A History of the Baptists
THE BAPTISTS IN RHODE ISLAND
Baptists OrganizeRoger WilliamsRelations to Sir Edward CokeArrival in New EnglandHowe RecognizedEstimates of HimPastor in SalemInterference of the MagistratesPlymouthReturns to SalemBefore the Court in BostonThe Attitude of the People of SalemHis BanishmentHis Popularity in SalemRevocation of the Order of BanishmenZtRoman CatholicsOrganization of the Church in ProvidenceThe Baptism of WilliamsThe Form of BaptismAbandons the ChurchApostolic Succession and the Administrator of BaptismIrregularityJohn SpilsburyFurther History of the ChurchPardon TillinghastWilliams on LibertyHis CharacterThe Church at NewportJohn ClarkeHis CharacterRecognition of Charles IIA New CharterRhode Island Persecuted by Other ColoniesBetter Opinion of the StateProsperity of the Baptists.
THE first sign of organization of Baptists in the United States was in Rhode Island under Roger Williams and John Clarke. Williams was one of the most notable men among the colonists. He was born in London (New England Historical and Genealogical Register, July 1889, p. 291 f), of Welsh extraction, and died in Providence, Rhode Island, March, 1684. He was the son of James Williams, a merchant tailor, of whom Henry Fitz Waters wrote:
His house was in Cow lane, opposite a public house or tavern called the Harrow, which he owned. This lane starts at Snow hill, near its intersection with Cock lane, famous for its ghost, and sweeps around in a curve to the north, ending, I think, in Smithfield market, near the place where John Rogers and other famous religious martyrs were burned at the stake. It was in the parish of St. Sepulchres and between the church of that name, and Charter house where young Roger got his schooling and was fitted for the ministry of Cambridge. He was born about the year 1600. He became a student at Charter House June 25, 1621, and obtained a scholarship in that school July 9, 1624 (Parley, The History of Salem, Massachusetts, I., pp. 227, 228. Salem, 1824).
When he was a mere boy he attracted the attention of Sir Edward Coke, while taking shorthand notes in the Star Chamber. Coke became his patron, and he graduated from Pembroke College, in 1626. Before he left England he refused to join in the Liturgy of the Church "because he durst not join with them in their use of common prayer" (Publications of the Narragansett Club, IV).
He and his young wife arrived on the ship Lyon, at Nantucket, February 5, 1631. "The truth is," said he late in life, "from my childhood, now about three score years, the Father of lights and mercies touched my heart with a love to himself." When he arrived in Boston, early in February, 1631, six months after the death of Francis Higginson, he was already a resolute non-Conformist.
He was recognized by Winthrop as a "Godly minister"; and Edward Winslow characterized him as "a man lovely in his carriage." The later historians have been the most pronounced in their tributes of appreciation. As there has been much misunderstanding of the character of Roger Williams, a few of the more recent tributes are here given.
The language of Professor Moses Coit Tyler would probably be generally accepted by most students of Colonial history. He says:
From his early manhood, even down to his old age, Roger Williams stands in New England a mighty and benignant form, always pleading for some magnanimous idea, some tender charity, the rectification of some wrong, the exercise of some sort of forbearance toward mens bodies or souls (Tyler, History of American Literature, p. 31. New York, 1878).
Richman gives him the following character:
Although by naturein all that touched not what he deemed the vitals of morals and religionof all men most charitable, and forgiving, he was equally by naturein all that touched those vitalsof all men the most uncompromising and stern.
Richman gives a contrast between Williams and John Winthrop, the greatest of the New England leaders:
Against the somber background of early New England, two figures above the restJohn Winthrop and Roger Williams. The firstastute, reactionary, sternrepresented Moses and the law. The secondspontaneous, adaptable, forgivingrepresenting Christ and the individual. It is needless to say with which lay the promise of the dawn.
James Bryce, the distinguished ex-Ambassador to the United States from Great Britain, says:
Roger Williams was the founder of Rhode Island in a clearer and ampler sense than any other single manscarcely excepting William Penn was the founder of any other American colony; for he gave it a set of principles which, so far as the New World was concerned, were peculiarly his own . . . he and his community deserved to be honored by those who hold that one of the chief services which the United States has rendered to the world consists in the example set there of a complete disjunction of religious worship and belief from the machinery of civil government.
Edward Eggleston asserts:
Here at the very outset of his American life we find that Williams had already embraced the broad principles that involved the separation of church and state, and the most complete religious freedom, and had characteristically pushed this principle to its logical result some centuries in advance of the practice of his age.
And he further remarks:
In the seventeenth century there was no place but the wilderness for such a John the Baptist of the distant future as Roger Williams. He did not belong among the diplomatic builders of churches like Cotton, or the political founders of states like Winthrop. He was but a babbler to his own times, but the prophetic voice rings clear and far, and even clearer as the ages go on.
