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Baptists in Massachusetts to 1652 1
By A. H. Newman, 1894
     IN reviewing the dealings of the Massachusetts authorities with Roger Williams we have learned something of their attitude toward aggressive and pertinacious dissent, whether in civil or in religious matters. The Massachusetts Bay leaders were nonconforming Puritans, and they had secured their charter with the full understanding that they did not repudiate the Church of England and were far removed from separatism of any kind. They sought to be regarded
"as those who esteem it our honor to call the Church of England, from whence we rise, our dear mother; and cannot part from our native country, where she specially resideth, without much sadness of heart and many tears in our eyes; ever acknowledging that such hope and part as we have obtained in the common salvation we have received in her bosom, and sucked it from her breasts."
     Under Laud's domineering in England it would have been impossible for a body of avowed separatists to secure a charter or to get permission to leave the country. Even the Salem company, which represented a more thoroughgoing type of dissent, had thought it advisable to repudiate separatism, and had refused passage on their vessel to Ralph Smith, who was coming out as pastor of the semi-separatist followers of John Robinson, who constituted the older Plymouth colony.
     "We will not say," they wrote, "as the Separatists were wont to say at their leaving of England, Farewell, Babylon! Farewell, Rome! but we will say, Farewell, dear England! Farewell, the Church of God in England, and all the Christian friends there! We do not go to New England as Separatists from the Church of England; though we cannot but separate from the corruptions in it; but we go to practice the positive part of church reformation, and propagate the gospel in America."
     The Salem colony soon came under the influence of the Plymouth settlement, and it was not long before the pastor of the Salem church was refusing the Lord's Supper to such leaders of the Massachusetts Bay company as Winthrop, Dudley, Johnson, and Coddington, and declining to baptize the child of the lastnamed, because they had not yet become members of any particular "reformed church;" while he had welcomed to communion a member of an English separatist congregation and had baptized his child.
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     The Massachusetts Bay authorities failed utterly to recognize the practicability of tolerating any marked differences of doctrine or practice. To allow companies of believers to organize themselves for worship on any other basis than that adopted by the party in the majority, or to allow individuals to propagate freely views opposed to those of the recognized churches, could result only in confusion and disaster as regards the colonies themselves, and in such a reputation in England as would result in the withdrawal of the charter, the sending out of an unfriendly governor, or even the recall and punishment of the colonists. The leaders of Massachusetts were peculiarly sensitive about the sending of adverse reports to England. In fact they deprecated the reporting of the actual state of things, and they took every precaution to prevent the settlement of such as would be likely to injure the reputation of the colonies by unfriendly representations. As early as May, 1631, a regulation was adopted by the General Court that
"for time to come no man shall be admitted to the freedom of this body politic but such as are members of some of the churches within the limits of the same."
     This excluded Baptists from all civil privileges. The freeman's oath, referred to in the chapter on Roger Williams, was intended as a means of rigorously excluding all who should fall short of loyalty to existing arrangements.

     The case of Roger Williams had scarcely been disposed of when the Massachusetts colonies were convulsed with another religious controversy that was soon to involve the whole of New England. Mrs. Anne Hutchinson, with her husband, had been attracted to Boston from England by the person and the teachings of John Cotton, the leading Boston minister, and had arrived in September, 1634. Her brother-in-law, John Wheelwright, had followed in May, 1636. Mrs. Hutchinson was one of the most striking religious characters of the time. Endowed with a rare personality and with a spirit of helpfulness which gave her remarkable influence over the women among whom she moved, she was able at the same time to win a number of the most prominent men of New England to her views. The teachings of Mrs. Hutchinson and her followers are commonly designated antinomianism. They laid great stress upon the covenant of grace as opposed to the covenant of works. They regarded the current Puritanism, with its rigorous discipline and its scrupulous attention to the outer life, as Pharisaic legalism. They insisted on the paramount importance of the inner life. If by a mystical union with Christ our natures are transformed, the outer life cannot fail to be holy; if the tree be made good, the fruit will be of like character. They made much of visions and revelations, and claimed to be in so complete fellowship with God as to be responsive to every prompting of his Spirit. It was the old mysticism of the middle ages, modified no doubt, directly or indirectly, by the teachings of Schwenckfeldt, David Joris, and

