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Distribution of Quakers in the U.S.
by Bill Samuel
Original version published August 1, 1999 at Suite101.com
In the summer of 1999, I polled readers of the Quakerism topic on Suite101.com as follows:Which state in the United States has the highest percentage of Friends in its population?
Readers voted overwhelmingly - 61.9% - for Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania is sometimes known as the "Quaker State" and has a strong historical association with Quakerism. Pennsylvania, meaning "Penn's Woods," started as a grant of land from the King of England to William Penn, a noted early Friend. Quakers dominated the colonial government of Pennsylvania for decades. (More information on the story of Friends in government in Pennsylvania can be found in the article Quakerism in the 18th Century.)
Today, a number of Quaker organizations are headquartered in Philadelphia and there are still many Friends in the Philadelphia area. However, most of the rest of the state is not heavily populated with Quakers. Pennsylvania ranks only tenth in percentage of Friends in the population, and only fourth in absolute numbers. So the people who voted for Pennsylvania had good reason to do so, but were wrong.
Indiana was the second most popular choice among my readers, garnering 28.6% of the vote. Indiana has the world headquarters of Friends United Meeting, the largest of several branches of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). It is a longtime stronghold of Friends.
In fact, this was a much better choice than Pennsylvania. There are more Quakers in Indiana than in any other state. However, proportionately, it ranks second.
North Carolina garnered one vote among my readers. Quakers have been very important in the history of North Carolina from colonial days, when one Friend served as governor. North Carolina Quakers faced great difficulties as the result of their relatively early decision to give up slaveholding, and many left the state for points west.
Despite the large migration of Quakers from North Carolina in the 19th century, the state today still has the second largest number of Friends in the country. Proportionately, North Carolina ranks fourth.
None of my readers voted for Alaska. Perhaps some thought I threw it in as a ringer! However, in fact, I listed it because it is the correct answer. It has far and away the largest percentage of Friends in its population, despite relatively low absolute numbers in this most sparsely populated state.
The history of Quakers in Alaska is not well known. When Alaska was evangelized, the different churches agreed not to compete and each took a territory in which to work. California Friends wound up heading for Kotzebue Sound north of the Arctic Circle.
Kotzebue is Alaska's largest Inupiat (Eskimo) village. It is the economic and transportation hub for the 11 communities in the Northwest Arctic Borough, where Quakerism is the dominant religion. It is also the headquarters of Alaska Yearly Meeting of Friends, which is predominantly Inupiat and the only predominantly nonwhite yearly meeting of Friends in North America.
Outside the Northwest Arctic Borough, Alaska Yearly Meeting has churches in Anchorage and Fairbanks, primarily serving transplanted Inupiat. Friends in Alaska also include Alaska Friends Conference, a very small body with a largely non-native membership.
One reader voted for "None of the above" but did not let me know which state he or she thought had the largest proportion of Quakers. States other than those mentioned above which are in the top ten with the highest percentage of Friends in their populations are Kansas, Iowa, Idaho, Oregon, Ohio and Delaware.
For More Information
See The Largest Friends Communities for the statistics used for this article.
An attempt to break down the various types of Friends in North America by state or province can be found at The Breadth, Depth and Stretch of Quakers in North America.
© by Bill Samuel. Do not reprint in whole or in part without prior permission of the author, except for limited quoting in accordance with "fair use" principles. You are welcome to link to this page.
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