Almost Quakers - Quaker Sympathizers. What more do we know?

+6 votes

In preparing/researching a bio rework for Richard Kirby for PGM, I've become more curious about 'almost Quakers' that I keep running across. They are certainly not part of the Church and actively scorn it, are fined, imprisoned, harassed and worse like Quakers but they are not recorded as Quakers. They are always referred to as Quaker sympathizers.

Are they simply not recorded as Quakers? The early Massachusetts Quaker records are very sketchy. Were they attending meetings (as it seems Kirby may have) but never formally joined? How big was this group of 'almost Quakers'? Are they separate and apart from, for example, the flock that followed Rev Lothrop?

WikiTree profile: Richard Kirby
in Policy and Style by T Stanton G2G6 Pilot (116k points)
recategorized by Jillaine Smith
In my research, I’ve come to the exact same conclusion. There is a fairly large group of people whom I call “Not Quite Quakers” or “Almost Friends”. I’m working with the Quakers Project to help find an appropriate Category for these people.
I believe I answered this below - there were no 'Almost Quakers'. I think you are confusing the lack of documentation with a separate group identify. Also, the Quakers were very disorganized in comparison with the Puritan establishment & the organization came later.

3 Answers

+4 votes
Best answer

Quakers fight for religious freedom in Puritan Massachusetts, 1656-1661

The first two Quakers arrived in Boston in 1656 and were almost immediately kicked out of the colony. Quakers kept coming, were imprisoned and executed, the last execution was in 1660. The restoration of Charles II paved the way for acceptance and by 1675 Quakers were freely living and worshiping in Boston. In between, there was a conflict between those who supported the established church theocracy and those who supported religious freedom.

Here's a list of the fines from Sandwich, a "hot-bed of Quakerism". Richard is on the list in this old book. I think if you keep looking you could find some more recent scholarship in JSTOR.

by Kirk Hess G2G6 Mach 5 (56.7k points)
selected by T Stanton

Thanks for the link. I wonder how this spread so very rapidly in the colony. If the first two Quakers and then six or eight are arriving Boston 1656 and then by mid-1658 the first meeting in Salem is already being broken up and property confiscated (see Nicholas Phelps) I wonder if things had gotten started before the first formal proselytizers with pamphlets arrived?

This NEQ article from 1983 looks promising -

That article goes into a lot of detail why the early Quakers, who were very different than the "Society of Friends", were not welcome in New England. There might have been some tracts in circulation in the colony, since by 1655, Puritans were publishing anti-Quaker tracts. She says only 43 Quakers appeared in the colony between 1656-1661 & pp.347-348 has a paragraph on Salem's Quakers. The footnote has another source you could look into, Richard P. Gildrie, Salem, Massachusetts, 1626-1683: A Covenant Community, p. 130. Pestana has written many more books and articles you could read.

Anyways, after reading all this, I think the answer to your original question is because the early Quakers were disorganized, millennial, and anarchic there was no levels of 'Quakerness' , no requirement to attend meetings and no records. For the Puritan government, not attending Church was sufficient for a fines and other punishments, and they certainly kept track of these things. If they weren't one of those 43 Quakers, they were part of the established church at some point. I assume the point of the punishments was to get them back into Church. I assume the Quakers who wrote about this would have a very different perspective!

Kirk, many thanks for the links which I shall follow and perspective. It's interesting for me with much of my family being Quaker from the earliest days in the north counties of England until today. Other family branches that were Quaker, such as Phelps mentioned above, just kind of pop up as Quaker with little background as to how that occurred. And then there are others like Rev Lothrop (somehow a multi-great uncle) who are similar but not Quaker.
About that time(1650),my ancestor Katherine took Quaker John Gedney as 3rd husband in fulfillment of the Salem authorities condition that she find a "suitable" husband to be permitted to retain the family tavern. I suppose this situation didn't help my family in the witch trials. The tavern had unpaid accounts left from serving jurors and court personnel in the trials.
Second reference I know of to Quaker tavern owners in the period. Believe me that's not known among my local Quakers. Well, some of my kin were in your tavern. John Proctor who was hung as a witch is a great uncle (his youngest sister my ancestor). One of the jurors who convicted him (and of course signed the group recant later) is an 8th great grandfather. I'll have to check the name and you can let me know if his tab's in arrears.

I'd like to understand the statement "the early Quakers, who were very different than the "Society of Friends", 

I've never heard of such a difference.  I'm a Quaker/member of the Society of Friends.  They are synonymous. The word "Quakers" was initially a negative term used by opponents of the followers of George Fox (founder of Quakerism). Friends adopted the word. A good history of the faith is Brinton's Friends for 300 Years 

What the article Kirk cites above, which is at Swarthmore, doesn't seem to address (it is perhaps beyond the scope of the article) is what appears to be two sets of people. There's a group such as Nicholas Phelps above and Dyer (mentioned in the Swarthmore article) who arrive early 1630s who at some point became Quakers (supposedly Dyer's conversion facilitated by a wife's return to England and exposure to Quakers there). This group appears to be different from those already Quakers sent to the colony in about 1655-ish. The latter group are often referred to as the first Quakers in Massachusetts but I don't believe that is a supportable statement. By June 1658 we know the Salem meeting had 25 women members (not sure the number of men is known). What I've yet to decipher or read in anything authoritative is when the meeting actually formed. We know it was at one point held in Phelps' house which he was left by his mother in 1655.

I fear somewhere along the line a theologian or religious historian has decided to categorize those early ones as "different" and perhaps infer some inferior status. That would be a mistake and I believe a misread of history since 'Quakerism' had various antecedents, some more direct that others, and there was some period of time as the early movement coalesced and was shepherded by Fox and friends. Was an actual Quaker from England needed to arrive Massachusetts and establish the meeting? I don't see any reason to believe that was necessary for a meeting to form.

Good questions, sorry I can't really help other than point to my suggestions above.

Your comment regarding a historian inferring inferior status is one of the reasons I recommend recent scholarship when you have more of a historical question, even though it is harder to access. Social History has changed in the past 30 years and is conscious of the biases of the past.
+4 votes
There was a lot of splintering of the simple people type movements.  I just did a lot of reading about them (and can't remember a thing).  It may be adults who attended meetings but were unbaptized.  I wonder if I can find the series of articles?
by Kathy Rabenstein G2G6 Pilot (207k points)
Quakers don't baptize but perhaps some of the splinter groups like Lothrop did. Any links to articles you read much appreciated.
Thank you for the correction.
+3 votes
James Skiff was a proprietor of Lynn, Massachusetts, in 1637... In 1659, James Skiff, Town Deputy from Sandwich, was rejected by the General Court for his toleration of Quakers.

Source: The Descendants of James Skiff of London England, and Sandwich, Massachusetts, who died after 1688.

By Frederick Lockwood Pierson of Ellsworth, Litchfield Co., Connecticut, a descendant. Amenia, NY Walsh & Griffen Printers. 1895.
by Frank Gill G2G Astronaut (2m points)
Any sense of how many of the sympathizers may have been so as part of political opposition to the Puritan church/government? I've wondered if some of this is more political than religious. Researching family (Phelps) which held the first MM in Massachusetts in their home (until it was confiscated) there was certainly no distinction between the established Church and the Government as they acted in tandem; with the latter, it seems, operating on instruction of the former (in a most sinister manner). Was Quaker sympathizing the preferred method of political opposition?
Many came across the Atlantic for freedom of religion and yet some of them were not inclined to tolerate other religions.

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