Thomas Story – 17th Century Traveling Friend

“The unity of Christians never did, nor ever will, nor can stand
in uniformity of thought and opinion, but in Christian love only.”

–Thomas Story

Thomas Story was an influential and much admired
seventeenth century Quaker. As a youth, he attended Carlisle
Grammar School and was accomplished in fencing and music.
He read law under Dr. Richard Gilpin in Cumberland and set up
chambers in Carlise. He was a good churchman, but began
to have scruples about the christening of infants and other rites.

In 1689 he met with several influential Quakers. In his
convincement, he at once “put off his usual airs, his jovial
address, and the sword which he had worn as a modish and
manly ornament.” He also burned his musical instruments and
simplified his manner of dress. Story closed his practice as a
lawyer and began to preach. In 1693, he met William Penn
who helped him find employment among Quakers. He was
appointed registrar of the Society of Friends.

Story traveled extensively in the ministry. With William Penn,
he visited meetings in Ireland. In November, 1698, he sailed to
Pennsylvania where he remained for sixteen years. He was chosen
as the first recorder of Philadelphia and was a member of the
council of state. He was elected mayor of Philadelphia, but paid
a fine for declining to serve. During his stay in America, he
traveled and preached, including visiting Jamaica and Barbadoes.
He married Ann Shippen, the daughter of Edward Shippen.

After her death, he returned to England and continued his
ministry in London, traveling to Holland and Ireland. In Bath, his
preaching was so much admired that the afternoon meetings were
crowded with people of both sexes, and “of all ranks and notions.”
He continued to travel until 1741.

His last years were spent in the town of his birth, Justice Town,
where he built a new house and planted a nursery of forest trees
which later became a vast woodland around his home. He died in
1742 and is buried in the Friends’ Burial Ground in Carlisle.

Some of his writings are available online – for a sample, read his “Words of Reproof for Busybodies.”

Thomas Story’s life and writings have much to offer modern Friends.
Click here for a selection of writings by and about Thomas Story.

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