Religious Society of Friends

Variant name:

Quakers; Friends

Description:

The Religious Society of Friends, more popularly known as Quakers, is a Christian group founded in mid-17th century England, who believed that all people contained a spark of the divine, which they called the "inward light," a direct apprehension of God that must guide all their actions. From this central belief flowed many influential practices that distinguish Quakers from other Protestant sects: they are pacifists, dress simply, believe in the equality of all people and religious toleration, and worship together in silent "meeting" until the spirit moves someone to talk. This movement began in the 1640s during the Puritian Revolution against King Charles I, when several charismatic ministers, including George Fox and James Nayler, galvanized the small groups of "Seekers" that had gathered together, unhappy with both the Church of England and the various forms of Puritan reform churches. They converted people mostly from all social classes except the aristocracy, and were persecuted savagely by Puritan clergy in England and in North America, where Quakerism was beginning to spread. Quakerism took hold in Massachusetts, in Rhode Island where they were a majority for a long time, and in New Jersey and North Carolina. Charles II granted a charter to Willian Penn in 1681 to found the colony of Pennsylvania along Quaker principles. Often speaking out as witnesses to injustice, Quakers have been in the forefront of many campaigns for social reform. One of the best known Quakers is John Woolman, who in the mid-18th century persuaded Pennsylvania Quakers to free their slaves and advocated the abolition of slavery. It is not surprising that Occom was strongly drawn to the Quakers he met on a preaching and fundraising tour in winter 1771 to Philadelphia. He notes "the Friends or Quakers were Friends indeed to us they Communicated thier Substance to us more than any People in this great City, we ate and Drank with them from Day to Day" (manuscript 771101.2). Similarly, on another preaching tour in 1787, Occom noted that Quakers in New York "were exceeding kind to us and Freely Communicated their Substance to help our People in the Wilderness," especially the Indian children of families who had moved up to Oneida land (manuscript 787660.1).

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Sources:

"Society of Friends." Encyclopedia Britannica. www.search.eb.com/EBchecked/topic/220221/Society-of-Friends.