Monday, December 30, 2013

Quaker Alphabet Blog Week 51 - Z for Zephaniah Fry

The first Zephaniah Fry to become a Quaker was born in 1658 in Sutton Benger, a small village near Chippenham in Wiltshire, and made woolen cloth for a living. He was convinced by the powerful preaching of Solomon Eccles and was imprisoned for his faith from 1683 to 1685 when he was freed under the general amnesty after the death of Charles II. For the rest of his life he lived quietly and raised a large family as respectable Quakers before his death in 1728.

His son Zephaniah, born in 1688, also lived a quiet life in another village near Chippenham, marrying and having just one son, born in 1716 (who he called, unsurprisingly, Zephaniah). Unfortunately this Zephaniah lost his father when he was only two months old, although his mother could rely on an extensive network of respectable Quaker Fry relations to help with his upbringing.  In time Zephaniah moved to Bristol and became prosperous as a woolen draper. In 1741 he married Abigail Hiscox and the couple had two children, Robert and Elizabeth, born in 1742 and 1744. All seemed set fair for another Zephaniah Fry to lead a quiet respectable life, but ten years later a scandal arose of his own making.

Ann Jenkins was also a Quaker and a servant in Zephaniah's household. In August 1753, unmarried, she gave birth to a son who she named James Jenkins and Bristol Monthly Meeting felt that it had no choice but to bring the scandal into the open. A minute made matters very clear -
This meeting having been informed that Zephaniah Fry has lived in Criminal Conversation [adultery] with his late [former] servant Ann Jenkins, and said Fry, having sent into this Meeting a letter signifying his being under strong conviction for his late misconduct and his Sorrow for the same, William Gayner and William Fry are desired to pay Z. Fry a Visit on this Melancholly occasion, and to desire two Women Friends to visit Ann Jenkins.

A month later the two women Friends reported that their visit to Ann Jenkins resulted in a confession and admission that she hath been lately delivered of a Bastard child of whom Z Fry was the Father. In spite of their contrition both parents were disowned by Bristol Friends in order to clear the Society from any aspersions that may be cast on our principles by reason of such scandalous practices, although the possibility of future forgiveness was not withdrawn.

Zephaniah had acknowledged his son as his responsibility but wanted nothing to do with him personally. He also refused to allow Ann to keep her baby. Having lost her job and unable to gain another in Bristol because of the scandal, she moved to London where she had relatives who could support her. Baby James was put out to nurse with a non-Quaker family in a village just outside Bristol. The mortality rate for infants in this situation was very high - perhaps a fact which Zephaniah was counting on - but James survived.

Two years after his disownment Zephaniah applied for readmission and was accepted. It does not appear that Ann Jenkins ever regained her membership. When he was 10 James was sent to London as an apprentice to his kinsman John Fry, although at that time he did not know of the relationship. Here James met his mother again but only briefly as she died of consumption in 1764.

Zephaniah Fry died in 1787, leaving his son James Jenkins £300 (compared with trusts for his legitimate children and their offspring worth at least £5000) which allowed him to buy a stake in a business. There is no evidence that father and son ever met. James's whole life and attitude was shaped by the shame of his illegitimacy. Although he became a Quaker when he was an apprentice in Ireland and was treated with kindness by many Friends and relations he was always particularly aware of any hint of hypocrisy in the Society. In later life he compiled a volume of Records and Recollections which gave some details of his life and also his impressions of 'weighty Friends' he had known, painting them 'warts and all' instead of idealising them as official testimonies often did. James's writings give us a valuable, because often partial and prejudiced, view of Quakers in the 18th century and we have the circumstances of his birth to thank for that.

1 comment:

patricew said...

Fascinating story, thanks!