Book Notes: Albion's Seed, Part 3

I'm going through Albion's Seed, David Hackett Fischer's cultural history of the United States, and copying interesting and gameable content. In Part 1, I covered the Puritans. In Part 2, I covered the Virginian Cavaliers. In this post, I'm going to cover the Quakers. You may want to read through both previous posts before you start on this one.

The Puritans are virtue magnified into folly. The Cavaliers are vice magnified into folly. The Quakers feel like wisdom magnified into folly. Knowing the right thing, and doing it, and tolerating yourself out of existence. Succeeding so well you fail. Fischer keeps having to remind his readers not to view the Quakers as modern people in funny hats, but it's a very tempting idea. This chapter is less immediately accessible than the others because parts of it are identical to the modern Western world. The Quakers had a disproportionate influence. It seems to have been largely a positive one.

I'm going to try and quote the bits that aren't, or that explain topics you may not have covered in school.
Earith Monthly Meeting, oil painting by Samuel Lucas (Library ref. Pic F066)
Check out Quaker Strongrooms if you like library science and historical trivia.

Part 3: the Quakers

The Society of Friends

Anglicanism raises a very troubling question; "Are only the English saved?". Traditionally, there are five responses.
1. No, and Anglicanism doesn't go far enough. The Puritans, the Methodists, the Quakers, and many others all sprung (in one way or another) from the same dissatisfaction with the way the Anglican church interpreted the scriptures and carried out temporal works.
2. No, and we wandered into error. Usually results in rejoining the Catholic church (or, in some rare cases, Judaism).
3. No, and that's a very good point, this is all a bit silly anyway. Usually results in atheism. Sometimes, in poetic souls, paganism or inventing new religions.
4. It's complicated. Most Anglicans
5. Yes. See: the Virginian Cavaliers.

The bible says that the meek shall inherit the earth. Look around. Does it look like the meek are in line to inherit anything?

Side Note: I remember an old New Yorker cartoon. There's a crowd outside the pearly gates. St. Peter gets up on a chair and says, "Alright, there's been a change of plans. The meek are inheriting the moon."

Anyway, the Quakers took this idea to heart. They wanted to “to show Quakerism at work, freed from hampering conditions.” Throughout history, many sects, religions, and ideologies have wanted to try their ideas in a place free from interference. By luck of the draw, the Quakers actually got the chance. The amazing thing is that it worked. The meek may not have inherited the earth, but for a while, they inherited Pennsylvania.

Quaker Religious Ways

Because chances good you knew about as much as I did (not much).
All Protestants were children of the Book. The Bible was the foundation of their faith. But Quakers, Calvinists and Anglicans drew very differently upon that common source. The beliefs of the Quakers came from the New Testament. One of the most important Quaker texts, Robert Barclay’s Apology (1675), contained 821 biblical citations, of which 656 (80%) referred to the New Testament. In Barclay’s Catechism, 93 percent of biblical references were to the New Testament, and only 7 percent to the Old. This pattern differed very much from that of Anglicans and especially Puritans, who made heavy use of both books.
A central tenet of Quaker theology was the doctrine of the inner light, which held that an emanation of divine goodness and virtue passed from Jesus into every human soul. They believed that this “light within” brought the means of salvation within reach of everyone who awakened to its existence. Most Quakers rejected the Calvinist principle of limited atonement. They believed that Christ died not merely for a chosen few, but for all humanity. Quakers also rejected the Calvinist ideas of inexorable predestination, unconditional election and irresistible grace. They agreed that people could spurn the spiritual gift that was given to them. “Man’s destruction is of himself,” wrote Thomas Chalkley, “but his salvation is from the Lord.”
Quakers condemned what they called a “hireling clergy,” and “steeple house ways.” They repudiated all sacraments, ceremonies, churches, clergy, ordinations and tithes, and maintained no ministers in the usual sense—only lay missionaries and exhorters whom they were sometimes called ministers. But the Quakers were not Christian anarchists. Of the many radical sects who appeared in seventeenth-century England, they were one of the few to survive beyond the era of their birth, largely because they also created an exceptionally strong set of religious institutions.
The Society of Friends was organized as a complex structure of meetings—men’s meetings and women’s meetings, meetings for worship and meetings for business, monthly meetings, quarterly meetings and yearly meetings. They recognized a need for leadership by elders and overseers, whose task was to teach, counsel and support. But authority belonged to the society itself; Quakers created a rigorous system of collective discipline which regulated marriage, sex, business ethics, dress, speech, eating and drinking, politics, and law. Special attention was given to the rearing of the young—an important factor in the survival of Quakerism, and in the culture that it created in the Delaware Valley.

