Quakers began arriving in the Caribbean and North America when their religious society was still new and struggling to define its core beliefs and institutional structure. There were tensions within the Society of Friends stemming from the Quakers’ validation of individual inspiration and their communal commitment to the Christian message as contained in the Bible. A bitter debate over scriptural authority wracked Quaker meetings for the remainder of the seventeenth century, and the controversy included arguments over the Quakers’ relations with Native Americans, Africans, and others outside of Europe beyond the reach of formal Christian teaching. On both sides of the Atlantic opponents of Quaker discipline challenged long-standing assumptions about the source and content of the Christian message and the social hierarchies that resulted when some groups claimed privileged access to truth. The ensuing argument influenced the Quakers’ plans for their colonies in North America, and their debate over slavery.
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