The Religious Society of Friends (Quakerism) was formed in England in the 1600's by a man named George Fox and a group of like-minded seekers. They believed that everyone could have a direct relationship with God. They rejected the idea that someone must swear an oath, or recite a creed, to prove they were in good order with God. They also rejected the idea that only people with an advanced education could hear and share God's messages. Because ministry was given by untrained speakers filled with spiritual inspiration, they sometimes trembled, leading to the early nickname of "Quakers". (Quakers are also often referred to as "Friends".)
During this initial period of Quakerism, Friends were not only engaged in sharing their `good news’ with others in England. They also went to countries on the continent of Europe and in the near east. Mary Fisher, for instance, was one of six Friends who undertook a mission to Turkey, but was the only one to be received by the Sultan in 1658.
Of particular importance were the missions to the British colonies in North America and the West Indies. And under the leadership of William Penn (1644-1718), Quaker colonies were established in West Jersey and Pennsylvania. Friends first came to New England as early as 1656, just four years after the birth-time of their religious society. In Massachusetts, the Quaker missionaries were imprisoned, tortured and expelled; four of them were put to death between 1659 and 1661, including Mary Dyer whose statue is near the entrance of Friends Center at 1515 Cherry St. in Philadelphia. In the more tolerant Rhode Island, however, they were not only permitted to proselytize but also to settle. Meetings for worship were soon formed, and the first regular Yearly Meeting was established there in 1661, though meetings for business were apparently not held until some ten years later. To learn more about Quaker history, follow the links below.