THERE was not any church of the Baptist order founded in this State, until more than forty years after its settlement; but there were at first, and all along during this period, some persons of the Baptist persuasion, or to speak in the language of that day, persons tinctured with Anabaptistical errors, intermixed with the inhabitants. And before we proceed to the churches and associations in this Commonwealth, we shall exhibit it in one view, the number, names, circumstances, and sufferings of our brethren, and of those who were baptistically inclined, in this boasted asylum of religious freedom, up to the year 1883, when the first church in Swansea was founded.
It is asserted by Dr. Mather, in his Magnalia, that “some of the first planters in New England were Baptists;” and this assertion is corroborated by some of the laws and letters which will be mentioned in the following sketches. Roger Williams was not a Baptist practically while he resided in this government, but he, nevertheless, began here his baptistical career, and it is evident that the fear of the consequences of his popular ministry induced the priest-led magistrates to pass the cruel sentence of banishment against him. While he was at Plymouth, it was feared “that he would run the same course of rigid separation and Anabaptistry, which Mr. John Smith of Amsterdam had done;” and after he went to Salem, it is said, that “in one year’s time he filled that place with principles of rigid separation, tending to Anabaptism.” 1 Anabaptism, in the view of the Massachusetts people, was a heretical monster, of which they were most terribly afraid.
It has always been found that the leading principles of the first reformers, when carried forward to their legitimate consequences, will endanger the cause of infant baptism. “Bishop Sanderson says, that the Revelation Archbishop Whitgift, and the learned Hooker, men of great judgment and famous in their times, did long since forsee, and declare their fear, that if ever Puritanism should prevail among us, it would soon draw in Anabaptism after it. This, Cartwright and the Disciplinarians denied, and were offended at. But these good men judged right, they considered only as prudent men, that Anabaptism had its rise from the same principles the Puritans held, and its growth from the same course they took; together with the natural tendency of their principles and practices toward it; especially that one principle, as it was then by them misunderstood, that the Scripture was adequata agendorum regula, so as nothing might be lawfully done without express warrant, either from some command or example therein contained; which clue, if followed as far as it would go, would certainly in time carry them as far as the Anabaptists had then gone.” “This, says Mr. Callender, I beg leave to look on as a most glorious concession, of the most able adversaries. One party contend, that the scripture is the adequate rule of worship, and for the necessity of some command or example there; the other party say this leads to Anabaptism.”
The Archbishop and Mr. Hooker were by no means mistaken in their conjectures; for so many of the Puritans as adhered strictly to that one principle, that the scripture is the adequate rule of worship, did become Anabaptists, as they were called; and the reason why all did not, was, that they would not allow ‘this one powerful principle, which is sufficient to demolish the whole fabric of human inventions, to operate in all its force against infant baptism, but threw in its way Abraham’s covenant, and the traditions of the fathers.
The first settlers of New England knew by what they had seen at home, the danger of the Puritans running into Anabaptism; or to speak correctly, their disposition to revive to its apostolic purity the ordinance of baptism; they therefore continually made use of every precaution, to hush all inquiries, and to close every avenue of light upon the subject; and although we condemn their methods, we must at the same time confess that they were attended with too much success.
It was a long time before the Baptists could gain much ground in either of the colonies of Plymouth or Massachusetts. It is probable however that they would have gained establishments here much sooner than they did, notwithstanding the vehement zeal with which they were opposed, had not the glorious liberties of the little colony of Rhode Island offered them an asylum so much to their mind.
But notwithstanding all their attempts to keep them out and to beat them down, it is evident there have been Baptists in this state, from its first settlement, which is now a period of upwards of a hundred and ninety years; and some distinguished persons resided here for a time, who became Baptists after they left the colony and settled in other parts.
Hansard Knollys, who afterwards became a very distinguished Baptist minister in London, came over to this country in 1638, and landed at Boston, but afterwards went to Dover on the Piscataqua river, where he tarried a few years, and then went back to England.
In 1659, it seems there was an attempt to found a Baptist church at Weymouth, a town about fourteen miles southeast of Boston, which was, however, frustrated by the strong arguments of interposing magistrates.
John Smith, John Spur, Richard Sylvester, Ambrose Morton, Thomas Mackpeace, and Robert Lenthal, were the principal promoters of this design. They were all arraigned before the General Court at Boston, March 13, 1639, where they were treated according to the order of the day; Smith, who was probably the greatest transgressor, was fined twenty pounds, and committed during the pleasure of the Court, Sylvester was fined twenty shillings and disfranchised. Morton was fined ten pounds, and counselled to go to Mr. Mather for instruction. Mackpeace had probably no money; he was not fined, but had a modest hint of banishment, unless he reformed. Lenthal it seems compromised the matter with the court for the present; consented to appear before it at the next session; was enjoined to acknowledge his fault, and soon. How matters finally terminated with him I do not find; but it is certain he soon after went to Mr. Clark’s settlement on Rhode Island, and began to preach there before the first church in Newport was formed.