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Henry Nicholas. The last-named had secured a considerable following in England, and his writings had been translated and widely circulated. Familism was the name given to his system, and it represented a pantheistic type of mysticism, somewhat like that of the medieval Beghards. While the tendency of such teachings is undoubtedly toward fanaticism and licentiousness, it is gratifying to know that the New England antinomians compared favorably with their orthodox neighbors in point of morality and well-doing. John Cotton, William's chief opponent and one of the ablest theologians of the time, was the favorite preacher of the Boston antinomians during Mrs. Hutchinson's residence there, while Wilson, his colleague, was regarded as a mere legalist. Sir Henry Vane, the governor, sided enthusiastically with the antinomians, while John Winthrop, the deputy governor, took a determined stand against innovation. The antinomians were strong in Boston and its immediate vicinity; but orthodoxy prevailed in the Massachusetts colonies at large. After much controversy Mrs. Hutchinson and Wheelwright were banished, and various penalties and disabilities, including disarmament, were inflicted on those that had manifested sympathy with their teachings. Cotton himself was brought into a very embarrassing situation by reason of the partiality of the antinomians for his preaching and the sympathy he had expressed for some of the views of Mrs. Hutchinson and Wheelwright; and having been censured for his course, he felt obliged to apologize in a way not wholly creditable to his consistency or his courage. The attitude of John Clarke toward the antinomians and their persecutors was referred to in the last chapter. Among the leaders of the movement was William Coddington, who had occupied a high civil position in Massachusetts, who became a chief opponent of Roger Williams in civil matters, who was for a time governor of the Rhode Island and Providence Plantations colony, and who became a leader among the Quakers.

     Reference has already been made to the settlement of the antinomians and their friends in Rhode Island. It does not concern us here to narrate the disputes that arose between the islanders and the Providence people.

     Three considerations justify this brief mention of the antinomian movement:

     (1) the fact that the controversy in Massachusetts and the rigorous methods adopted in dealing with the antinomians formed a prelude to the series of persecuting measures that were soon to be inaugurated against the Baptists;

     (2) the fact that the Massachusetts leaders saw in the mystical enthusiasm of the antinomians a recurrence of phenomena with which they had become familiar in their reading of the history of Anabaptists of the Munster type; and

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     (3) the fact that in the case of some at least sympathy with the teachings of Mrs. Hutchinson and disgust with the intolerance of the Massachusetts authorities formed a transition to the Baptist position, while others, dominated by the mystical element in the teachings of Mrs. Hutchinson, found their resting-place in Quakerism, with its emphasizing of the inner light and its repudiation of external ordinances.

     The early Puritans of New England (as of Old) knew nothing of "Baptists." The opponents of infant baptism were in their eyes "Anabaptists." Their knowledge of Anabaptists was limited to the grossly exaggerated accounts of the fanatics of the Munzer and the Munster types. They were quite willing to admit that individual opponents of infant baptism might be to all outward seeming quiet, peaceable Christians; but they were fully convinced that the logic of the antipedobaptist position led inevitably to the overthrow of all social order, with the denial of magistracy, oaths, the right of the civil government to censure religious offenses, and, under favorable circumstances, to such fanatical outbreaks as that of Munster. One has only to read such works as Featley's "The Dippers Dipt" (1644), Edwards's "Gangraena" (1646), Baillie's "A Dissuasive from the Errors of the Time" (1645), Paget's "Heresiography" (1645), and the earlier continental Latin works on which these based their statements with reference to Anabaptists, to realize the horror which the name "Anabaptist" awakened in the souls of such men as Cotton, Hooker, Winthrop, and Endicott. So much must be said in order to account for the rancorous hatred of Baptists by the New England theocratic leaders, their lack of judicial fairness in dealing with radical dissentients of all types, and their determination, even by the infliction of the cruelest penalties, if need be, to exterminate heresy.

     Salem, where Roger Williams's influence had been brought most powerfully to bear, was in the earlier time the chief nursery of antipedobaptist sentiments. During the years 1636-39 those who entertained decided antipedobaptist views had followed Williams to Providence. After he had ceased to identify himself with the Baptists, and especially after strife had arisen in the Providence church, there would be less to attract them thither. Newport after 1644 was a more attractive refuge.

