87 – Hardship and Charity

There was mounting circumstantial evidence that Elizabeth and John Jervis were Quakers, but we don’t have proof.

We needed to research the Quaker records, but they’re not online.

A Research Order

The Quaker Nantwich meeting minutes are held at the Cheshire Archives. If you can’t visit in person, you can place a research order. So I did.

Order Item: Research Service
I would like you to search the Quaker Nantwich MM minutes for any reference to Jervis surname and its variations, earliest to 1683. 

Dear Mr Jarvis,

Thank you for your application for research and authorisation for payment of up to £150. Should it not prove possible to carry out your research before we close for the festive holidays, then the work will be carried out early in the new year.

Sincerely, Brett Langston
Research & Collections Access Officer
Cheshire Archives and Local Studies

“early in the new year?” I couldn’t wait until next year. But what could I do?

So I waited. And I waited.

In January, I received the research report. I couldn’t wait to see what it contained.

The report contained a review of both the men’s and women’s Quaker Nantwich monthly meeting minutes.

And Elizabeth Jervis was found in both!

Men’s Nantwich Monthly Meeting

Women’s Nantwich Monthly Meeting

The report stated that many of the Women’s MM minutes made reference to “Widow Jerves”, and in one meeting she’s referred to as “Elizabeth Jervis.”

The report found missing pages for the years 1682 to 1690, and found no other references to the surname Jervis before 1690.

What does this mean?

These findings weren’t what I was expecting or hoping for. No births or burials or marriages.

Instead, two citations about the Quaker meetings taking up charity collections for Elizabeth. It’s the first time we’ve found a citation for a Quaker named Elizabeth Jervis!

But it raised puzzling questions.

Why did Elizabeth need to buy a bed in February 1681? There were three beds in the inventory of her husband’s estate.

And why did the meeting have to give her six shillings in November 1681? What about the nine pounds money in the estate inventory?

I was happy, but…

The Cheshire Archives had sent two citations, but in the report they mentioned that in the women’s meeting minutes “many of these made reference to “Widow Jerves,” and “She was mentioned in this context several times between Febuary 1681 and February 1682…”

Why didn’t they send the “many” or “several” citations they found?

Of course I had to get the other citations.

Another Research Order

This time I ordered all the pages of all the minutes. I would peruse the minutes myself.

Order Item: Research Service
Please provide grayscale digital images of the following Society of Friends minutes: 
1. Nantwich men's MM 1679-1724 (EFC 5/1/1) 
2. Nantwich women's MM 1676-1724 (EFC 5/2/1) 
3. Cheshire men's QM 1676-1690 (EFC 1/1/1) 
4. Cheshire women's QM 1672-1690 (EFC 1/4/1) 
5. Sufferings minutes 1665-1690 (EFC 1/10/1)

Dear Mr Jarvis,

Many thanks for your latest application for research, which has come through safely. The current waiting time is now around 3 to 4 weeks, but your enquiry is in a queue and will be dealt with as soon as possible.


Brett Langston
Research & Collections Access Officer
Cheshire Archives and Local Studies

Finally, I received the order. Pages and pages of beautiful original Quaker meeting minutes.

Minutes – Women’s Monthly Meeting – Nantwich Cheshire – 1676-1724 – 5_2_1 – p. 451


I began to peruse the minutes, and Elizabeth Jervis citations began to reveal themselves. I was so happy I hadn’t been satisfied with the two citations sent earlier.

Hardship and Charity

The meeting minutes provide us with two contrasting subplots – Elizabeth’s hardship and the charity of her Quaker neighbors.

December 7, 1680 – Cheshire Women’s QM:  (1 month after John died)

Fourthly it is the desire of this meeting that friends of nampwich meeting take care of widow Jarves who wee hear is in great want: & being with child, that she may be supleyed in time of lying in child bad by the meeting she belongs to & an account of Money brought in to the monthely or quarterly meeting next by Eliz Flecher & Mary Ellis.

January 5, 1681 – Nantwich Women’s MM (2 months after John died)

First an account was brought in from nampwich meeting of a poor widow & children being in want.  A place in Lankashire was taken by her husband whilst living wich if not disposed on otherways it was agreed upon that she should go to it & be assisted with concurrency wich she wanted.

February 2, 1681 – Nantwich Women’s MM (3 months)

First as to widow Jarvies was not to go into Lankashire the farm being sat.  it is agreed upon that friends take care to suploy her tell there be a place provided for her by the men friends.

And Disburst to Nampwich meeting for the suploy of the poor widow paid 0 – 14 – 6

April 6, 1681 – Nantwich Men’s MM (5 months)

Then ordered att our monthly meeting att Thomas Brasseyes that Elizabeth Jervise shall have twenty shillings to by her a bed with and that Mary Ellis & Elizabeth Fletcher see the being done.

And that five shillings weakely shall be payd her during one whole yeare.

April 6, 1681 – Nantwich Women’s MM (5 months)

Disburst To widow Jerves               0 – 4 – 0

June 6, 1681 – Cheshire Men’s QM (7 months)

Disburst of ye aforesd Collections

Pd to John Symcock for widow Garvis           01 = 00 = 00

July 6, 1681 – Nantwich Women’s MM (8 months)

Disbursed to wid Garvis         00:10:00

August 3, 1681 – Nantwich Women’s MM (9 months)

Disbursed to Elliz: Garvis 00:08:00

September 4, 1681 – Nantwich Women’s MM (10 months)

Disburst to widow Jarvis 0 – 16 – 0

November 20, 1681 – Nantwich Women’s MM (1 year)

Disburst To widow Jerves               0 – 2 – 0

January 4, 1682 – Nantwich Women’s MM (1 year 2 months)

Our Colections was gathered 5 shilings & was desborst to widow Jerves.