The Quaker Canaan: The Delaware Valley

The ecology of the Delaware Valley was exceptionally well suited to the cultural purposes of its Quaker colonists. Of all the environments of the Atlantic coast it was uniquely favorable to commercial and industrial development. The river and bay became a great common, lined with flourishing settlements... Close to Philadelphia were large deposits of building stone, coal, copper, iron ore, dense stands of oak, and walnut and chestnut. The soil was rich and fertile, a “good and fruitful land,” Penn called it, “in some places a fast fat earth, like to our best vales in England.”
Another feature of the Delaware Valley was specially important to the Quakers. The natives were friendly, and very different from the more militant tribes of the lower Chesapeake and upper New England. The Delaware Indians as the English called them, or Lenni Lenape as they called themselves, were as distinct from the bellicose Abnaki, the ferocious Pequots and the warlike Powhatan Confederacy as the Quakers were unlike Puritans and cavaliers. William Penn’s Indian policy would have been a disastrous failure in Massachusetts or Virginia, just as it later failed in western Pennsylvania. In the valley of the Delaware, it succeeded splendidly, not only because of the Quakers themselves, but also because of the Indians.
A third environmental factor was the temperate climate, which tended to be favorable to European settlement. Levels of mortality were high by modern standards, and also highly unstable, but the first generation found the Delaware Valley to be healthier than England or Virginia, and not much inferior to Massachusetts.
The meek picked a very good spot to inherit. This was no accident. George Fox personally surveyed part of the region. Enormous parcels of land were purchased and distributed by members of the Society of Friends. Deliberate, methodical, and sensible settlement plans brought them to the Delaware valley.
Some of these acquisitions were made in very strange ways. In 1674, New Jersey had been given by the Duke of York (the future King James II) to his boon companions John Lord Berkeley and Sir George Carteret, who divided it in two parts which they inaccurately called East Jersey and West Jersey. In the same year, Lord Berkeley promptly sold West Jersey to Edward Byllinge, a London Quaker who may have been acting for the Society at large and later resold it to a consortium of Quakers. Much of the land in West Jersey was distributed to 1,400 Quaker colonists who arrived between 1677 and 1681... In 1682, the colony of East Jersey was bought at auction from the widow of Sir George Carteret by another group of Quakers who included the ubiquitous William Penn.
Ah William Penn. Not until Cecil Rhodes would the world see such an improbable combination of luck, talent, capital, vision, and ambiguous long-term success. I think they would have loathed each other.
William Penn was bundle of paradoxes—an admiral’s son who became a pacifist, an undergraduate at Oxford’s Christ Church who became a pious Quaker, a member of Lincoln’s Inn who became an advocate of arbitration, a Fellow of the Royal Society who despised pedantry, a man of property who devoted himself to the welfare of the poor, a polished courtier who preferred the plain style, a friend of kings who became a radical Whig, and an English gentleman who became one of Christianity’s great spiritual leaders.
In 1668 he was locked in the Tower of London for writing a Quaker book. Penn used his time in jail to write another book called No Cross, No Crown, which many take to be his greatest work. Soon after his release, Penn was arrested again in 1670 for preaching outside a locked meetinghouse in London. In the trial that followed, Penn conducted his defense so brilliantly that the jurors refused to convict him even when threatened with prison themselves.
He petitioned his royal friend Charles II for a colony. In 1681, Charles overruled his advisors, and granted the request. The King himself named the colony, adding with his own hand the prefix “Penn” to the proposed “Sylvania.”
Pennsylvania and its neighboring provinces were intended to be in Penn’s words a “colony of heaven” for the “children of Light.” He did not think of his province as a retreat from the world, but as a model for general emulation. Like the Puritans of Massachusetts and the cavaliers of Virginia, Penn intended his American settlement to be an example for all Christians.
I think it’s fair to say that, broadly speaking, only William Penn succeeded.
In social terms, Penn envisioned a society where people of different beliefs could dwell together in peace. His dream was not unity but harmony—and not equality but “love and brotherly kindness.” Penn never imagined that all people were of the same condition. He expected “obedience to superiors, love to equals, and help and countenance to inferiors.” There was to be no freedom for the wicked; Penn’s laws against sin were more rigorous in some respects than those of Puritans or Anglicans.
“Ah, but how did this non-violent lifestyle work in practice?” I hear you ask.
When a gang of pirates stole a ship in Philadelphia and began to plunder the Delaware Valley, Quakers quarreled among themselves over the difficult question of how a society which renounced the use of violence could suppress crime in its midst. The leaders of Pennsylvania, after much soul-searching, decided to use force against the pirates. But the contrary-minded Mr. Keith denounced the use of arms, and another angry controversy developed in the Quaker colonies.

