A Scattering of Seeds: The Creation of Canada
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General History

A History of Quaker Immigration to Canada

The "Inner Light," or spirit of God which lives in every person regardless of race, creed or colour, is the theological foundation laid by George Fox over 300 years ago when he formed the Religious Society of Friends, or as they are commonly called, "Quakers." At first, Fox's followers did not consider their movement a new Church. Rather, they believed it was a rediscovery of a true Christian way of life, believing that their way of worshiping and their principles were basic and true to the ways of Christ. Though they expected Christians the world over to follow in their ways, this did not happen. Only a very small minority of Christians converted to Quakerism.

George Fox and his group had a number of names at the inception - they first called themselves "Seekers" and later "Children of Light" in reference to their belief in everybody's inner light. They then called themselves "Friends," in reference to Christ's words, "I have called you Friends". Finally, they settled upon "The Religious Society of Friends."(1)

Ironically, the term "Quakers" was coined by their detractors to describe the group, because one of the ministers said that they alone quaked before the power of God.(2) The term stuck, even amongst the members of the group.

The Religious Society of Friends believes that each member has an equal right to speak to the congregation. Their core belief is that since every person has the "Inner Light," they cannot participate in war nor settle disputes through aggressive means, be it verbal or physical. Even resolving a dispute through the court system without first trying compromise and communication, is believed to be a discretion in Quaker religious beliefs.(3)

Quakers did not believe in slavery, because like white people, Blacks possess the Inner Light. It was the Quakers of Columbia, Pennsylvania who first organized the Underground Railway in 1804 and campaigned to end slavery in the United States.(4)

Although local Quakers could meet weekly, monthly, or quarterly, the annual meeting was the most important. Though addressed by the Minister, any member of the congregation was able to speak. During these meetings, any disputes, problems or digressions were resolved. The decisions reached at the annual meeting were final and binding. It was the Quakers refusal to fight in wars or take part in any way in wars which first brought them into conflict with the English court system, and caused them to leave England for North America in the 17th and 18th centuries. Many of the earliest settlers to North America were Quakers. There were successful Quaker settlements scattered throughout the 13 colonies, the most successful formed by the Quaker Minister, William Penn, in what would later become Pennsylvania.

Though they came for religious freedom, Quakers within the United States were not without harassment by both the British and the French. At one time, the Quakers of the Island of Nantucket, who had been fishing there since 1659, had one hundred boats as part of their fishing fleet. During the Seven Year War between France and Britain, however, Quakers suffered property loss from the British and French alike. They were forced into the British Navy or attacked by the French and their property seized. (5)

In the spring of 1762, fourteen years before American independence from Britain, forty-eight Quaker household heads left Nantucket, and made their way north to Barrington, Nova Scotia. During the first 12 years of existence, this colony met only the hardships faced by any pioneer settlement. During the War of Independence, however, they were exposed to attack from both sides. They lost their equipment and were no longer able to survive in Barrington. Facing starvation, this first group of Quaker pioneers made their way back to the colony in Nantucket, where they were welcomed back.(6)

During the American War of Independence, the Quakers remained neutral and tried to carry on with their farming and way of life as the battle raged around them. Although they did suffer property loss and fear from attack, there is no record of members of the group being killed. However, there is a record of a Quaker meeting being interrupted by a couple of native warriors who walked in with fresh scalps hanging from their belt. They left without causing any harm.

Though Quakers are often associated with the United Empire Loyalists, they were not, in fact, loyal to the British, and did not take sides during the conflict. Nor did they aid the British by fighting or supplying food or shelter. Many headed north, with the wave of Loyalists, because they felt that they might have a better opportunity to live a life of peace in Canada than in the war ravaged colonies. Quakers did not object to the label of Loyalists, although it was against the teaching of the church for any Quaker to accept a land grant offered by the British as a reward for their loyalty during the war. They could only accept land grants which were offered to any settler at that time, with the condition that they would clear the land and build roads. These land grants were separate from the outright grant given for loyalty.

Quaker communities sprang up across the Maritimes, Québec and Upper Canada. The settlements were often isolated from the other communities. In the 1700s, the Quaker settlement in Uxbridge, Ontario was the furthest northern white community in Ontario. Up until that time, the land north of Uxbridge was virgin forest and native land. Other Quaker settlements in Ontario were formed in the Bay of Quinte, the Niagara district and Pickering.

During the early years of the 1800's, there was a great migration of Quakers in the western United States. Twenty eight thousand Quakers moved West, mainly from the southern states. One reason for leaving the South was to get away from the culture of slavery. Of the 28,000 who left, some of the Quakers trickled North, forming colonies in Western Canada and on the Pacific Coast.(7)

Quakers remained neutral during the War of 1812. The settlements in Sharon,
Ontario, and communities around the Town of York suffered heavy fines and property confiscation by the British as punishment for refusing to take part in the war. Twenty- five years later, during the Rebellion of Upper Canada, two Quakers did get involved with the rebel movement. Although they were against violence and wanted to try and resolve the conflict with the Family Compact through compromise, they were labeled cowards by the rebels and ridiculed for their pacifist stand. After the failure of the rebellion, the British troops rounded up those who were the ringleaders or known to have been involved in the conflict.

Joshua Doan and Joseph Gould, sons of two early Quaker families in Ontario, were arrested. They were the only two Quakers who played a prominent part in the rebellion, although many Quakers, tired of the persecution suffered under the British and the Family Compact, had broken with the Quaker doctrine of peace and supported the Rebels.(8)

The Quakers' influence in Canada started to decline as pioneer days and the end of the 19th century came along. By 1860, there were only 1,000 Quakers in Ontario, where the number remains to this day.

The Quakers gave humanitarian aid through World Wars I and II, providing relief for the wounded and trying to work towards peace. In 1947, the International Service Body for the Society of Friends was rewarded for their efforts in providing relief, and working towards peace, when they received the Nobel Peace Prize.(9)


1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12, 13, 16, 19
The Quakers in Canada - A History
by Arthur G. Dorland. The Ryerson Press, Toronto, cp. 1968.

4, 5, 14, 15, 17, 18, 20
The Canadian Encyclopedia
Year 2000 Edition, Editor in Chief: James H. Marsh, McClelland & Stewart Inc., The Canadian Publishers, Toronto, Ont. cp. 1999.

Promised Land : The Final Stop on the Underground Railroad was Canada
Canadian Geographic, July-August 1995, vol. 115, No. 4, by Don Gillmor.