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Who Are The Quakers?

This detailed history of the Friends is an excerpt from the book A Garden of the Lord: A History of Oregon Yearly Meeting of Friends Church, by Ralph K. Beebe, published by Barclay Press and is reprinted here by permission. Please contact them for more information about this book or other Quaker writings.

The Antecedents of Oregon Yearly Meeting

George Fox, the founder of Quakerism, was born in England in 1624, the year before Charles I came to the throne. Fox’s parents were Puritans, but the Calvinist theology seemed rigidly legalistic to George who saw it in sharp contrast to the simple message of Christ as it had been taught by the early church. He was also greatly distressed by the inconsistency and lack of spiritual depth of those around him who professed a religion they did not possess–who called themselves Christians but whose lives were empty. He thought that Christianity should be a vital experience, and should bring a real change to the life of the believer.

In 1643, nineteen-year-old George Fox sought healing for his troubled soul. He turned to the leaders of the Church of England as well as to the Puritans. Some were helpful, but many had little time for him. He said that one priest seemed “like an empty, hollow cask”;1another raged “as if his house had been on fire”2 when Fox clumsily stepped into his flower bed. A minister to whom he turned was found to be “angry and pettish”3 ; another prescribed the rather unspiritual remedy of physic and bloodletting.4 One answered Fox’s deep soul cry by advising him to smoke tobacco and sing psalms; to this he affirmed that “tobacco was a thing I did not love, and psalms I…could not sing.”5 He was deeply disappointed when one counselor “…told my troubles and sorrows and griefs to his servants, so that it got among the milk-lasses, which grieved me that I should open my mind to such an one. I saw they were all miserable comforters; and this brought my troubles more upon me.”6

Finally rejecting ecclesiastical counseling, George Fox turned from the blind leaders of the blind and went into the orchard to study his Bible and meditate (he reportedly knew the Bible so well he could quote most of it from memory7 ). He testified that while there the Lord showed him that formal education was not enough to qualify a man to be a minister. Furthermore, ministers were not really important, since anyone could contact God directly with no human mediator necessary. With this he turned his attention to Jesus Christ: “And when all l my hopes…in all men were gone, so that I had nothing outwardly to help me, nor could [I] tell what to do, then, Oh then, I heard a voice which said, ‘There is one, even Christ Jesus that can speak to thy condition,’ and when I heard it my heart did leap for joy.”8

This spiritual experience brought a profound change to his life. Now no longer a seeker, he had become a finder. “Gone was the darkness of his own soul. In its place was the light of Christ which brought faith, and trust, and hope, and love. That righteousness which he had been seeking came only as he turned from seeking it in the counsels of men and discovered it in the seeking Christ. Here was the key that set him free.”9

Fox described his awakening in these words: “Now was I come up in spirit through the flaming sword into the paradise of God. All things were new, and all the creation gave another smell unto me than before, beyond what words can utter. I knew nothing but pureness, and innocency, and righteousness, being renewed up into the image of God by Christ Jesus, so that I…was come up to the state of Adam which he was in before he fell.”10

George Fox’s spiritual awakening resulted in a feverish compulsion to spread the message. Many others soon joined him, calling themselves “Friends of the Truth,” but nicknamed “Quakers” in ridicule, probably because they called on people to quake under the power of the Holy Spirit. They were certain that what they had experienced should be shared with others, and they felt that the “hireling ministry” in the “steeplehouses” was obstructing rather than spreading the Truth. Taking advantage of an old law which allowed lay preaching after the sermon, they sometimes challenged and denounced the ministers. When this was made illegal they took brief note of the new law–and continued as before, occasionally even interrupting the sermon. To them, the law of conscience superseded civil legislation.

Quite naturally, the officials were anxious to suppress this disturbance and it was not difficult to enlist the aid of mobs. On one occasion when Fox tried to preach, he was thrown down the cathedral steps.11 Later, when speaking in a steeplehouse,

…they fell upon me, and the clerk up with his [brass-bound] Bible as I was speaking and hit me in the face that my face gushed out with blood, and it run off me in the steeplehouse. And then they cried, “Take him out of the church,” and they punched me and thrust me out and beat me sore with books, fists and sticks, and threw me over a hedge into a close and there beat me into a house, punching me through the entry, and there I lost my hat and never had it again, and after dragged me into the street, stoning and beating me along, sorely blooded and bruised. And the priest beheld a great part of this his people’s doings.

