Quakers may not be a group you hear about very often. Quakers, also called Friends, are a branch of Christianity. It started as a religious movement and branched off from Protestantism in the 19th century in England. Since then, it has spread throughout the world - specifically in North America, Central America, Australia, and Africa.
The first Quakers settled in Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1656. Quakers had come to North America to spread their beliefs to the new British colonists when it was still in its colonial area. Some Quakers were sent here or had escaped, in order to avoid religious persecution. Upon arrival, many more Quakers settled in Rhode Island due to its religious freedom policy.
Ann Austin and Mary Fisher were the first recorded Quakers to set foot in America, which was called the New World. They had traveled from England to Barbados and then went on to settle in the Massachusetts Bay Colony to spread their beliefs amongst the other colonists. The women were accused of committing vile acts and were persecuted and imprisoned. A prominent figure named Nicholas Upsall was kind during their imprisonment and spread the belief throughout the colony. At this time, they relocated to Rhode Island to form the first Quaker Colony.
As the Quaker religion began to take shape, many of the first Friends settled along the Delaware River and formed the settlement of Salem in 1675. In 1681, King Charles the Second would allow William Penn, a famous Quaker, a charter for the area which was to eventually become Pennsylvania (his namesake). William had guaranteed the settlers of his colony the freedom to practice any religion they saw fit. He would advertise this policy throughout Europe so that Quakers and other people who were persecuted because of their beliefs would have a safe haven in Pennsylvania.
Because of this history, many groups of Quakers live primarily in New England and the mid-Atlantic states. Pennsylvania is the state that is most often associated with a high Quaker population.
Currently, Quakers in North America have diverse beliefs and practices. The states of Iowa, Ohio, and North Carolina have small groups of Conservative Friends which are an organization that believes in the Inward Light and the Bible as sources of both guidance and inspiration. The group practices unprogrammed worship, which means that the gathering places are open at any time of day to find inner peace and reflection. Many people within the congregation adhere to standards of plainness in dressing and speech, which is a fundamental tenet within the religion. Keeping to simplicity makes it so that you are not distracted by anything outside of your control, and you are not tempted.
Another section of the Quaker faith is the Pastoral Friends, which is primarily focused on the Bible as the source of guidance and teachings. Pastoral Friends are more akin to other sects of Christianity, meaning that their worship is led by ordained clergy. The Pastoral Friends practice frequent evangelism.
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