committed to historic Baptist & Reformed beliefs

churches     devotionals     timeline     contact


A History of the Baptists


Charter Rights—A Christian State—Violations of the Charter—Peter Oliver—Episcopal Worship not Allowed—The Browns—The Rise of the Baptists—The Baptists Denounced—Petitions Against Them—Lady Moody—William Witter—Thomas Painter—The Governor Acts—A Severe Law—Baptists Punished—The Law Explained—Goodman Johnson—Letters on Severity—Letter to Plymouth Colony—The Persecution of the Quakers—Dissenters Forced to Pay Taxes—The Opinion of Ruffini.

The chartered rights of the Massachusetts Bay colony have been variously interpreted. The position has been taken that it was a mere commercial transaction; while others have placed much emphasis upon the spiritual bearings of the charter. Some hold that its intention was the foundation of a Christian State. Perhaps both parties have too far pressed their conclusions.

President Styles, in 1783, said:

It is certain that civil dominion was but the second motive, religion the primary one, with our ancestors in coming hither and settling this land. It was not so much their design to establish religion for the benefit of the State, as civil government for the benefit of religion, and as subservient, and even necessary, for the peaceable enjoyment and unmolested exercise of religion—of that religion for which they fled to these ends of the earth.

They understood that the charter under Charles left them on the basis pointed out by Governor Matthew Craddock, July 28, 1629, namely, "with the transfer of the government of the plantation to those who shall inhabit there," as well as with liberty of conscience, so they could be as liberal as they pleased in religious matters. They neither were nor could be chartered as a purely civil nor as a purely spiritual body, but all that related to the rights of man; body and soul, was claimed and enjoyed by them under their charter.

John Cotton understood that the colony possessed all the rights of a "body politic," with its attendant responsibilities. He says:

By the patent certain select men, as magistrates and freemen, have power to make laws, and the magistrates to execute judgment and justice amongst the people according to such laws. By the patent we have power to erect such a government of the Church as is most agreeable to the word, to the estate of the people, and to the gaining of natives, in God’s time, first to civility, and then to Christianity. To this authority established by this patent, Englishmen do readily submit themselves; and foreign plantations, the French, the Dutch, the Swedish, do willingly transact their negotiations with us, as with a colony established by the royal authority of the State of England (Armitage, A History of the Baptists).

However the charter may be explained, there is no question that the government as organized had embedded in it religious persecution. There are those who hold that this was contrary to the charter rights. On this line Peter Oliver says:

I have thus sketched, in outline, a glowing picture, wherein the whip, the pillory, and the gallows are exhibited as weapons of defence in the hands of the elders of Massachusetts. I have explored the long silent recesses of the Puritan Inquisition, and repeopled its dungeons with the victims of a narrow and austere faith. I have exhibited those great principles of intolerance, which our ancestors recorded in their histories and enrolled among their laws. And, regarded simply in a legal view, it is a startling fact, that every execution was a murder; every mutilation, a maiming; every whipping, a battery; every fine, an extortion; every disfranchisement, an outrage; and all were breaches of the charter. There were no laws in England for hanging, or mutilating, or flogging the king’s subjects because they did not profess the Puritan faith; while to disfranchise a member of the corporation for any case unconnected with the objects for which the charter was given, was a clear violation of justice and authority (Bagg’s Case, 11 Co., 99, a. Tedderly’s Case, 1 Sid. Rep., 14. 1 Burn. Rep., 517. Kent, Commentaries, 297. Willcox, Mun. Cer., 271, 272). Unless then, we lay aside abstract right and wrong, and disregard the nature of the charter, the liberty of the subject, the supremacy of parliament, the jurisdiction of the royal courts, the authority of the law, and the prerogative of the king, we cannot consider the persecutions of the elders of Massachusetts merely as an act of intolerance. They were, in any proper legal sense, violations of, and crimes against, the laws of England. For the king did not bestow upon the grantees of the charter the power of removing from the kingdom his ‘loving subjects,’ in order that they might deprive them of their ears, or their liberties, for refusing to conform to a sectarian religion. Nor was the Famalist, or the Quaker, or the Anabaptist, so much to blame as those who persecuted a royal and sacred franchise to purposes which were hostile to the best interests of the empire. And, above all, it should be remembered that the Puritan Church is chiefly responsible for the guilt of those proceedings. The state was merely particeps criminis. For all the doubts, and she maintained many as to her authority to act under the charter, she even applied to the elders for counsel, and the elders uniformly supported her claims and removed her indecision (Oliver, The Puritan Commonwealth, an Historical Review of the Puritan Government of Massachusetts, pp. 227, 228. Boston, 1856).

