Presentation Notes: 2003-2004

How to find your Quaker Ancestors

Presented by James W. Gould

Presentation Notes by Jeanne Carley

History of Quakers on Cape Cod

Professor Gould began by telling CCGS members that there are 200 Quakers living on Cape Cod today. He knows of only one family living here with ancestral roots, despite the fact that many Cape Cod families were converts to Quakerism and for many generations went to meetings. But their descendants had left the Cape long ago. (Many went to Rhode Island and New York).

Cape Cod was the first place in America where Quakers established themselves and the place was Sandwich, the first town. The reason was because the Congregational minister had left town and for a decade, the parishioners had no minister. It was a great loss for a pioneering community to lose his leadership. Some affected had a vague relationship with the church and no way of expression. Many others were quite unhappy with the Protestant Reformation in England. There were many diverse views among the churches with how religion should be practiced and in what form of worship. They reacted to the high church ceremonies, images, iconoclasts.

Early Quaker missionaries, including women, came ftom England and were persecuted for their preaching in Boston. If they returned, they were whipped, but the third time they came back, they were hung. Some of them reached Sandwich and the response was remarkable. They formed the Society of Friends and in two years, practically the whole of Sandwich became converts. By 1630 it had spread throughout the Cape - Brewster, Harwich, Dennis and by the 1660s in Chatham. Falmouth was founded by a group of Quakers.

And the faith grew rapidly because of persecution. As in ancient Rome, the more persecutions, the more converts to Christianity. If they were caught meeting in a house, they were fined. Sometimes, they were punished by taking away their only cow or their cooking kettle, an essential tool.

During this time, the wars and violence in Europe and America (English Civil War and French & Indian Wars) were upsetting the colonists. It was an intolerant era with Protestants and Catholics hating each other and with the dominant view that if you disliked your enemy, you killed him.

The pacifist view or Biblical Fundamentalism of the Quakers appealed to the Cape's dissidents. One of the attractions to Quakerism went back, not to the Old Testament, but to what Jesus in the New Testament said: "Thou shalt not kill", "Love thy neighbor," "Don't be angry with thy brother," etc. The theory behind Quakerism is inner contemplation and mediation. They felt they didn't need a priest to get to God, but they could all do what the priest was doing - visiting the sick and those in jail, caring for the poor, loving their neighbor - an individualistic type of religion. Reaching the Divine through human beings was a new form of preaching.

One of the most remarkable ideas they held at that time was equality of men and women. They believed that women knew as much as men and could actually stand up and give as good a sermon as did men. Each one has the capacity to reach out to God. Another idea was the discipline of sitting through the meeting ("a gathering") for an hour without any distractions, forgetting all worries and making contact with the Divine.

When the Act of Toleration was passed in England, the result led to tolerance in the English colonies, and by the 1690s, Quakers were finally accepted. But since they weren't attending the church, they didn't pay taxes. Quakers objected to paying taxes and proclaimed their right to fteedom of worship, free speech and other civil rights which is still a Quaker way of life.

Quaker Records

For those looking for vital records, this is a difficult quest because they differ from church records.

Since there are no sacraments, don't look for baptisms as there are none. Births, marriages, and deaths are all recorded in the monthly meeting minutes. Marriage records are also difficult as marriage was simply a mutual contract between two persons with no minister for ceremony, only counseling beforehand by the parents and others. The witnesses are listed in the monthly meeting minutes; the first names are the closest relatives followed by friends' names. Deaths are regularly reported, but not long obituaries. They are more like "spiritual journeys through life" rather than a listing of human achievements. Tombstones are vely simple, the oldest with no engravings.

The Quakers disliked the pagan names for the months such as emperors' names, Julius and Augustus, using numbers instead.

Sources of Data

Monthly Meeting Minutes

The meeting minutes' original records have been preserved and are fairly complete. But Prof. Gould suggests using secondary sources first because of lack of personnel in the Archives. Most Quaker records have been microfilmed and are at Mormon Family History Centers and the Sandwich Archives.

Check these first and then the Archives of the New England Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends. If you have ancestors living in Sandwich that you think may be Quaker, look at the Sandwich Archives first.

Archives of the New England Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends at the Rhode Island Historical Society.

Dennis Historical Society has a set of microfilms.

Burial Grounds (6)

Three are next to meeting houses:


Meeting Histories




Family Associations (Active on Cape Cod)

Family Histories

Family Histories & Meetings Outside New England

See the Presentation Notes Index for summaries of other presentations given at the Society's monthly meetings.