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The Watkins Family and the Society of Friends

This narrative consists of three sections each of which is found on a separate page:

  1. Background about Quakers in Virginia [more],
  2. Early Virginia Quakers with the Watkins surname [more], and
  3. James and Anne Watkins, Surry/Sussex County Quakers (continues on this page).

James and Anne Watkins, Surry/Sussex County Quakers

Quaker meeting sites in early Virginia

The above map shows a section of eastern Virginia and various Quaker meetings and the date when they were founded. The origin of this map is unknown, but this copy was made from the inside binding of the Encyclopedia of American Quaker Genealogy-Vol. VI by William Wade Hinshaw. The upper highlighted area shows the location of the Curles Meeting House in which Henry Watkins of Henrico County, Virginia, and his family were active members. Another highlighted area shows the location of a very early Quaker meeting, Nansemond in 1679. The third highlighted area is Sussex County, Virginia, home of my ancestors, James and Ann White Watkins. Just to the northeast of this area is located the Blackwater meeting house where James and Ann were married in 1770. Inside the boundaries of Sussex County are two other meetings: (1) Seacock-1758 and (2) Watkins-1781.


James Watkins, Sr. (about 1744 - 1799) and his wife, Anne White Watkins (1754 - after 1810) were also Quakers. Following is information about James, Ann, and some of their relatives who were Virginia Quakers in the latter part of the 18th century.

James and Anne were married in Surry County, Virginia October 11, 1770. This marriage was sanctioned by and recorded in the minutes of the Black Water Monthly Meeting (see map). Prior to 1754 Surry County extended all the way from the James River southwesterly to North Carolina. However, settlers in that portion of Surry County lying southwest of the Blackwater River petitioned the Virginia Council to be separated from Surry, and their petition was granted. [more] This, and the fact that the Black Water Monthly Meeting was situated in what remained of Surry County, seems to explain why James and Ann are variously associated with both Surry and Sussex County.

I. Organization of Quaker Meetings.

In studying the history of Quakers, it is useful to understand the organization of their meetings. First, there are local meetings (also called "particular meetings"), that meet weekly for worship. These weekly meetings may be held in a meeting house, or, if one does not exist, they may take place in the home of the leader of the local meeting. Then there are Monthly Meetings called this because they hold a meeting for the purpose of business once a month. A group of weekly meetings will belong to the Monthly Meeting. At one time the Curles Monthly Meeting took care of the society's business for particular meetings south of the James River. But as the counties south of the James River grew in population Curles subdivided, and the Black Water Monthly Meeting was one of the new meetings formed from the subdivision. These, in turn, are organized by geographic region into larger Quarterly Meetings, that are organized into yet-larger Yearly Meetings. It was the Monthly Meeting that took care of the records and managed the "business" of the church and its membership.

Looking at the map one finds both a Watkins meeting and a Seacock meeting. It is documented that James Watkins was overseer of the Seacock particular meeting. The Black Water Monthly Meeting recorded that James was "released as overseer of the Seacock particular meeting" on August 18, 1798. (Hinshaw, pg. 124) This was probably due to failing health as he died in 1799. It is unclear what the map suggests by showing the two different meetings. However, during James' lifetime, the Watkins and Seacock particular meetings would have fallen under the jurisdiction of the Black Water Monthly Meeting.

In order to marry, a prospective husband would have to petition the Monthly Meeting to request its permission for the marriage to take place. Quakers were expected to marry within the Quaker community, and when they did not, they were removed for "marrying out of unity." "If a man and woman contemplating marriage were members of different monthly meetings, they made their declarations of intention in the meeting of which the woman was a member. The man was required to bring a certificate from his meeting stating that he was a member in good standing and free from marriage engagements with others. This certificate did not transfer his membership to the woman's meeting, but only made it possible for him to marry there. After marriage, the wife usually obtained a certificate, issued in her married name, transferring her membership to her husband's meeting." (Hinshaw, Intro. pg. X).

