On the subject of marriage, William Penn wrote, “Never marry but for love; but see that thou lovest what is lovely.”[1] Marriage was an expectation for most young Quakers, yet the practice of endogamy and the parameters surrounding marriage set out by Quaker discipline governed the choices Friends made. Particularly in the early nineteenth century when discipline surrounding endogamy was strictly enforced, marriage outside of the faith ended in disownment. In Robynne Rogers Healey’s study of the Yonge Street Friends, From Quaker to Upper Canadian, she argues that while companionate marriage was common in Quaker communities before it became popular in nineteenth-century society, “membership still took precedence over emotion.”[2]

For Friends who married out, their names quickly disappeared from meeting records. Though some might have remained adherents to the faith but not actual members, their experience in Quakerism is not reflected in the minutes. Other Friends produced acknowledgements for their behaviour, only to later leave the faith for other reasons. The marriage of Isaac D. Noxon, a Quaker from a prominent family, and Janet (Jennet) Demorest, a young woman raised Presbyterian, gives us insight into a couple who married outside of their faith backgrounds and their experience of religion and Quakerism throughout their relationship. In many ways, their lives follow a number of trends common to Friends in the nineteenth century.

Isaac D. Noxon and Janet Demorest Noxon

Isaac D. Noxon was born 11 March 1809 in Adolphustown, Ontario, the eighth child of James Noxon and Elizabeth Dorland. Both James and Elizabeth were weighty Friends who were involved in the Adolphustown Monthly Meeting and later theWest Lake Meeting. James served as a minister and Elizabeth as an elder. During the 1828 Orthodox-Hicksite schism that devastated North American Quaker communities, both James and Elizabeth were vocal supporters and leaders of the Hicksite faction in the West Lake community. Isaac was a young man at the time of the schism and was likely affected by the volatile nature of the break.

Janet Demorest was born 23 April 1813 in Demorestville, Prince Edward County, to Jane Davis and Guillaume Demorest. Guillaume emigrated from Dutchess County, New York in 1790 to Adolphustown, marrying Jane Davis in 1793. The couple settled in Prince Edward County soon after their marriage and built a grist mill near Fish Lake, and the surrounding area soon grew into a small village called Demorestville. Guillaume was a Presbyterian but later became a Methodist and donated land to both the Presbyterians and Methodists in the area.[3]

Where Janet Demorest and Isaac Noxon met is unknown, but their communities were small, and any number of events could have brought them together in 1832. Janet clearly made quite an impact on Isaac, as he wrote her an acrostic love poem soon after their initial meeting. The end of the poem reads:

Remember those who think of you
Each have their fault, but pass them by
So you may find, among these true
The one that hopes it may be I

The pair were wed soon after in the spring of 1833 in Demorestville. The wedding was performed by Janet’s brother, Thomas Demorest, who was a Methodist minister. As Janet was not a Quaker and they were married outside of Isaac’s meeting, the issue of their marriage was soon raised in the Green Point Preparative Meeting.[4] The matter was brought to the West Lake Monthly Meeting (Hicksite), where Cornelius White and Stephen Bowerman were appointed to visit Isaac and look into the report. By the next meeting, Isaac had produced an acknowledgement, stating:

Dear Friends – I have so far deviated from good order as to marry a person not of our Society and to have said marriage accomplished by the assistance of a Priest which practice I condemn and wish to be continued a member.[5]

Though his wife Janet never became a member, Isaac maintained his membership for eight years after their marriage. His acknowledgement demonstrates a willingness to stay in good standing with the meeting, and he is named on a committee in 1835. However, in 1841, a complaint was brought against Isaac for not attending meetings and going out of plainness. When visited by a committee this time, Isaac made no attempts at acknowledgement and was disowned.[6]

In the 1871 Census of Canada, Isaac and Janet listed their religion as Methodist New Connexion. Arthur Dorland addressed the influence of Methodism on Canadian Quakers in his 1927 study, A History of the Society of Friends (Quakers) In Canada. Dorland argues that despite attempts by more conservative Friends to maintain separate from Methodism, Canadian Quakerism in the mid to late nineteenth century eventually adopted “many things peculiar to this type of evangelical religion, including many of its methods of evangelistic propaganda.”[7] He concludes that the most important influence on the life and thought of Canadian Quakerism was Methodism, a reality that led to a further schism in the community in 1881. The turn towards Methodism is thus unsurprising for Isaac Noxon. His wife, Janet, likely identified as Methodist herself at the time of their marriage, and both her brother and father were Methodist ministers.

Despite different faith upbringings, Isaac and Janet had a happy and long-lasting marriage. They raised their seven children in Sophiasburgh, eventually taking over the Noxon family farm.[8] Their children were Elizabeth, Isaac James, William Grant, Bartholomew Davis, Harriet Isabel, Emma Gertrude, and George Relyea. Isaac and Janet remained in Ontario until 1877 when the couple moved to New York to help one of their sons. Some of their children remained in Ontario while others emigrated to the United States.

Family anecdotes about their lives detail the importance of faith for both Isaac and Janet, and it seems that the pair passed on aspects of Quakerism to their children despite their Methodist faith. Paul Noxon, the great-grandson of Isaac and Janet, wrote about the family’s history and commented on the continuance of certain practices. He stated, “Although the family later abandoned the strict observance of the Quaker customs, during our childhood we still had silent grace at mealtime.”[9] Though Paul was born after Isaac’s death, he grew up in Avoca and spent time with his great-grandmother, Janet.