Quaker Family Ways

Quaker ideas of the family were less hierarchical than those of New England Puritans or Virginia Anglicans. Even as many Friends continued to insist that children should obey their parents, and that the young should honor their elders, they tended to think of the family and the household as a union of individuals who were equal in the sight of God. A European visitor in the Quaker household of John Bartram was astonished to find that everybody dined together at the same table—parents, children, hired men, servants and slaves:
There was a long table full of victuals: at the lowest part sat his Negroes; his hired men were next, then the family and myself; and at the head the venerable father and his wife presided. Each reclined his head and said his prayers.
This not a system of strict equality, but it was more egalitarian than attitudes in other Western cultures... The importance that Quakers gave to the ideal of familial love, to the primacy of child rearing, and to the idea of the family as a spiritual sanctuary, all derived from a system of Christian belief that belonged to the seventeenth century and not to the twentieth. The Quaker family was never thought to be an end in itself, but an instrument of God’s holy purposes in the world.

Quaker Marriage Ways

Quakers strongly condemned what they called “mongrel marriages” to “unbelievers. Outmarriage caused many disciplinary proceedings by Quaker meetings. In 1706, for example, one English meeting recorded the disownment of a member named Bartholemew Mastin:
[He] hath gone and joyned himself in marriage with one that is not one of our profession and that we are altogether strangers to … according to the holy writ that believers should not marry with unbelievers … we do deny and disown the said Bartholemew.
This Quaker rule against outmarriage was strictly enforced in America. For nearly two centuries, half of all the disciplinary proceedings among Pennsylvania Quakers were about problems of courtship, and marriage with “unbelievers.” The frequency of these cases increased with time.
People will be people.
They insisted that a marriage must be acceptable to the family, the meeting and the entire community of Friends. The formal consent of all parents was required; without it permission to marry was refused. The approval of a large part of the community was also sought. One Quaker marriage certificate in England (1735) was signed by no fewer than twenty-three supporting witnesses. The marriage of William Penn and Gulielma Springett (1672) was supported by forty-six witnesses, who testified that the couple had “first obtained the good will and consent of their nearest friends and relations.” These customs were also kept in America. Members of the Delaware elite had as many as fifty witnesses; ordinary country folk often had twenty or thirty... A proper Quaker wedding had no fewer than sixteen stages.
Partly because of the laws against outmarriage, partially because of mass immigration into the new colonies, and partially because of a slow retreat from political activity, the Quakers lost influence in the new world. "By 1750, they were a demographic minority in Pennsylvania, and by 1773 they were a minority in its legislature as well. In 1750 Quakerism was the third-largest religion in the US; by 1820 it was the ninth-largest, and by 1981 it was the sixty-sixth largest." Today, there are less than 100,000 Quakers in the United States.

