Arrival of the Quakers - 1656 onwards
The Puritan ‘near-theocracy’ became alarmed by the reports of
increasing numbers of Quaker ‘spiritual confrontations’ in Old
England, though a distant 3,000 miles away. Their early fears foresaw
a threat of contamination from religious heresies and possible
sedition and rebellion in the thriving Boston community.
And their forebodings proved accurate. For a start, the invading
Quakers, from 1656, saw no need for the Puritan Minister to lead
worship (which naturally totally antagonised the Colony’s
ecclesiasts). The Quakers wanted just the silence of group worship, in
which to hear directly the Word and the leadings of God, according to
each individual’s spiritual capabilities.
Governor Endecott and clergymen, remembering the dissenters of the
1630’s in the Colony, were in the main implacable foes to the Quakers,
who were harassed and harried, their books burned, even as they tried
to step ashore.
In the face of this ‘invasion’, the Puritan leadership sought to
retain their view of the great religious experiment, their spiritual
adventure, a passionate calling to build a “Citie upon a Hill”... in
Salem, Boston, other parts of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
Not for them was George Fox’s words to his Quaker brothers and
sisters: “Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands,
nations, wherever you come, that your carriage and life may preach
among all sorts of people and to them. Then you will come to walk
cheerfully all over the world”.
These early invading Quakers drove Boston’s religious and civic
leaders (a near theocracy) to desperation. The Quakers were outspoken
and controversial, but offered no retaliation to abuse or physical
injury; neither did their unshakeable religious beliefs persuade them
to instigate violence in conspiracies against others.
Under these pressures, the Colony’s leadership, dogmatic in its
theology, eschewed the tolerance needed, and displayed the mirror-face
of the intolerance in Old England from which they had originally
Often supported by just a few votes in General Council, the
leadership persecuted all Quakers without quarter. Only 350 or more in
the Colony’s thousands (population
guestimates vary from 12,000 to 20,000) were actual authorised “Members” of the
theocracy and qualified to vote.
At first there were no laws in the Bay Colony against the Quakers,
but they were introduced, and intolerance intensified into cruelty and
The two ‘sides’ were each firm in their visions. Prompted by the
original founding vision, the Colony’s church and civil powers strove
to silence false teaching and prevent false worship. The Quakers aimed
to force repeal of unjust laws which allowed them no freedom of
conscience nor worship.