Although years ago I did some research in Newport, Rhode Island, I’d never had the pleasure of working at the Newport Historical Society until last week. As I get my book ready to go into production, I’m still struck by the phenomenon that led to creating my Instagram account (VernacularGenealogy, which you can see as a feed on my homepage): I continue to appreciate the sheer volume of evidence of family histories produced in early British America. Last week’s trip to the NHS was a bit a stolen time for research amidst the business of other work.

Over the next week I’ll share some highlights, but I wanted to start with this Quaker marriage certificate from 1708. Rhode Island was and is famously religiously diverse, and in early New England the beliefs and practices of Quakers were deemed heretical by Puritan authorities. As the history shared by New England Quakers describes it, “Rhode Island, whose 1664 royal charter guaranteed religious liberty, quickly became a base for Quaker missions to other parts of New England.” (I still recommend Carla Pestana’s 1991 Quakers and Baptists in Colonial Massachusetts as a great overview of religious conflict.). Newport Friends built the Meeting House in 1699 that still stands, the “oldest surviving house of worship in Rhode Island.”

This certificate of marriage between Joseph Borden and Elizabeth Bryan has many compelling features. But among them I’m drawn to this marginal note from someone figuring out how old Elizabeth was when married, noting her birth name, and a little about her maternal family history. The NHS finding aids and catalogs can be found in the link above, and the direct link to this object is here.

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