And so after awhile I got into the meeting again amongst Friends, and the priest and people coming by the Friend’s house, I went forth with Friends into the yard and there I spoke to the priest and people, they being in the street and I in the Friend’s yard on a wall. My spirit was revived again by the power of God…to him be the glory. And the priest scoffed at us and called us Quakers; but…the Lord’s power was so over them all, and the word of life was declared in so much power and dread to them, that the priest fell a-trembling himself, so that one said unto him, “Look how the priest trembles and shakes, he is turned a Quaker also.”12

A man once threatened him with a sword, but Fox looked calmly at him and said, “Alack for thee, it’s no more to me than a straw.” The attacker went away in a rage, but “…afterwards he was very loving to Friends; and when I came to that town again both he and his wife came to see me.”13

The Quaker movement grew rapidly, increasing the threat and resulting in numerous court appearances. Friends were charged with nonpayment of tithes, refusal to honor magistrates, refusal to take oaths, vagrancy, Sabbath breaking (to attend a Quaker meeting was to break the Sabbath), blasphemy, and plotting against the government.14 Some who feared the return of Roman Catholicism saw a threat in Quakerism; one of their pamphlets was entitled ‘The Quakers Unmasked, and clearly detected to be but the Spawn of Romish Frogs, Jesuits and Franciscan Fryers, [sic] sent from Rome to seduce the intoxicated Giddy-headed English nation.”15

During the first 25 years of Quakerism about 15,000 Friends were jailed, of whom about 450 died.16 George Fox was imprisoned eight times for a combined total of about six years. Jail conditions were often miserable; he described one as a place “…where men and women were put together and never a house of office, in a nasty and uncivil manner which was a shame to Christianity. And the prisoners were exceedingly lousy; and there was one woman almost eaten to death with lice. But the prisoners were made all of them very loving to me, and some of them were convinced…”17 One young Quakeress, Ann Audland, was put into a “close, nasty place, several steps below ground, on the side whereof was a sort of common shore that received much of the mud of the town, that at times did stink sorely; besides frogs and toads did crawl in their room and no place for fire.”18 Some jailers were very cruel; Fox reported that one once “…came in a rage with his great staff. And he fell a-beating of me…and as he struck me I was made to sing in the Lord’s power and that made him rage the more.”19

While in jail the Quakers held meetings for worship in which many fellow prisoners were converted; they also wrote letters and tracts which were sent out through visitors. George Fox testified that “I was never in prison that it was not the means of bringing multitudes out of their prisons.”20 A splendid example was a boy of 16, James Parnell, who had walked 150 miles to visit Fox. The two spent some time together, and when the lad left the prison, he had received an experience which was to change his brief life. Soon he was preaching to thousands of people; ironically, in 1656 he became the first Quaker martyr at the age of 19, following eight months of imprisonment and frequent beatings. He had been assigned to “the hole in the wall,” high above the floor and attainable by a ladder which was six feet too short; from there he had to climb a suspended rope. One day as he ascended to “the hole,” carrying some food in one hand, he fell to the stones below.21

Imprisonment was not the only penalty imposed upon the Quakers. Many were placed in stocks and whipped, some received heavy fines, and about 200 were transported forcibly to the colonies.22 Sometimes property was confiscated, including livestock, working tools, cooking utensils and beds.23 Some Quakers convicted of vagrancy were stripped naked, put in stocks, and whipped with cords.24

Robert Barclay, an early Quaker theologian, described how the Friends expressed their testimony:

Without regard to any opposition whatsoever, or what they might meet with, [the Quakers] went up and down, as they were moved of the Lord, preaching and propagating the truth in market-places, highways, streets, and public temples, though daily beaten, whipped, bruised, haled, and imprisoned therefore. …Yea, when sometimes the magistrates have pulled down their meeting-houses, they have met the next day openly upon the rubbish, and so by innocency kept their possession and ground, being properly their own, and their right to meet and worship God being not forfeited to any. So that when armed men have come to dissolve them, it was impossible for them to do it, unless they had killed every one; …When the malice of their opposers stirred them to take shovels, and throw the rubbish upon them, they stood unmoved, being willing, if the Lord should so permit, to have been there buried alive, witnessing for him. As this patient but courageous way of suffering made the persecutors’ work very heavy and wearisome unto them, so the courage and patience of the sufferers, using no resistance, nor bringing any weapons to defend themselves, nor seeking any ways revenge upon such occasions, did secretly smite the hearts of the persecutors, and made their chariot wheels go on heavily.25

As a result, Barclay affirmed, the Friends were able after a few years to meet together without much disturbance. He pointed out that most non-Quaker dissenters met only in secret and attempted to hide their testimony, resorting to force if they were discovered, “…whereby they lose the glory of their sufferings, by not appearing as the innocent followers of Christ, nor having a testimony of their harmlessness in the hearts of their pursuers, their fury, by such resistance, is the more kindled against them.”26 George Fox noted that when the king asked one governor if he had dispersed all meetings of dissenting sects, the answer was: “The Quakers the devil himself could not: for if he did imprison them, and break them up, they would meet again; and if he did imprison them, and break them up, they would meet again; and if he should beat them, and knock them down, or kill some of them…they would meet…again.”27

So it was that the officials gradually tired of dealing with the Quakers and began leaving them alone. Their firm devotion to what they believed to be the will of God was impossible to combat. “Beat a drum, as was sometimes tried, to drown any words being spoken, and Friends settled easily into silence. Throw the men into prison, and the women and children continued the meeting; throw the women after the men, and the children continued alone.”28 Some years before the Act of Toleration in 1689 the Friends had thus won their own tolerance by a strictly nonviolent passive resistance.

