American Colonial Baptist
a- By A. H. Newman, 1894
Gregory Dexter was for many years one of the most influential men in the colony [R.I.]. Beyond any of the Baptist citizens of Providence, perhaps, he was a man of affairs, and was much employed in the public service. It is not certain when he arrived at Providence. He is said to have received one of the "home lots," which would seem to establish his early presence. His name appears among the signers of the first compact of 1640, but may have been added at a later date. He was a printer and stationer of reputation in London, and had probably become noted as a zealous separatist.
His flight from England is said to have been occasioned by the publication of a writing obnoxious to the government. Roger Williams's "Key to the Indian Language," published in London in 1643, bears his imprint. Benedict supposes that he did not reach Providence until 1644, which would be the natural
inference from the last-named fact, apart from decisive evidence of his eadier presence. He was one of the first experienced printers to come to America, and spent some time in Boston each year assisting in the publication of an almanac, notwithstanding the fact that he was a zealous Baptist and that Baptists were under the ban in Massachusetts. After the securing of the first charter he was a member of the committee from Providence to form a government. For years he was town clerk, and from time to time occupied the positions of commissioner for the town and deputy in the assembly. He was president of the colony in 1653. (Backus, ii., 491.) In 1654 he was appointed by the town to draw up, in association with Roger Williams, an address to Sir Henry Vane on the occasion of his retirement "from the helm of public affairs." The document was probably drafted by Williams, but it was signed by Dexter alone on behalf of the town. ("Pub. Nar. Cl.," vi., 266 seq.) During Williams's absence in England on colonial business, in 1652-53, he carried on a friendly correspondence with Dexter.
A very affectionate and most interesting letter from Williams has been preserved. ("Pub. Nar. Club," vi., 235 seq.) Referring to Dexter's well-known proficiency in the printer's craft, he writes: "It hath pleased God so to engage me in divers skirmishes against the priests, both of Old and New England, so that I have occasioned using the help of printermen, unknown to me, to long for my old friend." "Many friends have frequently, with much love, inquired after you." Williams commends his "poor companion" and their "many children," from whom he was obliged for so long a time to be absent, to Dexter's "love and faithful care." "Abundance of love remembered from abundance of friends to your dear self and your dearest." In 1669 Wilhams felt called upon to rebuke Dexter for his refusal
to pay certain taxes on the plea of conscientious scruples. Referring to this matter in a letter to John Whipple he writes: "The last night Shadrach Manton told me that I had spoken bad words of Gregory Dexter — . . . viz., that I said he makes a fool of his conscience. I told him I said so, and, I think, to our neighbor Dexter himself; for I believe he might as well be moderator or general deputy or general assistant as go so far as he does in many particulars; but what if I or my conscience be a fool, yet it is commendable and admirable in him, that, being a man of education and of a noble calling, and versed in militaries, that his conscience forced him to be such a child in his own house, when W. Har. strained for the rate (which I approve of) with such imperious insulting over his conscience, which all conscientious men will abhor to hear of. However, I commend that man, whether Jew or Turk or Papist or whoever, that steers no otherwise than his conscience dares, till his conscience tells him that God gives him a greater latitude. For, neighbor, you shall find it rare to meet with men of conscience, men that for fear and love of God dare not lie, nor be drunk, nor be contentious, nor steal, nor be covetous, nor voluptuous, nor ambitious, nor lazybodies, nor busybodies, nor dare displease God by omitting either service or suffering, though of reproach, imprisonment, banishment, and death, because of the fear and love of God." ("Pub. Nar. Club," vi., 328 seq.)
A few weeks later, in a letter to Governor Winthrop: "Sir, I have encouraged Mr. Dexter to send you a limestone, and to salute you with this inclosed. He is an intelligent man, a master printer of London, and conscionable (though a Baptist), therefore maligned and traduced by William Harris (a doleful generalist). Sir, if there be any occasion of yourself (or others) to use any of this stone, Mr. Dexter hath a lusty team and lusty sons,
and very willing heart (being a sanguine, cheerful man), to do yourself or any (at your word especially) service upon my [sic; probably written very] honest and cheap considerations." (Ibid., 332.) According to the writer of the article in "Rippon's Annual Register" (as above): "He was never observed to laugh, and seldom to smile. So earnest was he in the ministry that he could hardly forbear preaching when he came into a house or met a number of persons in the street. His sentiments were those of the Particular Baptists. He died in the ninety-first year of his age." The date of his death is given by Savage ("Genealogical Dictionary") as 1700. The statement that his sentiments were those of the Particular Baptists is questionable. It is certain that Wickenden, with whom he labored harmoniously, held to Arminian views; and insistence on the imposition of hands, in which Dexter joined, was characteristic of the General Baptists. Still it is not impossible that he differed, in a quiet way, from the majority of his Six Principle brethren as regards the universality of redemption and related doctrines, and on these points was in agreement with his lifelong friend, Roger Williams.
[From A. H. Newman, A History of the Baptist Churches in the United States, 1894, pp. 91-94. Paragraph markings have been added for easier reading. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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