Quaker Timeline

From their formation as an organised movement in 1652 to the current day, this is a timeline of the Quakers.

17th Century


The English Civil War Period (1642 – 1651) is over and it leaves many people in a bitterly divided England searching for answers.

Several such people searching for answers are a group of Seekers who call themselves the Children of the Light and are led by George Fox, a former farm worker turned independent preacher. The Children of the Light had begun calling each Friend five years earlier in 1647 and form the backbone of the society in north-west England.

Fox preaches to the judge Thomas Fell and his wife Margaret at their home, Swarthmoor Hall, Cumbria, and the building becomes the hub for early Quakerism.


From her home at Swarthmoor Hall, Margaret Fell helps organise Quakers into a national movement. By 1655, a group of Quakers named the Valiant Sixty are formed to preach Quakerism across England and Wales – using the hall as their administrative base.


The 16-year-old James Parnell is imprisoned in Colchester Castle for his beliefs and subsequently dies there in controversial circumstances. Parnell becomes know as the ‘Boy Martyr’.

James Nayler, one of the Valiant Sixty, is accused of blasphemy in a national scandal where he re-enacts Palm Sunday and plays the part of Jesus. His actions bring the young Quaker movement into a disrepute that nearly threatens its very existence.

Mary Fisher and Ann Austin become the first Quakers to sail from England to the American Colonies in a ship named Swallow. They land in Boston and, although there was no law barring their presence, they are jailed for three weeks and sent back to England.

A group of Quaker eight missionaries leave England for the American Colonies, sailing on a small ship named Speedwell. Upon arrival they are imprisoned for being Quakers. After nearly three months of confinement, the group of eight Quakers is put back on the ship, and sent back to England.


The ship named Woodhouse is built for the sole purpose of transporting Quaker missionaries from England to the American Colonies. Following its journey, the ship arrives along the coastline of Long Island in late May, and lands at New Amsterdam on 1 June 1657, after seven weeks at sea. After disembarking, the Woodhouse’s Quakers make their way to Maryland and Virginia.


The English Revolution is crushed and with it the Commonwealth of England ends as the Restoration sees the return of rule by the monarchy.

Systematic persecution of Quakers begins on both sides of the Atlantic. The persecution stems from the religious authorities of the day wanting to suppress Quakerism – as the faith’s non-compromising independence is a threat to their control of the masses.

Three Friends, including Mary Dyer, are hanged for their beliefs, in Boston, Massachusetts.

Quakers publish their Declaration of Peace Pamphlet – arguably the most powerful piece of writing Friends have written.


A fourth and final Friend is hanged in Boston. Collectively, they become known as the Boston Martyrs.

Quakers present their Declaration of Peace Pamphlet to King Charles II in person.


The Quaker Act further persecutes Quakers (and other Nonconformist groups)


After a decade of work, Robert Barclay publishes his Apology – the first full account of Quaker faith and its practice.


William Penn establishes the Quaker state of Pennsylvania as a new colony in north-east America.


The Act of Toleration allows Quakers (and other Nonconformist groups) to worship legally.

In recognition of the change in law, several purpose-built Meeting Houses are constructed and open such as the Meeting House in Lincoln.

18th Century


William Penn signs the groundbreaking Charter of Privileges, which guarantees both religious and political freedoms in Pennsylvania. The charter becomes a key inspiration for the Untited States’ free type of government.


A manuscript of Quaker beliefs and values is written. This evolves through the years into what is now known as Quaker Faith & Practice.

Benjamin Lay, an early abolitionist, carries out his ‘real blood’ protest against slave owning Quakers.


Philedelphia’s State House bell (now more famously known as the Liberty Bell) is commissioned to celebrate the 50th anniversary of William Penn signing the Charter of Privileges.


Quaker marriage becomes legal in Britain.


Quakers reverse their decision to own slaves and begin campaigning to abolish slavery.


After four years surveying, the Mason-Dixie Line in completed by the Quaker Jeremiah Dixon and his partner Charles Mason. The line comes to define the boundaries between the ‘free’ north and the ‘slave holding south’ of the United States.


The botanical illustrator Sydney Parkinson sets sail for Australia and New Zealand aboard Captain Cook’s HMS Endeavour. Sadly, Parkinson dies on the voyage home, but his drawings and journal survive.


Quakers pioneer humane mental care at The Retreat, York.

19th Century


Elizabeth Fry starts her prison reform work at Newgate Prison.


Quakers in business open the world’s first passenger steam railway, Stockton & Darlington.


The Friend, a weekly Quaker magazine, is first published and continues to this day – making it one of the world’s longest running continuous publications.


The Great Hunger (Irish famine) sees Quakers send famine pots, manufactured at Coalbrookdale, to Ireland – thus creating the first soup kitchens.


Growth of Quaker chocolate makers Cadburys and Rowntrees.


The Quaker Star is first worn by British Quaker relief workers during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1.

Quakers are allowed admittance to Cambridge and Oxford universities.


Ten years before the appearance of Coca-Cola, Charles Elmer Hires introduces his manufactured root beer to the world, thus kick-starting the global soft drinks industry.


Quaker family banks Barclays and Lloyds thrive to the point where they start becoming too big to be run by families. Thus, the Quaker involvement in banking reaches its peak and begins to fade.

20th Century


The Quaker Mill Company of Ravenna, Ohio, merges with three other mills to form the Quaker Oats company. Quaker Oats becomes the United State’s first cereal to be trademarked, but the brand has no formal association with the Quakers.

The American Quaker Lizzie Magie invents the Landlords Game. The game can be played with either a socialist or capitalist set of rules. The idea is stolen from her and becomes Monopoly, which drops the socialist set of rules.


First conference of Quakers worldwide.


Friends House opens as the home of British Quakers.


Quakers, led by Nicholas Winton, begin evacuating children from Nazi Germany on what becomes known as the Kindertransport.


Quakers awarded Nobel Peace Prize for their war relief work.


To mark the tercentenary of the Quakers’ becoming an organised movement, a commemorative plaque is erected at Fox’s Pulpit.


Pulsar Stars are discovered by the Jocelyn Bell Burnell when she was a student at Cambridge University.

After eight years work from the contribution of over 4,000 Friends worldwide, the Quaker Tapestry is completed.


Quakers work at the UN to bring about Landmine Ban Treaty.

21st Century


British Quakers campaign for same-sex marriage


Quakers in Britain disinvests from fossil fuels


600+ British Quakers gather for No Faith In War Day – the largest assembly of Friends outside of Britain Yearly Meeting.

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