To the Quakers, the source of nonviolence was the love of God, with which they believed all conflict was inconsistent. George Fox declared: “…I lived in the virtue of that life and power that took away the occasion of all wars…” In a letter to Cromwell he further stated: “I was set of God to stand a witness against all violence, and the works of darkness; and to turn people form darkness to light, and to bring them from the causes of war and fighting to the peaceable Gospel.”29

The passivity of the Quakers, which was so successful in breaking down the resistance of civil authorities, contrasts sharply with the activism with which their message was carried. The refusal to retaliate was evidence of the love of God in their hearts–ye the same love prompted them to witness actively to their fellowmen to the extent that within ten years there were about 50,000 converts.30 In addition to the personal witness of each new believer, a group which has become known as “the Valiant Sixty”31 ministered throughout the English countryside, receiving subsistence from the Kendal Fund, which has been established to support evangelism and to aid the families of Friends who were imprisoned. Usually they went forth two by two, ministering in homes, marketplaces, and jails, and giving witness in churches. They called their work “the Lamb’s War,” after the injunction in the book of Revelation to follow the Lamb, the conquering Christ.32 This took them not only throughout the British Isles but to much of the world. Two Friends rather audaciously went to Rome to convert the Pope. The attempt was unsuccessful; one was hanged, and the other was imprisoned for three years in a madhouse.33 In 1658 a Quakeress, Mary Fisher, traveled alone and on foot the 600 miles from a Mediterranean port to Adrianople to visit the Sultan of Turkey, who was there with his army. She reported that the Moslem ruler received her courteously, heard her, and expressed respect for one who would come with such a message from the Lord.34 Letters were sent to nearly all the rulers of Europe, and an unsuccessful attempt was made to contact the emperor of China.

Many Quakers went to America, some as missionaries and some as colonists, beginning as early as 1655. They received legal toleration in Catholic Maryland and most of the other colonies, but their actions in Massachusetts were met with persecution, although not without cause from the standpoint of the Puritans. Two received 350 lashes each during nine weeks if imprisonment for speaking after a Salem minister had completed his sermon. Another was given 117 strokes with a tarred rope in one day.35 Some lost their ears, were branded, or had their tongues bored. When this failed to stop them, they were banished from Massachusetts; if they returned they were to be whipped, have the right ear cut off, and be deported again. When this did not serve its intended purpose, returning after banishment was made a capital offense. Among those were were executed was a Quakeress, Mary Dyer. After receiving the death sentence she was reprieved and deported, but upon her return in 1660 she was hanged. A young officer of the guard, Edward Wanton, is said to have declared after one of the executions that “…we have been murdering the Lord’s people, and I will never put a sword on again.”36

The need for a religious sanctuary caused William Penn to purchase a tract of land in 1674 and originate the Pennsylvania colony. Complete religious freedom was granted to all sects. The relationship which was established with the Indians was noteworthy, as it was based upon mutual love and understanding. Voltaire later noted that Penn’s treaty with the Indians was “the only treaty that the world has ever known, never sworn to, and never broken.”37

It is clear that the early Quakers were filled with a deep commitment to a twofold message: they believed firmly in the power of God to bring peace to the troubled soul, and they were certain that all were created equal in the sight of God, in social as well as in spiritual matters. All had equal access to God, regardless of status or position. Similarly, all were to be treated equally in secular matters.

Such egalitarianism is seen in the refusal to follow the prevailing custom of addressing “superiors” in the plural. The singular thee and thou was used in all conversation, even when George Fox spoke to Oliver Cromwell. Similarly, Friends declined to honor civil and religious authorities by removing their hats. In an England still intensely conscious of social status, this dedication to human equality under God was a striking contrast.

Quakers rejected the outward ordinances, such as baptism and communion, believing the truth of Christ was inward and spiritual. They refused to swear oaths, maintaining that their word was always as good as their bond and did not depend upon a special oath. They expressed in clear tones their hatred of a socially elite “hireling ministry,” and generally held meetings on the basis of obedience to the Holy Spirit–that is, in silent meditation, until someone who felt the Spirit of God upon him rose to voice a message. Simplicity of worship and speech was accompanied by a simplicity of dress. They wore common garb of the prevailing style and would do nothing to call attention to themselves by their appearance. All of this is further evidence of their conviction that all were children of God, and no human being deserved special allegiance.

The Quakers were active social reformers, though not violent revolutionaries. At one time Fox cried, “Woe, woe, woe, to the oppressors of the Earth, who grind the faces of the poor and rack and stretch out their Rents.”38 On another occasion he said it was not God’s will for a few to lord it over their brethren. He condemned the enclosure, a means by which the landed aristocracy of England attempted to consolidate and maintain its wealth, and he even suggested that the church lands be given to the poor and that the abbeys and churches be used as almshouses.39 He also worked for prison reform and just treatment of the “insane, and expressed opposition to capital punishment and slavery.40 Concurrent with social contract philosophers of the seventeenth century, he believed that governments exist for the benefit of the people. When it was obvious that the magistrates were ruling outside the will of God, civil disobedience was assumed to be not only acceptable, but essential. The early Quakers felt that if their work of winning converts was obstructed, their obedience was to the Higher Law. Rendering unto Caesar would be limited to the things which were Caesar’s. Men’s souls were the “things” that were God’s.

