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The Middle Colonies

4b. Quakers in Pennsylvania and New Jersey

Quaker Meeting House
Central to the Quaker way of life was the Meeting House. Here, Quakers would come together to worship. The above image depicts one of London's Quaker Meeting Houses.

William Penn was a dreamer. He also had the king over a barrel. Charles II owed his father a huge debt. To repay the Penns, William was awarded an enormous tract of land in the New World. Immediately he saw possibilities. People of his faith, the Quakers, had suffered serious persecution in England. With some good advertising, he might be able to establish a religious refuge. He might even be able to turn a profit. Slowly, the wheels began to spin. In, 1681, his dream became a reality.

Quakers, or the Society of Friends, had suffered greatly in England. As religious dissenters of the Church of England, they were targets much like the Separatists and the Puritans. But Friends were also devout pacifists. They would not fight in any of England's wars, nor would they pay their taxes if they believed the proceeds would assist a military venture. They believed in total equality. Therefore, Quakers would not bow down to nobles. Even the king would not receive the courtesy of a tipped hat. They refused to take oaths, so their allegiance to the Crown was always in question. Of all the Quaker families that came to the New World, over three quarters of the male heads of household had spent time in an English jail.

William Penn
William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania ("Penn's Woods") and planner of Philadelphia, established a very liberal government by 17th century standards. Religious freedom and good relations with Native Americans were two keystones of Penn's style.

The Quakers of Penn's colony, like their counterparts across the Delaware River in New Jersey, established an extremely liberal government for the seventeenth century. Religious freedom was granted and there was no tax-supported church. Penn insisted on developing good relations with the Native Americans. Women saw greater freedom in Quaker society than elsewhere, as they were allowed to participate fully in Quaker meetings.

Pennsylvania, or "Penn's Woods," benefited from the vision of its founder. Well advertised throughout Europe, skilled artisans and farmers flocked to the new colony. With Philadelphia as its capital, Pennsylvania soon became the keystone of the English colonies. New Jersey was owned by Quakers even before Penn's experiment, and the remnants of New Sweden, now called Delaware, also fell under the Friends' sphere of influence. William Penn's dream had come true.

On the Web
William Penn strongly argued for religious freedom, writing "no Men ... hath Power or authority to rule over Men's Consciences in Religious matters."
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Interested in learning about Quakers? Well here is a listing of hundreds of Quaker links, friends!
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Autobiography of George Fox
George Fox founded The Religious Society of Friends, better known as Quakers. This is the story of his life. The presentation isn't pretty, nor were some of the incidents in Fox's life. However, this page is a tremendous source of Quaker information.
Free Quaker Meeting House
Quakers are pacifists. Yet, during the Revolution many Friends felt the American cause was so great that they had to take up arms. Once they did this, they were "read out" of meeting. (Quakers worship at meeting houses.) At Philadelphia's Free Quaker Meeting House, fifty "read out" Friends — including Betsy Ross — came together to pray. This page features a lively little history of this Philadelphia meeting house.
Plainfield Meeting House
One of the first places Quakers found tolerance to practice their religion was in New Jersey. This page features a history of a Meeting House built in 1788.
The Religious Society of Friends
Don't like where we're sending you? Then head over to this great index which aggregates over 100 Quaker-related links on the Internet.
William Penn: Visionary Proprietor
A well-researched, but easy-to-understand site. The page is broken down into sections which are a perfect length for Internet reading. The sections include: "Introduction" which serves as a biography; "Penn and the Indians" and "Penn Plans the City." The pages are peppered with pretty pictures too. Don't be scared off by a very plain home page...this is the place to come for hapPENNing info.
A 37 foot tall statue of William Penn stands proudly atop Philadelphia's City Hall.
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