Society of Friends

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1959 Article


Society of Friends, popularly called Quakers (a nickname given in 1650), founded in England by George Fox (1624-1691), who began preaching in 1647-1648, calling his followers Friends of Truth. His teaching was a vigorous attack on the Christianity of his day, the Church of England and the Presbyterians in particular, calling for a thorough transformation of the ecclesiastical system and the restoration of true Christianity conceived as a simple, completely dedicated following of Christ, under the authority of the Bible and led by the "inner light," a spark of which is in every man (George Fox never used the expression "inner light," but spoke of the "light of Christ," meaning the guidance of the indwelling Christ in the converted individual). He called for simplicity and brotherhood in all things, high and holy living, and a worship without any sacraments, ordinances, clergy, or liturgy. He held a vision of the ultimate conquest of England for his faith. Accordingly Quakerism was from the very beginning strongly evangelistic and missionary. William Penn (1644-1718), sometimes called "the second founder of Quakerism," was a very effective leader. By the end of the 17th century the Quaker growth was extraordinary; they numbered about 100,000.

Almost from the beginning the Quakers completely repudiated violence and warfare, standing for full nonresistance, and refused the oath. They suffered severe persecution for decades in England and elsewhere, but could not be suppressed. They developed a close-knit effective organization with strong discipline.

So much in the Quaker principles is similar to the principles of the early Anabaptists (not the form of worship or polity) that it seems impossible that there could have been no influence from Anabaptism upon the origin and ideas of the movement. However, the most intense search, by both Quaker and non-Quaker historians, has failed to uncover direct connections. There is a very real possibility, however, that the spirit of Continental Anabaptism, which was transferred to England in 1530 and continued to influence English religious life with results in the earlier Congregationalist and Baptist movements, had an indirect influence upon Fox and the early Quakers.

Although the Quakers of the first two hundred years retained a Biblical and evangelical orthodoxy along with their emphasis on the inner light and ethical matters, the 19th century saw a substantial change, completed in the 20th century, by which a large block, especially in America, adopted liberal theological positions while retaining the Quaker forms of worship and polity, although a majority of the Quakers retained and intensified the evangelical type of theology but surrendered typical Quaker worship and polity to accommodate themselves to American Protestantism. (However, certain groups of Quakers have retained Quaker worship forms along with evangelical theology.) Also, while Christian pacifism has remained fairly strong among English Friends, it has declined relatively among American Friends, even though outstanding individuals are active in Pacifist causes, and even though on both sides of the ocean official statements are uniformly pacifistic. The principle of personal freedom of conscience and the relative abandonment of discipline have opened the door to toleration of relatively any position on pacifism as well as in theology. The social service motive has remained strong, however, and both British and American Quakers have made large contributions in the fields of idealistic social service, social reform, and international good will. Outstanding in this field has been the work and influence of the American Friends Service Committee, founded in 1917 at Philadelphia, of which Rufus Jones was long chairman and Clarence Pickett was long executive secretary. Most groups of evangelical American Quakers have also carried on extensive foreign mission work.

The distribution of Friends throughout the world in 1957 was as follows:

I. English-speaking Base Congregations   145,097
  United States 119,469  
  British Isles 23,574  
  Australia and New Zealand 1,358  
  Canada 696  
II. Continental Europe   969
  Germany 547  
  Scandinavia 250  
  France, Holland, Switzerland 272  
III. Foreign Mission Fields   46,721
  Kenya 28,222  
  Madagascar 7,700  
  Latin America 8,260  
  Other 2,530  
  Total   192,787


In 1937 the Friends World Committee was created which convenes a World Conference every 15 years. Outstanding work in relief, social service, and peace has been done by the Friends Service Committee of England and the American Friends Service Committee of America. The two together were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1947.

The chief purpose of the rest of this article is to trace relations between Quakers and Mennonites, which fall in general into three periods: (1) Mennonites under Quaker evangelism on the European Continent, 1655-1750; (2) Mennonites and Quakers in Colonial Pennsylvania; and (3) Mennonite and Quaker contacts and co-operation in North America in the time after World War I, especially since 1935.

