The Churchman Story - A Brief History

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John Churchman was born around 1665 in Saffron-Walden, Essex County, England. He was Quaker (Society of Friends) by faith. During the mid to late 1600’s in England, Friends were persecuted for their beliefs and for defying authorities by holding their “meetings” in public. (English law prohibited meetings for worship except for the Church of England.) Many were arrested and jailed, including William Penn. Penn was a member of the landed gentry and because of his visibility, he became a particular thorn in the side of authorities. In 1681, Penn was given a charter for the colony in America that became known as Pennsylvania. The grant repaid a dept that the Crown owed to his father and was considered a good way to get rid of the rebellious Penn. He persuaded many other English Quakers to join him in America and at seventeen John decided to come to the “New World”. On April 23, 1682, John sailed from The Downs, England on the ship, Amity, along with other Quakers, including the Seary (also listed as Cerie) family. They arrived at the Delaware River on August 3, 1682, after a voyage of more than three months.

It appears that John either knew the Seary family in England and traveled to America with them or became fast friends with them during the sea voyage. After arriving in America, John traveled with the Seary family. Thomas and Sara Seary had four children, Hannah, Richard, Mary, and Miriam. At the time of their voyage, Hannah was six years old. Thomas Seary was a farrier from Oxford, Oxfordshire, England. He managed to bring a lot of his assets to America and as a result, he was one of the first purchasers of 500 acres of land from William Penn. Unfortunately, Thomas Seary died in 1683, the first year he was in Pennsylvania. Hannah's mother, Sara, was remarried to William Busby after her husband's death.

In 1696, when Hannah Seary had reached the age of 20, she and John Churchman were married in Philadelphia. Five years later, in the spring of 1701, William Penn and a small group of Friends, which included John and Hannah Churchman, set out from Chester Township and traveled through what is now the northeastern corner of Maryland. During this time, the precise boundary location between the colonies of Pennsylvania and Maryland was in dispute. William Penn, anxious to maintain his claim to this section of land, granted a tract of approximately 20,000 acres, known as the “Nottingham Lots”, to 17 Quaker families. The Nottingham Lots extended from Octoraro Creek eastward to the present village of Blue Ball in Maryland, the village of Colora lies on the southern boundary, and at points the northern boundary extended just above the present Pennsylvania-Maryland line. John and Hannah Churchman were among the original settlers of the Nottingham Lots, settling on lots 16 and 17 just north of the future “Brick Meeting House”.

John and Hannah Churchman had ten children: George, Dinah, Susanna, John (died at infancy), John, Thomas, Miriam, Edward, Sarah, and William. William, the youngest, was only 4 years old when his father died. All of their children and their families were up-standing members of the “Society of Friends”. Of their ten children, John, Thomas, and William had sons to carry on the Churchman name.

One of John and Hannah’s children, John, became a famous Quaker minister. John was born in 1705 at Nottingham, Pennsylvania. According to a biography from the Religious Society of Friends in Britain, he had an “irregular education” and “religious impressions at an early age”. John married Margaret Brown in 1729. Their only child, George, was born in 1730 in Nottingham, Pennsylvania. John began to preach at twenty-five, and traveled throughout America, Europe, Great Britain and Ireland. John documented his travels and experiences in a journal that was later published. He also wrote a book of sermons that were so relevant to Quakers that it is still in print today. During his life, John was a minister for about 42 years; he traveled about 9,000 miles and attended about 1,000 meetings.

John and Margaret’s son, George, married Hannah James in 1752. George, his son John, and several others in his family were surveyors. The name George Churchman is found on many old land documents. In 1750 George succeeded his father as clerk of the Nottingham Monthly Meeting, for a period of 20 years. He was a pioneer in the promotion of schools for Friends. In 1762, he opened a school in East Nottingham, Pennsylvania. It lasted 10 years. In 1780 George opened a second school in East Nottingham, but it was short-lived. About 1790, George founded a boarding school in East Nottingham for the advanced education of women as teachers, but it was overshadowed by the Westtown Boarding School, and finally closed. George and Margaret had ten children. All of their children and their families remained in the Philadelphia region.

John Churchman, great-grandson of John Churchman of Saffron-Walden, England, and son of George and Hannah Churchman, was the most ingenious of a long line of surveyors. He surveyed throughout the states of Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia. He is most famous for constructing a “Variation Chart or Magnetic Atlas, and a Stereographic Projection of the Spheres, on a Plane of the First Magnetic Meridian, on a new plan”, with a book of explanation in 1790. His ideas that global position could be determined by magnetic variations in the earth’s surface were met with skepticism and opposition in England and in European Scientific circles, but he was encouraged by correspondence with George Washington and Thomas Jefferson (see Jefferson letter) to pursue his ideas. Rejected by the European community, John was warmly received in Russia and was elected a member of the Imperial Academy of Arts & Sciences in Russia (the first American to receive this honor), and received a golden medal with diplomatic honors in St. Petersburg.

Revolutionary War

The Quakers were peace-loving people and when the war with England began, many resisted being pulled into the war. Elijah Brown, the son of Miriam Churchman and James Brown, was exiled to Virginia for the failure to take the Oath of Allegiance to the new United States in 1776.

The war no doubt caused others to relocate, away from the center of the action to a location more suited to their way of living. William C. Churchman may have been one of these. Born in 1751 in Pennsylvania, he moved south to Virginia, where he met and married Mary Wilson in 1773. He and his family lived in the Virginia area until the 1790’s, when they moved south to Tennessee. There he bought land along the Holston River in Jefferson County, Tennessee.

