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The Rise Progress Persecutions And Sufferings Of The Quakers

In treating of these people in a historical manner, we are obliged to
have recourse to much tenderness. That they differ from the generality
of protestants in some of the capital points of religion cannot be
denied, and yet, as protestant dissenters, they are included under the
description of the toleration act. It is not our business to inquire
whether people of similar sentiments had any existence in the primitive
ages of Christianity: perhaps, in some respects, they had not, but we
are to write of them not as what they were, but what they now are. That
they have been treated by several writers in a very contemptuous manner,
is certain; that they did not deserve such treatment, is equally

The appellation Quakers, was bestowed upon them as a term of reproach,
in consequence of their apparent convulsions which they laboured under
when they delivered their discourses, because they imagined they were
the effect of divine inspiration.

It is not our business, at present, to inquire whether the sentiments of
these people are agreeable to the gospel, but this much is certain, that
the first leader of them, as a separate body, was a man of obscure
birth, who had his first existence in Leicestershire, about the year
1624. In speaking of this man we shall deliver our own sentiments in a
historical manner, and joining these to what have been said by the
Friends themselves, we shall endeavour to furnish out a complete

He was descended of honest and respected parents, who brought him up in
the national religion: but from a child he appeared religious, still,
solid, and observing, beyond his years, and uncommonly knowing in divine
things. He was brought up to husbandry, and other country business, and
was particularly inclined to the solitary occupation of a shepherd; "an
employment," says our author, "that very well suited his mind in several
respects, both for its innocency and solitude; and was a just emblem of
his after ministry and service." In the year 1646, he entirely forsook
the national church, in whose tenets he had been brought up, as before
observed; and in 1647, he travelled into Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire,
without any set purpose of visiting particular places, but in a solitary
manner he walked through several towns and villages, which way soever
his mind turned. "He fasted much," said Sewell, "and walked often in
retired places, with no other companion than his Bible." "He visited the
most retired and religious people in those parts," says Penn, "and some
there were, short of few, if any, in this nation, who waited for the
consolation of Israel night and day; as Zacharias, Anna, and Simeon,
did of old time." To these he was sent, and these he sought out in the
neighbouring counties, and among them he sojourned till his more ample
ministry came upon him. At this time he taught, and was an example of
silence, endeavouring to bring them from self-performances; testifying
of, and turning them to the light of Christ within them, and encouraging
them to wait in patience, and to feel the power of it to stir in their
hearts, that their knowledge and worship of God might stand in the power
of an endless life which was to be found in the light, as it was obeyed
in the manifestation of it in man: for in the word was life, and that
life is the light of men. Life in the word, light in men; and life in
men too, as the light is obeyed; the children of the light living by the
life of the word, by which the word begets them again to God, which is
the generation and new birth, without which there is no coming into the
kingdom of God, and to which whoever comes is greater than John: that
is, than John's dispensation, which was not that of the kingdom, but the
consummation of the legal, and forerunning of the gospel times, the time
of the kingdom. Accordingly several meetings were gathering in those
parts; and thus his time was employed for some years.

In the year 1652, "he had a visitation of the great work of God in the
earth, and of the way that he was to go forth, in a public ministry, to
begin it." He directed his course northward, "and in every place where
he came, if not before he came to it, he had his particular exercise and
service shown to him, so that the Lord was his leader indeed." He made
great numbers of converts to his opinions, and many pious and good men
joined him in his ministry. These were drawn forth especially to visit
the public assemblies to reprove, reform, and exhort them; sometimes in
markets, fairs, streets, and by the highway-side, "calling people to
repentance, and to return to the Lord, with their hearts as well as
their mouths; directing them to the light of Christ within them, to see,
examine, and to consider their ways by, and to eschew the evil, and to
do the good and acceptable will of God."

They were not without opposition in the work they imagined themselves
called to, being often set in the stocks, stoned, beaten, whipped and
imprisoned, though, as our author observes, honest men of good report,
that had left wives, children, houses, and lands, to visit them with a
living call to repentance. But these coercive methods rather forwarded
than abated their zeal, and in those parts they brought over many
proselytes, and amongst them several magistrates, and others of the
better sort. They apprehended the Lord had forbidden them to pull off
their hats to any one, high or low, and required them to speak to the
people, without distinction, in the language of thou and thee. They
scrupled bidding people good-morrow, or good-night, nor might they bend
the knee to any one, even in supreme authority. Both men and woman went
in a plain and simple dress, different from the fashion of the times.
They neither gave nor accepted any titles of respect or honour, nor
would they call any man master on earth. Several texts of scripture they
quoted in defence of these singularities; such as, Swear not at all. How
can ye believe who receive honour one of another, and seek not the
honour which comes from God only? &c. &c. They placed the basis of
religion in an inward light, and an extraordinary impulse of the Holy