Mennonites Under Quaker Evangelism on the European Continent, 1655-1750

It is noteworthy that the Quakers in Holland and Germany had missionary success almost only among the Mennonites. This was due in part to the similarities of the principles of the two groups, but also to the fact that attempts to convert members of the state churches in most cases brought severe persecution. The first missioners came to Holland in 1653—John Stubbs and William Caton, who preached in Middelburg and Vlissingen. William Ames reached Amsterdam in the spring of 1656; John Higgins, Steven Crisp, William Bale, Joseph Cal, and others followed. Ames was the most aggressive and most successful of the group. They succeeded in assembling a small congregation in Amsterdam, composed almost solely of former Mennonites. Among them were the parents of the noted Quaker historian William Sewel, both of whom had belonged to the Lamist congregation. Ames and others also went to Rotterdam and Haarlem. Ames went from Amsterdam to Germany as far as the Palatinate, where in 1657 he gathered a small congregation at Kriegsheim, composed of eight former Mennonite families, which lasted, in spite of severe tribulation, until 1685, when it immigrated to Pennsylvania (William Penn visited them in 1677). Upon Ames' return to Amsterdam he was expelled from the city and went to Schiedam, Rotterdam, and Gouda, where he won a small group of former Mennonites. His continued success led to the calling of an anti-Quaker synod of the state church in 1657. Ames was imprisoned for a time, but this did not stop him. In 1659 a second synod issued an urgent warning to all the clergy to resist the Quaker inroads. Ames wrote back to England typically that he found the Mennonites "near to the kingdom" and "white unto harvest." (See Hull's Rise of Quakerism for exhaustive details.)

In 1658 Ames went to Friesland and in 1659 reached Hamburg, where he won the preacher of the Flemish Mennonite congregation, Berend Roelofs, and his four adult children. The Quaker mission aroused deep unrest in the city. Because of the Quakers the Mennonites developed serious internal difficulties as well as getting into external trouble. The state church preachers wrote pamphlets of warning against the foreign agitators, as did the Mennonite preacher Gerhard Roosen. On 24 June 1660, the Hamburg city council issued a mandate requiring all Quakers to leave the city within four days, as a consequence of which Roelofs and his group went to Alkmaar in Holland. However, a small group of Quakers persisted in Hamburg.

Ames apparently next went to Friedrichstadt in Holstein, where in 1660 he won a following among the Mennonites. On 21 June 1677, George Fox came to Friedrichstadt. The congregation here grew substantially through transfers from Bremen, Danzig (de Veer family), and Elbing. With the help of financial support from England, it was able to build a meetinghouse in 1678. The plan of the city government to expel the group was blocked by Fox through a written appeal to Duke Christian Albrecht of Holstein-Gottorp. As a result in part of conflicts with the authorities in 1706 and 1711 the group declined sharply in number through emigration and death. By the middle of the 18th century it ceased to exist.

Ames arrived in Danzig in June 1661, apparently seeking out the Mennonites. Although he was expelled from the city within a month, he succeeded in winning a few followers, not Mennonites this time, who were imprisoned for a time in 1663. Fox secured toleration for them in 1677 through a written appeal to King John III Sobieski, the Polish ruler of the area.

Ames returned to Holland in 1661, where he spent some time working in the provinces of Gelderland and Overijssel, visiting practically all the Mennonite congregations, then moving on to Friesland. Although he had little direct success, a few Mennonites, Socinians, and others began to hold religious meetings patterned on the Quaker style. As a result in 1662 the Frisian government issued a decree forbidding the entrance into the country of "Quakers, Socinians, and immersionists," and ordering a 5-year imprisonment at hard labor for such as might nevertheless venture to come. In the same year Jan Roelofs and William Caton published a defense against the Alkmaar Mennonite preacher Pieter Joosten de Colder, entitled Een rechtvaardigke Verdediginghe der Waerheyt onses Godts (Hoorn, 1662). The number of Quakers in Alkmaar at this time must have been large. In Harlingen unusually severe prison sentences were imposed upon Quakers because of their riotous behavior. They complained bitterly about this, also about the attitude of the Mennonites as well as Reformed in the city (Mennonitische Blätter 1854, pp. 55 f.). Among the writings of the Quakers against the Dutch Mennonites at this time and later were: William Caton, De Oorsaeck van de Pest (Amsterdam, 1665); George Keith, Het Decksel gescheurt (Amsterdam, 1670); Stephen Crisp, Uytroepinge tegen de Vervolginge, 2 vv. (no place of publication indicated, 1670-71); Stephen Crisp, Een Geklanck des Alarms (Amsterdam, 1671); Judith Zinspenning, Eenige Schriften en Zend-brieven (Amsterdam, 1684). The meeting of William Penn and George Fox with Galenus Abrahamsz in Amsterdam in 1677 is of much interest (see Sewel's account).