One of the first acts of the colony and of the church was a violation of the rights of conscience. John Endicott, who had previously been in the Bay, was chosen the first governor and, with a company, soon set out for Salem, where he organized the colony in 1628. Five councilors were chosen in England, and the remaining eight were to be subsequently chosen.

In June, 1629, several vessels reached Salem bearing a company of emigrants, among whom were the ministers Higginson and Skelton. On July 20 they were chosen ministers of the congregation. On the heads of these ministers "the hands of three or four grave members were laid, with solemn prayer." August 6 the church was formed of thirty persons, and the ministers were again "ordained." This church instituted great reforms in the ritual and practices of the Church of England.

Among the five councilors chosen in England to associate with Endicott were two brothers, John Brown and Samuel Brown, the one a merchant and the other a lawyer. These men were of the highest character. At the close of a long and important document sent by Governor Craddock, President of the Company in England, these brothers were particularly commended to the regard of Governor Endicott.

The brothers were not impressed with the changes made in the church, and with some others they met and read the Book of Common Prayer. They were immediately summoned by the governor and the ministers. The Browns expressed the opinion that the church and ministers were "separatists," and would become "Anabaptists." The ministers declared they had not separated from the church, but only left off its corruptions. "The governor and council, and the generality of the people," says Morton, "did not approve the answer of the ministers." It was, however, decided that what the Browns had done "tended to mutiny and faction," and they were sent home on the returning ships. Such was the early act of oppression.

This act of the governor and the ministers brought letters of caution from England. "It is possible some undigested councells have too sodainely bin put in execucon . . . in introducing any lawes or comands which may render yourself or us distasteful to the state here." They also expressed their fears that the ministers have "overshot themselves" by "attempting some inovacons" (Massachusetts Records, I., p. 407).

At an early date in the Massachusetts colony attention began to be taken of the rise of the Baptists, or, as they were invariably caked by their enemies, Anabaptists. A few of these early notices are here transcribed.

Hubbard, speaking of the year 1638, remarks:

Amongst those, who at this time that removed from about Boston, divers inclined to rigid separatism, and favored Anabaptism, and they removed to Providence to join Mr. Williams and those of his company (A General History of New England, I., p. 336. Boston, 1815).

E. Z. Rogers wrote to Governor Winthrop, Rowly, December 8, 1839, as follows:

We have certainly many Anabaptisticall spiritts among us, and other base persons, who would diligently & yet secretly be searched out (The Winthrop Papers. The Collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Fourth Series, VII., p. 210).

Richard Bellingham, of Boston, wrote to the governor of the Bay, 1, 28, 1642, as follows:

We have had some experience here of some of their undertakings, who have lately come amongst us, and have made public defiance against magistracie, ministrie, churches, & church covenants, &c. as antichristian; secretly also sowing the seeds of Familisme, and Anabaptistrie, to the infection of some, and danger of others, so we are not willing to joyne with them in any league or confederacie at all, but rather that you would consider & advise with us how we may avoyd them, and keep ours from being infected by them (Bradford, History of Plymouth Plantation. Collections of Massachusetts Historical Society, Fourth Series, III., pp. 386, 387).

In 1643 a petition was presented to the General Court to repeal the cruel laws against the Baptists, which was flatly rejected (Publication of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, III., p. 161). The records of the Suffolk county Court, 1643, make mention of the prosecutions of the Anabaptists (Publications of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, III., p. 323).

The frequent references to the Baptists in sundry communities would indicate something of their activities. Their views were "secretly" promulgated, and there was much danger of "infection" to many persons.

One of these instances was Lady Moody, an eminent woman of the colony, and widely known. She was cited to appear before the Quarterly Court of Salem, December 14, 1642, along with others. The record is: "The Lady Deborah Moody, Mrs. King, and the wife of John Tilton were presented for holding that the baptizing of infants is noe ordinance of God" (Lewis and Newhall, History of Lynn). Winthrop mentions the case of Lady Moody as follows: "The Lady Moodye, a wise and anciently religious woman, being taken with the error of denying baptism to infants, was dealt withal by many of the elders and others, and admonished by the church at Salem (whereof she was a member); but persisting still, and to avoid further trouble, etc., she removed to the Dutch, against the advice of all of her friends. Many others infected with anabaptism removed thither also. She was afterward excommunicated" (Ellis, The Puritan Age and Rule in the Colony of Massachusetts Bay, p. 381. 1888). She played a considerable part in the introduction of Baptist views in New York.

