Signer #77: William Gould Barker
Born: July 25, 1809, Picton, Ontario, Canada.
Died: December 22, 1897, Macedon Center, New York, Age 89
Occupation(s): Farmer, Minister
Local Residence: West Walworth, Wayne County
William G. Barker is the second known signer of the Declaration of Sentiments born in Canada. Like Azaliah Schooley (#100), Signer #77 was a Quaker who immigrated from Ontario to New York as a young adult. The settlement of William Barker's ancestors in Canada was not a passive process. Rather, William's grandfather was forced to flee New York after running afoul of Continental forces during the Revolutionary War. It appears that Anabaptists—namely, Quakers and Mennonites—sometimes fell target to persecution during the Revolutionary period. One contributing factor to this ill-treatment was the pacifism demanded by their faith, which prevented them from taking up arms during the conflict.
The life of William Barker suggests that, despite the partitions of the American Revolution, social bonds within the Quaker community remained intact on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border. One upshot of this enduring tie is that it very likely aided in the transnational operation of the Underground Railroad. Quaker coreligionists and distant relatives on both sides of the Great Lakes could coordinate the movement of emancipated refugees from New York en route to Canada. An Abolitionist and ally of Frederick Douglass (#73), William Barker would become a preacher and elder statesman within the Farmington Quarterly Meeting and Genessee Yearly Meeting. Later in life, his faith would also direct William to take up the cause of Native American welfare.
In The Road to Seneca Falls, Judith Wellman identifies Barker as one of a contingent of Quakers who traveled to the Convention from the surrounding counties (207). His signature appears between those of two fellow Quakers, David Spalding (#76), an ally of Frederick Douglass who hailed from Skaneateles, and Elias J. Doty (#78), his wife's relative.
William appears in the 1850 census in Walworth, Wayne County. Traveling from Walworth to the Wesleyan Chapel is journey of more than 35 miles, one-way, and it would have been a considerable undertaking for the Barkers.
A 42-year-old farmer, he appears in a household with spouse, Caroline (#63). Like many signers of the Declaration, Caroline and William are recent parents. In 1850, they live with children Edward, Emma, Emily, Charles, Robert, and a newborn named Willard. In this census, William's birthplace is given as "U.P.C.," an acronym designating the United Provinces of Canada. William has hired on a laborer, Calvin Howard, who also hails from Canada, and an English-born female named Mary, who is, most likely, a domestic.
Thanks to Elizabeth Barker’s Barker Genealogy (1927), I was able to trace the history of the family line in Ontario. William's grandfather, David Barker was born into a Quaker family in Rhode Island. David moved west and, in 1780, settled in Poughkeepsie, Dutchess County, living as a farmer and justice of the peace (E. Barker 18). By the time of the Revolutionary War, David fell under suspicion of harboring sympathies to the British. Any suspicions to this effect were exacerbated as David's farm prospered and as he remained a non-combatant. According to John Barker, writing in 1899, this tension came to loggerheads after David's property “was confiscated in the belief he had sold some fat cattle to British forces” (169). In another episode, David encountered some bedraggled Continental troops, who commandeered his horse and clothing on the spot. That night, David ventured to the American camp where his horse was stabled. He called out the animal, which recognized the voice of his owner and ran to rejoin him. This indiscretion turned to David into a criminal, under threat of execution for "the offence of stealing his own horse" (Hicks 91). David was forced to flee New York in 1783. His travails as a “United Empire Loyalist,” a partisan who remained faithful to the British crown, would be recounted often by the start of the 20th century and make David into something like a Canadian national hero.
David's young son Edward joined him on his exodus. As an adult, Edward wed Sarah Gould, of Connecticut, and their child William, Signer #77, was born in Picton, Ontario, on July 25, 1809 (E. Barker 26). I was unable to pinpoint exactly when William immigrated to New York. The first record of his being in the United States is that of his marriage, on February, 26, 1834, to Caroline Doty Cornell at the Quaker Meeting House in Clinton Corners, Dutchess County (Bowman 14). I think it is telling that William wed within the Quaker community of Dutchess County, the same location from which his grandfather and father had been forced into exile.