In 1662 Ames succeeded in winning a small following among the Mennonites in Emden which received official toleration in 1686, after much tribulation, but by 1688 there were few Quakers left in the city.

In Krefeld a small Quaker group was organized by former Mennonites, apparently in 1667, as the result of a visit by Stephen Crisp. Crisp visited them again in 1677, when he also visited Wesel and Kleve, where there were interested persons who apparently did not finally become Quakers. The Krefeld Quakers suffered much at various times, and since they never found real toleration, they finally immigrated to Germantown, Pennsylvania. Twelve of the original thirteen families who settled Germantown in 1683 were Krefeld Quakers. Stephen Crisp reported on 6 May 1685, that the Krefeld (and Kriegsheim) Quaker meetings had been discontinued, since all members had gone to Pennsylvania.

By the end of the 17th century, the British intensive Quaker mission work on the Continent had come to an end, as had also all Quaker meetings. Many English and American Quakers visited cities across the continent as far as Russia, throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, but these visits seldom resulted in the formation of Quaker congregations. Minden and Pyrmont, Germany, in 1790, were exceptions. But until after World War II, there were no significant contacts with Mennonites in Holland or Germany. In Germany Bernhard Brons of Emden was an advocate of contacts with the Quakers (Mennonitische Blätter 1894 and 1897). Pastor Gustav Kraemer of Krefeld occasionally attended the Quaker Yearly Meetings at Bad Pyrmont in the first third of the 20th century.

In Holland a significant influence of British Quakerism on the Mennonites was the result of attendance of some Mennonites at the Quaker school and center at Woodbrooke, near Birmingham, England, which had been founded in 1903 and had become the channel of a renewal among the British Friends. Among those who attended were T. O. Hylkema, J. E. van Brakel, and C. Nijdam, all of whom became influential pastors in Dutch Mennonite churches. The Gemeentedagbeweging (today called Broederschapswerk), which has meant a great deal for the renewal of the Dutch Mennonite brotherhood, was the direct outcome of Woodbrooke influence. T. O. Hylkema was the originator of the new movement, whose first annual conference (Gemeentedag) was held on 2 August 1917.

Later contacts between British Quakers and Dutch Mennonites were almost exclusively in the area of the peace testimony, largely channeled through the European Continuation Committee of the Historic Peace Churches (1947- ), which is described below.

The visits of British and American Friends to the Mennonites in Russia in the 19th century, and the substantial aid of British Friends to the Russian Mennonite settlers in the United States in 1874-1875 form an interesting story, of which little was known until the appearance of Owen Gingerich's account in the Mennonite Quarterly Review for October 1951, from which the following material is taken. The first visitors were Stephen Grellet and William Allen, British Friends who spent 13-29 May 1819, in both the Chortitza and the Molotschna settlements. A warm letter of appreciation from Elder Jacob Fast of Halbstadt has been preserved. John Yeardley made a visit about the middle of the century, of which little is known.

Very important was the visit of Thomas Harvey and Isaac Robson, official delegates of the London Yearly Meeting for religious service in South Russia, chiefly among the Molokans. After a stop with Mennonites at Neuburg an der Donau in Bavaria in August 1867, they reached Berdyansk in the Ukraine on 9 October, where they were guests of Cornelius Jansen, who was their guide on a visit to the Mennonite settlements. Correspondence between Jansen and Harvey continued for about ten years, even after Jansen immigrated to the United States in 1873. The interest of Harvey and Robson in the difficulties of the Mennonites with the Russian government which arose in 1870 as well as in the emigration of 1874 ff. ultimately led to the raising of funds from British Friends for the needy Mennonite settlers in the United States. In 1875, for instance, $10,000 was raised and sent to Jansen and others in America. Much informational material was published in the British Friend by Harvey in the years 1873-1876. In 1872 Harvey and Robson published a small informational pamphlet, The Mennonites of South Russia, which included strong advice to the Russian Mennonites against accepting hospital service in the army (Sanitätsdienst). In 1879 they wrote another small pamphlet, An die in den Vereinigten Staaten aus Süd-Russland eingewanderten sogenannten Mennoniten, containing words of encouragement, which was published by the Mennonite Publishing Company at Elkhart, Indiana.

