|Barking Abbey, Barking, Essex, England where the Burling family resided.|
Several years ago I wrote about the discovery of Mary Elizabeth (BURLING) REAMS’ (b1845-d1918) ancestry. It was a huge revelation because I had spent years working hard to discover the names of her parents, both of whom died while she was yet a baby. At the time, I was so overwhelmed by the facts of so many new generations to record in my genealogical software that I could scarcely absorb the significant family history connected with Mary. Mary’s BURLING ancestors were Quakers in England and in North America and they had strength of spirit.
Mary (BURLING) REAMS (1845-1918), daughter of:
Henry BURLING (1803-1848) and Charlotte Wilburgher WILSIE (1812-1845), he was the son of:
Ebenezer BURLING(1766-1824) and Eve BLOOMER (1765-1843), he was the son of:
Ebenezer Slocum BURLING (1741-1831) and Kezia HUNT (1742-1804), he was the son of:
Ebenezer BURLING (1717-1758) and Mary LAWRENCE (1718-aft 1776), he was the son of:
*William BURLING (1678-1743) and Rebecca SLOCUM (1682-1729), he was the son of:
*Edward BURLING (1638-1697) and *Grace NORINGTON (?-1715) , he was the son of:
Edward BURLING (c1613-1677) and Katherine BOWLER (?-1678) of Barking, Essex Co., England
*denotes the ancestors who emigrated from England to North America.
We learn from the amazing thorough and well sourced genealogy and family history by Jane Thompson-Stahr (The Burling Books, Vol, 1 & 2, 2001), that the first three generations of Burling’s were members of the Quaker faith and practiced it at a time of religious intolerance in England. In fact, both generations of Edward BURLING’s were imprisoned for practicing their faith. Neither of which would pay the fine, though they were presumably wealthy enough to do so, and be freed from their jail cells. They stood on their principles in the Borough of Barking, which is now part of the City of London. Clearly that principled streak was inherited by son and grandson William. We have learned from no less than four sources on Quaker history that William BURLING of Flushing, NY was an early member of the Friends faith to embrace the view that slavery was a sin. During much of the 17th and 18th century in Colonial America, Quakers were known to be slave holders and slave traders in New England and the Mid-Atlantic. Many today find this surprising because of the popular notion that Quakers were some of the most outspoken advocates of abolitionism in the antebellum period; therefore it’s somewhat hard to believe that they were ever involved in the holding of others in bondage. But many did!
About 1718, William BURLING spoke out against the sin of slavery. His words are somewhat difficult for our 21st century reading, but I have confirmed through multiple sources that indeed, William BURLING was talking about slavery when he wrote the following, which had reprinted in several book since 1734.
(William Burling’s Anti-slavery text, published in 1718 and quote in Benjamin Lay’s 1738 book.)
TITLE: “An Address to the Elders of the Church, upon the occasion of some Friends compelling certain Persons, and their posterity , to serve them continually and arbitrarily, without Regard to Equity or Right, not heeding whether they give them any thing near so much as their Labour deserveth.”
My Dearly Beloved Friends, and Elder Brethren, whom, as it behoves me, I would entreat as Fathers, a weighty Concern from the Lord, is and hath been at times for many Years on my spirit, in consideration of this unchristian Liberty, being indulged in the Church, for it is in itself none of the least of the World’s Corruptions, [ no, say I, but the greatest, that ever the Devil brought into the Church in America;] and indeed the Lord by his Spirit, manifested the Evil to me before I was 12 Years of Age, and since from time to time, I have had drawings in mind to reproved and testify against it, nor have I been altogether silent, altho’ much discourag’d by reason of it’s being practiced by so many Friends, yea Elders too, and tho’ I have formerly thought it strange, that the Church did not exclude it, by her discipline, and fix the Judgment of Truth upon it, yet now I am sensible such a thing is not easily done or accomplished, there being so strong opposition in many, that it cannot be brought to the Test, and Judgment brought forth into Victory in the cause at present, without danger of much strife and disorder in the Church, which is generally hurtful where-ever it prevaileth; therefore to be carefully avoided; however I hope was are all unanimous in our judgement, that whatever Friend hath any thing from the movings of the Spirit of Truth to communicate to his Brethren, either by word or writing concerning this or any other matter, ought to be allowed and received in his Testimony, and borne with by his Brethren, so long as he keeps to the counsel and direction of the Holy Spirit, and therefore delivers nothing but what is according to Truth, altho’ it happens to be never so contrary to the interest or inclinations of the Readers or Hearers.
Now I would such Friends as Practice or Pleas for the abovesaid Sin, Evil or Liberty, to consider solidly what Hardship the impose on such as are concern’d to bear Testimony against it; for while so many Friends continues in said Practice, no one can reproved it, and give it that deserved Character, which is agreeable to it’s nature, without implicitly condemning many of his Brethren, [Ministers and all say I, for they are the worst Enemies in this case the Church has to War with, or that Hell itself, or Devil can procure in this case. (This is very pinching, B. L. canst thou prove thy Allegations?) if not, what will become of thee? Never fear, Friend; Fear suprises, thou knows who; but the Truth is stronger than all the Powers of Hell. Blessed for ever is the God of Truth, the Truth of God, the Truth which is God: So be it, faith my Soul.
Brethren and Elder Brethren, as Transgressors in this Thing, which is very hard to do, yet if the Lord require such a Thing or Testimony of any Friend he is necessitated so to judge his Brethren, or quench the Spirit in its Motions, in his own Heart; for the case admits of no medium. Again I intreat those who slight and disregards the Testimony of any whom the Lord concerns to appear against this flebly Liberty, to consider whom they oppose, and withstand; and the inspired Apostle speaking concerning the Lord’s Instruments, whom he was pleased to make use of, faith I Thess. iv. 8. He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not Men, but God, who hat also given unto us his Holy Spirit. O! That I could prevail so far with all my dear Brethren, that none would any more plead for or endeavor to defend the aforesaid unjust Practice; neither endeavor to shield it from the judgment of Truth. We may do well to remember, the Devil is the Author of all Sin, and Sin is the Transgression of the Law.
It gives me great pleasure to know that at least one of my ancestors was outspoken on such a moral and ethical issue, especially when it was not popular to hold such a position. So, today in our world that is filled with much divisiveness over our national legacy concerning race relations, I draw on the strength of my ancestor, William Burling to help guide me.
-Drake, Thomas E. Quakers and Slavery in America, 1950, pp.36-37
-“Early Anti-Slavery Advocates -- William Burling.” The Friend: A Religious and Literary Journals, November 24, 1855, Volume 29, Number 11, page 85.
-Lay, Benjamin. All Slave-keepers that keep the Innocent in Bondage… Philadelphia: Benjamin Franklin, 1738, pp. 6-8.
-Maxwell, John Francis. “The Charismatic Origins of the Christian Anti-Slavery Movement in North America, “ Quaker History, Volume 63, Number 2, Autumn 1974, pp. 108-116.
-Thompson-Stahr, Jane. The Burling Books, 2001
|A popular 19th Century Anti-Slavery image.|