The early Friends had no distinct creed, but centered their message upon Christ Himself, through whom they felt man could be justified.41 Among the first statements of their faith was George Fox’s letter to the governor of Barbados in 1671, and Robert Barclay’s Apology for the True Christian Divinity, addressed to King Charles II in 1675. Fox’s letter was a brief statement of the Friends position42 ; Barclay’s work was a detailed explanation of the doctrinal differences between Friends and the surrounding religious bodies.43

One of George Fox’s biographers, Arthur Roberts, summarized the early Quaker movement:

People were brought out of prison by Fox both figuratively and actually. People who came to gawk at the man in the leather breeches saw the condition of the jails and the misery that went on behind them. Governors and men in authority were made aware that prisoners were human beings. They saw the softening effect of Christian love upon the worst prisoners, as displayed by Fox and his fellows. The Quaker was the thorn in the flesh of careless injustice. He publicized the infamy of holding a man without an accusation. by his refusal to take the oaths of either abjuration or allegiance he showed England that men of deep religious conscience are her most stalwart citizens, for they do not bend to every political wind. While other Englishmen jumped from sworn loyalty to kings to abjuration of monarchy and then back again, Fox played it his fellowmen. by his refusal to doff the hat, to buy favors of the jailers, or to “escape” when he was innocently charged, he pricked the conscience of the English judicial system.44

This, then, was the impact of the early Friends upon England and the world. For a time this radically concerned group was the fastest growing movement of the Western World45 ; within 40 years it had become the foremost dissenting religious body in England. Unlike the Separatists, who removed themselves from the hostile environment, most Quakers chose to stay and suffer for religious freedom. In so doing, they had a considerable impact on a social and religious system which was much in need of reform. An explanation for the Revolution of 1688 must give some credit to this group which had been willing to actively–but nonviolently–express its dissent.

The Period of Quietism

After its first half century, Quakerism failed to maintain the vitality of the early years. Many Friends became fearful that outward activity might impede the work of the Spirit. Some reaction to the extreme evangelism of the early years might have been anticipated, but in the eighteenth century the influence of the Quakers on the world around them was greatly inhibited.

Setting the tone for the Quietist attitude was the work of Hugh Turford, The Grounds of a Holy Life, published in 1702: “We must retire from all outward objects, and silence all the desires and wandering imaginations of the mind; that in this profound silence of the whole soul, we may hearken to the ineffable voice of the Divine Teacher. We must listen with an attentive ear; for it is a still small voice…But how seldom it is that the soul keeps itself silent enough for God to speak.”46

The fear of “creaturely activity,” and of “running ahead of the Spirit” began to greatly inhibit the activist, expressive form of Christianity which had so characterized earlier Quakers. As a result, many Friends meetings were held in complete silence; one traveling minister recorded having sat through 22 consecutive meetings with only a single break in silence.47 A Quaker scholar, Myron Goldsmith, notes that the silence was an attempt by the worshiper to divest his mind of temporal matters, and to open himself to the direct leading of the Spirit. “Music or singing was never heard, since it was unthinkable that many persons would be divinely led to sing the same song, and all activity not led of the Spirit was creaturely and carnal, ministering death rather than life. In congregational singing, moreover, it was feared that some would participate in a hymn which avowed purposes or feelings they did not possess, and thus involve themselves in untruthfulness. For the same reason, group prayers were shunned, and no Friend was ever called upon to offer prayer or a testimony, lest the sovereign prerogatives of the Spirit be abridged. Prayer was to be always ‘in the Spirit,’ and hence not to be entered into in response to any external directions.”

In the meeting, “…worshipers were confronted not by the conventional platform and pulpit of Protestantism, but by the ‘gallery,’ or ‘facing benches.’ These stretched across the room in two or three rows, one slightly above another, and were filled with solemn men and women–the elders and ministers of the society. Facing the gallery was the assembled congregation. A low partition separated the sexes in the gallery as well as the congregation. All save visitors were dressed in the austere styles and the blacks and greyes of a society bearing a testimony to plainness in dress.”48

The movement to Quietism correlated with the growing prosperity of Friends. Eighteenth century England, with its rapidly developing small industries, opened an ideal opportunity for honest people, and the Quaker reputation for absolute integrity served them well in the business world. Some began to be so concerned with profits that they lost sight of their spiritual message. One historian of Quakerism, John Sykes, asks: “What was happening? Were Friends, prospering almost as a by-product of their single-minded dedication to Truth, starting to prize this new estate before their old prophetic calling? What did they now most mean by ‘calling’?”

Sykes answers his questions by asserting that “for a season, a rather lengthy season, Quakers, that is the increasingly predominant middle-class trading element in the Society, headed by an inter-related group of merchant-manufacturing-banking families, who represented Friends to the world, who began running the Society itself like one of their counting houses, giving it its sedate conformist air, did in fact lost the Quaker thread handed to them by their fathers, the tentative way…to the meeting place of God and man, with centuries of other men’s prayer behind it…because they became over-involved in making money, and more than that in maintaining the attitudes and status their prosperity conferred on them.”49

During this period the relatively informal rules of Friends became a rather rigid, legalistic set of orders called a Discipline. There was a general expulsion of members who married nonmembers, or failed to live up to the regulations regarding simplicity, and who otherwise failed to act in harmony with the Discipline. Quakerism had lost much of the vitality of its first half century.

