Carolina - The Society of Friends (Quakers)

With the Virginians, among the very first settlers of Carolina

The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) formed in England in 1652 around a charismatic leader, George Fox (1624-1691). Many scholars today consider Quakers as radical Puritans, because the Quakers carried to extremes many Puritan convictions. They stretched the sober deportment of the Puritans into a glorification of "plainness."

Theologically, they expanded the Puritan concept of a church of individuals regenerated by the Holy Spirit to the idea of the indwelling of the Spirit or the "Light of Christ" in every person. Such teaching struck many of the Quakers' contemporaries as dangerous heresy. Quakers were severely persecuted in England for daring to deviate so far from orthodox Christianity.

By 1680, 10,000 Quakers had been imprisoned in England, and 243 had died of torture and mistreatment in the King's jails. This reign of terror impelled Friends to seek refuge in New Jersey in the 1670s, where they soon became well entrenched.

In 1681, when Quaker leader William Penn (1644-1718) parlayed a debt owed by King Charles II to his father into a charter for the province of Pennsylvania, many more Quakers were prepared to grasp the opportunity to live in a land where they might worship freely.

By 1685, as many as 8,000 Quakers had come to Pennsylvania. Although the Quakers may have resembled the Puritans in some religious beliefs and practices, they differed with them over the necessity of compelling religious uniformity in society.

The people of North Carolina were, in the main, honest and well meaning, and when not goaded by profligate rulers and unjust laws, quiet and peaceable. It is true there were many who had fled from other colonies to escape debts or the hand of the law; but a large portion of society was composed of sturdy Christian men and women.

Religion soon found a footing here as in the other colonies, though there was no resident clergyman in the province before 1703. The Church of England was supported by taxation, but the Dissenters were in the majority. The Quakers especially became numerous, George Fox himself, the founder of the sect, having visited the place and made many converts.

In 1672, George Fox and William Edmundson traveled to America. The two made their way to Carolina and visited Henry Phillips and his wife, the only known Quaker settlers at that time in the Albemarle region of what is today known as North Carolina. As early as 1680, monthly meetings were established around the Albemarle Sound. The establishment of a yearly meeting in North Carolina dates from 1698, as shown by the following record:

"At a Quarterly Meeting held at the house of Henry White, Fourth Month 4th, 1698, it is unanimously agreed by Friends that the last Seventh-day of the Seventh Month, in every year, be the Yearly Meeting for this country, at the house of Francis Toms, and the Second day of the week following to be set apart for business."

Friends settlements were first made along the sounds and rivers near the coast, both in North and what is now South Carolina. A peak in the development of Quaker political leadership in this section was achieved in the appointment of John Archdale, convinced Friend, as Governor of the Carolinas in 1695-1696. During the period beginning with his governorship, a number of Friends were elected to the Assembly, and Quakers were the dominant power in the Carolinas in the last decade of the seventeenth century.

Friends began to immigrate to the American colonies in the 1660s. They settled particularly in New Jersey, where they purchased land in 1674, and in the Pennsylvania colony, which was granted to William Penn in 1681. By 1684, approximately 7,000 Friends had settled in Pennsylvania. By the early 18th century, Quaker meetings were being held in every colony except Connecticut.
The fight during these early years to establish and hold political power raged in North Carolina between Quakers and Anglicans. Cary’s Rebellion, pitted Thomas Cary, a prominent Bath resident favoring the Quakers, against Edward Hyde, an Anglican supporter. The prize was the colonial governorship and Hyde eventually prevailed. Because many Bath citizens had served as Cary's chief lieutenants and, because it was Cary’s stronghold, the region underwent constant turmoil. From 1708 until the rebellion’s collapse in July of 1711, the town courts and government did not function and destruction of private property was rampant.

Newbold-White House: A Colonial Quaker Homestead

Step back in time to the early 1700s when you visit the Newbold-White House. It's the oldest known brick house in North Carolina that is open to the public. You’ll find it preserved with period furnishings and household goods that were typical of Quaker families in early, colonial America.

Quakers were amoung the earliest settlers of South Carolina. Many of the immigrants were from Barbados (Mayo, Pike, Flewelling) and Bermuda (Basden, Crosse, Bayley, Rawlings). William F. Medlin published an account of early South Carolina families entitled "Quaker Families of South Carolina and Georgia."

Remnants of the early records were sparsely kept. The Quaker records were maintained for the Charles Town Meeting from 1680 through 1786. The Quaker's meetings were held in private homes until 1715, when a meeting house was finally built in Charles Town. Many of the early members were buried in the Friends Burying ground. By 1791, there were only fifteen members in Charleston.

Other Quaker meetings in South Carolina were Bush River Monthly Meeting, Newberry County, South Carolina (established in 1770) and Cain Creek Monthly Meeting, Union County, South Carolina (established 1775), which in 1809 were merged with New Garden Monthly Meeting. Many of the members of Bush River and Cain Creek later moved to Ohio.

The Piney Grove Monthly Meeting in Marlboro County, South Carolina began around 1755. Pee Dee, Gum Swamp and Piney Grove, all Meetings on the North Carolina - South Carolina border, were transferred to the Deep River Monthly Meeting, and in 1809, were part of New Garden Monthly meeting.

More information on the Quaker Meetings may be found in "Encyclopedia of American Quaker Genealogy Volume 1, North Carolina," by William Wade Hinshaw.

Mr. Dandy Doover forwarded more information in August of 2018 that he gleaned from a more recent book, entitled "Quaker Families of South Carolina and Georgia," by William F. Medlin, that there was another Quaker Meetinghouse named Edisto, which was near the present-day border between Dorchester and Orangeburg counties in South Carolina. It operated from 1754 to 1806, and reported first to Wateree and later to Bush River Monthly Meetings.

This group seemed to have been comprised of Welsh Quakers, including a Thomas Lewis. There is still a Quaker Meeting Road in Dorchester County. They seem to have left the state after 1800, presumably because of slavery.


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