Somerton church to get marker

Published 10:09 pm Thursday, January 7, 2016

The Somerton Friends Meeting will get a historical marker following a decision last month by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. (Submitted Photo)

The Somerton Friends Meeting will get a historical marker following a decision last month by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. (Submitted Photo)

Somerton Friends Meeting, the state’s oldest active Quaker meetinghouse, is getting a historic marker placed on Holland Road.

The Virginia Department of Historic Resources in December approved putting up the marker for the circa-1869 meetinghouse at 5329 Quaker Drive. The congregation has met continuously since 1672, surviving a history that started in a log cabin and included a fire that destroyed its original building during the Civil War.

The small congregation — roughly 40 in number — is excited about the marker, Nancy Daughtry, the meeting’s clerk, said.

Email newsletter signup

“Everything is finally starting to come together,” she said. “We are looking forward to a dedication.”

Although a dedication ceremony date has not been set, the state has ordered the marker and contacted the city’s traffic engineering department, according to Faye Sobel, a retired teacher who helped Somerton submit the paperwork. She meets with traffic engineers next week on specific site details for the sign.

The sign, which will be placed near the intersection of Holland and Lummis roads, will give passersby a brief glimpse into the meetinghouse’s history, Sobel said.

Sobel, a history buff, offered to help the Somerton Friends after her own explorations led her to the rural meetinghouse.

“The process has been enlightening,” Sobel said. “We had to go back and prove every word that is on the sign.

“As long as that church has been there, it deserves more recognition. ”

Although the church began meeting in people’s homes, it moved into its current building in the 1860s. The first meetinghouse for the congregation was built in 1701.

In 1866, the building was burned, because the Quakers believed in racial equality, had freed their slaves and were educating black children, according to Sobel.

In 1672, George Fox, founder of the religious Society of Friends — commonly known as Quakers — visited Nansemond County to encourage Friends who had settled here. Fox’s visit established Somerton Friends Meeting, according to Sobel’s research.

The signage will read:

“George Fox, founder of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), visited this area in 1672 during a missionary journey to Virginia and North Carolina. His visit encouraged Friends who had settled nearby and led to the organization of Somerton Friends Meeting. Members conducted worship in private homes and later built a meetinghouse three miles southwest of here. The Somerton meetinghouse, along with a nearby school for African Americans, was burned in 1866. The congregation constructed its current building on the same site in 1869. Somerton is the oldest active Quaker meeting in Virginia.”

So far, donors have raised about $1,200 to cover the $1,600 cost of the sign, Sobel said. Major contributors include the Rho Kappa National Social Studies Honor Society chapter at Lakeland High School and the local chapters of the Sons of the American Revolution, Daughters of the American Revolution and Society of Colonial Dames of XVII Century, Sobel said. Several individuals have also chipped in donations ranging from $10 to $100. She expects to complete the fund drive within the next two months.