Friends, a sect of Christians commonly called Quakers, which was founded in England about the middle of the 17th century. At first they were known as the Professors of the Light or "Children of the Light," from "their fundamental principle," says William Penn," which is as the corner stone of their fabric, and indeed, to speak eminently and properly, their characteristic or main distinguishing point or principle, viz., the light of Christ within, as God's gift for man's salvation; the root of the goodly tree of doctrine that grew and branched out of it." They soon adopted the name of "the Religious Society of Friends," by which they are always known among themselves. The origin of the name Quaker is not entirely certain. By some it is affirmed that it was given in derision, because they often trembled under an awful sense of the infinite purity and majesty of God." By others it is said that it was first applied to them in 1650, when George Fox was brought before the magistrates of Derby, and he having told them to quake at the name of the Lord," one of them, Gervase Bennet, an Independent, caught up the word, and, says Fox, was the first that called us Quakers." However the name originated, it soon became the one by which they were generally known in all parts of the world.
The sect was founded by George Fox, a native of Drayton, Leicestershire. He was apprenticed to a shoemaker, but in 1643, at the age of 19, he left his master and wandered about England, leading a solitary life and passing most of his time in meditation and in reading the Scriptures. In the latter part of 1647, under the conviction of a divine call, he began the life of an itinerant preacher, and went from place to place exhorting all who would hear to repentance and the commencement of a new life. He denounced the coldness and insufficiency of all existing forms and ceremonies of religion, and asserted that the office of a Christian teacher had become a mere trade, denied the necessity of any special education for it, and maintained that the only warrant for assuming it was the consciousness of a divine summons to enter upon its duties. He denounced a paid ministry, and declared it to be a sin to pay tithes. He denounced war even when waged in self-defence, and urged upon all to refuse to do military duty. He asserted the equality and brotherhood of all men, and used the second person singular in addressing all persons of whatever rank. He would not uncover his head in any presence, not even when brought before the courts of law.
He declared every form of oath to he a profane violation of the express command of the Lord. He put a literal construction upon all those precepts of the gospel which seem most difficult to be carried out in real life, and gave to them a literal obedience. On one occasion, when brought before a court, the clerk struck him in the face because he refused to remove his hat, and he calmly turned the other cheek in readiness for another blow. For four years Fox was the only preacher of his doctrines. The second who entered upon that office was a woman named Elizabeth Hor-ton. Soon 25 preachers were engaged in promulgating the doctrines of Fox, and in the seventh year of his preaching there were more than 6O. The age was one in which religious toleration was neither understood nor practised. There were several powerful sects, each animated with a blind zeal for its own opinions and a fierce hatred of the opinions of all others. The peculiarities of the Quakers immediately brought persecution upon them, which had the usual effect of attracting attention to its victims. From 1652 until the death of Fox in 1691 their numbers rapidly increased, and among them were many persons of high social standing.
Of these the most prominent were William Penn and Robert Barclay, the former a man of great experience in practical affairs, the latter one of the most learned and able writers of his time. They as well as Fox were repeatedly fined and imprisoned, but this treatment only confirmed their faith, attracted public notice and sympathy, and increased the number of their followers. The persecutions inflicted upon the Quakers during the first 40 years of their existence have hardly a parallel in the history of the last two centuries. Bad as are many of our prisons now, they are places of comfort compared to the loathsome dungeons of the 17th century. In their pestilential cells there were confined at one time more than 4,000 Quakers. In 1662, 20 died in the jails of London alone; in 1664, 25; in 1665, 52; and many others died after being set at liberty, in consequence of their sufferings while in prison. All the old statutes of Henry VIII. and Elizabeth which had been passed against the Papists and other recusants were brought to bear against them, and new and cruel statutes were passed to torment them in cases when the old ones failed to reach them. The most grievous fines, a large portion of which went to the informers, were inflicted upon them.
They were insulted with impunity by the lowest of the populace; their women and children were dragged by the hair along the streets, their meeting houses were stripped of windows and doors or nailed up. In 1670 an order of the king, signed by the archbishop of Canterbury and thirteen others, directed Mr. Christopher Wren to pull down the Quaker meeting houses in Ratclifi'e and Horsleydown. It was done, and the materials were sold. When they met in the open air by their ruined meeting houses, they were driven away by soldiers, who beat them over the head with the butts of their muskets, and in this way many of them were killed. Constables and informers broke into their houses and carried off their food and their tools. On the Quakers of Bristol there were levied at one time tines amounting to £16,400, and the value of their property destroyed in England during this period of their tribulation amounted to more than £1,000,000. In 1686, when, partly through the influence of Penn, a proclamation was issued by the king and council releasing all persons imprisoned on account of religion, among those set at liberty were 1,490 Quakers. When brought before the magistrates, if all other charges failed, they were required to take the oath of allegiance and supremacy.