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

s 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.