The court having thus dispersed the heretical combination, “thought fit to set apart a day of humiliation, to seek the face of God, and reconciliation with him by our Lord Jesus Christ, etc.” In 1640, Mr. Charles Chauncey came over to this country; he was an advocate for the doctrine of dipping in baptism, but at the same time held that infants were proper subjects of the ordinance. He was esteemed a great scholar and a godly man. The church in Plymouth were anxious to settle him amongst them; but they were as strenuous for sprinkling as he was for immersion. “There was much trouble about the matter. The magistrates and the elders there, and the most of the people, withstood the reviving of that practice, (that is immersion) not for itself so much as for fear of worse consequences, as the annihilating our baptism, etc.” 3 The church finally proposed that Mr. Reyner, their other minister, with whom he was to be associated, should do all the sprinkling, so that he should not be obliged to administer the sacred rite, only in his own way; but with this temporizing proposal, “he did not see light to comply.” For although he was but half right, yet he was strong so far as he had gone. From Plymouth, Mr. Chauncey went to Scituate, a town on the Massachusetts Bay, about twenty-eight miles southeast of Boston, where he was settled and resided many years. We are told that “here he persevered in his opinion of dipping in baptism, and practiced accordingly, first upon two of his own children, which being in very cold weather, one of them swooned away; another having a child about three years old, but fearing it would be frightened, as others had been, carried it to Boston, with testimonials from Chauncey, where the seal of the covenant was impressed upon it in a milder form.”
Mr. Backus well observes, that “Mr. Chauncey’s grand difficulty in burying in Baptism, was his admitting subjects, who had not the faith or discretion necessary for such an action.” There is, it must be acknowledged, a conformity between babes and sprinkling. Both of them are puerile things, and seem well fitted for each other.
The same year in which Mr. Chauncey came over, a female of considerable distinction, whom Governor Winthrop calls the lady Moody, and who, according to the account of that candid statesman and historian, was a wise, amiable, and religious woman, “was taken with the error of denying baptism to infants.” She had purchased a plantation at Lynn, ten miles northeast of Boston, of one Humphrey, who had returned to England. She belonged to the church in Salem, to which she was near, where she was dealt with by many of the elders and others; but persisting in her error, and to escape the storm which she saw gathering over her head, she removed to Long Island and settled among the Dutch. “Many others infested with Anabaptism removed thither also.” Eleven years after Mrs. Moody’s removal, Messrs. Clark, Holmes, and Crandal, went to visit some Baptists at Lynn, by the request of an aged brother, whose name was William Witter. This circumstance makes it probable, that although many Anabaptists went off with this lady, yet there were some left behind. We shall soon have occasion to take more particular notice of the Baptists in this place.
In 1644, we are informed by Mr. Hubbard, that “a poor man, by the name of Painter, was suddenly turned Anabaptist, and having a child born would not suffer his wife to carry it to be baptized. He was complained of for this to the court, and enjoined by them to suffer his child to be baptized.
But poor Painter had the misfortune to dissent both from the church and court. He told them that infant baptism was an antichristian ordinance, for which he was tied up and whipt. He bore his chastisement with fortitude, and declared that he had divine help to support him. The same author who recorded this narrative, intimates that this poor sufferer “was a man of very loose behavior at home.” This accusation was altogether a thing of course; it would have been almost a miracle, for a poor Anabaptist to have been a holy man. Governor Winthrop tells us he belonged to Hingham, and says he was whipt “for reproaching the Lord’s ordinance.” Upon which Mr. Backus judiciously inquires, “did not they who whipt this poor, conscientious man, reproach infant sprinkling, by taking such methods to support it, more than Painter did?” About this time Mr. Williams returned from England, with the charter for Rhode Island, and landed at Boston. He brought with him a letter, signed by twelve members of Parliament, addressed to the Governor, Assistants, and people of Massachusetts, exhorting them to lenient measures towards their dissenting brethren, and towards Mr. Williams in particular. The sentence of banishment yet lay upon him, which these noble advocates for liberty besought them to remove. But every avenue of cornpunction and mercy was closed; “Upon the receipt of this letter the Governor and magistrates of Massachusetts found, upon examination of their hearts, no reason to condemn themselves for any former proceedings against Mr. Williams, etc.” The Baptists and those inclined to their sentiments were, doubtless, emboldened by the favor which Mr. Williams had obtained at home, and by knowing that he had obtained the royal assent for a colony which would afford them an asylum in time of danger. About this time, we are told by Winthrop, that “the Anabaptists increased and spread in Massachusetts.” This increase was a most fearful and ungrateful sight to the rulers of this colony, and was doubtless the means of leading the General Court to pass the following act for the suppression of this obnoxious sect. “Forasmuch as experience hath plentifully and often proved, that since the first rising of the Anabaptists, about one hundred years since, they have been the incendiaries of commonwealths, and the infectors 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 therewith, though they have (as other heretics use 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 (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 amongst 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 baptizing of infants, or go about secretly to seduce others from the approbation or use thereof, or shall purposely depart the congregation at the ministration of the ordinance, or shall deny the ordinance of magistracy, or their lawful right and authority to make war, or to punish the outward breaches of the first table, and shall appear to the court wilfully and obstinately to continue therein after due time and means of conviction, every such person or persons shall be sentenced to banishment.” This was the first law which was made against the Baptists in Massachusetts. It was passed November 13th, 1644, about two months after Mr. Williams landed in Boston as above related. Two charges, which it contains, Mr. Backus acknowledges are true, namely that the Baptists denied infant baptism and the ordinance of magistracy; or as a Baptist would express it, the use of secular force in religious affairs; but all the other slanderous invectives he declares are utterly without foundation. He furthermore asserts, that he had diligently searched all the books, records, and papers, which he could find on all sides, and could not find an instance then (1777) of any real Baptist in Massachusetts being convicted of, or suffering for any crime, except the denying of infant baptism, and the use of secular force in religious affairs.
