Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Dangerous Quaker Lady Deborah Moody - Only Women to Found a Colony on the Atlantic Coast

Lady Deborah Moody (1586-1659), founder of a colony on Long Island, was born at Avebury in Wiltshire County, England. Her parents, Walter Dunch and Deborah, daughter of James Pilkington, Bishop of Durham, who had been a radical Protestant in the time of Queen Elizabeth, were married on July 27, 1581, and had four daughters and one son. Dunch died in 1594, leaving arrangements for the dowries of the four girls.

Deborah, the eldest, was married to Henry Moody of the manor of Garesdon in Wiltshire on Jan. 20, 1605/06. Her husband was knighted on March 18, 1606,, and made a baronet by James I on March 11, 1621/22. He served in Parliament in 1625, 1626, and from 1628 until his death on April 23, 1629.

Lady Deborah then moved to London, but having overstayed her permit to remain away from home she was in 1635, ordered by the Court of the Star Chamber to return to Garesdon. Her family had a long tradition of devotion to civil liberties, and this order, together with her Nonconformist religious views, made her determined to leave England. Although in her mid-fifties, she sailed for Massachusetts in 1639.

Lady Moore, as she was called in America, first settled in the later town of Lynn, then part of Saugus, and was granted four hundred acres of land by the Massachusetts General Court. In 1641, she purchased a large farm called Swampscott on the Essex County coast; she was “almost undone” by the price she paid.

As early as April 1640 she was a member of the church in neighboring Salem, where she later built a house. But her church, though Nonconformist, failed to give her freedom of conscience. Attracted to Anabaptism, as were others in her community, she clung to her unorthodox views.

In July 1643, John Winthrop, Governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony, wrote of the dangerous widow Deborah Dunch Moody in his journal  (Journal, II, 126) "The Lady Moody, a wise and anciently religious woman, being taken with error of denying baptism to infants, was dealt withal by many of the elders and others, and admonished by the Church of Salem (where she was a member), but persisting still, and to avoid further trouble, etc., she removed to the Dutch against the advice of her friends. Many others, infected with Anabaptism, removed thither also. She was after excommunicated. With the exception of her troubling the church with her religious opinions, she appears to have been a lady of great worth."

Deputy-Governor John Endecott wrote of Deborah Moody in a letter to Governor Winthrop, "Shee is a dangerous woeman."

As a believer in Anabaptism, a sect that rebelled against baptism of infants because a child cannot commit to religious faith, she was admonished in 1643, by the Puritan leaders for failing to conform to their religious beliefs. Many others with the same religious beliefs banded with her.

In 1643, she led a group of religious dissenters fleeing Puritan persecution to the Dutch colony of New Netherland. The Dutch directed her to Gravesend, on the southwest corner of Long Island, and here she brought her followers.

Today the area is part of Brooklyn in New York City, with the original town square still evident in the street layout. The people from Gravesend were granted religious freedom, unusual for that period.  Hers was the first English settlement in what is now Kings County (Brooklyn) and the first colonial enterprise to be headed by a woman.

Shortly after her arrival, an Indian uprising forced Lady Moody and her group to take refuge with the Dutch. She thought then of returning to Massachusetts, but received little encouragement; John Endecott in 1644 advised Gov. John Winthrop that she should be permitted to resettle thee only if “shee will acknowledge her euill in opposing the Churches, and leave her opinions behinde her, For shee is a dangerous woeman” (Winthrop Papers, IV, 456).

Anabaptists were definitely not welcome in Puritan New England, and Lady Moody had been fined, excommunicated from the First Church of Salem and eventually evicted from the colony altogether. Dutch New Netherland, famously tolerant in matters of religion, beckoned, and in 1645 she became the first female founder of a settlement in the Americas, receiving over 7000 acres encompassing present-day Gravesend in Brooklyn and Coney Island.

The Gravesend settlement received a Dutch patent on Dec. 19, 1645, granting freedom of worship and self-government. Under Lady Moody’s guidance the colonists made a notable beginning: a plan for a growing town was drawn; town meetings were instituted; the Indians were paid for their lands; liquor was not to be sold to the Indians; habitable dwellings were required of all settlers.

In the years that followed, Lady Moody, the only woman of rank to settle in New Netherland, enjoyed the confidence and respect of the Dutch director generals Williams Kieft and Petrus Stuyvesant .

When in 1654 popular discontent arose over Stuyvesant’s removal of two Gravesend magistrates accused of pro-English activities, the Director General visited the settlement and held a meeting with the colonists at Lady Moody’s house to settle the differences.

With the arrival of Quaker missionaries in New Netherland in 1657, three of the group went over to Long Island, where they began their ministry with a meeting in Lady Moody’s home. According to the Dutch historian Gerard Croese, writing in 1695, she and many of her followers were convinced at this time and “turned Quaker.” Though later authorities have questioned her conversion, it is likely that Lady Moody would have been attracted to the place of equality given to women in the new religious movement.

Her home contained what was probably the largest library in the Dutch province, and she had undoubtedly studied religious writings for a truth she could accept. In any event, Quakers visiting Gravesend in 1658 found that the message had taken root, and the settlement soon became a center of Quakerism on Long Island. This “wise and anciently religious woman,” as Governor Winthrop wrote of her, died between November 1658 and May 1659.

There is no indication that she had more than one child. Her son, Henry, who inherited his father’s title in 1629, was one of the signers of the Gravesend patent and was certainly with his mother during some of the twenty years she spent in America. After her death, he went to Virginia as ambassador from New Netherland; he died there, unmarried, in 1661.

Much of the information in this posting is from Notable American Women edited by Edward T James, Janet Wilson James, Paul S Boyer, The Belknap Press of Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts. 1971