The Quakers

by Sue Roe


A four-part series on the largest groups of emigrants from the British Isles to Colonial America. They were: the PURITANS who came, primarily, from East Anglia to the Massachusetts Bay Colony between 1629 and 1640; the CAVALIERS AND SERVANTS who came, primarily, from the south of England to Virginia between 1642 and 1675; the QUAKERS who came, primarily, from the English Midlands to Pennsylvania between 1675 and 1725; and the SCOTCH-IRISH who came, primarily, from the English/Scottish border counties (sometimes via northern Ireland) to Virginia (via Pennsylvania) between 1717 and 1775.

Between 1675 and 1725, the Quakers left the North Midlands of England in great numbers and came to the Delaware River area of Pennsylvania and West Jersey. Although there were some Quakers in New England earlier, they were not Quakers when they arrived. They came as Puritans and were converted at the hands of Quaker missionaries during the 1650's and 60's. When this happened they were driven out of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and went to Rhode Island and places beyond. The Quakers we are talking about here became Quakers in England and then left, not so much because of persecution (although they were persecuted), but because they felt called to a spiritual pilgrimage.

It is estimated that about 23,000 Quakers left England in this migration, about 80 percent of them from the North Midland counties of Cheshire, Lancashire, Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Staffordshire, and Nottinghamshire. About 10 percent were from Wales and Ireland and the rest from scattered counties in England. But it is interesting to note that there were none from East Anglia (Puritan territory).

This was a Christian migration, but different than those of New England Puritans and Virginia Anglicans. The Quaker view of the Bible was different--with a great emphasis on the New Testament and no formal doctrine, no formal worship service, no ordained ministers. They did, however, have a highly organized system of meetings and record keeping. Their doctrine might be described as one of love and light. The Quaker migration was not as much a family affair as the Puritan migration, but much more so than in Virginia. The Quakers came from the lower middle class of English society. They were farmers, craftsmen, laborers, and servants.

The Quakers lived in nuclear family households--but had much emphasis on extended family. All uncles, cousins, etc. were family--so were in-laws. In fact, there were no in-law relationships. If someone married in they became son or daughter or cousin. (So you may not find a distinction in records.) The Quakers even extended this feeling of family to the family of God. The whole community was family to them! Quaker families tended to be a bit smaller than Puritan families, but a bit larger than those in Virginia. There were fewer servants but, when there were servants, they were treated as family. Quakers put a strong emphasis on love in all their relationships--but they only seemed to love other Quakers. They lived in communities unto themselves.

The Quakers had a strict set of marriage customs. A Quaker could not marry a non-Quaker. If they did, they were disowned. For this reason, there were more of them that did not marry than in other groups. But this was not condemned as in other groups. First cousin marriages were not allowed--but they often married relatives of a lesser degree of closeness. Marriage was a community affair. Parental consent was required, but the marriage had to be approved by the community as well. Quaker weddings had seven steps--most involving the community. The wedding ceremony itself was very plain. Average age at marriage was similar to the Puritans-- 26 for men, 22 for women. For a Quaker, there was a sharp distinction between love and lust. They married for Christian love, not for sexual attraction.

The Quakers believed that souls had no gender. Men and women were equal and were to be helpmates for each other. So equal were they, that the Quakers even allowed women to be preachers. Their households were less male dominant, a folkway they brought from the North Midlands of England. They believed that sex was to be confined to marriage and went to great pains in their style of dress to keep it that way.

The Quakers did not believe in Christening babies, but names for babies were very carefully selected by the parents and then approved by the community. In keeping with their belief in equality, they named the first son for the wife's father and the first daughter for the husband's mother, then reversed the process on the next son and daughter. About 50 percent of Quaker children were given Biblical names. The most common were John, Joseph, Samuel, Mary, Elizabeth, Sarah, Anna/Hannah, Esther/Hester. They also used Teutonic names such as George, Thomas, or William, and plain English names such as Jane, Catherine, Margaret, or Phebe. "Grace names" were popular with Quakers (i.e. Grace, Mercy, Chastity, Preserve, Restore, Increase).

The rearing of children was done in an atmosphere of loving, nurturing, and sheltering. Children were thought to be incapable of sin before the age of 11 or 12. Rewards were usually used rather than punishments and corporal punishment was rare. There was a strict behavior code and the whole community helped to instill it in their children. Children were never "sent out" as in New England. They always lived at home until married. They were encouraged to socialize, but only with other Quaker children.

The Quakers practiced something called "Eldering". The elder members of the community were given a place of respect just as in the other groups of immigrants, but it was not one of authority. They had more of a nurturing role. They gave advice to the young, who were required to listen respectfully, but not required to obey. Literacy was not as important to the Quakers as it was to the Puritans and the Virginia elite. They were hostile toward public schools and home schooled their children if they knew how. They lived in neighborhoods of farms--none were ever isolated. There was a village in the center of a group of farms--this constituted the township.

The best resource for genealogists is Quaker Meeting records. They kept meticulous records and also had their own separate burial grounds.

<< Sue's Genealogy Recipes

If you would like to study these groups in more depth, I recommend that you read the book, ALBION'S SEED: FOUR BRITISH FOLKWAYS IN AMERICA by David Hackett Fischer, Oxford University Press, 1989. Much (but not all) of the material in this "Recipe" is from that book.
What's New in Genealogy ... Today!
click to view original photo