The Quakers, or Religious Society of Friends as they are officially known, are a Protestant religious sect that had the origins in the mid-seventeenth century. After the English Civil War of 1641-51, a man named George Fox began to envision restoring an older form of Christianity, one devoid of a clergy or hierarchy. It also emphasized the importance of the family unit in religious worship and elevated the status of women – at least in comparison to other religions of that time. Fox preached throughout England and Wale, and by 1660 he had gained nearly 60,000 adherents. But the Quakers were a revolutionary threat to the English social order and came under state persecution. The name Quakers was bestowed on the movement by its enemies as a way of ridiculing their rigid devotion to the word.
Many Quakers sought to immigrate to the English colonies of North America to avoid the persecutions and build their vision of an ideal Christian society. Although initially not welcomed by the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay Colony, Quakers became dominant in neighboring Rhode Island. But the most famous Quaker settlement was established by William Penn in what became the colony of Pennsylvania. Here the Quakers established a commonwealth that included a legislature, right to a trial by jury, and public education. The Quakers were also tolerant of other faiths and under their influence Pennsylvania became a thriving colony which would exert a dominant role in American history. Quakerism consequently split off into difference sects and life on the rugged frontier challenged many Quaker beliefs, including pacifism. Although Quakers still exist today they are a tiny minority numbering no more than a few hundred thousand. However many of the protestant sects that emerged in North America during the First and Second Great Awakenings were influenced by the Quakers.