Nevertheless, this era was one of cultural creativeness for the members of the Society. One historian, Howard Brinton, appropriately describes the Quaker community as a place where “the meeting was the center, spiritually, intellectually and economically. It included a library and a school. Disputes of whatever nature were settled in the business sessions of the meeting. The poor were looked after, moral delinquents dealt with, marriages approved and performed. There was little need for court or police force or officials of any kind except a few whose function was to transfer property and perform similar legal duties. Each group, centered in the meeting, was a well-ordered, highly integrated community of interdependent members.”50

The Humanitarian Emphasis

It was during the eighteenth century that the Quakers gained their reputation for humanitarian service. Although the earliest Friends had maintained the conviction that all were equal in spite of class or ethnic differences, most of their activity was directed toward the solution of spiritual rather than social problems. But after 1750, active programs were developed for relief of the poor, improved education, public health, prison reform, temperance, and the abolition of the slave trade and of slavery.51 Among the leaders of England were William Tuke, who saw the “insane” as human beings rather than criminals to be locked up or exhibited as circus attractions, and who used love rather than cruelty as a treatment; Peter Bedford, who joined the utopian socialist, Robert Owen, in a successful experiment in improving labor conditions at the New Lanark cotton mills during the Industrial Revolution; William Allen, who fought for the abolition of capital punishment in the early nineteenth century; and Elizabeth Fry, who, through her Association for the Improvement of Women Prisoners, helped to bring much needed reform. Their counterparts in America–like John Woolman, Caleb Lownes, Isaac Parrish, and James Pemberton–performed similar service.

Why did the humanitarian emphasis grow out of the Quietism rather than the period of evangelical vitality? Recent scholarship by Sydney V. James52 suggests that in America, Quaker humanitarianism resulted from the changing political and social roles of the Friends themselves. During the early part of the eighteenth century the Quietists, with their unique form of worship and quaint mannerisms, had developed something of a corporate solidarity, while at the same time playing an important political role. When, with the outbreak of the French and Indian War in western Pennsylvania, they had to fight or lose control of the colony, most of them voluntarily resigned their political positions. A few years later, with the American Revolution impending, Friends in other colonies created similar problems for themselves. They were hostile to acts of violence formented by radicals; they were generally lukewarm to the colonial reactions against the Stamp and Townsend Acts, and less than two months before the Continental Congress met to respond to the Coercive Acts, the Philadelphia Meeting for Sufferings recorded a minute against participation in the public disturbances.

In January of 1776, while revolutionary patriots were reading Thomas Paine and pondering independence, the Philadelphia Meeting for Sufferings and Philadelphia Yearly Meeting issued proclamations of loyalty to the Crown, determination to prevent smuggling by colonial merchants, and refusal to pay taxes in support of the war. Furthermore, they refused to join in the public thanksgiving for the American victory in 1781.53

These attitudes could hardly be expected to win the sympathy of the supercharged American patriots. In Pennsylvania, Friends were charged double taxes, some were jailed on political charges, and a law requiring schoolteachers to give loyalty oaths to the new government caused Quaker schools to be closed for a brief time.54 Having been dominant or highly influential in several colonies at mid-century, by 1783 the Friends seemed alien to many Americans.

The reaction was what Sydney James calls a “moral reform,” or an attempt to maintain the status of the Society by emphasizing humanitarian service. This resulted in an intensified expression of their concern for the slave, the Indian, and any other group or individual denied what were considered to be God-given human rights. In 30 years, Quakerism in America had been largely transformed from a position of social and political status with little real influence on the world to one of limited political power but an intense social concern which was to become internationally known. James argues that “the public hostility and political harassment which they encountered between 1755 and 1783 gave them a choice between withdrawing into an isolated world of their own, giving up their distinguishing ‘testimonies,’ or meeting the challenge by making their sect important to the rest of the nation. By following the third of these policies, they responded creatively to the most serious emergency in the history of American Quakerism. Although they could not hold their previous proportion of the population, they increased their contribution to the American nation. Accepting the demand of the Revolutionary patriots that they take a positive part in the new republic, the Quakers chose to act as a lobby for virtue and to some extent as a philanthropic organization.”55

Nineteenth Century Divisions

It is significant, however, that the reforms did not carry an accompanying evangelistic emphasis. While the Quakers expressed a desire to free and educate the slave, and while they developed programs to compensate the Indian for the land he had lost and to teach him agriculture, they declined to make any real effort to extend spiritual influence.56 This was to be one factor in bringing division to American Quakerism in the nineteenth century. While the original Friends had been characterized chiefly by their intensive evangelical zeal, Quietism had robbed the movement of its outreach, and caused it to become institutionalized. When events beyond their control moved them to emphasize their humanitarian heritage, the door was open for a reaction by those who felt the spiritual life of the Society was also in need of renewal.