Quakers belonged to the community in which they were members until they were dismissed from it for some infraction, received permission to transfer to another Quaker community, or died. "When individual members or families removed from one monthly meeting to another they were furnished removal certificates setting forth the fact of their membership in good standing and recommending them to the fellowship of the monthly meeting to which they were removing. In the earlier days these certificates were usually prepared and signed in advance and carried by the members to their new, place of abode. Later, it appears to have become more the custom to wait until the new home had been established and then send back a request that the certificate be forwarded. A condition to the granting of a certificate was that the member's 'outward affairs' be satisfactorily settled. The certificate usually stated that this had been done. When a certificate was issued to a family the fact was generally recorded in the men's minutes so far as it applied to the husband and sons, and in the women's minutes as it applied to the mother and daughters. The names of children were frequently omitted in the minutes of the issuing meeting but were usually recorded by the receiving meeting." (Hinshaw, Intro. pg. X).

II. Quaker opposition to war

As previously mentioned, Virginia Quakers were often persecuted for not conforming to the established religion of the Church of England. Hinshaw reports that "The American Revolution brought additional hardships... In July 1799, provisions were made by this [Black Water] monthly meeting 'in case any member of this meeting should be taken by force from their habitations to be carried to any distant part.' In December, 1799, "Robert Hunnicutt had a negro child, age six, seized by the sheriff 'for payment of taxes' and 'because of [his] testimony against war.' During the latter Revolutionary period houses and property of Quakers were plundered, 'chiefly for military requisitions' -- pewter-ware was almost always listed among the seized possessions as it was in great demand for bullets." (Hinshaw, pg. 95) Given that James Watkins was a pewtersmith, it is likely that his pewter was requisitioned for this purpose. This type of persecution continued after the Revolutionary War and were recorded in the Black Water Monthly Meeting Minutes. In 1806, Reuben Watkins, eldest son of James and Anne, reported that he "had taken from him a pair [of] saddle bags under the militia law during the past year." (Hinshaw, pg. 124). He reported other fines in subsequent years: (1808) $7.90 for muster fines, (1810) $9.53 for muster fines, (1811) $3.75 for militia fines, and (1812) $2.50 for militia fines. His brother, John White Watkins was "taken to prison to Norfolk for refusing to fight (probably in the War of 1812)," and in 1818 was "fined $21.00 for non-attendance for musters." (Hinshaw, pg. 143)

III. Quakers and slavery

Another major issue that affected the lives of Virginia Quakers was that of slavery. Hinshaw reported that:

This [Black Water] monthly meeting was very slow in advocating the abolition of slave and its members were most sluggish in taking up and enforcing the recommendations of the yearly meeting on the matter. When the negro child had been seized from Robert Hunnicutt during the War, as a penalty for his refusal to support the conflict, the yearly meeting immediately took the incident as an illustration to press the point of the importance of manumitting all negroes at once. The fact that the child afterward 'suffered sorrowful neglect' while still a prisoner but added to the strength of their appeal. The yearly meeting ured that haste be made by Friends to free all their slaves, 'for if they are seized as in the above case their bondage is perpetuated and beyond the power of Friends.' Those who delayed would be guilty of neglect. In 1782 it was specified that slaveholders should be forbidden to serve as [Quaker meeting] overseers, elders or ministers; yet it took this to rouse the monthly meeting to becoming truly concerned in the issue. It appointed a committee to visit those who were masters. Some members openlyu defied the church courts and its injunctions and were disowned, while others gave excuses for their continued delay. In 1784 no one could be found who would serve on the visitation committee -- 'no Friends appear to have Draught on their minds to visit those who hold slaves.' These reluctant slaveholders had good reasons for not freeing their negros, aside from the important economic one. John Hunnicutt felt he was not within the law and would merely be signing his property over to others; Martha Hargrave was willing but her slaves were 'such who cannot support themselves'; Nicholas Jarrot was willing to let his [slaves] have their freedom but he owned them through his wife who was not a Quakeress and objected; still others were bound by wills and legal restraints. Eventually in 1788 there was a firm stand taken, and all Friends were allowed so many weeks to take action. At the end of this time many were disowned. (Hinshaw, pp. 95-96)

And how did all this affect our ancestors? James and Anne Watkins freed their twenty-six year old slave, Kinchen, on July 4, 1782. John White, Anne's brother, freed his three slaves on August 30, 1789. However, Amos Watkins, James and Anne's youngest son, was dismissed from the Seacock particular meeting for "non-attendance and overlooking slaves." (Hinshaw, pg. 143) Perhaps there is another way that the issue of slavery affected our ancestors; it may have influenced at least some of them to join the many other Quakers who migrated west to Ohio, a free state, because eight of James and Anne's ten children and their families migrated west to Ohio most of them eventually settling in Logan County, Ohio where many of them became active members of the Goshen Monthly Meeting near Zanesfield, Logan County, Ohio.

