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Persecution Of Baptists in Early Massachusetts
A History of the Baptists
By John T. Christian

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…. 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.).

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, 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 God would not fail. So it pleased the Lord to come in, and 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 can 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 withdrawl 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).


[From John T. Christian, A History of the Baptists, Volume 2, 1926; rpt. pp. 66-69. jrd]

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