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Historical texts

by Quakers


"And posterity we doubt not shall reap the benefit of our endeavours, what ever shall become of us." – John Lilburne, England's New Chains, 1649

This site provides original texts from times gone by, with the idea that those who produced them and managed to post them into the public view were striving to share insights and realizations that might be valid today. They are divided between Quaker texts (listed below) and other texts pertaining to their experience.

Historical texts

by Quakers

Spiritual Writings of James Nayler (1653-60)
One of the most prolific writers in the early Quaker movement, Nayler challenged authorities so deeply that the Parliament felt obliged to try him themselves for blasphemy, and to punish him cruelly without a basis in law, as an example to others and to intimidate the growing wave of religious dissent.
Put together for the internet by a friend, these few writings, it is hoped, will speak to true Christian believers at large.
"Resurrection" of John Lilburne (1655)
Two letters by John Lilburne (one to his wife, Elizabeth, quoting a scrap of hers) and biblical analysis, written from prison and published on his instruction to explain to his friends and supporters that he had become a Quaker.
Lilburne became a Friend during what was to be his final stay in prison, declaring that "by the spirit and power of life from God, that now aloud again speaks within me ... I am at present become dead to my former busling actings in the world, and now stand ready... to hear and obey all things that the lively voice of God speaking in my soul require of me."
Epistle from the Brethren and Elders gathered at Balby (1656)
A summary of one of the first documents issued as guidance for the growing Quaker movement, by representatives from meetings at Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, and Derbyshire.
Fox's epistle (later numbered 131) (~1656)
A first hint of the turn toward respectability in the Religious Society of Friends.
Fox's epistle #137 (~1657)
Written during a period of turmoil in the Quaker movement, when they faced a brutal crackdown from the Commonwealth government.
Introductory epistle, by Edward Burrough (1658)
Considered one of the best sketches of the early history and programmatic agenda of the early Quaker movement, written just six years after it had arisen. This essay prefaced the Great Mystery of the Great Whore of Babylon Unfolded, a collection of answers by George Fox to 100 anti-Quaker tracts. It shows how Friends regarded themselves and their opponents - the "priests and professors" of other denominations of their day.
James Nayler's "There is a spirit..." (1660)
"There is a spirit which I feel, that delights to do no evil, nor to avenge any wrong..." Regarded as a quintessential statement concerning the character of the Spirit that Friends had found.
A Small Collection of Early Quaker Sermons (1688-1694)
Quaker sermons collected in the London area, several decades after the start of the Quaker movement.
Journal of George Fox (published 1694)
Covers the early Quaker movement and its development into the Religious Society of Friends, from Fox's unique perspective. This version was edited by Rufus Jones and published in 1908, and includes Jones's introduction and comprehensive footnotes.
Primitive Christianity Revived, Wm. Penn (1696)
One of several works that Penn wrote to explain and defend the ways of Friends. This one presents many elements (for instance, the emphasis on the Light as a pivotal concept) which were to typify the Religious Society in the 1700s.
Journal of John Woolman (1772)
John Woolman (1720-1772) is best known for his challenge to Quaker slaveholding. In his Journal he also reflects on voluntary simplicity, war taxes, settler-Indian relations, and the unity of God's creation. In everything, he sought the leading of the divine Spirit, and in his life we see Friends' testimonies blossoming in pre-independence American colonies.
See also David Finke's summary of "Themes from John Woolman."
Journal of Ann Branson (1892)
Ann Branson (1808-1891), an active minister of Ohio Yearly Meeting (Conservative), records her life, exercises, and religious labors — in her own area as well as in her travels to the Philadelphia area, New England, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, and Canada.