A brief history of Quakerism

The Religious Society of Friends was founded by George Fox, an Englishman who lived in the 17th century. Fox was troubled by the status and power of the clergy in the Church of England. He was dissatisfied with the role of the clergy serving as an intermediary between and individual and God.

Fox questioned religious dogma and practice and eventually became convinced that each individual had the ability, if not the right, to interact directly with our maker.

Fox walked about the English countryside, spreading his ideas and openly questioning authority. His radical ideas found a following, which greatly troubled the English establishment. Fox and others frequently found themselves imprisoned for their beliefs and for not deferring to government and church authorities.

A magistrate labeled Fox and his followers "Quakers" after Fox "bade them tremble at the word of the Lord." The judge's ridicule eventually became the accepted name for members of the Religious Society of Friends.

Persecution of Quakers came to the New World with settlers. Mary Dyer, a Quaker, was hanged for her beliefs in Boston. There eventually were many Quaker leaders throughout the colonies, including governors. William Penn, who became a convinced follower of Fox, founded the colony of Pennsylvania. George Fox visited the the colonies in 1672. He traveled as far south as what is now Perquimans County in northeastern North Carolina, where he found a growing community of Friends.

While peace, justice, freedom and equality are values treasured by Friends, the sect has found itself split by philosophical differences over the centuries. Some of these rifts continue today even though the number of Quakers worldwide numbers fewer than 500,000. The greatest number of Quakers live in Kenya.

Despite their small numbers, Quakers remain a force for peace and justice. The American Friends Service Committee won the Nobel Peace Prize for its work in Europe following World War II. The Friends Committee on National Legislation is a Quaker lobby in the public interest that works on peace and justice issues in Washington, D.C.