CALVERT — On April 23, 1682, the ship Amity left the docks at Downs, England, carrying a Quaker named John Churchman, along with other Quakers.
A lengthy and arduous journey would follow carrying these immigrant members of the Society of Friends across the Atlantic until they arrived at the Delaware River on Aug. 3, 1682.
History does not record what John Church thought of this new land, but it is through him that the Churchman family in America would develop an impressive, if somewhat silent, legacy. John had married Hannah Seary, a fellow Quaker, and immigrated with her from England. They reared a large family of 10 children. The Churchman family settled in what became known as Calvert, but was known early on as Brick Meeting House, a Quaker settlement that was part of the Nottingham Lots established by William Penn, squarely in Cecil County. Indeed, John Churchman was the first person buried at Brick Meeting House Cemetery when he died May 10, 1724.
Of the immigrants’ 10 children, one of the best known was John Churchman “The Younger” who was born Aug. 4, 1705, at Nottingham, then considered part of Chester County, Pa., but actually in Calvert, Cecil County. John the younger would marry Margaret Brown on Nov. 27, 1729, and become a Quaker minister in 1733. He traveled widely on the East Coast and abroad, and authored a book of sermons that was so profound it is still used by Quakers to this day. In addition, his informative journal was published posthumously.
According to a biography from the Religious Society of Friends in Britain, he had an “irregular education,” and “religious impressions at an early age.” During his life, he was a minister for about 42 years and traveled some 9,000 miles attending some 1,000 meetings. He died in Cecil County on July 24, 1775, and was laid to rest at Brick Meeting House Cemetery, like his father before him.
John and Margaret also had a son named George, who wed Hannah James in 1752. George and his son, whom he named John for his father, became surveyors. One can find the name George Churchman on numerous old land records and in 1750, George succeeded his father as clerk of the Nottingham Monthly Meeting in Cecil County, a position he retained for 20 years. George was also a pioneer in the promotion of schools for the Society of Friends, opening a school in East Nottingham, Pa., in 1762, that lasted for a decade. In 1790, he founded a boarding school in East Nottingham for “the advanced education of women as teacher,” but it was overshadowed by the Westtown Boarding School, and finally closed.
George and Hannah’s son, John Churchman, great-grandson of the original immigrant, was probably the most ingenious of the long line of surveyors in the family. He did surveys throughout Maryland, Delaware and Virginia and is most famous for building a “Variation Chart or Magnetic Atlas and Stereographic Projection of the Spheres…” with a book of explanation in 1790. He stated global position could be determined by magnetic variations in the earth’s surface — a theory that caused skepticism and opposition in England. Yet his theory and work was encouraged in numerous letters between himself and George Washington, as well as Thomas Jefferson. Though rejected by the European community, John Churchman was warmly revered in Russia and elected a member of the Imperial Academy of Arts and Sciences in Russia, the first American so honored. He was also awarded a gold medal with diplomatic honors in St. Petersburg.
Other members of the Churchman family were equally as inspiring as their ancestors, such as William H. Churchman (1818-1882). He lost his sight at the age of 18 and in 1839 moved from Philadelphia, finally settling in Indianapolis in 1846. There he founded and for many years was superintendent of the Indiana Institute for the Education of the Blind.
Vincent Tapp Churchman (1824-1872) graduated the Virginia Military Institute in 1845 and graduated as “Physician of Considerable Prominence” from Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia. He was one of the organizers of the Medical Society of Virginia in 1858 and elected as its first vice president.
Howard Pyle (1852-1911), the son of Margaret Churchman Painter, was an illustrator whose work in Harper’s Monthly attracted Vincent Van Gogh. He illustrated books for famed authors Alfred Tennyson and Mark Twain, among others, and wrote and illustrated books himself. He founded the Brandywine School and trained many of America’s top illustrators including the famous N.C. Wyeth. His work is preserved and displayed today at the Delaware Art Museum and Brandywine River Museum.