If a Puritan Court in the seventeenth century, professing to be illuminated with the full blaze of the light of the Reformation, could thus defame the advocates for apostolic principles, will any think it strange if we suspect the frightful accounts which were given of them in darker ages by a set of monkish historians, who believed that fraud and falsehood were christian virtues, if they could be made subservient to the good of the church?
Mr. Hubbard, one of their own historians, speaking of their making this law says, “but with what success it is hard to say; all men being naturally inclined to pity them that suffer, etc.” The clergy doubtless had a hand in framing this shameful act, as they, at this time, were the secretaries and counsellors of the Legislature.
Mr. Backus’ observations upon these measures, and the men by whom they were promoted, are very judicious. “Much (says he) has been said to exalt the characters of the good fathers of that day: I have no desire of detracting from any of their virtues; but the better the men were, the worse must be the principles that could ensnare them in such bad actions.”
Mr. Hubbard informs us, that “at a General Court in March, 1645, two petitions were preferred, one for suspending (if not abolishing) a law made against the Anabaptists the former year; the other was for easing a law of like nature made in Mrs. Hutchinson’s time, forbidding the entertaining of any strangers, without license of two magistrates, etc. But some, continues the same author, at this time were much afraid of the increase of Anabaptism. This was the reason why the greater part prevailed for the strict observation of the aforesaid laws, although peradventure a little moderation as to some cases might have done very well, if not better.
Many books, coming out of England in this year, some in defense of Anabaptism and other errors, and for liberty of conscience as a shelter for a general toleration of all opinions, led the ministers of all the United Colonies to meet at Cambridge, etc.” One of the Anabaptist books above referred to was sent by the famous John Tombes. It was an examination of a sermon in defense of infant baptism, preached by Stephen Marshall, and dedicated to the Westminster Assembly. Soon after the news reached England of the law to banish the Baptists, Mr. Tombes sent a copy of his work to the ministers of New England, and with it an epistle dated from the Temple in London, May 25, 1645, “hoping thereby to put them upon a more exact study of that controversy, and to allay their vehemency against the Baptists.” “But the Westminster Assembly, says Backus, were more ready to learn severity from this country, than these were to learn lenity from any.”
Soon after Mr. Tombes sent over his book and letter, Sir Henry Vane, whose interest was then very great in Parliament, wrote to Governor Winthrop as follows: “Honored Sir, I received yours by your son, and was unwilling to Iet him return without telling you as much. The exercise and troubles which God is pleased to lay upon these kingdoms, and the inhabitants in them, teaches us patience and fobearance one with another in some measure, though there be difference in our opinions, which makes me hope, that from the experience here, it may also be derived to yourselves, lest, while the Congregational way amongst you is in its freedom, and is backed with power, it teach its oppugners here, to extirpate it and root it out, from its own principles and practice.
I shall need say no more, knowing your son can acquaint you particularly with our affairs. Sir, I am your affectionate friend, and servant in Christ, H. VANE June 10, All these remonstrances, however, were unavailing, and the bigoted New Englanders persisted in their persecuting career. And lest their exterminating laws should not effect the business, the press was set to work to prevent the alarming progress of Anabaptistical errors. In this year, three pieces were written for this purpose by Messrs. Cotton of Boston, Cobbet of Lynn, and Ward of Ipswich, then called by its Indian name Agawam. Cotton and Cobbet lay some strange charges against the devil, for seeking to undermine the cause of infant baptism, because it is not commanded in the Scripture. The reader will doubtless be astonished at this assertion; but let him read the following quotations fairly made, and then he may judge whether it is not correct. Mr. Cotton says, Satan, despairing of success by more powerful arguments, “chooseth rather to play small game, as they say, than lost all. He now pleadeth no other argument in these stirring times of reformation, than may be urged from a main principle of purity and reformation, namely That no duty of God’s worship, nor any ordinance of religion is to be administered in the church, but such as hath just warrant from the word of God. And in urging this argument against the baptism of children, Satan transformeth himself into an angel of light,” 7 and so on. This was the great Mr. Cotton, who, for many years, was the bishop and legislator of New England. He was doubtless a great and good man; he reasoned well on many subjects, and the absurdity of his arguments here must be ascribed to the weakness of the cause which they were intended to support. His successors have made great improvements in arguing this point, but we must acknowledge that the Baptists have made none at all. What was their main principle then, is their main principle now. They wish it not to be altered or amended, but are willing it should stand just as Mr. Cotton has stated it. It has ever proved an insurmountable barrier against all the assaults of their enemies, and so far as it is permitted to operate, is sure to beat down all the inventions of men. But the greatest curiosity is, that this Reverend Divine accuses the devil of helping them to it.
