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Religion and the Carr Family: Quaker Heritage (Part 1)

Written by Gabi Sutton, Museum Intern

Edited for Publication by Holly Stewart, Program Manager

This is the first in a multi-part series about the religious affiliations of the Carr family.

The second part about the family's Quaker connections in the 1800s is available at this link.

Additional articles about Spiritualism and the Carr family will be available soon.

Religion and the Carr Family in Old Town Tacoma

Murray Morgan's quintessential Tacoma history book Puget's Sound includes a chapter titled "The Quaker, The Boomer, and The Railroad." The Quaker he refers to is Job Carr, Tacoma's first permanent non-native settler. Herbert Hunt's Tacoma: It's History and It's Builders also describes Job and his first wife Rebecca as Quakers who later left the church to join the Spiritualist movement. Rebecca Carr Staley became a leading seer in Old Town Tacoma. Both she and Job were involved with progressive social movements strongly tied to Quakerism and Spiritualism. Job and Rebecca's religious affiliations were complex and are further explored in this research.

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Portaits of Job Carr and Rebecca Pitman Carr. From the Carr family archives.

What Are Quakers?

The Religious Society of Friends, also known as Quakers, are a religious organization that was founded in England during the 17th century by George Fox. One of the most prominent beliefs in the Quaker religion is that the presence of God exists in everyone. This belief in the "Inner Light" was extremely controversial and led to Fox and other early Quakers being persecuted. In fact, the term "Quaker" was originally used to ridicule the Society of Friends who believed that people should "tremble at the World of the Lord." Eventually they came to embrace the term and now refer to themselves as "Quakers" or as "Friends." Quakers are unique in the Christian tradition by rejecting elaborate religious ceremonies, not having official clergy, and believing in spiritual equality for men and women. These beliefs were almost unheard of at the time. Quaker theology, which promoted a much more individualized idea about religion than previously accepted, likely led to other more radical beliefs and social justice activism among this community, including pacifism and abolition. Quakers, and later Spiritualists, also played an integral role in the temperance and women's rights movements of the 1800s.

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Portrait of George Fox. Image from George Fox University.

George Fox founded the Friends in England in the 1640s, a period of religious upheaval. Fox and his followers experienced religious persecution, including torture and imprisonment, but the movement steadily grew. By 1660, there were about 50,000 Quakers across Britain.

Quakers and Progressive Thought in America

Some Quakers decided to leave England in hope of finding religious tolerance in the American colonies. In the Massachusetts colony of the 1650s and 1660s, however, Quakers again became the target of persecution, including the execution of the four Boston martyrs. Many fled to Rhode Island as a refuge of tolerance for religious minorities. Others splintered off to found New Jersey in the 1670s and then to William Penn's Quaker colony of Pennsylvania.

Quakers in North America took up many causes to protect human rights, especially concerning women and enslaved people. Quakers founded many of the early abolitionist groups and were active in the Underground Railroad. They were among the first groups in both Britain and North America to condemn slavery based on religious and ethical grounds. Beginning in the 1600s, Quaker records reflect anti-slavery sentiments. By the mid-1700s they publicly campaigned against the slave trade and began focusing charitable efforts on economic and educational aid for former slaves.

Equality was one of the main tenets of the Society of Friends, and that equality applied to both men and women at church and in the home. Women were allowed to speak out during worship, and they soon began speaking up outside of religious contexts. Many of the women's suffrage leaders in the United States were Quakers, including Lucretia Mott and Alice Paul.

The Carr Family's Quaker Heritage in the 1600s and 1700s

Job Carr's family lineage was affiliated with the Society of Friends since his great-great-great-great grandfather Caleb Carr, born in 1616. Caleb and his brother Robert emigrated from England to the American colonies in 1635. His family moved in the same circles as Roger Williams, founder of Rhode Island. One source suggests that the family converted to Quakerism about the time of George Fox's tour of Rhode Island in 1672, while another source argues for an earlier conversion date.

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Governor Caleb Carr House, Conanicut Island, Rhode Island. Caleb Carr was elected Governor of Rhode Island in 1695. 1933 image from archives of the Library of Congress.

Members of the Society of Friends often chose Biblical names for their children. In the Carr family, Caleb and Job frequently repeat through the generations. Job Carr's great grandfather was also named Caleb Carr, born in 1719. The younger Caleb settled in New Jersey, making a comfortable living as a farmer and carriage maker. He and his wife Sarah were active in the Quaker religion, helping to found the Mount Holly Friends Meeting House in 1776. Quaker records list Caleb as an "overseer" of their newly formed congregation. The historic building where the Mount Holly Friends services were held still serves the local Quaker community. Caleb and Sarah were laid to rest in the adjacent Friends Burial Ground.

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Friends Meeting House, Mount Holly, New Jersey where Caleb Carr was a founding member. 1896 image from archives of the Library of Congress.

Caleb was a prolific writer, including this advice to his descendants, dated April 19, 1782:

"Speak no bad words, take not God's name in vain by any means, keep no bad company, tell no falsehoods, be not forward in idle discourse, be just in your dealings as I have been, punctual to your promises, charitable to the poor, and keep to the Friends' plain language. And if you should arrive to be men and women, and are inclined to marry, set not your affections on any person till you find them to be well grounded in your own religion, and to be living in the fear of God. For that with a morsel will be better to you than great riches without it."

Find out more about the Carr Family Quaker Heritage in the 1800s in the next article.

About the Author

Gabi Sutton is a student at Pacific Lutheran University, majoring in history and minoring in psychology and religion. She completed an internship with Job Carr Cabin in Summer 2023. After graduation, she wants to pursue a career in the museum industry.

During her time with Job Carr Cabin Museum, Gabi learned that one of the most important aspects to effectively running a museum is outreach. She assisted with community outreach and conducted research about religion and women's roles in the late 19th century.