The late eighteenth century was the period of the Weselyan movement and the evangelical revival in the Church of England. In the early nineteenth century Yale College became an evangelical stronghold; the “haystack prayer meetings,” which were held at Williams College in Massachusetts led to a mission emphasis in some parts of Protestantism, and the American Bible Society was established. All of these movements had a significant impact upon those who wrought a renewed evangelical emphasis in Quakerism. Simultaneously, however, the world was experiencing a reaction against institutionalized religion. The natural rights philosophy, deism, and French Revolutionary rationalism inflicted heavy blows upon authoritarianism in church and state. There occurred a strong tendency to suspect any movement which might reverse the trend toward democracy and free thought.

These ambivalent influences converged in many religious groups during the early nineteenth century. The result was division not only in Quakerism, but in the Methodist, Presbyterian and Baptist churches also, as well as a decisive Congregationalist-Unitarian split in 1824.

Friends in the early nineteenth century were still emphasizing the democratic aspects of their religion and man’s direct relationship with God. But the evangelical revivalism of other Protestant groups, many of which appeared oriented toward structured services and contrived emotionalism, seemed alien to many Quakers who had been reared in Quietism. If the religious life of the Society had not fallen so low during the Quietist period, it is conceivable that the moral reform might have been accompanied by a rekindling of the evangelical fires. Had this occurred, Quakerism might have synthesized the divisive influences of the nineteenth century. But the renewing of the religious zeal following the years of Quietism required methods which were sure to create discontent.

Further, at the root of the split was a basic disagreement about the nature of man, making consensus nearly impossible. On the one hand were those who saw man as essentially good; since all had been given a measure of the divine Spirit of God (Inner Light), anyone who submitted himself to its leading would be able to live in conformity to the will of God. Taking an opposing position were those who saw man as having a sinful nature, with improvement possible only through the redemptive power of Jesus Christ. This belief led the evangelicals to emphasize the Scriptures as the major source of authority, the blood of Christ as the means of atonement, and the elders and overseers as spokesmen for matters of doctrine. This, in turn, aroused the opposition of Quietist-reared Quakers who emphasized continuing revelation instead of scriptural authority, behavior rather than belief as a manifestation of righteousness, and religious freedom against what they saw as a threat from those on the “facing benches” [elders].

The result was that religious liberalism clashed directly with the growing evangelical movement. The feeling that it was hardly necessary to believe anything in order to be a Quaker met the insistence on the acceptance of specific fundamental beliefs. As Edwin B. Bronner puts it, the liberal element became more tolerant of all positions at the very moment the evangelical wing became the most intolerant of any deviation.57

The actual schism resulted from the ministry of Elias Hicks, who felt that the basic tenets of eighteenth century Quietism were slipping away and set about trying to resist the evangelicals. When it seemed that they were overemphasizing Scripture and de-emphasizing the “progressive revelation,” Hicks responded by saying: “How much more reasonable it is to suppose, that an inspired teacher in the present day should be led to speak more truly and plainly to the state of the people, to whom he is led to communicate, than any doctrines that were delivered one thousand seven hundred years ago to a people very differently circumstanced to those in this day, I leave to every rational mind to judge.”58 When in the heat of battle with the evangelical ministers who attempted to “labor” with him after the Quaker fashion, Hicks felt constrained to assert that parts of the bible were translated erroneously, that it was necessary to believe only certain portions of the Scriptures, and that the writing of philosophers such as Confucius could be as divinely inspired as the Bible, the lines of the cleavage had been clearly drawn.59 A division occurred in Philadelphia in 1827, and other yearly meetings soon followed.60

The practical effect of the separation was that the majority, who became known as “Orthodox” insisted more than ever on the deity of Jesus Christ and on the authenticity of the Scriptures. This soil was therefore fertile for Joseph John Gurney, a noted English Friend who traveled to the United States for a three-year tour of American meetings in 1837. He was an active member of the British and Foreign Bible Society61 and had great appeal among the Orthodox Friends. His ministry helped to bring the revivals which were to sweep the next generation of Quakers.

Gurney’s teaching aroused the opposition of many, notably John Wilbur, who felt that direct Bible teaching and lecturing on the Bible was work “done in the will of the creature.”62 To Wilbur it seemed that Gurney was “…preaching doctrines not in accord with primitive Quakerism, such as a belief in imputed righteousness through a profession of faith and in the Bible as the only source of Truth; the Word of God rather than a word of God.”63 To the Gurneyites it appeared that Wilbur was saying that the individual cannot know that he is saved.64

Probably neither Gurney nor Wilbur meant to be interpreted so strongly, but the issues of 1827 were still strong, and the result was another split in the Orthodox wing. By the late nineteenth century American Quakerism had three parts: the Hicksites, who emphasized the mysticism and quietism as a mode of worship; the Orthodox, who emphasized the historical Christ and the Scriptures; and the Wilburites, who stressed the Light within and objected to the evangelical methods and emphasis on the importance of an outward manifestation of Christ’s work.