The mother of David Yale, the father of the founder of Yale College, and the wife of Governor Theophilus Eaton, was tried by the New Haven Church for "divers scandalous offences." "By toying with the Anabaptist doctrines she had come to entertain scruples which interfered with conformity in church practices" (Publication of the Colonial Records of Massachusetts, XXI., p. 27) .

One William Witter was arraigned, February 28, 1644, before the Salem Court. The record of the case is as follows: "For entertaining that the baptism of infants was sinful, now coming to Salem Court, answered humbly and confessed his ignorance, and his willingness to see light, and (upon Mr. Morris, our Elder, his speech) seemed to be staggered." It was said he called "our ordinance of God a badge of the whore." The sentence was that "on some lecture day, the next fifth day being a public fast, to acknowledge his fault . . . and enjoined to be here next Court at Salem."

William Witter did not change his opinions so the record of a later Court reads: "At the Court at Salem, held the 18th of the 12th month, 1645, William Witter of Lynn, was presented by the grand jury for saying that they who stayed whiles a child is baptized do worship the devil. Henry Collins and Nat. West dealing with him thereabouts, he further said that they who stayed at the baptizing of a child did take the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost in vain, broke the Sabbath, and confessed and justified the former speech" (Records of the Colony of Massachusetts Bay, III., p. 67) . He was sentenced to answer at another session of the Court. Also on June 24, 1651, he was again before the Court "for absenting himself from the public ordinances nine months or more, and for being re-baptized" (Felt, II.). Several years later he will appear in this history.

Thomas Painter, of Hingham, who had lived in several other places, had become a Baptist. He would not suffer his wife, a member of the church, to have his child baptized. He was presented, and required to cease from such opposition. But "still refusing and disturbing the church," and asserting that the baptism of the colony was anti-christian, and affirming the same before the court, they sentenced him to be whipped, because not able to pay a fine. Winthrop adds: That this punishment was "not for his opinion, but for reproaching the Lord’s ordinance, and for his bold and evil behaviour both at home and in the court" (Felt, I.). Hubbard adds: "It may be, that some others at that time came down from Providence and Rhode Island, and entered into the assemblies in some places in Massachusetts, would in time of singing keep on their hats, as it were to brave it out with them, and so occasion disturbance, and breach of the peace. If any such have by that means been brought to suffer corporal punishment, they will certainly in the account of all indifferent and prudent people have cause to find no fault with any thing but their own obstinacy and folly" (Hubbard, I.).

These instances and other activities of the Baptists stirred up the governor of the province. "Mr. Endicott began to be a sovereign against all the sects," says William Bentley, "and as a magistrate did not bear his sword in vain . . . Persons addicted to the tenets of the Anabaptists were deprived of personal liberty, by being confined to town, or by being under severe prohibitions. The whole number did not exceed nine. Mr. Norris never appeared active in such proceedings; and the comparative tranquility of the town, during his ministry, is an evidence of his moderation. The alarm against the Anabaptists had been so great, that, in 1644, a law had been made against them" (Bentley, A Description and History of Salem, Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, VI., p. 255).

The following is the law passed against the Baptists in Massachusetts, November 13, 1644:

Forasmuch as experience hath plentifully and often proved that since the first arising of the Anabaptists, about a hundred years since, they have been the incendiaries of commonwealths, and the infectors of persons in maine matters of religion, and the troublers of churches in all places where they have bene, and that they have held the baptizing of infants unlawfull, have usually held other errors in heresies together therewith, though they have (as other hereticks use to do) concealed the same, till they spied out a fair advantage and opportunity to vent them, by way of question or scruple, and whereas divers of this kind have, since our coming into New England, appeared amongst ourselves, some whereof have (as others before them) denied the ordinance of magistracy, and the lawfulness of making warr, and others the lawfulness of magistrates, and their inspection into any breach of the first table, which opinions, if they should be connived at by us, are like to be increased amongst us, and so must necessarily bring guilt upon us, infection and trouble to the churches, and hazard to the whole commonwealth.

