quaker individualism

so … the quakers. where was i?

oh, yes: from the north of england originally — mostly from the highland zone (and we know what that usually means).

the general pattern seems to have been closer marriages (i.e. greater inbreeding) for a longer period in the north and west of england than in the south and east (except for parts of east anglia), but more data would be nice. that would fit the topography of britain, as well as the family patterns found by todd in britain in the 1500-1900s — nuclear families more in the south and east, extended (“stem”) families more in the north and west. (i think that the connection is: the greater/longer the inbreeding, the larger the families become [extended families/clans/tribes] — the greater/longer the outbreeding, the smaller families get.)

barry levy points this out in Quakers and the American Family — that family structure was not the same across seventeenth century england. yes, in the southeast the english were all about nuclear families — their “little commonwealths” — but in the north and the west of england (not to mention wales), it was the extended family that still held sway [kindle locations 452-461, 635-637]:

“Many middling northwestern lineages, nevertheless, did survive without the means to form ‘little commonwealths’ or compensatory formal institutions. Lacking alternatives, many northwesterners relied upon the family. They tended to emphasize familialism, as would the northwestern Quakers. In order to provide family continuity and personal dignity in the face of scarcity and individual household poverty, however, many middling northwestern households had learned to pool their meager resources among a number of different people and households. These alliances did not merely highlight the economic deficits of northwestern middling households; they provided the sinews of northwestern society. Northwestern Quakerism would develop as a radical, charismatic version of northwestern farmers’ traditional reliance on informal human relations.

Many northwestern farmers preferred an ‘extended commonwealth’ to the ‘little commonwealth’ of southeastern English and New English fame. An impressive number of very poor middling northwesterners left wills for just this reason…. In Wales, will-writing was inspired partly by English law. Welsh people were forced legally to translate their wills into English or Latin. Poor Welsh people accepted this insult in order to avoid a worse indignity: English intestate law which confined intestate distribution of wealth to the nuclear family and thereby violated the way northwest people had learned to preserve their own families and dignity….

“Because they were middling northwesterners, northwestern Quakers were fascinated by the potentialities of familial relations. Because they were sincere religious fanatics, they sought to change the ethics of northwestern British middling society at the most intimate level. Quakers came to disagree with most northwestern farmers over the farmers’ emphasis upon clan honor and their willingness to merge their households and children promiscuously with their neighbors and landlords.”

the quakers were obviously a self-sorted group of individuals, so, on the one hand, while the characteristics of the broader population from which they sprang might tell us something about them — something about their behavioral traits and evolutionary history — on the other hand, this self-sorted group probably had a lot of rather unique traits and was somewhat unlike its parent population in many ways. that, after all, is why they split off from their parent population.

one remarkable thing about the quakers, which levy dwells on a lot, is that they abandoned the extended family. at the same time, though, they became hyper-focused on the nuclear family AND the “family of god” (i.e. their fellow quakers). so they didn’t leave familialism behind entirely. in my opinion, they sound like part of a population in flux. the northern and western english were some of my “in-betweeners” — northwest europeans who came a bit late to the outbreeding project, so still in the late medieval/early modern period they were dealing with shedding their extended family-ness — something which seems to have been over and done with amongst my “core europeans” (who began outbreeding earlier) as early as, perhaps, the thirteenth-/fourteenth-centuries. but the individuals who became quakers in the north of england in the 1600s were those at the leading edge of this delayed outbreeding project in that corner of the world.

here are some quotes from levy related to the sort of individualism that seventeenth century northerners/quakers displayed. to me, the quakers sound more like anti-institutional individualists (along the lines of southern libertarians or greeks or moi) rather than individualist-collectivists:

“The Friends’ great tenets and the outlines of their early history are widely known…. Quaking when the power of Truth first struck them in meeting and rudely invading the pulpits of more staid Protestants, the early Friends believed that God’s Truth, Grace, or Light was reborn on earth with the birth of every individual. They insisted that Truth in both individuals and society could only be hampered by excessive external coercion. They rejected intolerance, university-educated ministerial authority, and most forms of civil and international force.” – [kindle locations 74-77]

When George Fox and other Quaker prophets appeared in these hills in the late 1650s, they appeared defiantly, yet plausibly, anti-institutional…. The central medium of Quaker worship was not the reception of a well-produced sermon, as among the Puritans, but a silent meeting, a gathering where all social criticism or support was purposefully suspended to reveal and communicate the divine truths embedded in the spiritual human body…. Each Quaker was an embodiment of the Word and therefore preached within or without meeting, or with or without words, to other Quakers or ‘tender’ people.” – [kindle locations 161-167]

and from Albion’s Seed:

