Why were the Quakers so prominent on Nantucket?

Throughout the period from the mid-1700s to the late 1830s the island’s political, economic, and religious leadership was dominated by the Religious Society of Friends—the Quakers. Their experience of persecution, in England to begin with and subsequently in the New World, led them to Nantucket’s shores, where although they were not welcomed with open arms they were at least tolerated. By the turn of the eighteenth century the Friends, according to one historian, “had secured a hold upon the islanders such as no other religious denomination had ever acquired.” Their rejection of worldliness, their spurning of adornment, and their “lack of sympathy for anything calculated to make earthly life happy or even pleasant” did not prevent them from having an astute business sense; many of Nantucket’s first families—the Starbucks, Barneys, Coffins, Macys, Folgers, Gardners, Husseys, Colemans, Worths—Quakers all—would be pre-eminent in the conduct of the whaling industry.

Excerpt from “Nantucket in a Nutshell” by Elizabeth Oldham, Historic Nantucket, Winter 2000, Vol. 49. No. 1

The Nantucket Historical Association preserves and interprets the history of Nantucket through its programs, collections, and properties, in order to promote the island’s significance and foster an appreciation of it among all audiences.

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