I've often been interested in genealogy, and have recently discovered that I have some first generation Quaker relatives. A Friend from my Meeting recently asked about my family history after worship, so I thought I might provide that which I know. The people described here all hail from from a village named Hunsdon, which is in Hertsfordshire, north of London. If you need a point of reference, Hunsdon is in the East of England, roughly 25 miles north of London.
Before I begin, I would like to note that history is important, but to me, what I do with my own life is more important. This information is provided purely for interest's sake, and also to note how Friends as a faith group have changed over the years. What I find most interesting and inspiring are how deeply committed these people were to their faith, so much so that they would put up with constant harassment. It is a testament to their lives and their struggles that we all can express our beliefs and worship as we choose. Even if we are not Quaker, we can still see evidence of their devotion and desire to practice as they wished.
Some of these stories are amusing. The history notes that Henry Feast, a grocer, deliberately disturbed an Anglican rector before he was to begin his sermon. "Feast stood up and in a loud voice said, 'The prayer of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord!' When the rector asked if the Friend was applying the scripture to him, the Quaker's reply was inaudible by reason of the tumult in the church." It seems that several Hunsdon Convinced Friends (converts) were resorting to similar tactics, in so doing probably emulating the example of George Fox. Fox, an English separatist, was the founder of the Religious Society of Friends.
Most Hunsdon Quakers refused to pay taxes to the Church of England, which meant excommunication, frequent court appearance, and time spent in jail. Excommunication was a strong penalty in those days. Many refused to attend church service, which was itself unlawful at that time. Some were summoned to court for establishing a Friends school, others for not having their children baptized in the parish church. Many faced regular fines. One unfortunate Friend, a farmer, had his entire crop confiscated to pay outstanding taxes, a ruinous development for any small yeoman planter. He later died not long after.
And here's where my ancestor enters the picture.
Edward Camp is perhaps the most well known Hunsdon Quaker through his numerous court appearances over a period of ten years. His stubborn determination to adhere to his Quaker principles in spite of constant harassment by the magistrates and court officials has shown him to be a man of strong personality. It was probably through him that the Quaker movement spread so quickly and extensively in Hunsdon. His house and blacksmith's shop stood in the centre of the village near the pump, or in his day, the village well.
Camp held conventicles, or secret religious meetings. They were illegal under the law at that time. That he was able to manage this for as long as he did in a small village suggests that he had the full support and help of neighbors and other Friends. For this offense, he eventually spent a year in gaol (jail). Without the support of his sons, at least two of which were also Friends themselves, his blacksmith shop would have completely gone bankrupt. The cooperation between Quakers in this village was undeniably strong. Without this unity, they would have undoubtedly suffered more.
And as I retell this story, I am humbled and grateful to be his descendant, hoping always to emulate his example. I will not lie. When I read this history for the first time, I was understandably proud, but also wondered whether I could have been similarly courageous. He and other Friends risked everything they had for an uncertain future. But, it seems that they also had the great privilege to observe firsthand the eventual progress and reforms they had crafted with their own hands, within their own lifetimes.
There is good news at the end of this story. In time, roughly that of forty years or so, excommunication was a punishment meted out only occasionally. By then, so many of the village's households had become Quaker, or at least non-conformist, that even a Friend was elected as churchwarden. That would have been unthinkable only a few decades earlier. The villagers' hard work in spreading their faith ensured that subsequent generations would not face these same difficult challenges. Quaker or non-Quaker, religious or non-religious, I, for one, hope we can use their example for everyone's greater gain.
These villagers kept in mind at all times this scriptural passage.
For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.'
"And the King will say, 'I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!'
P.S. Should anyone wish to read the entire history, it is here: http://www.tomcamp.org/misc%20docs/The%20Hunsdon%20Quakers.pdf