Quakers or Friends

Chapter VII. -- Quakers or Friends


THE QUAKERS OR FRIENDS. --The decade falling between 1656 and 1666 was the era of special persecution for the Quakers in America, as it was the era of their arrival in Massachusetts, New York, and Virginia. While the two latter colonies did not reach the full measure of severity which was exemplified in the first, they endeavored to shut out the restless evangelists by stringent laws, and left upon a number of them the marks of a sharp chastisement.


As has already been noticed, this kind of tuition was not at all effective in teaching the Quakers the art of keeping away. They pressed into nearly all the colonies at an early date. Soon after persecution had spent its fierceness, they were represented by some able missionaries who journeyed extensively along the Atlantic coast. Here belong in particular the names of John Burnyeat and William Edmundson, not to mention the eccentric founder himself, George Fox, who started upon a colonial tour in 1671.


Maryland was visited shortly after the first envoys of the Society had advertised their presence in America. In the population of the Carolinas the Quakers were an element from the first years of the settlements. John Archdale, one of the Proprietors, who became governor in 1695, was a member of the Society.


The special domain of the Quakers, however, was West Jersey and Pennsylvania. The former passed into the hands of Quaker proprietors in 1674, and the latter was colonized under the patronage of William Penn in 1682. In both territories the members of the Society formed a large proportion of the people for the space of a generation; but the rapid influx of immigrants of other persuasions left them probably in the minority as early as the death of Penn (1718). One element in the Pennsylvania community testifies that the missionary activity of the Society in continental Europe had not been wholly fruitless. "During 1686 many Friends from Germany and Holland arrived in the province. Most of the Germans settled at Germantown, about six miles from Philadelphia, where some of their countrymen had already located." 1 James Bowden, History of the Society of Friends in America, ii. 33,


In conformity with the fundamental principles of the Quakers, there was no preferred party in Pennsylvania as respects religion, but all stood on an equality before the law. The code which Penn prepared for the colony, if not up to the radical position of Roger Williams, was still exceptionally tolerant. It used this language: "That all persons living in this province who confess and acknowledge the one Almighty and Eternal God to be the Creator, Upholder, and Ruler of the world, and that hold themselves obliged in conscience to live peaceably and justly in civil society, shall in no wise be molested or prejudiced for their religious persuasion or practice in matters of faith and worship; nor shall they be compelled at any time to frequent or maintain any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever."


The strong aversion of the Quakers to ecclesiasticism, carried to the point of repudiating a paid ministry, did not cause them wholly to neglect organization. They provided in fact a tolerably complete system of government through a hierarchy of assemblies. Above the individual congregation was the Monthly Meeting; above that, the Quarterly Meeting; highest of all, the Yearly Meeting. The lack of a meeting which should represent the whole Society was met in part by the deference paid to the parent Yearly Meeting at London, and also by a very general acknowledgment of a common set of principles. The first Yearly Meeting in America was organized in Rhode Island in 1661. A second was established at Burlington, New Jersey, twenty years later. In 1683 a Yearly Meeting was held at Philadelphia. According to an arrangement made in 1685, Philadelphia and Burlington were to be alternately the seat of the Yearly Meeting for Pennsylvania and the Jerseys.


The theological teaching of the Quakers continued through the colonial period to correspond to the exposition which had been given by Robert Barclay. They believed in the Bible as the Word of the Lord, but gave the primacy to the Holy Spirit in His direct working upon the soul. They were in sympathy with the doctrine of the Trinity, though preferring to speak upon the subject in Biblical language rather than in that of the creeds. In their explanation of justification they slighted the judicial aspect, and laid the whole stress upon an inward birth or sanctification. The sacraments they regarded as savoring of an undue externalism. In accordance with their emphasis upon the inward working of the Spirit, and the independence of that working from all externals, they entertained a more generous hope respecting the salvation of the heathen than was common in that age.


It has been noticed on a previous page that the Memnonites agreed with the Quakers in their opposition to oaths and to war. Pennsylvania, therefore, naturally afforded them a congenial retreat. Some of them early responded to the invitation of William Penn to settle in that quarter.