Oliver Sansom, leader of the Quakers in the Vale of White Horse, was born in 1636 in Beedon but of a family based in Charney Bassett. At seven, and in spite of this being in the front line in the Civil War, he was sent to an aunt in Charney to go to the school at nearby Longworth. He first attended a Quaker meeting in 1657, but it was not until the early 1660s that he became a serious member of that sect. By then he had married Jane Bunce who was of another Charney family. Over time, he converted Jane and the other members of both families to his own new beliefs.
Of the many sects that proliferated in those disturbed times, it was the Quakers who were the most disliked both by Anglicans and by other Dissenters. They separated themselves from normal society, insisting on obeying what they regarded as God’s law even when this was at variance with the law of the land. In particular, they refused to pay the tithes that maintained the Anglican clergy. Sansom was destined to spend long periods of his life in prison, although this doesn’t seem to have greatly hampered his sectarian activities.
Living as a farmer in Boxford, Sansom became leader of the Quakers in the region of Newbury. But before 1678, after much legal trouble over tithes, he gave up farming and moved to Faringdon as a mercer. Faringdon became the centre for the three hundred or so Quakers in the Vale, one of three such groupings in Berkshire. It was led by Sansom with the help of members of his family: his wife Jane handled administrative and social affairs, and her sister Joan Vokins the spiritual teaching and exhortation.
Sansom was an occasional visitor to Abingdon for missionary work and recruiting, and in 1691 he moved there permanently for the purpose of reinforcing the local Quaker community which was always a small one. A Quaker meeting house was established near the west end of Ock Street before 1700. Sansom made his home in Boar Street, the present Bath Street. Although it was no longer illegal to be a Quaker, he continued to defy the law in refusing to pay taxes and tithes, and remained in continuous conflict with the local authorities until his death in 1710. He left numerous polemical writings, administrative documents, letters, and a very informative autobiography.
Sansom was buried in the Quaker burial ground near the meeting house. He and his wife are not known to have had any children.
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