As it turns out, I descend from a number of Quaker families: there’s the bearded Bond brothers from Wayne County, Indiana; the Roberts family, whose log cabin still stands in Richmond; and the Hawkins family, who traveled to America with William Penn aboard the Welcome in 1682. These findings pale in comparison, though, to my newfound research on the Beals family of Chester County, Pennsylvania; like his parents, Thomas Beals was a prominent minister in the Quaker church, and, in 1748, the Beals family and other church members followed a wagon train south to establish a new meeting house in Guilford, North Carolina.
The Society of Friends called their frontier settlement “New Garden,” a tribute to both the New Garden Meeting House of Chester County and the earlier New Garden of County Carlow, Ireland. The first meeting of the Friends of New Garden occurred in Cane Creek in 1751 (present-day Alamance County), and the members in attendance drafted a petition requesting permission to hold permanent meetings of worship: “There is Thirty Families and upwards of Friends settled in them Parts and Desire still in behalf of themselves and their Friends to have a Monthly Meeting settled amongst them.”
“At first there was no meeting house, and there is an amusing tradition in regard to their pioneer meeting: Two great logs were placed to form an angle. The leaders sat at the vertex and, supposedly, the men sat on one log, the women on the other, in the typical Quaker tradition of separating the sexes. Then, to prevent their horses from straying during the extended silent meeting, they drove them into the open angle and closed it by a third log, thus forming a triangle.” After the Friends’ petition was approved, their first meeting in a private dwelling was in the home of Thomas Beals, my 7th great-grandfather, in February of 1752.
The New Garden Meeting continued to grow over the next few decades, ultimately becoming the “focal point of Quakerism in North Carolina and in the South.” Some 93 public Friends from the North, from eastern Carolina and from Europe attended Monthly or Yearly Meetings between 1752 and 1778, attesting to the importance of New Garden. The earliest description of one of these meetings was by one visitor, Catherine Payton Phillips, an English Quaker, who wrote of her visit in 1753: “We set out next morning [after spending the night in the woods] in hopes of reaching a settlement of Friends at New Garden that day; but…we thought it best to stop at William Rinald’s [Reynolds?] at Polecat, who was under the possession of Truth…”
“And the next day…we had a meeting there with a few friends, and some of the neighbours; which was exercising, yet ended in a sense of Divine sweetness. The 24th [December], we went to New Garden, and staid amongst Friends in that settlement till the 28th. This was a new settlement of Friends, and we were the first from Europe that had visited them, or traveled in these parts in the service of Truth. We had pretty close service among them, and laboured for the establishment of a meeting for ministers and elders in their monthly meetings; which we found was much wanting: and we had reason to hope that the proposition would be adopted; divers Friends being convinced of its usefulness, and seemed glad that it became our concern to recommend it.”
And that’s Thomas’ story: he was a prominent Quaker minister who, along with his family, established the first Meeting House at New Garden in North Carolina. He was widely-known and well-regarded among his peers, and a number of my ancestors were Friends of New Garden throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries–the Meeting House is still in existence today. I have some strong Quaker roots, a find that surprised me a few months ago; however, this is, in my opinion, the most remarkable find of all. Discovering that my ancestor laid the foundations of a new church–the church that nearly all of my paternal ancestors grew up in–is simply incredible. Genealogy is crazy, isn’t it?