It is ordered and agreed, that if any person or persons within this jurisdiction shall either openly condemne or oppose the baptizing of infants, or go about secretly to seduce others from their approbation or use thereof, or shall purposely depart the congregation at the administration of the ordinance, or shall deny the ordinance of magistracy, or their lawful right or authority to make warr, or to punish the outward breaches of the first table, and shall appear to the Court wilfully and obstinately to continue therein after due time and meanes of conviction, every such person or persons shall be sentenced to banishment (Records of the Colony of Massachusetts, II. 85).

As might be expected, the enactment of such a law produced conflicts of opinion. There were various petitions presented to the Court for and against its enforcement. To give a view of the situation some of these petitions and opinions are here recorded.

A petition to the General Court, October 18, 1645, is as follows:

In answer to the petition of Em. Douning, Nehe. Bourne, Robt. Seducke, Thos. Foule, with others, for the abrogation or alteration of the lawes against the Anabaptists, and the law that requires speciall allowance for new comers residing here, itt is ordered, that the lawes in the petition mentioned shall not be altered or explayned at all (Records of the Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay, III., p. 51. Boston, 1854).

The Robert Foule mentioned above is described by the General Court as a church member who "will be no freeman" since "he likes better to be eased of that trouble and charge" (Hutchinson Papers, I., p. 239) . He was truly an advocate of liberty of conscience, or at least of a large toleration (Publications of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, XXI., p. 23) .

John Josselyn, Gentleman, writing under date of 1646, says:

Anabaptists they imprison, fine and weary out (Josselyn, An Account of Two Voyages to New England, second edition, Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Third Series, III., p. 331).

The following law was enacted in 1646:

That if any Christian within this jurisdiction, shall go about to subvert and destroy the Christian faith or Religion, by broaching and maintaining any Damnable Heresies; as denying the immortality of the soule, or resurrection of the body, or any sin to be repented of in the regenerate, or any evil done by the outward man to be accounted sin, or denying that Christ gave himselfe a ransom for our sins, or shall affirm that we are not justified by his death and righteousness, but by the perfection of our own works, or shall deny the morality of the fourth commandment, or shall openly condemn or oppose the Baptizing of Infants, or shall purposely depart the Congregation at the administration of that Ordinance, or shall deny the ordinance of magistracy, or the Lawful Authority to make war, or to punish the outward breaches of the first commandment, or shall endeavor to seduce others to any of these errors or heresies above mentioned, every such person continuing obstinate therein, after due meanes of conviction, shall be sentenced to Banishment (Colonial Laws, 1660-1672, p. 154).

May 6, 1646, the following is taken from the Records of Massachusetts:

In answer to a petition, subscribed by seventy-seven inhabitants of this colony, humbly requesting all dew strengthening and keeping in force such laws as has binn made by this Court, for the preventing the increse of many dangerous errors, Anabaptists, Antinomians, &c., as also for the dew punishment thereof, the Court gratefully accepts of their acknowledgement, granting their request in the continuance of those wholesome lawee (Records of the Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay, III., p. 64).

There came also a petition from Roxbury, Dorchester and other points, dated May 13, 1646, praying that the laws against the Baptists might be strengthened. The petition says:

As the prevaylinge of errors and heresies is noted by our Saviour in the gospel, and elsewhere in the Scriptures, as a forerunner of God’s judgments, and in as much as the errors of the Anabaptists, where they do prevayle, are not a little dangerous to church and commonwealth, as the lamatable tumults in Germany, when the said errors were grown into a height, did too manifestlie witnesse, and such good laws or orders are enacted amongst us, against such persons havinge alreadie bene, as we are informed, a special meanes of discouraging multitudes of erroneous persons from comminge over into this countrie, which wee account noe small mercie of God unto us, and one sweet and wholesome fruite of the sayd lawes, it is therefore our humble petition to this honorable court, that such lawes or orders as are in force amongst us against Anabaptists or other erroneous persons, whereby to restraine the spreadinge and divulginge of their errors amongst people here, may not be abrogated and taken away, nor any waise weakened, but may still be continued.

As might have been expected the law of 1644 brought about many reactions. "This enactment bore severely," says Felt, "upon a denomination whose subsequent precept and example manifested that they were, in general, far from indulging in the reckless and ruinous notions of German adherents of Stuber and Jack of Leyden, though honestly suspected of such indulgence by most of the leading men of New England. The authors and abettors of it were desirous to tolerate religious freedom, as far as they deemed best for the highest good of the commonwealth, They, however, found this, as Christian legislators ever have, a very difficult point to be settled. They felt, as many do now, that they must bound their toleration short of atheism and infidelity; but where to fix the line exactly, they were not fully satisfied" (Felt, 1.).

