The early Quakers, derisively named that because their fervor often caused them to tremble as they preached or prayed, met hardship and persecution. Thousands were imprisoned. Some, traveling to carry their Truth, were captured by Algerian pirates and held for ransom or sold into slavery.

The most brutal persecution occurred in the Massachusetts Bay Colony where four Friends were hanged on Boston Common, and others were flogged, branded, had their ears cut off or their tongues bored through with a hot iron, and were driven into exile. Only in Rhode Island, where Roger Williams had established the principle of religious toleration, were Quakers safe from persecution, and there they flourished. A number of governors of that colony were themselves members of the Religious Society of Friends. The oldest general gathering of Friends in the world began there at Newport in 1661 and became the New England Yearly Meeting. In 1672, George Fox himself crossed the Atlantic to attend and give the yearly meeting guidance. A decade later, William Penn began his “holy experiment” by establishing the colony of Pennsylvania and basing its governance on Quaker principles and ideals. Today, with Quaker meetings in more than 60 countries around the world, nearly half the Quakers in the world live in the United States. Since the late 19th century, most Quaker missionary outreach to Africa, Latin America, and Asia has come from the United States. The largest number of Quakers is in Africa, mainly Kenya. This has profoundly influenced the present world picture of the Religious Society of Friends.

—Gordon Browne, “Introducing Quakers