Elizabeth Hooton’s life story is one of tremendous courage. One of the earliest preachers in the Religious Society of Friends, she was the first woman to become a Quaker minister. She was part of the Valiant Sixty, who spread the religion's ideas in the second half of the 17th century. Many Quakers during that time were punished for their beliefs with harsh penalties including imprisonment and violence. Today, visitors can take a trip to Skegby village to the historic building of Skegby Manor House that was once Elizabeth's home, and where she started her journey with the Religious Society of Friends.
Becoming a preacher
Both Elizabeth Carrier in Ollerton, Nottinghamshire, in 1628, she married Oliver Hooton and moved to Skegby where she was part of the area’s Baptist community. She was however moved by the words of George Fox, who became a founder of the Religious Society of Friends - known more commonly as the Quakers. Elizabeth held meetings at her house with members of the Baptist congregation with George speaking about his beliefs. The meetings happened without the knowledge of her husband, and the group became known as the Children of Light. Elizabeth became one of the preachers after persuading George that God would accept women as ministers as well as men.
Prison and New England trip
Her beliefs led to many tough moments in her life where she was physically assaulted and imprisoned. In Derby in 1651, Elizabeth was put into prison for reproving a priest. A year later she was imprisoned for 16 months at York Castle for preaching in a church at Rotherham. She was a literate person often writing letters to judges and public officials, including one from jail in Lincoln in 1654 protesting about prison conditions. At the age of 60 in 1661, Elizabeth went on a trip to New England with friend Joan Brocksop. New England is made up of six US states including Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont. Quakers in the region were suffering persecution for their beliefs that included hangings and physical punishment. She travelled with Joan to Boston, in Massachusetts, in 1662 and they were imprisoned without food, put into stocks and beaten, and eventually abandoned in the wilderness. The women followed wolf tracks in the snow to find a settlement, made their way to Rhode Island and sailed back to England from Barbados.
A safe haven for Quakers
When Elizabeth returned to England she found some of her cattle had been confiscated and went to the monarch, King Charles II, to find justice. While there she asked him to help stop the persecution of the Quakers in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. She won him over and was given a document that authorised her to buy land in Massachusetts to make a safe haven for Quakers. Unfortunately when Elizabeth returned to Boston she was expelled, and then in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the authorities did not accept the letter. She was whipped and abandoned in the woods. She returned to England once again and in 1664 was imprisoned in Lincoln for five months for disturbing a congregation.
Elizabeth Hooton's legacy
Elizabeth’s final journey across the water was in 1670 when she joined George Fox on a trip to the West Indies and America. She died in 1672 of natural causes at the age of 71 in Jamaica. Writing about her death, George Fox said: “Elizabeth Hooton, a woman of great age, who had travelled much in Truth's service, and suffered much for it, departed this life. She was well the day before she died, and departed in peace, like a lamb, bearing testimony to Truth at her departure.” Elizabeth Hooton will always be remembered as one of the Valiant Sixty - the group of early activists and preachers who shared the ideas of the Quakers across the world. She is also commemorated in the famous Quaker Tapestry that has 77 panels that tell the story of Quakerism found at the Friends Meeting House at Kendal, in Cumbria.
Places to visit
The Quaker House where Elizabeth lived is worth a visit when in Skegby, as well as the heritage trail that features the Quaker House among many other sites of historic interest.