Secretary Oscar Straus, once a Cabinet officer of the United States, says:
The time, let us hope, is not far distant when the civilized people, in the remotest corners of the world, will recognize the truth and power of the principles which throw around the name of Roger Williams a halo of imperishable glory and fame.
Chief Justice Durfee, at the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the founding of Providence, used these glowing words:
The great idea here first politically incorporated and showed forth in lively experiment, has made the circuit of the globe, driving bigotry like a mist and superstition like a shadow before it, and sowing broadcast, among men and nations, the fruitful seeds of peace and progress, of freedom and fraternity. The little wisp of glimmering light, which hung, like a halo, over the cradle of infant Providence, has brightened and expanded until it irradiates the world. This is and will be forever the unique glory of our beloved city.
Williams was invited to settle as pastor with the church in Boston, but he declined because they were not "an unseparated people" (Letter to John Cotton, March 25, 1671). On the April following he became co-pastor with Mr. Skelton of the Salem church, since that church acted "on principles of perfect and entire independence of every other ecclesiastical body." But the governor and magistrates interfered and made such spirited opposition that he was induced to leave Salem before the close of the summer. They protested on the ground: "That whereas, Mr. Williams refused to join with the congregation at Boston, because they would not make a public declaration of their repentance for having communion with the churches of England, while they lived there; and besides, had declared his opinion that the magistrate might not punish the breach of the Sabbath, nor any other offense that was a breach of the first table; therefore, they marveled they would choose him without advising the Council; and withal desiring that they would forbear to proceed till they had conferred about it." He further urged that the royal patent could give them no title to their lands without a purchase from the natives. Open, bold and ardently conscientious, as well as eloquent and highly gifted, it cannot be surprising that he should have disturbed the magistrates by divulging such opinions, while he charmed the people by his powerful preaching, and his amiable, generous, and disinterested spirit. It is noticeable that one of the charges alleged against him was liberty of conscience.
After a short time, for the sake of peace, he withdrew to Plymouth, beyond the jurisdiction of Massachusetts Bay, and became assistant to Ralph Smith in the ministry. "He was friendly entertained according to their poor ability, and exercised his gifts among them, and after some time was admitted a member of the church, and his teaching well approved, for the benefit whereof I still bless God, and am thankful to him even for his sharpest admonitions and reproofs, so far as they agree with truth" (Bradford, History of Plymouth Plantation, Collection Massachusetts Historical Society, III. p. 310). But the people of Plymouth, to use the words of Elder Brewster, were afraid he would "run the same course of Separation and Anabaptistery which Mr. John Smith, the Se-Baptist at Amsterdam, had done."
After laboring among the people at Plymouth about two years, with great acceptance and usefulness, he asked a dismission, in 1633, upon being invited by the church at Salem to return to them as assistant to Mr. Skelton. He returned accordingly, and during Mr. Skeltons lifetime labored with him in great harmony and affection, and after his death, was sole minister of the church till November, 1635. At this time the opposition of the magistrates was renewed, and this opposition was strengthened by a treatise which he had written against the patent.
He was summoned to appear before the Court in Boston for teaching that a magistrate ought not to tender an oath to an unregenerate man. Governor Winthrop remarks that "he was heard before all the ministers and clearly refuted. He was called upon to answer the following tenets which he was alleged to hold: 1. That the magistrate ought not to punish the breach of the first table, otherwise than in such case as did disturb the civil peace. 2. That he ought not to tender an oath to an unregenerate man. 3. That a man ought not to pray with such, though they might be wife, children, etc. 4. That a man ought not to give thanks after sacrament, nor after meals; and that the other churches were about to write to Salem to admonish him of these errors, understanding that the church had called him to the office of teacher."
"These sad opinions," said Governor Winthrop, "were adjudged by all .the magistracy and ministerswho were desired to be presentto be erroneous and very dangerous, and the calling of him to office. at that time was judged a great contempt of authority" (Winthrop, History of New England, I.).
"The conduct of Williams on the occasion to the magistrates," says Elton, one of his biographers, "and clergy was mild and conciliatory; and although he did not retract his opinions, he offered to burn the offensive book, and furnish satisfactory evidence of his loyalty" (Elton, Life of Roger Williams, p. 25. London, 1842). Consequently, Dr. Elton regarded the sentence passed against him as "cruel and unjustifiable."
The people of Salem were, however, steadfast in their allegiance to him. "They adhered to him long and faithfully," says Upham, "and sheltered him from all assaults. And when at last he was sentenced by the General Court to banishment from the colony, on account of his principles, we cannot but admire the fidelity of that friendship which prompted many members of his congregation to accompany him in his exile, and partake of his fortunes when an outcast upon the earth."
There have been repeated efforts, without much success, to prove that Williams was banished solely on account of his political opinions. John Quincy Adams says:
Can we blame the founders of Massachusetts colony for banishing him from within their jurisdiction? In the annals of religious persecution is there to be found a martyr more gently dealt with by those against whom he began the war of intolerance? (Adams, Address before the Massachusetts Historical Society in 1843, The Congregational Quarterly, XV., p. 401. July, 1873).
