William Goforth was born in 1631 in Knedlington, Yorkshire, the son of Miles and Mary Goforth. William grew up on a farm and attended the large Howden church, as his ancestors would have done for generations. As the oldest son he might have expected to inherit the farm. His mother died in 1659 and was buried at Howden.
Around the same time that his mother died, William became a Quaker. Yorkshire was at the northern edge of Quakerism in England.
“The north of England holds a special place in the history of Quakerism. It was there that the message of its charismatic founder George Fox (1624-1691) first took root and from there that the early converts, known as ‘First Publishers of Truth’, spread out across the country. It was also the site of the first settled Meetings and the source of early forms of Quaker organisation and discipline.
‘Truly Friends in the North is rare and precious, very few I find like them’, wrote Richard Roper to Margaret Fell in October 1656 … By the end of 1653, the main areas of Quaker convincement were Westmorland, Cumberland, north Lancashire, Durham and Yorkshire.”
The meetings in eastern Yorkshire were scattered and distant. The closest meeting for William was probably at Elloughton, about 15 miles east of Knedlington. Quaker converts around there may have been convinced by William Dewsbury, an early minister, who “loved not his Life unto Death, but was willing to Hazerd it for ye word of his Testimony, wch he faithfully Bore through several Marketts, and in Steeple Houses, and in other Places where people were together.” William Goforth might have been convinced of Quaker teachings at the large horse market in Howden.
In 1662 William married Ann Skipwith at a Quaker meeting, probably in Elloughton or in Hull. Ann had an interesting ancestry for a Quaker. She was the daughter of Willoughby Skipwith and Honora Saunders. Willoughby was born to a family that traced its ancestry for generations in the village of Skipwith. “They are first mentioned in the early 13th century, when Osbert of Skipwith had an interest there. …and in 1418 Sir Thomas Skipwith died seised of the whole manor of Skipwith, two-thirds held of the Durham fee and one-third of the Wake fee. … The manor was held by the Skipwiths … until 1709….” Willoughby was a Royalist, who fought for Charles I against Cromwell, and died in 1658 leaving his wife Honora and several children. Honora and her daughter Ann became Quakers. Honora was later imprisoned in York Castle for her Quaker beliefs, where she died in 1679. Before then she was probably living with her family in Skipwith, which is about ten miles north of Knedlington.
William and Ann were married in 1662, probably at Elloughton, although a record of the meeting was kept at Hull. It is pleasing to see that William’s father Miles attended and signed the marriage certificate as a witness, along with Ann’s mother Honora and her brother John. The record of the marriage read: “William Goforth of Knedlington and Anne Skipwith, after publishing, &c., upon the 11th day of the 7th mo: 1662 their marriage was consummated in presence of Miles Goforth, Honora Skipwith, John Hodgson, John Skipwith, George Canby, Anth. Collier, Josh. Wright, Chr. Graves, Martha Monckton, and Alice Wright.” The following month another Knedlington man, Christopher Graves, married at Elloughton. William was a witness, along with Honora Skipwith.
William and Ann lived together in Yorkshire for fifteen years and probably had all of their children there. They had five known sons and possibly a daughter. In 1677 another event changed their life completely. The colony of West Jersey opened up for Quaker settlement, under the leadership of William Penn and other trustees, who circulated descriptions of the land encouraging Quakers to escape persecution by settling in the new colony. William and Ann made the commitment to leave. They sailed with their children on the fly boat Martha, leaving from Hull, thirty miles east of Knedlington on the Humber. The Martha was a relatively small boat, yet it made the crossing safely and landed, probably at Burlington, in September 1677. William bought two pieces of land there.
A Quaker, John Crips, who landed about the same time on the Kent, wrote a glowing description of their situation back to a Friend in England.
“Through the mercy of God, we are safely arrived at New-Jersey; my wife and all mine are very well and we have our healths rather better here than we had in England; indeed the country is so good, that I do not see how it can reasonably be found fault with: As far as I perceive, all the things we heard of it in England, are very true; and I wish that many people (that are in straits) in England, were here.