     As early as 1638, at Weymouth, Robert Lenthall, afterward active in Newport, attracted attention by his views. "Only baptism," he held, "was the door of entrance into the visible church." ("Mass. Hist. Coll.," 2d series, v., 275.) According to Hubbard, "the common sort of people did eagerly embrace his opinions." He is said to have zealously striven "to get such a church on foot as all baptized ones might communicate in." It is not quite clear, however, that his views were Baptist.

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     The earliest assured case of theocratic censure on the ground of antipedobaptist error occurred December 14, 1642, at the Salem Quarterly Court. The record runs
"The Lady Deborah Moody, Mrs. King, and the wife of John Tilton were presented for holding that the baptizing of infants is no ordinance of God."
     Winthrop reports the matter more fully as regards the principal offender:
"The Lady Moody, 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 of 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 her friends. Many others infected with anabaptism removed thither also. She was after excommunicated."
     Winthrop does not inform us what Lady Moody's friends advised her to do under the circumstances, but as they would scarcely have advised her to face the determined opposition of the authorities, which would have resulted in formal banishment, with death as the penalty of returning, they must have advised her to abandon her views or at least any aggressive assertion of them. We shall meet Lady Moody and her followers hereafter in their Long Island home.

     The next case on record seems to be that of William Witter, who had probably been influenced by Lady Moody, his neighbor. The date of his arraignment before the Salem Court was February 28, 1644 (N.S.). The record reads:

     "For entertaining that the baptism of infants was sinful, [W. W.] now coming in 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."
     He was charged with having called "our ordinance of God a badge of the whore." He is sentenced "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."

     Witter's antipedobaptist zeal, however, seems by no means to have been abated by this somewhat moderate censure. A later record runs:

"At the Court at Salem, held the 18th of the 12th month, 1645 [February, 1646, N. S.], 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

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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."
     He was sentenced "to make public confession to satisfaction in the open congregation at Lynn, or else to answer at the next General Court." Failing to comply with either of these conditions, he was afterward sentenced to appear "at the next Court of Assistants, at Boston, there to answer, and to be proceeded with according to the merit of his offense." The forbearance of the court in the case of Witter was due, it may be supposed, not wholly to their unwillingness to resort to harsher methods in case of need, but to the fact that he was a man of little personal influence. If he had been a successful propagator of his views banishment would certainly have been inflicted.

     On July 5, 1644, according to Winthrop,

     "A poor man of Hingham, one Painter, ... was now on the sudden turned Anabaptist, and having a child born, he would not suffer his wife to bring it to the ordinance of baptism. Being presented for this, and enjoined to suffer the child to be baptized, he still refusing, and disturbing the church, he was again brought to the Court, not only for his former contempt, but also for saying that our baptism was antichristian; and in the open Court he affirmed the same. Whereupon, after much patience and clear conviction of his error, etc. -- because he was very poor, so as no other but corporal punishment could be fastened upon him -- he was ordered to be whipped, not for his opinion, but for his reproaching the Lord's ordinance, and for his bold and evil behavior both at home and in the Court. He endured his punishment with much obstinacy, and when he was loosed he said, boastingly, that God had marvelously assisted him."
     This is not the first case in which persecutors of Christ's chosen ones have been so swayed by their prepossessions as to make light of their sufferings and their faith, and to attribute their heroic bearing to mere obstinacy. It is an old trick of Roman Catholic persecutors. The statement that Painter was punished not for his opinion but for his reproaching the Lard's ordinance, etc., is too transparently casuistical to require discussion. Surely the fact that antipedobaptist views, unexpressed and kept in abeyance even when one's own infant was involved, were tolerated, is a slender basis for a claim of forbearance.