Few, however, accept this verdict. In fact he was banished on account of his religious opinions. "The offender had propagated," says Field, "certain opinions which said the clergy were subversive of the framework of government. And so they were, but subversive of the religious, and not the political framework" (Edward Field, State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations at the end o f the Century, I., p. 27. Boston, 1902) .
Charles Francis Adams states the case thus: "The trouble with the historical writers who have taken upon themselves the defense of the founders of Massachusetts is that they have tried to sophisticate away the facts. . . . In Spain it was the dungeon, the rack and the fagot; in Massachusetts it was banishment, the whip and the gibbet. In neither case can the records be obliterated. Between them it is only a question of degreeone may be in color a dark drab, while the other is unmistakably a jetty black. The difficulty is with those who, expatiating with great force of language on the sooty aspect of the one, turn and twist the other in the light, and then solemnly asseverate its resemblance to driven snow. Unfortunately for those who advocate this view of the Old and the New World records, the facts do not justify it" (Adams, Massachusetts: Its Historians and Its History, p. 34. 1893).
That Williams was popular in Salem there can be no doubt. Mr. Bently, in his History of Salem, writes as follows:
In Salem every person loved Mr. Williams. He had no personal enemies under any pretense. All valued his friendship: Kind treatment could win him, but opposition could not conquer him. He was not afraid to stand alone for truth against the world; and he always had address enough, with his firmness, never to be forsaken by the friends he had ever gained. He had always a tenderness of conscience, and feared every offense against moral truth. He breathed the purest devotion. He was ready in thoughts and words, and defied all his vaunting adversaries to public disputation. He had a familiar imagery of style, which suited his times, and he indulged, even in the titles of his controversial papers, to-wit upon names, especially upon the Quakers. He knew men better than he did civil government. He was a friend of human nature, forgiving, upright and pious. He understood the Indians better than any man of his age. He made not so many converts, but he made more sincere friends. He knew their passions and the restraints they could endure. He was betrayed into no wild expensive projects respecting them. He studied their manners, and their customs, and passions together. His vocabulary also proves that he was familiar with the words of their language, if not with its principles. It is a happy relief, in contemplating so eccentric a character, that no sufferings induced any purpose of revenge, for which he afterwards had great opportunities; that great social virtues corrected the first errors of his opinions; and that he lived to exhibit to the natives a noble .example of generous goodness, and to be the parent of the independent .State of Rhode Island.
The General Court pronounced sentence of banishment upon him, October, 1635. Hooker, who had been appointed to dispute with him, "could not reduce him from any of his errors." The sentence of banishment was as follows:
WHEREAS, Mr. Roger Williams, one of the elders of the church of Salem, hath broached and divulged new and dangerous opinions against the authority of magistrates; and also writ letters of defamation, both of the magistrates and church here, and that before any conviction, and yet maintaineth the same without any retraction; it is therefore ordered that the said Mr. Williams shall depart out of this jurisdiction within six weeks now next ensuing, which, if he neglect to perform, it shall be lawful for the Governor and two of the magistrates to send him to some place out of this jurisdiction, not to return any more without license from the court.
It is interesting to note that on March 31, 1676, thirty-one years afterwards, this order of banishment was revoked. The revocation is in these words:
WHEREAS, Mr. Roger Williams stands at present under a sentence of restraint from coming into this Colony, yet considering how redyly and freely at all tymes he hath served the English interest in this time of warre with the Indians and manifested his particular respects to the Authority of this Colony in several services desired of him, and further understanding how by the last assault of the Indians upon Providence his House is burned and himself, in his old age, reduced to uncomfortable and disabled state. Out of compassion to him in this condition The Council doe Order and Declare that if the sayd Mr. Williams shall see cause and desire it, he shall have liberty to repayre into any of our Towns for his security and Comfortable abode during these Public Troubles. He behaving himself peaceably and inoffensively and not disseminating and vesting any of his different opinions in matters of Religion to the dissatisfaction of any (Plymouth Colony Records, X., p. 6. Massachusetts Archives, X., p. 233).
This belated recognition was a grudging tribute to the worth of the man. Driven from among white men he became a missionary to the Indians. No missionary ever possessed a more self-denying spirit, or was actuated by a more Christian-like motive; and no heathen were ever more repulsive in appearance and habits. One writer describes them as "naked slaves of the Devil." Williams says: "God was pleased to give me a painful, patient spirit to lodge with them in their filthy, smoky holes, even while I lived in Plymouth and Salem, to gain their tongue." And again he says: "And to these Barbarians, the Holy God knows some pains I took uprightly, in the mainland and the islands of New England, to dig into their barbarous rockie speech, and to speak something of God into their souls."
"And yet it is to Williams," says Sherman, "more than to any other man of that age, that American republicanism is indebted for its free, full, broad expression; for its wide and beneficent relation over the extended continent. He was an original, exemplar man, unfolding from his own soul the truths that should shape a whole age; that should rule whole generations of men, leaving their lengthened traces along the strata of all history" (Sherman, Sketches of New England Divines).
