The Role a Female Traveling Minister Played in Spreading
One important aspect of Quaker life to understand before reading An Account of the Travels, Sufferings and Persecutions of Barbara Blaugdone, is the use of traveling ministers to spread the Quaker religion around the world. The Society of Friends, given the popular name “Quakers”, originated in England in the seventeenth century and quickly spread to the English colonies, and later to Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Turkey, and America (Sharpless 393). The most influential people in this rapid spread of the Quaker religion were the missionaries. While Quakers believed that “no one should preach the Word without a direct call from God”, they did believe that any one “male or female, old or young (395)” could receive this call. The truth of the matter was, however, that the majority of the traveling ministers in the seventeenth century were women.
Usually, two women traveled together and “the pairing of a young woman and an older woman was encouraged” (Bacon 29). This discouraged women from engaging in “too familiar behavior” (31) with persons they met in new towns, or with men who would sometimes accompany women on missions. The first order of business for a woman who had received the call and wanted to travel, was “to appear before the ministry committee of her own monthly meeting, which would then discuss her request in light of her health, her family duties, and the strength and soundness of her ministry. If the local meeting felt all was well, the quarterly and then the yearly meeting had to be consulted. This took time, but prevented men and women from wandering about, preaching doctrines not in accordance with Friends’ beliefs. It also tested the strength of the minister’s original sense of mission” (Bacon 33-34). Attending all these meetings, and proving one’s resolve was the only way to receive a “traveling minute” which was not required for Friends who were not ministers, but was sought if the person intended to attend other Friends meetings while traveling. Ministers, on the other hand, did require a traveling minute if they intended on preaching in other Quaker meetings. Ministers with the traveling minute were referred to as “Public Friends” (34).
Once a missionary or minister had acquired their minute and successfully traveled to their destination (which was far more perilous than you might imagine), they went about spreading the word in one of many ways. “They met with the small groups of Quakers beginning to form in different colonies, prayed with families, and endured many hardships” (24), all in the effort to teach people of the joys and benefits of having a direct relationship with God. As Quaker historian Margaret Bacon explains,
one cannot question that they felt themselves to be under divine orders, and that they experienced a marvelous confidence and release of energy to deal with whatever problems or obstacles appeared in their way. The stories of their adventures with the perils of sea and land were told again and again, and the retelling increased the respect that members of their communities came to feel toward any female called to the ministry. (41)
Most especially in the early years of the Quaker movement, the journals and letters of women missionaries describes the joy and happiness that helped them overcome the difficulties and perils of their chosen profession.
Understanding what was involved in carrying the Lord’s message to new lands, including acquiring a traveling minute, finding a travel mate, finding transportation, and arriving safely, helps the reader understand and appreciate the intense efforts that Barbara Blaugdone had to go to in order to travel as extensively as she did. Not only did she travel to spread the Quaker beliefs, but also to help her friends escape jail and other forms of persecution so that they might continue to spread the word as well. She felt a higher calling and went to greater lengths that we, with our paved roads, cruise liners, and airplanes, will ever be able to fully appreciate.
Bacon, Margaret Hope. Mothers of Feminism. Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc. New York, NY. 1986.
Blaugdone, Barbara. An Account of the Travels, Sufferings and Persecutions of Barbara
Blaugdone. London, 1691.