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Although the existence of Quakers in Virginia is well known, the best recent surveys of Virginia history devote only passing attention to them, mostly in the context of expanding religious freedoms during the revolutionary era. Few discuss the Quakers themselves or the nature of Quaker settlements although notably, Warren Hofstra, Larry Gragg, and others have studied aspects of the Backcountry Quaker experience. Recent Quaker historiography has reinterpreted the origins of the Quaker faith and the role of key individuals in the movement, including the roles of Quaker women. Numerous studies address Quaker women collectively. Few, however, examine individual families or women of different generations within a single family, and Robynne Rogers Healey has argued for “more biographies of less well-known Quaker women”. This essay uses a four-generation genealogical case study of the Quaker Bowater-Wright family to analyze the development of the Quaker faith in the Virginia backcountry and the lower South and its spread into the Old Northwest. In the backcountry environment, with its geographically isolated settlements and widely dispersed population, early Quaker migrants found fertile ground for both their economic and religious activities. The way of life that developed there differed significantly from the hierarchical Anglican structure of the Tidewater region and the more vocal evangelical groups with their independent congregational structure in the southern backcountry. This article argues that Quaker women played a critical role in shaping Quaker migration and institutional growth in eighteenth and nineteenth century America. It also suggests that the Quaker institutional structure reinforced family connections by creating a close bond that united southern Quakers across a great geographical area.


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