The statement has been made that Williams excluded Roman Catholics from office. This has been denied by many authors. Hon. Samuel Eddy, for many years Secretary of State for Rhode Island, says: "I have formerly examined the records of the State, from its first settlement, with a view to historical information, and lately from 1663 to 1719, with a particular view to this law excluding Roman Catholics from the privileges of freedmen, and can find nothing that has reference to it, or anything that gives preference or privileges to men of one sect of religious opinions over those of another, until the session of 1745" (The Evening Transcript, August 31, 1853).
Knowles, the biographer of Williams commenting on the above statement of Eddy, says:
This testimony might alone be sufficient to disprove the allegation, though it is possible that such an act might be passed, and not be recorded. But it is not probable, and when the uniform policy of the colony from the beginning, and other circumstances, are considered, it becomes morally certain, that no such act received the sanction of the Legislature of Rhode Island (Knowles, The Memoir of Roger Williams, p. 321. Boston, 1833).
The first sign of organization among the Baptists of America was some time prior to March, 1639. There had, however, been preaching and church services two years before this date. There had long been promulgated in Providence Baptist views. Winthrop, in his Journal, March, 1638-9, had said, "for a sister of Mrs. Hutchinson, the wife of one Scott, being infected with Anabaptistery, and going last year to live in Providence, Mr. Williams was taken (or rather emboldened) by her to make open profession thereof, and accordingly was rebaptized by one Holyman, a poor man late of Salem. Then Mr. Williams rebaptized him and ten more. They also denied the baptizing of infants, and would have no magistrates."
Even before the eloquence of Mrs. Scott was exerted to elucidate the "Anabaptist" point of view as to "certain perplexing theological questions," "the Devil was not idle," if we may quote the incisive words of Winthrop. He proceeded to relate that "at Providence . . . mens wives and children daring to go to all religious meetings tho never so often, or . . . upon week days; and because one Verin refused to let his wife go to Mr. Williams, so often as she was called for, they required to have him censured." And censured he was by his fellow townsmen, at the conclusion of a spirited debate on liberty of conscience versus the scriptural injunction, to obey their husbands. The general sense of the community seemed to be that it was, to say the least, inexpedient to "restrain their wives." There is reason to think Joshua Verin in question did not enjoy an unqualified reputation for discretion, or piety. He is described by Williams as "a young man boisterous and desperate, who refused to hear the word with us," and his treatment of his wife was such that "she went into danger of her life." This turbulent pioneer shortly withdrew from the Providence Plantation and returned to Salem, "clamoring for justice" (Gertrude Selwyn Kimbell, Providence in Colonial Times, pp. 26, 27. Boston, 1912).
Williams was immersed by Ezekiel Holliman and in turn he baptized Holliman and some "ten others" (Felt, The Ecclesiastical History of New England, I., p. 402. 1855-62). As to the form of baptism used on the occasion there can be no doubt.
Richard Scott, who was a Baptist at the time, and an eye witness of the ceremony, says:
I walked with him in the Baptists way about three or four months, in which time he brake from the society, and declared at large the ground and reason for it; that their baptism could not be right because it was not administered by an apostle. After that he set about a way of seeking (with two or three of them that had dissented with him) by way of preaching and praying; and there he continued a year or two, till two of the three left him (Scott, Letter in George Foxs answer to Williams. Backus, History of the Baptists of New England, I., p. 88. Newton, Mass., 1871).
This was written thirty-eight years after the baptism when Scott had turned Quaker. There is no doubt that "the Baptist way" was immersion.
Coddington was also a contemporary witness, and he likewise turned Quaker. He could not say enough against Williams. In 1677 he wrote to his friend George Fox, as follows:
I have known him about fifty years; a mere weathercock; constant only in inconsistency; poor man, that doth not know what should become of his soul, if this night it should be taken from him . . . One time for water baptism, men and women must be plunged into the water (Backus, I.).
Williams is himself a witness to his own practice. In a book which was a long time lost, he says:
Thirdly, for our New-England parts, I can speak uprightly and confidently, I know it to have been easie for myselfe, long ere this, to have brought many thousands of these Natives (Indians), yea the whole country, to a far greater Antichristian conversion then was ever yet heard of in America, I have reported something in the Chapter of their Religion, how readily I could have brought the whole Country to have observed one day in seven; I adde to have received a Baptisme (or washing though it were) in Rivers (as the first Christians and the Lord Jesus himselfe did) to have come to a stated church meeting, maintained priests and forms of prayer, and the whole forme of antichristian worship in life and death (Williams, Christianing Makes not Christians).
