Santa Fe artist Olive Rush came from a long line of Quakers. They were followers of the 17th-century religious leader, George Fox. Known as the “Children of Light,” members find solace in the light or inspiration of the “inner Christ.” The Quakers believe that it is only when one silences all human thought, desires, and activities that Christ can be heard. Their gatherings, largely characterized by long periods of silence, were sporadically broken by the utterances of members when led by Divine inspiration. When under the influence of the Spirit, the speaker would tremble and quake, therein gaining the name “Quakers” from outside observers. Today, the self-named Religious Society of Friends identifies this type of worship as a form of meditation. It differs from Buddhist meditation in that during the prolonged silence, one or more members will break the silence with a message of guidance from within. A Quaker meeting has no preordained minister; ideally through the silence and contemplation the word of God will be transmitted to the Friends.
The Quakers Come to America
The first Quaker missionaries to arrive in America in 1652 were Elizabeth Harris and her followers, who came from England. Since the Quakers were pacifists, the Puritan colonists quickly banished them from Virginia and Massachusetts. They dispersed to outlying areas and gained a foothold in Rhode Island, the first colony to codify freedom of religion into law. William Penn founded the first Quaker colony in 1681 in Pennsylvania, where thousands of Friends migrated prior to his death in 1718. Unlike the early colonists, the Quakers maintained good relations with the Native American populations. These relationships, along with the fact that they spoke out against slavery, drew the ire of their neighbors. From 1758 to 1784, at every documented meeting of the Friends they voted to ban slavery. Standing apart from the culture at large, America’s first liberals fought for basic human rights and the equality of women.