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The different species of persecution the Baptists had to labor under, in an early period.
By William Fristoe
Part 2

Here arose another difficulty in the case of examination -- after the court had granted license to a certain preacher, application was made to several Episcopalian preachers, then officiating in the college of William and Mary -- the president or leading character was first addressed -- and the request made that he should make the examination -- the reply was, in an overbearing and disdainful manner, I will not, for I am head of the church here, and it is countenancing dissenters too much to afford them a hearing, or perform any offices for them. Application was made to the second -- he appeared more mild, but said he had examined some dissenters before, and the other preachers had not, and as the leading character did not think proper to do it, he would not. The third was then sought to -- he said he would not, for the other two had as much right to oblige the Baptists as he had, and as they wouId not perform the work of examination he would not. After which information was given of a preacher living on James River, a small distance from Williamsburg, and it was supposed he would oblige the preacher -- upon which advice he was addressed, who in a friendly and courteous manner did the business. The articles were read and subscribed to according to law -- a certificate was then given by the parson, by virtue of which a license was obtained.

It is easy for the reader to understand, that through the whole process of this business, from the beginning to the end, obstructions and difficulties lay in the way -- first to get signers to a petition, second to get a certificate from two acting magistrates in the county from which the petition was sent, thirdly to find the court in such a temper and capable of exercising such generosity as to grant a license, and after all this, it was left uncertain and precarious, and depended on the will and temper of the clergy whether we should succeed or not. Oh! how disagreeable our situation at that time, when in combination the malice of the clergy, and courts of justice were inflamed and raged to a degree of madness, while we were by the common herd spoken against everywhere; we are left to conclude that our existence in the world, our preservation as a religious society, and the scanty privilege we enjoyed, of the exercise of conscience in the discharge of the duties of religion, was entirely owing to the superintending providence of God, whose almighty power preserved this burning bush, and therefore it was not consumed.

These are the effects of an establishment of religion by law; here we may see monarchical tyranny, and priestly policy, harmoniously uniting -- the king supporting the favorite clergy of the established church, and the clergy knowing their preservation and support is dependent on the crown, afford their aid in support of the government, and of course all nonconformists must go to the wreck.

We have to inform the reader of still more violent attacks made by the persecutors of the Baptists, not satisfied with slander and reproach, with sneers and ridicule, but set about devising other methods, and so stop the preaching of the gospel; put aside or break up worshipping assemblies, and exterpate all appearance of religion from the earth -- to effect this, violence and main strength was acceded to, and exercised by the baser sort.

That this may be understood, in how many different ways, and at different times, the Baptists suffered by the hand of violence, we will undertake to give a minute detail, so far as our knowledge extends, or have received well authenticated report.

Sometimes attempts have been made by an individual man to take the preacher from the stand, in time of his publicly preaching the gospel, for no other pretended cause than the persecutor's wife made some pretensions to religion, and that it was necessary we should be new creatures in order to happiness in a future world. This individual was repulsed in the attempt, and the mischief prevented.

At the same meeting-house, at other times, it has not been confined to an individual opposer; but large mobs have repaired to the meeting-house, and that of the more brave and lusty, provided with clubs and impliments of mischief, and clearly manifested their design was to beat the preacher, and clear the place of the professors of religion; but as a preventative to their design that day, the minister was informed of their collecting at the meeting-house, before he reached the place, and it was thought most prudent both by himself and others to retire; by which means the preacher came off unhurt; the mob disappointed returned home much exasperated, but it was matter of lamentation that the gospel should be stopped in its administration, and divine worship prevented.

Another time, at the same place, a gun has been brought by a person, in a great rage, and presented within the meeting-house doors, supposed to shoot the preacher, but was prevented by his own brother, who suddenly caught the gun prevented the execution of the wretched design. At another time, at the same place, a few being met at the meeting-house, to pray, sing praises and offer up their solemn devotion, and employ themselves in the most profitable manner; while at devotion, a mob having collected, they immediately rushed upon meeting-house, and began to inflict blows on the worshipers, and produce bruises and bloodshed, so that the floor shone with the sprinkled blood the days following; upon which the few Baptists in the place concluded they would Aim at a redress of their grievances, by bringing the lawless mob to justice, and inflict punishment upon them according to just deserts. A warrant was applied for, and obtained, for the principal leaders of the mischief -- they were apprehended, and time and place appointed for trial -- things being thus circumstanced, hopes were entertained that for once the oppressed might have justice shewn them; but the reverse was soon manifest. On trial the disturbers of the peace could prove anything, and everything, they wanted to prove favorable to themselves -- they could prove that the meeting people were as riotous as themselves, and the magistrates at that time (a few excepted) so filled with prejudice, that full credit was given to evidence against the Baptists, and a refusal to hear anything favorable of them -- the result was, it was deemed a riot, and all were discharged.