Another anecdote comes from a letter written by Ruth Winn Huntley, the wife of Isaac and Janet’s son, Isaac James. Isaac James and Ruth were married in Newmarket in 1861. Ruth’s parents, Theodore Huntley and Hulda Winn, were members of the Yonge Street Meeting (Orthodox).[10] Ruth’s letter was written to her daughter Eudora on 26 May 1889 and discusses the family’s attempt to attend church one morning in Avoca. In the letter, ‘Pa’ and ‘Grand Pa’ both refer to Isaac D. Noxon, who was eighty at the time.

“… There was no Church to the Lutheren Church, & George would
not go anywhere else & Dell would not be cause she had no
new hat & Grand Pa says I’ll go I said Come on, & we started
for the Methodist Church. It was then late but we trugded on
got way down there & there was nobody there. Pa says we aint
agoing to be beat, let’s go to the Babbist [Baptist]. So we come part
way back crosed over and got there before the first Prayer
was over. The house was more than full. Found it was Union
Memorial Servises, Pa had not heard anything about it. But
he thought & so did I that the services were very nice not
haveing heard anything of the kind before. We had dinner to
Grand Pas, boys were there too. Ma has her house all cleaned
& papered looks real nice …”[11]

Travelling from church to church to find a service was not an uncommon occurrence. Avoca, in Steuben County, was a small rural town and church services relied on the availability of ministers and attendance. As well, evangelical culture in late nineteenth-century North America tended to homogenize a number of otherwise separate religions. In his study of Orthodox Friends and their place in broader religious movements, Thomas Hamm argues that by the 1880s, American Quakers were “in the final stages of adjusting the society’s traditions to the evangelical and holiness teachings that they had embraced.”[12] The prominence of evangelicalism in America meant that moving between different denominational services was just another reality for many. For Isaac Noxon, his persistence on attending a Sunday service suggests the continual importance of religion and faith in his life.

November 1892 photo of Isaac and Janet with three of their children.

When Isaac Noxon passed in 1896, his obituary detailed his religious upbringing in the Society of Friends as well as his father’s role as a minister. On his adherence to Quakerism, his obituary specified that, “In early manhood he felt to discard some of their forms and peculiar customs although retaining the fundamental doctrine of that denomination to the close of his life.”[13] He was further remembered as a genial, peace-loving man, and a true Christian gentleman. At Isaac’s funeral in Avoca, NY, a Quaker preacher from Ontario conducted the service.[14]

Janet lived another eighteen years after Isaac passed, dying in 1914 at the age of one hundred. In a newspaper clipping celebrating her hundredth birthday, she was described as “a woman who has loved life with all the genuineness and depth of her nature, imparting to others her joy of existence.”[15]

My thanks go to Don Howe, the third great-grandson of Isaac Noxon and Janet Demorest, and descendant of Isaac James Noxon and Ruth Winn Huntley, for permission to use his family’s photos and for sending Isaac Noxon’s obituary and Ruth Huntley’s letter. Don graciously shared his recollections of his family with me and filled in many of the gaps of Isaac and Janet’s life.

I’d also like to thank Erin Fraser for her permission to use Isaac Noxon’s letter. Erin is a descendant of Emma Gertrude Noxon, the daughter of Isaac and Janet.


[1] William Penn, Fruits in Solitude, in Reflections and Maxims Relating to the Conduct of Humanlife, 10th ed. (Philadelphia, PA: Benjamin Johnson, 1792), 22.

[2] Robynne Rogers Healey, From Quaker to Upper Canadian: Faith and Community Among Yonge Street Friends, 1801–1850 (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2006), 55.

[3] Women’s Institute, History of the Churches of Prince Edward County (Picton, ON: Picton Gazette Publishing Co., 1971), 97.

[4] 17 April 1833, West Lake Monthly Meeting, Book C, 1824–1837.

[5] 15 May 1833, West Lake Monthly Meeting, Book C, 1824–1837.

[6] 19 May 1841, West Lake Monthly Meeting, 1837–1849.

[7] Arthur Dorland, A History of the Society of Friends (Quakers) in Canada (Toronto: MacMillan Co., 1927), 132.

[8] James Noxon’s account book has been fully transcribed and is available on Randy Saylor’s website.

[9] This anecdote was relayed by Don Howe, found in Paul A. Noxon’s 1985 work, “A History of the Noxon Family.”

[10] Records of Theodore Huntley and Hulda Winn’s marriage can be found in the Yonge St Monthly Meeting Records, 1828-1835 (Orthodox), 16 October 1834; 13 November 1834; 18 December 1834.

[11] This letter was transcribed by Don Howe’s father and reflects the spelling and grammar of the original letter. I have added capitalisations in places for clarity. In the letter, George refers to George Noxon, Isaac and Janet’s youngest son.

[12] Thomas Hamm, The Transformation of American Quakerism: Orthodox Friends, 1800-1907 (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1988), 121.

[13] Isaac Noxon’s obituary appeared in the Avoca Advocate in 1896.

[14] The preacher in question was likely Isaac Wilson. Wilson, part of the West Lake Meeting, travelled extensively around New York, Ohio, Indiana, and Pennsylvania, and was in New York in 1896. Many of his trips are detailed in the Friends Intelligencer, a Hicksite journal that ran from 1844 to 1955.

[15] “One Hundred Years Young Today: Many Generations Pay Homage to Mrs. Janet Demorest Noxon,” Herbert Clarence Burleigh Fonds – Family Files – Demorest (i), 50.

Categories: Meetinghouse


Leave a Reply