By 1656, George Fox was sending some of his followers as missionaries to early colonies in North America. Puritans had sought asylum from religious persecution for themselves in New England but, unfortunately, they persecuted, imprisoned, whipped, expelled, and hanged those who differed from them in religious belief. John Endicott (ca1588-1665), first Governor of New England, was a strong opponent of Quaker heretics and along with Puritan ministers championed their persecution. In 1656 when Quakers Mary Fisher and Anne Austin arrived at Boston, they were detained in gaol for five weeks, then deported to Barbados.

An early convert to the Society of Friends was a young man named Christopher Holder (1631-1688) who readily embraced taking Friends’ beliefs to North America. In May 1656, Holder and other converters set sail on the “Speedwell” to spread the Quaker message. When these first Quaker missionaries arrived in Boston (July-August 1656), Holder and friends were imprisoned, brutally treated, expelled and sent back to England. As a result of their visits, the Massachusetts General Court imposed penalties on Quakers entering the colony. They passed a law inflicting a fine of £100 on any ship’s captain who knowingly conveyed a Quaker to the Massachusetts Colony. When Holder returned in 1657, the law was strengthened: if a male Quaker returned again to New England after he had been banished, he was to suffer the loss of one ear and to be imprisoned, and a female Quaker was to be whipped. In 1658 Holder was one of three men who had their ears cut off. In 1658, Puritans forbade Quaker meetings and imposed the death penalty for Quakers who returned in defiance of expulsion. Holder was banished again in October 1659. A few days after his release, two returning Quakers, William Robinson and Marmaduke Stevenson, were hanged on 27th October 1659. Mary Dyer was reprieved, but the next year 1660 she was put to death for refusing to renounce her beliefs and adhering to the cause of Quakerism.

After Cromwell’s death in 1658, with the Declaration of Breda in 1660 Charles the heir promised religious toleration if restored to the throne. Following the restoration of the Stuart monarchy in 1660, with King Charles II (1630-1685), Fox and others called Quakers, issued the Declaration of Friends; this later became known as their Peace Testimony: “We utterly deny all outward wars and strife and fightings with outward weapons, for any end, or under any pretence whatsoever, and this is our testimony to the whole world.” When Fox and f/Friends were imprisoned in 1660, Margaret (Askew) Fell (1614-1702), widow of Judge Fell who died in 1658, wrote a letter to the King regarding persecutions of Quakers, requesting that Fox be released. Hers and other messages brought a brief suspension of Quaker persecutions with many being freed from gaols. But persecutions of Quakers continued.

“A Declaration From the Harmles & Innocent People of God Called Quakers” (1660), courtesy of the Swarthmore College Peace Collection

After her husband’s death in 1657, Elizabeth Hooton, no longer restrained by wifely duties, was able to express her opinions and continue her ministry. In 1660 while walking on a road, she was assaulted by a priest. After hearing about the wicked acts committed by the Puritans in New England, Elizabeth Hooton decided to sail for America in 1661 with companion Joan Brocksopp. Because of costly fines, masters of ships were not willing to carry Quakers to New England. The women found passage to Virginia, then travelled north by small boat and overland to Boston. When the women went to the gaol to visit their friends, the gaoler took them to Governor Endicott who called them witches. Elizabeth stated that she had come “To warn thee of shedding any more innocent blood.” The Governor’s angry reaction was to send them to prison with their friends, afterwards to carry them for two days’ journey into the wilderness where they were left to starve to death. Undaunted, they managed to make their way to Rhode Island where some Friends were living. While there, they attended the first general meeting of Friends in America. They then journeyed to Barbados where they took a ship for New England and returned to Boston. Included in many examples of the cruelty with which Quakers were treated in New England was the hanging of William Ledda in March 1661.

Upon her return to England in summer 1662, she found that in her absence, much of Hooton’s property had been confiscated, sold to pay fines to the government. On her own initiative, Elizabeth Hooton searched out the king in London to discuss problems with him. To arrange to have conversations with the King, Hooton even pursued him to the tennis court. She took the liberty of contact with the King but she was not in awe of him; she did not kneel to the king, to the amazement of courtiers. In order to satisfy this woman who was stalking him so persistently, the king sought a solution. Realizing that Elizabeth Hooton was a determined woman, the king decided that the solution might be to grant her wish that she might be able to provide a safe haven for Quakers in America.

In the early struggle for religious freedom in America, John Bowne (1627-1695) featured prominently. With his father, John Bowne emigrated from England to America in 1649, going first to New England, and soon to the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam where he purchased property at Flushing on Long Island. In 1656, New Amsterdam published an ordinance against illegal meetings outside of the Dutch Reformed Church. In response, in December 1657 the citizens of Flushing, affronted by the persecutions of Quakers and religious policies of Governor Stuyvesant, signed a demand for religious freedom and sent it to the Dutch governor. Known as the Flushing Remonstrance, it is considered to be the precursor of the Bill of Rights guaranteeing freedom of religion in the constitution of the United States. The home of John and Hannah (Feake) Bowne, built in 1661, became a place of worship for Quakers. After a complaint was made to Dutch governor Peter Stuyvesant in New Amsterdam in 1662 that Quakers were holding meetings at the house of John Bowne, he was arrested, thrown into gaol, and after his refusal to change his ways, was banished to the Netherlands. On his way to court in Holland, John Bowne was in England in 1663 where he met George Fox and Elizabeth Hooton. After learning that Elizabeth Hooton was preparing to sail to Boston, he sent a letter to his wife with her. In 1664, the Netherlands ceded New Amsterdam to Britain and it was renamed New York.

