Where Did Quakers Get Their Name?


This E-Mail message was forwarded to JTR by Cheska Wheatley:

Quakers are officially called "The Society of Friends". The word "quaker" was originally a derogatory term used by King George (I think) to William Penn, who would not take his hat off in deference to his majesty. Penn told the King that instead of worrying about silly thing like hats, he should be "Quaking before the Lord." The King then responded "Get this quaker out of here!" So at first, "Quaker" was actually a slur. Now, although we still are called "Friends," we are also called "Quakers" by many people, including ourselves!

From Microsoft Encarta '95:

The Society of Friends may be traced to the many Protestant bodies that appeared in Europe during the Reformation. These groups, stressing an individual approach to religion, strict discipline, and the rejection of an authoritarian church, formed one expression of the religious temper of 17th-century England. Many doctrines of the Society of Friends were taken from those of earlier religious groups, particularly those of the Anabaptists and Independents, who believed in lay leadership, independent congregations, and complete separation of church and state. The society, however, unlike many of its predecessors, did not begin as a formal religious organization. Originally, the Friends were the followers of George Fox, an English lay preacher who, about 1647, began to preach the doctrine of "Christ within"; this concept later developed as the idea of the "inner light." Although Fox did not intend to establish a separate religious body, his followers soon began to group together into the semblance of an organization, calling themselves by such names as Children of Light, Friends of Truth, and, eventually, Society of Friends. In reference to their agitated movements before moments of divine revelation, they were popularly called Quakers. The first complete exposition of the doctrine of "inner light" was written by the Scottish Quaker Robert Barclay in An Apology for the True Christian Divinity, as the Same Is Held Forth and Preached by the People Called in Scorn Quakers (1678), considered the greatest Quaker theological work.

The Friends were persecuted from the time of their inception as a group. They interpreted the words of Christ in the Scriptures literally, particularly, "Do not swear at all" (Matthew 5:34), and "Do not resist one who is evil" (Matthew 5:39). They refused, therefore, to take oaths; they preached against war, even to resist attack; and they often found it necessary to oppose the authority of church or state. Because they rejected any organized church, they would not pay tithes to the Church of England. Moreover, they met publicly for worship, a contravention of the Conventicle Act of 1664, which forbade meetings for worship other than that of the Church of England. Nevertheless, thousands of people, some on the continent of Europe and in America as well as in the British Isles, were attracted by teachings of the Friends.

Friends began to immigrate to the American colonies in the 1660s. They settled particularly in New Jersey, where they purchased land in 1675, and in the Pennsylvania colony, which was granted to William Penn in 1681. By 1684, approximately 7000 Friends had settled in Pennsylvania. By the early 18th century, Quaker meetings were being held in every colony except Connecticut and South Carolina. The Quakers were at first continuously persecuted, especially in Massachusetts, but not in Rhode Island, which had been founded in a spirit of religious toleration. Later, they became prominent in colonial life, particularly in Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. During the 18th century the American Friends were pioneers in social reform; they were friends of the Native Americans, and as early as 1688 some protested officially against slavery in the colonies. By 1787 no member of the society was a slave owner. Many of the Quakers who had immigrated to southern colonies joined the westward migrations into the Northwest Territory because they would not live in a slave-owning society.

During the 19th century differences of opinion arose among the Friends over doctrine. About 1827, the American Quaker minister Elias Hicks became involved in a schism by questioning the authenticity and divine authority of the Bible and the historical Christ; many Friends seceded with Hicks and were known as Hicksites. This schism alarmed the rest of the society, who became known as Orthodox Friends, and a countermovement was begun to relax the formality and discipline of the society, with a view to making Quakerism more evangelical. The evangelical movement, led by the British Quaker philanthropist Joseph John Gurney, aroused considerable opposition, particularly in the U.S., and another schism resulted among the Orthodox Friends. A new sect, the orthodox conservative Friends, called Wilburites after their leader John Wilbur, was founded to emphasize the strict Quakerism of the 17th century. It is very small today. The general result of these modifications, both those dealing with doctrine and those pertaining to the relations of Quakers to the world in general, was a new spirit among all the Friends. Most abandoned their strange dress and speech and their hostility to such worldly pursuits as the arts and literature.

Numerically, the Friends have always been a relatively small group. In the early 1980s world membership totaled about 200,000, distributed in about 30 countries. The greatest number of Friends is in the U.S., where, according to the latest available statistics, the society had about 1100 congregations with about 117,000 members. The Yearly Meetings in Africa, with about 39,000 members, and in Great Britain and Ireland, with about 21,000 members, are the next largest groups. Other groups are located in Central America, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. The Friends World Committee for Consultation is the international organization of the society.

Contributed by: Edwin B. Bronner
"Friends, Society of," Microsoft (R) Encarta. Copyright (c) 1994 Microsoft Corporation. Copyright (c) 1994 Funk & Wagnall's Corporation.

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