The Quakers

By Hugh Barbour; J. William Frost | Go to book overview
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When George Fox returned to England from America in 1673, one of the first Friends to greet him was young William Penn. There is no evidence that Fox dreamed of a massive Quaker emigration from England to the New World, but he was enthusiastic about the spread of the religion in America, and a substantial number of the most influential Quakers including Robert Barclay*, George Keith*, and William Penn*, became involved with the New World in the next decade. The reasons that prompted other Englishmen to migrate also influenced Friends. England seemed overcrowded and land poor, and opportunities for land and trade appeared much better in America. Instability in government seemed chronic, and plague and war were constant dangers. Friends believed in religious liberty and wanted freedom from persecution. They experienced sporadic persecution and a variety of petty harassments from local and national authorities. Living in the midst of what they regarded as a population generally hostile and immoral, Friends saw in the New World the promise of a genuine Quaker community. Those who disliked local authorities, those who wanted an adventure, those who desired to convert Indians, and those who wished to better their economic status or to leave adequate property to their children saw opportunities in America.

In 1674 John Fenwick and Edward Billing bought from John Lord Berkeley for 1000 the land and the power to govern one-half of New Jersey. The transaction was of dubious legality, for Berkeley's title to the land was suspect, and only the Crown had the right to transfer government. Also, Fenwick was acting as an agent for Billing, who was in debt and faced bankruptcy. Penn and Fenwick may have arranged the land sale in West Jersey to save Friends from having to disown Billing or pay his debts. There were difficulties in paying the £1000, Fenwick and Billing quarreled, and Friends intervened to mediate the dispute. William Penn's involvement with colonization dates from his arbitration of the


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The Quakers


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