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Quaker-Roots Quaker Customs & Beliefs

From Jerry Richmond, Fidonet Genealogy Conference, 1995


Quakers were required to marry within the Society of Friends

Quakers were required to be married after the Quaker fashion. This came to be a very significant discipline after passage of the Uniform Marriage Act of 1753 which specifically exempted only Jews & Quakers from the requirement that "non-conformist" marriages be solemnized by a Church of England official to be legally recognized.

Quakers were committed to pacifism in both public & private affairs. Occasionally, as cause for disownment, there is cited "threatening to strike a fellow creature". Quakers were not permitted to bear arms, appear "arrayed in a warlike manner", join the militia, or pay war taxes.

Quakers were NOT forbidden to drink alcoholic beverages which were commonly accepted in the 1600's when the Society was founded. They were however forbidden to drink to excess. A number of early Quakers are known to have owned Inns in which the sale of alcoholic beverages along with meals & rooms was a normal part of business. Quakers did however seem to be forbidden to engage in the manufacture of alcoholic beverages. A few instances are known in which members were disowned for operating stills. It was also considered contrary to discipline to offer alcohol as an inducement to others to perform some act. One case is known in which a Friend was cited for offering alcoholic beverages to his field hands, presumably to get more than a fair day's labor for a day's pay.

Quakers were committed to democratic concepts & equality. As a result many Quakers were heavily involved with the emancipation movement. Quakers organized the "Underground Railroad" to aid runaway slaves find freedom. Excessive commitment to the Anti-Slavery movement caused one of the splits in the Society. Equality is also exemplified by the equal treatment accorded women, truly remarkable compared to the rest of society particularly in the 1600's & 1700's. The equality did have the flavor of "separate but equal" familiar to students of racial segregation. Until the 1870's or 1880's (varying at individual meetings), the Men's Meeting & the Women's Meeting were separate. Each had its own officers, kept its own minutes, & issued its own certificates of removal. Starting about 1840-1850 the certificates of removal were consolidated (again varying by meeting); after this time only one certificate was issued for an entire family group.

The Quakers were anti-clerical. Many threads of activity & belief are traceable to the concept of the "Inner Light". In its simplest form this concept says that every man & every woman has an inner capacity to understand the Word of God & to offer an opinion on spiritual matters without the necessity for the interpositioning of Priests or Ministers. However, since the earliest times the Quakers have had recorded but not ordained Ministers to act as spiritual leaders. Quakers held that certain people were born with the talent to minister. They watched for this talent to appear in an individual & when it was shown, recorded a person as a Minister as a self-evident fact.

Although not a matter of discipline in particular, the Quakers were strong believers in action by committee. Committees were appointed for EVERYTHING imaginable, including committees to attend weddings and funerals. [In many instances in Indiana meetings HEISS will cite a person's first appointment on a committee to indicate that a particular family were Charter Members of a newly established Monthly Meeting.]

Quakers were strongly committed to plainness in dress, word, & deed. Reference was made earlier to the discipline of plainness in regard to dates. In reading about a young man being disciplined for "disregard of plainness", one oftentimes wonders what lies behind the figure of speech. Did he buy a brightly colored vest or did he go to the Saturday night barn dance? Or maybe he wore the vest to the dance! One of the commonest perceptions of Quakers is in respect to their use of "thee" & "thou", which to them was a matter of plainness in speech. This practice goes back to the social situation in the 1650's when the Society was founded & requires a small measure of linguistic insight. At that time, as is paralleled in the German language even today, there were different forms for the singular & plural second person pronoun. The plural form was "you" and the singular form was "thee" or "thou". Again as in German, the "you" was also the proper & correct singular form to show respect & formality. In German which closely parallels English in a number of ways, the "du" is singular, the "sie" is plural or singular & formal. In German one only addresses children or intimate acquaintances with "du" otherwise "sie" is appropriate. I suspect a comparable usage was in place in England in 1650. The Quakers held that the use of "you" as a formal pronoun was a contravention of plainness and that no one spoken to was that deserving of respect. As a result, until a very late date, Quaker discipline required the usage of "thee" & "thou" in addressing other individuals, "you" being reserved for the second person plural. Failure to do so was a minor disownable offense referred to with the figure of speech "use of plural language" or "use of plural language to a singular person".

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