In a letter found among the Winthrop papers, dated Narragansett, November 10, 1649, Williams says:
At Seekonk a great many have lately concurred with Dr. John Clarke and our Providence men about the point of new baptism, and the manner by dipping, and Mr. John Clarke hath been there lately, (and Mr. Lucar), and hath dipped them. I believe their practice comes nearer the first practice of the great Founder Christ Jesus, than any other practices of religion do (Publications of the Narragansett Club).
It is certain that in 1639 the Baptists of Providence would not conform to the liturgy of the Church of England (Felt, I.). Williams remained in communion with his church only a few months. He had doubts in regard to the validity of his baptism, and that of his associates, on account of the absence of an "authorized administrator." "I walked with him," said Richard Scott, after he became a Quaker, "in the Baptists way about three or four months, in which time he brake away from the society, and declared at large the grounds and reasons for it, that their baptism could not be right, because it was not administered by an apostle. After that he set up a way of seeking (with two or three of them that had deserted with him) by way of preaching and praying, and then he continued a year or two, till two of these left him" (Felt, I.).
"For him," says Dr. S. L. Caldwell, "there was no church and no ministry left. The apostolic succession had ceased. It was the baptizer, and not the baptism, about which he doubted. He was a high church Anabaptist. He went out of the church, left the little congregation behind, preached when and where he could, and became a seeker the rest of his days. And during the rest of his days he never came to a satisfying discovery of a true church or ministry." He never surrendered his Baptist views.
Much has been written and said in regard to the irregularity of the baptism of Roger Williams. As Baptist church polity is now interpreted it was certainly irregular; but it is necessary to understand the viewpoint of those times. Williams was an intelligent university man, had come up under the tutelage of Sam Howe, a Baptist minister of London, and he appears in his baptism to have strictly followed the most approved standards of English Baptists. Both the General and Particular Baptists of England were sticklers for regularity; but they held that, in case no administrator could be had, it was lawful for two believers to begin baptism, and they quoted the Scriptural authority of John the Baptist.
John Spilsbury is sufficient authority to establish that this was the Baptist position, and Williams, when no administrator was available, carried out their injunctions. Spilsbury says:
And because some make it such an error, and so far from any rule or example for a man to baptize others, who is himself unbaptized, and so think thereby to shut up the ordinance of God in such a strait, that none can come by it but thro the authority of the Popedom of Rome; let the reader consider who baptizd John the Baptist before he baptized others, he himself being unbaptized. We were taught by this what to do upon like occasions (Crosby, The History o/ the English Baptists, I., pp. 103, 104. London, 1738).
Williams strictly followed the Baptist program laid down by the foremost Baptists of his day. "Neither Pedobaptists nor Baptists," says Dr. Babcock, "can, with any propriety, object to this procedure. Not the former, for on their principles Mr. Williams was already an authorized administrator of the ordinances of Christs house, and his acts strictly valid. Not the latter, for they have ever rejected as of no avail a claim to apostolic succession through the corruption and suicidal perversions of the papacy. Nor, indeed, has any prelatical hierarchy of any kind ever found favor in their eyes; since each body of believers meeting in any place for the worship of Christ, and the discipline which his institution requires, they believe to be the highest source of Christian authority on earth and when acting and deciding according to the Scriptures, they doubt not, has the approval of the only Head of the Church" (The Baptist Memorial and Monthly Chronicle, January, 1842. I., p. 1).
The trouble in the mind of Williams was not that he had failed to follow Baptist polity, but whether there was any true succession in the world, and so he turned seeker. What would be the advice or policy of Baptists in this day, if a similar condition were to arise, is another question. This baptism of Williams has been the occasion of much heat and strife; but it is difficult for one to understand what significance it has in Baptist history. So far as known not one Baptist church, or minister, came out of the Providence church, of this period, or was in anywise affected by the baptism of Williams.
Dr. Caldwell continues his story: After Mr. Williams "the ministry of the word fell to men of less genius, of less education, of more sobriety of mind than Mr. Williams had. They were his friends, and to a certain extent his followers. They had come after him into the wilderness, but could not follow him into the thicket of speculation where he had wandered. They were satisfied with the new baptism they had found, and such ministry as their own choice and the Holy Spirit. had supplied. By necessity and probably by conviction, it was an unpaid ministry, and was exercised by those who in character and gifts of prophesying, were marked for it." But the church survived, chose other leaders, and slowly increased with the community.
This little group of worshipers "in the Baptist way" were joined by others of "the company." One of these was Chad Brown, the companys surveyor. His "home lot" became the site of Brown University. Another was Thomas Olney, who, after Williams withdrew from the church, administered to that "part of the church who were called Five-Principle Baptists." Gregory Dexter, who was formerly a stationer and printer in London, had been given a proprietors lot on the Town Street, at the extreme north end. He did not arrive at the settlement till 1640. Roger Williams characterization of him as "a man of education, and of noble calling, and versed in militaries," who "might well be moderator or general deputy or general assistant," but "who made a fool of conscience," is well known. The same eminent authority speaks of him elsewhere as an "intelligent man . . . and conscionable . . . he has a lusty team, and lusty sons, and a very willing heart (being a sanguine cheerful man)." He was a preacher before he came to America.
