Overseas Travel in Blaugdone’s Time
Jamie Ferguson 

            The title of Barbara Blaugdone’s memoir is An Account of the Travels, Sufferings and Persecutions of Barbara Blaugdone, with “travels” highlighted by its enormous size. Indeed, when reading the book the reader is perhaps most struck by Blaugdone’s excessive, nearly constant travel habits. It may even be argued that at its heart the book is a travel narrative and not a memoir or even a religious account. She traipses about the seas around the British Islea, not only in England but also venturing to Ireland to proselytize and preach to those yet untouched by the Quaker message.

            Travel was an important part of Quaker life. As a fledgling religious movement focused on the importance of introspective faith and a personal relationship with God, many Friends took it upon themselves to spread the word world-wide. Furthermore, as a group looked down upon and disliked by the rest of English society, Quakers were tempered to have a predisposition towards independence and adventure that served them well when traveling (Trevett 65).

            Again, most Quaker travel was for the sake of missionary work. Many Quakers traveled east to the Holy Land to attempt to proselytize to the Muslim population or to the New World to save the indigenous peoples there. The New World, in particular, was an attractive destination for Quakers.  Its offer of religious freedom and opportunities to found new societies called William Penn and other Quakers to found settlements there not long after the events in Blaugdone’s Account. As a result, travel back and forth from the Americas to Europe was very common amongst Quakers. This enormous oversea journey was almost part of the course for prominent Friends, who recognized that the center of a sect based upon personal faith would not be in England but rather world-wide.

            Sea travel at the time was an adventure in itself. Those who used private passenger travel would have to be prepared for scurvy, foul and dangerous weather, piracy, mutiny and other hazards on the way, which would last weeks. Many people, however, chose to travel by way of merchant ships, where in addition to these trials would often also experience sadistic and tyrannical behavior of the ship’s captains (Edwards 14). Eventually arriving upon their exotic destination, travelers’ lives would not get any easier, but rather they would usually face an entirely new set of challenges. These included foreign diseases, poor infrastructure, and of course, violence.

            Quakers in particular were met by opposition from those around them. Blaugdone herself was nearly hurled overboard by her fellow passengers, and she was not alone. A Quaker woman who traveled to Boston was publicly flogged, many other visitors to the New World were imprisoned, and the envoy that attempted to convert the Pope eventually saw an Inquisitorial court and was imprisoned (Trevett 63-65).

            As a result of their extensive travel overseas several Quakers wrote accounts of their journeys, Penn and Blaugdone among them. During Blaugdone’s era the travel narrative was quickly becoming the most popular and important genre of writing in Europe. In 1710, twenty years after the publication of Blaugdone’s Account, the Earl of Shaftesbury said that travel narratives “are the chief materials to furnish out a library...These are in our present days what books of chivalry were in those of our forefathers” (Edwards, 3). The Quakers hardy sense of adventure and independence meant they were well suited for travel and their insistence upon writing and recording meant that they were bound to write about it. 


 

Works Cited:

Blaugdone, Barbara. An Account of the Travels, Sufferings and Persecutions of Barbara

            Blaugdone. London, 1691.

 

Edwards, Phillip. The Story of the Voyage: Sea Narratives in 18th Century England. New York:

            Cambridge University Press, 1994.

 

Trevett, Christine. Women and Quakerism in the 17th Century. York: William Sessions

            Unlimited, 1991.