Others, like Elijah Churchman, William’s brother, drifted away from the Quakers through marriages outside of the faith. He too left Pennsylvania and moved to Virginia around 1791. His children, with the exception of John Knight Churchman, moved west to Kentucky and Ohio in the early 1800’s. Elijah Jr. and his relatives lived in Kentucky for many years as documented in the book Churchmans of Kentucky written by Charles R. Churchman and published in 1988.

Other third generation Churchman’s to move south into Virginia and Tennessee included Thomas - another brother of William C. Churchman, and John Trimble, son of Sarah Churchman.

Tennessee had good farming land and was the home to many generations of Churchman’s. William C. Churchman and his sons all owned land in Jefferson and Grainger Counties in Tennessee, which was home to many of Tennessee’s earliest settlers. Thomas Churchman and his family also owned land in Grainger County. Land deeds, wills and other records indicate that Churchman’s were among the more affluent and successful farmers in the area.

The will of Thomas Churchman also indicates that the Churchman’s owned slaves, as did most of the farmers of their era. But, the Churchman’s were ahead of their time in their benevolent treatment of their slaves. Thomas, who died in 1827, provided for the freedom of a young slave named Bob. Later land deeds indicate that his wife Elizabeth deeded land to the slaves named Ben and Cuff, who took the name of Churchman and were the forefathers of generations of black Churchman’s.

Even though life was good in Eastern Tennessee during the first half of the nineteenth century, a couple of William’s sons moved west during the 1830’s. John Wesley Churchman moved his family and all his sons’ families to Arkansas about 1830. James Churchman and his family moved from Jefferson County to Carroll County, in western Tennessee, in 1835. Descendents of James later moved to Arkansas and Oklahoma.

The Civil War

Tennessee was caught squarely in the middle of the civil war. Brother fought against brother and many fortunes and families were destroyed. We don’t know too much about the involvement of the Churchman’s in the Civil War, although Patrick Marion Churchman tells an interesting story about serving on both sides during the war. Sons of John Knight Churchman fought in the war; John Stephens was a private in Company A, 10th Regiment Cavalry for the South, while Henry Jouette was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Union Army. After the war was over, John Knight would not let Henry return home because he fought against the South. One son and three grandsons of John Wesley Churchman served in the 4th Arkansas Union Cavalry during the Civil War; all except Joseph Churchman died during the war.

Westward Movement

Following the Civil War, many Churchman’s joined the westward movement in search of a better life. Most of Rufus Jackson Churchman’s sons moved their families from Tennessee to Arkansas and Texas. Some of the sons of William Montgomery Churchman moved their families into Missouri and Kansas. William Montgomery and his youngest son, Thomas Alexander, later joined his sons in Missouri, in 1888. Richard Looney Churchman and his brother, Patrick Marion, made it all the way to Oregon where they were some of the earliest settlers in Oregon.

Today, the descendants of John Churchman live in virtually every state in the contiguous United States.

Noteworthy Churchman’s

Throughout the past 300 years, many Churchman’s have played prominent roles in history. Following are a few Churchman’s of special note:

John Churchman 1665-1724 - The first of our ancestors to come to America. A true Quaker pioneer, he helped to establish the Nottingham Meeting and build the Brick Meeting House as a place of worship.

John Churchman 1705-1775 - A well-known Quaker minister who traveled throughout America and Europe, he published sermons still read by Quakers today.

John Churchman 1753-1805 - A surveyor and scientist, he discovered that the Earth’s magnetic field could be measured to derive one’s global position. Even though the European scientific community dismissed his discoveries, he was welcomed in Russia and became the first American elected as a member of the Imperial Academy of Arts & Sciences, where he received a golden medal with diplomatic honors.

William H. Churchman 1818-1882 - William lost his sight at the age of eighteen, but his blindness did not prevent him rising to a place of high distinction in his field of endeavor. He was a brilliant and talented man. In 1839 William moved west from Philadelphia and settled in Indianapolis in 1846. He was the founder, and for many years the superintendent of The Indiana Institute for the Education of the Blind. He retired from the position of superintendent in 1879.

Vincent Tapp Churchman 1824-1872 - A graduate of VMI in 1845. He then received his Doctorate of Medicine from University of Virginia and graduated as "Physician of considerable prominence" from Jefferson Medical College of Philadelphia. Vincent Tapp Churchman was one of the organizers of the state Medical Society of Virginia in 1858 and was elected as its first Vice-President. He was tendered the Chair of Anatomy at Jefferson Medical College of Philadelphia, but declined the offer because of the Civil War.

Frances McClintock Churchman 1833-1891 - A noted banker, he was a man of high character and utmost integrity, whose ability was recognized outside of his local community. On more than one occasion he was offered and refused to accept, high official positions in the Treasury Department at Washington. His beautiful country home, “Hillside”, was a landmark six miles southeast of Indianapolis, immortalized in the book So This Was Hillside.

Howard Pyle 1853-1911 - The son of Margaret Churchman Painter, he was one of America's best known illustrators. His work in Harper's Monthly caught the eye of Vincent Van Gogh. He illustrated books for Mark Twain, Alfred Tennyson, and other well-known writers of his time. He also wrote and illustrated many books himself. He founded the Brandywine School and trained many of America's top illustrators, including N.C. Wyeth. His work is preserved in collections at the Delaware Art Museum and the Brandywine River Museum.

Vincent T. Churchman 1867-1941 - A noted surgeon and doctor in West Virginia, he served as President of the State Health Council, President of West Virginia State Medical Association, and consulting ophthalmologist of the State Compensation Department. He was Surgeon and President of the Churchman Eye and Ear Hospital in Charleston.

Great Churchman Stories

Genealogy often seems to be a somewhat dry and ascetic pursuit, but at it’s best, the stories of the past can illuminate and entertain. Here are some of the stories we’ve included:

We hope you find our research both informative and entertaining. For the latest updated information, please check the Churchman Family Website at

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