It is not surprising that revival broke out among Orthodox Friends in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Both of the separations had left them closer to the mainstream of American Protestantism. Both had moved them toward that part of the message of early Friends which emphasized responsibility for the spiritual welfare of one’s fellowman. Myron Goldsmith comments on the renewed evangelical emphasis:

The Awakening had begun amid scenes of order and quietness which involved no real abridgment of the primary Quaker principle that salvation results from a freely made response to the inward movings of the Spirit. As the movement gathered momentum, however, some of the new revivalists who had little real evangelism borrowed from other denominations wherein they had a recent history of usefulness. In some instances these methods were introduced in an unwise manner with little real concern being shown for the shocked feelings of the “dear old Friends,” by which term the revivalists somewhat patronizingly referred to their conservative elders.

Among the innovations were use of the the “mourner’s bench,” or “altar of prayer”; calling for public professions of faith; use of congregational singing; calling upon individuals to pray, and working in the congregation to secure conversions. these revivalistic measures, popularized by Charles G. Finney, seemed to older Friends to be hardly consistent with the time-honored principle that religious decisions were made in response to the Spirit, rather than to external pressures applied under conditions highly charged with emotion. The revivalists seemed unwilling to attempt any reapproachment with the conservatives on this point, however, and many painful episodes…resulted.65

An additional result of the revival movement was the adoption of the pastoral system in some meetings. This seemed logical to many, in view of the large number of newly-won converts who needed to be taught. It was a heartbreaking innovation, however, to those Quakers who loved the simplicity of the unprogrammed meeting for worship, and who felt that the pastoral system would cause the work of the Spirit to be replaced by contrived emotionalism and a pastorally oriented structure.

In 1887 representatives of ten Orthodox American Yearly Meetings, along with London and Dublin Yearly Meetings, met at Richmond, Indiana, to seek areas of cooperation and define doctrinal positions. The most important results included the development of the Richmond Declaration of Faith (a statement of Orthodox doctrine) and preparation for the establishment of the Five Years Meeting of Friends (now Friends United Meeting), which held quinquennial conferences after that time.

The increasing emphasis on evangelism brought considerable growth to Orthodox Quakerism. Although in 1830 the 80,000 Friends in America were probably divided equally between Orthodox and Hicksite66 , by 1890 the Orthodox had doubled, while the Hicksite wing had lost half its membership.67 During the twentieth century some growth occurred, to the extent that by 1964 the two major Orthodox groups (Friends United Meeting and Evangelical Friends Alliance) totaled 90,316 in American, and there were 27,214 members of the Friends General Conference, a predominately Hicksite organization.68

Walter Williams estimates about 195,000 Quakers in the world in 1961, with 123,000 of them in the United States. By 1986 the totals had grown to just over 300,000 worldwide, 111,000 of them in North America. Of the latter, approximately 46,863 were in Friends United Meeting, 25,685 in the Evangelical Friends Alliance, 17,251 in Friends General Conference. Another 22,000 were in combined affiliations or unaffiliated. In 1986 approximately 108,000 Quakers resided in Africa and 55,000 in Central and South America, both primarily the outgrowth of mission work by the Orthodox groups.69

The influence of Quakerism has far exceeded its membership. Friends have expressed their concern for those in need through the American Friends Service committee and other organizations. But those who emphasize an evangelical ministry have not been primarily concerned with social problems. Their conversion experience, with social improvement an anticipated by-product. The evangelical Joseph John Gurney was probably typical of the Orthodox attitude. When he visited the United States during the antebellum period he expressed a deep concern for the slave, but rejected the abolitionism of many Quakers, appealing instead to a more moderate audience. His emphasis was “gradualism, constitutionalized, and quiet persuasion. He abstained from public controversy…He had the ear of the President of the United States, cabinet officials, and congressmen, among them the great triumvirate–Clay, Webster, and Calhoun. Top such eminent political figures he imparted his principles and observations in the spirit of kindness instead of ‘railing accusation.'” In this way he foreshadowed the moderate approach twentieth century evangelical Friends have taken in regard to social problems.


Such, then, is the heritage of Oregon Yearly Meeting of Friends Church. Quakers have taught that man could attain peace of heart “through simple faith in Jesus Christ”–a peace which to them meant not only forgiveness of sin but victory over it, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Closely correlated was the human love which would extend itself to mankind regardless of racial or national boundaries. To the Quaker, his history bears to the world a twofold message–the Gospel of a loving Christ who can speak to every condition, and a message of human love to a world which has too often gone unloved.


