The ‘shadow Meeting’ extended beyond official members

I’ve long been fascinated by what I’ve come to call the “shadow Meeting” – people who continued to worship as Quakers and uphold many of the values after being “read out of Meeting” for violating its discipline, usually over marriage procedures.

It’s a fact for several generations of my own ancestry in North Carolina.

One place I see it in Dover is with the Varneys.

The patriarch of this prolific Quaker line was Humphrey Varney (1636-1714), a brickmaker who moved to Dover from Ipswich, Massachusetts. He married Sarah Starbuck, widow of Joseph Austin, as her second husband.

After the Dover’s disastrous massacre, their son, Ebenezer Varney (1664-1753), married Mary Otis after her return from captivity, and their son Peter (1666-1732) wed Elizabeth Evans.

The Varney house, which stood near today’s Wentworth-Douglass Hospital, was once the largest home in Dover. After the massacre, it continued to keep its doors unlocked so that passing Natives could spend the night.

After that, well, it seems the Varneys married into all of the other Dover Friends families. Many of them also spread, most notably across Maine.

The family made its imprint on Dover, though I’m not sure how many remained Friends.

Jesse Varney was a morocco shoemaker when his store was consumed in flames in December 1810.

By 1837, Varney’s Block stood at Lower Square on Central Avenue near Washington Street. In 1844, a bigger building was erected.

In 1847, 99-year-old Eunice Varney died. She was the oldest resident and a member of the Society of Friends.

There’s Varney Road, extending Long Hill Road to Blackwater Road. And Varney Cleaners, founded by Fred Varney.

The Varney School on Washington Street, used from 1861 to 1953 and now as law offices, was named in honor of Judge John R. Varney. He died in an 1882 fire that destroyed the Washington Street Baptist Church building.

George Varney was a prominent merchant for more than 40 years and owned a drug store on Washington Street before retiring in 1920 at age 65 and passing the next year. He built a large home on Arch Street in 1913.

John R. Varney was co-owner of two newspapers – the Dover Enquirer, purchased in 1868, and the Dover Daily Republican, acquired in 1880.

My curiosity, of course, wonders how many of the Quaker values continued in their lives, as well as what directions their faith took. I like to think it worked like yeast.

The family also made a big impression in Manchester. The Varney School, now a private residence on the West Side, was named in honor of one of the city’s mayors.

~*~

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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