IV. Whatever became of Anne White Watkins?

James died in 1799. The 1810 Federal Census for Sussex County, Virginia, lists an Anne Watkins between the listings for Reuben Watkins and John Watkins, who were her sons. Two entries in the Black Water Monthly Meetings seem to tell us something. The first says that on October 19, 1803 Reuben Watkins, James and Anne's eldest son, was "granted certificate" to transfer to the Jack Swamp MM in North Carolina to marry. Our records show that Reuben married Anna Patterson November 6, 1803 in the Rich Square [N.C.] Monthly Meeting. Both the Jack Swamp Monthly Meeting and the Rich Square Monthly Meeting were located in Northampton County, North Carolina. The second entry in the Black Water Monthly Meetings says that on May 26, 1804 Anne Watkins was "received on certificate" to the Black Water Particular Meeting from the Jack Swamp, Monthly Meeting. One can only speculate that Anne moved to North Carolina to live with her eldest son, Rueben, some time around 1803 and then returned to Sussex County, Virginia in 1804.

Things become a bit confusing in that records about members of the Seacock Particular Meeting for which James Watkins had formerly been the overseer, start to appear in the Upper Monthly Meeting after 1800. In Hinshaw we can find postings for John White Watkins, Reuben Watkins, James Watkins, Jr., and someone called Anne Watkins. In June 1810 it was recorded that Anne (formerly White) Watkins, a member of the Seacock Particular Meeting was disowned for "marrying contrary to discipline." Yet, on September 18, 1813 it was recorded that Anne Watkins was released as overseer of the Seacock Particular Meeting. Did Anne remarry, and, if so, whom did she marry? The question still remains as to when she died.

V. Leaving Virginia

Remember that Reuben Watkins, James and Anne's eldest son, was continually fined for not participating in military musters. Finally on September 21, 1811 it is recorded that "Reuben and wife, Anne [Anna Patterson Watkins] and children, Lemuel, Edwin, Iry, Bennett and William removed and granted certificate to transfer to the Still Water Monthly Meeting in Belmont County, Ohio.

On June 19, 1813, John White Watkins was "granted a minute to travel to Ohio to visit his relatives and attend the Yearly Meeting." He returned from Ohio because on March 18, 1815 he was "appointed clerk" of the Upper Monthly Meeting. Once again on March 17, 1821 John was "granted permission to travel to the state of Ohio on business", and he returned on July 21, 1821. Finally, on April 17, 1830 "John White and wife, Elizabeth [Johnson] Watkins, and children, Angelina, Lucinda, Robert, William, Susannah, Elizabeth, Delenah, Lydia, and John, were granted a certificate to transfer to the Sugar River Monthly Meeting in Jefferson County, Ohio.

On January 21, 1810 James Watkins, Jr. was condemned for misconduct, and on May 26, 1810 he was dismissed from the Seacock Particular Meeting for misconduct. Our family genealogy says that James emigrated from Virginia to Ohio in 1809 and worked in Adams County, Ohio at his trade of brickmaking. He returned to Virginia and married Nancy Ann White on April 10, 1810. Their first child, Polly, was born in Virginia on 10 March 1811. James and Nancy sold their 117 acres of land on 27 December, 1811 to John White Watkins. They then emigrated to Belmont County, Ohio in 1812. Their second child, Henry White Watkins, was born there on 2 May, 1813.

Undoubtedly further research in the Encyclopedia of American Quaker Genealogy under the appropriate surnames would disclose other records in which children of James and Anne White Watkins followed Quaker rules and relocated to Ohio.


1. Hinshaw, William Wade. Encyclopedia of American Quaker Genealogy - Vol. VI. Ann Arbor, Michigan: Edwards Brothers, 1936

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