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  • English Origins: Thomas Wigglesworth of Pennsylvania

    George Redmonds

    Published Date : June-August 1989
     Thomas Wigglesworth was one of several Yorkshiremen who emigrated to Pennsylvania in 1682 and whose history in North America has been examined in some detail.  He is known to have come from the neighborhood of Settle, a small town in Ribblesdale, but the accounts I have seen say little about his activities in Yorkshire before 1682, although he was repeatedly in trouble with the authorities there.

    His name appears a number of times in Besse’s “A Collection of the Sufferings of the People called Quakers” (1753), but he is not always easy to identify.  In 1652, for example, he was said to be of “Hadiburn" but this was almost certainly a misreading of Slaidburn, a parish some miles from Settle, and on another occasion in 1660 he is listed incorrectly as Thomas Miggelsworth.

    The Quarter Sessions records for the West Riding of Yorkshire show that he was taken into custody in 1654 and the phrasing of the indictment emphasises that he was far from being an easy man to deal with; "Thomas Wiglesworth of Slaidburn -- indicted for breakinge of the peace upon the lord’s day in the Church of Slaidburn and to the disturbance of the Congregation there assembled, hearinge the word of God preached.”  We can only guess at what he might have said or done during the service, but the order by the J.P.s sentencing Thomas Wigglesworth states that “he refused to find sureties for good behaviour” and we are left with the impression that the prisoner was a man who wore his faith like a sword, deliberately confronting both his neighbors and the magistrates.

    He was probably the leading member of the Quaker congregation in this remote district and in a further case brought to the courts in 1671 he was one of a group indicted for “beinge at a Conventickle or unlawful meetinge and assemble.”  This illegal gathering had taken place at Thomas Wiggleworth’s own house, and from the entry it is clear that he lived in a tiny hamlet called Skelshaw.  This lay in Easington, one of the several townships in the scattered parish of Slaidburn.  The constable who arrested Thomas Wigglesworth made a point of saying in his evidence that it was an offence for which he had been convicted previously.

    There is no doubt that the growth of the Quaker movement in Ribblesdale drove a wedge between members of the families involved.  The various documents surviving in the records of the Quarter Sessions show quite clearly that the prisoners and those indicting them were often kinsmen, all of them belonging to a tight-knit rural community.  Moreover, a number of those involved, including the Wiggleworths, had branches of the family amongst the gentry. Such factors must have played a part in the eventual exodus of Quakers from the dale.

    The Wigglesworths derived their surname from a township in Long Preston parish, midway between Settle and Slaidburn.  The earliest examples of the surname occur some 700 years ago but it was still prolific in the Long Preston area in the 1600s and is numerous now in the nearby towns and cities, particularly Bradford and Leeds.

    One problem associated with its history in England, which appears to have accompanied it into the new world, was the tendency for it to be confused with Wrigglesworth.  This name originated as Wridle ford further to the south in Yorkshire, but the spelling was influenced by Wigglesworth and eventually there were those who made no distinction between the two, e.g., 1765 John Wigglesworth otherwise Wrigglesworth (Bradford).

    Dr. Redmonds is editor of Old West Riding, a nmagazine about time local history of the West Riding of Yorkshire, England.  He will also be Director of the “Course in Family History for Americans” at time University of Exeter (England), August 5-20, 1989.

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