Year
1659

Quakers executed for religious beliefs

William Robinson and Marmaduke Stevenson, two Quakers who came from England in 1656 to escape religious persecution, are executed in the Massachusetts Bay Colony for their religious beliefs. The two had violated a law passed by the Massachusetts General Court the year before, banning Quakers from the colony under penalty of death.

The Religious Society of Friends, whose members are commonly known as Quakers, was a Christian movement founded by George Fox in England during the early 1650s. Quakers opposed central church authority, preferring to seek spiritual insight and consensus through egalitarian Quaker meetings. They advocated sexual equality and became some of the most outspoken opponents of slavery in early America. Robinson and Stevenson, who were hanged from an elm tree on Boston Common in Boston, were the first Quakers to be executed in America. Quakers found solace in Rhode Island and other colonies, and Massachusetts’ anti-Quaker laws were later repealed.

In the mid 18th century, John Woolman, an abolitionist Quaker, traveled the American colonies, preaching and advancing the anti-slavery cause. He organized boycotts of products made by slave labor and was responsible for convincing many Quaker communities to publicly denounce slavery. Another of many important abolitionist Quakers was Lucretia Mott, who worked on the Underground Railroad in the 19th century, helping lead fugitive slaves to freedom in the Northern states and Canada. In later years, Mott was a leader in the movement for women’s rights.

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