Quaker Gender Ways

Of all the English-speaking people in the seventeenth century, the Quakers moved farthest toward the idea of equality between the sexes. Their founder George Fox set the tone, writing in his journal as early as the year 1647:
I met with a sort of people that held women have no souls, adding in a light manner, no more than a goose. I reproved them, and told them that was not right, for Mary said, “My soul doth magnify the Lord.”
His followers developed this idea into a doctrine that differences of sex were merely carnal, that men and women were equal in the spirit, and that spiritual “power was one in the male and in the female, one spirit, one light, one life, one power, which brings forth the same witness.
Needless to say, this idea was received with polite indifference by the rest of the world.
No, wait. The opposite of that.
Quaker women suffered persecution equally with men. A serving maid named Dorothy Waugh was dragged through the streets of Carlisle with an iron bridle in her mouth to keep her from preaching to the men of that northern city. In Starford, another Quaker woman who preached to an Anglican congregation was seized by the church officers and locked in a cage, “and there she did sit seven hours, where she was pissed on, and spit on.” Near Ormskirk in Lancashire, a Quaker minister named Rebecca Barnes was beaten to death by an angry mob. In Salem, Massachusetts, Puritan magistrates ordered that Quaker Cassandra Southwick should have her children taken and sold at public auction. 
In Cambridge, Massachusetts, aged missionary Elizabeth Hooten was severely flogged with a three-corded whip, then taken to Dedham and Watertown and whipped twice again and abandoned in the woods. Undaunted, she returned to Cambridge where she was assaulted by a mob of Harvard students and faculty, whipped severely at a cart’s tail through four Puritan towns, and left lying in the New England woods once again—bloody, battered and half-naked. An even worse fate was in store for Quaker missionary Mary Dyer, a “comely woman and a grave matron,” who defied a sentence of banishment from Massachusetts, and was hanged on a high hill in Boston, her skirt billowing in the wind “like a flag,” as one Puritan observed.
These acts of violence against Quaker women arose in part from their headlong challenge to an entire system of gender relations. In the seventeenth century, the mere appearance of a female preacher was enough to start a riot. As late as 1763 the spectacle of “she-preaching” seemed perverse and unnatural to many Englishmen, and gave rise to Dr. Samuel Johnson’s famous canard, which was aimed specifically at female Quakers:
Boswell: I told him I had been that morning at a meeting of the People called Quakers, where I had heard a woman preach.
Johnson: Sir, a woman’s preaching is like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.
Side Note: I’m guessing St. Phillip’s story wouldn’t have been popular in those times. It’s not exactly popular now. I haven’t checked, but I bet the Quaker liked him.

Quaker Sex Ways

Fornication before marriage, a venial sin for Puritans of Massachusetts and the Anglicans of Virginia, was sometimes cause for disownment, the heaviest penalty in the power of a meeting to inflict. The Leeds preparative meeting, for example, heard only three cases of fornication in twenty years (1692-1712)—all males. But two cases ended in disownment; the third offender was allowed to remain only after receiving condemnation in two successive meetings.
Quakers were specially interested in ending the sexual exploitation of social inferiors. George Fox in 1672 insisted that any master who had sexual relations with a female servant must marry her, “no matter what the difference in outward rank or race.”
That seems remarkably lenient.
For adultery, the penalty in Pennsylvania after 1682 was a year’s imprisonment for the first offense and life imprisonment for the second. A revision in 1700 required that adulterers on the third offense should be branded on the forehead with the letter A.
That seems... less lenient.
For the offenses of sodomy and bestiality, the laws of Pennsylvania ordered single men to be imprisoned for life, and whipped every three months. Married men were ordered to be divorced and castrated.
Makes the Puritans punishments look like a slap on the wrist. Speaking of the Puritans (who spoke about sex and married life with startling frankness), the Quakers purged their language of anything salacious.
From an early date, Quakers also encouraged the practices that would be called prudery in the nineteenth century. Quaker meetings carefully monitored female dress and sternly forbade even the slightest hint of sensuality. In 1718 the London yearly meeting went so far as to condemn “naked necks.” Ordinary language was carefully purged of carnal connotation. A French traveler in the eighteenth century was startled to discover that respectable ladies of Pennsylvania could not bring themselves to speak plainly about their bodies even to their physicians, but delicately described everything from neck to waist as their “stomachs,” and anything from waist to feet as their “ankles.”

