Elizabeth Hooton

A well-known ancestor of some Strawbridges is Elizabeth Hooton, who has been described as the first female Quaker preacher; she was a disciple of George Fox, who founded the Quakers in England in the 1600s.

Before going into some details of her rather dramatic life, I will briefly trace her relationship to the Strawbridges. A good starting point is George Strawbridge, the one who avoided the steamboat explosion in 1838 (see a letter to him, elsewhere on this site). He married Jane Van Sise West, who was the daughter of Joseph H. West, who died in 1835. Joseph West was the son of William West and Elizabeth Hillborn; Elizabeth was born in 1765. (The information is rather sketchy for this line; I’m giving the dates that I have.) Elizabeth was the daughter of Miles Hillborn and Mary Edwards. Miles, who lived from 1738-1782, was the son of John Hillborn and Rachel Strickland. John lived from 1705-1747; his parents were Thomas Hillborn and Elizabeth Hooton. This Elizabeth Hooton, though, who lived from 1673-1732, was not the famous Quaker, though I suppose she was named after her. This Elizabeth was the daughter of Samuel Hooton and Elizabeth Smedley. Samuel was the son of the famous Elizabeth Hooton, whose maiden name is not known to a good degree of certainty.

The famous Elizabeth was born in England in 1600, and died in January 1672 in Jamaica. According to my calculations, she was my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandmother (nine greats). She had a very eventful life; there are mentions of her in books on the history of Quakers, and in a fairly well-known book of fairly wide circulation in recent years, The Weaker Vessel, by Antonia Fraser. I will set forth an excerpt from a family history book sent to me by a cousin, which gives a good, succinct account of some of the more dramatic features of Elizabeth Hooton’s life. Here is what the book says about her:

Elizabeth Hooten (Hooton) (died 1672), quakeress, appears to have been middle-aged in 1647, when George Fox first met her in Nottinghamshire. Fox describes her as a ‘very tender woman’ (Journal, ed. 1765, p. 6), and she is usually considered to have been the first person to accept the peculiar doctrines of quakerism. It was not until 1650, although she probably preached earlier, that she formally received ‘the gift of the minstry;’ she has the honor of being the first woman who was recorded as a quaker minister. She soon commenced to make ministerial journeys.

In 1651 she was imprisoned at Derby on complaint of having reproved a priest, and in the following year was imprisoned in York Castle for exhorting a congregation at Rotheram at the close of the service.

In 1664 she suffered five months imprisonment at Lincoln for disturbing a congregation. At Selston, Nottinhgamshire, she was violently assaulted in 1660 by Jackson, minister of the village, because she was a quaker, although she does not appear even to have spoken to him.

In 1661, when more than sixty she went to America on a missionary journey, arriving at Boston in 1662. On account of the laws against the quakers she had considerable difficulty in obtaining food or shelter, and for visiting some quakers in prison, was taken before the governor, John Endicott [q.v.], who after insulting her sent her to prison. She was subsequently carried two days’ journey into the forest and left there to starve. She managed to find her way to Rhode Island, obtained a passage to Barbadoes, returned to Boston, and after a brief stay came back to England.

Having procured a license from Charles II to settle in any of the American colonies, Elizabeth Hooten returned to Boston, where she attempted to settle, but found that the king’s license was set at nought by the rules of the town.

She then went to Cambridge, where, because she would not deny her creed, she was thrown into a dungeon and kept without food or drink for forty-eight hours (a person who relieved her being fined 5 pounds for the offence). She was afterwards ordered by the court to be whipped through three towns, which was done in the depth of winter and with great severity. She was then again carried into the depth of the forest and left; she was enabled to find her way to a town, where she was befriended, and then left; after visiting Rhode Island, she returned to Cambridge, where she was again subjected to barbarous usage.

She returned to England and resumed her work as an itinerant preacher, but in 1665 she was committed to Lincoln goal [sic] for three months on a charge of disturbing a congregation.

Notwithstanding her age, she accompanied George Fox and a number of other Friends to the West Indies in 1670, and died very suddenly about the middle of January, 1671/2, in Jamaica.