     Cases of pronounced antipedobaptism were now becoming so common, and the Baptist cause was making so rapid progress in Providence and Newport,

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that specific legislation against Baptists was felt to be desirable. On November 13, 1644, the following law was promulgated
     "Forasmuch as experience hath plentifully proved that since the first arising of the Anabaptists, about a hundred years since, they have been the incendiaries of commonwealths and the infecters of persons in main matters of religion, and the troublers of churches in all places where they have been, and that they who have held the baptizing of infants unlawful have usually held other errors or heresies together therewith, though they have (as other heretics used to do) concealed the same till they spied out a fit 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 war, 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 among 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 condemn or oppose the baptism of infants, or go about secretly to seduce others from the 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 war or to punish the outward breaches of the first table, and shall appear to the Court willfully and obstinately to continue therein after due time and means of conviction, every such person or persons shall be sentenced to banishment."
The statement that some of the antipedobaptists of New England "denied the ordinance of magistracy and the lawfulness of making war" is unsupported. In none of the cases recorded is there the slightest hint of the holding of such views. No one of the Baptists of New England can be shown to have held to or taught anything of the kind. The statement of the statute may possibly be accounted for in one of the following ways, or by a combination of these:

     1. The authorities may have confounded Anabaptists with antinomians. The antinomians were charged with holding and promulgating a number of errors that were precisely adapted to the purpose of supplementing the errors of the Baptists and constituting them full-fledged Anabaptists of the dreaded type. Some of those who had been more or less closely associated with the antinomians had become Baptists in their Rhode Island home. Winthrop had written in 1641:

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"Mrs. Hutchinson and those of Aquiday Island broached new heresies every year. Divers of them turned professed Anabaptists, and would not wear any arms, and denied all magistracy among Christians, and maintained that there were no churches since those founded by the apostles and evangelists, nor could any be, nor any pastors ordained nor seals administered but by such, and that the church was to want these all the time she continued in the wilderness, as yet she was."
     This statement is a most confused one and was probably based upon misinformation. "Those who turned professed Anabaptists," so far as we know them, were different persons from those who embraced the errors referred to. The incongruity of applying the term "Anabaptist" to those who held that the valid administration of the ordinances was, under existing circumstances, an impossibility, is manifest. Roger Williams, in adopting this view, withdrew from fellowship with the Baptist church he had founded. But even Williams was far from rejecting magistracy. The law against Baptists was probably framed by the writer of this confused statement. Even the antinomians, though they held peculiar views with respect to magistracy, and were charged even by Roger Williams with rejecting it, repudiated the charge.

     2. The statement may have been made, not on the ground of alleged utterances by Baptists, but by way of logical inference from avowed views. The Massachusetts authorities supposed themselves to be such masters of the anatomy of sects that from a single feature they could infer the entire structure. The denial of the right of magistrates to interfere with matters of conscience, or to concern themselves in any way with breaches of "the first table," no doubt seemed to them to involve denial of the right of magistrates to do anything effective. Of course it is not impossible that some individual of the time should have combined the rejection of infant baptism with denial of magistracy and of the lawfulness of war on the part of Christians. But all the Baptists of New England that we know anything about were quite ready to serve their fellow-citizens in any offices to which they might be called, and they were ready when occasion offered to do their full share of fighting.

     During the struggle with the antinomians a law had been passed prohibiting newcomers from remaining in the colony above three weeks without a license. In October, 1645, a petition was presented to the court for the alteration of this law, as well as of that against the Anabaptists. The record of the action of the court in the premises is: "The Court hath voted that the laws mentioned should not be altered at all, nor explained." Evidently some of the citizens besides the avowed Baptists were coming to feel that banishment was too severe a penalty for religious dissent, and were bold enough to say so. To fortify the court in its attitude toward Baptists seventy-eight residents of Dorchester, Roxbury, etc.,