In 1654, their first separate meeting in London was held in the house of
Robert Dring, in Watling-street, for by that time they spread themselves
into all parts of the kingdom, and had in many places set up meetings or
assemblies, particularly in Lancashire, and the adjacent parts, but they
were still exposed to great persecutions and trials of every kind. One
of them in a letter to the protector, Oliver Cromwell, represents,
though there are no penal laws in force obliging men to comply with the
established religion, yet the Quakers are exposed upon other accounts;
they are fined and imprisoned for refusing to take an oath; for not
paying their tithes; for disturbing the public assemblies, and meeting
in the streets, and places of public resort; some of them have been
whipped for vagabonds, and for their plain speeches to the magistrate.

Under favour of the then toleration, they opened their meetings at the
Bull and Mouth, in Aldersgate-street, where women, as well as men, were
moved to speak. Their zeal transported them to some extravagancies,
which laid them still more open to the lash of their enemies, who
exercised various severities upon them throughout the next reign. Upon
the suppression of Venner's mad insurrection, the government, having
published a proclamation, forbidding the Anabaptists, Quakers, and Fifth
Monarchy Men, to assemble or meet together under pretence of worshipping
God, except it be in some parochial church, chapel, or in private
houses, by consent of the persons there inhabiting, all meetings in
other places being declared to be unlawful and riotous, &c. &c. the
Quakers thought it expedient to address the king thereon, which they did
in the following words:

"O king Charles!

"Our desire is, that thou mayest live for ever in the fear of God, and
thy council. We beseech thee and thy council, to read these following
lines in tender bowels, and compassion for our souls, and for your good.

"And this consider, we are about four hundred imprisoned, in and about
this city, of men and women from their families, besides, in the county
jails, about ten hundred; we desire that our meetings may not be broken
up, but that all may come to a fair trial, that our innocency may be
cleared up.

"London, 16th day, eleventh month, 1660."

On the 28th of the same month, they published the declaration referred
to in their address, entitled, "A declaration from the harmless and
innocent people of God, called Quakers, against all sedition, plotters,
and fighters in the world, for removing the ground of jealousy and
suspicion, from both magistrates and people in the kingdom, concerning
wars and fightings." It was presented to the king the 21st day of the
eleventh month, 1660, and he promised them upon his royal word, that
they should not suffer for their opinions, as long as they lived
peaceably; but his promises were very little regarded afterward.

In 1661, they assumed courage to petition the house of Lords for a
toleration of their religion, and for a dispensation from taking the
oaths, which they held unlawful, not from any disaffection to the
government, or a belief that they were less obliged by an affirmation,
but from a persuasion that all oaths were unlawful; and that swearing
upon the most solemn occasions was forbidden in the New Testament. Their
petition was rejected, and instead of granting them relief, an act was
passed against them, the preamble to which set forth, "That whereas
several persons have taken up an opinion that an oath, even before a
magistrate, is unlawful, and contrary to the word of God: and whereas,
under pretence of religious worship, the said persons do assemble in
great numbers in several parts of the kingdom, separating themselves
from the rest of his majesty's subjects, and the public congregations
and usual places of divine worship; be it therefore enacted, that if any
such persons, after the 24th of March, 1661-2, shall refuse to take an
oath when lawfully tendered, or persuade others to do it, or maintain in
writing or otherwise, the unlawfulness of taking an oath; or if they
shall assemble for religious worship, to the number of five or more, of
the age of fifteen, they shall for the first offence forfeit five
pounds; for the second, ten pounds; and for the third shall abjure the
realm, or be transported to the plantations: and the justices of peace
at their open sessions may hear and finally determine in the affair."

This act had a most dreadful effect upon the Quakers, though it was well
known and notorious that these conscientious persons were far from
sedition or disaffection to the government. George Fox, in his address
to the king, acquaints him, that three thousand and sixty-eight of their
friends had been imprisoned since his majesty's restoration; that their
meetings were daily broken up by men with clubs and arms, and their
friends thrown into the water, and trampled under foot till the blood
gushed out, which gave rise to their meeting in the open streets. A
relation was printed, signed by twelve witnesses, which says, that more
than four thousand two hundred Quakers were imprisoned; and of them five
hundred were in and about London, and the suburbs; several of whom were
dead in the jails.

However, they even gloried in their sufferings, which increased every
day; so that in 1665, and the intermediate years, they were harassed
without example. As they persisted resolutely to assemble, openly, at
the Bull and Mouth, before mentioned, the soldiers, and other officers,
dragged them from thence to prison, till Newgate was filled with them,
and multitudes died of close confinement, in that and other jails.