“The ecclesiology of the Quakers was an extension of their theology. They invented a system of church government which differed radically from those of Anglicans and Puritans. Quakers condemned what they called a ‘hireling clergy,’ and ‘steeple house ways.’ They repudiated all sacraments, ceremonies, churches, clergy, ordinations and tithes, and maintained no ministers in the usual sense — only lay missionaries and exhorters whom they were sometimes called ministers.” – [kindle locations 7032-7036]

i don’t think it was very strange, then, that when the quakers set up their ideal society in the new world, it looked like this [from colin woodard’s American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America – kindle locations 1620-1631]:

The Quakers’ ideals proved to be at odds with successful governance. Believing that all people were followers of Christ and innately good, the Quakers assumed citizens could govern themselves through mere self-discipline and the application of the Golden Rule. This turned out not to be the case, as Quakers were also by nature inclined to challenge authority and convention at every juncture. The community’s leaders quarreled with one another over doctrinal questions while government fell into disarray, failing to maintain public records or to pass laws essential to the functioning of the court system. The governing council couldn’t manage to hold regular meetings, while the colony went through six governors in its first decade. The Dutch, Swedes, and Finns of the ‘lower counties’ became so desperate for proper government that they broke away to form one of their own, founding the tiny colony of Delaware in 1704. ‘Pray stop those scurvy quarrels that break out to the disgrace of the province,’ Penn wrote from London. ‘All good is said of [Pennsylvania] and but little good of [its] people. These bickerings keep back hundreds [of settlers], £10,000 out of my way, and £l00,000 out of the country.’ In desperation Penn finally appointed a succession of outsiders to run the place, including a Yankee Puritan (John Blackwell), a successful Anglican merchant from Boston (Edward Shippen), and an arrogant English gentleman (David Lloyd). None of them succeeded in getting Quaker leaders to assume responsibility for the community they’d created.”

not quite individualist-collectivists, yet. (~_^)

previously: geographical origin of the quakers and on the topographical origins of the quakers and the flatlanders vs. the mountain people and random notes: 07/30/13 and the myddle people and more on consanguinity in england (and scotland) and traditional family systems in medieval britain and ireland and the radical reformation

(note: comments do not require an email. quakers in china.)



  1. Excellent!

    A bit more from Albion’s Seed:

    Quakers considered all Friends as their “near relations” and welcomed them to hearth and home. In this respect, Quaker ideas of the family were not more nuclear than those of other English colonists, but actually less so.
    In every Anglo-American culture, the nuclear family was the normal unit of residence, and the extended family was the conventional unit of thought. The Quakers were no exception to this rule. They commonly lived in nuclear households, but thought of grandparents, cousins, uncles, aunts, nephews and nieces as members of their family. Relatives by marriage were not “in-laws,” but were called simply “father,” “brother” or “sister.” In these respects, the family ways of the Quakers were similar to most other English-speaking people in their own time. But the Quakers submerged the nuclear and the extended family in a larger sphere which was their “family of God.”3
    Quaker family customs were also distinctive in other ways. Tests such as the descent of names show that the intensity of nuclear consciousness in Quaker families was stronger than in Anglican Virginia, but weaker than in Puritan New England. The physical composition of households in the Delaware Valley also showed a similar pattern, which was intermediate between the northern and southern colonies. An average Quaker household had smaller numbers of children than in New England, and larger numbers of servants. But by comparison with Virginia, it had more children and fewer servants.4
    Quaker ideas of the family were less hierarchical than those of New England Puritans or Virginia Anglicans. Even as many Friends continued to insist that children should obey their parents, and that the young should honor their elders, they tended to think of the family and the household as a union of individuals who were equal in the sight of God.

    (e pp. 366-367)

    That said, they were not completely open to outsiders:

    Moreover, Quakers believed that the members of a household should hold themselves apart from others who were not of their kin and faith. Meetings repeatedly urged Friends to insulate the family from other non-related people in the world. In 1682, for example, one Quaker meeting strongly advised “those who do not require them to guard against the admission of servants into their houses,” if those servants were not Quakers themselves.8 They were especially concerned about admitting elements of spiritual discord to the household.

    (e p. 368)

    They do indeed sound like in-betweeners – but then, so do the Puritans and the Cavaliers. It would seem to be safe to assume that the Quakers were in-between those two groups. The Myddle people indeed.