The 1840 census for Walworth names a William Barker, in his 30s, as head-of-household:
Included in the same residence are an adult female in her 20s, presumably Caroline, and two children under age five, likely the couple's children Edward and Anne. In the 1840s, William would ramp up his involvement in the Abolition Movement. According to Judith Wellman, Charles Lenhart, and Marjory Perez, William was elected a vice president of the Western New York Anti-Slavery Society, headquartered in Rochester, in December 1847 (357). When Frederick Douglass traveled to West Walworth to lecture in September 1849, he made note that he was attended by a cadre of "friends" that included William, “ready to receive and cheer me onward in the good work” (quoted in Wellman, Lenhart and Perez 356). A 1908 history of Rochester and Monroe County recognizes William as a “staunch advocate of abolition" who "frequently lectured from the same platform as Fred Douglass and did not a little to mold public opinion in antebellum days” (Peck 1251).
In June 1849, William was present at a meeting of the Congregational Friends, at the meeting house on Ninefoot Road in Waterloo. The gathering, described in the profile of Margaret Schooley (#7), also included Declaration signers Margaret Pryor (#3), Mary Ann M’Clintock (#6), Rhoda Palmer DeGarmo (#48), Susan Doty (#53), Richard P. Hunt (#69), Elias Doty (#78), William S. Dell (#80), Thomas M’Clintock (#86), and Azaliah Schooley (#100). On this occasion, William was appointed to three ad hoc committees, to determine the date and location of future meetings, to draft something akin to a platform regarding slavery and women's rights, and to correspond with sympathetic Quaker groups (Proceedings 3, 4, 14).
I could find no record of William's involvement in spiritualism, a common source of interest and experimentation among other Hicksites during this period. Yet, an article entitled “Electrical Psychology,” appearing in The New York Reformer in December 1850, names William as an endorsee of one Dr. Lester. Lester had recently visited Walworth, the blurb reports, and miraculously cured a number of ailments whilst his inflicted patient remained fully awake. William is counted among the “respectable citizens of Wayne county” willing to vouch for Lester's "remarkable and even marvellous feats in the science of Psychology." Lester's methodology sounds as if it were some form of Mesmerism or hypnotherapy.
For reasons that are unclear, the Barkers moved a great deal during their married life, residing at locations in and around Wayne County and Monroe County.This might have stemmed from William's itinerant preaching or because of his service role among the Quakers. In the 1855 state census, the Barkers reside in Irondequoit, in Monroe County.
By 1860, Caroline and William appear living in Mendon, Monroe County, residing with their seven children and a German laborer. The family's farm and estate valued at nearly $15,000 dollars.
With a number of children departed from their household, they appear in Mendon again in 1870. David, a signle teenager, still lives with them.
Now semi-retired in his 60s, William devoted even more time and energy to Quakerism and related activist causes. The Quaker periodical Friends’ Intelligencer published a letter from William in January 1870, bearing a Mendon Centre dateline. Entitled “Our Opinion,” William turns his attention to the public interest generated by the Quakers’ involvement in Native American affairs and their “care of the Indians” (758). William reminds readers of the Intelligencer that, in lieu of a formal position, the Quakers are “not held together by any formal creed.” Nevertheless, their commitment to the Gospel compels Quakers to “befriend the poor, the oppressed and down-trodden of every class and order of our fellow-beings, and that our peculiar religious sentiments have nothing to do with our philanthropy, than had those of the good Samaritan to do with his” (758). To this point, William was elected to the Committee on Indian Concerns at the Genesse Yearly Meetings of 1877 and 1880. This committee was tasked with establishing a lines of communication between the Quakers and various Native American nations across the continent. It was also engaged in fundraising to support education and welfare within those nations. In this same period, William served on executive committee and as clerk for the Farmington Quarterly and Genessee Yearly Meeting.
By the 1880 census, William and Caroline have relocated, permanently, to Macedon Centre, Wayne County.
