Saturday, October 26, 2013

Our Family - And Freedom of Religion

        No one who has been reading the account of our family that I’ve been posting on the Northen history blog could accuse the Northen’s of being an overly religious family. At least two member were either hauled into court or kicked out of their congregations for failure to attend church. Against the background of this religious indifference, I was surprised to learn that Edmund Northern, the first of our ancestors to actually be born in this country was involved in trying to advocate for a modest freedom of religion.
        Unlike the Puritans in Massachusetts or the Quakers in Pennsylvania, the English who settled Virginia came strictly for the money.  Some thought they would get rich and then hit the road back to England while others saw that there was a great opportunity to become a land owner and build up their wealth that way. Despite not being religious-minded, all of the who were allowed to come to Virginia had to pledge their allegiance to the Church of England (the Anglican Church), and attendance at services was mandatory.
When William and Mary came to the thrown in 1689, the Acts of Toleration were enacted and ten years later the word about them finally reached Virginia.
        This did not mean that people living in Virginia automatically began the church of any religion they wanted to. Church attendance was still mandatory and the Anglican church was the only game in town.  Those wanting to build a new church had to apply to the governor for a permit.  The first religion to challenge this rule was Presbyterianism.  The Presbyterian Church was the official Church of Scotland and was brought into Virginia through Scottish merchants.   In many ways it was like the Church of England.
Records show that in the year 1724 a group of five prominent men from Richmond County Virginia made a request to be able to have a Presbyterian church.  The request to their request reads  “The petition of Richard Branham Gentlemen Robert Phillips, John Brown Edmund Northern, William Waker and Thomas Smith for the liberty of a Prsbiterian meeting house, is continued till next court to be considered.” When the next court date came, their petition was push back. This was repeated several times. At last action was taken and the decision was expressed in these words: “Petition being this day taken into consideration.  It is the opinion of this Court that the petition doth not lye before them, and do therefore reject the same.” In other words, their request to build the church was denied. Even so, it is interesting to think that one of our ancestors was involved.
      Several years later, one county over in Northumberland County, a second request was made for the right to build a Presbyterian Church.  It was to be built on the land of a man named Joshua Nelms.  That request, too, was denied, but it is interesting to note that some time later, Sarah Northern – Edmund’s daughter married Joshua Nelms.  They eventually moved to Frederick County, Virginia which at that time was at the edge of the American frontier. Because it was a much less “civilized” area, people were left more alone to practice religion as they pleased.  It was hardly freedom of religion in our sense of the word, since Catholics and Jews were really not welcome, but at least it was a beginning.

(The Northen History blog that I referred to in the first paragraph is a private blog limited to family members.  If anyone is interested in reading more about the family and would like to access it, just go to  You’ll get a note saying that you need permission in, but then I’ll just approve it and you will be able to put in your password and access the blog.)

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Kaleidoscope Goes Digital

Perhaps, it was inevitable – the country’s oldest magazine of disability literature and art is going digital.  As of January, Kaleidoscope will no longer publish in hard copy.  The magazine that for 30 years has given writers with disabilities the opportunity to see their work arrive in an envelope in the mailbox or see it sitting among the periodicals on a library periodical shelf will now, like its companion periodicals, Breath and Shadow and Wordgathering, be completely online.  To those for whom publication means having something concrete to hold in their hands, this is likely to feel like a loss, but in another sense it is likely to be a boon in disguise.  From their new venue at, the work of the writers and artists it features, will hit a much larger audience.  Gail Willmott, the journal’s editor, has widely kept access to the magazine free on line – subscriptions were $12 a year – making it its contents available not just to search engines but to links in Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and other sites.  It also resolves problems for visually impaired or blind readers who, unable to read a traditional print journal, will now be able to access it through screen readers. 

Kaleidoscope holds an important place in disability literature, being among the first to publish writers like Anne Finger and John Hockenberry, who are now well established. It was also through Kaleidoscope magazine that a call for poetry was put out that resulted in the publication of Towards Solomon’s Mountain in 1986, the first volume of poetry made up entirely of the work of writers with disabilities.  Let’s hope the new twenty-first century incarnation of Kaleidoscope proves just as rewarding.