 Quaker Child-Rearing Ways

On the subject of child rearing, Quaker ideas took form very slowly during the seventeenth century. The founder George Fox continued for many years to endorse the Calvinist idea that “all children should be brought into, and kept in subjection … through the breaking of the stubborn will within.” But many Quakers rejected the idea that children were born evil, and some also denied the doctrine of original sin. Robert Barclay condemned this cardinal belief of Calvinism as an “unscriptural barbarism.” By the early eighteenth century, Quakers in both England and America had come to believe that small children were “harmless, righteous and innocent creatures.”

 Quaker Death Ways

In the face of death, Quakers cultivated an attitude not merely of resignation but confident expectation. For believing Quakers, death became the fulfillment of life. It was an escape from the corruptions of the world, and the final transcendence of the mortal self.
When death actually came to a Quaker household, the entire family assembled, and shared an experience of the highest solemnity. The last words were heard with loving attention. The dying Friend lay at the very center of his friends and relations. Visitors crowded into the room, and children were also required to watch, listen and reflect. But once “the spirit had flown,” Quakers showed comparatively little interest in the physical remains of the deceased. Burial, funeral and mourning customs were exceptionally austere in this culture.

Quaker Magic Ways

As early as 1683 two elderly women named Margaret Mattson and Yeshro Hendrickson were accused of witchcraft, and brought to trial before the Proprietor himself. Both were Swedish, and required an interpreter in the English court. One of them, Margaret Mattson, was accused by her own daughter. Of the witnesses who appeared against them, one complained that the accused had bewitched his cattle. Another testified that while he was boiling the heart of a calf which he believed to have been killed by magic, Margaret Mattson came into his house looking visibly discomposed. A third declared that his wife “had awakened him in a great fright, alleging that she had just seen a great light, and an old woman with a knife at her bed’s feet.” On examination, the witnesses could not link any of their misfortunes directly to the accused Margaret Mattson herself, and the Proprietor’s court delivered a curious verdict which captured the ambivalence of attitudes toward witchcraft in Quaker Pennsylvania. Margaret Mattson was found guilty of “having the common fame of a witch,” but not guilty of practicing witchcraft. She was set free.
Oh, well that seems perfectly sensible.
When the courts failed to act, mobs found other means to punish eccentric people who were feared as witches. In 1749, when a court refused to punish a man accused of wizardry, a riot occurred in Philadelphia. As late as 1787, an old woman was dragged from her house by a mob of youths, and stoned to death for witchcraft in the streets of Philadelphia. In Burlington, New Jersey, a gigantic sycamore of great age was long remembered as the “witch tree,” after an old woman was allegedly hanged from its branches by a mob.
Here was a paradox that ran deep in the Quaker colonies. Friends who founded Pennsylvania were unwilling to persecute witches themselves, but unable to prevent persecutions by others. No witch was ever ordered to be executed by the courts of any Quaker colony. But witches continued to be mobbed, hanged and even stoned to death.
Ah. Well, people will be people.
The idea of the Inner Light led them to that form of superstition which is commonly called spiritualism today. In the seventeenth century there were repeated instances of attempts by Quakers to communicate with the dead, and even to raise them from the grave. In Worcestershire, for example, one English Quaker dug up the body of another, and “commanded him in the name of the living God to arise and walk.” There were many similar events in which Quakers attempted to resurrect the dead
They also believed in the healing power of the holy spirit. Keith Thomas writes that “for the performance of spectacular miracles there was no sect to rival the Quakers. Over a hundred and fifty cures were attributed to George Fox alone, and many other Friends boasted similar healing powers. … The early days of Quakerism had been marked by healing miracles on a scale comparable to those of the early church; they helped to make the Friends numerically the most successful of the sects.”
It's important to remember that the Quakers were immensely rational and humanistic in some respects, but immensely superstitious, fanatical, and dogmatic in others. The average is compellingly normal, but the bell curve is very broad.

I haven't heard of many direct miracles attributed to modern Quakers (beyond the usual healing power of prayer associated with any Christian denomination). I'm certain that the enthusiastic excesses of their grave-robbing ancestors are viewed with the same chagrin as Catholics view the medieval public sale of indulgences.

