Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Quaker Alphabet Blog Week 44 - V for Joan Vokins and the Vale of the White Horse

Jane and Joan Bunce were born in Charney Bassett (then in Berkshire) in the 1630s, the daughters of a yeoman farmer. Both were pious women, much influenced by the religious turmoil of their times and looking for a faith they could commit themselves to.

In the 1660s both women married and both became Quakers. Jane's husband, Oliver Sansom, was convinced before their wedding and they became Friends together. Joan on the other hand had been married to Richard Vokins of West Challow for some time before her convincement and she did not rest until she had brought her husband and children with her into the Quaker fold.

The White Horse at Uffington
The area where they lived, the Vale of the White Horse (named for the prehistoric figure on the downs above Uffington), became a thriving centre for Quakerism despite continuing persecution. Oliver Sansom was imprisoned many times and his wife's administrative skills kept both his drapery business and the Quaker meeting going during his absence. Joan Vokins's gifts lay in a more prophetic direction and she took care of the spiritual needs of Friends, both keeping them up to the mark and encouraging them.

This was the period of the Wilkinson-Story separation when John Wilkinson and John Story spoke out against the formation of women's meetings and in favour of meeting safely behind closed doors rather than publicly. The Vale of the White Horse was much troubled by this Quaker heresy and Joan Vokins spoke out strongly against it. On one occasion she even turned back from a foreign missionary journey in order to make sure that her home meeting did not give way to persuasion from local supporters of Wilkinson and Story.

Although she was the mother of six children and had far from robust health Joan Vokins travelled in the ministry far and frequently.In 1680 she sailed to America, arriving in New York in May. She visited Long Island, Rhode Island, Boston, East and West Jersey and Pennsylvania. Hoping to return to England she went back to New York to find a passage but found herself suddenly called to visit Barbados. As she tells it, on the way to Barbados 'the Lord put it into my heart to visit Friends in the leeward islands' and the boat was driven there against the captain's will. Trying again to go to Barbados she felt another call to visit Nevis and the boat duly changed direction of its own volition! When eventually Joan reached Barbados she found many Quakers who had been transported from England and she held meetings for them sometimes two or three times a day.

Charney Manor, Charney Bassett
Joan returned to England, landing in Dover in June 1681 and spending some time preaching in Kent before returning home. She continued to travel extensively, encouraging persecuted Friends, but when the prisons opened and Quakers were freed in 1686 Joan went to Ireland. Here, though very weak, she went up and down the country for a full year. In 1690 she attended Yearly Meeting in London and having been refreshed by meeting with Friends turned back towards home. This time though her weakness overcame her and she died 'having finished her course and kept the faith' while staying in Reading in 1690. In 1691 Joan's brother-in-law Oliver Sansom published her autobiography and letters under the title God's Mighty Power Magnified: As Manifested and Revealed in His Faithful Handmaid Joan Vokins.

Quakerism still flourishes in the Vale of the White Horse and Joan is remembered in her home village at Charney Manor, now a Quaker retreat centre, where a room is named after her.

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