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The story of the Zelley family starts in Somersford Magna, Wiltshire, England. John Sealy and his wife Martha must have been persuaded early to convert to the Society of Friends (Quakers). In the records of the Wiltshire Monthly meeting we find their children's names and birth dates listed. It is only an assumption as to their marriage date, perhaps records will be found later.
Several of the children are recorded as dying young, and with two Johns births listed, it is assumed the first John died young also. Daniel born 1656, Thomas born 1663, John born 1665 and Mary born 1671, may have all lived to reach adulthood. Nothing further is known at this time about Thomas, John and Mary.
During the persecution of the Quakers, some records have been found relating to similar family names, notably in the "Nonconformist Register of Baptisms, Marriages, and Deaths," compiled by Rev. Heywood and Rev. Dickenson, commonly called the "Northowarm or Coley Register." These notes corroborate the statements made in some histories that the time of greatest persecution under the Stuarts was in 1683-4. Other particulars respecting the persecution of the Quakers will be found in "Besse's Sufferings", and of other Nonconformists in "Calamy's Lives of the Ejected". In the "Coley Register" there are two notations for a Robert and Francis Seele. In each instance they are accused of being Popish Recusants, by simply not adhering to all of the rules of the Church of England. This could also mean they were Quaker. In each instance they were accused with the same couple, Joseph and Margaret Ward of Crofton, Yorkshire.
"Crofton.-Joseph Ward and Margritt his wife, Robart Seele and ffranceas his wife, Recusants. Crofton.-Robert Seele and ffrances his wife, Joseph Ward and Margrett his wife-popish recusants."
Quakerism came to Gloucestershire in the middle of the seventeenth century, to the south of the county, where meetings were held in the fields near Bristol and strong groups of Friends were soon established. Simultaneously it was spreading to the small towns and villages of the Cotswolds. These early Friends gathered in farm buildings and weaving sheds, in the open air and in private homes.
During the Restoration, meetings were often interrupted and members sent to prison. Many Gloucestershire Friends were cloth makers, and when the trade declined, and persecution increased, groups from Painswick, Nailsworth and Tetbury left for America.
The Meeting House at Nailsworth was originally a farm building. Friends first met there in 1680 and it has been little altered since. Some of the original furniture-benches and an oak chest-is still in use.
Daniel moved to Nailsworth, Gloucester, England, where in 1684 he married Martha Eldridge. Martha and her family came from Driffield, Gloucester, which is 8 to 10 miles from Nailsworth. The Eldridge family must have had a similar experience as the Sealy family and became Friends early on as all of the children's names and birth dates are listed in the Nailsworth Monthly Meeting Records. Included in these records are the marriage of Daniel Zealy and Martha Eldridge. However, we do not find the birth dates for their children listed. Daniel died at age 55, leaving Martha with her children mostly grown. His burial is noted in the Nailsworth MM records as 10 mo. 16, 1711.
At this time it is not known if Martha's brother Obediah or Jonathan had come to West (New) Jersey or Philadelphia County, PA. But in "The History of Burlington, NJ" by Schermerhorn, 1927 page 379, we find:"In that same year, 1678, there arrived a ship from London.....Jonathan Eldridge and several more." Also, the name Obediah Eldridge shows up several times in the early Philadelphia Monthly Meeting records. No research has been conducted to see if either of these men were in fact Martha's brother. So, very shortly after her husband's death, Martha decided to move to the new world to join her brother.
The Philadelphia Monthly Meeting of Friends possesses a copy of the certificate of removal of Martha Zelley from Nailsworth Monthly Meeting, addressed "to the friends and brethern of Pennsylvania or Jersey where these may come. The bearer hereof Martha Zealey having a brother in your parts who by Invitation hath Induced her to Com to him wherefore she desired a certificate from us." Dated 1mo, 9, 1712, from Monthly Meeting at Nailsworth, County of Gloucester, England.
Martha and her four unmarried children came with her landing probably in either West Jersey or Philadelphia. It is not known if some or all of the children came with Martha, perhaps some came before or even after. The wedding of the first child to be married in America, John who married Martha Howell at Philadelphia Month Meeting in 1713, reports that both parents were present and gave their consent. Therefore John's mother was in the new world by that date. Since John died in 1714 shortly after his only child Martha died he left no descendants. The youngest daughter Sarah married Thomas Antrim 1715 recorded at the Burlington Monthly Meeting. I do not find anything noted as to her parent.
It is reported that the widow Martha Eldridge Zelley married a Mr. Dixon in Philadelphia shortly after arriving. The only know record of this marriage is that when her daughter Rachel (Rachel Zilly) married Francis Smith in 1728, Rachel reported to the Philadelphia Monthly Meeting that she was the daughter of Mrs. Martha Dixon (Dexon) of Springfield.
There are no records that the eldest daughter Martha married, therefore it can be assumed she never married. With the only living son Daniel Zelley marrying Damaris Butcher in 1725 as reported by the Burlington Monthly Meeting, all members of the Zelley family in the United States with the Zelley surname descend from this marriage.