Whatever may have been the pressure brought to bear the General Court, November 4, 1646, made the following explanation:

The truth is, the great trouble we have been putt unto and hazard also by Famalisticall and Anabaptisticall spirits, whose conscience and religion bath been only to sett forth themselves and raise contentions in the country, did provoke us to provide for our safety by a lawe that all such should take notice how unwelcome they should be to us either coming or staying. But for such as differ from us only in judgment in point of baptism or some other points lease consequence, and live peaceably among qs without occasioning disturbance . . . such have no cause to complaine, for it hath never beene as yet putt in execution against any of them, although such are knowne to live among us (Hutchinson Papers).

Goodman Johnson, writing about this time, gives the reasons for the enactment of this law. He says:

To the end that the laws might be the most agreeable with the rules of Scripture, in every county there were appointed members of the committee two magistrates, two ministers and two able persons from among the people. In the year 1648 these laws were printed, so that they might "be seen of all men," and that none might plead ignorance; and that all persons intending to transport themselves to the colonies might know exactly what to expect: "For it is no wrong to any man, that a people, who have spent then estates, many of them, and ventured their lives for to keep the faith and a pure conscience (should) use all means, that the word of God allows, for maintenance and continuance of the same." Still further, these colonists "have taken up a desolate wilderness to be their habitation, and not deluded any by keeping their profession in huggermug, but print and proclaim to all the way and course they intend (God willing) to walk in;-If any will, yet notwithstanding, seek to jostle them out of their own right, let them not wonder if they meet with all the opposition a people put to their greatest straights can make (Goodman Johnson, Wonder-working Providence in Zion’s Saviour in New England).

Probably these explanations were brought about by much opposition to the law. There is evidence that friends of New England felt that the harshness against the Baptists, and others, was bad for the colony. On March 1, 1644-45, Stephen Winthrop wrote to his brother, John: "Here is great complaint against us for our severity against Anabaptists. It doth discourage many people from coming to us for fear they should be banished if they dissent from us in opinion" (Winthrop Papers, IV., p. 200). On September 4, 1646, Hugh Peter wrote to the younger Winthrop: "None will come to us because you persecute" (Ibid, p. 109); and Coddington refers to this remark in a letter November 11, 1646: "Mr. Peters writes in that you sent to your son that you persecute" (Deans, Some Notices of Samuel Gorton, p. 41, Boston, 1850). Giles Firmin wrote to the elder Winthrop, July 1, 1646, with regard to Hugh Peter: "I could wish he did not too much countenance the Opinionists, which we did so cast out of N. England. I know he abhors them in his heart, but he hath many hang upon him; being a man of such use" (Winthrop Papers, II., p. 277). Cotton says: "Surely the way that is practiced in New England cannot justly be taxed for too much connivance at all kinds of sects; wee here rather hear ill for too much rigour" (Cottons, The Way of Congregational Church Cleared, p. 22. London, 1648. Publications of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, XXI., p. 30 note).

The law was not relaxed on account of these criticisms; but rather enforced with more rigor. One of the deputies of the Court at Dover was fined for three weeks’ absence. The Court in October, 1648, "being informed of great misdemeanor committed by Edward Starbuck, of Dover, with profession of Anabaptistery for which he is to be proceeded against, set the next court of assistance if evidence can be prepared by that time" (Records of the Colony of Massachusetts, II. 253).

The far-famed Cambridge Platform, 1648, declared:

It is the duty of the magistrate to take care of matters of religion, and to improve his civil authority for the observing of the duties commanded in the first as well as the second table. The end of the magistrate’s office is not only the quiet and peaceable life of the subject in matters of righteousness and honesty, but also in matters of Godliness. Idolatry, blasphemy, heresy . . . are to be restrained and punished by the civil authority.

