Collection of Manuscripts relating to the Society of Friends

Scope and Content

The collection consists of manuscripts relating to the Society of Friends and copied by J. Cruickshank.

Administrative / Biographical History

The Society of Friends, or the Friends Church, or Quakers, are a Christian group which arose in the seventeenth century within the English Puritan movement. The founder was George Fox (1624-1691), a shoemaker from Nottingham, who began giving sermons in 1643 and formed a group called the Friends of Truth, later becoming known as the Society of Friends. After 1656, the Friends refused to attend Anglican services and stopped paying their tithes. Fox was arrested and a judge told him that he should 'quake in the presence of the Lord'. After this the Friends became known as Quakers.

The Friends believe in the immediacy of Christ's teaching and guidance, the consequent irrelevance of consecrated buildings and an ordained ministry, and the application of Christ's teaching to the whole of life. However, in the seventeenth century these beliefs met with persecution, and during the reign of Charles II over 13,000 were arrested and imprisoned and some were transported. Even so, the group grew rapidly particularly in the north of England and by 1660, Fox had made some 20,000 converts and missionaries were at work in Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.

Persecution continued throughout the seventeenth century and many emigrated to North America. In 1681 William Penn founded the American Quaker Colony of Pennsylvania, and in 1683 Francis Daniel Pastorius from Germany established the Quaker settlement of Germantown. During the eighteenth the Friends went through a series of separations and schisms - some advocating Quietism, some following the theology of John Wesley, some following the teaching of Elias Hicks.

The Friends involved themselves in politics and social reform and became the first religious group to denounce slavery century. In 1783, they presented the first substantial anti-slavery petition to Parliament. Also in Britain, Elizabeth Fry joined the prison reform movement and Joseph Lancaster worked for improvements in education. The Peace Society was also formed in a campaign to end war.

By the beginning of the nineteenth century there were around 25,000 Quakers in Britain and many proved themselves to be entrepreneurial. Under Edward Pease a group helped to form the Stockton and Darlington Railway in 1825, and companies formed by Quakers included Cadbury, Fry, Rowntree, Huntly and Palmer, Bryant and May, Barclays, and Lloyds.

Access Information

Generally open for consultation to bona fide researchers, but please contact repository for details in advance.

Acquisition Information

Material acquired November 1961, Accession no. E61.34.


The biographical/administrative history was compiled using the following material: (1) The new encyclopaedia Britannica. Vol.5. Micropaedia. Ready Reference. 15th edition. Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1991. (2) Material circulated by the Society of Friends.

Compiled by Graeme D Eddie, Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections Division.

Other Finding Aids

Important finding aids generally are: the alphabetical Index to Manuscripts held at Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections and Archives, consisting of typed slips in sheaf binders and to which additions were made until 1987; and the Index to Accessions Since 1987.


Check the local Indexes for details of any additions.


Corporate Names