Dover Friends’ long reach is seen in the Meader family

After coming to New England and working as a farmhand at Oyster River, then part of Dover, John Meader (1625-1715) wed Abigail Tuttle of Ispwich, Massachusetts, in 1653. Granted 100 acres in 1656, he erected a garrison house by 1660.

He took the oath as constable of Dover, and on July 4, 1663 was ordered to tie Edward Wharton, “a vagabond Quaker” to “ye Carte tayle” and whip him out of town, administering not more than ten lashes. That didn’t stop two at least two of his sons from joining Friends.

In 1684, he was one of at least 34 landholders who refused to pay land rents to the Mason heirs and were disposed of their land titles. The next year, they petitioned King James II for relief from the arbitrary decisions of Governor Cranfield, and their representative, Nathaniel Weare, managed to get their lands and other rights restored.

In the 1694 Oyster River massacre, Meader’s garrison and the nearby house of his son, Joseph (1753-1820), were burned, but the family escaped.

Joseph Meader and his first wife, Abigail Field (1759-1784), had son Valentine Meader, born on August 6, 1777. He was a carpenter and a Quaker minister who traveled widely, dying of an illness during a religious visit in 1837.

Joseph later married Elizabeth Gould (1756-1814) and had son Joseph Meader on September 22, 1788. The son married Mehitable Varney in 1810 and was a farmer who became an acknowledged Quaker minister at Sandwich Meeting in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. In the Wilburite Separation, his family aligned with the conservative faction, in 1845. He died on January 28, 1864.

Quaker Meaders spread from Oyster River, or Durham, north into northwest Rochester, forming its Meaderboro village, and further north into Sandwich. Others were at Lee, with its Meeting.

The family burial ground in Meaderboro embodies Quaker humility. The fileldstones mark the plots but are either left plain or engraved with nothing more than initials and dates. Others went unmarked altogether.

Meaderboro descendant Elwyn M. Meader (1910- 1996) was a University of New Hampshire horticulture professor famed for plant varieties he created for northern climates. As the Fedco Seeds website noted, “If you’ve ever grown vegetables or raised fruit or flowers, Professor Elwyn M. Meader’s work has probably touched your life. … At least half his introductions came after he ‘retired’ from a distinguished 18-year career as plant breeder at the University of New Hampshire. He could have gotten rich from royalties on all his releases, but instead he gave them away ‘as payment for his space on the planet. … I was working for the taxpayers,’ he would say in his broad Yankee accent, ‘and the results of my work belonged to them.’

His accent, I will confirm, was classic New England. At least one linguist recorded it for posterity.

Fedco’s profile continues, “A deeply religious Quaker, Meader was always modest about his creations, but not shy about his opinions. He disdained plant patenting. ‘Plants shouldn’t be patented if there has been one dollar of federal or state money used to fund development.’ At one point in the 1950s he refused to serve on university committees (except one to abolish all committees) maintaining he had been hired to do breeding work only. He offered inspiring advice to the wave of homesteaders who arrived in the ‘60s, ‘Try all things. Hold on to that which is good,’ but added curtly, ‘If you can’t make it without bringing along your TV, you’d better forget the whole thing.’

Dover Friend Silas Weeks drew heavily on him in researching what would become the book New England Quaker Meetinghouses, Past and Present.

And after Elwin’s death, when he had declined a memorial service feeling unworthy of one, I clerked a Quarterly Meeting session that discerned otherwise. The ensuing service was a glorious – and memorable – occasion.

Meaderboro Friends Meeting disaffiliated from Quakers in 1963 and continues as a community church.


Check out my new book, Quaking Dover, available in a Nook edition at Barnes & Noble.

Welcome to Dover’s upcoming 400th anniversary.


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