Quaker Food Ways

Quakers also refused to touch foods that were tainted by social evil. Some did not use sugar because it had been grown by slave labor. Others banned salt from their tables, because it bore taxes which paid for military campaigns. Benjamin Lay, a Quaker eccentric who lived in a cave, refused to drink tea or wear animal skins or even to use wool.
Calling  Benjamin Lay “a Quaker eccentric who lived in a cave” is a terrible disservice. This is the only mention he gets in the entire 900 page book... but don’t worry. Fischer tells us how to make cream cheese.

We often talk about people who are “products of their time.” Lovecraft might have been a racist, but he was a product of his time. William Byrd II might have been a serial rapist and all-around wretched human being, but he was a product of his time. It’s a standard line to excuse behavior that, by modern standards, is appalling.

Well, Benjamin Lay was a product of his time. He was an abolitionist before they became Abolitionists. He agitated – literally, in a positive way – for a cause he would not live to see completed. Like many uncompromising revolutionaries, history trimmed him out of the official story.
There’s a new book on him available. I haven’t read it yet, but you might want to.
The first generation of Quakers had been deeply troubled by slavery, but many were not opposed outright. The problem was compounded in the Delaware Valley by the fact that slavery worked well as an economic institution in this region. Many Quakers bought slaves. Even William Penn did so. Of the leaders of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting for whom evidence survives, 70 percent owned slaves in the period from 1681 to 1705. 
The Pennsylvania legislature took action in 1712, passing a prohibitive duty on the importation of slaves. This measure was disallowed by the English Crown, which had a heavy stake in the slave trade. In 1730 the Philadelphia yearly meeting cautioned its members, but still a few Friends continued to buy slaves. Other Quaker antislavery petitions and papers followed in increasing numbers... The argument came down to the reciprocal principle of the golden rule. Quakers argued that if they did not wish to be slaves themselves, they had no right to enslave others. 
The turning point came in 1758. The Philadelphia Yearly Meeting recorded a “unanimous concern” against “the practice of importing, buying, selling, or keeping slaves for term of life.” This was the first success for the cause of abolition anywhere in the Western world. “The history of the early abolitionist movement,” writes historian Arthur Zilversmit, “is essentially the record of Quaker antislavery activities.”
Benjamin Lay actively campaigned from 1731 to 1758. He died in 1759.

Quaker Work Ways

One important component of this regional culture was an attitude which strongly encouraged industry and condemned idleness. William Penn, visiting an Irish prison in 1669, found that the Quakers confined there were toiling away in their cells at work of their own devising—and the rhythm of their work was interrupted only for worship. “The jail,” he wrote, “by that means became a meeting-house and a work-house, for they would not be idle anywhere... Also important was an attitude which encouraged extreme austerity. The Quakers, more than any major Protestant denomination, fostered a style of life which Max Weber called worldly asceticism—the idea of living in the world but not of it. Work itself became a sacrament, and idleness a deadly sin. Wealth was not to be consumed in opulent display, but rather to be saved, invested, turned to constructive purposes. Restraints were placed upon indulgence. The most extended form of this belief was to be found not among the Puritans with whom it is often associated, but among the Quakers. 
The Quakers had a horror of debt, which they felt to be a palpable evil in the world. Falling into debt beyond one’s ability was regarded as a moral failing of the first degree. At the same time, Quakers also condemned the spirit of avarice in creditors.
In all of these ways, the ethics of the Quakers condemned unrestrained capitalist enterprise, and put narrow limits upon its operation. Nevertheless, Quaker beliefs provided a strong support for industrial and commercial activity. So also in more tangible ways did the structure of the Society of Friends. Quakers tended to help one another. They loaned money at lower rates of interest to believers than to nonbelievers, and sometimes charged no interest at all “to those who have no capital of themselves and may be inclined to begin something.”

Quaker Time Ways

Yet this immense capacity and drive to work did not invade every part of their days.
They did not believe that one should devote every possible minute to one’s calling. A Quaker naturalist named John Rutty often upbraided himself in his diary for devoting too much time to his work. One day he wrote: “Instituted an hour’s retirement every evening, as a check to the inordinate study of nature.”

