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Image The Friends’ Migration: Regional Origins

The Quaker founders of Pennsylvania and West Jersey came from every part of England. But one English region stood out above the rest. The Friends’ migration drew heavily upon the North Midlands, and especially the counties of Cheshire, Lancashire, Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. In one list of English immigrants who arrived at Philadelphia between the years 1682 and 1687, more than 80 percent came from these five contiguous counties. Only a few came from the south and west, and none were from East Anglia.1

The same pattern also appeared among immigrants who settled in Pennsylvania’s Bucks County before 1687. Two-thirds came from the counties of Yorkshire, Lancashire, Cheshire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Staffordshire. The rest were mainly from the vicinity of London and Bristol. None were East Anglians; the region which was so important to the settlement of Massachusetts was entirely absent from the list of Bucks County settlers.2

A similar distribution also appeared in many other lists, including land grants, marriage records, meeting certificates, ministerial rosters, servants’ registers and shipping lists. Of Quaker missionaries who were recognized by the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, for example, half came from five northern counties in England: Cumberland, Westmorland, Durham, Lancashire and Yorkshire. A sizable number also came from English settlements in Ireland. But only 10 percent came from East Anglia and barely 5 percent came from those counties of southwestern England which contributed so heavily to the peopling of Virginia. Less than 10 percent came from the city of London. The evangelical side of this movement was strongest in the northern counties of England.3 That pattern also appeared among Quakers whose journals were published in the Friends’ Library, a massive anthology of spiritual autobiographies. The authors of these evangelical works came mostly from what one called the “north country.”4

A variant pattern appeared among Quakers who carried certificates from their meetings in England to Philadelphia. Approximately 300 of these documents recorded places of origin in England, of which one-third came from London, and another third were from the north of England. The rest were widely scattered. This source represented the institutional strength of the Society of Friends, and had a pronounced urban bias. Even so, one historian who has studied these certificates concludes that “the greatest stronghold” was in “the North of England.” Once again, few came from the eastern counties or the southern coast.5


A different distribution appeared among the “First Purchasers” among Pennsylvania—the 589 people who bought land from William Penn before 1686. This list was not an accurate guide to the origin of actual settlers in Pennsylvania. Many who bought land from William Penn did not emigrate but sold it again to “underpurchasers” who actually took possession. Still, the list of First Purchasers was an important guide to Pennsylvania’s investors. The great majority (88%) were English, and were concentrated in major financial centers. The largest group (35) came from London and the home counties. The next biggest concentration was from the North Midlands and the county of Cheshire in particular (11% were from Cheshire alone). A third group lived in the city of Bristol and its environing counties. Scarcely any came from East Anglia, and, except for a few counties close to London and Bristol, comparatively few came from the rural south or west of England which had been so important in the founding of Virginia.6

These six population lists all referred primarily to the province of Pennsylvania. In the Quaker colony of West Jersey, the pattern of regional origins was much the same. The colonists who founded West Jersey before 1681 were about 1,400 altogether. Nearly all were reported to be Quakers. Half were said to come from London and Middlesex and half from Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.7 The settlement at Burlington was built on two sides of a stream, and the bridges across it were called London Bridge and York Bridge.8 Burlington’s founders combined two distinct groups—poor farmers and craftsmen from the north of England, and tradesmen and artisans from London.

On both banks of the Delaware River, these Quaker immigrants distributed themselves in small settlements according to their places of origin in Britain. Country Quakers from Cheshire, Lancashire and Yorkshire settled mainly in Chester and Bucks counties. “The farmers among them, poverty stricken dalesmen from the moors of northern England,” writes Frederick Tolles, “headed straight for the rich uplands of Bucks and Chester.”9 The lands around Trenton were occupied by emigrants from the Peak District of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.10 London Quakers preferred the city and county of Philadelphia. Emigrants from Bristol founded a town of the same name on the Delaware River. Dublin Quakers occupied Newton, West Jersey.11 Emigrants from Wales colonized the “Welsh Tract,” west of the Schuylkill River.12

The origins of these immigrants may also be observed in the names that they gave to the new land. A few Quaker place names expressed their social ideals—Philadelphia, Salem, Concord, Upper Providence and Nether Providence. Other settlements preserved their Indian names: Tinicum, Shackamaxon, Shamokin. The counties were mostly given English place names, of which more than half came from the north: Chester, York and Lancaster in Pennsylvania; Burlington, Cumberland and Mon-mouth in New Jersey; and Newcastle in northern Delaware. This pattern made a striking contrast with northeastern New Jersey, where the county settled mainly by New England Puritans was called Essex. It differed also from southern Delaware, which was settled from Virginia and Maryland and culturally akin to those colonies, and where the counties were named Sussex and Kent.13


The names of townships in Pennsylvania and West Jersey also betrayed the northern and North Midland origins of many settlers. Towns were named Aston, Billton, Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol, Burlington, Carlisle, Chester, Chesterfield, Darby, Durham, Edgemont, Kennet, Leeds, Liverpool, Marple, Morland, Newcastle, Ridley, Sheffield, Trenton and York. Most of these names were from the North Midlands.

Quaker immigrants from Wales tended to flock together in what was called Cambry or the Welsh Tract. The earliest village names of this district defined the region of origin in the mother country: Flint, Montgomery, Bala, Tredyffrin, Radnor, Haverford, Denbigh. These place names came mostly (not entirely) from northern and eastern Wales, just across the River Dee from Cheshire.14

In the eighteenth century, other towns throughout the Delaware Valley were given the names of individual settlers. This practice rarely occurred in New England or Virginia during the early seventeenth century—an indicator of an increasing individuation of social consciousness a half-century later. Many individuals and families whose names still appear on the map of the Delaware Valley were emigrants from the North Midlands. The hamlet of Recklesstown, New Jersey, for example, was named after Joseph Reckless, a Quaker immigrant from a prominent Nottingham family. His ancestor was John Reckless, sheriff of Nottingham and a rich ironmonger and maltster who became a Quaker convert when George Fox was imprisoned in Nottingham Gaol in 1649.15Other town names of the same sort included Dilworth-town, Shippensburg, Pennsbury, Norristown, Morristown, Smithville, Allentown, Mifflintown, Wrightstown, Harrisburg and Walnford; most of these families came from the North Midlands.

The Low Dutch and High German Quakers from the Rhineland who founded the township of Germantown named their settlements Cresheim, Crefeld and Sommerhausen, after the communities very near the present German-Dutch border which had expelled them. After 1730, other ethnic groups entered at a rapid rate, and also left their names upon the new land. A few Swedish names survived (Christiana). And in the mid-eighteenth century, Scots and Irish would leave their names upon the landscape. But the north midland origins of the Quaker colonists may still be seen in the place names of the Delaware Valley, even to our own time.

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