Mr. Cobbet accuses Satan of having a special spite at the seed of the church. He says it is one of Satan’s old tricks to create scruples in the hearts of God’s people about infant baptism. And Thus it is written, and Thus saith the Lord, according to this singular divine, are nothing but “ satanical sufgestions.” The Baptists feel perfectly secure against this kind of logic, and the deceivers of mankind would doubtless be much obliged to his adversaries if they would never assault his kingdom with any more powerful weapons.
The last of this mighty triumvirate does not lay so much of the blame to satan; but his arguments are, if possible, still more weak and contemptible.
He accuses the Anabaptists of a “ high pitch of boldness in cutting a principal ordinance out of’the kingdom of God.” He also charges them with the crime of “dislocating, disgooding, unhallowing, transplacing, and transtiming a stated institution of Jesus Christ.” “What a cruelty is it,” says he, “to divest children of that only external privilege, which their heavenly Father hath bequeathed them, to interest them visibly in himself, his Son, his Spirit, his covenant of peace, and the tender bosom of their careful mother, the church. What an inhumanity it is, to deprive parents of that comfort they may take from the baptism of their infants dying in their childhood! “ Had the Pedobaptists in Massachusetts assaulted our brethren with no weapons more powerful than their pens, they would have had nothing to fear. But if the arguments of their divines were weak and contemptible, those of their magistrates were strong and cruel as we shall soon have occasion to observe.
Hitherto but few instances of corporal punishments had taken place among our brethren in the Massachusetts colony. Most of the fathers of it were yet alive, and had grown gray in the midst of their persecutions at home, and their labors here. It is charitably doubted by some, whether they had it in their hearts at first to imitate the bloody scenes from which they had fled. Such would suppose that their threatening legislative acts were intended merely to be hung out as a terror to dissenters from the idol uniformity which they had set up. But be that as it may, they had established a principle fraught with blood. Roger Williams, secure in his little colony at Providence, foresaw the sanguinary storm, which was approaching, and which, according to his prediction, soon burst upon this Commonwealth, and blotted its annals with an indelible stain. With a view to open the eyes of his old neighbors and associates to the tendency of their maxims, he published his piece, entitled, “The Bloody Tenet,” etc. as early as 1644. But remonstrances were vain. The bloody tenet was scrupulously maintained, and hurried forward to its baneful consequences, so that in 1651, the Baptists were unmercifully whipped, and not long after, the Quakers were murderously hung.
We are now prepared to give an account of a scene of suffering peculiarly cruel and afflictive.
We have already seen that there were some Baptists at Lynn, in 1640, when the lady Moody left the place, and it is probable that a little band remained there until the period now under consideration. In July, 1651, Messrs. Clark, Holmes, and Crandal, “being the representatives of the church in Newport, upon the request of William Witter of Lynn, arrived there, he being a brother in the church, who, by reason of his advanced age, could not undertake so great a journey as to visit the church.” This account is found among the records of the ancient church at Newport. The circumstance of these men being representatives, lead us to infer that something was designed more than an ordinary visit. Mr. Witter lived about two miles out of the town, and the next day after his brethren arrived, being Lord’s day, they concluded to spend it in religious worship at his house. While Mr. Clark was preaching from Revelation 3:10, “Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also, will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth,” and illustrating what was meant by the hour of temptation and keeping the word with patience, “two constables, (says he) came into the house, who, with their clamorous tongues, made an interruption in my discourse, and more uncivilly disturbed us than the pursuivants of the old English bishops were wont to do, telling us that they were come with authority from the magistrate 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 followeth: “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 them to apprehend, and in safe custody to keep, and tomorrow morning at eight o’clock to bring before me, ROBERT BRIDGES” “When he had read the warrant, I told them, Friends, there shall not be, I trust, the least appearance of a resisting of that authority by which you come unto us; yet I tell you, that by virtue hereof, you are not 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 any thing therein contained, you may. They apprehended us and carried us away to the alehouse or ordinary, where at dinner one of them said unto us, Gentlemen, if you be free I will carry you to the meeting. To whom it was replied, Friend, had we been free thereunto we had prevented all this; nevertheless we are in thy hand, and if thou wilt carry us to the meeting thither will we go. To which he answered, Then will I carry you to the meeting. To this we replied, If thou forcest us into your assembly, then shall we be constrained to declare ourselves, that we cannot hold communion with them. The constable answered, That is nothing to me, I have not power to command you to speak when you come there, or to be silent. To this I again replied, Since we have heard the word of salvation by Jesus Christ, we have been taught, as those that first trusted in Christ, to be obedient unto him both by word and deed; wherefore, if we be forced to your meeting, we shall declare our dissent from you both by word and gesture. After all this, when he had consulted with the man of the house, he told us he would carry us to the meeting; so to their meeting we were brought, while they were at their prayers and uncovered; and at my first stepping over the threshold I unveiled myself, civilly saluted them, and turned into the seat I was appointed to, put on my hat again, and sat down, opened my book and fell to reading. Mr. Bridges being troubled, commanded the constable to pluck off our hats, which he did, and where he laid mine, there I let it lie, until their prayers, singing, and