A Christian body that rejects the formal structures of creed and sacraments and usually of clergy and liturgy, emphasizing instead the individual's search for ‘inner light’. Founded by the Englishman George Fox in the 17th century, the Quakers became convinced that their ‘experimental’ discovery of God – sometimes featuring trembling or quaking experiences during meetings – would lead to the purification of all Christendom. The name ‘Quaker’ was originally a term of contempt but is now widely used.
By 1660 there were more than 20,000 converts, and missionaries were at work in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and the American colonies. They continued to grow in number, despite severe penalization from 1662 to 1689 for refusing to take oaths, attend Anglican services, or pay tithes. After considerable debate, they evolved their present form of organization, with regular monthly, quarterly, and annual meetings.
In 1681 William Penn founded the American Quaker colony of Pennsylvania, and Quaker influence in the colony's politics remained paramount until the American War of Independence.