Pardon Tillingham was born in Sussex, England, lived in Newport for a period of time, and finally appeared in Providence. Although his career as a man of business was marked both by enterprise and success, he is most conspicuously remembered for his connection with the Baptist Church in Providence, where the recollection of his services and benefits has been gratefully cherished. He was a firm believer in the rite known as "Laying on of Hands," which formed the distinguishing tenet of the so-called "Six-Principle Baptists, and missed no opportunity to testify to the truth."
Like all elders in the Baptist communion, Tillingham received no pay for his services. The ministers of those days were not judged unworthy of hire, but superior to it. In the present instance the modern procedure was reversed; and instead of Pardon Tillingham receiving a salary from the members of his church, he presented his little flock with their first meeting house. In 1711 he deeded "his house called the Baptist meeting house, situated between the Town Street and salt water, together with the lot whereon the said meeting house standeth, to the church for the Christian love, good will and affection which I bear to the church of Christ in said Providence." This building is described by tradition as being "in the shape of a hay cap, with a fire place in the middle, the smoke escaping from a hole in the middle." Crude as this sounds, it may well be believed that the comfort of this primitive structure far surpassed some elaborate meeting houses of a later day (Kimbell). The church endured later schisms, exercised no voice in the civil conduct of the community, and entirely repudiated the Puritan prophecy that no Christian could exist under religious liberty.
The position of Williams on liberty was much discussed and often maligned. It was a new thought in the world, little understood in principle or practice. He gives a vivid description of his views symbolized by a ship on a voyage. He says:
That I should ever speak or write a title that tends to such an infinite liberty, is a mistake, and which I have ever disclaimed and abhorred. To prevent such mistakes, I shall at present only propose this case: There goes a ship to sea, with many hundred souls in one ship, whose weal and woe is common, and is a true picture of a commonwealth, or society. It has fallen out sometimes, that both Papists and Protestants, Jews and Turks, may be embarked in one ship. Upon which supposal, I do affirm that all the liberty of conscience, that ever I pleaded for turns upon these two hinges, that none of the Papists, Protestants, Jews or Turks, be forced to come to the ships prayers or worship; nor, secondly, compelled from their own particular prayers, or worship, if they practice any. I further add, that I never denied, that, notwithstanding this liberty, the commander of this ship ought to command the ships course; yea, and also to command that justice, peace, and sobriety be kept and practiced, both among the seamen and all the passengers. It any of the seamen refuse to perform their services, or passengers to pay their freight; if any refuse to help in person or purse, toward the common charges of defense; if any refuse to obey the common laws and orders of the ship, concerning their common peace and preservation; if any shall mutiny, and rise up against their commanders and officers; if any shall preach or write that there ought to be no commanders nor officers, because all are equal in Christ, therefore no masters nor officers; no laws nor orders; no corrections nor punishmentsI say, I never denied but in such cases, whatever is pretended, the commander or commanders may judge, resist, compel, and punish such transgressors, according to their deserts and merits. This if seriously and honestly minded, may, if so please the Father of Lights, let in some light to such as willingly shut not their eyes. I remain studious of our common peace and liberty.
John Fiske has admirably characterized the character of Williams, and his great contribution to religious and political thought, which led Bancroft to class him with Newton and Kepler as a benefactor of mankind. The judicial and comprehensive paragraph of Fiske is as follows:
Among all the Puritans who came to New England there is no more interesting figure than the learned, quick-witted, pugnacious Welshman, Roger Williams. He was over fond of logical subtleties anal delighted in controversy. There was scarcely any subject about which he did not wrangle, from the sinfulness of persecution to the propriety of women wearing veils in churches. Yet with all this love of controversy there never lived a more gentle and kindly soul. Within five years from the settlement of Massachusetts this young preacher had announced the true principles of religious liberty with a clearness of insight quite remarkable in that age . . . . The views of Williams, if logically carried out, involved the entire separation of church from State, the equal protection of all forms of religious faith, the repeal of all laws compelling attendance on public worship, the abolition of tithes and all forced contributions to the support of religion. Such views are today quite generally adopted by the more civilized portions of the Protestant world, but it is needless to say that they were not the views of the seventeenth century in Massachusetts or elsewhere (Fiske, The Beginnings of New England, pp. 114, 115. 1889).
About this time a church was organized in Newport, Rhode Island, by John Clarke. "Massachusetts and Connecticut," says Richard Knight, "both passed laws, that no persons, except members of the established churches, should be admitted freemen, within their jurisdiction. The Baptist churches being settled in Providence and Newport, in 1644, the Massachusetts government was so fearful that their principles would spread into their colony, that they passed a law in November following, that if any person or persons should within their colony openly condemn or oppose infant baptism, or seduce others from the approbation thereof, or should leave the Meeting House purposely at the performance of the ordinance, every such person or persons, shall be sentenced to banishment" (Knight, History of the General or Six-Principle Baptists).
