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Historical Insights Quaker Life in the 1700s

Believing that children needed to be nurtured, not punished, the Quakers revolutionized American childrearing during the 1700s. They adopted the idea that children were born blank slates tabula rasa, a radical idea for its time. About 1650. Credit: Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group/UIG via Getty Images

Quaker Life in the 1700s

The Quakers’ arrival in the New World helped shape its moral and political fabric, including the eventual abolition of slavery.

Dubbed the “Quakers” because they “trembled at the Word of the Lord,” the Religious Society of Friends fled persecution in England, Germany, Ireland, and Wales for the shores of the North American colonies in the 1600s. Though the Quaker beliefs of gender equality, universal education, and positive relations with Native Americans were rejected by most colonists, by 1700 more than 11,000 Quakers had made America their home and come to dominate politics and daily life in Pennsylvania and parts of New Jersey. Other colonies were not as tolerant. Quakers stood out from other settlers because of their egalitarianism, rejecting the bow as a greeting and popularizing the handshake. They typically lived plain, disciplined lives as farmers, shopkeepers, and artisans, but in Massachusetts, some faced the gallows for their religion, while others were banished. Many other Christians believed that the Quaker practice of silent worship undermined the Bible. Even so, Quakers remained loyal to their convictions, and over time inspired progress including the abolitionist movement to end slavery by the 1800s.