If there is any one religion to whom due credit is not given for the role they played in the founding of our nation, it would most undoubtedly be the sect of the Quaker persuasion. Though mostly known for their radical abstinence and departure from many common social practices during the 17th and 18th centuries, this denomination still yet contributed to the American political system in ways which could not have been substituted by any other.
This fact is most evident in the workings of William Penn, the visionary and founder of what we now know today as Pennsylvania. In search of a solution to the widespread persecution of fellow members of his faith, Penn and other Quakers purchased a sizeable amount of land for a settlement to escape inter-religious strife. As a result of this acquisition, and an even greater charter granted to Penn from King Charles II as well, a great deal of Britain’s northernmost American colonies became a safe haven for many religious outcasts soon thereafter.
His introduction of the concept of open and free elections in his land of “Sylvania,” as well as the promise of a fair trial by jury among other guaranteed liberties, attracted disheartened people from many European nations. Whether from France, Holland, Germany, Sweden, Finland, or even his own mother country of England—all who came were political benefactors of what many consider to be the greatest work of his life.
But such social contributions did not simply stop with the death of Penn. Though most of the Quaker religion espoused the view of pacifism in the War for Independence, a number of patriotic-minded souls broke from this well-established norm to promote the colonial cause. Lydia Darragh, a midwife, served as a spy for General George Washington. Her aid contributed to the survival of the Continental Army after its failure to retake Philadelphia in 1777.
Also running against the grain was Isaac Potts, a Tory-turned-Whig legislator. After seeing General Washington in fervent prayer at a most critical time during the war, Isaac and his wife were convinced by this action that “…a man could be a soldier and a Christian…” and that “…if there is one in the world, it is Washington.” Helping to supply ground grain to Continental troops through the use of his own grist mill, he went on furthermore to say, “We thought it was the cause of God, and America could prevail.”
But perhaps the most famous of the “Fighting Quakers” was Rhode Island’s own Nathaniel Greene. His commerce ship attacked and his own personal property seized by the British navy, Nathan could not help but join the colonial cause as a result of such tyrannical actions. After the war commenced, Nathan went on to become Washington’s “right-hand man” and one of his most trusted generals as a result of his leadership and responsibility while in battle.
Such actions and sentiments, however, were not without consequence. Isaac Grey, a Philadelphian printer, was disowned by his local congregation for publishing the pro-independence pamphlet “Serious Address to Such of the People Called Quakers…as profess Scruples…concerning Obedience to Civil Authority.”
Others, too, within this Quaker stronghold were also deemed religious outcasts. One figure estimated that up to over four hundred individuals claiming residency in the Philadelphia area had either their “Friend” membership suspended or were completely disowned by their “meeting” as a result of their patriotic sentiments or actions.
Yet over two hundred years later, we can look back upon the sacrifices of these brave patriots and honor them for the services done to this country, and ourselves as well. It was people, such as these Fighting Quakers, who departed from the socially-accepted norms of their circles, and put their all into this Heaven-blessed patriotic cause.
May we be inspired in our own walks of life, to take a stand for what is right against innumerable odds, as did these few yet faithful patriots, so we may be used of God to make a difference within this great nation, for His honor and glory, once more.