Discovering Famous Quaker Ancestors

Discovering Famous Quaker Ancestors

Sandra Adams has been researching her family history for 10 years and discovered on the IGI that her family were originally Quakers in the Bristol area.

Sandra Adams, TheGenealogist Subscriber

Sandra Adams

TheGenealogist Subscriber

Sandra Adams has been researching her family history for 10 years and discovered on the IGI that her family were originally Quakers in the Bristol area. Her first real break-through with her Quaker past came when The National Archives, in collaboration with, released the original Quaker records as part of the non-conformist record set.

As Sandra began her search on ‘The Genealogist’, starting with her four times great grandmother Mary Dickinson born 1748 in Bristol, she never imagined she would discover so much. Thanks to the ‘The Genealogist’, her voyage into the past was not nearly as difficult as her ancestors journey across the Atlantic had been. Living in Canada made it difficult to access records in England but the introduction of records online had been a god-send.

Bringing the past to life

Marriage of Richard Marchant and Elizabeth Frye
Marriage of Richard Marchant and Elizabeth Frye

Sandra was astonished by the amount of detail included within the Quaker records. One of her favourites was a marriage between Mary Dickinson’s great-grandparents, Richard Marchant and Elizabeth Frye. The marriage entry included the place and date of the wedding, the groom’s profession, groom’s parents, bride’s father and even the bride’s address. Quaker marriage records also include the vows that were spoken between the couple, and Sandra was particularly moved by the vows of Richard and Elizabeth:

…he the said Richard Marchant taking the said Elizabeth Fry by the Hand did openly Declare as followeth, Friends in the fear of the Lord God and in the presence of you his People I take this my friend Eliz. Fry to be my Wife, Promising to be her a loving and faithful Husband till it shall please the Lord by Death to separate us…

Sandra says how This is my favourite discovery. I can imagine the wedding day as the records describe the vows that were spoken .

Famous Friends

RG6 William Penn marriage
RG6 William Penn marriage

It is not only the wedding couple that can be of interest on marriage records, as she also found her ancestor Richard Vickris as a witness on the marriage of the famous

William Penn, founder of Pennsylvannia, and his second wife Hannah Callowhill. Richard Vickris was born in 1656 in Bristol, the son of Robert Vickris who had served as a Master of the Society of Merchant Ventures, was a city politician and avid persecutor of Quakers. During this time the Bristol area in Somerset was a Quaker stronghold and the movement was flourishing. Richard soon became involved in the movement, much to his father’s dismay, who sent him to fight in France in the hope that this would discourage his pacifist tendencies. This in fact had the opposite effect and on his return Richard married Elizabeth Bishop, daughter of George Bishop, a leading member of the Quaker movement. The Quaker records are just one of the sets that can be freely searched on

William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania
William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania

Religious persecution

Like many other early Quakers, he was persecuted for practising and writing about his beliefs, and was detained and fined repeatedly. Then in 1684, Richard Vickris was made an example of, and was tried and convicted for refusing either to renounce his beliefs or leave the country. He was sentenced to death on 23 August 1684, the only Quaker threatened with the death penalty for the refusal to conform. With the support of William Penn, Richard’s wife Elizabeth Bishop Vickris travelled to London where she met with the King’s brother, James Duke of York. With the Duke’s intervention the sentence was quashed and Richard was freed. His father died just a few days after Richard returned home. Then he and Elizabeth moved their large family out of Bristol to his father’s estate in Chew Magna, and from their home they were able to host Quaker meetings. Richard continued to collaborate with George Fox and William Penn in publishing works about Quaker beliefs and struggles.

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Quaker origins

Perhaps the most interesting part of Sandra’ research was her discovery that her family descended from George Bishop. George Bishop is an extremely important figure in the original Quaker movement, and along with Richard Vickris, is mentioned in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. He was born in 1615 in Bristol and became a Captain in Oliver Cromwell’s army during the Civil War, supporting the execution of Charles I.

Oliver Cromwell
Oliver Cromwell

From 1650 to 1653, he headed Cromwell’s intelligence gathering organization in London, entrusted with countering royalist counterplots. He returned to Bristol and started to associate with the Quaker preachers, Audland and Camm, and quickly turned his organizational skills to the early movement. He became a pacifist leader against the persecution of Quakers in Bristol, and was imprisoned several times for attending religious meetings.

Rediscovering a lost past

One of the most surprising parts of this story is that until she started her family history, Sandra was not even aware of her deep-rooted Quaker past. The loss of the Quaker inheritance begins with the marriage of Richard and Elizabeth Vickris’ daughter Sarah to Caleb Dickinson in 1710. Caleb Dickinson was a Quaker who became wealthy from the profits of his sugar plantations in Jamaica, which were run by slave labour. Caleb and Sarah had a son, Vickris Dickinson. Sandra believes that Caleb’s son Vickris may have refused to free the Jamaican slaves he inherited from his father, and so quite probably left or was expelled from the Quaker meetings soon after 1761 decision not to permit members to own slaves.

So although Sandra’s ancestor Mary Dickinson was born a Quaker, she married in the Church of England in 1775 and the family’s Quaker inheritance then began to disappear through each generation, until it was lost completely. But thanks to the internet and the digitisation of records, this hidden past was once again revealed.

Because of your records, I was able to “flesh out” her line with images of the original Quaker records, going back to her ancestors who were among the founders of the Quaker movement in Bristol in the 1650’s. The Quaker marriage images were particularly helpful, as they include the marriage vows and are signed by all the attendees at the marriage, and it is possible to see the signatures of all the family members.

Each Christmas Sandra writes a short account of her family line to give to her children, and last year this turned into a several chapter story of their Quaker ancestors. With records and images from The Genealogist, she was able to create a window into the past that future generations will be able to treasure and share.

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