Quaker history is an essential piece of Pennsylvania history. Members of the Religious Society of Friends, colloquially known as Quakers, settled in the state and influenced its growth. Quakerism emerged in England during the Civil War of the 1650s. Soon after, William Penn, son of a prestigious war-hero and politician, joined the faith. Because Quakers dissented from the established church and resisted certain laws, and because he owed a debt to William Penn’s father, King Charles II granted William Penn a large tract of land in 1681 with the hope that many Quakers would emigrate there. Thus, Pennsylvania was born.
Though Quakers have close ties to Pennsylvania, their influence extends to the country as a whole. Penn, hoping to conduct a “holy experiment” based on Quaker principles, framed a groundbreaking government based on a “Charter of Privileges” that would serve as a major inspiration for the development of American ideals and the United States Constitution. Pennsylvania’s government remained predominantly Quaker until the French and Indian War, ending in 1763; at that time many Quakers withdrew from government positions rather than endorse military efforts. The Quaker faith has experienced times of internal strife and disagreement, as seen through some of the items in this set.
Quakers believe that all have the ability to access the divine, or “inward light,” and historically have been known for distinctive testimonies and practices such as silent worship, pacifism, and plainness in dress and speech. Quaker values and ideals have remained a prominent force in American society and culture, particularly as expressed through activism in social movements such as abolition, the struggle for women’s equality, and peace work.
This set explores the establishment of Quaker life in Pennsylvania, including religious traditions and routines, as well as their internal schisms and the religious intolerance they experienced. There are also several letters here that provide insight into daily life, particularly seen through the perspective of Quaker women.
This set is best suited for grades 7-12.
Secondary Standards Grades 9,12, History, 8.2 Pennsylvania History
8.2.9.B. Compare the impact of historical documents, artifacts, and places in Pennsylvania which are critical to U.S. history.
8.2.U.B. Evaluate the importance of various historical documents, artifacts, and places in Pennsylvania which are critical to U.S. history.
8.2.12.B. Evaluate the impact of historical documents, artifacts, and places in Pennsylvania which are critical to U.S. history and the world.
8.2.9.C. Compare and contrast how continuity and change in Pennsylvania are interrelated throughout U.S. history. • Belief systems and religions • Commerce and industry • Technology • Politics and government • Physical and human geography • Social organizations
- Based on the items in this set, describe what you have learned about the Quaker community. What do they believe in? What is their community like? What are some of their values? Write out some important bullet points reflecting what you have learned.
- Discuss how Quakers define what it means to be a good citizen and community member. Refer to items 5-8.
- What are some reasons someone may have for leaving the Quaker community? Refer to items 2 and 4.
- Refer to item 4. How did Quakers respond to rejection by members of other Christian denominations? What might this statement tell us about Quakers and their beliefs?
- Discuss what you think it is like to not fight for your country in wartime because of religious beliefs. Do you think there should be a balance between religious beliefs and duty to one’s country? Do you think one should be prioritized? Refer to item 7.
- Why do you think Quakers were early supporters of abolition? What about their beliefs aligned with the abolition movement? Refer to items 8 and 9. Pick out some key phrases from the documents that highlight their reasoning for opposing slavery.
- Why do you think Quaker worship is silent? How does that compare to other religious gatherings or meetings you have participated in or seen? What do you think the value is in having silent worship? Refer to item 10 and the additional resources for more information.
- Have students create a fictional society that will settle a new colony. Students should create a system of values and beliefs that will guide them in the settlement. Students should craft a notice alerting readers to the new settlement, and laying out how the settlement will operate in an attempt to convince others to join.
- Integrate elements of silent worship into a class discussion. This does not have to be religious-based, but can take inspiration from the Quaker practice. Have students remain silent until they feel moved to speak about a particular topic. For more about Quaker worship, see About Quaker Worship here. Ask students how they felt about the experience after and allow for discussion.
- Have students research the split in Quakers between Hicksite and Orthodox. Write about what caused the split and what changed in these differing camps.
Additional Resources for Research
- The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia on The Religious Society of Friends.
- The Society of Free Quakers.
- The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia on The Treaty of Shackamaxon.
- Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore College.
- Haverford College Quaker & Special Collections.
- Quakers and Slavery, Friends Historical Library at Swarthmore College and Haverford College Quaker & Special Collections.
- Explore PA History: Set Apart: Religious Communities in Pennsylvania.
- Philadelphia: a 300 Year History by Russell Frank Weigley, Nicholas B Wainwright, Edwin Wolf 1911, Harry Marlin Tinkcom, 1982.
- Quaker Worship Information.
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Set created by Rocki Schy, Temple University College of Education.