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petitioned in May, 1646, "for the continuance of such orders, without abrogation or weakening, as are in force against Anabaptists and other erroneous persons." This petition, it is needless to say, was "granted." In October, 1648, the court was
"informed of great misdemeanor committed by Edward Starbuck, of Dover, with profession of Anabaptistry, for which he is to be proceeded against at the next Court of Assistants if evidence can be prepared by that time."
     The following record is interesting as containing an account of an important Baptist movement in the Plymouth colony, and also as illustrating the zeal with which the Massachusetts Bay authorities carried their activity against "Anabaptists" beyond their own jurisdiction. The date of this letter to the Plymouth authorities is October, 1649:
     "Honored and beloved Brethren: We have heard heretofore of divers Anabaptists arisen up in your jurisdiction, and connived at; but being but few, we 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 again into the right way. But now, to our great grief, we are credibly informed that your patient bearing with such men hath produced another effect, namely, the multiplying and increasing of such errors, and we fear maybe of other errors also, if timely care be not taken to suppress the same. Particularly we understand that within this few weeks there have been at Sea Cunke thirteen or fourteen persons rebaptized (a swift progress in one town), yet we hear not if any effectual restriction is intended thereabouts. Let it not, we pray you, seem presumption in us to mind you hereof, nor that we earnestly entreat you to take care as well of the suppressing of errors as of the maintenance of truth, God equal 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 are likely to spread into our jurisdiction.... We are united by confederacy, by faith, by neighborhood, by fellowship in our sufferings as exiles, and by other Christian bonds, and we hope neither Satan nor any of his instruments shall by these or any other errors disunite us, and that we shall never have cause to repent us of our so near conjunction with you, but that we shall both so equally and zealously uphold all the truths of God revealed that we may render a comfortable account to him that hath set us in our places and betrusted us with the keeping of both tables."

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     Supposing the Massachusetts Court to have been correct in their apprehension of the will of God and the duties of magistrates, and in regarding the Baptists as instruments of Satan to disunite the colonies bound together by such tender ties, nothing could be more reasonable than the request or demand for the rigorous suppression of these innovators. The chief disturber of the Seekonk (Rehoboth) community was Obadiah Holmes, whom we shall meet later among the sufferers for conscience' sake. After a profound religious experience in England (he had been a wayward son, and whereas three of his brothers had been educated at Oxford he had refused to avail himself of the opportunity to secure a liberal education and had derided religion), he came to New England in 1638. He united with the Salem church, where he remained about seven years. Becoming dissatisfied there, he removed to Rehoboth in 1645, where he united with the church under the ministry of Samuel Newman. In 1649, having become convinced, along with some others, that infant baptism was not in accord with the teachings of Scripture, they were immersed by John Clarke of Newport. He was soon afterward excommunicated by his pastor, and in June, 1650, along with two others, was presented to the General Court at Plymouth, four petitions, one from the Boston Court, having been entered against them. In October, 1652, the following "Presentment by the Grand Inquest" was inserted in the Plymouth records:
"We whose names are here written, being the grand inquest, do present to this Court John Hazell, Mr. Edward Smith and his wife, Obadiah Holmes, Joseph Tory and his wife, and the wife of James Mann, William Deuell and his wife, of the town of Rehoboth, for the continuing of a meeting upon the Lord's Day from house to house, contrary to the order of this Court, enacted June 12, 1650."
     It would seem from this record and the fact that no sentence appears against them, that the Plymouth authorities still retained a considerable measure of the Christian moderation of the father of the Pilgrims and fell very far short of what the Massachusetts Bay authorities expected and required of them.

     The supposition of Baptist writers has been that the Baptists who for months held regular meetings at Rehoboth under the leadership of Obadiah Holmes did not constitute a Baptist church. There seems to be no sufficient reason why they should not be regarded as a church. Like the body of believers who gathered around Roger Williams at Providence, and who continued for many years to meet from house to house, they had a very simple organization. If we call the meeting a church we may date the organization of the first Baptist church in Massachusetts in 1649. Soon after the presentment of the grand inquest the Baptists of Rehoboth seem to have removed to Newport, where they added greatly to the strength of John Clarke's church. Thus the day for organized Baptist work in Massachusetts was postponed.