This intolerance led Clarke and his associates to select Newport as a proper place for a church of their own. Felt places the organization of this church in the year 1644 (Felt, I. 556).
Dr. John Clarke, the founder of this church, was a Baptist minister before he came to America (Bicknell, The Story of Dr. John Clarke). He was educated in the University of Leyden, Holland. "It is also reasonable to assume," says Dr. Bicknell, "that he was a member of or in fellowship with the Baptists of Holland, who had, as early as 1611, affirmed the right of all men to religious liberty and the duty of obedience to lawful government. One of Dr. Clarkes biographers states that he attained high repute for ability and scholarship in languages, including Latin, Greek, Hebrew, law, medicine and theology. In theology Dr. Clarke accepted and taught the doctrines of the Particular or Calvinistic Baptists, in opposition to Arminian Baptists" (Bicknell). He had been conducting services in Newport since 1638.
He was a man of lofty character. "He was a faithful and useful minister," says Callender, "courteous in all the relations of life, and an ornament to his profession, and to the several offices which he sustained. His memory is deserving of lasting honor, for his efforts toward establishing the first government in the world, which gave to all equal civil and religious liberty. To no man is Rhode Island more indebted than to him. He was an original projector of the settlement of the island, and one of its ablest legislators. No character in New England is of purer fame than John Clarke" (Edward Peterson, History of Rhode Island, p. 77. New York, 1853).
The colony of Rhode Island was the first to recognize Charles II, and by means of Clarke, who had been left behind in England by Williams as the representative of the colony, he immediately endeavored to obtain from the sovereign a new charter in which its liberties, and, before everything else, liberty of religion, should be safeguarded. The petition thus laid before the king is a very touching document. "We have it much at heart," the colonists said, "to demonstrate by means of an efficacious experiment that there can be a very flourishing civil state, and, indeed, that it can be better maintained, with complete liberty in matters of religion."
The king replied benignantly, saying that he would permit the colonists to continue in the enjoyment of their liberty, and that he would not allow them to be compelled to submit themselves to the Church of England. And, in fact, in 1663 a charter was granted in which the most complete toleration was sanctioned: "No one in this colony shall henceforth be molested, punished, disturbed, or brought to trial on account of any differences of opinion in the matter of religion . . . but each one, at the same time shall be able freely and lawfully to hold to his own judgment and his own conscience in what concerns religious questions . . . so long as he does not violate peace and quietness, and does not abuse this liberty in a licentious and profane manner."
The noble stand taken by the Baptists of Rhode Island on liberty of conscience was long the occasion of hostility from other colonies. One of the first laws enacted by that State was: "Every man who submits peaceably to civil government in this colony, shall worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience, unmolested." In 1656, the Massachusetts, Plymouth, Hartford, and New Haven colonies pressed them to relinquish this point, and unite with them in crushing and driving the Quakers from New England, and preventing any more coming hither. They nobly answered: "We shall strictly adhere to the foundation principles on which this colony was first settled." Wherefore, the persecuted Quakers found protection in this asylum of safety, while persecution and destruction followed them elsewhere. On either side, the colonies were enforcing their religious tenets by coercive laws, and could not endure the liberal system of this colony, which discarded the bigoted intolerance of their neighbors; who, finding they could not prevail on the little State of Rhode Island to act in concert with them, endeavored to swallow her up, and Massachusetts took possession of a large portion of it on the east, and Connecticut on the west; but not being able to hold possession of these forcible entries, the Indians were influenced to commit depredations upon them, in the loss of some lives and much property. They sowed discord among the subjects, and endeavored to excite a contempt of their rulers, and labored hard to raise a party in this colony, sufficient to turn the scale of government, and to establish by law their system of parish worship and taxes.
They were represented by writers of other colonies, as a set of vagabonds that had deserted them, and almost destitute of religion, civility and sense of learning. Dr. Cotton Mather, of Massachusetts, in 1695, said that Rhode Island "was occupied by Antinomians, Anabaptists, Quakers, ranters, and every thing but Roman Catholics and Christiansand if any man had lost his religion, he might find it again in this general muster of opinionistsin this gwazzin of New Englandthe receptacle of the convicts of Jerusalem, and the outcasts of the land. But for fertility of soil, etc," he says, "the island is the best garden of all the colonies and were it not for the serpents, I would call it the Paradise of New England." He adds the old proverb, Bona terra, malla gensa good land, but a bad peopleand says that "our ministers offered to preach the gospel to this wretched people, gratis, but they refused" (Knight, History of the General Baptists; Mather, Magnalia, bk. VII.).
Later, in 1718, Mather was led to say: "Calvinists with Lutherans, Presbyterians with Episcopalians, Pedobaptists with Anabaptists, beholding one another to fear God and work righteousness, do with delight sit down together at the same table of the Lord" (I Massachusetts Historical Society Collection, I. 105).
