Friends in America

The missionary vision of English Friends soon spread their witness in America. In 1661 New England Yearly Meeting was established in Rhode Island, where Friends were especially influential in government. Before 1700, other Yearly Meetings were set up in Baltimore, Virginia, Philadelphia, New York, and North Carolina for the English colonists. Overland travel was so difficult, separate Yearly Meetings were almost a necessity. William Penn's colony (Pennsylvania) was an example of what Friends today call "church extension". The numerical strength and influence of colonial Friends reached its peak about 1750. As more non-Quakers came to America, the peace testimony grew unpopular in the face of the French and Indian War. Also as Quietism increased among Friends, the Quaker influence diminished markedly during the latter half of the eighteenth century.

During the 19th century Friends experienced a quickening of spiritual life, and new Yearly Meetings were again set up. Baltimore established Ohio Yearly Meeting in 1813 for all Friends meetings west of the Allegheny Mountains. Growth was phenomenal and Ohio set up Indiana Yearly Meeting in 1821. Since then, twenty-six Yearly Meetings were formed in the remaining years of the 19th century, fourteen of which have ceased to exist or have merged with other Yearly Meetings. In the 20th century at least twelve new Yearly Meetings have been established.

Along with spiritual renewal came divisions among Friends. Due to disagreements in doctrine and church authority, and augmented by personality conflicts, the "Great Separation" took place in American Quakerism in 1827_28, with major splits occurring in four Yearly Meetings. Smaller divisions took place later in the century. Conferences about special concerns were held in Philadelphia in 1829, and in Baltimore in 1849. The first General Conference of the Yearly Meetings was held at Richmond, Indiana, in 1887. It was attended by delegates from London and Dublin Yearly Meetings, as well as from all those in America except Philadelphia and it was represented unofficially.