England Quaker History (National Institute)
The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course English: Non-Anglican Church Records by Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).
Quakers[edit | edit source]
History and Beliefs[edit | edit source]
The Religious Society of Friends (colloquially Friends or Quakers) was an extreme puritanical group founded by George Fox in 1647 and had its chief strength in north west England. [Note this date, all those who mistakenly believe that the Mayflower was loaded with Quakers in 1620!) The group did not believe in formal services, buildings or paid ministers and thus did not pay tithes to support them, hence their particular antipathy towards the imposition of tithes on every inhabitant for the benefit of the Anglican Church. Quakers were upright citizens believing that all were equal, that God’s word was given to each one individually, and opposed violence including armed service. The Bible was viewed as interesting but certainly not binding. These views frequently brought them in conflict with the law and they were much persecuted until William III’s Act of Toleration in 1689. Starting in 1682, William Penn lead 23,000 Quakers to North America where they established the colony of Pennsylvania. This severely depleted Quaker strength in England and numbers were down to 40,000 by 1700 and declined drastically by the mid-18th century, aided by their forbidding of marriage to outsiders and to first cousins. Some joined other Protestant groups, and others, who perhaps had gained more prominence in society, felt that the Anglican church was a better choice. They have remained a small and separate group ever since, but have been extremely influential in social reform. Nowadays there are about 18,000 Quakers in Britain.
The Friends set up numerous meeting houses (they did not favour fancy church buildings, calling them steeplehouses), as well as Quaker schools. In 1694 there were 151 district groups called Monthly Meetings and the local community units called Preparative or Particular Meetings drew up material for them to discuss. Men and women would often meet separately and divide up the work. Representatives were elected to the county Quarterly Meetings which, in turn, sent representatives to the Yearly Meeting held in London. Their superb organization allowed them to organize philanthropic work and exert a considerable influence in public affairs. There is a great amount of historical literature on the Society of Friends; a keyword search on the FamilySearch Catalog for ENGLAND + QUAKER brings up well over 800 references. As an example, Rickard’s small book on Quakers in Kent gives a concise history as well as lists of births, marriages and burials from different Monthly Meetings, extracts of wills, burial ground deeds and subscription list, and a Quaker Affirmation Roll. Bartlett has a two-part article on Quaker records, and a major section on west country Quakers appeared in the Greenwood Tree (Anonymous).
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