A dramatisation of the story surrounding the death by hanging of the Quaker Mary Dyer in 1660

The Quakers in England - and a family feud

Before the charismatic figure of George Fox gathered together the ‘convinced’, in the North of England in 1652 ( prior to that as Seekers of Truth, then as the Religious Society of Friends), the Puritans for a hundred years had been busily reforming the reformed Protestant Church of England. The Puritan way to salvation was by ‘preaching and teaching’, by strict obedience to the rules, by the Covenant of Works.

On the other hand, the Children of Light, the Quakers, believed they had been graced with a spiritual step forward for Man, through what others saw as a step back into ‘primitive’ silent worship, with direct experience of God’s presence and leadings, the potential of living everyday ‘in the Light’, and through loving awareness of seeing ‘that of God’ in everyone.

The first Quakers, says sympathetic viewpoints, “discerned the ‘condition’ of their world and had something to say that was demonstrably relevant to it”. They were aware of and open to the spiritual currents flowing through that tumultuous mid-Seventeenth Century and believed themselves to be the bearers of a message which called for the sparing of no effort to communicate it, by tongue and pen and corporate witness.

Many of these “early ancestors” in the Quaker movement were fiery in their certainty about God’s constant and direct presence in our lives. In the mid 1600’s they confronted and brought the worst out of their equally Puritan brothers. The conflict, Puritan-Quaker, spread over the decades and, according to one religious historian, had “all the loving desperation of a family feud”.

Before Fox and in his times, the Puritans had shown little tolerance of those emerging sects that proselytised beyond acceptable bounds. As Quakers grew prominent in Old England, they too were harried and locked up, and many died from harsh conditions, in and out of prison – but none were hanged.

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