In February 1884, the couple celebrated 50 years of married life in Palmyra. The Palmyra Courier reported that about 30 friends and family attending the anniversary party, including four sons, in Macedon. The couple’s 1834 marriage certificate was read aloud at the gathering.
William had evidently also busied himself, as early as the 1840s, with plans to open a Quaker boarding school in Macedon. The History of Macedon Academy, 1841-1891 recalls that, when William's plan for a school was sidetracked by separate financial commitments, other local stakeholders took it up and eventual established the Macedon Academy (9). William served as the institution's treasurer in 1874 and as a trustee from 1872 to 1884, and sons David and Edward matriculated there (23, 45, 151). In January 1888, The Monroe County Mail relates that William has purchased a sizeable tract, of about 130 acres, in Macedon.
In the summer of 1886, the Genessee Yearly Meeting convened in Macedon. The Friends’ Intelligencer United With the Friends’ Journal recalled that William spoke at length on the occasion and “called attention to the difference between Friends and other denominations, querying as to the several particulars of our faith, whether we follow the precepts of the Sermon on the Mount, and whether other societies let this sermon predominate over them. He felt called to speak for the cause of truth and right” (“Notes” 449). In November 1892, The Friends Intelligencer and Journal reports that, at the Farmington Quarterly Meeting, “Wm. G. Barker spoke at some length, desiring Friends to live more closely to first principles” (“News” 747). In the 1892 New York census, William and Caroline, now 83 and 77, are enumerated in Mendon:
Caroline Barker passed away in June 1892 after 58 years of marriage to William. In June 1896, The Wayne County Dispatch reports that William, now widowed and in his late 80s, officiated the funeral of one Mrs. John Seamon in Macedon ("Macedon").
Signer #77 died at the home of his son David on December 22, 1897. An obituary in The Friends’ Intelligencer and Journal reports that William Barker's funeral was held on Christmas Eve and was still well attended, despite the “cold and stormy” weather. It remembers, “this worthy Friend…had won by his integrity and uprightness the respect and esteem of all with whom he had formed an acquaintance” (26). William lies in rest on a family plot in the Macedon Center Cemetery (“William Gould Barker”).
It is tempting to thinking about how the refugees in Signer #77's own family history informed his compassion for marginalized people, who were deprived of human rights, as victims of slavery, Manifest Destiny, or structural misogyny.
Barker, Elizabeth F. Barker Genealogy. Frye, 1927.
Barker, John S. “A Brief History of David Barker, A United Empire Loyalist.” Ontario Historical Society: Papers and Records, Vol I. 1899 Pp. 168-170.
“Barker Household.” Federal Census, 1840. Walworth, Wayne County, New York. Ancestry.com, Accessed 19 Dec. 2022.
“Barker Household.” Federal Census, 1850. Walworth, Wayne County, New York. Ancestry.com, Accessed 19 Dec. 2022.
“Barker Household.” New York State Census, 1855. Irondequoit, Wayne County, New York. Ancestry.com, Accessed 19 Dec. 2022.
“Barker Household.” Federal Census, 1860. Mendon, Monroe County, New York. Ancestry.com, Accessed 19 Dec. 2022.
“Barker Household.” Federal Census, 1860. Mendon, Monroe County, New York. Ancestry.com, Accessed 19 Dec. 2022.
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“Barker Household.” New York State Census, 1892. Mendon, Monroe County, New York. Ancestry.com, Accessed 19 Dec. 2022.
Barker, William G. “Our Position.” Friends’ Intelligencer (Philadelphia), 29 Jan. 1870, p. 758.
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“County and Vicinity.” The Palmyra Courier, 7 Mar. 1884, p. 2.
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Hicks, Mrs. R.S. “Historical and Biographical Sketch of the Late David Barker.” United Empire Loyalists Associaiton of Ontario, Annual Transactions, Vol. 3, 1900 Pp. 88-95.
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“Macedon Center.” Monroe County Mail, 12 Jan. 1888, p. 2.
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“William Gould Barker.” Findagrave.com, Accessed 19 Dec. 2022. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/68342643/william-gould-barker