Six hundred of them, says an account published at this time, were in
prison, merely for religion's sake, of whom several were banished to the
plantations. In short, says Mr. Neale, the Quakers gave such full
employment to the informers, that they had less leisure to attend the
meetings of other dissenters.

Yet, under all these calamities, they behaved with patience and modesty
towards the government, and upon occasion of the Rye-house plot in 1682,
thought proper to declare their innocence of that sham plot, in an
address to the king, wherein, appealing to the Searcher of all hearts,
they say, their principles do not allow them to take up defensive arms,
much less to avenge themselves for the injuries they received from
others: that they continually pray for the king's safety and
preservation; and therefore take this occasion humbly to beseech his
majesty to compassionate their suffering friends, with whom the jails
are so filled, that they want air, to the apparent hazard of their
lives, and to the endangering an infection in divers places. Besides,
many houses, shops, barns, and fields are ransacked, and the goods,
corn, and cattle swept away, to the discouraging trade and husbandry,
and impoverishing great numbers of quiet and industrious people; and
this, for no other cause, but for the exercise of a tender conscience in
the worship of Almighty God, who is sovereign Lord and King of men's

On the accession of James II. they addressed that monarch honestly and
plainly, telling him, "We are come to testify our sorrow for the death
of our good friend Charles, and our joy for thy being made our governor.
We are told thou art not of the persuasion of the church of England, no
more than we; therefore we hope thou wilt grant us the same liberty
which thou allowest thyself, which doing, we wish thee all manner of

When James, by his dispensing power, granted liberty to the dissenters,
they began to enjoy some rest from their troubles; and indeed it was
high time, for they were swelled to an enormous amount. They, the year
before this, to them one of glad release, in a petition to James for a
cessation of their sufferings, set forth, "that of late above one
thousand five hundred of their friends, both men and women, and that now
there remain one thousand three hundred and eighty-three; of which two
hundred are women, many under sentence of praemunire; and more than three
hundred near it, for refusing the oath of allegiance, because they could
not swear. Three hundred and fifty have died in prison since the year
1680; in London, the jail of Newgate has been crowded, within these two
years sometimes with near 20 in a room, whereby several have been
suffocated, and others, who have been taken out sick, have died of
malignant fevers within a few days. Great violences, outrageous
distresses, and woful havock and spoil, have been made upon people's
goods and estates, by a company of idle, extravagant, and merciless
informers, by persecutions on the conventicle-act, and others, also on
qui tam writs, and on other processes, for twenty pounds a month, and
two-thirds of their estates seized for the king. Some had not a bed to
rest on, others had no cattle to till the ground, nor corn for feed or
bread, nor tools to work with, the said informers and bailiffs in some
places breaking into houses, and making great waste and spoil, under
pretence of serving the king and the church. Our religious assemblies
have been charged at common law with being rioters and disturbers of the
public peace, whereby great numbers have been confined in prison without
regard to age, and many confined in holes and dungeons. The seizing for
L20 a month has amounted to many thousands, and several who have
employed some hundreds of poor people in manufactures, are disabled to
do so any more, by reason of long imprisonment. They spare neither widow
nor fatherless, nor have they so much as a bed to lie on. The informers
are both witnesses and prosecutors, to the ruin of great numbers of
sober families; and justices of the peace have been threatened with the
forfeiture of one hundred pounds, if they do not issue out warrants upon
their informations." With this petition they presented a list of their
friends in prison, in the several counties, amounting to four hundred
and sixty.

During the reign of king James II. these people were, through the
intercession of their friend Mr. Penn, treated with greater indulgence
than ever they had been before. They were now become extremely numerous
in many parts of the country, and the settlement of Pennsylvania taking
place soon after, many of them went over to America. There they enjoyed
the blessings of a peaceful government, and cultivated the arts of
honest industry.

As the whole colony was the property of Mr. Penn, so he invited people
of all denominations to come and settle with him. A universal liberty of
conscience took place; and in this new colony the natural rights of
mankind were, for the first time, established.

These Friends are, in the present age, a very harmless, inoffensive body
of people; but of that we shall take more notice hereafter. By their
wise regulations, they not only do honour to themselves, but they are of
vast service to the community.

It may be necessary here to observe, that as the Friends, commonly
called Quakers, will not take an oath in a court of justice, so their
affirmation is permitted in all civil affairs; but they cannot prosecute
a criminal, because, in the English courts of justice, all evidence must
be upon oath.

Next: An Account Of The Persecution Of Friends Commonly Called Quakers In The United States

Previous: Rise And Progress Of The Protestant Religion In Ireland; With An Account Of The Barbarous Massacre Of 1641

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