Quaker Wealth Ways

The wealth ways of the Quakers revealed a deep irony in their system of social values. On the one hand, these good people had an abiding belief in spiritual equality. On the other, their ideals and institutions slowly created a system of material inequality which was increasingly at war with their own intentions. 
Quaker moralists complained bitterly of this trend. John Woolman warned tirelessly against the concentration of riches, and argued that “Large possessions in the hands of selfish men have a bad tendency, for by their means too small a number of people are employed in things useful … while others would want business to earn their bread, were not employments invented which, having no real use, serve only to please the vain mind.” Joshua Evans wrote angrily of prosperous Haverford and Merion, “Here they build large farms but little meeting houses.”

Quaker Rank Ways

In the early stages of this movement, Quaker pronouncements about rank sent a thrill of horror through the possessing classes. “Woe unto you that are called Lords, Ladies, Knights, Gentlemen, and Gentlewomen …,” English Quaker James Parnell warned in 1655, “Woe unto you … who are called Mister and Sir and Mistress. … Because of your much earth, which by fraud, deceit and oppression you have gotten together, you are exalted above your fellow-creatures, and grind the faces of the poore. And they are as slaves under you, and must labour and toyle under you, and you must live at ease.” 
Quakers also refused to use social titles. They did not call any mortal “master,” “mister,” “sir,” or “ma’am.” They would not address titled aristocrats as “my Lord,” for they recognized only one Lord. They disdained to call dukes “Your Grace,” for they believed that England’s ducal families were deficient in the only grace that mattered. They also resisted calling gentlemen and high officeholders “your honor,” or “your excellency.” In America, as in England, they insisted that “all these titles and styles of honor are to be rejected by Christians because they are to seek the honor that comes from above, not the honor that comes from below.” Everyone was addressed simply as “Friend” without distinctions of age, estate, gender, office or rank.

Quaker Political Ways

In William Penn’s words, the Quakers believed that politics was “a part of religion itself, a thing sacred in its institution and its end.” The Philadelphia yearly meeting repeatedly reminded its members that they were bound by the principles of their religion in public affairs as well as private business. 
The political meaning of these religious principles was, however, a matter of dispute. Quakers quarreled furiously among themselves on public questions. On one occasion, William Penn beseeched them, “For the love of God, me, and the poor country, be not so governmentish!”
Peace, liberty, and good government.
Another part of this political culture was the politics of ethnicity. This arose among the Quakers as early as the 1680s in tensions between Welsh and English Quakers. So suspicious were these two groups of one another that the English majority deliberately drew the county boundaries of Pennsylvania so as to split the Welsh settlements. The townships of Haverford and Radnor were made part of Chester County, while Merion was placed in Philadelphia County. This was done to keep the Welsh Quakers from controlling an entire county—the earliest instance of gerrymandering in American history.
Ok, well, some government at least.
The idea of minimal government was carried farther in Pennsylvania than in any other colony. There was no legally established militia until after the 1750s. In one period, when interest from a land bank provided an alternative source of revenue, there were nearly no taxes at all. The legislature of Pennsylvania passed fewer laws before 1750 than any other assembly in British America, and its courts were less active in the work of enforcement than most provinces. In each of these practices the Quaker colonies differed from most other parts of British America.
Ok, fine. Peace, liberty, and the smallest government possible under the circumstances.

