Early History

Early History

The Quaker movement had its beginnings in 1652 when George Fox (1624 - 1691) encountered a vision on Pendle Hill (Lancashire, England) of a "a great people to be gathered". Its appeal arose from widespread discontent with the religious climate in mid 17th century England where the state, under both Charles I and Cromwell's Commonwealth/Protectorate, attempted to control religious thinking. Fox was one of many "seekers" who risked exploring religious thought. Many, including Fox, suffered religious persecution.

Early in his search, Fox had spent countless hours reading current religious writings and speaking to religious leaders. In doing this, he found doctrine and authority but not connection to God. In 1644, after several years of searching he had what for him was a life changing experience. He wrote in his journal:

And when all my hopes in them and all men were gone....I heard a voice which said, "There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition," and when I heard it, my heart did leap for joy.

Fox developed the conviction that God speaks to all people and that there is "that of God in everyone." It remains for each of us to listen and to acknowledge God's presence in ourselves and in others. Out of this basic belief grew the major themes or testimonies of Friends. Among these are liberty of conscience and freedom of worship.

Fox became an itinerant preacher, preaching that we could receive truth directly from the Teacher, Jesus Christ. Traveling and preaching he stumbled on an organized group known as the Westmoreland Seekers. They had no minister or priests and worshiped by sitting in silence. Anyone moved by the Holy Spirit was free to offer a message. He became the spiritual leader of the group which was known as the Publishers of Truth and later as the Friends of Truth.

Meanwhile a young aristocrat, Richard Lippincott, from Devonshire, England found himself in turmoil over the conditions in England during the reign of Charles I. He moved to Dorchester, Massachusetts in 1640, joining the Puritan church at Dorchester and later moved to Boston. His first three children were born and baptized in Massachusetts.

Like Fox, he was uncomfortable with the militant character of the Puritan church. Exercising freedom of conscience, he was so tenacious and outspoken with his opinions on religious doctrine that he was officially excommunicated from the church in 1651. He returned to England hoping to find more religious tolerance under the Commonwealth.

When and how Richard Lippincott became aware of George Fox and his teachings is not known. It appears that he or his family had a connection to the Fells. Margaret Fell had supported Fox in developing the Society of Friends. Her husband, Judge Thomas Fell, was very influential as well as supportive of his wife's leadings.

Lippincott was arrested in 1655 by the mayor of Plymouth and charged with making the assertion that "Christ (not the scriptures) was the work of God, and the scriptures a declaration of the mind of God." He was released a few months later. In 1660 the same mayor had him removed from a Friends Meeting and arrested again. Margaret Fell used her influence with the newly restored King Charles II to affect his release along with other imprisoned Friends. In 1669, several years after Judge Fell's death, Margaret Fell married George Fox.

Richard Lippincott, like many other Friends, continued to be persecuted for his beliefs. They all sought a place where they could have freedom of conscience and freedom of worship.

In 1661 Lippincott, along with others, sailed for the Colonies, seeking religious liberty under Roger Williams in Rhode Island. Other Friends settled on Long Island and on Cape Cod establishing the first Friends Meetings in North America.

In 1664 Richard Lippincott joined in association to provide financing for the purpose of securing the land known to the Indians as the Navesink. On April 8, 1665 two Indian brothers, Sachem Popomma and Mishacoing, confirmed the purchase to British Gov. Nicholls and the Rhode Island Company. The next day, Gov. Nicholls issued patents for the land to the investors with the largest portion going to Lippincott who had put up the largest portion of the money. The terms of the patents provided "free liberty of conscience, without any molestation or disturbance whatsoever in their way of worship." These land patents are the first land grant documents in New Jersey to provide for liberty of conscience and protection of religious practice. They may be the second in America, second to the Charter of Rhode Island in 1663.

In the summer or fall of 1665 Richard Lippincott gathered the patent holders, most Friends, and they began moving to Navesink. They established one of the first English settlements in New Jersey, Shrewsbury. It was named after the community in England where many had come from. Richard Lippincott built his home on Passenqueneiqa Creek, a tributary of the Shrewsbury River, about a mile northeast of the current meetinghouse.

They began meeting for worship shortly after settling in the area, thus establishing the first Friends Meeting in New Jersey and beginning a 340 year history (1665 to 2005) of Friends gathering for worship in Shrewsbury. Many of these First Day Meetings for Worship were held in the Lippincott home. Within a few years the Monthly Meeting for Business was established (1669), construction of their first meetinghouse began (1672) and a regional general meeting known as Shrewsbury Quarterly Meeting was established (1672). The Shrewsbury Quarter comprised Shrewsbury and Middletown Monthly Meetings and Squan (Manasquan), Squankum (part of Howell) and Topanemus (Freehold) preparative meetings.

Unlike many other groups, including the Puritans, who sought religious freedom for themselves, Friends and Roger Williams' Baptists in Rhode Island also granted the same freedom to others. In 1667 the settlement at Shrewsbury incorporated as Shrewsbury Township. Richard Lippincott server as town overseer from 1669 to 1670. The township stretched from the Navesink River south through Manahawkin, now part of Stafford Township in Ocean County, and west through what is now Howell Township.

(written in 2005)