preaching was over; after this, I stood up and uttered myself in these words following: I desire as a stranger to propose a few things to this congregation, hoping in the proposal thereof, I shall commend myself to your consciences to be guided by that wisdom that is from above, which, being pure, is also peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated; and therewith made a stop, expecting that if the Prince of peace had been among them, I should have had a suitable answer of peace from them. Their pastor answered, We will have no objections against what is delivered. To which I answered, I am not about at present to make objections against what is delivered, but as by my gesture at my coming into your assembly, I declared my dissent from you, so lest that should prove offensive unto some whom I would not offend, I would now by word of mouth declare the grounds, which are these: First, from consideration we are strangers each to other, and so strangers to each other’s inward standing, with respect to God, and so cannot conjoin and act in faith, and what is not of faith, is sin. And in the second place, I could not judge that you are gathered together, and walk according to the visible order of our Lord. Which, when I had declared, Mr. Bridges told me I had done, and spoke that for which l must answer, and so commanded silence. When their meeting was done, the officers carried us again to the ordinary, where being watched over that night as thieves and robbers, we were the next morning carried before Mr. Bridges, who made our mittimus, and sent us to the prison at Boston.”
About a fortnight after, the court of assistants passed the following sentences against these persecuted men, namely that Mr. Clark should pay a fine of twenty pounds, Mr. Holmes of thirty, and Mr. Crandal of five, or be publicly whipped. They all refused to pay their fines, and were remanded back to prison. Some of Mr. Clark’s friends paid his fine without his consent. Mr. Crandal was released upon his promise of appearing at their next court. But he was not informed of the time until it was over, and then they exacted his fine of the keeper of the prison. The only crime alleged against Mr. Crandal was his being in company with his brethren. But Mr. Holmes was kept in prison until September, and then the sentence of the law was executed upon him in the most cruel and unfeeling manner. In the course of the trial against these worthy men, Mr. Clark defended himself and brethren with so much ability, that the court found themselves much embarrassed. “At length, says Mr. Clark, the Governor stepped up and told us we had denied infant baptism, and being somewhat transported, 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 dispute with them.” To this I had much to reply, but he commanded the gaoler to take us away. So the next morning, having so fair an opportunity, I made a motion to the court in these words following: “To the honourable court assembled at Boston. “Whereas it pleased this honored court yesterday, to condemn the faith and order which I hold and practise; and after you had passed your sentence upon me for it, were pleased to express, I could not maintain the same against your ministers, and thereupon publicly proffered me a dispute with them: Be pleased by these few lines to understand, I readily accept it, and therefore desire you to appoint the time when, and the person with whom, in that public place where I was condemned, I might with freedom, and without molestation of the civil power, dispute that point publicly, 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. Thus desiring the Father of lights to shine forth, and by his power to expel the darkness, I remain your well-wisher, JOHN CLARK From the prison, this 1st day, 6th month, This motion, if granted, I desire might be subscribed by their Seeretary’s hand, as an act of the same court, by which we were condemned.”
This motion was presented, and after much consultation, one of the magistrates informed Mr. Clark, that a disputation was granted to be the next week. But on the Monday following, the clergy held a consultation, and made no small stir about the matter, for although they had easily foiled these injured men in a court of law, yet they might well anticipate some difficulty in the open field of argument, which they were absolutely afraid to enter, as will soon appear. Near the close of the day, the magistrates sent for Mr. Clark into their chamber, and inquired whether he would dispute upon the things contained in his sentence, etc. “For,” said they, “the court sentenced you, not for your judgment and conscience; but for matter of fact and practice.” To which Mr. Clark replied, “You say the court condemned me for matter of fact and practice: be it so. I say that matter of fact and practice was but the manifestation of my judgment and conscience; and I make account, that man is void of judgment and conscience, with respect unto God, that hath not a fact and practice suitable thereunto. If the faith and order which I profess do stand by the word of God, then the faith and order which you profess must needs fall to the ground; and if the way you walk in remain, then the way that walk in must vanish away; they cannot both stand together: to which they seemed to assent; therefore I told them, that if they please to grant the motion under the Secretary’s hand, I would draw up the faith and order which I hold, as the sum of that I did deliver in open court, in three or four conclusions, which conclusions I will stand by and defend, until he, whom you shall appoint, shall, by the word of God, remove me from them; in case he shall remove me from them, then the disputation is at an end. But if not, then I desire like liberty by the word of God, to oppose the faith and order which he and you profess, thereby to try whether I may be an instrument in the hand of God to remove you from the same. They told me the motion was very fair, and the way like unto a disputant, saying, because the matter is weighty, and we desire that what can, may be spoken, when the disputation shall be, therefore would we take a longer time. So I returned with my keeper to prison again, drew up the conclusions, which I was resolved, through the strength of Christ, to stand in defense of, and through the importunity of one of the magistrates, the next morning very early I showed them to him, having a promise I should have my motion for a dispute granted under the Secretary’s hand.”
