Thursday, 28 June 2012

Quakers in the Virgin Islands

Few people realize that the Virgin Islands has a long connection with the Society of Friends, also known as the Quakers but the Tortolian graves of several prominent members of Quaker community gives these islands a permanent place in Quaker history. 

One of those prominent Quakers was Thomas Chalkley.  In the 1700s, Chalkley responded to Governor John Pickering's request for a minister from the Society of Friends to be stationed in the Virgin Islands.  By the time Chalkley left Philadelphia for the Virgin Islands he had already traveled extensively in the Caribbean, making a total of twenty-one trips to the region.  He was dubbed "the gentlest of skippers, a rare sea saint" in John Greenleaf Whittier's, "Snowbound Among the Hills", for an episode in which, adrift from land for many days during a trading voyage, he offered to allow himself to be cannibalized by the crew.  They rejected the offer and, thankfully, were brought to shore without any need for such drastic action!

Chalkley left Philadelphia on the sloop, John, owned by Governor Pickering, and arrived in Tortola after a rough and windy trip of 19 days.  Though then 66 years of age, Chalkely immediately began a rigorous round of visits and meetings throughout the islands.  It was possibly the furious pace he set for himself that led, a couple of weeks later, to him falling ill.  He succumbed on 4th September, 1741 and was buried at the Friends' Burial Grounds at Fat Hog's Bay on land donated by Pickering.

This is an old painting of his burial site.


  1. This is fascinating. I had no idea. As a child living in Puerto Rico, I used to travel frequently to St. Thomas with my family. Haven't been back in awhile but I sure would like to.

  2. Sounds like me - I used to travel to Puerto Rico frequently but now, not so much, though it's pretty close.