Two weeks ago, we featured a post by Albert Schrauwers in which he reflected on transcribing and editing the Journal of Timothy Rogers.[1] Timothy Rogers is celebrated for his role in Quaker settlement on Yonge Street and at Pickering. His wife, Sarah, is not as renowned. Her story gives us insights into the strength and tenacity of the Quaker women who were co-founders of frontier Quaker settlements throughout North America. We have no extant records in Sarah’s hand; much of what we can extrapolate about her life comes from her husband’s Journal, meeting records, or careful reading of parallel sources.


Richard Edsall (1683–1762), “Great Nine Partners Patent” | Public domain (wikimedia)

Sarah Wilde was born 3 January 1759 in Clinton Township, Dutchess County, New York to Obadiah and Sarah Wilde. On 7 January 1776, seventeen-year old Sarah married nineteen-year old Timothy Rogers in the Nine Partners area of the colony of New York. The Wildes were Baptists, although they had a Quaker background and owned a number of Quaker books (Journal, 3). Nine Partners was also home to a sizeable group of Friends. While the newlyweds were living with Sarah’s parents, Timothy read the works of John Woolman and George Fox, began using plain language, and attended a local Quaker meeting. Timothy became a member of the Society in 1778. It was not until after the birth of her fourth child that Sarah became a member in 1782; she had begun using plain language herself in 1777 (Journal, 6, 7).

In their first year of marriage, Sarah and Picture2Timothy became parents.Obadiah Wilde Rogers was the first of Sarah’s fourteen children. On average, she gave birth every twenty-four months between December 1776 and November 1802.

Early in 1777 the Rogers family moved to Danby, Vermont, beginning a pattern of consistent relocation as Timothy sought opportunities to improve their economic prospects. In 1778, they moved to Saratoga, New York before returning to Danby in 1780. How did Sarah feel about constant displacement? It is impossible to know with certainty. Timothy notes that after Sarah gave birth to her fourth child, Mary, on 22 Picture3May 1782, she “had a very poor turn and never had a well day for two years.” Despite his wife’s poor health, Timothy continued to travel, embarking to the township of Ferrisburg, Vermont where he purchased land “about 40 miles beyond where there was any inhabitants” (Journal, 7).

From there, Timothy went on to New York to buy more land. While he was in New York, he comments that “My wife knowing I did intend to move to Ferrisburg, thought we should be disappointed so she got sleighs and moved before I came home” (7). Despite not experiencing “a well day for two years,” Sarah alone arranged for and moved her household including four children under the age of five to the wilderness of Vermont.

While many of the Rogers family moves were uncomplicated (inasmuch as moving house on the frontier can be uncomplicated), there were occasional disasters. On 2 October 1785, the family was moving from Button Bay in Ferrisburg to Little Otter Creek. Along with their five young children and possessions, Timothy was transporting land records and bonds (his journal records forty deeds for 6,000 acres and about $2000 in bonds).[2] It was a “dark rainy time” when the family’s boat finally came ashore about midnight necessitating the kindling of a fire to light their path. Timothy tells us that he had to lead Sarah by the hand because she was ill (8). The couple woke at sunrise to learn that the tree by which they had lit their fire had burned, destroying the deeds, bonds, and all the family’s clothing (8). Timothy recorded that “this brought me to a great stand to know what to do” (8). Sarah’s response to these events remain a mystery.

The couple did not give up. Timothy continued to travel for personal and meeting business (he was in Quebec in 1786 when their sixth child was born). They continued to relocate around the Ferrisburg region. Sarah continued to give birth roughly every second year.

By 1800, Sarah and Timothy had experienced some prosperity but there had also been some stresses. Timothy does not reveal what these tensions were, only that in late 1798 and 1799 “I had many very great trials, some things so singular in my family that I think not best to mention” (Journal, 102). Both Timothy and Sarah were required to make an acknowledgement in their meeting. Timothy acknowledged “falling into a passion and using unbecoming language and conduct in his family” (Journal, 102–03). Once again, Timothy felt God calling him away, now to the British colony of Upper Canada. Did the stresses motivate the desire to move, or was the desire to move the source of the family stress? We cannot know.

This time Sarah was “unwilling to move” (Journal, 103). She was forty-one years old, pregnant with their thirteenth child; four of her older children were married and had set up their own households in the area. She likely had a strong local community. Perhaps the distant frontier no longer held any appeal for her. According to Timothy’s journal, Sarah’s resistance to his “calling” was a significant impediment to his plans. Until she consented, their meeting would not endorse his travel to Upper Canada where he intended to explore the region to determine the most favourable location for settlement. Something happened to change Sarah’s mind. Timothy does not tell us what it was, only that “about three weeks after an occurrence took place whereby my wife became willing, and on the 24 day of 4th mo. 1800, I started” (Journal, 103).

Timothy spent the summer of 1800 in Upper Canada and decided to locate his settlement in the densely forested land on Yonge Street at what is now Newmarket, Ontario about fifty-five kilometres north of Lake Ontario. The following year, he planned to lead Quaker families from Vermont (many of them his relatives) to this new settlement where Quaker families from Pennsylvania, led by Samuel Lundy, would join them.

