Monday, November 9, 2015

America as a Religious Refuge - Quakers from England

The Quakers (or Religious Society of Friends) formed in England in 1652 around a charismatic leader, George Fox (1624-1691).

George Fox (1624-1691) wrote a letter of caution "To Friends beyond sea, that have Blacks and Indian slaves" in 1657. In 1671 he visited Barbados and urged Friends to treat their slaves better; his preaching in Barbados was subsequently published in London in 1676 as "Gospel Family-Order." This provided the beginnings of Quaker opposition to slavery. Following Fox, other Quakers became concerned over the treatment of slaves & formed the first abolition committee. Quakers remained instrumental in the anti-slavery campaign.

1700s English woodcut of a Quaker

Many scholars today consider Quakers as radical Puritans, because the Quakers carried to extremes many Puritan convictions. They stretched the sober deportment of the Puritans into a glorification of "plainness."

Quaker Meeting

Theologically, they expanded the Puritan concept of a church of individuals regenerated by the Holy Spirit to the idea of the indwelling of the Spirit or the "Light of Christ" in every person.

Assembly of Quakers where a Quaker woman preaches at a meeting in London

Such teaching struck many of the Quakers' contemporaries as dangerous heresy. Quakers were severely persecuted in England for daring to deviate so far from orthodox Christianity.

Gracechurch Street Meeting, London ca.1779.

By 1680, 10,000 Quakers had been imprisoned in England, and 243 had died of torture and mistreatment in the King's jails. This reign of terror impelled Friends to seek refuge in New Jersey in the 1670s, where they soon became well entrenched.

English punishment 1656-Quaker whipped behind wagon

When Quaker leader William Penn (1644-1718) parlayed a 1681 debt owed by Charles II to his father into a charter for the province of Pennsylvania, many more Quakers were prepared to grasp the opportunity to live in a land where they might worship freely.

Quaker Synod

By 1685, as many as 8,000 Quakers had come to Pennsylvania. Although the Quakers may have resembled the Puritans in some religious beliefs and practices, they differed with them over the necessity of compelling religious uniformity in society.

Penn’s Treaty by the Pennsylvania Quaker folk artist Edward Hicks (1780–1849)

"One Almighty and eternal God . . . shall in no wayes be molested or prejudiced for their Religious Perswasion 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 whatever."

Quaker Meeting

Pennsylvania became a reference point a century later for Americans opposing plans for government-supported religion. "Witness the state of Pennsylvania," a group of Virginians urged its House of Delegates in 1785, "wherein no such [religious] Establishment hath taken place; their Government stands firm and which of the neighbouring States has Members of brighter Morals and more upright Characters."

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