The last item of interest here is the visit of the American Quaker Barnabas Hobbs, later a president of Earlham College, to St. Petersburg in 1878, accompanied by Charles Taylor, an English Friend from Manchester, England. Hobbs carried a message from American Friends to Tsar Alexander on behalf of the nonresistant privileges of the Russian Mennonites. He failed to get an audience with the Tsar himself, but presented to a high Foreign Office official his memorial on behalf of the Mennonites together with a historical statement on the policy of the United States toward conscientious objectors.

Mennonites and Quakers in Colonial Pennsylvania

The assertion has often been made that the Mennonites came to Pennsylvania on invitation of William Penn, who is supposed to have visited them in Germany. While it is true that literature advertising Pennsylvania was published in Germany and distributed in Germany (Penn pamphlets of 1681 and 1684, Pastorius' book Umständige geographische Beschreibung of 1700, and other material), and it is also true that Penn was eager to secure settlers from Germany as well as to aid persecuted Christians (Mennonites) everywhere by furnishing them opportunity for a secure haven in his Pennsylvania, there is no evidence that Penn either personally or in writing ever specifically invited Mennonites from Germany to come to Pennsylvania, or that he even thought about German Mennonites as a specific separate group. Certainly he never had any personal interest in the Swiss Mennonites. His agent in Amsterdam, Benjamin Furly, a good land agent, of course, had business dealings with Mennonite land buyers. Penn's journey to Germany, July to October 1677, was made as a Quaker missioner before he came into possession of Pennsylvania (he petitioned for the grant of Pennsylvania 24 June 1680, and received the charter for it 14 March 1681). In any case, although on this trip he visited several places in Holland where he came in contact with Mennonites, he did not visit any Mennonite community in Germany. He did visit the Kriegsheim Quakers and the Frankfurt "Saalhof" Pietiests. The contact with the Krefeld Quakers and Mennonites was made through Jacob Telner, an Amsterdam and Krefeld Quaker (former Mennonite) merchant of considerable wealth, who had business connections in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and London, and who in March 1682, with two friends, Dirck Sipman of Krefeld and Jan Streypers of Kaldenkirchen, purchased 15,000 acres of land in Pennsylvania with the purpose of founding a colony (deed signed personally by Penn and executed in London). Even in the absence of direct solicitation by Penn, however, the promised religious tolerance in Pennsylvania with freedom from war and the oath, and enticing economic opportunity was sufficient to move the first fifty or more Krefeld-Lower Rhine Mennonite and Quaker families to leave their homeland between 1683 and 1708. And without doubt the Kriegsheim Quaker emigrants from the Palatinate in 1685 sent favorable reports back to their relatives (some Mennonite?) in their homeland. At least the 1707 forerunners of the great Palatine Mennonite emigration of 1711-1756 came from territory near Kriegsheim. The Swiss emigrants of 1709-1710, who came to the Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, area, were handled by an agent, Francois Michelle, who found the land for them and negotiated for them with Penn for its purchase, and were not personally responsible for the choice of Pennsylvania. Earlier attempts had been made by the government of Bern to settle them in North Carolina.

Wm. I. Hull (Dutch Quaker Migration to Pennsylvania) has shown that most of the thirteen original families settling Germantown in October 1683 were a group of closely related Quaker families from Krefeld, former Mennonites, of course, but not Mennonites at that time as had long been supposed. Only one at least continued as a Mennonite. The Mennonite group in Germantown was in the minority for some years and was in danger of being swamped by the Quakers. In 1690 it finally began to hold separate meetings, and gradually organized in the traditional Mennonite way, but did not build a meetinghouse until 1708, nor hold a baptismal or communion service until that year. The famous Protest against Slavery of 1688 has often been attributed, erroneously however, to Mennonites; only one of the four signers was a Mennonite, and the protest was actually delivered to a Friends monthly meeting as a protest against Friends holding slaves. The most Mennonites can claim is that three of the signers had once been Mennonites, and that no English Friend was among the signers.

The relations between Mennonites and Quakers in Pennsylvania in colonial times were friendly, largely because of the common stand against war and oaths, and probably also out of sense of gratitude on the part of the Mennonites for their new homeland. Evidence shows that the Mennonites, along with the other nonresistant German groups, gave the Quakers strong support at the polls, and made it possible for them to continue in control of the provincial assembly long after Quaker votes alone would not have been enough. Other German nonresistant groups, such as the Moravians, Schwenckfelders, and Dunkards, no doubt also contributed to this result.

