What Did the Puritans Have Against the Quakers?

quakersRecently I joined a wonderful book group in Mississippi via Skype and was asked about the differences between the Quakers and the Puritans.  I knew that the Puritans didn’t like the Quakers, and that they persecuted and exiled them from Massachusetts Bay Colony.  But I didn’t know much more than that.  So I did a little digging.

Today Quakers are known as a peaceful people who embrace nonviolence and spiritual principles and who were strong advocates for the abolition of slavery in the 19th century. But in early 17th century New England, they were outlawed, imprisoned, exiled, and sometimes executed.  Why?

Both the Puritans and the Church of England regarded Quakers as “heretics.” In Massachusetts Bay Colony, the Congregational Way (which the Puritans believed was the purified Church of England) was the only legal religion.  Every resident was required to attend Sabbath worship and to pay local taxes to support the minister and church.  Just as in England, it was treasonous to oppose the state religion.

quakers2The Quakers who came to Massachusetts in the 1650’s were as righteous and fanatical as the Puritans.  They knew very well they weren’t coming to a colony where their way of worship would be tolerated.  They were there to make points about their own religion.  And they weren’t quiet about it.  In fact, they were often uncivil and overbearing and not always truthful.  They made a practice of interrupting worship services, and of creating a raucous uproar by yelling and banging pots and pans in the streets.  They shouted people down who didn’t agree with them and humiliated public figures with name-calling and ridicule. Sometimes they even stripped off their clothes in public. The Puritans responded to these outrages with fines, which escalated into more severe punishments, including boring holes in their tongues, whippings, banishments, and even executions.

We condemn the Puritans for their intolerance and persecution of other religious groups, and rightly so.  But the 17th century Quakers weren’t quite the meek and innocent victims they’re portrayed as.  Even Roger Williams, the early proponent of religious freedom who was banished from Massachusetts Bay Colony, was so irritated by Quaker incivility and lack of respect that he considered restricting their liberties. The Quakers were pretty disagreeable at times.  Not so very different from the Puritans themselves.

5 thoughts on “What Did the Puritans Have Against the Quakers?

  1. See “The Devil Made Me Do It” – Crime & Punishment in Early New England by Juliet Haines Mofford, (Globe Pequot Press, 2011) for large section on Quakers in 17th century Massachusetts – their threat & treatment

  2. Last time I checked, the Quakers never hanged any puritans. The notion that quakers were “asking for it” by showing a lack of respect is offensive.

    • My point was not that they were “asking for it” or that they deserved hanging, but that they almost certainly knew the consequences of their actions and took them anyway. Civil disobedience doesn’t usually go down well with the group holding power.

      • Mary Dyer comes to mind. She and her male counterparts knew exactly what they were doing. She was in fact a puritan who took it upon herself to teach other women after the Sunday sermon what was preached by the minister. Women were supposed to know their place and not be educated in this way. This was the beginning of her downfall, being a teacher of women. She then had given birth to a stillborn deformed child. This “monstrous baby” was clearly the result of her relationship with the devil, so she had to flee to England. Upon her return she was jailed and eventually banished for her beliefs as she had now converted to Quakerism. She returned after being banished knowing she would be hanged. I would also like to argue against the notion that Quakers were untruthful. They were actually known to be good for business because of their collective belief in always being truthful.

  3. The internet is filled with misleading documents but this hatchet job on the Quakers is despicable. The Quakers unlike the Puritans with their untenable goal to change the church from within or the Pilgrims who stood for everything or nothing had strong Quaker beliefs against slavery and love of our environment. The Quakers also accepted non Christians as their brother. But yes the early Quakers believed a husband and wife should both follow in the Quaker lifestyle.

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