Quakers in North America

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Quakers in North America constitute approximately 21% of Quakers worldwide (2012), according to the online Quaker Information Center.[1][2]

Quakers (or Friends) are members of a Christian religious movement that started in England in the 17th century, and has spread throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Central America. Some Quakers originally came to North America to spread their beliefs to the British colonists there, while others came to escape the persecution they experienced in Europe. The first known Quakers in North America arrived in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1656 via Barbados, and were soon joined by other Quaker preachers who converted many colonists to Quakerism. Many Quakers settled in Rhode Island, due to its policy of religious freedom, as well as the British colony of Pennsylvania which was formed by William Penn in 1681 as a haven for persecuted Quakers.

The arrival of the Quakers[edit]

Mary Fisher and Ann Austin are the first known Quakers to set foot in the New World. They traveled from England to Barbados in 1655 and then went on to the Massachusetts Bay Colony to spread the beliefs of the Friends among the colonists.

In Puritan-run Massachusetts the two women were persecuted, imprisoned, and their books were burned. Only one man, Nicholas Upsall, was kind to them during their imprisonment. Nicholas became a Friend himself and began spreading Friends' beliefs in Massachusetts. Due to the intolerance of the Puritans, the Quakers eventually left the Massachusetts bay colonies and migrated to the more tolerant colonies in Rhode Island.[1]

The first Monthly Meeting[edit]

Nicholas Upsall was banished from Boston and took refuge in the town of Sandwich, Massachusetts. It was there that he helped to establish the first Monthly Meeting of Friends in the United States, which began meeting in 1657 at the home of William and Priscilla Allen. Besides the Allens and Upsall, those in attendance included Richard Kerley and Elizabeth Newland.

Quakers in New Jersey and Pennsylvania[edit]

The first Friends who settled along the Delaware River were John Fenwick, Edward Wade, John Wade, and Richard Noble. They formed a settlement at Salem, New Jersey, in 1675.

In 1681, King Charles II granted William Penn, a Quaker, a charter for the area that was to become Pennsylvania. Penn guaranteed the settlers of his colony freedom of religion. He advertised the policy across Europe so that Quakers and other religious dissidents would know that they could live there safely. On November 10, 1681, Robert Wade established the first Monthly Meeting in the colony at his home, which eventually became the Chester Monthly Meeting.

Branches of Quakerism in North America[edit]

Quakers in North America are diverse in their beliefs and practices. Friends there have split into various groups because of disagreements throughout the years.

Liberal Friends emphasize the Inner Light as a source of inspiration and guidance. They practice unprogrammed (i.e., spontaneous, Spirit-led) worship, and have no ordained clergy. Among them are both Christians and universalists. Many liberal Friends groups are part of the Friends General Conference. Some of them are part of both the Friends General Conference and the Friends United Meeting; others are independent or not affiliated with any larger group. They are very involved in service projects but not in evangelism. They are widespread throughout Canada and the United States but are concentrated in Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey.

Pastoral Friends emphasize the Bible as a source of inspiration and guidance. They practice programmed (i.e., planned) worship led by ordained clergy. Most pastoral Friends groups are part of the Friends United Meeting. They conduct both service projects and evangelism, and are found primarily in Indiana, North Carolina, Iowa, and Ohio.

Conservative Friends are a small group that emphasize both the Inner Light and the Bible as sources of inspiration and guidance. They practice unprogrammed worship. Many of them adhere to the traditional standards of "plainness" in speech and dress (see Testimony of Simplicity). Their meetings are not part of any larger groups. They are found primarily in Iowa, Ohio, and North Carolina.

Evangelical Friends strongly emphasize the Bible as a source of inspiration and guidance, considering it the ultimate authority for faith and practice. They practice planned worship led by ordained clergy. Their congregations are often called churches instead of meetings, and they are usually part of Evangelical Friends International. They are very active in evangelism and missionary outreach as well as service projects. They are found throughout the United States and Latin America but are concentrated in Guatemala, Panama, Ohio, California, Oregon, and Kansas.

The Religious Society of Free Quakers, originally called "The Religious Society of Friends, by some styled the Free Quakers", was established on February 20, 1781 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. More commonly known as Free Quakers, the Society was founded by members of the Religious Society of Friends, or Quakers, who had been expelled for failure to adhere to the Peace Testimony during the American Revolutionary War. Many of its early members were prominent Quakers involved in the American Revolution before the society was established. Notable Free Quakers at the early meetings include Lydia Darragh and Betsy Ross. Following the end of the American Revolutionary War, the number of Free Quakers began to dwindle as some members died and others were either accepted back into the Society of Friends or by other religious institutions. There is a small group of Free Quakers in Indiana who continue the tradition of the Five Principles (Inner Light, peace, simplicity, justice, stewardship) and the Five Freedoms (from creeds, from clergy, from public worship, from organized membership, from evangelization). Today, the descendants of the original Free Quakers hold an annual meeting of the Religious Society of Free Quakers at the Free Quaker Meetinghouse in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "The Quakers – Facts & Summary". History.com. Retrieved 2016-10-25.
  2. ^ "World Distribution of Quakers, 2012". QuakerInfo.com. Retrieved 2016-07-13.

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