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Jennet (Townson) Cragg - A Quaker Heroine

Excerpts from an article by George Adamson and from the album Mary Dilworth.

In an article entitled "Jennet Cragg - A Quaker Heroine" George Adamson writes:

"This is a tale of 'true grit' as known among the North Lancashire branch of the Kelsall family living mainly between Preston and Lancaster in an area bordered by the A6 to the west and the Bowland Fells to the east.

The Kelsalls were among the first of the Quaker families of the area and for more than 300 years have maintained close ties with the Society of Friends.

All its members stem from a single ancestor who arrived at Rowton Brook Farm in Quernmore, near Lancaster one day in March 1687. His name was Joseph and he was two years old. He was accompanied by his elder brother John who was three. Both had been carried there from London in panniers slung either side of a horse ridden by their grandmother, Jennet Cragg.

Their long and arduous journey had been occasioned by the untimely deaths of their Quaker parents, John and Elizabeth Kelsall.

John Kelsall, born near Delamere, Cheshire, had married Elizabeth, fifth child of Thomas and Jennet Cragg on the 2nd November 1682.

The newly-weds left Lancashire to make their home in London, apparently taking with them a servant girl called Ruth. At first, John continued his trade as a tailor, but later became a successful seller of Purl, (a sort of wormwood ale).

But it was a time of religious and political upheaval and Quakers were being cruelly persecuted. John Kelsall was imprisoned for 'persistent preaching' and died at the age of 34 while awaiting transportation on 5th October 1684, barely a month after the birth of his second child, Joseph. His wife, Elizabeth died shortly afterwards of fever on 2nd November 1685 at the age of 25.
'and thus were my brother and I being very young left both fatherless and motherless among strangers, few of our kindred living in the city: but Friends were careful over us.' recalls the journal of John Kelsall's eldest son John in later years.

The orphans were apparently cared for by the faithful Ruth at the Kelsall home in Hart Street near the Tower of London. News of their plight eventually reached their Lancashire grandmother in 1687. From her home in Rowton Brook she rode to London, settled her late daughter's affairs, gathered her small grandsons and brought them safely north. Legend has it she made the journey alone and had several adventures en route, including a brush with a highwayman. It is said the servant girl Ruth also returned north to Rowton Brook some months later.

The orphans were brought up by their grandmother. The eldest, John, became a scholar. He was the first schoolmaster at Dolobran in North Wales, but later left schooling for the management of iron forges and furnaces, during which time he was employed by Abraham Darby I and Charles Lloyd III. He was a zealous member of the Society of Friends traveling widely on their behalf. He was also a notable diarist.

Joseph preferred farming and husbandry. He remained on the land and, in 1725 married a local farmer's daughter, Margaret Winder of Tarnbrook.
He fathered three sons and three daughters and it is from him that the Kelsalls of North Lancashire are descended.

Jennet Cragg was 54 at the time of her famous ride and her exploit is commemorated in a charming poem (see below) written by Charles Holmes (1784-1858) in an album of Mary Dilworth, one of Jennet's descendants.

The valiant Jennet died in 1699 aged 66. Grandson John wrote this of her:
'She was one that loved truth and only esteemed the faithful friends thereof. I could write much concerning her and my heart hath been tender and broken in remembrance of her care and daily endeavours for our welfare in every way, and it hath caused me sadness of heart when I have considered how insensible I was of her care and how undutiful I was to her. How I have wished in my mind (which thing is impossible) that I had those days to spend again. I would be more careful and truly tractable.'

Now a private dwelling, Rowton Brook stands high on Clougha overlooking the great expanse of Morecambe Bay. Its old walls still echo to the cries of distant lambs and hold memories of that day in spring over 300 years ago when a travel-weary but happy grandmother received a joyous welcome home, and two small boys were tenderly lifted from their confining panniers to begin their lives anew."

The lines written in the album of Mary Dilworth read as follows:

"I can write nought in this album my dear Mary Dilworth
That will be worth thy perusal much can be still worth
The paper and ink I consume the wear and tear of the pen
But as I have written in others I'll make the attempt once again
What topic to write on I scarcely can tell
But there is a subject on which I will dwell
As recounted to me in a late conversation
With a much valued friend thy paternal relation
And may interest thee as thou art descended
From a person of whom many stories intended
In ardours she equaled the Maid of Orleans
Though was displayed in far different scenes
I think thy grandmother said her great great grandmother Cragg
Rode to town between panniers out side of a nag
My recollection of facts may be vague
Of this I am sure was during the plague *
Which then raged in London with fearful infection
That she sheltered two boys with the wing of protection
For this object the length of the journey which she undertook
Would be two hundred miles from her home Rowten Brook
It was a marvelous feat for a woman to ride
Between mane and tail with a child on each side
Twas these two orphan children whose surnames were Kelsall
By their grandmother's courage were rescued or else all
Of the branch might have been swept away
And Wyresdale meeting had none of this day
Though dreary the journey and rough then the track
The two little boys in the baskets brought back
And were the first of the Kelsalls bearing that name
The tradition informs to Wyresdale came
Descendants of theirs still reside in that dale
Both within our society and outside its pale
There is our worthy friend Joshua a tiller of lands
And who conduits a friends school which he well understands
And undoubtedly others who live up and down
Some in the country and some in the town
With Margaret of Garstang I have had pleasant chats
She stands first rate for coffee and tea her brother makes hats
If in names I am wrong as to Kelsalls and Craggs
Thy father can saddle them on the right nags
And rectify that which is merely in name
The pith of the matter will still be the same
And if he won't take the trouble to do it in rhyme
I will take it myself some other time
So prepare me for this let me hear what he says
Please write me a note when thou knows what it is
If I've mentioned right names so much the better
But be they right or wrong I shall be glad of a letter."

[* This is a mistake, as the children were not born at that time. The plague was in 1665 and the children were born in 1683 and 1684]

In a later entry in the album there is written:

"To the same.
When I wrote in the book a few weeks ago
I suggested thy father should say yes or no
Whether the names were wrong or true
But I took from thy letter I took the right view
So that record my hand to posterity down
Of the wonderful feat of the journey to town
Charles Holmes.
24th of the 4th month 1852"

According to the Quaker Registers of the Lancaster Monthly Meeting which record her death on 23rd August 1699, "she fell sike or begun not to be well the 2nd of the same mo." The Registers say that she died at about one in the morning.

Linked toJohn KELSALL; Joseph KELSALL; Jennet TOWNSON

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