The first Friend known to have a permanent residence in the New York area was Richard Smith, who lived in Southampton, Long Island, in 1654. In 1657, the ship Woodhouse, a tiny vessel with a Quaker captain, brought a group of eleven Friends to New Amsterdam, where five remained while the others proceeded to Rhode Island. Several of the former went to Long Island, which was largely settled by English people, many of them Anabaptists who had fled Massachusetts Bay to obtain religious freedom. From these seeking people Friends received a warm welcome. Lady Deborah Moody, of Gravesend, now in Brooklyn, had to violate the law to open her home for Friends’ meetings. In 1657 New Netherlands’ Governor Peter Stuyvesant began to persecute Friends in order to drive them out of the colony. He forbade religious meetings except those of the Dutch Reformed Church. As a result, residents of Flushing drew up the Flushing Remonstrance in that same year, protesting against the curtailment of their liberties as granted by charter. John Bowne allowed Friends to meet in his house in Flushing in 1661, the year he built it. (It still stands as a memorial.) The following year, he was arrested, fined, and imprisoned. He refused to pay the fine, so he was sent for further discipline to Holland. Acquitted, he returned to America in 1663 with a letter instructing the governor to halt religious persecution. In this way, religious freedom came to New Amsterdam twenty-six years before the English Toleration Act.

The first known meeting in Manhattan took place in 1671, the same year that Friends set up meetings in Oyster Bay, Matinecock, and Westbury, Long Island. The visit of George Fox in the following year acted as a spur to the spread of Quakerism in the colonies. Fox called meetings and preached on Long Island, Shelter Island, and at Shrewsbury, New Jersey. Thirty years later, in 1702, some 2,000 persons attended the half-yearly meeting at Flushing. The first organized yearly meeting in the colonies was New England, in 1661. The New York Yearly Meeting was set up at the New England Yearly Meeting in 1695; its first meetings were in 1696.