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Quaker History

Although the Newbold-White House itself dates to ca. 1730, the historical significance of the site itself goes back much further, into the earliest days of the settlement of Colonial North Carolina.

The earliest known English settler on the property was Joseph Scott, who probably came to North Carolina shortly after the issuance of the 1663 Carolina Proprietary Charter. In that year he patented 640 acres of land south of the Perquimans River, the site of the present day Newbold-White House. He purchased an additional 200 acres north of the river the following year. He lived on this property with his wife Mary, and their children Caleb, Joshua and Mary.

By 1672, Scott had become a man of substance in the young colony, and was serving as a burgess in the legislature. In that year two men visited the settlement along the Perquimans River, changing the lives of the settlers, and making a huge impact on the history of North Carolina.

These two men were William Edmundson and George Fox, and they were travelling in the New World as missionaries of the Society of Friends, a Christian sect founded in England twenty years before by George Fox and known today as Quakers. Having sailed from England together, the two men separated as they journeyed through New England and then south through Virginia and into Carolina.


Edmundson arrived in Perquimans in the spring of 1672, and held the first recorded service of Christian worship in Carolina at the home of Henry and Hannah Phelps, Quakers who had moved down from New England, and who told Edmundson that they had not seen another Quaker for seven years. With Edmundson’s ministry, the seeds of Quakerism were sown among the settlers, and they were ready for the founder of the Friends movement to nurture the crop later that year.


Following Edmundson, George Fox travelled through Virginia and then down the Chowan River to near present day Edenton where he lodged with the governor of the colony. Having stayed with the governor at least overnight, Fox recorded in his journal for the 26th of November 1672: "the next Morneinge wee passed away & sent our boate about, & ye Governor went afoott 2: miles through ye woods with us, & sett us in our way to the boate; & [ye 26th of ye 9o moth] wee came to Joseph Scotts one of the Burgesses of the Country, & this was about 30: miles by water; ... wee had a Meettinge [by pekeque mine (Perquimans) River at Joseph Scotts house,] & many people was there, & was tender, & a sound pretious meettinge there was, Blessed be the Lord, & ye people much desired after Meettings; [and on ye 28th of ye 9o moth] wee passed by water 4: miles to Henry Phillipps house..." On or soon after the 1st day of the 10th month (December by the old calendar) Fox held a large meeting. Then: "after ye Meettinge I passed by Land & water about 5: or 6: miles to Joseph Scotts, where wee had a day of washinge & sweepinge of those yt had defiled themselves; "

[Norman Penney, ed., The Journal of George Fox, (Cambridge: At the University Press, 2 vols., 1911), vol. II, pages 235, 236.] 

Through the ministry of Fox and Edmundson most of the leading settlers, including Joseph Scott, were “convinced” or converted to Quakerism, and the Society of Friends became the dominant religion of the colony for the remainder of the seventeenth century and well into the first quarter of the eighteenth. When Edmundson returned in 1676 he recorded that he found “Friends finely settled” and holding regular meetings for worship in various homes.


Monthly meetings to conduct business and address concerns were soon begun, and eventually, a quarterly meeting was established for business concerning the entire body of Friends in the Albemarle. In 1697, at a meeting held at the home of Francis Toms, just across the river from the Phelps and Scott homes where Edmundson and Fox had first sown the seeds of Quakerism in the colony, it was approved to hold yearly meeting the last seventh day of seventh month (the last Saturday of September, by the old calendar). The first session of North Carolina Yearly Meeting of Friends was held there the following year, and has continued meeting ever since, with some alterations in make-up, organization, and location.


With the eighteenth century came a stronger establishment of the Anglican Church and an influx of non-Quakers to the colony. Friends were gradually pushed out of political power in the colony, but continued to be a strong force in society. By the time of the Revolution, Quakers in Perquimans had recognized the incongruity of holding slaves while professing that there is “that of God” in every person. They gradually tightened restrictions on the practice within the Society itself, calling for Friends to “use their slaves well”, not to make them work on First Days (Sundays), forbidding purchase and sale of slaves, and eventually working to free the slaves they held and to insure their continued freedom.


Often making themselves unpopular with their non-Quaker neighbors because of their views on this volatile subject, Friends tried to work within the legal system of the day to accomplish their goals, but when thwarted began to seek other ways of gaining liberty for all. Similar activity across the American South instigated what has been termed The Great Migration of Quakers westward into new states and territories where slavery was banned, a movement which drained Quaker communities across the South, including many in North Carolina and Virginia. In addition to moving themselves, Friends organized trips to the West for the sole purpose of moving freed slaves to these new settlements where they could live as citizens without fear of capture and sale back into slavery.


Other freed slaves were carried North, and often from there across the Atlantic to be settled in Liberia and other areas of eastern Africa. This work enacted a toll on the Quaker population of Northeastern North Carolina, and by 1850 only one Friends Meeting – Piney Woods – remained in Perquimans and Pasquotank Counties where a century before there had been a dozen.

The faithful remnant of Friends in Perquimans persevered through the Civil War and Reconstruction, and by adopting new ways of worship survived into the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, maintaining a reputation for a sober, honest, and hard-working way of life. Today two meetings – Piney Woods and Up River – are active in the Belvidere community of Perquimans County, continuing to carry the Light first proclaimed here nearly three and a half centuries ago.

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