For many budding genealogists, the thrill of connecting the familial dots to the likes of Jesse James or Marie Antoinette is the initial spark. What keeps the paper chase exciting and creates an emotional bound, is happening upon the personal stories of relatives long past who braved impossible hardship and had extraordinary, though not necessarily famous, lives. I am lucky enough to have stumbled upon my connection to some of America’s most dedicated advocates of religious freedom, Lawrence and Cassandra Southwick.
A few years ago, recognizing that the 150th commemoration of the American Civil War was fast approaching, I decided to find out who among my relatives had fought in the war and on which side. I began my research with my father’s line, thinking that it would be easier to trace a familiar last name. Using online genealogical research sites like Ancestry.com and Cyndi’s List as well as my local LDL Family History Center, I was able to connect a few dots and get a feel for the process.
After some initial success with census records, the Social Security Death Index, and various state archives, I hit the inevitable genealogical ‘brick wall’. Turning my attention to my paternal grandmother, Laura Draper, I finally struck family history gold.
Quakers in Early America
The belief that the American colonies embraced religious freedom is not exactly correct. While it’s true that many were enticed to make the arduous trip to America with the promise of religious freedom, once you arrived in the colonies, the prevailing religion was the one you practiced or trouble would soon be yours. In 1657 in Salem, Massachusetts, this religious intolerance had a dramatic impact on the length and quality of the lives of my 11th Great Grandparents, Lawrence and Cassandra Southwick, formerly of Surry, England.
Lawrence and Cassandra Southwick
The Southwicks arrived in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1636-37. As Quakers in a Puritan village, they faced obstacles and hardships from the beginning. The family’s persecution culminated in 1658 when two of the Lawrence and Cassandra’s children, Provided (my 10th GGrandmother) and Daniel were ordered to be sold into slavery as payment for fines related to not attending the Puritan church. After years of physical abuse and other defilement, the sale of their children into servitude was too much for the family and they left Salem for Shelter Island, New York. Today a monument to their fight for religious freedom stands on Shelter Island.
The Lasting Impact
When I began my journey into my family’s past, I did so out of curiosity and perhaps a bit of star searching. Although I haven’t linked myself to Kings – Elvis or Charlemagne – the connection I have made have increased my sense of family pride and given me a firmer grasp on what it means to be American. The Southwick’s story is just one of many that I came across that filled me with amazement, humility, and more often than not, pride. I have discovered grandfathers, uncles and cousins who have fought in every war in this country’s history. I have put names and stories to some of the many members of my family who fled Europe in search of a better life, walked The Trail of Tears, and opened the West. Throughout this continuing journey of family and self-discovery, the story of Lawrence, Cassandra, Provided and Daniel touches me most deeply. Their determined spirit and commitment to worshiping in their own manner is, at least for me, worth remembering.