    Of course, one would imagine that they continued to evolve since settling America, in addition to blending into the American melting pot.


  2. @jayman – “A bit more from Albion’s Seed….”

    great quotes! thanks. (^_^)

    @jayman – “Of course, one would imagine that they continued to evolve since settling America, in addition to blending into the American melting pot.”

    yes. they’ve had … what? … 300+ years (roughly 12-15 generations) for natural selection to continue to act upon them in their new social setting … which they selected and shaped (cool!). plus the blending with members from other populations, like you say.

    early on in america they banned cousin marriage, so they didn’t tighten up their genetic relationships … although they did frown upon marriage to non-quakers, so … bit of a give-and-take there:

    “They forbade first-cousin marriages which were commonplace in Virginia. During the eighteenth century, many Quaker meetings even discouraged unions between second cousins—a major restriction in small rural communities, and an exceptionally difficult problem for the Delaware elite.” [AS, kindle loc. 7904-7907]

    “On the question of marriage partners, Quakers strongly condemned what they called ‘mongrel marriages’ to ‘unbelievers.’ Outmarriage caused many disciplinary proceedings by Quaker meetings. In 1706, for example, one English meeting recorded the disownment of a member named Bartholemew Mastin: [He] hath gone and joyned himself in marriage with one that is not one of our profession and that we are altogether strangers to … according to the holy writ that believers should not marry with unbelievers … we do deny and disown the said Bartholemew. This Quaker rule against outmarriage was strictly enforced in America. For nearly two centuries, half of all the disciplinary proceedings among Pennsylvania Quakers were about problems of courtship, and marriage with ‘unbelievers.’ The frequency of these cases increased with time.” [AS, kinle loc. 7881-7889]

    @jayman – “They do indeed sound like in-betweeners – but then, so do the Puritans and the Cavaliers. It would seem to be safe to assume that the Quakers were in-between those two groups.”

    i think you might be right, but i’m not sure why the northern english should’ve wound up (presumably) slightly more outbred than the west/southwest where the cavaliers came from (i’ve got that right, haven’t i?). could be. i just don’t know why — yet. or maybe there’s something else going on, too. dunno.

    the big conclusion, of course, is that ONLY (or mostly) english in-betweeners settled in the new world. the most outbred, individualistic-communalistic don’t seem to have come over at all! not in any great numbers anyway.


  3. Jayman beat me to it. I would mention also that Quakers would call unrelated Friends “cousin.” It was a cross between a term of endearment and a title, http://www.quakerbooks.org/cousin_anns_stories_for_children.php They would also use the intimate Thee/Thou form of address one used with the family rather than the more formal You. That persisted well into the 20th C. (We think of Thee/Thou as more formal now only because it is old. It is the cognate of German “du.”

    As for influence, they were well placed on the continent for wealth, cautious with their money, and hardworking. They tended to favor education for all to at least a level of literacy and numeracy. That’s not an explanation, but a suggestion of where we might find one.


  4. @Luke Lea:

    “So tell me this, if you can: why was such a tiny sect so highly influential?”

    My guess is because they were so successful in attracting like-minded followers/allies (mostly Germans). That, and everyone was quite reproductively successful in early America. Subsequent German immigrants settled along the lower Midwest, presumably bringing the coastal Quaker/German culture with them. Woodard notes that the Germans quickly outpaced the Quakers; the Westward expansion was primarily German.

    Indirectly, the Quakers gave us Ontario as well. The settlers there were composed of transplants from the Delaware Valley in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.


  5. Luke Lea

    “So tell me this, if you can: why was such a tiny sect so highly influential?”

    1) Over time exogamous marriage within a small-ish endogamous limit should eventually lead to everyone within that endogamous group being closely related to or *equally closely related to* everyone else within that endogamous group. I think that gives a very high pushme-pullyou score* aka group synergy.

    (*the number of people an average individual in the population is closely related to minus the number they are distantly related to.)


    2) I think there’s two ways to increase average group IQ
    a) Specifically select for IQ (at the cost of selecting less for other traits like physical health).
    b) Select *against* genetic load generally i.e. allow voluntary assortative mating based on all relevant traits i.e. intelligence, health, facial symmetry etc. This should increase IQ less than option A but without negative side-effects.

    I think the hajnal line marriage culture produces option 2b.


  6. “I think that gives a very high pushme-pullyou score* aka group synergy.”

    Actually it should be pullme-pushyou i.e. pull self close, push non-self away.


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