“Here is good land enough lies void, would serve many thousands of families; and we think if they cannot live here, they can hardly live in any place in the world; but we do not desire to persuade any to come, but such as are well satisfied in their own minds. A town lot is laid out for us in Burlington, which is a convenient place for trade; it is about one hundred and fifty miles up the river Delaware; the country and air seems to be very agreable to our bodies, and we have very good stomachs to our victuals: Here is plenty of provision in the country; plenty of fish and fowl, and good venison very plentiful, and much better than ours in England; for it eats not so dry, but is full of gravy, like fat young beef. You that come after us need not fear the trouble that we have had, for now here is land ready divided against you come: The Indians are very loving to us, except here and there one, when they have gotten strong liquors in their heads, which they now greatly love: But for the country, in short, I like it very well; and I do believe, that this river of Delaware is as good a river as most in the world.”
In spite of Crips’ description of the healthful air of West Jersey, William did not live long there. He was buried on the 25th 1st month (March) 1678. He was about 47 years old. Ann would outlive him by 45 years. After his death she was left with five sons and a possible daughter. Within the next few years she married William Oxley, who had also come on the Martha. William and Ann lived first in Chester County, where they had a daughter Honora and two sons. The sons with William Goforth were under age and would have lived with their mother and stepfather at first.
The Goforth sons were unruly. In 1687 William Goforth testified in Chester County Court against Samuel Rowland, who had beaten Samuel Baker in a drunken rage. William had seen them drinking together at John Hodskins’ place; presumably William was drinking there too. The same month William testified against Richard Crosby, a notorious troublemaker when drunk. Crosby struck Goforth on the head and threatened to do violence to the Swedes. Crosby was poor company for a young Quaker man. When two of Ann’s sons, Miles and Zacharia Goforth, were arrested by the Commissioners in January 1692, for cutting down trees from the Proprietor’s land near Philadelphia, their stepfather William Oxley appeared on their behalf and gave his word they would not do it again. Richard Jennett, who was accused with them, was insolent upon examination and was held on bond.
William and Ann and their family lived first in Chester County. He serves on juries there in 1681, 1682 and 1683, and was overseer of the highways in 1682 from Upland Creek to Amersland. In 1684 he was sued in a complex case involving payment for a cattle barn built for him. Henry Hasting and Richard Friend were supposed to build a “cattle house” for Oxley, but Oxley was actually sued by a third party, Stephen Chambers. In the end Oxley had to turn over the plantation with its livestock to Chambers, and Oxley was to be held harmless from “any party or parties that may or shall lay Claime to the premisses”.
In 6th month 1688 a lot was surveyed for Oxley in Philadelphia, on Mulberry Street. How was he making his living? If he moved to the city, he could not have been a farmer. William was not active in Philadelphia Meeting of Friends. He died in 2nd month (April) 1717. In 9th month 1719 Ann requested a certificate from Philadelphia MM, “she being moved to Burlington”. The same month a certificate was requested for John Oxley. But the next month, the meeting reported that, “It doth not appear that she now stands so related to friends as that a certificate can be granted”. She was probably not disowned and her death four years later was reported in the records of Philadelphia Meeting. Ann died in 2nd month 1723.
Ann’s Goforth sons did not remain in Philadelphia. One of them lived in West Jersey; two or three of them moved to Delaware. They also did not remain Quakers. There are no Quaker records for any of their marriages. Her Oxley stepchildren also scattered, one apparently moving to Barbados.
Children of William Goforth and Ann:
George, born 1663, died 1732, supposedly married Jane Robinson, was a mariner. In a slightly dubious claim, he is said to have carried dispatches in 1682 from Governor Markham to authorities in New York, protesting actions of Lord Baltimore. He owned land in Burlington, Jersey. George was sued three times in Burlington Court in cases of debt: by Edward Hunloke in 1689, by Abraham Senior and Richard Russell in 1690. In all three cases the jury found for the plaintiffs and against George. He made a will leaving his land to his wife Jane and son William, “provided they come into the Province to claim it within five years after my decease”, otherwise it was to go to his brothers and sister: “John Goforth, William, George and Susannah Robinson”. The precise identity of these people is unclear.
