Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

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September 19, 2013

The Quakers among us: 17th and 18th centuries

The Quaker faith is not the first thing that comes to mind when you look out over Andover’s hills and view the many weather vane-topped church steeples dotting the landscape. Andover, along with most of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, was founded by English Puritans.

North Parish Church — as well as other churches throughout Andover and North Andover — traces its roots to the Puritans who arrived during the Great Migration of the 1630s and settled the town. And within these Puritan communities, Quakers were present.

The story of Quakers among the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay is not one of acceptance and harmony. During the 17th century, both the Quaker and Puritan movements emerged in rejection of the Church of England. But this is where similarities in the two religions end.

Quakers professed tolerance and peace toward all, believing that God could speak to people directly. In contrast, Puritans believed the Bible supplied all religious authority. This led Puritans to strive for conformity in their communities, permitting no other religious groups within the borders of Massachusetts Bay.

Quakers began arriving in Massachusetts Bay during the 1650s. They challenged the established order, interrupting church services by shouting their disagreements with Puritan ideology. According to published accounts, one Quaker woman, Lydia Wardell, took her protest so far as to fully disrobe during services in Newbury while another Quaker woman, Deborah Buffam Wilson, protested in a similar fashion by walking naked through the streets of Salem.

During this time, a number of Quakers began settling in Salem. While the Quakers in Boston seemed far away from Andover, their presence in Salem felt alarmingly close to home.

Massachusetts Bay leaders acted quickly and passed a law against the “cursed sect,” banning Quakers from the colony. This law also imposed fines against anyone bringing a Quaker to the colony and proscribed corporeal punishment against any Quaker who returned to the colony after banishment.

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