Bounded by Avenue L, East Fourth Street, McDonald Cemetery, and Washington Cemetery, this park is named for the Society of Friends, a Christian denomination also known as the Quakers. The term Quaker comes from the group’s physical display of religious fervor during meetings. The earliest record of the Society dates from the 1640s in England. In 1657, a group of English Quaker missionaries who had been banished from Boston arrived in New Amsterdam. Dutch Director General Peter Stuyvesant (1610-1672) immediately began persecuting these immigrants for their non-traditional practices that included devout pacifism. Stuyvesant was also offended by the Quaker belief in the “inner light” of God -- the idea that all individuals possess a direct relationship with God and can communicate with Him without an ordained member of the clergy and without the Bible.
The Quakers found refuge in English towns that included Gravesend, Jamaica, Hempsted, and Flushing. Soon thereafter, New Netherlands passed a statute that forbade visiting or housing Quakers. In 1657, Henry Townshend of Flushing became the first individual to be found in violation of the statute and fined. Other residents, including the Quaker Robert Hodshone, were mercilessly tortured. Following increased persecution, the town clerk Edward Hart, and several other Quakers drafted the “The Flushing Remonstrance,” (1657) a document that argued for religious freedom. In 1664, Stuyvesant’s proprietor, the Dutch East India Company, ordered the conclusion of Quaker persecution due to the appeals of Flushing resident John Bowne. “The Flushing Remonstrance” is widely regarded as a precursor to the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights.
Most members of the Society of Friends remained in the countryside during the following century. By the 19th century, however, Quakers in New York City comprised a powerful faction of the Society in New York State. These urban Quakers were generally wealthier than their rural counterparts and more conservative in their beliefs. In 1828, the New York Quakers divided into two factions. Rural Quakers led by Elias Hicks and known as “Hicksites” continued to emphasize the concept of God’s inner light. City Quakers, known as the Orthodox Quakers, adopted the doctrinal issues of atonement and the Trinity, and stressed the use of the Bible. Despite their differences, both factions adamantly opposed slavery, and following the Civil War, they aided freedmen through the New York Colored Mission (1871). The Society of Friends also championed children’s issues through the creation of the Young Friends’ Aid Association (1873) and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (1875). During the World Wars, Quakers act as untiring advocates of pacifism. In 1955, the Hicksite and Orthodox factions reunited, strengthening the Society of Friends.
In 1921, the Society of Friends purchased this property in the neighborhood of Midwood to provide athletic facilities for students of Quaker schools in the New York area. Fifty-two years later, the Society discontinued the use of the athletic fields and offered the parcel for sale. They received several bids from private developers that exceeded $2 million; the Society, however, decided to accept a similar offer from the City of New York that guaranteed the continued recreational use of the property. The Federal government contributed half of the acquisition cost to preserve what is considered an indispensable feature of Midwood, and on January 17, 1973, the City of New York acquired the property. The following month, the remaining sections of the property were acquired through condemnation. Parks assumed jurisdiction over the acreage on the date of acquisition. Adjacent to the Erasmus High School athletic fields, this park features expansive grassy areas, a fenced baseball diamond, and bleachers.