William, born 1665, died 1748 in New Castle County, Delaware, married in 1694 Sarah Preston. It is often stated that he was disowned from Falls Meeting around 1682 for privateering, and assumed from this that he met his wife Sarah in Maryland “in his sailing trips”. That was based on a misreading of the Quaker meeting record and does not pertain to this William. He married Sarah in Maryland and had four children baptized at St. Peter’s Church, Easton (Episcopalian). According to the Goforth Genealogy, which follows this line, he and Sarah had five children before her death. He supposedly then moved to Red Lion Hundred, New Castle County, where his will was probated in 1748. The will is problematic because in it he named his wife Ann and son William, but no other sons. William was to pay £10 to “each of his sisters”. There are numerous land deeds in New Castle County referring to the William who died in 1748. He was a weaver, with wife Ann, married to her by 1731. After his death his estate was administered by Adrian Laforge, then married to the widow Ann. The younger William, the one named in the will, became a carpenter and married Ann Ferguson in 1759 at Immanuel Church. In 1761 they sold land on the Dragon Swamp that had belonged to William the weaver.
The fit between the William who married Sarah Preston and the William who died in 1748 is not very close. The will only names one son, where there should be more. It is possible that they are the same man, if only because the 1748 William must be accounted for in the family. The strongest argument for the identity is that no probate records have been found for William in Maryland.
Children of William and Sarah (as given in the Goforth Genealogy): Willoughby, Marcy, George, Sarah, Preston. If the 1748 will is his, then there was also a son William.
John, born 1667, died 1750, m. 1) Hannah —, 2) Lydia —. John was named in the 1732 will of his brother George. There are no marriage records for him that have been found. He is supposed to have a first wife Hannah, who died on July 3, 1721. He then married a woman named Lydia. They lived in Red Lion Hundred, New Castle County, Delaware, where John owned a saw mill and worked as a tanner. In his will, written on 26 April 1750, he named his wife Lydia, three daughters and two sons. Two of the daughters were married by then, and another would marry within a month. In the will John left money to his three daughters. He left the sawmill on Christiana Creek with its land to his son John, along with personal goods like a silver watch. He left his son William a tract of 330 acres and all the farm animals. Lydia was to have full use of the estate during her natural life. Children of John: William, John, , Elizabeth, Margaret, Lydia.
Miles, born 1673, died before 1734, married 1) Francis —, 2) Elizabeth Brown. In 1704 he was admitted as a freeman in Philadelphia, licensed to do business. He later moved to Kent County and settled there. Miles had at least two sons, but they apparently left no heirs. Children: George, Miles. The younger Miles is probably the one who sold land in Kent County in 1742 that he had bought in 1735.
Zachariah, born 1675, died 1736, married Ann Morgan, lived in Delaware. Moved to Dorchester County, Maryland around 1700, later to Kent County, Delaware When Zachariah died in 1736, his son Zachariah was the administrator. Child: Zachariah.
? Susannah, m. William (or George?) Robinson. She is inferred from the will of George Goforth in 1732. No other records have yet been found for her.
Children of Ann and William Oxley (surname Oxley)
Honora, b. about 1680, d. 1742, m. 1698 George Harmer at Phila MM. Harmer was a comb-maker. They were married on 20th 11th month (January) 1697/98. William and Ann Oxley signed their wedding certificate as nearest relations. It is noteworthy that none of Honora’s half-brothers signed. Honora and George had a large family. He died in Upper Dublin, Philadelphia County in 1732. Honora died in 5th month 1742.
Joseph, buried in Philadelphia on 8th of 8th month 1700 as a non-Friend.
John, born about 1682. In 1706 Philadelphia Quarterly Meeting reported that he goes about as a preacher among Friends, with which they were not satisfied. They found that some of the charges against him were unfounded, being when “he was but a boy”, but asked him to be more careful for the future. He died in 3rd month 1743. Samuel Hazard, in his Register of Pennsylvania, said that John lived in Barbadoes and had come to Philadelphia before he died, “for the recovery of his health, and to see his brethren and Friends.”