Mr. Clark’s resolutions were four in number, and contain the leading sentiments of the Baptists, which have been the same in every age respecting positive institutions, the subjects and mode of baptism, and gospel liberty and civil rights. But while he was making arrangements and preparing for a public dispute, his fine was paid, and he was released from prison.
Great expectations had been raised in Boston and its vicinity respecting this dispute, and many were anxious to hear it. And Mr. Clark, knowing that his adversaries would attribute the failure of it to him, immediately on his release drew up the following address: “Whereas, through the indulgency of tender-hearted friends, without my consent, and contrary to my judgment, the sentence and condemnation of the court at Boston (as is reported) have been fully satisfied on my behalf, and thereupon a warrant hath been procured, by which I am secluded the place of my imprisonment, by reason whereof I see no other call for present but to my habitation, and to those near relations which God hath given me there; yet, lest the cause should hereby suffer, which I profess is Christ’s, I would hereby signify, that if yet it shall please the honored magistrates, or General Court of this colony, to grant my former request under their Secretary’s hand, I shall cheerfully embrace it, and upon your motion shall, through the help of God, come from the island to attend it, and hereunto I have subscribed my name, JOHN CLARK 11th day , 6th month , 1651” This address was sent next morning to the magistrates, who were at the commencement at Cambridge, a short distance from Boston, and it was soon noised abroad that the motion was accepted, and that Mr. Cotton was to be the disputant on the Pedobaptist side. But in a day or two after, Mr. Clark received the following address from his timorous adversaries:
Mr. John Clark, “We conceive you have misrepresented the Governor’s speech, in saying you were challenged to dispute with some of our elders; whereas it was plainly expressed, that if you would confer with any of them, they were able to satisfy you, neither were you able to maintain your practice to them by the word of God, all which we intended for your information and conviction privately; neither were you enjoined to what you were then counselled unto; nevertheless, if you are forward to dispute, and that you will move it yourself to the court or magistrates about Boston, we shall take order to appoint one, who will be ready to answer your motion, you keeping close to the questions to be propounded by yourself, and a moderator shall be appointed also to attend upon the service; and whereas you desire you might be free in your dispute, keeping close to the points to be disputed on, without incurring damage by the civil justice, observing what hath been before written, it is granted; the day may be agreed, if you yield the premises. JOHN ENDICOTT , Governor THOMAS DUDLEY , Deputy Governor RICHARD BELLINGHAM, WILLIAM HIBBINS, INCREASE NOWEL. 11th day of the 6th month , 1651.”
This communication Mr. Clark answered in the following manner: “To the honored Governor of the Massachusetts, and the rest of that Honorable Society these present.
Worthy Senators, I received a writing subscribed with five of your hands, by way of answer to a twice repeated motion of mine before you, which was grounded as I conceive sufficiently upon the Governor’s words in open court, which writing of yours doth no way answer my expectation, nor yet that motion which I made; and whereas (waving that grounded motion) you are pleased to intimate that if I were forward to dispute, and would move it myself to the court, or magistrates about Boston, you would appoint one to answer my motion, etc. be pleased to understand, that although I am not backward to maintain the faith and order of my Lord the King of saints, for which I have been sentenced, yet am I not in such a way so forward to dispute, or move therein lest inconvenience should arise. I shall rather once more repeat my former motion, which, if it shall please the honored General Court to accept, and under their Secretary’s hand shall grant a free dispute, without molestation or interruption, I shall be well satisfied therewith; that what is past I shall forget, and upon your motion shall attend it; thus desiring the Father of mercies, not to lay that evil to your charge, I remain your well-wisher, JOHN CLARK From prison , this 14th day , 6th month , 1651” Thus ended Mr. Clark’s chastisement and the Governor’s challenge. The last communication, which he had from his fearful opponents, was indeed signed by the heads of departments, but it was not made in official manner. Mr. Clark all alone kept in view the law which had been made seven years before, which threatened so terribly anyone, who should oppose infant baptism. This was the reason of his requesting an order for the dispute in a legal form. But it was abundantly evident to him, as it will be to every impartial reader, that neither the great Mr. Cotton, nor any of his clerical brethren, dared to meet him in a verbal combat. Infant baptism was safe while defended by the sword of the magistrate, but they dared not risk it in the field of argument. Mr. Clark therefore left his adversaries in triumph; but poor Mr. Holmes was retained a prisoner, and in the end experienced the full weight of their cruel intolerance. An account of his sufferings is thus related by himself. “Unto the well-beloved brethren, John Spillsbury, William Kiffen, and the rest that in London stand fast in the faith, and continue to walk stedfastly in that order of the gospel, which was once delivered unto the saints by Jesus Christ: Obadiah Holmes, an unworthy witness that Jesus is the Lord, and of late a prisoner for Jesus’ sake, at Boston, sendeth greeting.