Quaker Freedom Ways

On the subject of liberty, the people of Pennsylvania needed no lessons from their Lord Proprietor. Few public questions were introduced among the colonists without being discussed in terms of rights and liberties... The most important of these differences had to do with religious freedom—“liberty of conscience,” William Penn called it. This was not the conventional Protestant idea of liberty to do only that which is right. The Quakers believed that liberty of conscience extended even to ideas that they believed to be wrong. Their idea of “soul freedom” protected every Christian conscience.
Considering the environment they left behind in England, it shouldn’t be surprising
These memories and experiences were not Penn’s alone. In the period from 1661 to 1685, historians estimate that at least 15,000 Quakers were imprisoned in England, and 450 died for their beliefs. As late as the year 1685, more than 1,400 Quakers were still languishing in English jails. Most “books of sufferings” recorded punishments that continued well into the eighteenth century—mostly fines and seizures for nonpayment of tithes. These records also revealed that the cruelest persecutors of the Quakers were Anglican clergy... For their refusal to pay tithes, Quakers were often fined far beyond the amount in question; sometimes all of their property was confiscated. In 1672, English Quaker William Cooper refused to pay a few shillings in tithes, and was fined five pounds fifteen shillings, “for which they sold his cow, corn, hay and household goods to the coat he should have worn.” 
The Quakers extended to others in America precisely the same rights that they had demanded for themselves in England. Many other libertarians have tended to hedge their principles when power passed into their hands. That sad story has been reenacted many times in world history, from New England Puritans to French Jacobins to Israeli Jews who have cruelly denied to others the rights they demanded for themselves. The Quakers behaved differently. They always remained true to their idea of reciprocal liberty, to the everlasting glory of their denomination. 
The Quakers radically redefined the “rights of Englishmen” in terms of their Christian beliefs. But they never imagined that they were creating something new. Penn and others in the colony wrote always of their rights as “ancient” and “fundamental” principles which were rooted in the immemorial customs of the English-speaking people and in the practices of the primitive church. 
One leading student of this subject summarizes the vital principle of Quaker liberty in a sentence: “Men will reciprocate if treated kindly and justly.” This, he writes, was “the basis of Quaker dealings with other men.”
This was how the Quakers succeeded. They lead by example. They imagined a radically different kind of life, built it, tested it, and showed the world it could be done. They were lucky to have an environment that made it possible. Try it today and the CIA or some other three-letter agency would probably try to sabotage the movement as a threat to the established order.

Quaker Plot Seeds

1. The PCs see a farmer being robbed by his landlord. If uncertain, there's a 50% chance they find the landlord's justification (nonpayment of tithes) compelling. Otherwise, the tenant's stoic religious convictions in the face of poverty and ruin convince them that the tenant might be on to something.
2. The PCs visit a polite, well-ordered, and very prosperous farming colony. A local landowner with radical views tries to drop hints that the PCs could deal with a local pirate problem in a plausibly deniable ways. The pirates, a few dozen men on a leaky old ship, have been raiding the strictly non-violent townsfolk for months.
3. One of 28 steps in a local marriage ceremony is "ask outsiders". The PCs are asked to judge the suitability of the couple in a mock trial. Witnesses are called. It's not a real trial, but it is very serious, and becomes even more serious when the PCs recognize the bride as a notorious poisoner from the old country. Do the people here know? Do they care? Should the PCs skip town before the wedding feast?
4. A bandy-legged hermit asks you to free slaves from a rival colony. He can't offer money, help, or even a plan, but he seems like the sort of person who might be divinely inspired. Either that or he's been eating too many toxic berries.
5. The PCs are invited to a party. Dancing, drinking, and singing seem to be going well until a furious man in plain black clothes arrives and starts chastising the young folk. Dancing leads to sin.
6. In this colony, some previously established rule of the setting is broken without consequence. Orcs live in peace. Men preach. Dragons pay taxes. It's baffling.
7. The locals are disturbed by a rash of grave openings. The PCs are hired to watch the graveyard. It's not a necromancer, it's just a grieving friend of the deceased with very firm religious convictions.
8. The PCs accidentally inherit a strip of land between two rival factions of non-violent litigious colonists.
9. The PCs are asked to arrest a prominent and controversial noble. The local government can't find anyone else to do it; the noble is extremely popular, immensely charismatic, and utterly humble. He will probably convert the PCs and, at the very least, get them to donate to his cause. He is also a very skilled duelist and tactician.
10. The PCs are invited to a meeting as guest lecturers on a topic of their choice. They are reminded not to say anything lewd, scandalous, violent, crude, or blasphemous.


  1. At least here in New England many of the Friends have joined the Unitarian Church. Its interesting that the New England UUs trace their roots to the Puritan Church who so tormented their Quaker neighbors.

    1. There was a fair bit of overlap as well. Many of the leading families intermarried (though lawsuits were often involved). Exiled Quakers found Puritan communities easier to join than others. Benjamin Franklin is a great example of someone with Puritan ancestors influenced by a Quaker environment.

  2. As someone raised Quaker I found this fascinating. :)