few disowned Quakers, and a large influx of young, mostly land-less young men passing through the area after the Revolution on their way west.

The position of Quakers against war seems to have been the main contributing factor in their decline from being one of the most numerous people in America to a much smaller group today. In the period of peace (1675-1755) their membership was growing, their political influence was great and they were well respected. In this period, not only did the Indians not attack the people in the Quaker colonies (PA, NJ, DE and western MD and VA), but the Quakers acted as peace makers amongst the Indians themselves. Then the French and Indian War broke out, thousands were killed in western Pennsylvania and neighboring Virginia and the Quaker response in Pennsylvania was unsatisfactory to most people. Acting towards your neighbor with love is tough to do when he is burning your home and killing your friends and relations.

Quakers have a Bible-based testimony against taking oaths of any kind (including the Revolutionary War era Oath of Allegiance). Some Baptists may well have shared this belief as there was a schism amongst the Quakers in Pennsylvania 1692-1700 called the Keith controversy. Many Quakers left the movement and became Baptists at this time and they largely migrated west and south. The Quakers and Baptists lived side by side in the upper New River area and in the Piedmont of North Carolina. They were political allies and Religious competitors. Both denominations more or less date from the mid-seventeenth century. They suffered persecution in Great Britain together. In America, they both were strong proponents of democracy, civil liberties, local control of government, and separation of church and state. The plainness of their churches, of dress and demeanor were similar. They had some theological difference as the Baptists were Calvinists and the Quakers were not. The differences can be summed up as follows: (1) Primary authority of the Bible (Baptist) versus Primary authority of the Spirit (Quakers); (2) Total depravity of mankind (Baptists) versus Perfectibility of mankind (Quakers); (3) the vicarious atonement (saving by grace, being born again etc.)(Baptist) versus salvation by living your life as Christ lived his (Quaker); (4) No women ministers (Baptist) versus everyone can preach if moved by the Spirit (the Quakers were unique in this respect); (5) Adult Baptism (Baptist) versus all sacraments are inward (Quakers). The Baptists that separated from the Quakers in the Keith schism shared the Quaker’s pacifist beliefs and were the first Religious denomination to absolutely forbid slavery amongst their members. They primarily split with the Quakers over issues 1, 4 and 5 above. Their leader, after Keith went back to England was John Hart and some of his descendants went south as Baptist missionaries (and are one possibility for ancestors of the New River Hart line).

Quakers would also be reasonably skilled woods-men. The first settlements west of the Blue Ridge in Virginia were made by Quakers and the Church of the Brethren (German Baptists). They also were proud of their record of peaceful relations with the Indians (which is the reason they and the German Baptists were first into the Shenandoah Valley). It is said, at least in legend, that when Daniel Boone was a Quaker lad growing up in Pennsylvania, he went on hunts with the Lenni Lenape and learned from them. He would not have been the only one. The peace with the Indians lasted from about 1682 (founding of the colony) to 1752 in Pennsylvania.

Quakers prided themselves in their history of friendship with Native Americans then as they do now. From their coming to New Jersey in the 1670s until the Walking Purchase of 1737, the Quaker led governments respected the treaty boundaries. With Pennsylvania’s open immigration policy, this soon led to no new farmland for new settlers. Pennsylvanians then expanded into the Shenandoah Valley (about 1730), but also some began to “squat” on Indian land in Pennsylvania. When the French and Indian War broke out about 1752-3, the Quakers tried to mediate peace with the Indians and were thoroughly unprepared for the string of massacres in which thousands of Pennsylvanians were killed. After 1755, unable to govern effectively during time of war, Quakers began to withdraw from government and this movement, part of a phenomenon called “Quietism,” would have been in play during the Regulation and the Revolutionary War. This led to the disownment of members (e.g. Herman Husband, Harmon Cox) of this denomination who were particularly vocal in movements like the Regulation or American Independence. The onset of the French and Indian War began a period of decline in Quaker membership and evangelism.