Dearly beloved and longed after, “My heart’s desire is to hear from you, and to hear that you grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, etc.
Not long after these troubles (at Rehoboth which he relates in the first part of this letter) I came upon occasion of business into the colony of the Massachusetts, with two other brethren, as brother Clark being one of the two can inform you, where we three were apprehended, carried to Boston, and so to the court, and were all sentenced; what they laid to my charge you may here read in my sentence; 9 upon the pronouncing of which, as I went from the bar, I expressed myself in these words: I bless God I am counted 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 Jesus go with thee: 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 thoughts of my God; and although during the time of my imprisonment, the tempter was busy, yet it pleased God so to stand at my right hand, that the motions were but sudden, and so vanished away; and although there were that would have paid the money, if I would accept it, yet I durst not accept of deliverance in such a way, and therefore my answer to them was, that although I would acknowledge their love to a drop of cold water, yet could I not thank them for their money, if they should pay it. So the court drew near, and the night before I should suffer according to my sentence, it pleased God I rested and slept quietly; in the morning my friends came to visit me, desiring me to take the refreshment of wine and other comforts; but my resolution was not to drink wine nor strong drink that day, until my punishment was over; and the reason was, lest in case I had more strength, courage, and boldness, than ordinarily could be expected, the world should either say he is drunk with new wine, or else that the comfort and strength of the creature hath carried him through; but my course was this: I desired brother John Hazel to bear my friend’s company, and I betook myself to my chamber, where I might communicate with my God, commit myself to him, and beg strength from him. I had no sooner sequestered myself, and come into my chamber, but satan lets fly at me, saying, Remember thyself, thy birth, breeding, and friends, thy wife, children, name and credit; but as this was sudden, so there came in sweetly from the Lord as sudden an answer, Tis for my Lord, I must not deny him before the sons of men, (for that were to set men above him, but rather lose all, yea, wife, children, and mine own life also: To this the tempter replies, Oh, but that is the question, is it for him? and for him alone? is it not rather for thy own or some other’s sake? thou hast so professed and practiced, and now art loth to deny it; is not pride and self at the bottom? Surely this temptation was strong, and thereupon I made diligent search after the matter, as formerly I had done, and after a while there was even as it had been a voice from heaven in my very soul, bearing witness with my conscience, that it was not for any man’s case or sake in this world, that so I had professed and practiced, but for my Lord’s cause and sake, and for him alone; whereupon my spirit was much refreshed; as also in the consideration of these three scriptures, which speak on this wise, Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? Althougb I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, thy rod and thy staff, they shall comfort me. And he that continueth to the end, the same shall be saved. But then came in the consideration of the weakness of the flesh to bear the strokes of a whip, though the spirit was willing, and thereupon I was caused to pray earnestly unto the Lord, that he would be pleased to give me a spirit of courage and boldness, a tongue to speak for him, and strength of body to suffer for his sake, and not to shrink or yield to the strokes, or shed tears, lest the adversaries of the truth should thereupon blaspheme and be hardened, and the weak and feeblehearted discouraged, and for this I sought the Lord earnestly; at length he satisfied my spirit to give up, as my soul, so my body unto him, and quietly to leave the whole disposing of the matter to him; and so I addressed myself in as comely a manner as I could, having such a Lord and Master to serve in this business. And when I heard the voice of my keeper come for me, even cheerfulness did come upon me, and taking my Testament in my hand, I went along with him to the place of execution, and after a common salutation there stood. There stood by also one of the magistrates, by name Increase Nowel, who for a while kept silent, and spoke not a word, and so did I, expecting the Governor’s presence, but he came not.
But after a while Mr. Nowel bade the executioner do his office.
