Cadwallader, Milhous, Trueblood, Farlow, Sharpless, and Wilbur… what do they all have in common? They are all common historic Quaker names, remnants of a time when Quakers “married in” and families stayed Quaker for generations.
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Max Carter: Today, probably about 80% of Quakers in attendance or membership in our meetings are not generational Quakers. They are newcomers or first or second generation Friends. You don’t find the old ethnic names much anymore, but if you go outside this meetinghouse where we’re filming right now into that cemetery, the first circles of the gravestones in that cemetery are going to be Hinshaws, Beesons, Knights, Ballingers, Coffins, Starbucks, Macys, Gardeners, the old ethnic Quaker names.
That began to change in the late 1800s as Quakers began to assimilate into the Protestant mainstream and began to marry out.
Common Quaker Names
Mary Crauderueff: There are so many values to knowing your Quaker ancestry. Some people just really like to know as part of their identity: “who am I made of? Who do I come from?” I hear stories all the time of people that say that they started going to meeting because they heard that they had Quaker ancestry. “My great-great-grandfather was Quaker, I grew up Presbyterian, but I thought that I would try a Quaker meeting” and they’re curious.
I don’t think that it makes us more or less Quaker than someone else, but I think that it can be really cool to think about your family as being part of the same tradition that you are. I think that has a lot of value.
How Quaker Reused Names
Max Carter: For much of our history, Quakers were “endogamous” the sociological term for “marrying in”. You were to marry another Quaker, which meant that over the generations, there were common names. I look at my own 11 generations of Quaker in my family tree and its a trunk–it’s Newlins and Johnsons and Bundys and Carters.
Mary Crauderueff: So something that you should know about Quaker names is that they liked to repeat themselves. You might find a John Evans, and then you might find a John Evans that was born 15 years later. And what you might find is that they’re cousins or that they’re uncle and nephew. So it wasn’t just the last names that they used over and over but the first names as well.
Common Quaker Names By Region
Thomas Hamm: When you’re thinking of common Quaker names, you have to think in terms of geography. So for example, if you’re thinking of New England Friends, unfortunately one of the most common and prominent families was named Jones, which can be a challenge under any circumstances, but you would also look for names like Green, like Hoxie, like Arnold, like Meader, like Wilbur.
On Long Island, I would guess that about half of all Quaker families before 1800 were connected with the Hicks, the Seaman, the Titus or the Bowen families.
Max Carter: If you’re up in Philadelphia for example, Biddles, Cadwalladers, Banks, Bailey, those sorts of names. Wisters and Sharplesses.
Thomas Hamm: Naturally around Philadelphia where you have the largest concentration of Friends, you have more distinctively Quaker names. I think in terms of just numbers, the Smedleys, the Hoopes, the Sharplesses were probably the largest in terms of prolificness.
Max Carter: Here in North Carolina where we’re filming today, you can still find pockets of those old ethnic Quaker names. If you’re a Winslow in North Carolina, you know you’re probably from Perquimans and Pasquotank counties. If you’re a Shore, you’re from Deep Creek Meeting over in Yadkin county. If you’re a Farlow or a Beeson, you’re from Marlboro Meeting down in Randolph county. An Osborne, that’s going to be Centre Meeting or perhaps Spring Meeting.
Thomas Hamm: When you get to North Carolina, there are a number of distinctively Quaker names like Trueblood or Hadley or Hinshaw. Some more common like Hunt or Cox. One of the challenges of Quaker genealogy is that sometimes common Quaker names are common names, period.
Max Carter: You get into the Midwest, which essentially was the South moved North from North Carolina and Georgia and South Carolina from the anti-slavery movements of the early 1800’s and you’ve got Farlows and Newlins and Millses and Beesons and Carters, Hoovers, Nixons, Millhouses. And indeed, you could tell who was a Quaker by their last names, not unlikely the Amish, not unlike Jews.
Researching Your Quaker Ancestry
Max Carter: Most Americans, if they shake their family tree, a Quaker nut is going to fall out, and quite often, people discover that when they see one of those Quaker names. There’s a Cox, there’s a Sharpless, there’s a Cadwallader, there’s a Strawbridge or a Clothier in there, and they wonder: “Could I possibly be related to these peculiar people called Quakers?” And it’s easy to find out.
- Did you recognize any of the names listed in the video? Where have you seen some of those names?
- Max Carter says that most Quakers today are not generational, but that Quaker families used to “marry in” until their surnames were “ethnically Quaker”. Do you think that we’re better or worse off now that most of us are first or second generation Quaker? What do you think were the advantages and disadvantages of requiring Quakers to “marry in?”
The views expressed in this video are of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Friends Journal or its collaborators.