Thomas Story

c1670 – 1742

Thomas was born in Justice Town near Carlisle in Cumberland into an Anglican family.  As he reached adulthood he began to have uncertainties about Anglican beliefs and practices and to look elsewhere.  In 1691 at Broughton Quaker Meeting he felt immersed in the presence of God.  He decided to give up his interest in music, to dress in a more sombre manner and to relinquish his sword.    His convincement became public knowledge when he refused to swear an oath.  This refusal barred him from practising law in England’s courts.

In 1692 he began to travel and became an itinerant preacher.  His father was displeased that he refused to take responsibility for the family lands and had given up his career in the law.  Story went to London where he was befriended by William Penn who recommended him as a clerk and record keeper for the London Quarterly Meeting.

In 1696 Story began to travel again throughout England.  His legal training helped him to construct robust defences of Quaker views and he ws a powerful debater.  In 1697, along with Quaker Gilbert Molleson, he met the Russian Tsar Peter the Great in London and presented him with a copy of Robert Barclay’s ‘Apology’.   The Tsar was intrigued by Quaker principles and attended several Quaker meetings.  Thomas Story explained to him why Quakers refused to bear arms.

Story accompanied William Penn to Ireland in 1698 where they held Quaker Meetings and met with members of the government.  Later that year he went to America where he was to remain until 1714.

During those sixteen years he travelled to many parts of colonial America, supporting Quaker communities and helping them grow. He was always ready for a debate involving Quaker principles, and was an articulate exponent of his faith and its implications for action in the world. In 1698 he visited several meetings in Virginia, went south to Carolina to meet Friends there, and then returned through Virginia to Maryland, where he attended Yearly Meeting. In 1699 he was in New York,  and then on Long Island, where he travelled to several meetings and had a passionate debate with some Ranters. He ended the year in Philadelphia, just when an outbreak of yellow fever occurred and Friends were thinking of cancelling their imminent Yearly Meeting. He and others felt it was right to continue and the meeting took place. In 1702 he was back in Long Island and his journal refers to some 'glorious meetings' . During these years he also travelled extensively in New England, making several visits to Nantucket, where there was a Quaker community who were whalers. In 1704 he helped them organise themselves into a functioning meeting that could take care of both worship and business matters.

In 1701 William Penn decided to return to England to defend his colony against an anti-proprietary bill.  He assigned Story to the council, made him keeper of the Great Seal, Master of the Rolls for Recording patents and for the enrolling of deeds and appointed him treasurer of the Pennsylvania Land Company.

By then he had met Ann Shippen, and soon he and James Logan  (who also worked in Penn’s administration) vied for her affections.  The rivalry was somewhat acrimonious and William Pennand other Quakers had to remonstrate with them.  Thomas and Ann were married in 1706.  He still continued to travel in the ministry including a visit to the Caribbean during 1709 and 1710.  Letters exchanged between Story and his wife detail his travels and her home life during this time.  Ann died childless soon after Thomas’ return in 1710.

He spoke out against the practice of slavery.   When Story travelled through war zones he refused to have military protection.  He also argued the case for conscientious objection and sought the release of imprisoned Quakers.   Story was keen to maintain Quaker discipline in the colonies.  He condemned ranters who disturbed Meetings and also those whom he called “wet Quakers” who “remained carnally minded”.

Story returned to England in 1714.  He travelled with William Sewel to the Netherlands and Germany in the following year.  During a visit to Ireland in 1716 he was arrested and given a three month prison sentence, though was released after a few days.  He spent time in Fleet prison in London for refusing to take an oath of affirmation.  James Hoskins accused him of unfair land dealing in Pennsylvania but the court of arbitration in London found him to be honest. Story continued to travel in the ministry throughout England and Europe.  In 1726 Ann Gooch a fellow minister accused Story of attempted seduction.  London Yearly Meeting acquitted him due to lack of evidence.

In 1722 Story purchased the family estate in Justice Town from his Sister in law.  He had always been fascinated by trees, and he planted many specimens from both America and Europe,  some of them from seeds and saplings given to him by his good friend Peter Collinson.  His work encouraged other estate managers to take a greater interest in the management of  woods and trees.

Thomas died in 1742 and is buried in the burial ground in Fisher Street, Carlisle.

Further Reading and Credits

Photograph reproduced by kind permission from the copyright holders The Library of the Religious Society of Friends, London.