Massachusetts was not satisfied with persecution on its own account; but wrote the Plymouth Colony to join them in this practice. The following letter was written by the Court of Massachusetts Bay, October 18, 1649, to the Colony of Plymouth:

Honnored and beloved Brethren:

We have heretofore heard diverse Anabaptists, arisen up in your jurisdiction, and connived at; but being but few, wee well hoped that it might have pleased God, by the endeavors of yourselves and the faithful elders with you, to have reduced such erring men againe into the right way. But now, to our great griefe, wee are credibly informed that your patient bearing with such men has produced another effect, namely, the multiplying and encreasing of the same errors, and wee feare of other errors also, if timely care be not taken to supresse the same. Particularly wee understand that within a few weeks there have binne in Sea Cuncke thirteen or fourteen persons rebaptized (a swift progress in one towne; yett wee heare not of any effectuall restriction is entended thereabouts). Lett it not, wee pray you, seem presumption in us to mind you heereof, nor that wee earnestly intreate you to take care as well of the suppressing of errors, as the maintenance of the truth, God equally requiring the performance of both at the hands of Christian magistrates, but rather that you will consider our interest is concerned therein. The infection of such diseases, being so near us, one likely to spread into our jurisdiction; tunc tua res agitur paries cum proximeus ardet. Wee are united by confoedaracy, by faith, by neighborhood, by fellowship in our sufferings as exiles, and by other Christian bonds, and wee hope that neither Sathan nor any of his instruments shall, by thes or any other errors, disunite us of our so neere conjunction with you, but that wee shall both aequally and zealously uphold all the truths of God revealed, that wee may render a comfortable account to Him that hath sett us in our places, and betrusted us with the keeping of both tables, of which will hoping, wee cease you further trouble, and rest,

            Your-very loving Friends and Brethren,
(Records of the Colony of Massachusetts, III. 173, 174).

Comment upon this frightful letter is not necessary. Not satisfied with excluding persons from its own territory, persecution was urged upon a neighboring colony.

E. Downinge, Salem, March 7, 1651, wrote to John Winthrop, Jr., as follows:

There is an act to punishe all heresyes with death that raise foundations, and all Anabaptists to be banished, and if they retorne to England to be hanged unless they recant (The Winthrop Papers, Collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Fourth Series, VI., p. 78).

The Quakers first appeared in New England in 1656. The government, both in Massachusetts and Plymouth, set itself instantly in the attitude of intolerance. Massachusetts took the lead. In the year 1656, the General Court urged the General Commissioners to recommend to the several colonies the adoption of severe measures against the Quakers, and itself began a course of barbarous legislation, which extended through several years, for imposing a heavy fine for bringing in Quakers, "the cursed sect of hereticks," and ordering that every Quaker who arrived should be sent to the House of Correction, severely whipped and kept in hard labor, no person being allowed to have any intercourse with him; also imposing a fine of five pounds for bringing in, spreading, or concealing Quaker books or "writings concerning their devilish opinions"; a fine of forty shillings for receiving such books or embracing their sentiments, the penalty for the second offense being four pounds; and for further persistence, confinement in the House of Correction, and banishment.

The next year a fine of forty shillings was imposed for every hour of entertainment of a Quaker, and imprisonment until the fine was paid; and any Quaker who came into the jurisdiction was to have one ear cut off and put to work in the House of Correction, the penalty to be repeated for the second offense. Any Quaker who had before "suffered the law" and returned, was to be severely whipt and sent to the House of Correction, and for the third offense his tongue was to be bored with a hot iron, besides his being imprisoned. The next year a fine of ten shillings was imposed upon any one professing Quakerism, or meeting with the Quakers; for speaking in their meetings a fine of five pounds. A little later it was enacted that every Quaker found within the jurisdiction, and any person who defended Quaker doctrines, was to be committed to prison, and if found guilty, after trial by special jury, to be banished on pain of death; and every "inhabitant" who should favor Quakers was to be imprisoned one month and banished on pain of death. In carrying out the sentence of banishment, even women, stripped to the waist, and tied to a cart’s tail, were whipped from town, to town, and carried on a two days’ journey into the wilderness, among wolves and bears. To cap the climax of intolerance, Quakers were hanged in 1659, 1660, and 1661. Governor Endicott was among the most vindictive enemies of these "hereticks," and when in 1661 the Court hesitated to pass sentence of death, he said: "You will not consent, record it; I thank God I am not afraid to give judgment." He had previously said to certain Quakers: "Take heed ye break not our ecclesiastical laws, for then you are sure to stretch by halter" (J. Chaplin, The Pilgrim and the Puritans, The Baptist Quarterly, July, 1873. VII. pp. 286, 287) . The laws of Plymouth were equally severe, only no Quaker was executed.

