Masters Theses

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts



Major Professor

Milton M. Klein

Committee Members

Charles O. Jackson, William Bruce Wheeler


The purpose of this study was to examine and place in an appropriate context the role of the Society of Friends, more commonly called Quakers, in North Carolina during the era of the American Revolution. An examination of letters, journals, and the minutes of monthly, quarterly, and yearly meetings plus those of the Standing Committees yielded much material. An exhaustive search of secondary sources supplemented the initial findings.

The early Friends came to North Carolina for economic as well as spiritual reasons. They settled in the northeastern part of Carolina and then migrated to other sections of the colony. Always a minority, the Quakers were important as farmers and government officials, as well as spiritual leaders. They met with little opposition in the early years of settlement, but as their power grew and the Anglican church claimed its neglected parishes, this friction led to many small disputes and two large rebellions. The promise of an aggressive and rapidly growing Society was thwarted during these early years.

During the second period of Quaker history in North Carolina, that of the Anglo-French Wars, Friends experienced increasing difficulty with the provincial government over a variety of issues. Quakers became even more unpopular, mainly because of their opposition to the use of force. Before and during the American Revolution, Friends most often clashed with authorities in three main areas: (1) military service, (2) payment of monies for military operations, and (3) the swearing of oaths. These disagreements led to massive fines and penalties which drained the Society of its livelihood. Some Friends were disowned for submitting to official pressure, but the majority remained true to their beliefs. The War of the Regulation proved to be the most severe test of the pre-revolutionary days for the Society.

However, the American Revolution was clearly the greatest calamity in history to hit the North Carolina Quakers. As in the Anglo-French Wars, Friends were generally true to their beliefs; a few members deviated but were quickly disowned by their meetings. Greater suffering took place in the later war years when the fighting actually came to North Carolina. There were three battles fought near Quaker settlements--New Garden, Guilford Courthouse, and Lindley's Mill. During these campaigns, Friends endured rampaging armies that destroyed and pillaged their farms and homes. The Revolution profoundly changed the Society in North Carolina. The War for Independence, linked with slavery, spelled the end of a vigorous Society in the state.

The aftermath of the war and the changes it brought were in many ways as difficult as the Revolution itself. The Society strengthened itself by pruning away its weaker members, and those who remained were more dedicated to the Quaker ideals. Quaker immigration stopped after the war, and Southern Friends in turn migrated westward to escape slavery. The Quakers who stayed in North Carolina turned from a life of public displays to one of quiet spiritual existence and community service. North Carolina Friends left a definite mark on their state, the South, and the nation, although some historians claim it was subtle and difficult to trace. While some chastise the Quakers for their failures, their impact on peace movements and abolitionism is notable. Perhaps it can best be said that the influence of a powerful example is a sufficient legacy.

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