George Stimpson

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Why are members of the Society of Friends called Quakers?

Members of the Christian sect commonly known as Quakers at first called themselves Children of Light or Children of Truth, but finally adopted the name "The Religious Society of Friends." Originally Quaker was applied to them in derision. Although the name has never been adopted by the Friends themselves, they no longer regard it as a term of contempt or reproach. George Fox, the English founder of the Society of Friends, says in his Journal that he and his followers received the popular appellation from the following circumstance: "Justice Bennett, of Derby, was the first to call us Quakers, because I bade him quake and tremble at the word of the Lord." It was in 1650, during the Puritan regime, that Fox was charged with blasphemy, haled before Justice Bennett and sentenced to a term in the Derby jail. Bennett may have been the first to apply Quaker to Fox and his adherents, but it is probable that Fox was mistaken in supposing the name originated from what he said to the justice. Quaker was led as early as 1647 to a certain sect notorious for its emotional manifestations. This sect was described in a letter of intelligence written in that year to the government: "I heare of a sect of woemen (they are at Southworke) come from beyond Sea, called Quakers, and these swell, shiver, and shake, and when they come to themselves (for in all this fit Mahomett's holy-ghost hath bin conversing with them) they begin to preache what hath bin delivered to them by the Spiritt." It appears from this that Justice Bennett merely used a [page 74] word already commonly applied to persons who expressed their religious emotions in trembling, shaking and physical convulsions. In A Study of History Arnold J. Toynbee wrote: "In the first genera. tion of the life of the English Society of Friends a vein of violence, which found vent in naked prophesyings and in noisy disturbances of the decorum of church services, drew down upon its members a savage chastisement both in England and in Massachusetts. This violence, however, was quickly and permanently superseded by gentleness which became the Quakers' characteristic rule of life." Like­wise members of the United Society of True Believers in Christ's Second Appearing, which originated in England in the eighteenth century but migrated to America, are known as Shakers from the dancing movements that were once part of their ritual.