Quaker mission work over the centuries has had three strands – spreading the Quaker message to non-Friends, visiting and strengthening existing Friends, and service (educational, health…). These strands have often been interwoven, with varying thicknesses at different times and places, but all three continue to the present day.
Missionaries and philanthropists over the centuries did much to develop the communities in which they lived. In the 20th century many Friends were caught up in conflicts, and much community development nowadays integrates peacebuilding with economic, educational and other initiatives.
Britain, Ireland and America in the Seventeenth Century, and the Beginnings of Quakerism
The seventeenth century was a turbulent time in Britain and Ireland, with civil war and great political, religious, and social change. It was also the century when British colonisation of North America and the Caribbean took off, and the transatlantic slave trade with it. This was the context in which Quakerism began.
Daniel Wheeler (1771-1840) was the first Quaker missionary to spend significant time in Russia. For 15 years he devoted himself to draining the unhealthy and unproductive St Petersburg marshes and transforming them into good agricultural land. He spent his final years on missionary travels in the South Seas and in North America.
Elizabeth Hooton (1628-1671)may well have been the first person to be ‘convinced of the truth’ by George Fox. Certainly she was the first of the great Quaker woman missionaries, and one of the group known as the Valiant Sixty. She travelled several times to the New World and endured persecution well into her old age.
Friends Industrial Mission, Pemba, Zanzibar
In 1890 Britain took over the protectorate of Zanzibar, where slavery was widespread. In 1897 British Quakers established an industrial mission on Pemba Island, which lasted in various forms until 1963. They met with many difficulties, but are credited with liberating about 1000 slaves, and for providing education and employment for many.
Friends Rural Centre, Rasulia, India
Friends Rural Centre in Rasulia, Madhya Pradesh, India, has been a centre for rural development for over a hundred years. It was established as a missionary site by the Friends Foreign Mission Association in 1875. It developed as an orphanage following severe famines, then became a centre for study and meditation, before finally becoming a centre of a network of rural development programmes, sharing knowledge of sustainable farming methods.
Friends World Committee for Consultation (FWCC)
Formed in 1937 the Friends World Committee for Consultation aims “to act in a consultative capacity to promote better understanding among Friends the world over.” It is an umbrella organisation for the +400,000 Friends around the world. Their purpose is to encourage fellowship among all the branches of the Religious Society of Friends wherever they may be. Their mission is summed up as “Answering God's call to universal love, FWCC brings Friends of varying traditions and cultural experiences together in worship, communications, and consultation, to express our common heritage and our Quaker message to the world”.
George Fox (1624 – 91), founder of the Society of Friends (Quakers) was born and grew up in England in the turbulent times leading up to the Civil War. He travelled to Holland and Germany and to North America and the Caribbean, as well as all over Britain and Ireland. Quakers were persecuted for most of his adult life, but he lived to see freedom of religion established in Britain.
Interaction with Tsarist Russia
(1698 - 1919) Several Quakers met Russian Tsars and their diplomats, and discussed many topics. There were significant impacts on Russian education, agriculture and health. Towards the end of the period Friends’ focus was on relief - for victims of wars, for communities suffering famine, and for minorities suffering because of their beliefs.
James Nayler was one of the most prominent early Quaker preachers, and was known for the power of his ministry and his charismatic effect on many followers.
John Woolman is thought by many to be the central figure of 18th Century Quaker faith and social reform. He was an abolitionist, reformer, writer and minister and was very influential in the abolitionist movement in America.
Mary Barrett Dyer (1611 – 1660) was an English Puritan turned Quaker who was hanged in Boston, Massachusetts for repeatedly defying a law banning Quakers from the colony. She is one of the four executed Quakers known as the Boston martyrs.
Mission in Australia: James Backhouse and George Washington Walker
These nineteenth century Quaker missionaries travelled extensively throughout Australia, where they reported on conditions in the penal colonies and aboriginal settlements. Their six-year mission helped Quakerism take root in Australia. they also visited Mauritius and South Africa. Australian Friends’ annual Backhouse lecture commemorates James Backhouse.
Mission in colonial Maryland, Virginia, the Carolinas and Georgia
(1656-1783) The first Quaker missionaries came to Maryland and Virginia in 1656-7 and were followed by many others. In 1672 mission work began in Carolina. Maryland and Carolina were tolerant, open colonies, where Quakers could minister freely. Virginia was more restrictive. Quakerism took root in parts of Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina.
Mission in Colonial New England
(1656-1783) The first Quaker missionaries came to Massachusetts Bay, Plymouth and Rhode Island. They were persecuted in the first two, but welcomed in tolerant Rhode Island. Later missionaries took their message all over present day New England, and Quakers were to be found in many parts, with the largest concentrations in Rhode Island and Nantucket.
Mission in Colonial New York
(1657 - 1783) The first Quaker missionaries came to the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam (later New York) in 1657, and were followed by many others. The colony tolerated religious differences, and many were willing to listen to Quaker ideas. Quakerism thrived on Long Island and in New York City, and spread upcountry as the colony grew.
