1628 – 1671
"The Love I bear to the Souls of all Men, makes me willing to undergo whatever can be inflicted on me."
Elizabeth Hooton may well have been the first person to be ‘convinced of the truth’ by George Fox. Certainly she was the first of the great Quaker woman missionaries, and one of the group known as the Valiant Sixty. She travelled several times to the New World and endured persecution well into her old age.
Not a lot is known of Hooton’s early life, she was born Elizabeth Carrier in Ollerton, Nottinghamshire in 1628. She married Oliver Hooton and the two moved to Skegby, where they had several children. By 1646, when George Fox came to Skegby, she had become part of the local Baptist community. But her meeting with George Fox was to change her whole life.
Initially against the wishes of her husband, she began to organise meetings at her house where the remnants of her Baptist group could hear Fox’s ministry. This group became known as the Children of Light.
It was the power of Hooton’s words that persuaded Fox that God anointed women for ministry as well as men. Within a few years, she had become one of his itinerant preachers. In 1651, she was imprisoned in Derby for ‘reproving a priest’, and in 1652 she was jailed for 16 months in York for preaching in the church at Rotherham.
She was literate and wrote letters to judges and other public officials. When in jail in Lincoln in 1654, she wrote a letter to the authorities there protesting conditions in the prison and calling for separation of the sexes and useful employment for the prisoners.
In 1661, at the age of sixty, Hooton made her first trip to New England with her friend Joan Brocksop. Quakers in New England were suffering severe persecution. Not long before, four Quakers had been hanged in Boston. Though the death penalty had since been revoked by King Charles II, other punishments had been devised for Quaker blasphemers, of which the harshest was the ‘Cart and Tail Law’ – those condemned were stripped to the waist, tied behind a cart and dragged from town to town, where they were whipped with the knotted rope..
Ships bringing Quakers to Massachusetts were threatened with steep fines, so Hooton and Brocksop traveled via Virginia. Having reached Boston by small boat and overland, they attempted to visit Friends imprisoned there, but were waylaid and taken before Governor Endicott. After they had been imprisoned for days without food, put in the stocks and beaten in three towns, they were taken out into the wilderness and left. The two women survived by following wolf tracks through the snow till they found a settlement.
Having made their way to Rhode Island and thence to Barbados, the two women returned to England. Once there, Hooton petitioned the King to stop the persecution of Quakers in Massachusetts Bay Colony. Following him to where he played tennis, she refused to kneel in his presence, but walked beside him like an equal. She must have won the King’s respect, because he gave her a document authorizing her to buy land in Massachusetts and use it to make a safe haven for Quakers in the colony.
Hooton returned to Massachusetts accompanied by her daughter Elizabeth. However, the royal seal on the letter proved no protection. Once again, she was repeatedly stripped, beaten and left in the wilderness by the authorities in Boston and Cambridge.
In 1665/6, Hooton returned to England. She clearly had no taste for a quiet life, though, as shortly after, she was imprisoned again in Lincoln for disturbing a congregation.
In 1672, George Fox planned a trip to Jamaica, his first and only voyage to the New World. Although she was now 71, she was determined to accompany him. Fox fell ill on the voyage and Hooton nursed him, probably ensuring his survival. However, within one week of their arrival, she herself fell suddenly ill and died the next day. Fox wrote of her death, “Elizabeth Hooton, a woman of great age, who had travelled much in Truth's service, and suffered much for it, departed this life. She was well the day before she died, and departed in peace, like a lamb, bearing testimony to Truth at her departure.”