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     In his "Brief Narration," published in London, 1646, Winslow, writing with a view to vindicating the New England authorities from aspersions current in England, involving charges of persecution of dissent, etc., gives the following interesting bit of information:
"Furthermore, in the Government of Plymouth, to our great grief, not only the pastor of a congregation waiveth the administration of baptism to infants, but divers of his congregation are fallen with him; and yet all the means the civil power hath taken against him and them is to stir up our elders to give meeting, and see if by godly conference they may be able to convince and reclaim him, as in mercy once before they had done, by God's blessing upon their labors. Only at the foresaid Synod two were ordered to write to him in the name of the Assembly, and to request his presence at their next meeting aforesaid, to hold forth his light he goeth by in waiving the practice of the churches; with promise, if it be light, to walk by it; but if it appear otherwise, then they trust he will return again to the unity of practice with them."
     The pastor referred to is commonly understood to be Charles Chauncy, and the congregation that of Scituate. Some have supposed that Winslow was in error in making this statement, as at a later date nothing is said about Chauncy's antipedobaptism, although for a long time after this date he continued to insist on immersion as the act of baptism. But it seems incredible that Winslow, who had been governor of the colony (1633 onward) and had all along occupied a prominent position in the civil and religious administration, should have given publicity to so grave a charge as that involved in the statement quoted without the most convincing proof of the accuracy of his facts. His account, moreover, is too circumstantial to admit of the possibility of mistake. We are justified, therefore, in concluding that about 1646 Chauncy, afterward president of Harvard College, waived the administration of baptism to infants, and in this matter had the full sympathy of a portion of the Scituate church. From the fact that he ceased to give trouble in this matter, it would seem that he yielded to the pressure brought to bear upon him by the authorities. His insistence on immersion as the only proper baptism was no doubt regarded by the authorities as more venial, and in this he was tolerated. But when, as we shall see in the next chapter, he had an opportunity to succeed Henry Dunster, who had been removed from the presidency of Harvard College for his aggressive maintenance of antipedobaptist views, he was able to abandon or hold in abeyance even this poor remnant of his Baptist teaching.

The treatment of John Clarke, Obadiah Holmes, and John Crandall, members of the Newport Baptist church, by the Massachusetts authorities is one of the most notorious instances of intolerance toward Baptists. In his "Ill News from New England," already referred to, Clarke gives a full and graphic account
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of the transaction, including the legal warrants, sentences, etc., his own letters to the authorities, and Holmes's very realistic account of his sufferings and religious experiences. The accuracy of Clarke's narrative has never been called in question, and is in agreement with the records of the court and other notices in the writings of the opponents of the Baptists. Clarke's account is headed:
"A Faithful and True Relation of the Prosecution of Obadiah Holmes, John Crandall, and John Clarke, merely for Conscience towards God, by the Principal Members of the Church, or Commonwealth of the Massachusetts ...; whereby is shown their discourteous Entertainment of Strangers, and how that Spirit by which they are led would order the whole World, if either brought under them, or should come in unto them Drawn forth by the aforesaid John Clarke, not so much to answer the Importunity of Friends, as to stop the mouths and slanderous reports of such as are Enemies to the Cross of Christ. Let him that readeth it consider, which Church is most like the Church of Christ (that Prince of Peace, that meek and gentle Lamb, that came into this World to save Men's lives, not to destroy them), the Persecuted, or Persecuting."
     It will be possible to give here only a brief resume of this interesting episode. The three brethren named, as representatives of the Newport church, had made the toilsome journey to Lynn, Mass., at the request of the aged and blind William Witter, whom we have met repeatedly as a pronounced antipedobaptist. It is likely that Witter's request was not simply on his own behalf, but on behalf of a number of his neighbors who had adopted Baptist views and who were desirous of being baptized and partaking of the Supper according to the Baptist way. The authorities suspected, but were not in a position to prove, that baptism had been administered to one or more. This was neither admitted nor denied by the accused. As they were quietly worshiping on the Lord's Day at Witter's house, two miles from town, two constables arrived with a warrant for the arrest of "certain erroneous persons, being strangers." They interrupted the service and insisted on carrying the three strangers at once "to the Alehouse or Ordinary." After dinner one of the constables insisted on "carrying" them to church. They agreed to go on the distinct understanding that they would declare their dissent both by word and gesture, and would hold no communion with the church. Refusing to bare their heads, the pastor bade the constable pluck their hats off. Clarke attempted to explain the ground on which he had refused to show respect to the worship of the church or to hold communion therewith, but was refused a hearing. To the offense of holding an unlawful meeting was thus added that of disturbing public worship and denouncing the church as not according to "the order of our Lord." These transactions occurred on July 22, 1651.
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A few days later they were tried and sentenced, "without producing either accuser, witness, jury, law of God or man."
"In our examination the Governor upbraided us with the name of Anabaptists; To whom I answered, I disown the name, I am neither an Anabaptist, nor a Pedobaptist, nor a Catabaptist; he told me in haste I was all; I told him he could not prove us to be either of them; he said, yes, you have Re-baptized; I denied it, saying, I have Baptized many, but I never Re-baptized any; then said he, you deny the former Baptism, and make all our worship a nullity; I told him he said it; moreover I said unto them (for therefore do I conceive I was brought before them to be a testimony against them), If the Testimony which I hold forth be true, and according to the mind of God, which I undoubtedly affirm it is, then it concerns you to look to your standing. The like to this affirmed the other two."
On the ground of the original charges and the statements made by the accused in the examination, which are enumerated in the sentence, Clarke was fined
"20 pounds to be paid, or sufficient sureties that the said sum shall be paid by the first day of the next Court of Assistants, or else to be well whipt, and that you shall remain in prison till it be paid, or security given in for it."
Holmes, doubtless on the ground that he was an old offender in the Plymouth colony, was fined "30 pounds or to be well whipt; and the sentence of John Crandall was to pay 5 pounds, or be well whipt."

When Clarke remonstrated against the sentence, for which no legal authority had been exhibited, Governor Endicott
"stept up, and told us we had denied Infants' Baptism, and being somewhat transported broke forth, and told me I had deserved death, and said, he would not have such trash brought into their jurisdiction; moreover he said, you go up and down, and secretly insinuate into those that are weak, but you cannot maintain it before our Ministers; you may try, and discourse or dispute with them, etc."
Availing himself of this somewhat informal and rash proposal, Clarke wrote a letter to the governor asking for the opportunity of disputing in public "with freedom, and without molestation of the civil power,"
"that point ... where I doubt not by the strength of Christ to make it good out of his last Will and Testament, unto which nothing is to be added, nor from which nothing is to be diminished."

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     The governor insisted that Clarke had misunderstood him in thinking that he promised a public disputation, and the ministers no doubt heartily disapproved of giving such an opportunity to so erroneous a person to disseminate his views. Clarke made full preparation for the disputation, with the understanding that it would be public. The theses which he undertook to defend included
     (1) the sole Lordship of Christ in matters of faith;

     (2) the testimony

"that baptism, or dipping in water, is one of the commandments of the Lord Jesus Christ, and that a visible believer, or disciple of Christ Jesus, ... is the only person that is to be baptized, or dipped with that visible baptism, or dipping of Jesus Christ in water, and also that visible person that is to walk in that visible order of his house, and so to wait for his coming a second time in the form of a Lord and King, with his glorious Kingdom according to promise";
     (3) the liberty and duty of every believer
"to improve that talent his Lord hath given unto him, and in the congregation may either ask for information for himself, or, if he can, may speak by way of prophecy for the edification, exhortation, and comfort of the whole, and out of the congregation at all times, upon all occasions and in all places, as far as the jurisdiction of his Lord extends"; and
     (4) a testimony in favor of liberty of conscience, which, with his arguments in favor of it, has been set forth in an earlier chapter.

     A friend having paid the fine, the authorities insisted on his leaving without having an opportunity to set forth his views in a disputation with a representative of the standing order. He protested ineffectually against this course, and he afterward made this refusal of a public disputation a ground for publishing in England his argument in full, along with a full account of the whole transaction. Crandall's fine was paid, but Holmes refused on principle to allow his to be paid, and suffered in martyr fashion the alternative penalty of whipping. He wrote a detailed account of his sufferings to John Spilsbury, the first Particular Baptist minister in England, and William Kiffin, one of the earliest and most prominent.2 For showing sympathy with Holmes on the occasion of his punishment John Spur and John Hazell were arrested and fined, with the alternative penalty of whipping. Their fines were paid without their consent. Spur testified that in a sermon, preached immediately before the sentence on Clarke, Holmes, and Crandall was pronounced, John Cotton

[p. 105]
"affirmed that denying infants' baptism would overthrow all; and this was a capital offense; and therefore they were soul murderers."


1 Cf. Backus, Clarke, "Ill News," Winslow, "Good News," Winthrop, Ellis, Morton, Mather, Hutchinson. Adams, Felt, Palfrey.
2 The letter is embodied in Clarke's work, and has been copied, along with most of the documents of "Ill News," by Backus, vol, i., pp. 187 seq.

[From A. H. Newman, Baptist Churches in the United States, Professor of Church History, McMaster University, Toronto, 1894, pp. 91-105. The footnote numbers have been changed. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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