Ed Randolph, an officer of the State of North Carolina, petitioned the Chief Justice, November 10, 1696, in regard to Providence: "Tis necessary that place be taken care of and put under a regular Government, the present pretenders to govern being either Quakers or Anabaptists" (Colonial Records of North Carolina, I. 469).
This persecution was kept up for many years. A letter addressed to the inhabitants of Providence, October 21, 1721, by an association of Presbyterians of Massachusetts, desiring to send missionaries among them to correct their errors, was received. This letter, in return, received a sharp answer. The following is one paragraph in the reply:
We admire at your request, or that you should imagine or surmise that we should consent to either, inasmuch as we know that (to witness for God) your ministers, for the most part, were never set up by God, but have consecrated themselves and have changed his ordinances; and for their greediness after filthy lucre, some you have put to death; others you have banished, upon pain of death; others you have barbarously scourged; others, you have imprisoned, and seized upon their estates: and at this very time, you are rending in pieces, and ruining the people, with innumerable charges, which make them decline your ministry, and fly for refuge to the Church of England, and others to dissenters of all denominations; and you, like wolves, pursue, and whenever you find them within your reach, you seize upon their estates. And all of this is done, to make room for your ministers to live in idleness, pride, and fulness of bread. Shall we countenance such ministers? Nay, verily: these are not the marks of Christs ministry, but are a papal spot, that is abhorred by all pious Protestants. And since you wrote this letter, the constable at Attleborough has been taking away the estates of our dear friends and pious dissenters, to maintain the minister. The like has been done in the town of Mendon. Is this the way of peace? (Knight).
In the course of time a better opinion was held of Rhode Island. George Beverly, afterwards bishop of Cloye, an intellectual man, visited Providence in 1729-30, and made the following observation: "The inhabitants are of a mixed kind consisting of many sorts and subdivisions of sects. There are four sorts of Anabaptists, besides Presbyterians, Quakers, Independents, and many of no profession at all. Notwithstanding so many differences, here are fewer quarrels about religion than elsewhere, the people living peaceably with their neighbors of whatever profession" (Fisher, Works of Beverly, IV.).
The first seventy years of the eighteenth century witnessed a marked growth in the number of Baptist churches in Rhode Island. From 1706 to 1752 at least ten churches were founded, respectively, in Smithfield, Hopkinton, North Kingstown, Scituate, Warwick, Cumberland, East Greenwich, Exeter, Westerly and Coventry. In 1764 a new church, formed chiefly of members from the First Baptist of Providence, was established in Cranston, and another, still so vigorous in the middle of the next century, at Warren, with the distinguished Dr. Manning as one of its constituents and its earliest pastor. The following year, 1765, gave birth to churches in North Providence and Foster, and in 1771 to one in Johnstona branch of the First Baptist Church in Providence, with some differences in order. In 1774-75 there occurred a potent revival of religious interest and large numbers were led to confession and sought membership in the churches. During the Revolutionary period and immediately following, on account of the excitement occasioned by the war, there was a great spiritual decline; but it was followed by a renewal of interest and in 1790 there were in the State thirty-eight Baptist churches, thirty-seven ordained ministers, and 3,502 members (Field, II.).
Books for further reference:
Henry C. Vedder, A Short
History o/ the Baptists. Philadelphia, 1897.
A. H. Newman, A History of the Baptist Churches in the United States. Philadelphia, 1898.
Samuel Green Arnold, History of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. From the Settlement of the State, 1658, to the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, 1790. New York, 1860. 2 volumes.
C. E. Barrows, Dr. John Clarke, The Baptist Quarterly, VI., pp. 482-502. Philadelphia, 1872.
S. L. Caldwell, Roger Williams as an author, The Baptist Quarterly, VI., pp. 385-407.
John C. C. Clarke, The Pioneer Baptist Statesman (Roger Williams), The Baptist Quarterly, X., pp. 180-204, 257-281. Philadelphia, 1876.
C. E. Barrows, As to Roger Williams, The Baptist Quarterly, X., pp. 353-361. Philadelphia, 1876.
The Influence of the Baptist Denomination on Religious Liberty, The Christian Review, III., pp. 333-342. Boston, 1838.
John Dowling, Soul Liberty, The Christian Review, XVIII., pp. 22-50. New York, 1858.
Franklin C. Clark, Rise of the Toleration Movement, Bibliotheca Sacra, LXVI., pp. 249-305. Oberlin, 1908.
A. H. Newman, Baptist Pioneers in Liberty of Conscience, The Review and Expositor, VI., pp. 239-255. Louisville, 1909.
Henry M. King, John Eliot and Roger Williams. The Review and Expositor, XIV., pp. 340-347. Louisville, 1917.
W. J. McGlothlin, The Struggle for Religious Liberty, The Review and Expositor, VIII., pp. 378-394. Louisville, 1911.
George B. Eager, Calvin and Roger Williams in Relation to Religious Liberty, The Review and Expositor, XVII., pp. 341-348. Louisville, 1920.
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