By this time it was a thing well understood, that justice could be perverted, and the oppressed had to bear their burthen without any hope of relief from men -- and the persecutors triumph and exult in their oppressive measures -- it afforded an opportunity of offering every kind of insult that ignorance and malice might prompt them to; with us it was quite common for persons to attack the preacher in time of preaching, and use abusive language, call him by every name that was supposed reproachful; mouth and throw themselves into every posture, if possible, to interrupt the preacher, and discommodate all that were seriously engaged in divine worship. Attempts have been made not only to disturb worship, and prevent preaching, but a little, low-lived, persecuting conduct has accompanied elsewhere -- such as interrupting when we were going to administer the ordinance of baptism, talking, jumping, and, once in a while, insulting the preacher and challenging him to game. -- When persons have been baptized, they have pronounced what their names should be; sometimes casting dogs into the water and muddying of it -- all was done in a way to cast all that contempt on the sacred institution they were capable of; while the laity of the church of England were employed in spurning and scoffing religion out of the world, the clergy from the pulpit afforded their aid, and were employed in the same business.

A certain church person employed his oratory on a certain occasion in defaming the Baptists; he undertook to compare them with a number of things, and those of meanest description; at length he made a full stop, as though lost for comparison, or that the Baptists were beneath all comparison -- what shall I liken them to? the diving ducks, or rather to the herd of swine running violently down a steep place into the sea, and perishing in the water; but the person was mistaken in the figure, for among the many that have been baptized, none have been drowned.

When persecutors found religion could not be stopped in its progress by ridicule, defamation and abusive language, the resolution was to take a different step and see what that would do; and the preachers in different places were apprehended by magisterial authority, some of whom were imprisoned, and some escaped: before this step was taken, the parson of the parish was consulted (in some instances at least) and his judgment confided in; his counsel was that the new-lights ought to be taken up and imprisoned, as necessary for the peace and harmony of the old church. As formerly the high priests took the lead in persecuting the followers of Christ, in like manner the high priests have conducted in latter days, and seldom there has been a persecution but what an high priest has been at the head of it, or exercised influence. The reader may take notice, that in our statement of this species of persecution, we shall not cite names but facts.

The first that we know of among us, taken by a warrant, was three old men, who had been hearing the gospel, and become feasible their former conduct had been wicked, and that there was a necessity for a reformation; the conclusion with them was, that they would not loiter away the Sabbath as they had used to do, but meet together and endeavor to worship God: accordingly they met together, and in their feeble way, one of them read a sermon, and another went to prayer; after which they returned home: soon after, they, by the power of a justice, were ordered to appear before him, or some other justice of the peace, to answer for their conduct as touching a late meeting, etc. When they were brought to trail [trial], it was before the parson of the parish who was an acting magistrate in the county, enquiry was made as touching the meeting; nothing appeared more than that they peaceably met together, one of them had read a sermon, and another had endeavoured to make prayer, without noise, multitude or tumult, and then separated from each other; at which information the parson tore the warrant, and discharged them, with giving a short caution, not to be righteous over much.

At another time, at a distant place, a preacher was apprehended as soon as done preaching, and taken from the place immediately to justice -- the charge was, preaching; the magistrate enquired what had been preached? the evidence, when called upon, appeared confused, and when questioned and cross questioned, their testimony was contradictory; the justice could get no just information, or intelligible account from them respecting the matter: at which the preacher requested the magistrate to allow him to relate what he had asserted in his sermon, to which he supposed the evidence would agree; he was allowed, and when he had cited the same things he had before mentioned in his sermon, the evidence was brought to recollection and assented to it. -- It appeared the greatest distress on this occasion, was that the above-cited preacher had advanced doctrine in direct opposition to the established church, which charge, could it have been substantiated, would certainly, at that time have procured his confinement in the dungeon; but when the matter came to light, and proper information obtained, it was quite the reverse; it was true the preacher in his sermon made mention of several things in the articles of the high church, but it was in a way of approbation of them, as being what himself, in heart espoused, and in public advocated; the truth was, their anger was raised, and their resentment levelled against the preaching; because they were in a plain and pointed manner told that the articles of their church, as it respected the essentials of religion, was sound and orthodox; and that they were grossly ignorant of their contents, and careless about them; that they had adulterated and departed from their own system, and that their immoral conduct and dissipated behaviour gave abundant proof that they knew nothing of vital religion, nor ever felt its quickening power; and it followed their Christianity was no more than a name without the substance. When the magistrate was rightly informed, it was judged a malicious prosecution, and nothing deserving bonds or imprisonment; and accordingly the preacher was set at liberty.

