A Celebration of Women Writers

"Part III, Chapter 27." by Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall (1876-)
From: This country of ours; the story of the United States by Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall (1876-) New York, George H. Doran company, 1917.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom


IT was about the middle of the seventeenth century when a new kind of religion arose. This was the religion of the Quakers. George Fox was the founder of this sect, and they called themselves the Friends of Truth. The name Quaker was given to them by their enemies in derision because they "trembled before the Lord."

George Fox, 1624-91

The Quakers were a peace-loving people; they tried to be kind and charitable; they refused to go to law; and they refused to fight. They also gave up using titles of all kinds. For, "my Lord Peter and my Lord Paul are not to be found in the Bible." They refused to take off their hats to any man, believing that that was a sign of worship which belonged to God only. They refused also to take oath of any kind, even the oath of allegiance to the King, because Christ had said, "Swear not at all." They used "thee" and "thou" instead of "you" in speaking to a single person (because they thought it more simple and truthful), and they refused to say "goodnight" or "goodmorrow," "for they knew night was good and day was good without wishing either." There was a great deal that was good in their religion and very little, it would seem, that was harmful, but they were pronounced to be "mischievous and dangerous people."


Men did not understand the Quakers. And, as often happens when men do not understand, they became afraid of them. Because they wore black clothes and broad-brimmed hats they thought they must be Jesuits in disguise. So ignorance bred fear, and fear brought forth persecution, and on all sides the Quakers were hunted and reviled. They were fined and imprisoned scourged and exiled and sold into slavery. Then, like other persecuted people, they sought a refuge in New England across the seas. But the people there were just as ignorant as the people at home, and the Quakers found no kindly welcome.

Quakers not understood

They are persecuted

The first Quakers to arrive in New England were two women. But before they were allowed to land officers were sent on board the ship to search their boxes. They found a great many books, which they carried ashore, and while the women were kept prisoner on board the ship the books were burned in the market place by the common hangman. Then the women were brought ashore and sent to prison, for no other reason than that they were Quakers.

They seek refuge in America

No one was allowed to speak to them on pain of a fine of £5, and lest any should attempt it even the windows of the prison were boarded up. They were allowed no candle, and their pens, ink, and paper were taken from them. They might have starved but that one good old man named Nicholas Upshal, whose heart was grieved for them, paid the gaoler to give them food. Thus they were kept until a ship was ready to sail for England. Then they were put on board, and the captain was made to swear that he would put them ashore nowhere but in England.


"Such," says an old writer, "was the entertainment the Quakers first met with at Boston, and that from a people who pretended that for conscience' sake they had chosen the wilderness of America before the well-cultivated Old England."


The next Quakers who arrived were treated much in the same fashion and sent back to England; and a law was made forbidding Quakers to come to the colony. At this time the same good old man who had already befriended them was grieved. "Take heed," he said, "that you be not found fighting against God, and so draw down a judgement upon the land." But the men of Boston were seized with a frenzy of hate and fear, and they banished this old man because he had dared to speak kindly of "the accursed sect."

They are forbidden to come

It is true the men of New England had some excuse for trying to keep the Quakers out of their colony. For some of them were foolish, and tried to force their opinions noisily upon others. They interrupted the Church services, mocked the magistrates and the clergy, and some, carried away by religious fervour, behaved more like mad folk than the disciples of a religion of love and charity.


Yet in spite of the law forbidding them to come, Quakers kept on coming to the colony, and all who came were imprisoned, beaten, and then thrust forth with orders never to return. But still they came. So a law was made that any Quaker coming into the colony should have one of his ears cut off; if he came again he should have a second ear cut off; if he came a third time he should have his tongue bored through with a hot iron.

Cruel laws are passed against them

But even this cruel law had no effect upon the Quakers. They heeded it not, and came in as great or even greater numbers than before.


The people of Boston were in despair. They had no wise to be cruel; indeed, many hated, and were thoroughly ashamed of, the cruel laws, made against these strange people. But they were nevertheless determined that Quakers should not come into their land. So now they made a law that any Quaker who came to the colony and refused to go away again when ordered should be hanged. This, they thought, would certainly keep these pernicious folk away. But it did not.


For the Quakers were determined to prove to all the world that they were free to go where they would, and that if they chose to come to Boston no man-made laws should keep them out. So they kept on coming. The magistrates knew not what to do. They had never meant to hang any of them, but only to frighten them away. But having made the law, they were determined to fulfil it, and five Quakers were hanged, one of them a woman. But while the fifth was being tried another Quaker named Christison, who had already been banished, calmly walked into the court.

Some are hanged, 1656

When they saw him the magistrates were struck dumb. For they saw that against determination like this no punishment, however severe, might avail. On their ears Christison's words fell heavily.


"I am come here to warn you," he cried, "that you should shed no more innocent blood. For the blood that you have shed already cries to the Lord God for vengeance to come upon you."


Nevertheless he too was seized and tried. But he defended himself well. "By what law will you put me to death?" he asked.

Christison defends himself

"We have a law," replied the magistrates, "and by our law you are to die."


"So said the Jews to Christ," replied Christison: "'We have a law, and by our law you ought to die.' Who empowered you to make that law? How! Have you power to make laws different from the laws of England?"


"No," said the Governor.


"Then," said Christison, "you are gone beyond your bounds. Are you subjects to the King? Yea or nay?"


"Yea, we are so."


"Well," said Christison, "so am I. Therefore, seeing that you and I are subjects to the King, I demand to be tried by the laws of my own nation. For I never heard, nor read, of any law that was in England to hang Quakers."


Yet in spite of his brave defence Christison was condemned to death. But the sentence was never carried out. For the people had grown weary of these cruelties; even the magistrates, who for a time had been carried away by blind hate, saw that they were wrong. Christison and many of his friends who had lain in prison awaiting trial were set free.

The persecution ceases

The Quakers, too, now found a strange friend in King Charles. For the doings of the New Englanders in this matter reached even his careless ears, and he wrote to his "Trusty and well-beloved" subjects bidding them cease their persecutions, and send the Quakers back to England to be tried. This the people of Massachusetts never did. But henceforth the persecutions died down. And although from time to time the Quakers were still beaten and imprisoned no more were put to death. At length the persecution died away altogether and the Quakers, allowed to live in peace, became quiet, hard-working citizens.



Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

This book has been put on-line as part of the BUILD-A-BOOK Initiative at the
Celebration of Women Writers.
Initial text entry and proof-reading of this book were the work of volunteers at
Ambleside Online.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom