Baptist History Homepage

The First Baptist Churches in Massachusetts
By John T. Christian

The First Church in the State - Swansea - The Origin of the Church - John Myles - Persecutions of the Church - A Grant of Land - The Conditions of the Grant - The Church in Boston - Richard Mather - John Clarke, Obadiah Holmes and Crandall - They are Arrested - The Whipping of Holmes - Letter to Kiffin - The Conversion of Henry Dunster - Character of Dunster - History of the Case - Removed as President of Harvard - Thomas Gould - The Church Formed - The Action of the Congregational Church - Persecutions - The Action of the Court - The Place of Meeting - The General Spirit of the Puritans - House of Worship - Some Changes in Sentiment - Their Punishment - The Witches Burned - The Opinion of the Baptists - William Melbourne - Robert Calef - The Power of the Theocracy Broken - The Later Laws.

     For more than forty years after the landing of the Pilgrims there was no Baptist church in Massachusetts. The first Baptist church constituted in that State was at Swansea, on the south side, near the Rhode Island line.

     The beginning of this movement, and of many other Baptist churches in this country was in Wales. "But as God had preserved his scattered and hidden people in Piedmont and Holland," says Tustin, "and as thousands were found in every age, who formed an uninterrupted succession of witnesses to the Truth, so now in Wales, multitudes of these sequestered people, unbroken in spirit, formed a regular chain of true and faithful witnesses to that gospel which they had received from their Christian ancestors of former centuries, and which they have preserved amid their quiet and fertile valleys, shut up by lofty mountains from the rest of the world, as if God had designed these mountain fastnesses as the barriers of protection for his chosen and faithful people, against the corruptions and assaults of the papal hierarchy. And it seems to have been a part of the wise arrangement of Providence for their preservation, that they should be kept in obscurity, and that obscurity makes it now very difficult to trace their history. What is chiefly found concerning these Welsh Christians in the Ecclesiastical and Secular Histories of their later contemporaries, are but scattered fragments, which their enemies in the Church and State of England, would have gladly thrown into obscurity and contempt" (Josiah P. Tuskin, "A Discourse delivered at the Dedication of the New Church Edifice of the Baptist Church and Society in Warren," R. I., May 8, 1845, pp. 57, 58. Providence, 1845) .

     Tuskin further says:

"It is a fact generally known, that many of the Baptist churches in this country derived their origin from the Baptist churches in Wales, a country which has always been a nursery for their peculiar principles. In the earlier settlements of this country, multitudes of Welsh emigrants, who left their fatherland, brought with them the seeds of Baptist principles, and their ministers and members laid the foundation of many Baptist churches in New England, and especially in the Middle States" (Tuskin, pp. 31, 32).

     This was certainly true of the first Baptist church in Massachusetts. The beginning of this movement was in Wales at Ilston, Glamorganshire, where a Baptist church was organized, October 1, 1649. The beginning is described in their records as follows:

We cannot but admire at the unsearchable wisdom, power and love of God, in bringing about his own designs, far above, and beyond the capacity and understanding of the wisest of men. Thus, to the glory of his great name, hath he dealt with us; for when there had been no company or society of people, holding forth and professing the doctrine, worship, order and discipline of the gospel, according to the primitive institution, that ever we heard of in Wales, since the apostacy, it pleased the Lord to choose this dark corner to place his name in, and honor us, undeserving creatures, with the happiness of being the first in all these parts, among whom was practiced the glorious ordinance of baptism, and here to gather the first church of baptized believers (Isaac Backus, I.).

     The pastor of this church was John Myles. He was born at Newton, in Herefordshire, about 1621, and was a student in Oxford in 1636. The next spring John Myles and Thomas Proud visited the Baptist church at the Glass-house, Broad street, under the care of William Cossett and Edward Draper. They were joyously received by the brethren in London, and probably received material assistance. By the year 1660 the church in Wales had prospered greatly and had two hundred and sixty-three members.

     Myles became one of the testers under Cromwell, but upon the restoration of the monarchy under Charles II, Myles was ejected along with two thousand ministers (Calamy, Abridgment, I., II.). Upon which he and some of his friends came to this country, and brought their church records with them. At Rehoboth, in 1663, John Myles, elder, James Brown, Nicholas Tanner, Joseph Carpenter, John Butterworth, Eldad Kingsley and Benjamin Allby, joined in a solemn covenant together.

     The church was then located in Plymouth colony. Newman, the minister who persecuted Holmes, died that year and for four years the church had peace. At that time the following record of the Court explains itself:

At the Court holden at Plymouth the 2nd of July, 1667, before Thomas Prince, Governor, John Alden, Josiah Winslow, Thomas Southworth, William Bradford, Thomas Hinckley, Nathaniel Bacon, and John Freeman, assistants . . . Mr. Miles, and Mr. Brown, for their breach in order, in setting up a public meeting without the knowledge and approbation of the Court to the disturbance of the peace of the place, are fined each of them five pounds, and Mr. Tanner the sum of one pound, and we judge that their continuance at Rehoboth, being very prejudicial to the peace of that church and that town, may not be allowed; and do therefore order all persons concerned therein, wholly to desist from the said meeting in that place or township, within this month. Yet in case they shall remove their meeting unto some other place, where they may not prejudice any other church, and shall give us any reasonable satisfaction respecting their principles, we know not but they may be permitted by this government to do so.

     Accordingly on October 30 following, a grant of land was given them at Swansea where they made their settlement. The following proposals were made in the grant:

1. That no erroneous persons be admitted into the township either as an inhabitant or sojourner.
2. That no man of an evil behaviour or contentious person be admitted.
3. That none be admitted that may become a charge to the place.

     This grant was accepted and became the location of the church with the following explanations:

That the first proposal relating to the non-admission of erroneous persons be only understood under the following explanations, viz.: of such as hold damnable heresies, inconsistent with the faith of the gospel; as, to deny the Trinity, or any person therein; the deity or sinless humanity of Christ, or the union of both natures in him, or his full satisfaction to the divine justice of all his elect, by his active and passive obedience, or his resurrection, ascension into heaven, intercession, or his second coming personally to judgment; or else to deny the truth or divine authority of the Scriptures, or the resurrection of the dead, or to maintain any merit of works, consubstantiation, transubstantiation, giving divine adoration to any creature, or any other anti-christian doctrine directly opposing the priestly prophetical or kingly offices of Christ, or any part thereof; (2) or such as hold such opinions as are inconsistent with the well being of the place, as to deny the magistrate's power to punish evil-doers as well as to encourage those that do well, or to deny the first day of the week to be observed by divine institution as the Lord's day or Christian Sabbath, or to deny the giving of honor to whom honor is due, or to oppose those civil respects that are usually performed according to the laudable customs of our nation each to other, as bowing the knee or body, &c., or else to deny the office, use or authority of the ministry or a comfortable maintenance to be due them from such as partake of their teachings, or to speak reproachfully of any of the churches of Christ in the country, or of any such other churches as are of the common faith with us or them.

We desire that it be also understood and declared that this is not understood of any holding any opinion different from others in any disputable point, yet in controversy among the godly learned, the belief thereof not being essentially necessary to salvation; such as paedobaptism, anti-paedobaptism, church discipline or the like; but that the minister or ministers of the said town may take their liberty to baptize infants or grown persons as the Lord may persuade their consciences, and so also the inhabitants take their liberty to bring their children to baptism or to forbear (Backus, I., pp. 285, 286).

     Often in the days of persecution he preached to the church in Boston. At length he grew "very aged and feeble" but he continued the pastoral oversight of the Swansea church till his death, which occurred February 3, 1683.

     The First Church, Boston, Massachusetts, was organized under peculiar conditions (A Short History of the First Baptist Church in Charleston, Boston, 1852; History of the Covenant and Catalogue First Baptist Church Charleston, Boston, 1823). The activity of the Baptists in disseminating their belief that none but adults should hold membership in the church, rendered the supporters of the opposite opinion more aggressive in maintaining their own practice. Richard Mather addressed a friend as follows:

My thoughts have been this long time, that our churches in general do fall short in their practice of that, which the Rule requires in this particular, which I think ought to be thus, viz: that the children of church members, submitting themselves to the discipline of Christ in the church, by an act of their own, when they are grown to men's and women's estate, ought to be watched over as other members, and have their infants baptized, but themselves not to be received to the Lord's Table, nor to voting in the church, till by the manifestation of faith and repentance, they shall approve themselves to be fit for the same. But we have not yet thus practiced, but are now considering of the matter, and of sending to other churches for advice. Help us, I pray you, with your prayers, that we may have grace to discern, and to do the Lord's mind and will herein (Mather, First Principles of New England).

     Under these existing conditions John Clarke and two of his disciples had gone to Lynn to hold a service with an aged Christian, William Witter, who has already been mentioned in these pages. While he was expounding the Scriptures in the house to a little company that had gathered, two constables came in and arrested the three. They were watched "over that night as Theeves and Robbers" by the officers, and shortly afterwards were lodged in jail. When they were brought to trial Governor Endicott charged them with being Anabaptists, to which Clarke made reply that he was "neither an Anabaptist, nor a Pedobaptist, nor a Catabaptist." "In the forenoon we were examined," says he, "in the afternoon, without producing either accuser, witness, or jury, law of God or man, we were sentenced." Clarke was fined twenty pounds, or to be well whipped. Crandall was fined "five pounds or to be well whipped." Holmes was "fined thirty pounds or to be well whipped." This trial excited much attention (Felt, II.).

     John Clarke gives the following account of his arrest and detention:

While I was yet speaking, there come into the house where we were two constables, who, with their clamorous tongues, made an interruption in my discourse, and more uncivily disturbed us than the persuivants of the old English bishops were wont to do, telling us that they were come with authority from the magistrates to apprehend us. I then desired to see the authority by which they thus proceeded, whereupon they plucked forth their warrant, and one of them with a trembling hand (as conscious he might have been better employed) read it to us; the substance whereof was as follows:

By virtue hereof, you are required to go to the house of William Witter, and so to search from house to house, for certain erroneous persons, being strangers, and then to apprehend, and in safe custody to keep, and tomorrow morning by eight o'clock to bring before me

Robert Bridges.

     When he read the warrant, I told them, Friends, there shall not be, I trust, the least appearance of resisting of that authority by which you come unto us; yet I tell you, that by virtue hereof you are not so strictly tied, but if you please you may suffer us to make an end of what we have begun, so may you be witnesses either to or against the faith and order which we hold. To which they answered they could not; then said we, Notwithstanding the warrant, or anything therein contained, you may . . . They apprehended us, and carried us away to the ale-house or ordinary, where (after) dinner, etc.

     Clarke and Crandall were not long afterwards released "upon the payment of their fines by some tender hearted friends without their consent and contrary to their judgment." But Obadiah Holmes could not be persuaded to accept such deliverance. He would neither pay the fine nor allow it to be paid, and was kept in prison till September. Then he was whipped unmercifully with a corded whip. When he was released he said to the magistrate: "You have struck me as with roses." In a long letter to William Kiffin, in London, he gives an account of his imprisonment and sufferings.

     Of his imprisonment he said:

Not long after these troubles I came upon occasion of business into the colony of Massachusetts, with two other brethren, as brother Clarke being one of the two can inform you, where we three were apprehended, carried to (the prison at) Boston, and so to the Court, and were all sentenced. What they laid to my charge, you may here read in my sentence, upon the pronouncing of which I went from the bar, I expressed myself in these words: I bless God, I am accounted worthy to suffer for the name of Jesus. Whereupon John Wilson (their pastor, as they call him) struck me before the judgment seat, and cursed me, saying, The curse of God or of Jesus go with you. So we were carried to the prison, where not long after I was deprived of my two loving friends, at whose departure the adversary stepped in, took hold of my spirit, and troubled me for the space of an hour, and then the Lord came in, and sweetly relieved me, causing to look to himself; so was I stayed, and refreshed in the thought of my God.

The story of his whipping is pathetic:

And as the man began to lay the strokes upon my back, I said to the people, Though my flesh should fail, and my spirit should fail, yet my Grad would not fail. So it pleased the Lord to come in, sad so to fill my heart and tongue as a vessel full, and with an audible voice I broke forth praying unto the Lord not to lay this sin to their charge; and telling the people, that now I found that he did not fail me, and therefore now I should trust him forever who faileth me not; for in truth, as the strokes fell upon me, I had such a spiritual manifestation of God's presence as the like thereof I never had nor felt, nor cap with fleshy tongue express; and the outward pain was so removed from me, that indeed I am not able to declare it to you, it was so easy to me, that I could well bear it, yea and in a manner felt it not although it was grievous as the spectators said, the man striking with all his strength (yea spitting in his hand three times as many affirmed) with a three-corded whip, giving me therewith thirty strokes. When he loosed me from the post, having joyfulness in my heart, and cheerfulness in my countenance, as the spectators observed, I told the magistrates, You have struck me with roses; and said moreover, Although the Lord hath made it easy to me, yet I pray God it may not be laid to your charge.

     On account of this terrific whipping Holmes was not able to lie in bed on his back. This experience immediately bore fruit in the conversion of President Dunster of Harvard College to Baptist views. He had witnessed the heroic conduct of Holmes in his punishment and his testimony convinced Dunster that infant baptism was wrong. "The most significant event in early Baptist history," says Platner, "next to the work of Roger Williams, was the conversion of President Dunster, of Harvard College, about the year 1650. Dunster's withdrawal from Congregational fellowship, and his acceptance of Baptist principles, startled the adherents of the standing order, and greatly encouraged the few struggling representatives of the Baptist cause. To allay public alarm, and refute the threatening 'errors,' Jonathan Mitchell, pastor of the church in Cambridge, 'preached more than half a score of ungainsayable sermons' in defense of the 'comfortable truth' of infant baptism. But not even these ten discourses, or the open opposition of the authorities, sufficed to prevent the gathering of the first Baptist church in Boston a few years later" (Platner, Religious History of New England).

     Dunster brought to the college a high character and great ability. He was a profound scholar, especially in the Oriental languages, and an attractive preacher and seemed to happily combine decision of character with suavity of disposition. Johnson gave the opinion generally held of him when he said: "Mr. Henry Dunster is now President of the Colledge [sic], fitted from the Lord for the work, and by those who have skill that way reported to be an able Proficient in both Hebrew, Greek and Latine languages, an Orthodox Preacher of the truths of Christ, very powerful through his blessing to move the affections" (Johnson, Wonder Working Providence).

     Thomas Shepard, pastor at Cambridge during the first nine years of Dunster's administration, speaks of him as a "man pious, painful, and fit to teach, and very fit to lay the foundations of the domesticall affairs of the College; whom God hath much honored and blessed" (Alexander Young, Chronicles of Massachusetts, p. 552. 1841). In a letter to John Winthrop the high esteem in which Shepard held Dunster is manifested: "Your apprehensions agaynst reading and learning heathen authors, I perswade myselfe were suddenly suggested, and will easily be answered by H. Dunster, if you should impart them to him" (Massachusetts Historical Collection, Fourth Series, VII.).

     The conversion of Dunster to Baptist views was sensational. Alexander McKenzie, the historian of the church at Cambridge, gives the following account of the defection of Dunster:

"Henry Dunster, President of the College, and a member of this church, was, to use the language of Cotton Mather, 'unaccountably fallen into the briars of antipaedobaptism; and being briar'd in the scruples of that persuasion, he not only forebore to present an infant of his own unto the Baptism of our Lord, but also thought himself under some obligation to bear his testimony in some sermons against the administration of baptism to any infant whatsoever.' This seems to have been in the year 1653; of course this made a great excitement in the church and community. The brethren of the church were somewhat vehement and violent in the expression of their dissatisfaction with the position by one so eminent. They thought that for the good of the congregation, and to preserve abroad the good name of the church, he should cease preaching until 'he had better satisfied himself in the point doubted by him.' The divine ordinance which he opposed was held in the highest veneration by our fathers. It had come to them from the earliest days of the church, and was sanctified before them by all the early associations of life. It connected them with God by his ancient covenant. It was a heavenly boon to the child upon whom parental faith and fidelity bestowed it. Its meaning, value and authority, had been carefully taught by their first ministers, of blessed memory. With the boldness and decision with which they set themselves against all wrong, all encroachment on religious ordinances, they lifted up their voice against one who presumed to contradict what the church had always held, and to deny where Shepard affirmed; and not even his sacred calling, nor his lofty official position could shield him from censure" (McKenzie, Lectures on the History of the First Church in Cambridge, pp. 102, 103. Boston, 1873).

     Neale, one of the early historians of New England, gives the following account of his removal as President:

The overseers were uneasy because he had declared himself an Anabaptist, fearing lest he should instill those Principles into the Youth that were under his Care; but the President no sooner understood their Minds, but he feely resigned his Charge, and retired to Scituate, where he spent the Rest of his Days in Peace (Neale, The History of New England, I.).

     And Cotton Mather makes the following comment:

Among those of our fathers, who differed somewhat from his brethren, was that learned and worthy man, Mr. Henry Dunster . . . Wonderfully falling into the errors of Antipaedobaptism, the overseers of the College became solicitous that the students there might not be unawares ensnared in the errors of the President. Wherefore they labored with an extreme agony either to rescue the good man from his own mistake, or to restrain him from imposing them upon the hope of the flock, of both which, fording themselves to despair, they did as quietly as they could, procure his removal, and provide him a successor in Mr. Charles Chauncy (Mather, Magnalia, Book. III).

     After a conference of the ministers in which nothing was accomplished the General Court, May 3, 1654, passed the following order:

Forasmuch as it greatly concerns the welfare of this country that the youth thereof be educated, not only in good literature. but sound doctrine, this Court doth therefore commend it to the serious consideration and special care of the Overseers of the College and the selectmen in the several towns, not to admit or suffer any such to be continued in the office or place of teaching, educating, or instructing the youth or child, in the college or school, that have manifested themselves unsound in the faith, or scandalous in their lives, and not giving due satisfaction according to the rules of Christ (The Records of the Colony of Massachusetts Bay, III., p. 397).

     Dunster accepted this statement and sent in his resignation as President of the College, June 10, 1654. He graciously says:

I here resign up the place wherein hitherto I have labored with all my heart (Blessed be the Lord who gave it) serving you and yours. And henceforth (that you in the interim may be provided) I will be willing to do the best I can for some weeks or months to continue the work, acting according to the orders prescribed to us; if the Society in the interim fall not to pieces in our hands; and what advice for the present or for the future I can give for the public good, in this behalf, with all readiness of mind I shall do it, and daily by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, pray the Lord to help and counsel us all.

     From the Court, on the 25th of the same month, he received only this curt answer:

In answer to the writing presented to this Court by Mr. Henry Dunster, wherein amongst other things he is pleased to make a resignation of his place as President, this Court doth order that it shall be left to the care and discression of the Overseers of the College to make provision, in case he persist in his resolution more than one month (and inform the Overseers) for some meet person to carry on and end that work for the present (The Records of the Colony of Massachusetts Bay, III., p. 353).

     It was in this manner that Henry Dunster, the President of Harvard College, became a Baptist.

     The hero of the Baptist Church in Boston was Thomas Gould. He refused in 1665 to bring his child to baptism. The Elder then remarked: "Brother Gould, you are to take notice, that you are admonished of these things, withholding the child from baptism, irreverent carriage in time of administering baptism, and not complying with your word" (Willard's Answer to Russell, Backus, I.). He was frequently admonished. "Hence, after much time spent, the brethren consenting, he was admonished for making way from the church in the way of schism." Such discipline was continued several years, until he was finally excommunicated (Felt, II.).

     The result was that a church was organized in Charleston, May 28,1665, Thomas Gould, Thomas Osborne, Edward Drinker and John George were baptized, and these joined with Richard Goodall, William Turner, Robert Lambert, Mary Goodall, and Mary Newel "in a solemn covenant, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, to walk in fellowship and communion together, in the practice of all the holy appointments of Christ, which he had, or should further make known to them." Goodall came from Kiffin's church in London; Turner and Lambert from Dartmouth; Gould and Osborne separated from the church in Charleston; and Drinker and George had long lived in the country, but had been unaffiliated.

     The church in Cambridge demanded of Gould and the others why they had "embodyed themselves in a pretended church way"; and in July 9, 1665, Gould stated to the church that he "has nothing more to do with them" (Felt, II.). So it followed upon the 30th day of the same month he was excluded "for their impenitency in their schismatical withdrawing from this church and neglecting to hear the church."

     This was by no means the first action of the church against him. The following record is under date of June 6, 1858:

Upon the 6th of 4th, 1658.
Brother Thomas Gould, according to the agreement of the church the Lord's day before, was called forth to give an account of his long withdrawing from the public ordinances amongst us, on the Lord's day. It wag asked brother Gould, whither he had any rule from God's word so to do? or whither, it were not a manifest breach of rule and order of the gospel? His answer several times was to the effect that he had not turned from any ordinance of God, but did attend the word in other places.

     It was then asked him, whither he did not own church covenant, as an ordinance of God, and himself in covenant with the church?

He answered he did, but we had cut him off, or put him away by denying to him the Lord's Supper, when only he had been admonished, so now had no more privilege than an Indian, and therefore he looked now not at himself as a member of our church, but was free to go any whither?

He was likewise blamed, that having so often expressed his desire to attend any light that might help him in his judgment and practice, about children's baptism; that yet he should forbear, and stay away, when he could not but know, that his pastor was speaking largely on the subject. He confessed that his wife told him of it, and being asked how he could in faith partake of the Lord's Supper, whilst he judges his own baptism void and null? He owned that it was so, as administered to him as a child; but since God had given him grace, he now came to make use of it, and get good by it. It being replied that a person owned by all, as gracious, and (fit) for the Supper, is not yet to be admitted to it, till baptized; he said little or nothing to it, but spoke divers things generally offensive to the brethren, and would own no failing. Hence after much time spent, the brethren consenting, he was admonished for breaking away from the church, in way of schism, never having used any means to convince the church of any irregular proceeding, but continuing peremptorily and contumaciously to justifie his schism.

This transaction was speedily after the acting thereof truly recorded by the then only elder of this church; Zech. Symmes, Mr. Green, the ruling elder, dying a little before (Buddington, The History of the First Church, Charleston, pp. 56, 57. Boston, 1845).

     Of the formation of the Baptist church and the reasons for it Gould himself gives an account. A small section of his narrative is here transcribed as follows: "Now after this, considering with myself what the Lord would have me to do; not likely to join with any of the churches of New England, and so to be without the ordinance of Christ; in the meantime God sent out of Old England some who were Baptists; we, consulting together what to do, sought the Lord to direct us, and taking counsel of other friends who dwelt among us, who were able and godly, they gave us counsel to congregate ourselves together; and so we did, being nine of us, to walk in the order of the gospel according to the rule of Christ, yet knowing that it was a breach of the law of this country; that we had not the approbation of magistrates and ministers, for that we suffered the penalty of that law, when we were called before them. After we had been called into two courts, the church understanding that we were gathered into church order, they sent three messengers of the church to me, telling me that the church required me to come before them the next Lord's day" (Callender Papers, Backus, I.).

     The organization of this Baptist church caused a great noise throughout New England. Mather says:

Our Anabaptists formed a church . . . not only with a manifest violation of the laws of the Commonwealth, relating to the orderly manner of gathering a church, but also with a manifold provocation unto the rest of our churches, by admitting into their own society such as our churches had excommunicated for moral sandals, yea, and employing such persons to be administrators of the two sacraments among them (Mather, Magnalia, Book. VII. Vol. II.).

     The organization of this church was the occasion of much persecution. The rise of the Baptists and the demands of the English government "made this a strenuous time for the officers" (Publications of the Colonial Society of, Massachusetts, VII., p. 285). The English commissioners were in New England at the time and on this account the authorities for a time were compelled to go slow in persecutions. But as soon as this danger was past "the church tried persecution," says Nathan N. Wood, "the court tried coercion; but both alike vain. The church proposed argument and excommunication; the Court proposed fines and imprisonment; but no proposal proved persuasive with the indomitable spirit of Thomas Gould, the Baptist pastor."

     The following September they were called before the Court of Assistants; and they were commanded to desist from their schismatical practice. Not obeying the orders of this court October 11, 1665, they appeared in the General Court, when the following action was taken:

WHEREAS, at the late Court of Assistants, Thomas Gould and his company, sundry of them were openly convicted of a schismatical rending from the communion of the churches here and setting up a public meeting in opposition to the ordinances of Christ, here publicly exercised, and were solemnly charged not to persist in such pernicious practices. Yet, this notwithstanding (as this Court is informed), they do still persist in condemning the authority here established. It is therefore ordered, that the aforesaid Gould and company be summoned before this Court, to give an account of such, their irregular practices with their celebrating the Lord's Supper by an excommunicated person.

A warrant being sent for the accused, they appeared. As they professed "their resolution yet further to proceed in such their irregular practices, thereby as well contemning the authority and laws here established for the maintenance of godliness and honesty, as continuing in the profanation of God's holy ordinances. This Court do judge meet to declare, that the said Gould and company are no orderly church assembly, and that they stand jointly convicted of high presumption against the Lord and his holy appointments, as also the peace of this Government, against which this Court do account themselves bound to God, his Truth, and his Churches here planted, to bear their testimony; and do therefore sentence the said Gould, Osborne, Drinker, Turner and George, such as are Freemen, to be disfranchised, and all of them upon conviction before any one magistrate or Court, of their further proceeding herein, to be committed to prison until the General Court shall take further order with them (Felt, II.).

     The next year, for not complying with these requirements, they were again fined and committed to prison and finally sentenced to banishment. They refused to depart and held their meetings on Noodle's Island. It is related. that the town and country were much troubled by these meetings of the Baptists. Many desired that they should be dismissed but the Governor thought otherwise. By the summer of 1674 they met in Boston, in a hired house; because "some of the magistrates will not permit any punishment to be inflicted on heretics, as such" (Felt, II.).

     "In circumstances like these," says Neale, in an address on the two hundredth anniversary, "for over a half a century they stood alone, and bore the responsibilities and the whole weight of theological odium which rested upon the Baptist name and cause in the Colony of Massachusetts. They must have had, and did have, during the first seventy years of their experience, a painful sense of isolation. They were separated from their brethren in England. No sister churches were in the neighborhood. No Baptist associations, as now, with letters and delegates, pleasant countenances, and kindly words to cheer and sustain them. Rev. John Myles, who had recently emigrated with a remnant of his flock, from Wales, was at Swansea, and occasionally made a visit to Boston; and sometimes a good brother or two would come up from Rhode Island and the Providence Plantations; but in general, our brethren were shut out from public sympathy, and lived in constant dread of the emissaries of the government. They met in houses of the different members of the church at Charleston, Noodle's Island, and Back street, now Salem street, until the erection of their first sanctuary in 1679" (Robert Heber Neale, "An Address delivered at the Two Hundredth Anniversary of the First Baptist Church," Boston, June 7, 1865, pp. 17, 18. Boston, 1865).

     The occasional ministry of Myles in Boston was accompanied with much persecution. Rev. Solomon Stoddard, of Northampton, wrote to Dr. Increase Mather, November 29, 1677:

I hear Mr. Miles still preaches in Boston, I fear it will be a means to fill that town, which is already full of unstable persons, with error; I look upon it as a great judgment . . . let all due means be used to prevention (Massachusetts Historical Collection, VIII. Mather Papers).

     The general spirit of the severer class of the Puritans, of this period, may be better understood in the light of some of their utterances: "Anabaptism is an engine framed to cut the throat of the Infantry of the Church." . . . "'Tis Satan's policy to plead for an indefinite and boundless toleration." "Anabaptism we shall find hath ever been looked at by the Godly Leaders of this people as a Scab" (Thomas Shepard, "Election Sermon" (1672), pp. 24, 25). "Protestants ought not to persecute any, yet the Protestants may punish Protestants; and as the case may be circumscribed, a Congregation of such as may call themselves Protestants cannot be rationally denied" (Increase Mather, Introduction, Ne Sutor Ultra Crepidam). "Experience tells us that such a rough thing as a New England Anabaptist is not to be handled over tenderly. It was toleration that made a world Antichristian" (Samuel Willard, Ne Sutor Ultra Crepidam). The Lord keep us from being bewitched with the whore's cup, lest while we seem to detest & reject her with open face of profession, we do not bring her in by any back door of Toleration" (John Cotton, Bloody Tenet Washed). "Separation and Anabaptism are wonted intruders, and seeming friends, but secret fatall Enemies to Reformation" (Jonathan Mitchell, "Election Sermon," A.D. 1667) . The Baptist schism was the most dreaded of all with which the colony was threatened, and no epithets were too opprobrious to be hurled at its adherents. The ministers were insistently urging the civil magistrates to use coercive measures and to punish heretics. "To purge New England of heresie," was the favorite appeal, and was the open door through which the civil courts let loose the fierce hordes of fines, imprisonments, and banishments (Wood, History of the First Baptist Church of Boston).

     The most terrible fake accounts were published against the Baptists. A pamphlet was published in London entitled:

Mr. Baxter Baptiz'd in Bloud, or a Sad History of the unparalleled Cruelty of the Anabaptists in New England. Faithfully relating the Cruel, Barbarous and Bloudy Murther of Mr. Baxter an Orthodox minister who was killed by the Anabaptists and his skin most cruelly flead off from his body, with an Exact Account of all the Circumstances and Particularities of this barbarous Murther. Published by his Mournful Brother, Benjamin Baxter, living in Fen church street, London (Felt, II.).

     The pamphlet was sold on the streets and created much excitement. The author asks: "Dares any man affirm that Anabaptists to be Christians! For how can they be Christians who deny Christianity, deride Christ's Institution of Baptism, and scoffingly call it, Baby sprinkling, and in place thereof Booby dipping" (p. 1). "These wicked Sectarians deny this Sacrament and compel their adherents to renounce their Baptism, and to be dipt again in their prophane waters" (p. 3). The author represents his brother as having removed to New England and circumstantially describes how the Baptist flayed the man before his wife and children. It was proved that there had been no such minister in Boston, and no such a man as Baxter lived in Fen Church Street. It is alleged that Dr. Parker, the Chaplain to the Bishop of London, was the author, and published it because of his hatred to the Baptists.

     But their troubles were not over. The Baptists of Boston erected a house of worship, and on February 15, 1679, it was opened for services. In the meantime Governor Severet died and persecutions were renewed. There was no law to prevent their using the house, and so the Court, the following May enacted a law to the effect:

That no person should erect or make use of a house for public worship, without license from the authorities, under the penalty, that the house and land on which it stood should be forfeited to the use of the county, to be disposed of by the county treasurer, by sale, or demolished, as the court that gave judgment in the case should order.

     The matter passed through various proceedings until the king interfered and decreed:

Requiring that liberty of conscience should be allowed to all protestants, so that they might not be discountenanced from sharing in the government, much less, that no good subject of his, for not agreeing in the Congregational way, should by law be subjected to fines and forfeitures, or other incapacities for the same, which, said his majesty, is a severity more to be wondered at, whereas liberty of conscience was made -- a principal motive for your transportation into these parts.

     They were permitted to assemble three or four times when they were again called before the Court to answer for their offense. They found that the doors of their house had been nailed up, and a paper attached to the effect:

All persons are to take notice, that by order of the court, the doors of this house are shut up, and they are inhibited to hold any meetings, or to open the doors thereof without license from the authority, till the General Court take further order, as they will answer the contrary at their peril.
Dated at Boston, 8th March, 1680.
EDWARD RAWSON, Secretary. 

     Five days later Increase Mather recorded in his diary:

The Council ordered the Doors of the meeting house which the Anabaptists have built in Boston, to be shut up. They took away their doors (blank) boards were nailed. So perverse were they that they would not meet in a private house, but met this Sabbath out of doors (blank) their meeting house (Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 1899-1900, p. 408).

     The congregation erected a cover and met in the church yard. The Court, June 11, 1680, upon a petition from the church, admonished them "for their offense, and so granted them their petition so farr as to forgive their offense past, but still prohibited them as a society of themselves, to meet in that publick place they have built, or any other publick house, except such as are allowed by publick authoritie" (The Records of the Colony of the Massachusetts Bay, V., p. 272).

     It is comforting to know that at a later date these acts were recognized as vicious, and some apology extended. Certain it is that the majority of the people of Massachusetts were opposed to the rigorous measures against the Baptists and the Quakers (Daniel Waite Howe, The Puritan Republic of the Massachusetts Bay, p. 252. Indianapolis, 1899). It is said that Winthrop upon his death bed, when pressed by some to sign an order for the banishment of some heterodox person, refused, saying that he "had done too much of that work already" (Hutchinson, I., p. 142. Boston, 1764).

     Cotton Mather, in 1717, preached the ordination sermon of a Baptist minister in Boston upon "Good Men United." It contained a frank confession of repentance for the persecutions of which the Boston churches had been guilty. He said:

Good men, alas I have done such ill things as these. New England also has in former times done some of this aspect which would not now be so well approved; in which, if the brethren in whose house we are now convened met with anything too unbrotherly, they now with satisfaction hear us expressing our dislike of everything which looked like persecution in the days that have passed over us (Vose, Congregationalism in Rhode Island).

There was a constant correspondence kept up for years between the ministers of New and Old England, much of which bore upon the subject of the Baptists. Often it was suggested that the Baptists should receive more lenient treatment. In a letter which Thomas Cobbet wrote to Increase Mather, 1681, he said:

"And as you will say concerning toleration of Antipedobaptists in general, here in New England, as they are in Old, they might soon flock over hither thereupon so many as would sink our small vessel; whereas in that greater ship of England, there is no such danger of those multitudes to founder the same" ("The Mather Papers." Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Fourth Series, VIII. 291, 292).

The bitterness against the Baptists had no appreciable diminution. The General Court assembled in Boston, May 27, 1674. Samuel Torrey of Weymouth preached the sermon from Rev. 2:5. The Introduction was by Increase Mather, who says:

We may conclude that the Lord meant some great thing, when he planted these heavens and laid the foundations of this earth, and said unto New England (as sometimes to Zion), Thou art my people. And what should that be, if not that so a Scripture pattern of the Reformation as to civil, but especially in ecclesiastical respects, might be here erected, as a first fruits of that which shall in due time be accomplished the whole world throughout, in that day there shall be one Lord, and his name one over all of the earth. The first design of New England was purely religious, but now we begin to espouse and are eagerly pursuing another, even a worldly interest.

     Torrey, in his sermon, gives his views of the Baptists as follows:

Such I take to be the transgression of those who do grossly and scandalously profane any of the holy ordinances of Christ, in the administration; but much more of those who do both professedly and practically deny most, if not all fundamentals, both of faith and order, and are known and acknowledged so to do by all the reformed churches in the world (Felt, II.).

     With such impressions he supposed the Baptists ought not to be tolerated by law in their deviations from the Congregational order. He urges as a means of reformation, "the full and faithful discharge of duty to the children of the Covenant."

     Cotton Mather, in the year 1689, published a book "Memorable Providences Relating to Witchcraft, with an Introduction by Richard Baxter." He afterwards expressed his opinion on the subject as follows:

The houses of good people are filled with shrieks of children and servants who have been torn by invisible hands with tortures altogether preturnatural. The recent extreme measures for witchcraft are justified. The devil exhibits himself ordinarily as a small black man. He has his sacraments; he scratches, bites and sticks pins in the flesh; he drops money before sufficient spectators out of the air; he carries witches over trees and hills. Twenty persons have confessed that they signed a book which the devil showed them.

     The influence of this book was very great. Sibley says:

The tendency of his books was to extend and increase the excitement. He was credulous, superstitious, and fond of the marvelous. Previous to the witchcraft trials he possessed more power and wielded greater influence than any other individual ever did in Massachusetts. After this his influence declined until at length he became the object of public ridicule and open insult (J. L. Sibley, Sketches of Harvard Graduates, III.).

     At that time the jails of Salem and the adjoining towns were filled with prisoners who accused lying children of bewitching them. The question was, what should be done with these prisoners, many of them already condemned or awaiting trial, and this is the answer written by Cotton Mather and signed by twelve pastors: "We cannot but recommend unto the government the speedy and vigorous punishment of such as have rendered themselves obnoxious according to the directions given under the laws of God and the wholesome statutes of the English nation for the destruction of witchcraft. We hope that some of the accused are yet clear from the great transgression laid to their charge." "The people stood poised upon the panic's brink," says Adams, "and their pastors lashed them in. The Salem trials left a stain upon the judiciary of Massachusetts that can never be effaced" (Brooks Adams, Emancipation of Massachusetts).

     Drake says: "Some say it was worse in other countries and long after. Yes, ignorance and superstition prevailed to a great, if not. a greater, degree in Europe than in New England. Mental darkness was as dense in Old England as in New" (Drake, History of Witchcraft, Preface XXX.). A later writer has shown that Drake was wrong so far as Old England was concerned, for the last execution of a witch in that land occurred ten years before the tragedy took place in Salem (Moore, Notes on Witchcraft). It was Montague, the skeptic, whose voice was raised almost alone among the writers of Europe against the nefarious inquisition. "It is rating our opinions high to roast other people alive for them," he said. But Mather rode horseback to the execution, exhorting the people to their duty.

     It is everlastingly to the credit of the Baptists that they opposed this procedure. On June 25, 1692, William Milburne, a Baptist preacher, was summoned before the Court for reflecting upon the administration of public justice. His crime was the circulation of a petition for signatures of persons who opposed the further prosecution of suspected witches or specter testimony." "The innocent will be condemned," he said, "a woeful chain of consequences will follow, inextricable damage will be done this province. Give no more credence to specter testimony than the Word of God alloweth."

     George H. Moore says:

William Milburne, upon examination having owned that he wrote the papers and subscribed his name to them, was ordered to be committed to prison or give bond of $200 with two securities to answer at the next session of the Superior Court for framing, contriving, writing and publishing the said seditious and scandalous papers or writings. William Milburne was a brother of Jacob Milburne and the prosecuting attorney was Thomas Newton, who had secured the execution of Jacob the year before in New York. The magistrates and ministers of 1692 who engineered the witchcraft business were trusted leaders of the people (George H. Moore, Notes on Witches; Final Notes on Witchcraft).

The effective book was that of Robert Calef, a member of the Baptist church in Boston. It was entitled: "More Wonders from the Invisible World"; was finished in 1697, but there was no publisher in Boston who dared to issue it. It finally appeared in England in 1700. It created a sensation in Boston. Among many other things he says:

I hope I understand my duty better than to imitate Mr. Mather in retorting his hard language. If his report stands in competition with the glory of God, His truth, and His people's welfare, I suppose these to be too valuable to be trampled on for Mr. Mather's mistake. This country will be likely to be afflicted again if the same notions are still entertained. "God has implanted in our consciousness to judge a miracle," Cotton Mather says: It seems the light within is here our guide and not the Scripture. Such ridiculous and brutish stuff as "turning men to cats and dogs," "riding on a pole through the air," Mather calls Baxter's book, "The World of Spirits," "an ungainsayable book but the Bible." What mean these specters that none can see but those that have not the use of their rcason and senses? Plastic spirit? What's that? Some ink-horn term. So hardy and daring are some men, though without one word of Scripture proof of it. Sound reason is what I have long been seeking for in this country in vain.

You forbade my making a copy of the four pages that you let me read. I am not surprised at your caution in keeping from the light the crude matters and imperfect absurdities that are found there. My task is offensive, but necessary. I would rather expose myself to censure than that it should be omitted. I took it to be a call from God to vindicate his truth. The principal actors in these tragedies are far from defending their action now, but they do not take due shame to themselves. It was bigoted zeal stirring up blind and bloody rage against virtuous and religious persons. No one of them has testified as the case required against the doctrine and practice though they have brought a stain and lasting infamy upon the whole country, if not entailing upon themselves all the blood of the righteous.

I cannot believe that there are several Almighties. My letter to Mr. Mather remains unanswered, so that I suppose he regards it as either orthodox or unanswerable. What he says about a thunder storm breaking into his house savors too much of enthusiasm. He magnifies the devil's power beyond and against the Scripture. Not bringing Scripture to prove his positions shows that there are none. If I err I hope you will let me see it by Scripture. What do you find in Scripture for your structure? If you are deficient in that warrant, the more eminent the architect the more dangerous he is. I pray that you may be an useful instrument in the removal of this popish and heathen superstition. It may be asked what need is there of raking up coals that lie buried in oblivion, but Satan would like to drag us through the pond again by the same cat. This is an affliction far exceeding all that this country has ever labored under. Those who oppose such a torrent know that they will meet with opposition from magistrates, ministers and people, and the name of Sadducee, atheist, witch, will be cast against them. God is able to protect those who do their duty herein against all opposers.

     Mr. Mather's language sounds more like that of a Manichee or a heathen than like that of an orthodox believer.

     The witchcraft delusion and this book probably broke the power of the Theocracy. When the book reached Boston, November 5, 1700, Cotton Mather spent the day in fasting. For the fifth month, the second day, 1701, he writes: "The enemies of the churches are set with implacable enmity against myself, and one vile fool, Robert Calef, is employed by them to go on with more of his filthy scribling."

     Increase Mather, then President of Harvard College, took what he called "the wicked book" and had it burned in front of Stoughton Hall. Calef was driven out of Boston, and settled at Roxbury, where he was more highly esteemed than in the vicinity of the Mathers. Samuel, the son of Cotton Mather, wrote in 1728: "There was a certain disbeliever in witchcraft that wrote against my father's book, but the man is dead, and his book died long before him." This was not a fact for four editions of the book were printed.

     Whether the book of Calef produced a reaction, or simply brought to a head the opposition to Increase Mather, the fact remains that in a few weeks he was dismissed as President of Harvard. An author makes the assertion that the "descendants of Calef rank as high as those of the Mathers, since Warren, the hero of Bunker Hill, was a descendant of Calef" (W. W. Everts, Robert Calef and Cotton Mather, The Review and Expositor, April, 1916. XIII., p. 232).

     The government of Massachusetts was slow in recognizing the claims of the Baptists. Between the years 1727 and 1733 there were 28 Baptists, two Quakers and two Episcopalians imprisoned in Bristol, Massachusetts (now Rhode Island) for the ministerial tax (Benedict, 443). The first act 1728-1729 was passed recognizing the religious scruples of the Baptists. This was limited to five years, exempted the poll only of Baptists and Quakers, from being taxed for the support of the ministers and their bodies from being taken in execution for collecting such taxes. The next year (1729) an act, in addition to the act of previous year, was passed extending the exemption to the real and personal estates of the Anabaptists, as they were called.

     In 1751, Mr. Moulton was arrested for preaching Baptist sentiments at Sturbridge, Massachusetts, and, by public authority, shut up in prison, and finally banished as a vagrant and vagabond, and his deacon, risk, and his brethren, John Corey, Jeremiah Barstow, John Perry, and John Draper, were imprisoned in the Worcester jail. The following property belonging to that Baptist church was taken and sold by authority to pay the salary of Caleb Rice, a Congregational preacher: Cash, $36; 7 cows, 1 heifer, 2 steers, 2 oxen, a flock of geese, 20 pewter plates, 1 tankard, 1 saddle, a trammel and books, shovels, tongs and andirons, 1 pot, 1 kettle, 1 warming pan and 1 broad axe (Benedict).

     The laws were reenacted for limited periods until 1752, when an act was passed "to relieve the Anabaptists by establishing rules for identifying their members and ministers." In 1770 the objectionable name of Anabaptist was replaced by Antipaedobaptist (Publications of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, I., pp. 142-144. Boston, 1895). But in this same year about 400 acres of land, belonging to members of the Baptist Church in Ashfield, were sold at auction to pay the ministerial tax (Benedict).

     At the beginning of the Revolution the status of the Baptists was regulated by the provincial law of 1770. This act exempted them from the payment of religious taxes upon giving certificates to the town assessors, signed by their minister and three other Baptists, that they regularly and conscientiously attended Baptist worship (Hovey, A Memoir of the Life and Times of Isaac Backus, p. 180. Boston, 1858). Though more tolerant than earlier legislation, this act did nothing to relieve isolated Baptists who could attend no meeting of their denomination, nor did it fully protect against local tyranny and intolerance those who fully complied with the law. Three such were arrested in Clemford, although one was infirm, another the sole support of his family and the third over eighty years of age, and lodged in jail at Concord, January, 1773 (Hovey). Some of the more conscientious refused to fill out the exemption certificates required by law, deeming such an act "an implicit acknowledgment of a power assumed by man, which in reality belongs to God" (Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 1916-1917, I., pp. 373, 374).

     The constitution of 1780 did not improve the position of the Baptists. In reality the article on religion was reactionary. It not only continued the religious system of the province but exalted it to a fundamental law, out of reach of ordinary legislative enactment. The provincial system, which was sill in force in 1780, may be described as compulsory support of at least one Congregational church in every town, by public taxation on all polls and estates, with official exemptions for Baptists, Quakers and members of the Church of England, under certain conditions. This new article on religion was even less liberal than the old system, for instead of exempting members of dissenting sects from religious taxation, it merely gave them the privilege of paying their taxes to their pastors. Unbelievers, non-churchgoers and dissenting minorities too small to obtain ministers, had to contribute to the Congregational worship. The whole article was so loosely worded that it resulted in innumerable lawsuits. One may say that the ecclesiastical history of the Commonwealth during the next fifty years was one of vexations and lawsuits (Ibid., L., p. 371).

     Books for further reading:
Henry S. Burrage, A History of the Baptists in New England. Philadelphia, 1894.
Daniel Neale, The History of the Puritans; or Protestant Nonconformists; from the Reformation in 1517 to the Revolution in 1688: Comprising an Account of their Principles, their attempt for a further Reformation of the Church; their sufferings; and the Lives and Characters of their most considerable Divines. London, 1822. 5 volumes.
John Jones, "John Myles and his Times," The Baptist Quarterly Review, X., pp. 30-46. New York, 1888.
R. D. C. Robbins, "Cotton Mather and the Witchcraft Delusion," Bibliotheca Sacra, XXXIV., pp. 473-512. Andover, 1877.
Joshua Thomas, A History of the Baptist Association in Wales, from the Year 1660, to the Year 1790. Shewing the Times and Places of their Annual Meetings, whether in Wales, London, or Bristol, &c., including several other interesting Articles.
J. Davis, History of the Welsh Baptists. From the year sixty-three to the Year one thousand seven hundred and seventy. Pittsburgh, 1835.


[John T. Christian, A History of the Baptists, 1926; reprint., Chapter 4, pp. 63-86. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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