HOW did Quakerism begin?

                 It began through the agency of George Fox; in about 1652.  For some five years, Fox had been travelling round the country, spreading his message. He was understood and welcomed by some, but he also met with considerable opposition; he had been imprisoned in Derby gaol on a charge of blasphemy and had suffered considerable ill-treatment. He had been working very much on his own and he had certainly not initiated any sort of religious movement. Then, in May 1652, he was in Lancashire and had climbed to the top of Pendle Hill, near Clitheroe.  The view from the summit of the far spread countryside inspired him and shortly afterwards he had a vision, or an insight, of "a great people to be gathered". It was, in fact, the district where he would meet groups of interested people, for instance those known as the "Westmorland Seekers".

                 The really significant visit which he paid, one to have far reaching and permanent effects on the history of Quakerism, was to Swarthmore Hall, near Ulverston . This was a large house  occupied by Judge Fell and his wife Margaret. Both were of a liberal outlook in religious matters and visiting preachers had already been made welcome there. Margaret Fell welcomed George Fox with great enthusiasm and was quickly "converted" to his teaching. Fell, though he never formally associated himself with the Quaker movement, was supportive and permitted meetings of Fox and his followers to take place in the Hall. Presumably because of Judge Fell's standing in the county (and also in the nation), these group meetings were not subjected to harassment by Church and Law, which was otherwise common. Thus, for many years right up to the time of George Fox's death, Swarthmore Hall was the "headquarters" or "powerhouse" of the Quaker movement. It was from this Hall that the early Quaker "missionaries" were sent in small groups of two or more to spread the message in different parts of the country.

                 George Fox had already met with opposition and indeed with imprisonment before he visited Swarthmoor and the nationwide spread of the Quaker movement began. . This pattern of opposition and frequent imprisonment developed increasingly when the movement spread after 1652.       In fact, like most vigorous movements based on deeply held convictions, the early Quakers invited opposition. Although they were a "peaceable people", they were not "Quiet" in a worldly sense. Many spoke loud and long and wrote in the same manner. Confrontation and vituperation were common in 17th century religious writings and the Quakers did not lag behind. Those of the present day who uphold the value of "conflict" would find much to support their views in the writings of these early Quakers! They were a very determined people and their determination was inevitably seen by their opponents as obstinacy - . Nevertheless, it was this steadfastness which eventually enabled the Quakers to survive as a group.

                 Doubtless, they were frequently infuriating. They were full of confidence that they possessed the "Truth of God"; and they were not slow to point out that others were in darkness. Above all, they refused to give in to violent treatment; a response which always brings out the worst in those in power. Still, it is matter of some surprise to learn the extent of the hatred and brutality which these first generation Quakers engendered. They encountered this from the magistrates and from the judges, from the prison warders and, in a less physical manner from many of the clergy. The crimes they were charged with were such things as blasphemy and disturbing the peace, but their offences were really against the authority of those in charge locally. There seems to have been little direction from the State Commissioners for this ruthless persecution. Cromwell, who was ruling until his death in 1658, did have some understanding of the Quakers. Fox met him in 1656 and in each of the following years; Cromwell listened to him when Fox told him of the persecution of the Quakers and also, apparently, when Fox urged him not to accept the Crown which was being offered him. Still, Cromwell seems not to have been able to do anything about the harassment at the local level and so this continued.

                 In addition to the many who suffered in Britain, there were some who felt called to go further afield. A notable example was Mary Fisher who, having suffered imprisonment and brutality at York and at Cambridge, went with Ann Austin across the Atlantic, first to Barbados and then on to Boston (Mass.). Boston was governed by a Puritan regime, who regarded all Quakers as dangerous heretics and enacted strict and harsh laws against them.

Mary Fisher and Ann Austin suffered no more than imprisonment followed by banishment, but the laws against Quakers were strengthened in the following years. Some, including Mary Dyer in 1660, were executed. The spread of Quakerism into America during these years makes a remarkable story. The best known event is the voyage in 1657 of the "Woodhouse", which was sailed to New Amsterdam (New York) by a group of Quakers "acting under guidance"; their safe arrival in America is a matter for wonder. It was this group of Quakers which later met with such persecution from the Puritans of Boston.

There are many more stories about the doings of Quakers of this period. Just one may be mentioned here because of its bizarre nature. Once more it is about Mary Fisher; in 1658, she decided that she must visit the Sultan of Turkey - and so she did. How she managed the journey, which included some 500 miles on foot, and how she persuaded the Grand Vizier to arrange an interview with the Sultan remains a mystery! However, she did meet the Sultan and he listened to her; and Mary Fisher was satisfied.






Chris Phillips



Newlands Road PS


NRPS  page 2


Photography page 1


Photography page 2


My Internet Friends 1


My Internet Friends 2


Philatelic Societies


Scarborough Post


My Stamp collection



VEGAN  page 1


Page 2


Page 3


Phoenix Drama


 Other Dramatic Events




Beatles &  Music 1


Beatles & Music 2








Poems & Fun stuff


Internet Groups


Dan Dare & Eagle


Quakers & Religion


Newlands Road