The beginnings of Quakers

George Fox was a young saddle maker from Leicestershire, living in the latter part of the Commonwealth, the days when Oliver Cromwell was leading the country. Fox had become an itinerant disputing preacher. Church attendance, at least once a week, was compulsory, but the clergy was seen, very much, as agents of the establishment, and it was fairly common, in a country rife with radicalism and experiment, for alternative ideas on religion to be preached from within the congregation by disputing preachers. This often led to mob violence under the direction of the local gentry and priests.
Fox was quite certain that radical change was needed but he was frustrated that he could not find any one person who could clear his mind and show him the way forward. Suddenly, in1652, he had an inspiration born out of his own experience, that there was one who could teach and lead him and in whom he could have total confidence. That one was the inward Spirit. His wanderings now had a purpose as he set out to find others whose experience showed them that what he was now preaching was the truth. As he found such people he recognised them as friends, and as this group of friends expanded they needed some degree of organisation, after some experimentation they settled on the name Friends, and this group grew into the Religious Society of Friends.
Somewhere along the line, Fox was being questioned by a Magistrate (something which happened quite often) and, it is reputed, the Magistrate asked what happened to these people called Friends when the Spirit moved them. We quake in awe of it replied Fox. Ah! Exclaimed the Magistrate you should be called Quakers then. We don't know how true the story is, but the name initially intended to ridicule, stuck.
Quakers had come together as a society at the end of the Commonwealth when the ascendant form of religion was Puritanism, which they were a part of.  Like all Puritans at the time they would have nothing to do with the theater, music, dancing, playing games, they would refuse hat honour - the doffing of one's hat to other people, they referred to days by number rather than by names that related to pagan Gods and astronomical objects.  However, they soon found that the restoration of the monarchy changed the mood of the nation and left them with much less protection.  Even in the early days with Cromwell in charge they dissenting preachers, such as George Fox, would be chased out towns and villages by braying mobs under the direction of the local clergy and gentry.  Fox was chased out of Brecon on his first visit.  Quite often they would be left in a ditch battered, bruised and hacked at.  Now with the Restoration even quiet Quaker gatherings would be broken up and the worshipers chased away, their animals and furniture taken by the authorities.  The response of peace loving Quakers was never to fight back but they had a method of combating such violence.  They became very adept at recording! 
The persecution of Quakers became quite a problem for them, there are records of local Radnorshire Quakers constantly being brought before the magistrates for non payment of tithes or for holding "illegal gatherings".
One of Charles I's supporters had been Admiral Penn, who had loaned Charles a considerable sum of money.  Penn had a son William who inherited the estate, part of which was the outstanding loan to the king.  William became a courtier but had also become interested in what Quakers were saying, he went to meet Fox and was persuaded by what Fox had to say.  Charles II  having been restored to the throne now took on his father's indebtedness to the Penns.  Charles was also irritated by these "troublesome Quakers".  The younger Penn put forward a solution to Charles, that he found acceptable.  Instead of repaying the loan with cash, Penn would accept the gift of a tranche of land in
the New World, here he would create a great religious experiment.  This new country would be tolerant of all religions and would provide opportunities for people who were being persecuted to start new lives.  The land that he was gifted was heavily forested to Penn decided to call it Sylvania, however the King was adamant that Admiral Penn's name should be remembered for his generosity to the first Charles, hence the new state became Pennsylvania.
Penn had previously developed a charter of rights for the tenants on his Estate, he now adapted this a little to form the charter of the new state, that in turn was taken as the basis of the charter of the United States.  When you hear of "amendments", for example the amendment to include the roght to bear arms, these are extra paragtraphs added to Penn's original charter.
Many British Quakers, including a substantial number of Radnorshire Quakers emigrated to this new tolerant state.  Dissenters throughout northern Europe also found the new state very attractive and many German and Dutch dissenters moved there.  The Amish were one such group.

No comments:

Post a Comment