Quakers did own some slaves in the early period of their stay in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. By the Revolution, owning slaves had become controversial within the Religious Society of Friends (the actual name of the Quakers). In the Chestnut Creek community of 1781-3 (the Swift militia roll) only two men owned slaves: Elisha Bedsaul (who probably became a Quaker some time between 1774 and 1782) who had 1 and David Fulton (non-Quaker) who had 1. In 1768 and again in 1772 the Virginia Friends agreed that any Friend who purchased slaves was to be disowned (existing slaves were grand-fathered in). By the Revolution this practice had spread to all of the Southern colonies. In the 1793 property tax list for Wythe County, none of the Quaker members of the Swift militia company owned slaves including Elisha Bedsaul. It should be added that in the period just after the Revolution, slavery was questioned throughout western and central Virginia, which were also the most populous parts of the state (at least in white population). However, the eastern counties were disproportionately represented and attempts to introduce legislation for its abolishment went nowhere.

The antislavery view of Quakers at the time of the Revolution was not necessarily the view of all of their forefathers. A number of large slave holding families from the Virginia Tidewater were converted to the Quakers in the late seventeenth century and some of the names of these families (Johnson, Martin, Fleming) appear on the Swift muster rolls. The Quakers on the Swift musters whose families hailed from Pennsylvania were most likely never owners of slaves.

Opposition to slavery is one of the two reasons given by Hinshaw (Vol. 6 in his description of South River MM) for the migration of Quakers from Virginia to the Northwest Territory after 1800. The other reason was that a great number of them participated in the Revolution on the American side. Because of this, they received free land in Ohio (the Virginia Military District). Ohio Counties to which Quakers from the New River area migrated which were at least in part within the Virginia Military District include Ross, Logan, Greene, Clinton and Highland. The Lundy family who moved to Grayson Co., VA after the Revolution were first cousins of Benjamin Lundy, sometimes called the Founder of American Abolitionism. He is known to have visited his kin in southwest Virginia on his way to Deep River meeting house, North Carolina where he gave the first public lecture on the abolition of slavery in 1824 (The Lundy Family, 1902 by W.C. Armstrong). The out-migration of those opposed to slavery from Virginia to the old Northwest Territory likely preserved slavery in America, as the abolishment of slavery in Virginia failed by only a few votes in 1835 in the Virginia legislature.

Quakers from the part of Chester County from whence came the Quakers in New River were, in the early eighteenth century, radical democrats. They helped create in colonial Pennsylvania a democracy that included the freedoms found in the first 10 amendments to the US Constitution. In the end, the political freedoms, radical in their time, advocated by the Quakers and Baptists were adopted as the law of the land. They came gradually. The Bill of rights was enacted in 1787-1790. One man one vote came about the time of the election of Andrew Jackson. The end of slavery was achieved only in the bloodshed of 1861-5 and the Reconstruction following. Quaker women made up much of the early movement that resulted in woman’s suffrage. The Quakers, though, were less successful as a religious movement as their membership has not grown much since Revolutionary War days. In America today we enjoy the political freedoms brought by the Quakers and Baptists, but we also enjoy the personal freedom that in those times was part of the culture of very wealthy men in the southern states [Thomas Johnson {probably} on the Swift list actually was descendant of both these groups]. In a way there were two Revolutions, the one fought by the common farmers of the Regulation that continued for 200 years, and one led by the elite in 1776-1783. The cause of freedom, in time, was victorious in both.

Mt. Pleasant Friends Fellowship still seems to exist and a newer brick meeting house is next to the old cemetery. Directions to the meeting house and cemetery are HERE. There is also a Quaker fellowship meeting near Fancy Gap, and they have put an on-line history of the North Carolina Friends HERE.

Mt. Pleasant Church and Cemetery
Mt. Pleasant Church and Cemetery

 End Notes:

  1. One of the first unpaid Quaker ministers at Mt. Pleasant MM was Thomas Beals. This web site contains a brief biography (“” or He was a minister to the Indians during the Revolution and is said to have been the first Quaker minister in Ohio. Many Friends from Chestnut Creek migrated with him to Ross Co., Ohio about 1798-9.
  2. If you are interested in learning about Quaker’s religious beliefs in this time period you might try “” Friends Early Use of the Bible.
  3. A very interesting article on the Quaker settlement of northwest Virginia can be found at (by Pat Patterson)
  4. The Encyclopedia of Quaker Genealogy, Volume I (North Carolina) and Volume VI (Virginia), edited by William Wade Hinshaw was consulted as referred to above.
  5. Some of the minutes of New Garden MM (North Carolina) just after the Battle of Alamance.
  6. Some marriages relevant to Chestnut Creek from the records of New Garden MM have been placed on line.

Contact the author, James A. Quinn, February, 2003 – revised Feb. 2009