George Fox experienced a religious crisis in 1643 and broke away from English churches that had become largely formal, founding the Religious Society of Friends. Fox and his followers stressed the importance of a direct relationship with God through Jesus Christ in one’s inward being and the priesthood of all who have that inward witness and whose lives are pure. Because they trembled before a great, holy God, these friends were mocked with the label “Quakers.” From the start, authorities treated them cruelly. Today’s excerpt, dated January 18, 1655, shows the harassment the sect experienced wherever its members went.
“Peter Ceely, one of the justices of the peace of this county, to the keeper of His Highness’s jail at Launceston, or his lawful deputy in that behalf, greeting:
“I send you here withal by the bearers hereof, the bodies of Edward Pyot, of Bristol, and George Fox, of Drayton-in-the-Clay, in Leicestershire, and William Salt, of London, which they pretend to be the places of their habitations, who go under the notion of Quakers, and acknowledge themselves to be such; who have spread several papers tending to the disturbance of the public peace, and cannot render any lawful cause of coming into those parts, being persons altogether unknown, having no pass for travelling up and down the country, and refusing to give sureties for their good behaviour, according to the law in that behalf provided; and refuse to take oath of abjuration, etc. These are, therefore, in the name of his highness the Lord Protector, to will and command you, that when the bodies of the said Edward Pyot, George Fox, and William Salt, shall be unto you brought, you them receive, and in His Highness’s prison aforesaid you safely keep them, until by due course of law they shall be delivered. Hereof fail you not, as you will answer the contrary at your perils. Given under my hand and seal, at St. Ives, the 18th day of January, 1655.
Fox, George. Journal, ed. by Rufus Jones. 1908.