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George Allen and the First Quakers

By Kaethe O’Keefe Maguire

George Allen (1568-1648 ) was not among the ten men from Saugus, now Lynn, who traveled on foot to settle Sandwich in 1637; however, his impact on Sandwich was perhaps greater since he arrived in 1637 with several sons and a daughter, Rose, who married one of the other early settlers, namely Joseph Holway, and thus eventually with some of her brothers, became the strongest Quaker family of the area. As we will discuss further into this history, it was his son, William and wife Priscilla Brown, who hosted the first Quaker Meetings in East Sandwich at their home.


George was also most likely the oldest early Sandwich Settler, leaving Weymouth, England at age 67.  Some research suggests that he followed one or two of his sons to the new world. George and his flock settled quickly, and he was named Constable of Sandwich by 1639.  He also became a Juryman. A group of 6 leading town people, including George Allen, arranged with Joane Dimbleby Swift, widow of immigrant William Swift (Swyft) a loan of 4 pounds to be paid to Edmund Freeman for founding the Town of Sandwich.


George Allen was born in Weymouth, Dorset, England in 1568.  His parentage is still under debate, so I will not address that issue here. Most genealogists agree that he married Katherine Davis, daughter of Rice Davis, in 1600 at age 32. He may have had an earlier wife. Katherine may have been the widow of a man named Watts as she was often referred to as Katherine Watts. Katherine Davis died in 1619 after giving birth to at least six children, five of whom were male. In 1624 George reportedly married Katherine Starkes at age 56 and fathered at least six more children.


As usual, it was not the first-born sons who dared the trip over the ocean, but the younger sons with intrepid wives who had the courage to follow a dream of a better life than they would have been locked in the rigid primo genitor and class structure of England.


George and his wife Katherine left Weymouth, England in March of 1635 and arrived on the shores of Salem in the Massachusetts Bay Colony on the 6th of May, 1635.  Unfortunately, we do not have the name of the ship on which they sailed. They traveled with their servant, Edward Poole, then 26.


George Allen was an Anabaptist, a more liberal form of belief originating in Zurich, Switzerland. He and his family arrived with a party of 106 followers of the Reverend Joseph Hull of the Somersett Congregation who had leave to settle Wessguscus Plantation which was renamed Weymouth on July 8th 1635 by the General Court at Boston. We can only imagine why George left the new town of Weymouth to move to Sandwich since he had been granted 30 acres of land there, which he then left to his sons.


George Allen’s more liberal, considered by some to be radical, form of religious thought provided a good foundation of an alternative perception of worship for his children in anticipation of the eventual arrival of Quaker Christopher Holder from England to Sandwich in 1656.


On the whole it appears that most of the new settlers to Sandwich were not Puritans and scorned that narrow rigid interpretation of worship and sought a more liberal life in general. The people of Boston, and Plymouth were indeed, for the most part, rigid Puritans.


I recall a story read years ago by an historian who reported that when the Puritan ministers of Boston went out following the Charles River where new settlements had sprung up after the wealthy Puritans had taken all the land of Boston for themselves, these ministers chastised these new settlers for not keeping a minister, for not attending a church and having no religion. One such settler listened and then looked at the berating minister and answered, “I don’t know what you are doing here, but I have come to fish. Good day to you sir.”


The Allen’s were among the founding families of the Sandwich Society of Friends Meeting, which continues today as the longest, continuous Meeting in the United States.

George’s son, William, and his wife Priscilla’s home at Spring Hill became the earliest Meeting Place for Quakers. They were the strongest and most determined members of the Society of Friends despite suffering fines and imprisonment for their faith.


House 1.jpg

The home built in 1672 by William Allen and Priscilla Brown Allen shown here once stood at 312 Route 6A.

Photo circa 1885, courtesy John Nye Cullity.

Although George, who died in 1648 at age eighty, did not live to see the transformation of East Sandwich into a strong Quaker community, his progeny certainly suffered for their beliefs under the enforcement by George Barlow, for one, of the laws of Boston and Plymouth until the reign of Charles II, who put an end to the hanging of Quakers after the hanging death of Mary Dyer, who had at one time sought refuge in Sandwich.


Unfortunately, a Petition of 1646 to the Plymouth Court to ensure religious tolerance was sidetracked by conservatives and the loss of religious freedom ensued. Before this time Church attendance was not required. One did not have to be a Church member to be a Freeman. Miles Standish, a Roman Catholic, never became a Church member for example.


George Allen’s home, built in 1646 on Spring Hill Road in East Sandwich also provided the final resting place. The house stood until 1882. His will, taken on the 22nd of September 1648 by Edward Dillingham and Richard Bourne in which he named his wife, Katherine, to be his Executrix, was signed in the presence of William Leveridge, John Vincent, and Richard Bourne and proved before the court at New Plymouth on the 7th of June 1649. Ralph Allen and Richard Bourne were designated overseers of his will.

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