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A brief Quaker History

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I am not a Quaker expert so I guardedly offer this to help in understanding the terminolgy in the Minutes. Try searching the internet on this topic.

See the suggested Reading List below.


The Society of Friends (Quakers) began around 1650, in England from the teachings and leadership of George Fox. It very quickly spread to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Long Island, Rhode Island and a little later to Pennsylvania.

It is important to understand the hierarchical structure of the Meetings. At the top is the Yearly Meeting. The New York Yearly Meeting was established very early. Under it developed the Half and Quarterly Yearly Meetings. This chain structure met as the name implies and questions of belief and discipline and other matters were passed up the chain to their appropriate level. The Monthly Meeting, reporting to a Yearly Meeting, was a key element to the more local community. The MM could conduct marriages and meet out discipline.

Considering the NY Yearly Meeting, as settlers kept moving west and up the Hudson River, new meetings would be established. Under the Monthly Meeting would be a Preparative Meeting. At the edge of settlement would be a group of Quakers asking for an indulged meeting, this may be granted and if they grew and became established they may be granted Prep Meeting status. Eventually a strong Prep Meeting could become a Monthly Meeting with a number of Prep Meetings under its jurisdiction. This governing structure provided strong roots to support the ever growing branches. Nine Partners is just such a Monthly Meeting in Dutchess County, NY.

Adolphustown was first to be a Prep Meeting under Nine Partners but due to its distance it was granted the right to conduct marriages, a matter that would normally be that of a Monthly Meeting. Not long after it became a MM under New York YM and local Prep Meetings sprang up at West Lake, Ameliasburgh, etc.

The Discipline is a book and is what its name implies. In it were the Queries that were to be read each meeting and the Answers recorded in the minutes. It is in reading the Queries, Answers and Discipline in the Adolphustown Minutes that one gains an understanding for the strength, vitality, care for others including native Indians, equality and respect for women, education for children, opposition to slavery and good conduct that was exemplified by these settlers. It is no wonder that others wished to join and become part of such a strong community. The Society of Friends grew rapidly during this time. See the West Lake page for the full text of the Queries.

The Queries below are from The Discipline of the NY Yearly Meeting in 1810 and were used by the West lake Meeting.

First Query. Are Friends careful to attend all our meetings for religious worship and discipline; is the hour observed; and are they clear of sleeping and of all other unbecoming behaviour in them?
Second Query. Are love and unity maintained as becomes brethren; if difference arise, is due care taken speedily to end them; and do Friends avoid and discourage tale-bearing and detraction?
Third Query. Are Friends careful to keep themselves, their own, and other Friend’s children under their care, in plainness of speech, behaviour and apparel; and do they endeavour, by example and precept to train them up in a religious life and conversation, consistent with our Christian profession?
Fourth Query. Do Friends avoid unnecessary use of spirituous liquors, frequenting taverns, and attending places of diversion?
Fifth Query. Are the circumstances of the poor, and of those who appear likely to require assistance, duly inspected; is relief seasonably afforded them, and are they advised and assisted in such employments as they are capable of; and are their children, and all others under our care, instructed in school-learning to fit them for business?
Sixth Query. Do any keep company with persons not of our society on account of marriage and do any, by attending marriages or otherwise, countenance a hireling ministry?
Seventh Query. Are Friends clear of bearing arms, of complying with military requisitions, and of paying any fine or tax in lieu thereof?
Eighth Query. Are there any deficient in performing their promises, or paying their just debts; do any extend their business beyond their ability to manage as becomes our religious profession; and are those who give occasion for fear of those accounts, timely laboured with for their preservation and recovery?
Ninth Query. Is care taken seasonably to deal with offenders in the spirit of meekness, and agreeably to our discipline?
Tenth Query. Are the answers to the queries, forwarded by subordinate to superior meetings, the substance of, and founded on, the answers from the preparative meetings.

Suggested Reading List
  1. The History of the Society of Friends (Quakers) in Canada, Arthur G. Dorland, MacMillan, 1927. A classic!
  2. The Quakers in Canada, A History by Arthur G Dorland, 1968, Ryerson Press. An updated version of the above with some of the early history reduced and the later happenings added. Copies can still be obtained from the Archives.
  3. Quaker Crosscurrents: Three Hundred Years of Friends in the New York Yearly Meetings, Barbour, et.al.  1995, Details the growth in New England and the move up the Hudson and westward from there.
  4. From Quaker to Upper Canadian: faith and community among Yonge Street Friends, 1801-1850, Robynne Rogers Healey Publisher Montreal ; Ithaca : McGill-Queen's University Press, c2006
  5. Children of Peace, John McIntyre, McGill Queen's Press, 1994
Randy Saylor