New England Yearly Meeting

A community of Quakers and Quaker meetings across New England.

The Voyage of the "WOODHOUSE" (1657)

This account of the voyage of the "Woodhouse," in the summer of 1657, bearing the second party of Quaker "Publishers of Truth" to come to Massachusetts, shows the spirit in which the Quaker message was brought to America. Six of the party, with two other Friends, had made up the earlier mission, but the Massachusetts authorities, determined to protect the purity of their Calvinism, had imprisoned them under sentence of banishment for eleven weeks, and then shipped them back to England.

A true relation of the voyage undertaken by me, Robert Fowler [of Bridlington Quay, Yorkshire], with my small vessel called the "Woodhouse," but performed by the Lord, like as He did Noah's Ark, wherein He shut up a few righteous persons and landed them safe, even at the hill Ararat.
 

The true discourse taken as followeth. This vessel was appointed for this service from the beginning, as I have often had it manifested unto me, that it was said within me several times:— "Thou hast her not for nothing"; and also New England presented before me. And also, when she was finished and freighted and made to sea, contrary to my will [she] was brought to London, where, speaking touching this matter to Gerrard Roberts and others, they confirmed the matter in behalf of the Lord, that it must be so. Yet, entering into reasoning and letting in temptations and hardships, and the loss of my life, wife and children with the enjoyment of all earthly things, it brought me as low as the grave and laid me as one dead as to the things of God. But by His instrument George Fox was I refreshed and raised up again...[and] by the strength of God I was made willing to do His will...Still was I assaulted with the enemy, who pressed from me my servants, so that for this long voyage we were but two men and three boys besides myself...Certain days we lay there wherein the ministers of Christ were not idle, but went forth and gathered sticks and kindled a fire and left it burning; also several Friends came on board and visited us, in which we were refreshed...Also we met with three pretty large ships, which were for the Newfoundland who did accompany us about fifty leagues, but might have done three hundred if they had not feared the [Dutch] men-of-war, but for escaping them they took to the northward and left us without hope of help as to the outward; though, before our parting, it was showed to Humphrey Norton early in the morning that they were nigh unto us that sought our lives; and he called unto me and told me, but said:—"Thus saith the Lord; ye shall be carried away as in a mist." And presently we espied a great ship making up towards us, and the three great ships were much afraid, and tacked about with what speed they could; in the very interim the Lord God fulfilled His promise, and struck our enemies in the face with a contrary wind, wonderfully to our refreshment. Then, upon our parting from these three ships, we were brought to ask counsel of the Lord and the word was from Him:—"Cut through and steer your straightest course and mind nothing but Me," unto which thing He much provoked us and caused us to meet together every day, and He Himself met with us, and manifested Himself largely unto us, so that by storms we were not prevented [from meeting] above three times in all our voyage.
 

Thus it was all the voyage with the faithful, who were carried far above storms and tempests, that when the ship went either to the right hand or to the left, their hands joined all as one and did direct her way; so that we have seen and said, we see the Lord leading our vessel even as it were a man leading a horse by the head, we regarding neither latitude nor longitude, but kept to our Line, which was and is our Leader, Guide and Rule; but they that did failed.
 

Upon the last day of the Fifth Month [July] 1657, we made land. It was part of Long Island, far contrary to the expectations of the pilot. Furthermore, our drawing had been all the passage to keep to the southwards, until the evening before we made land, and then the word was—"There is a lion in the way," unto which we gave obedience, and said—"Let them steer northwards until the day following." And soon after the middle of the day there was a drawing to meet together before our usual time; and it was said that we may look abroad in the evening; and as we sat waiting upon the Lord they discovered the land...Now to lay before you, in short, the largeness of the wisdom, will and power of God, thus, this creek led us in between the Dutch plantation and Long Island, where the movings of some Friends were unto, which otherwise had been very difficult for them to have gotten to.
 

—James Bowden: History of the Society of Friends in America, 1850, vol. 1, pp. 63-6.

New England Yearly Meeting of Friends

901 Pleasant Street, Worcester, MA 01602

(508) 754-6760 - [email protected]