It is also most likely that the well-known position against war and the oath held by the very influential Quaker groups in several of the colonies was the chief reason for the introduction of specific provisions in many of the colonial and later state constitutions guaranteeing freedom of conscience on these points. In fact, where any specific group is mentioned in such provisions, usually Quakers and Mennonites (and Moravians) are mentioned together. Quakers certainly have made the major contribution to the establishment of the strong tradition in American life which recognizes the religious conscience which is opposed to military service and oath-taking.

It is also probable that the Quaker simplicity of costume, which was a principle brought along from England and which established uniform costume for both men and women, had some influence on Mennonite costume. Mennonites did not bring from Europe the principle or practice of a uniform costume, although they did bring the principle of simplicity with them. The great similarity of Mennonite and Quaker "plain" costumes in Eastern Pennsylvania suggests definite Quaker influence.

Good relations between the Philadelphia Quakers and the Eastern Pennsylvania Mennonites have persisted to the present day, without any direct connections. There is one exception: for many years during the 19th and early 20th centuries Philadelphia Quaker representatives made annual visits to a Mennonite Sunday service in Montgomery County, where they were always invited to preach.

Mennonite and Quaker Relations in North America Since World War I

About 50 young Mennonite Conscientious Objector (CO) draftees, who were given furlough for this purpose by the United States Army, volunteered for service in the Friends Reconstruction Unit in France under the American Friends Service Committee, which had been organized for this purpose in 1917. These men were largely from the Mennonite Church (MC) and were largely supported by the Mennonite Relief Commission for War Sufferers beginning in 1918, although the workers were appointed directly by the AFSC. There was no direct co-operation between the Mennonites and Friends during World War I in working on CO problems as there was later in World War II.

The Friends initiated the movement which came to be known as the Conference of Pacifist Churches. The first meeting was held in August 1922 at Bluffton, Ohio, where besides the Mennonites, Brethren, and Friends, Schwenckfelders and Moravians were invited. The latter two did not join the movement permanently, but the three other groups continued together in the conferences (1923, 1926, 1927, 1929, 1931). In October 1935, under the leadership of H. P. Krehbiel, a conference met at Newton, Kansas, which was called the Conference of Historic Peace Churches. The name HPC was either coined or fixed in connection with this meeting, which resulted in the creation of a Continuation Committee of the HPC to carry on further interrelations in the interest of the historic peace testimony of the three groups, particularly in relation to the prospect of a World War, which actually came to Europe in 1939 (America 1941). This committee is still functioning and has rendered a valuable service, not as an operating committee, but as a contact committee which furnished the stimulus for the administrative agencies to act. It was also the channel for the creation of a similar and identically named Continuation Committee of the HPC in Europe, created in 1947, in which a representative of the British Friends, the Mennonite Central Committee, the Brethren Service Committee, and ultimately also of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation meet occasionally for contact, stimulus, and certain co-operative activities on the European Continent or in England. When World War II came, the Mennonites, Friends, and Brethren organized the National Service Board for Religious Objectors with its office in Washington, District of Columbia, as a common liaison with Selective Service and the United States Congress and other governmental offices. The Friends withdrew active participation in 1946, but have remained in close touch with its work.

Until the MCC was fully ready to operate as a general foreign relief agency on behalf of the Mennonites, it depended upon the aid of the AFSC. For instance, the MCC relief work in France in 1939-1941 was carried on through the good offices and administrative channels of the AFSC, as was the relief work in Spain carried on in 1937-1941 by the Mennonite Relief Committee (Elkhart). Since then, the AFSC and the MCC have been on friendly terms but each agency has gone its own way.

The AFSC sponsored a series of Institutes of International Relations between the two world wars and beyond, at various centers in the United States. One of these centers was Bethel College, North Newton, Kansas, where an institute was held annually in the second half of the 1930s, with co-operation of members of the college faculty in the management. The Institute was moved to Wichita in 1941. The Conference of Historic Peace Churches in Ontario, founded in 1945, has from the beginning included the small body of Canadian Quakers.

The intermingling of a small number of Mennonites and Friends in the ways mentioned above has served as a stimulus to both sides and no doubt served common interests usefully. There has not been, however, any appreciable drawing together of the groups as a whole because of this, either in recent times or earlier.


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Author(s) Harold S Bender
Date Published 1959

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Bender, Harold S. "Society of Friends." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1959. Web. 22 Jun 2021.

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Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, pp. 561-565, 1148. All rights reserved.

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