Strengthened with the letter of permission from King Charles II allowing her “to purchase land in any of his plantations beyond the seas,” Hooton determined to make a second visit to New England, this time taking her young daughter Elizabeth (1640-1693) with her. At Boston, her letter of permission from the King to purchase a house there was not accepted. She then went to Cambridge where she was thrown into a dungeon for several days. A man who took pity on her plight and gave her some milk was also cast into prison and fined £5. The Court ordered her to be whipped with a three-string whip with knots at each end, at three towns with ten lashes each town: Cambridge, Watertown, and Dedham. After being publicly whipped with great severity in the depth of winter, she was again taken into the wilderness and left to starve. Again, she found her way to Rhode Island and f/Friends. Not daunted, she made the 80 mile journey back to Cambridge for her clothes and other possessions which had been taken from her when she was whipped. She was again taken prisoner and with her travelling companions, daughter Elizabeth and Sarah Coleman, the three women were whipped at cart’s tail.

In 1663-64 England appointed Commissioners to visit the colonies of New England to determine all complaints. The Royal Charter granted to the Rhode Island colony in July 1663 created a place which guaranteed some religious freedom regardless of differences of opinion. Rhode Island became a refuge for those who had fled from the intolerance and cruelty of Puritans. But the Conventicle Act 1664 (repealed 1689) forbade religious assemblies of more than five persons outside the Church of England.

Elizabeth Hooton stayed in New England until spring when she attended the funeral of Governor Endicott in March 1665, then returned to England. While his mother was travelling on Quaker missions and being imprisoned in England and America, her son Samuel Hooton had encountered many financial difficulties with fines and losses of their property in England.

Still determined, Elizabeth Hooton wrote letters of complaint to have some justice, for her goods which were taken away in her absence to be restored. She mentioned her service to God, to king, to the commissioners in New England. In December 1666 she received a certificate stating that Elizabeth Hooton had been very serviceable to His Majesty’s Commissioners; it was re-affirmed 4mo 1667. After her return to England, Elizabeth continued her missions, going farther afield, and was again imprisoned at Lincoln in 1665 and 4mo1667 at Leicester.

In the mid 1660s, England was terror-stricken by several disasters. In 1665 the Great Plague of London killed approx 80,000 people. In September 1666, the Great Fire of London gutted the city. In October 1666, a tornado struck Lincolnshire with a path of destruction through many villages.

In 1666 Margaret Fell (1614-1702) wrote “Women’s Speaking Justified,” presenting arguments against the patriarchal interpretations of the Bible which prevented women from being included in religion. In 1669, Margaret Fell married George Fox. Elizabeth Hooton intervened in a dispute between Margaret (Fell) Fox and her son. The following year, in 1670, she sent a letter to Margaret Fox in Lancaster Castle Prison. Friends in Nottinghamshire appealed to king and parliament for relief of sufferings. Margaret Fox was released in April 1671.

In an attempt to continue his mother’s mission to bear witness against cruelty in New England, Elizabeth’s eldest son Samuel Hooton (1633-1709) decided on a religious visit to America in 3mo/May 1666. Later, in the 1680s, Samuel and his family emigrated to New Jersey. Like his older brother, Elizabeth’s son Oliver Hooton (163?-1686) was attracted to life in America. By 1670, Oliver had settled as a merchant in Barbados. Perhaps visiting her son Oliver was one of the reasons that his mother Elizabeth Hooton decided to accompany George Fox to America.

 In 1671, Elizabeth Hooton was one of two women, the other Elizabeth Miers, who joined George Fox and a number of men, including James Lancaster, on a trip to the West Indies and North America in order to encourage Friends across the Atlantic. They attended London Yearly Meeting in August 1671, and set out 13 Aug 1671. After landing at Barbados on 3 October 1671, George Fox was extremely ill for some weeks, cared for by Elizabeth Hooton. After three months there, Fox decided to set sail for Jamaica on 8th.11mo/January 1671. A week after their landing in Jamaica, Elizabeth Hooton departed this life on January 8, 1672 at Jamaica, West Indies. She was well the day before she died. Fox described her as “a woman of great age who had travelled much in Truth’s service and suffered much for it.”


Hooton, Oliver (16??-1686). A short relation concerning the life and death of that man of God and faithful minister of Jesus Christ, William Simpson, who laid down his body in the island of Barbados the 8th day of the 12th month 1670. Written by Oliver Hooton in Barbados, 16th 12th month 1670.

Manners, Emily. Elizabeth Hooton (1600-1672), First Quaker Woman Preacher. With notes etc by Norman Penney. London: Headley Brothers, 1914.


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