A third prosecution was of a certain man whom the Baptist church had allowed and encourage as an exhorter, and was approved of as such; the same was engaged in a word of exhortation on Sabbath day, at a licensed meeting-house: soon after he began, he was arrested by a justice of the peace who had brought the sheriff with him; his commitment was soon written, and without farther ceremony hurried by the officer, and soon committed to the care of the jailor, who shut him up in a disagreeable dungeon, where he remained until court was in course for the county; at which time he was brought to the bar, and the charge exhibited. The king's attorney strove to render the prisoner ridiculous, his doctrine atrocious, and the sect to which he belonged enthusiasts and injurious to the community; an attorney was employed on the side of the prisoner, who managed the cause to advantage; here another opportunity offered for information that there was no law provided for the apprehending and imprisoning dissenters for simply preaching, and that the doing of it was arbitrary and tyrannical; the result of the trial was, the person was discharged, for the two following reasons: first, that he was allowed by the Baptist church to exhort, and secondly, he was exercising his gift in a licensed meeting-house; the court could not devise how they might detain the prisoner longer -- he was therefore discharged. Another instance we have received information of, that will scarce admit of comparison: a magistrate issued a warrant for the apprehending one of our preachers-- the contents of which was, the officer was to bring him before him or some other justice of the peace, to answer for his conduct as touching preaching Jesus Christ and Him crucified; this was coming to the point in the nigh way, this was saying with a great deal of simplicity what the ground work of complaint was, while wit and invention in other instances, would have cast a cloak over it, and have given it a different colour. According to instruction the preacher was taken by the officer and carried to justice, but when the crime for which he was apprehended was examined, it appeared shameful to the last degree; enmity itself was stunned at it -- the preacher was immediately discharged, and that evening held meeting in a large town where he had been taken for trial, and an end was put to that process.

Another instance of cruelty we have to remind the reader of a Minister (though not belonging to our association at the same time, but soon after his confinement became a member with us) the same was apprehended, torn from the stand by violence in time of prayer, and imprisoned; and such was the rage and malice of his persecutors, that a close prison was thought too good. In addition to confinement, those of the vulgar sort took occasion to collect disagreeable and ill-favored trash, nauseous combustibles, and burn them in the prison window which filled the close dungeon with smoke that made it difficult for him to breathe or support life; and in the event so impaired his health, though he lived many years after, he had to drag through life loaded with infirmity, distressing pains, disordered bowels, and a constitution throughout so affected and broke down, that made life often a burthen.

At other times persecution has raged to that degree, two, three and four at a time have been arrested, and brought to trial for preaching, and sometimes for only praying, and in some instances when brought into open court, presented there as criminals, and when the charge was read, in order to disgrace them, they asked, criminal like, guilty, or not guilty? They were then required to give bond and security for good behaviour, or go immediately to prison.

We have been well informed, that it has been required of the prisoner as a condition of his or their releasement to give bond and security, not to preach or pray at his own house nor elsewhere; and upon refusal they were continued in confinement; after sometime confinement, some have given security not to preach without license, and immediately petitioned for them -- others have given bond for good behaviour, and turned into preaching at risk, feeling no ways guilty of a breach of good behaviour in preaching the gospel; others have continued in prison where great congregations have resorted and heard the gospel through the iron grates, until their persecutors have been discouraged, and set them at liberty, concluding they would be less troublesome when going at large than when confined -- and it was found by experience, the more they were oppressed the more they grew and multiplied -- and it was evident that a tremor sometimes took hold of those oppressors, lest they should be found fighting against God -- and where such distress has taken hold in the breast of a persecutor, he has declined touching God's anointed, or doing his prophets farther harm.

Imprisonment would in all likelihood have been the common lot of all the preachers, had not several of them obtained license in an early time -- and we do not recollect any were taken by authority who had obtained license; but it was certainly owing to our enemies not knowing our situation -- for our license afforded us protection only at one meeting-house, and left us exposed elsewhere -- but our adversaries living at a distance from the metropolis, and not knowing the rules of the General Court, it was thought when a license was obtained it was unlimited, and self-preservation inclined us to keep the secret.


[Taken from William Fristoe, The History of the Ketocton Baptist Association, 1766 - 1808,1808; repub. in 1978, pp. 38-43. The grammar and spelling are unchanged. jrd]

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