Quaker Family History Society

for family historians with Quaker ancestors from the British Isles







Who are the Quakers?

The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) is a Christian religious denomination, founded by George Fox (born at Fenny Drayton, Leicestershire in 1624 and died in London in 1691). He first started preaching in the mid 1640s.

If you wish to learn more about Quaker beliefs and history, the following links will contain more details:

The Religious Society of Friends in Britain

The Society of Friends was also established in North America, notably in Pennsylvania (William Penn was a prominent English Quaker, and Friends dominated the Pennsylvania Government until 1756). American Quakerism developed rather differently from British Quakerism in the 19th and 20th centuries.

The following aspects of Quaker belief and practice are, however, important for understanding both the documentation that Quakers themselves produced, and the circumstances in which they are likely to feature in Government and Anglican Church records:

  • Christ is ". . . the True Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world" [John i. 9]. Central to the Quaker message is the notion that the Light is within each of us, and will, if we let it, guide us directly to the Truth. There is no need for God to use intermediaries such as priests or ministers to speak to us, or for us to use liturgies or sacraments to approach Him. Thus:
    • Quakers do not have priests or (traditionally) a professional ministry. Any Friend can bear witness to God's Truth. But see below as to the use of the word 'Minister' by Friends.
    • The traditional form of Quaker worship is silent worship, in which Friends meet and sit in silence unless the Spirit moves one of them to speak.
    • The light is within women as well as men. So women have always played a prominent part in the Society of Friends. Until the end of the 19th century there were separate Men's and Women's Meetings in most areas. Since then they have met together.
    • Quakers reject the outward forms of sacraments, including baptism. Baptism is a spiritual event, that needs no external ceremony.
      • Accordingly, Quakers record births, not baptisms; and an individual leaving the Society of Friends for the Church of England may undertake an adult baptism
      • Quakers were the only group apart from the Jews to be exempted from the legal requirement to marry in the parish church between 1754 and 1837 (in England & Wales).
    • Quakers historically refused to pay tithes to the Established Church.
  • Quakers refuse to swear oaths. This caused considerable difficulty with the legal system until 1696, when an Act of Parliament permitted them to affirm using a special form of words.
  • Quakers reject war and refuse to take part in it. It is perhaps for this reason that they are best known in the 20th century; but it also led to conflict with the authorities under the 18th century Militia Acts.
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