Scope and Contents
Friends Historical Library collects printed, manuscript, and other materials by and about the Society of Friends, its members, and its testimonies. This collection of disciplines has been assembled over the last 140 years through deposit and gift, and is probably the largest in the world.
Biographical / Historical
The Society of Friends or Quakers (the terms are synonymous) was founded in the middle of the seventeenth century in England by George Fox and others. American Quaker activity has been documented in Massachusetts and Virginia as early as 1656. By the time William Penn's colony, Pennsylvania (whose lower counties became Delaware) was founded in 1681, Quakerism was well established in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Long Island, New Jersey, Maryland, and Virginia. In 1827-28, there was a major doctrinal split among Quakers over the views of Elias Hicks. Further fragmentation occurred later in the 19th century, particularly in the Midwest. Many of the branches of Quakerism have reunited.
What we today commonly refer to as a Quaker discipline has been defined as a book compiling rules of behavior for Friends bearing on all matters of church government such as qualification, description and transfer of membership; duties of ministers; methods of filing appeals; and attitudes toward marriage. From its earliest days, London Yearly Meeting issued epistles which contained advices concerning behavior of members of the Society of Friends. Philadelphia Yearly Meeting published a "Loving Exhortation to Friends," printed by William Bradford in 1689. The latter Yearly Meeting, in fact, raised the issue of the need for a more comprehensive book of discipline or rules at least as early as 1717, and produced multiple manuscript volumes for the use of quarterly and monthly meetings in 1719. This book was prefaced by an epistle, and was divided into topical sections, with the sections labeled in the margins. These books were annotated as directed by the Yearly Meeting; manuscript compilations of these extracts in Britain were called Christian and Brotherly Advices at least as early as 1756. In 1783, London Yearly Meeting was the first to publish a printed book of extracts from its minutes and epistles because the Yearly Meeting was concerned that some meetings were not keeping up-to-date with their annotations. In the United States, New England Yearly Meeting was the first to follow their lead in 1785, with Baltimore and Philadelphia issuing their own printed volumes in 1794 and 1797 respectively.