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Category: Quaker



In liturgical Christian tradition, children enter into the faith through a formal, church-directed process such as catechism or confirmation. Among evangelicals, it is largely understood that one becomes a Christian by making a personal decision to believe in Jesus Christ. Historically, Quakers fit with neither group, relying instead on a process of “socialization” in which children were raised into faith by their families and by the larger community of believers.

Howard Brinton’s survey of 17th-, 18th- and 19th-century Quaker journals, published in 1972, demonstrates the process by which many young Friends first came to faith: a childhood experience of God’s presence, a period of youthful distraction, an “experience of a divided self,” and sharing publicly in open worship.

Of this first stage, William Penn wrote how it was when he was 12 years old that he first experienced “divine impressions” of the Lord’s presence. Mary Penington wrote that it was at the age of 10 or 11 that she first desired to know the nature of true prayer, later pouring out her soul “to the Lord in a very vehement manner.” John Crook decided at age 11 that he would “serve the Lord God of heaven and earth, whatsoever I suffer.”

But many of these young Quakers set faith aside in favor of “youthful frivolity,” investing their time in music, sports, fashion, friendships, humor – all activities we would deem normal. For these young Quakers, however, it wasn’t the activity itself that was wrong as much as it was the effect these activities had on them personally. They had become divided, tempted, as Margaret Lucas wrote, “to discharge myself of the worship due to God” in order “to attain happiness.” Job Scott wrote that he tried to “persuade (himself) there was no harm” in “frolicking and gaming.” Scott sometimes skipped meetings for worship in order to play cards with his friends. But he could not overcome a feeling that he was missing God’s best for his life, “returning home at night in condemnation, and sometimes sighing and crying.”

The point of change – the evidence of baptism by the Spirit into Christian community – frequently came through vocal ministry. John Yeardley, for instance, recorded that he spent 11 years of his life, resisting God’s nudging, refusing to share in open worship. But he finally came to a place in which he “could not doubt the time was fully come.” John Churchman wrote that it took him eight years to work up the courage to speak in meeting. But he finally stood, expressing “what was on my mind, and therein had peace.” Martha Routh first felt she should speak at age 14. But she did not speak in meeting until she was 29, and even then, she spoke but one sentence: “Be more willing to hear, than to offer the sacrifice of fools.”

Be more willing to hear, than to offer the sacrifice of fools.

Witch Trials


The witch trials of Salem, Massachusetts, comprise one of the darkest periods in American history. Over 150 people were arrested and imprisoned under the charge of witchcraft. Of those, 29 were convicted, 19 were hanged, and one man, Giles Corey, was crushed to death under heavy stones when he refused to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. But contrary to popular belief, American witch trials were not simply the provenance of Massachusetts Puritans. There were also trials for witchcraft in New York, in Virginia, and among Quakers in Pennsylvania.

The first Pennsylvania trial took place almost a decade before the more-famous trials in Massachusetts and was presided over by William Penn. Two women – Yeshro Hendrickson and Margaret Mattson – stood accused of bewitching “calves, geese, cattle, and a few persons.” Mattson’s daughter testified that her mother was in league with the Devil. Several sources also report an exchange in which Penn asked whether it was true that Mattson was a witch: “Hast thou ridden through the air on a broomstick?” When Mattson answered in the affirmative, Penn responded that he knew of no law against it. Both women were set free.

In 1695, members of the Chichester and Concord Monthly Meeting minuted that two young men, Philip and Robert Roman, had studied astrology, earth divination, palm reading, and necromancy. The brothers agreed that if members of the meeting could convince them of the evils of witchcraft, they would give it up; and it was later reported that both brothers had set aside their studies of the dark arts unless it was found that such arts might be used “to do some great good.”

Instead of letting that be the end of the matter, local authorities commanded a trial. Robert Roman was found guilty of possessing certain questionable books. He was fined, ordered “never to practice the arts,” and released.

Responding to this crisis early in 1696, the quarterly meeting issued a testimony against all forms of magic, divination, and witchcraft as an “abomination to the Lord,” further warning that Friends everywhere must “use their utmost endeavors, in the way and order of the Gospel practiced among us, to bring such person or persons to a sense of their wrong practices . . . and, if any shall refuse to comply with such their wholesome and Christian advice, that then the Friends of said respective Monthly Meetings do give testimony against them; and so Truth will stand over them, and Friends will be clear.”

Penn responded that he knew of no law against it. Both women were set free.



Civil authorities in 17th-century Antigua weren’t known for their love of the Quakers. They banished some and jailed others. Charges brought against Quakers included speaking out in church, holding meetings in their homes, refusing to bear arms. But when George Fox visited the island in 1671, he found a community of Friends that included most of the island’s landed gentry, including his host, Samuel Winthrop, the owner of a sugar plantation that covered more than 1,000 acres and required the work of more than 60 slaves.

The irony is that Winthrop would befriend a Friend, let alone become one. Winthrop’s father, Massachusetts Gov. John Winthrop was the first to banish Mary Dyer from the New England colony, the same Mary Dyer who was eventually killed for her defiance of the Massachusetts Bay Colony’s anti-Quaker law. Winthrop’s brother, Connecticut Gov. John Winthrop (the younger), had Quakers banished, fining and forcibly removing those who entered the colony.

What convinced Samuel to cast his lot with Quakers? Nobody knows for sure, but historians trace the time of Samuel’s convincement to a letter in which he addresses his brother as “thee,” when in all previous correspondence, Samuel had used the formal, plural “you.” The suggestion is that Samuel’s thoughts on the death of his mother had borne in him a rejection of Puritan moralism in favor of what David Hackett Fischer calls the Quaker mode of “fatalistic optimism.” Samuel wrote that death no longer frightened him. He had no need to fear the God who had become for him “a resting place in the day of trouble.”

Winthrop’s convincement to Quakerism gave him peace. But it cost him politically. In 1671, Winthrop lost his post as registrar and as lieutenant governor. In the same year, Winthrop wrote to his brother John: “Be comforted in the Lord, who abideth forever.”

Samuel wrote that death no longer frightened him. He had no need to fear the God who had become for him “a resting place in the day of trouble.”

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