February 10, 1682 – Nantwich Women’s MM (1 year 3 months)

Disburst to widow gerves 00 – 12 – 00

April 12, 1682 – Nantwich Women’s MM (1 year 5 months)

3ly the Colections was 12 and 6 pence & there was 7 and 6 pence more Laid down which makes 20 s and it was disborst to wid. Gervis, it being the Last shee is to have by friends at present 1682.

August 16, 1682 – Nantwich Women’s MM (1 year 10 months)

The sixtine day of the 6 month our month meeting being at the hous of Gilbat woolams & inqeri being made things being well our collexens weare thearten shillings – 13. 6 was disbors to wido gervise & fif shillings to margrit badilly of malpas meeting & the other 4 + 6 p to febe gears of medelwich meeting.

What happened?

One month after her husband died, the Cheshire Women’s QM desires to “take care of widow Jarves who wee hear is in great want: & being with child, that she may be supleyed in time of lying in child bad.”

Cheshire Women’s QM – December 7, 1680

Why is she in great want after John died? He had a reasonably large estate for a tradesman.

Then in February, just three months after John’s death, “it is agreed upon that friends take care to suploy her tell there be a place provided for her by the men friends.”

Nantwich Women’s MM – February 2, 1681

She doesn’t have a place to live? They’re waiting for a place to be provided by the men’s meeting? What happened to John and Elizabeth’s house?

In April, the men’s meeting allocates twenty shillings for Elizabeth to buy a bed, and takes a decision to give her five shillings weekly for a year.

Nantwich Men’s MM – April 6, 1681

Why doesn’t she have a bed? There were several in the estate inventory.

Quaker charity is great

From the earliest days Quakers provided for the relief of their own poor. A document issued by a meeting of Elders and others in 1656 included
recommendations on supplying the needs of widows and orphans.

For women the illness and death of a husband were the most frequent causes of poverty.

The number of needy persons in the mid- and later seventeenth century was at times enormous. In the 1670s it was perhaps as much as a third of the total population.

Early Quaker Poor Relief in Staffordshire – THE EARLY QUAKER MOVEMENT IN STAFFORDSHIRE – Denis Stuart

But something’s wrong

Shortly after John Jervis died, his wife Elizabeth didn’t have a bed or place to live or enough money to live on.

Why? Because Elizabeth was a victim of the probate legal system. Let’s look at the laws and customs of “intestate succession”.

What were the laws?

Since the middle ages, inheritance had been based on the Canons of Descent of Common Law.

Then in 1670, Parliament passed “An Act for the Better Settling of Intestate Estates“, commonly referred to as the Statute of Distributions.

Let’s look at both of these succession laws. John died in 1680, so the Statute of Distributions was law. But some ecclesiastical courts were slow to adopt it and still used the old common law.

Canons Of Descent of Common Law

This was the medieval common law from the feudal system. The main precepts:

  • Inheritance shall lineally descend, never ascend
  • Preference of male over female
  • Male primogeniture, eldest male inherits all
  • Per stirpes, lineal descendants of deceased are in line
  • Consanguinity (blood line) before Affinity (marriage line)
  • Whole blood over half blood
  • Male blood over female blood

Elizabeth’s Fate: Under this law, all John’s estate would go to his eldest son John Jr.

Statute of Distributions 1670

  1. To children where no widow survived: personal property was divided equally among the children…
  2. To children and widow: two-thirds of personal property to the children and one-third to the widow.
  3. To widow where no children survived: one-half to widow and one-half to the father of the deceased if alive or…
  4. When no widow and children survived, property went to the father if alive or…

There were two other gotchas:

  • No distribution of personal property until one year after death, giving creditors time to settle debts.
  • Real property (houses, land) still succeeded via primogeniture.

Elizabeth’s Fate: Under this law, Elizabeth would inherit 1/3 of the personal property, but not the house. John’s children would inherit 2/3 of personal property. John Jr, eldest son, would likely inherit the house. And all would have to wait a year to receive anything.

Where does this leave Elizabeth?

We’ll hope that she inherited according to the Statue of Distributions. But even 1/3 of John’s personal property wasn’t much.

Because of her hardships and the Quaker charity, we might make some assumptions.

  • She must not have had family nearby that could help.
  • She must not have gotten much help from John Jr.

Now the Quaker charity is ending in spring 1682. What’s she going to do?


  • Quaker Meeting Minutes – Men’s Monthly Meeting – Nantwich – 1679-1724 – 5_1_1 – – Cheshire Archives and Local Studies, Chester, England
  • Quaker Meeting Minutes – Women’s Monthly Meeting – Nantwich – 1676-1724 – 5_2_1 – Cheshire Archives and Local Studies, Chester, England
  • Quaker Meeting Minutes – Men’s Quarterly Meeting – Cheshire – 1676-1704 – 1_1_1 – Cheshire Archives and Local Studies, Chester, England
  • Quaker Meeting Minutes – Women’s Quarterly Meeting – Cheshire – 1672-1691 – 1_4_1- Cheshire Archives and Local Studies, Chester, England
  • Quote about Quaker poor relief – THE EARLY QUAKER MOVEMENT IN STAFFORDSHIRE 1651 -1743 : FROM OPEN FELLOWSHIP TO CLOSED SECT – Thesis submitted for the degree of Ph.D. at the University of Leicester by Denis Stuart MA (London) – September 2001

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