One of the chief grievances of the Baptists, and other dissenters, was that the people were taxed to support the ministry of the standing order. At first there did not appear to be much difficulty in regard to the support of the ministry, but as time wore on there were serious objections in many quarters. The remark of Johnson, in his "Wonder-working Providence," that "it is as unnatural for a right New England man to live without an able ministry, as a smith to work ‘his iron without fire," is still true; but there are those coming in who differ very considerably from the "right New England man." Antinomians, Anabaptists, Quakers-a few individuals bearing these names have lately appeared, and are zealously entering upon their vocation of crying down the standing order, and their hireling priesthood. Faint whispers, swelling into audible words, and growing by degrees into ranting tirades, against learned and pious divines, began at length to operate on a certain class of otherwise well disposed persons, who could see no objection to a "freer-gospel," if that would quiet the newcomers and cause the disturbance to cease. As these views spread, contributions naturally fell off, and the deacons’ labor to make up the deficit increased. About 1654 ministers began to leave the country, so the General Court of Massachusetts appointed a commission to investigate the matter, which resulted in passing the order

That the civil court in every shire, shall, upon information given them of any defect or any congregation or township within the shire, order and appoint what maintenance shall be allowed to the ministers of that place, and shall issue out warrants to the selectmen to assess, and the constable of the said town to collect the same, and to distraine the said assessment upon such as shall refuse to pay (Massachusetts Colonial Records. IV., pt. ii., p. 199).

The first law bearing on ministerial support in the Plymouth colony was passed the same year, and the same reason for it is given in its preamble, namely, "railing and renting." The law was not seriously enforced until 1657 (The Congregational Quarterly, April, 1859, I., pp. 160, 161) . Thus was added an additional grievance against the Baptists.

Some of the things recorded in this chapter are almost incredible. That men should be whipped, imprisoned, banished, ears cut off, tongue bored with a hot iron and put to death in a barbarous manner; that women should be tied to the tail end of a cart, dragged from town and whipped along the way, stripped to the waist, and finally carried into the wilderness and left among wolves and bears to die, all for some religious belief, now held by most of men to be harmless, all happening in this country in the last three hundred years, requires the fullest confirmation. Yet the facts are not disputed.

The situation has well been summed up by the Italian writer, Ruffini. "If the intolerance of these earliest Puritan colonists," says Ruffini, "becomes indubitably apparent from the extremely severe dispositions which they adopted against the Baptists, the Quakers, the Catholics, and even against the members of the Anglican Church, who were put into a boat by the colonists of Massachusetts and sent back to England, the close union between the civil and ecclesiastical powers is shown by these not less evident signs. In 1631 the Court of Massachusetts explicitly ordained that the quality of a free man, that is to say, the enjoyment of full rights, should not be granted except to the members of one of the churches of the colony. The same exclusivism prevailed, if not everywhere as a written law, still less as a custom in the other colonies. The civil affairs of the community were settled in the congregations of the faithful (Masson, Life of Milton, II., p. 552). In the fundamental ordinances of the colony of New Haven, Connecticut (1639), it is laid down as a supreme principle that the Government must conform in everything to the Word of God. The colony, as Bancroft observes, thus adopted the Bible as its fundamental statute. Moreover, the compulsion of conscience and the confusion of the two powers blemished those colonial laws which imposed serious punishments upon citizens who did not scrupulously fulfill their religious duties and punctually pay the contributions belonging to the church and its ministers" (Ruffini, pp. 256, 257).

Books for further reading:

   Isaac Backus, A History of New England, with Particular Reference to the Denomination of Christians called Baptists. Newton, Mass., 1871. 2 volumes.
   Daniel Neale, The History of New England containing an Impartial Account of the Civil and Ecclesiastical Affairs of the Country to the Year of our Lord, 1700. London, 1720. 2 volumes.
   Benjamin Franklin Bronson, Palfrey on Religious Intolerance in the Colony of Massachusetts Bay, The Baptist Quarterly, VI., pp. 147-180, 280-300.
   Lucius E. Smith, The New England Ecclesiastical Legislation, The Baptist Quarterly, I., pp. 81-101. Philadelphia, 1871.
   Norman Fox, George Fox and the Early Friends, The Baptist Quarterly, XI., pp. 433-453. Philadelphia, 1877.

The Reformed Reader Home Page 

Copyright 1999, The Reformed Reader, All Rights Reserved