Following his leading on the importance of “gospel order” for the emerging community, George Fox as early as 1652 began to encourage his followers to set up their own worship meetings. Soon monthly meetings for business were established. In 1656 he organized men’s quarterly meetings. What is now Britain Yearly Meeting began to meet regularly in 1668. The Meeting for Sufferings was established to aid the victims of persecution and soon became the general executive body of Friends in Britain.

Fox and his early followers variously called themselves Children of the Light, First Publishers of Truth, and Friends of Truth. Because of their religious enthusiasm, they were later called Quakers, a name that Fox himself disliked. Their movement for renewal of the community of Christ spread with great rapidity in England and from there to the other parts of Europe and to the American colonies. Authorities often reacted harshly, partly because of Friends’ uncompromising attitudes and their refusal to follow the customary patterns of social life. Because they refused to take oaths at a time when oaths were a test of loyalty to the Commonwealth and later to the monarchy, and also because they refused to attend or pay tithes to the Church of
England, Friends were imprisoned by the thousands. Due to the extreme hardships imposed on them, some 450 died in England under this persecution.

In the New World, mistreatment was most harsh in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, where Marmaduke Stevenson and William Robinson had been hanged in 1659, as were Mary Dyer and William Leddra a few months later. Out of their desire to have a safe haven in the colonies, Friends bought West Jersey in 1674. William Penn obtained Pennsylvania in 1681, and he and other Friends obtained East Jersey the following year. Friends also controlled Rhode Island, North Carolina, and Barbados at various times and tried to govern all these colonies according to Friends’ principles.

The worst of Friends’ sufferings in England and the colonies came to an end with the Act of Toleration of 1689.