The first Europeans to settle Burlington were members of the Religious Society of Friends, also known as Quakers. Founded by George Fox in seventeenth-century England, the Friends quickly met with persecution for their refusal to bear arms, take oaths, and pay tithes. Less than a quarter-century after the Society was founded, Friends began leaving England for the religious freedom of America. More than one third of those originally purchasing land in Burlington had been fined or imprisoned for their beliefs in England. Even as their ship, the Kent, sailed down the Thames River, King Charles II boarded it from his royal barge and wished them a safe voyage. As the King's own laws led to much of the abuse the Quakers received in England, this blessing is usually viewed as a polite "go away," at best.
Historically, the Friends in Burlington were known for their pacifism, religious tolerance, and egalitarianism. The Lenape were befriended, but not converted, and trials involving Indians were decided by a jury of 6 settlers and 6 Indians. In 1757, Samuel Smith and other Friends founded the New Jersey Society for Helping the Indians. Friends in the Philadelphia area were forbidden from owning slaves after 1776, and in 1792 efforts began to educate freed slaves. In 1796, Friends founded a local charity, The Friendly Institution. In the 1800's, the Burlington Pharmacy was visited often by abolitionist Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whitter, and was a stop on the Underground Railroad. Early Friends also founded the Endeavor Fire Company, oldest in the city.