Ellen Allred Imprisoned - 1660
by: John Allred
Welcome to the Allred Family Time Machine! With it we will take trips back in time to visit our Allred ancestors. We will be unseen visitors as we eavesdrop on what our ancestors are doing, what they see and how they are living. In today’s trip we visit Ellen Pemberton Allred, who is the mother of Solomon Allred, the first of our family to immigrate to the Colonies. The time machine has been set so that you can observe her attendance at a Quaker meeting in Lancashire, England.
Imagine you are a time traveler. You have studied the written record and discover that Ellen Pemberton is attending a Quaker meeting on February 10, 1660 at a home near Lancaster, Lancashire, England. You arrive at the home while the meeting is in progress and slip unseen into the room. You take a seat on the floor and listen. What you hear for the next hour is - nothing! This is a typical Quaker meeting of the time where each participant sits quietly and listens for the voice of God. It is only after one is moved by the Spirit is there encouragement to speak.
The name Quaker was not chosen by this zealous religious sect, at least not originally. They called themselves “The Society of Friends”, founded by George Fox in 1652 in Lancashire. By1660, the sect had grown to 50,000 followers. Their detractors called them “Quakers” because they were thought to be so emotional but sitting here unseen in the quietness of the meeting, you did not see that.
Suddenly, the silence was broken by the commotion of the sheriff’s men coming into the room. A one hundred year old law made it unlawful to have a religious meeting without using the “Common Book of Prayer” based upon the Church of England. Further, to avoid arrest, those found participating in a “religious” meeting were required to sign an oath of allegiance to the King/Queen and, by extension, to the Church of England. The oath was originally passed by Parliament in 1559 to root out Catholics, who were derisively called “papists”. The oath had been used during the English Civil War (1649 to 1660) to find enemies of the Crown. Those enemies were led by Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans.
But the authorities knew full well that those attending the Society of Friends meeting would not sign the oath because the Quakers considered swearing to be a sin. On the other hand, the Quakers knew they were not risking very much. They knew they would be held in Lancaster prison until the next Quarter Sessions of the Court system and, after a hearing, very likely be released. Since they were arrested in early February, the end of the calendar quarter would come about April 1 which meant they would have to serve less than 8 weeks. So off to jail (or using their word “gaol”) they went.
Lancaster prison is located within the walls of Lancaster Castle. As you travel with the prisoners, you can see the castle with its formidable gates looming ahead. With fear and trembling, the prisoners passed through these iron gates that had already stood for over 200 years. It sends a chill through you even though you are unseen and know that you can leave at any time.
In the 17th century, prisons were not used for long-term incarcerations. They were places to hold those accused of serious crimes until they could be executed. Those accused of petty crimes were held until they were sentenced at trial to punishment in the stocks, public whipping or, generally in the case of religious dissenters, released. Most of the prisoners being held were for the crime of being too poor to pay their legal debts. It would be hundreds of years before authorities realized that poor people would never be able to pay their debts if they were sitting in prison.
There were seven people arrested on that February day for refusing to sign the Oath and brought to Lancaster prison. They were Richard Madder, Edward Dawson, Nehemiah Poole, Arthur Walker, Hannah Taylor, Mary Mosse, and Ellen Allred. Ellen was almost 22 years old. She quickly became friends with Mary who was about the same age. Both had recently married: Ellen to John Allred and Mary to Isaac Mosse. The bonds forged here will last a life time. They had no way of knowing it but Mary only had seven more years on this earth. And eventually both Ellen Allred and Isaac Mosse were buried in the same Quaker cemetery at East Hardshaw Meeting House, Manchester.
Entry into the prison area was scary. The cells were damp, cold and musty. A window let in some light but it was so high that it was impossible to see anything outside but sky. With an indeterminate sentence, this may have been a higher price than expected.
Recognizing that this is the place they would spend the next several weeks, they took comfort in knowing that they had the company of fellow Friends. Ellen shared her life story with her new best friend, Mary Mosse. You as an unseen time traveler eavesdrops on her story.
Ellen was christened on March 25, 1638. Her mother was Margary Smith and her father was John Pemberton. The Eccles parish records made it quite clear that she was illegitimate. And that made her early life very difficult. Her maternal grandmother, Anne Smith, died less than a year after Ellen was christened. Her maternal grandfather was the clerk of Eccles Parish at the time of Ellen’s birth, an important hereditary position within the Church hierarchy and likely had neither time nor inclination to worry about the illegitimate child of his daughter. Ellen’s mother also died when Ellen was quite young so it was left to the Pemberton family, primarily Ralph and Margaret Seddon Pemberton, to raise her. That turned out to be the most significant circumstance to define her spiritual life.
Ellen did not mention her father, John Pemberton, but she did talk a lot about the Pemberton family, whom she dearly loved. Ralph and Margaret Pemberton had three sons: Phineas, Joseph and Robert. She was particular fond of Ralph Pemberton’s son Phineas who was technically her cousin but she thought of him as a younger brother – he was only about 10 years old when Ellen was sent to Lancashire Prison.
What made the Pemberton family so important to her was their enthusiastic embrace of the new religious movement started by John Fox in Lancashire, the Society of Friends or as others called it, “Quakers”. Ellen and her new husband, John Allred, had been married less than a year. Twenty-two year old Ellen glowed with anticipation when she confided in her newly found friend, Mary Mosse, she was pretty sure she was pregnant and, if it was a girl, she would name her Mary.
It is time to leave Lancashire Castle and return home. The nice part about Time Travel is that after you return to the present, you can, like Paul Harvey, learn “the rest of the story”. It was easily established that within months of the time Ellen was in Lancashire prison, her and John Allred’s daughter Mary would be born. And even before Mary made her way into the world, Ellen’s husband, John, would also spend some time in Lancashire prison for the crime of attending a Quaker meeting and refusing to sign an oath of allegiance to the King. Just over a hundred years later, Ellen and John’s story along with thousands of others would result in the adoption of a Constitution by their descendants guaranteeing Freedom of Religion in the United States.