Mission in Colonial North America
(1656 – 1783) Quaker missionaries from Britain began visiting in 1656, and went on doing so throughout the colonial period, soon joined by American missionaries. Some travelled for years at a time. They visited all the thirteen colonies that founded the US, and Quakerism became strong in several places, notably Rhode Island, Nantucket, Long Island, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina.
Mission in Kenya
US Friends, from Ohio, established the Friends African Industrial Mission in Kaimosi, Western Kenya, in 1902. It was a mix of workplace training, school(s), basic medical support and evangelising. Numbers were small until the 1920s, but then grew rapidly, and new centres were opened. Kenyan Friends gradually took over mission work, and became independent of US Friends in 1946, though US missionaries stayed until the 1960s. Kenyan Friends are now the largest group in world Quakerism.
Mission work and Quaker settlement in colonial New Jersey
(1674 - 1783) In the 1650s there was a vast tract of sparsely populated Indian land between the northern and southern colonies. William Penn and others seized the opportunity to acquire the land as a place where Quakers could live freely. West Jersey was the first, in 1674, followed by East Jersey, and then Pennsylvania.
Quaker Bolivia Link
Quaker Bolivia Link funds small community-initiated projects aimed at improving the quality of life of the Aymara people on the Altiplano in Bolivia, through community empowerment and the promotion of sustainable livelihoods. QBL receives support from Quaker groups in the US, Britain, Ireland and Germany.
Quakers in Aotearoa / New Zealand
Quakers were among the first European settlers in New Zealand. Known from the start for their concern for the Maori people, in 1993, they were given the official Maori name of Te Haahi Tuuhauwiri, ‘the faith community that stands shaking in the wind of the Spirit.’ Today they continue support the Maori people’s right to have the Treaty of Waitangi honoured, while also working in the areas of Peace, Social Justice, and the Environment.
Quakers in Bolivia
Over 8% of the world’s Quakers live in Bolivia, making it the world’s third largest Quaker population after the USA and Kenya. The majority of Bolivian Quakers are indigenous Aymara people living on the Altiplano – small villages in the Andes over twelve thousand feet above sea level. Most belong to the Holiness Mission Evangelical Friends Church.
Quakers in Central and South America
Seventeen percent of the world’s Quakers live in Latin America, with roughly half of them in Bolivia, with the majority of the rest in Guatemala, Honduras and Peru. Many are indigenous Andean people.
Quakers in China
Friends first went to China to trade in the 1700s. From the 1880s Quaker missionaries were involved in schools, hospitals and a university. During the war with Japan, Friends undertook significant relief work. Few Chinese ever became Quakers, but their service was valued. Foreigners all left in 1951, and links today are mainly through visits and exchanges.
Quakers in Germany 1657 – 1918
Quaker missionaries first came to Germany in 1657. Many German Quakers emigrated to Pennsylvania, over the next two centuries, and some were key players in the early antislavery campaign. In Germany itself several meetings grew up, the most significant of which was at Bad Pyrmont in Saxony. They suffered greatly during the nineteenth century wars with France, but there were still small groups of Quakers in Germany at the end of World War 1.
Quakers in Jamaica and Barbados
The first phase (1655 – 1750) was bound up with Britain, colonial America, early Quaker mission work, and the slave trade. By 1750, there were few Caribbean Quakers left, and Quaker involvement was mainly associated with anti-slavery campaigns. The second phase (1881 -) originated with mission work on the part of US Friends.
Quakers in Madagascar
Quaker missionaries, mostly from Britain, served in Madagascar for a hundred years. They founded, and worked in, schools and hospitals, during a period of great change for the country. Malagasy Friends today are part of a wider Protestant church, and Quakers from elsewhere support their work financially and as volunteers.
Rachel Metcalf (1828-1889) was a 19th Quaker missionary to India, first travelling there in 1866. Despite contracting smallpox, which left her confined to a wheelchair for the rest of her life, she looked after a ‘growing family of orphans’ at Hoshangabad, the site of what would become the Friends Rural Centre at Rasulia.
Rufus Jones (1863-1948) was a highly influential American Quaker academic. For many years he was professor of psychology and philosophy at Haverford College in Pennsylvania. He was one of the founders of the American Friends Service Committee. His influence enabled the two divisions of American Quakerism, which split in the mid 19th Century, to reunite after his death.
(1773 – 1855) Stephen was born in France, but had to flee during the French Revolution in 1789, and reached New York in 1795. He became a Quaker after reading the writings of William Penn. His home was in Pennsylvania, but his missionary work took him to many parts of the US and Europe. He had a particular concern for prison reform.
(c1670-1742) Thomas Story was an early Quaker missionary. He travelled in Britain, Ireland, the Netherlands, Germany and colonial North America, and worked for William Penn in Pennsylvania for several years. He had an abiding love of trees and brought many specimens back from his travels.
William Edmondson (1627-1712) grew up in Westmorland. He was in the Parliamentary army during the Civil War, but became a Quaker in 1653. He spent most of the rest of his life, in Ireland, and was key to establishing Quakerism there. He undertook several fruitful missionary journeys to the American colonies, often alongside George Fox.