Dartmouth Quaker records

Apponagansett Meeting House in Dartmouth. Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

We recently added a new database to AmericanAncestors.org, Dartmouth, MA: Quaker Records, 1699-1920. This database is a collaboration between the New England Historic Genealogical Society | American Ancestors and the Dartmouth Historical and Arts Society (DHAS).

DHAS has digitized and is transcribing the original record books for the Dartmouth monthly meeting of Friends (Quakers). These transcriptions and the images of the manuscripts will be available on the DHAS website. Much of this content will also be available as a searchable database on AmericanAncestors.org.

When finished, this database will encompass 16 volumes pertaining to the monthly meeting in Dartmouth, covering the years 1699-1920. Currently, the database presents “removal records” from seven volumes. Removal records reflect geographic connections of individuals and families at documented times. Removal records can take three forms: (1) marriage (to someone from a different Monthly Meeting [MM], either at Dartmouth MM or at some other MM); (2) temporarily ‘visiting’ Dartmouth from another MM or going to another MM to ‘visit’; and (3) permanently relocating to the Dartmouth MM from some other MM or to some other MM from Dartmouth. These meeting records provide valuable insight into the lives, travels, and home locations of early New England Quakers.

As we worked to establish this partnership, I asked Robert E. Harding, the DHAS president, to give me some context on why this project is important for researchers interested in the history of Dartmouth. Bob reached out to his colleagues, who provided a wealth of information on the town’s early history. Sally Aldrich wrote a 1987 thesis entitled “The Dartmouth Propriety: Land Ownership in the Township Before 1800.” She provided the following extract, highlighting how geography and religion influenced the early history of the town:

Click on image to expand it.

Few Plymouth Purchasers decided to settle in this region, cut off from Plymouth by a difficult overland trek and the treacherous Cape Cod waters. Nature dictated that Dartmouth should draw from its nearest western neighboring settlements of any size, Newport and Portsmouth, Rhode Island, and Dartmouth maintained commercial and genealogical ties with these communities for a long time afterward. Sailing to Newport was one-third the distance to Plymouth, and infinitely more comfortable. As a consequence, Dartmouth was separated geographically, and thanks to the Quaker influence, religiously and genealogically, though not legally, from the government of New Plimoth. There was little common ground, with either Plymouth or the rest of Massachusetts, which was ruled by Puritans who viewed Quakers as a threat to their ordered building of a "city upon a hill." Dartmouth actually voted to become part of Rhode Island in 1741, but Massachusetts refused to let the town go.

Richard W. Gifford provided some further thoughts on the history of Quakers in Dartmouth. He explained how many of the early Quakers in Dartmouth came from Sandwich, on Cape Cod. Sandwich is the oldest Quaker meeting in North America; the first gatherings were held in 1657. Travel and associations between Sandwich and Dartmouth continued as the two communities grew.

Richard also discussed the geographic influence of the Dartmouth Monthly Meeting: “The missionary work of the Dartmouth MM was significant, probably nowhere more so than in the outreach to Nantucket. Peleg Slocum, the primary benefactor towards the establishment of the Dartmouth MM (and son-in-law of Christopher Holder) made several trips to the island aimed at converting Mary Coffin Starbuck, on the theory that if they could convert her, the other islanders would follow.”

Dartmouth Quakers frequently migrated and traveled to meetings in Dutchess County ... and Washington County, New York[.]

Dartmouth Quakers also migrated elsewhere, leading to the establishment of numerous Monthly Meetings throughout the Northeast and Midwest in the 1700s and early 1800s. Dartmouth Quakers frequently migrated and traveled to meetings in Dutchess County, New York (Oblong MM, Nine Partners, and others) and Washington County, New York (Easton and Cambridge).

Finally, Richard explained some differences between the New England Quakers and the Quakers who came to Pennsylvania. William Penn arrived in Pennsylvania in 1682, more than 20 years after the first Quakers were organizing in Sandwich. Richard says:

The Pennsylvania Quakers were not subjected to the same governmental persecution that the Massachusetts Quakers were. This persecution began in Sandwich, and was a significant, if not the predominant, factor in Sandwich Quakers removing to the frontier of Dartmouth in the 1680s. Then, when Plymouth Colony merged with Massachusetts Bay, the commonwealth began enforcing the "minister tax" upon Dartmouth, leading to resistance and the imprisonment of both Quakers (e.g. Deliverance Smith) and Baptists (e.g. Philip Taber Jr.), who refused to collect the tax.

So, in sum, this new database is an important step forward in making the history of this unique town more accessible to online researchers. Researchers interested in learning more about the history of Dartmouth should visit the Dan Socha Memorial Digital Library at DHAS and consult the Henry B. Worth Papers Pertaining to Old Dartmouth, from the New Bedford Whaling Museum and the Millicent Library, available through DHAS. Additions to our database Dartmouth, MA: Quaker Records, 1699-1920 will be announced on Database News, the blog for the latest database news and announcements from AmericanAncestors.org.

Molly Rogers

About Molly Rogers

Molly is from York, PA. She studied English and French at Colby College in Maine and has a Master’s degree in Library and Information Science from Simmons College. She enjoys many outdoor pursuits such as whitewater kayaking, mountain biking and cross-country skiing and has a few indoor hobbies like reading, knitting and creating a genealogy website for her grandmother’s family.View all posts by Molly Rogers