Edward Hicks was born in 1780 in Pennsylvania. His mother died when he was 18 months old, and his father, a British loyalist, was forced to flee in the aftermath of the Revolutionary War. Family friends took in the abandoned child and gave him religious instruction; from this early time, religion became central to his life. At age thirteen Hicks was apprenticed to a coach maker and spent the next seven years learning to make and paint coaches.
Hicks was miserable in the rough company of the coachmen and to resolve this unhappy situation, he joined the Society of Friends in 1803, finding among the Quakers a spiritual home. Hicks was soon recognized as a minister and, like other Quakers, began to travel thousands of miles to spread the word, uncompensated in any material way. Eventually he established himself in Milford, Pennsylvania, where he painted coaches and signs and decorated household objects. A conflict arose, however, between his desire for artistic expression and his need to meet Quaker demands for simplicity in all aspects of life. By 1820 he had begun easel painting, and scenes based on the biblically inspired theme of "the peaceable kingdom" became his specialty. Hicks continued to travel and preach and to paint until his death in 1849.