The son of an English Puritan weaver, George Fox (1624-1691) heard an “inner voice” telling him to become a travelling preacher. In 1647 Fox begun travelling from village to village speaking against formalized religion, arguing for a Spirit-filled Christianity where all believers have an equal status and proclaiming his “inner light” doctrine that God is present within everyone.
|19th-century engraving of George Fox, based on a painting of unknown date|
Elizabeth Hooton was a middle-aged, married woman when she met Fox in 1647 in Skegby, Nottinghamshire, and was already a Nonconformist—specifically, a Baptist. She was among the first, perhaps the very first, to be convinced by the teachings of the young preacher.
Soon afterward, Hooton felt a “call” from God to preach and became the first woman to become a Quaker preacher. She left her family and began to urge judgment and repentance across England. Because of her outspokenness, she found herself in prison many times in her life.
Fox opposed war, (he interpreted the command in Matthew 5 v 39 “Do not resist one who is evil”, literally). By 1648, he had gathered a following of people attracted by his pacifist views, called the Friends of Truth, but the authorities turned against those followers of his who refused to take up arms and imprisoned them.
In 1650 George Fox was jailed at Derby on a trumped-up charge of blasphemy. When he was sentenced, the preacher warned the Judge, Gervasse Bennet, to “tremble at the word of the Lord”. Bennet responded by contemptuously calling Fox and his followers, “Quakers”, thereby coining their name.
In 1652 George Fox felt God lead him to walk up Pendle Hill, in the north of England. At the top he had a vision of many souls being coming to Christ. From Pendle Hill, Fox traveled north to Sedbergh, and there he preached on the< nearby Firbank Hill where he convinced many to accept his teachings of the “inner light”. Encouraged he began preaching in the open air to thousands and gradually he< collected a group of young male and female Quaker evangelists who spread out preaching Fox’s message.
|A Quaker woman preaches at a meeting in London|
Ann Austin and Mary Fisher were the first Quakers to arrive in America. The pair had sailed from Barbados, where the Quakers had established a center for missionary work. Their ship docked in Boston Harbor in the Massachusetts Bay colony on July 11, 1656.
As soon as Ann Austin and Mary Fisher set foot on American soil they were arrested and imprisoned. The pair were locked up for five weeks in a dark cell and ordered to be given no food or water. If it wasn’t for Nicolas Upshall, the owner of the Red Lion on Boston’s North Street who bribed one of the guards to slip the women some nourishment, both surely would have died, Austin and Fisher were eventually deported back to England five weeks later.
Massachusetts enacted the first punitive legislation against the Society of Friends on October 14, 1656. The marriage of church-and-state in Puritanism made them regard the Quakers as spiritually apostate and politically subversive. The Massachusetts law enacted against the “cursed sect of heretics lately risen up in the world, which are commonly called Quakers…”
The Massachusetts law declared that any shipmaster bringing a Quaker into the colony would be fined £100. Any colonist possessing a Quaker book would be fined £5. Any Quaker coming within the jurisdiction of the colony would be arrested, whipped, and transported out of the colony without conversing with anyone.
|Quaker Mary Dyer led to execution on Boston Common, June 1, 1660|
Elizabeth Hooton traveled to Boston in 1662, where she was taken on a two-week walk into the woods and abandoned her there to starve. Although over sixty at the time, she survived, finding her way to Rhode Island.
The Society of Friends movement continued to grow despite much persecution in Britain and America and by Fox’s death in 1691 there were around fifty thousand Quakers.
The first complete exposition of the Quaker doctrine of “inner light” was written in 1678 by the Scottish Quaker, Robert Barclay in his An Apology for the True Christian Divinity, as the Same is Held Forth and Preached by the People Called in Scorn Quakers. He wrote that believers can receive divine guidance from an inward light, without the aid of intermediaries such as priests or external rites.
The oldest existing Quaker meeting house is in a secluded hollow beside a country lane near Feock, Cornwall. It was built in 1710 and was originally only 20 ft by 27 ft though it has since been extended.
|Conservative Friends worshiping in London in 1809.|
The Quakers were reportedly the first group of people to protest against slavery in the American colonies that would become the U.S.
In the 19th century, many Friends were prominent in social reform, including Elizabeth Fry.
The Quakers now form a worldwide movement of about 375,000, and traditionally worship is marked by its stress on meditation and by the freedom of all to take an active part in the service (called a meeting).
Quakers have no priests or ministers, and congregate in ‘meeting houses’ rather than churches.
Around 79% of Quakers worldwide belong to the “evangelical” and “programmed” branches of Quakerism. These Quakers have a different kind of worship service, like other Christian meetings. They sing hymns and a pastor gives a sermon.