Sarah and Timothy Rogers left Vermont in February 1801. It must have been a difficult journey. Many of the women were travelling with young children and infants. Sarah Rogers and her nineteen-year-old daughter, Mary Rogers, both had infants one month apart in age.

These Quaker families initiated a series of chain migrations as settlers encouraged family and friends back in the United States to “mak[e] ready to come to a land as it were flowing with milk and honey.”[3] Immigration helped this community—the Yonge Street Monthly Meeting—to flourish and become the largest Quaker meeting in Upper Canada (now Ontario).

Sarah gave birth to her last child in November 1802, two months before her forty-fourth birthday. Settled on Yonge Street, she lived in proximity to her children. In addition to the eight offspring still living at home, five of her older children had settled in the Yonge Street community. Her son, Timothy Rogers Jr., was at Friends’ School at West-town in Pennsylvania, but he arrived at Yonge Street in 1806 to open a school (at the age of sixteen!). Sarah was active in meeting business and the early minutes record her appointment to varied duties. Was she surprised when, in 1807, Timothy decided to move them again? It cannot have been easy. The couple once again pulled up stakes and moved to Duffin’s Creek in Pickering Township, east of York (Toronto) on Lake Ontario, approximately 65 kilometres away from the Yonge Street settlement. There Timothy constructed a saw and a gristmill. Here, his son, Wing, tells us, he found prosperity: “My father moved here into the wilderness, but settlement went on rapidly, & he became wealthy, for the God his fathers had blessed him in basket & in store.”[4]

Sarah was living at Duffin’s Creek in 1809 when an epidemic ravaged the Yonge Street community, devastating her family. Five daughters, two sons, one son-in-law, and three grandchildren died in the epidemic. Timothy recorded that “My wife entirely gave up business, my family half gone” (Journal, 112). Sarah’s son’s memories align with his father’s: “My parents buried seven children out of the fourteen & most of them were married & had families, which was a great trial to them both, but particularly so, with mother. I was young but I can remember of seeing [mother] meet the neighbour women & talking of her troubles & great loss, with the tears running down her aged face, & comparing it to Job’s troubles.”[5]

Some families never recovered from the death toll of the epidemic. According to Timothy, Sarah “kept along in a strange way.” She was so debilitated by her experience that Timothy was unable to attend to his meeting duties. No doubt sick and tired of the frontier that had claimed so many of her children, Sarah told Timothy that if he would build “her a good house or to that effect [he] might go” (Journal, 113). Timothy summarizes what followed: “in 1810 and 11, I got a house so I thought to amoved in in a short time; had a barn, and a considerable of clearing. About the third day of the 1 month 1812, my wife Sarah and I started to go to York with me to get some things she wanted to begin said house. And as we rode this 24 miles, she talked pleasant and told her wishes, and the next day attended to sell and buy” (Journal, 113). January 3, 1812 was Sarah’s fifty-third birthday. Despite her losses, it seems that Sarah had a pleasant day.

A few days later, as they made their way home from York, they stopped to visit one of Sarah’s distant relatives. There Sarah fell ill and, after a six-day illness, died on 13 January 1812. She is buried in what is now the Pickering Friends Burial Ground; at the time it was Rogers family land. Hers was the first death in a second epidemic that claimed many more lives in the Quaker community in 1812–13. As with the first outbreak, no one can say what it was. Timothy recorded “that first it was called the Typhus fever, but latterly we have had the Measles, by which some have departed this life; but mostly it has been such an uncommon Disorder that it seems to baffle the skill of the wisest and best physicians” (Journal, 117–18).

Sarah’s life comes to us in glimpses from the words of her husband and son, and from brief mentions in meeting minutes. Without her own words, much of her lived experience remains unknown. Even so, this short outline of her life demonstrates that Sarah Wilde Rogers was a woman of strength and tenacity. These traits served her well as one of the founding members of the Yonge Street Quaker community.


[1] Christopher Densmore and Albert Schrauwers, eds., “The Best Man for Settling New Country …”: The Journal of Timothy Rogers (Toronto: CFHA, 2000). The map of Lake Champlain, Vermont and the genealogical table in this post are from the introduction of The Journal of Timothy Rogers.

[2] Rogers was the clerk for the Proprietors of Ferrisburg, a position that involved “buying and selling of thousands of acres of land, overseeing the settlement of the town of Ferrisburg and the city of Vergennes.” He was also the clerk of the Proprietors of the town of Hungerford. Overall, he was “a highly successful entrepreneur and one of the leading citizens of Ferrisburg.” Christopher Densmore, “Timothy Rogers: The Story he Wanted to Tell,” Canadian Quaker History Journal 65(2000): 3.

[3] Qtd, in Robynne Rogers Healey From Quaker to Upper Canadian: Faith and Community among Yonge Street Friends, 1801-–1850 (MQUP, 2006), 40–41.

[4] “The Journal of Wing Rogers,” in Densmore and Schruawers, eds., The Journal of Timothy Rogers, 139.

[5] “The Journal of Wing Rogers,” 138. Original spelling corrected.


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