  1. Journal of George Fox, revised edition by John Nickalls (Cambridge: University Press, 1952), p. 6. This edition is used throughout this book, denoted simply as Journal.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Arthur O. Roberts, Through Flaming Sword (Portland: The Barclay Press, 1959), p. 13.
  8. Journal, p. 11.
  9. Roberts, op. cit., pp. 19,20.
  10. Journal, p. 27.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Ibid., pp. 98, 99.
  13. Ibid, p. 49.
  14. Elbert Russell, the History of Quakerism (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1942), pp. 60-64.
  15. John Sykes, The Quakers in Puritan England (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1964), p. 70.
  16. Allen C. Thomas estimates that 13,562 were imprisoned, with 338 dying in prison or as a result of assaults on their meetings. Allen C. Thomas, A History of the Friends in America (Philadelphia: The John C. Winston Co., 1930), p. 59.
  17. Journal, p. 164.
  18. Sykes, op. cit., p. 148.
  19. Journal, p. 164.
  20. Roberts, op.cit., p. 37.
  21. Walter R. Williams, The Rich Heritage of Quakerism (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1962), p. 117.
  22. Allen C. Thomas, A History of the Friends in America, (Philadelphia: The John C. Winston Co., 1930), p. 59.
  23. Barbour, op. cit., p. 229.
  24. Sykes, op. cit., pp. 146, 147.
  25. Robert Barclay, An Apology for the True Christian Divinity (Philadelphia: Friends’ Book Store, Stereotype Edition, 1908), pp. 480, 481.
  26. Ibid., p. 482.
  27. Sykes, op. cit., p. 156.
  28. Ibid., p. 157.
  29. Thomas, op. cit., p. 44.
  30. Roberts, op. cit., p. 35.
  31. Williams, op. cit., p. 35.
  32. Barbour, op. cit., p. 40.
  33. Ibid., p. 68.
  34. Mary Agnes Best, Rebel Saints (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1925), pp. 111-115.
  35. Sykes, op. cit., p. 151.
  36. Williams, op. cit., p. 67.
  37. Ibid.., p. 129.
  38. Sykes, op. cit., p. 141.
  39. Ibid.
  40. William C. Braithwaite, The Second Period of Quakerism (Cambridge: University Press, 1961), pp.554-597.
  41. Barclay, op. cit., p. 18.
  42. Letter of George Fox and other Friends to the Governor of Barbados (Philadelphia: Published by the Tract Association of Friends, 1886).
  43. Barclay, op. cit.
  44. Roberts, op. cit., p. 40.
  45. D. Elton Trueblood, The People Called Quakers (New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1966), p. 2.
  46. Hugh Turford, The Grounds of a Holy Life, quoted from Russell, op. cit., p. 233.
  47. Williams, op. cit., p. 123.
  48. Myron Goldsmith, “William Hobson,” unpublished doctoral dissertation, Boston University, 1963, available at George Fox College Library, Newberg, Oregon, p. 45.
  49. Sykes, op. cit., pp. 165, 166.
  50. Howard Brinton, Friends for 300 Years (New York: Harper & Brothers, 11952), p. 184.
  51. Auguste Jorns, The Quakers as Pioneers in Social Work (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1931).
  52. Sydney V. James, A People Among Peoples (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1963).
  53. Ibid., p. 247.
  54. Ibid., p. 245.
  55. James, op cit., p. 333.
  56. Ibid., p. 315.
  57. Edwin B. Bronner, American Quakers Today (Philadelphia: Friends World Committee, American Section and Fellowship Council, 1966), p. 17.
  58. Elias Hicks, Letters of Elias Hicks, taken from Bliss Forbush, Elias Hicks, Quaker Liberal, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1956), p. 210.
  59. Ibid., pp. 223, 224.
  60. Robert W. Doherty, a sociologist, has shown that those who remained with the Orthodox group tended to be relatively wealthy, urban oriented, educated, and interested in internal improvements to aid the developing industrialism of early nineteenth century America. If Doherty is correct, it seems probable that the Orthodox Friends supported the wing of the Jeffersonian Republican Party associated with Henry Clay and the American system (forerunner of the current Democratic party). Robert W. Doherty, The Hicksite Separation (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1967).
  61. Thomas, op. cit., p. 145.
  62. Ibid., p. 147.
  63. Brinton, op. cit., p. 192.
  64. Thomas, op cit., p. 147.
  65. Goldsmith, op. cit., pp. 209, 210.
  66. Russell, op. cit., p. 322; Thomas, op. cit., p. 167.
  67. Rufus M. Jones quotes statistics from the British Friend estimating the number of Orthodox Friends in America at 83,486 in 1843. It is not clear whether these figures are inaccurate, or whether there had actually been this much growth in the fifteen years after the Hicksite separation. Rufus M. Jones, Later Periods of Quakerism (London: Macmillan and Company, Limited, 1921), p. 434.
  68. Those listed as Orthodox include the Friends United Meeting (66,684) and the Evangelical Friends Alliance (23,632), The 1964 total for the Friends General Conference (Hicksite) includes about 5,000 who were listed as Orthodox in the 1890 census (footnote 67). Most of the 5,000 are those in the Arch Street, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, who joined the Friends General Conference in 1955. In 1890 there were 4,329 Wilburite (conservative) Friends. Allen C. Thomas, A History of the Friends in America (Philadelphia: The John C. Winston Co., 1930), p. 256. By 1964 this had decreased to 1,717. Edwin B. Bronner, American Quakers Today (Philadelphia: Friends World Committee, American Section and Fellowship Council, 1966), p. 109. James A. Rawley, “Joseph John Gurney’s Mission to America, 1837-1840,” The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, March, 1963, p. 674.
  69. Walter R. Williams, The Rich Heritage of Quakerism (Newberg: Barclay Press, 1987), pp.313-315.
Twin Rocks Friends Camp