Then I desired to speak a few words, but Mr. Nowel answered, it is not now a time to speak. Whereupon I took leave, and said, men, brethren, fathers, and countrymen, I beseech you give me leave to speak a few words, and the rather because here are many spectators to see me punished, and I am to seal with my blood, if God give strength, that which I hold and practice in reference to the word of God, and the testimony of Jesus. That which I have to say in brief is this; although I confess I am no disputant, yet seeing I am to seal what I hold with my blood, I am ready to defend it by the word, and to dispute that point with any that shall come forth to withstand it. Mr. Nowel answered me, now was no time to dispute. Then said I, then I desire to give an account of the faith and order I hold, and this I desired three times, but in comes Mr. Flint, and saith to the executioner, Fellow, do thine office, for this fellow would but make a long speech to delude the people. So I being resolved to speak, told the people, that which I am to suffer for is the word of God, and testimony of Jesus Christ. No, saith Mr. Nowel, it is for your error, and going about to seduce the people. To which I replied, not for error, for in all the time of my imprisonment, wherein I was left alone, (my brethren being gone) which of all your ministers in all that time, came to convince me of an error; and when upon the Governor’s words a motion was made for a public dispute, and upon fair terms so often renewed, and desired by hundreds, what was the reason it was not granted? Mr. Nowel told me, it was his fault that went away and would not dispute; but this the writings will clear at large. Still Mr. Flint calls to the man to do his office: so before, and in the time of his pulling off my clothes, I continued speaking, telling them, that I had so learned, that for all Boston I would not give my body into their hands thus to be bruised upon another account, yet upon this I would not give the hundredth part of a wampum peague 10 to free it out of their hands, and that I made as much conscience of unbuttoning one button as I did of paying the 30 pounds in reference thereunto. I told them moreover, the Lord having manifested his love towards me, in giving me repentance towards God, and faith in Jesus Christ, and so to be baptized in water, by a messenger of Jesus, into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, wherein I have fellowship with him in his death, burial and resurrection, I am now come to be baptized in afflictions by your hands, that so I may have further fellowship with my Lord, and am not ashamed of his sufferings, for by his stripes am I healed. 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 he did not fail me, and therefore now I should trust him forever, who failed 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 fleshly 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 hands three times, as many affirmed) with a three corded whip, giving me therewith thirty strokes. When he had 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 as 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. After this, many came to me rejoicing to see the power of the Lord manifested in weak flesh; but sinful flesh takes occasion hereby to bring others in trouble, informs the magistrates hereof, and so two more are apprehended as for contempt of authority; their names were John Hazel and John Spur, who came indeed and did shake me by the hand, but did use no words of contempt or reproach unto any; no man can prove that the first spoke any thing, and for the second, he only said thus, blessed be the Lord; yet these two for taking me by the hand, and thus saying after I had received my punishment, were sentenced to pay forty shillings, or be whipped. Both were resolved against paying their fine; nevertheless, after one or two days imprisonment, one paid John Spur’s fine, and he was released; and after six or seven days’ imprisonment of brother Hazel, even the day when he should have suffered, another paid his, and so he escaped, and the next day went to visit a friend about six miles from Boston, where the same day he fell sick, and within ten days ended his life. When I was come to the prison, it pleased God to stir up the heart of an old acquaintance of mine, who with much tenderness, like the good Samaritan, poured oil into my wounds, and plaistered my sores; 11 but there was present information given what was done, and inquiry made who was the surgeon, and it was commonly reported he should be sent for, but what was done I yet know not. Yet thus it hath pleased the Father of mercies so to dispose of the matter, that my bonds and imprisonments have been no hindrance to the gospel, for before my return, some submitted to the Lord and were baptized, and divers were put upon the way of inquiry. And now being advised to make my escape by night, because it was reported there were warrants forth for me, I departed; and the next day after, while I was on my journey, the constable came to search at the house where I lodged, so I escaped their hands, and was, by the good hand of my heavenly Father, brought home again to my near relations, my wife and eight children. The brethren of our town and Providence, having taken pains to meet me four miles in the woods where we rejoiced together in the Lord. Thus have I given you as briefly as I can, a true relation of things; wherefore my brethren, rejoice with me in the Lord, and give glory to him, for he is worthy, to whom be praise forevermore; to whom I commit you, and put up my earnest prayers for you, that by my late experience who have trusted in God, and have not been deceived, you may trust in him perfectly. Wherefore my dearly beloved brethren, trust in the Lord, and you shall not be ashamed nor confounded; so I also rest, Yours in the bond of charity, OBADIAH HOLMES” Warrants were issued out against thirteen persons, whose only crime was showing some emotions of sympathy towards this innocent sufferer.
Eleven of them escaped, and two only were apprehended; their names were John Spur and John Hazel. Spur was probably the man who had been apprehended at Weymouth. Hazel was one of Mr. Holmes’ brethren of Rehoboth. Both of these men were to receive ten lashes or pay forty shillings apiece. The latter they could not do with a clear concience, and were therefore preparing for such another scourging as they had seen and pitied in their brother Holmes. But some without their knowledge paid their fines. Mr. Backus has given an account of their trial, and the depositions which were preferred against them, in which nothing more was pretended than that they took Mr. Holmes by the hand when he came from the whipping post, and blessed God for the strength and support he had given him. But this was “a heinous offense,” and called for the vengeance of the civil arm. Mr. Hazel was upwards of sixty years old, and died a few days after he was released, before he reached home.
Mr. Clark went to England this same year, where he published a narrative of these transactions, from which the preceding sketches have been selected.
These measures of intolerance and cruelty tended to promote rather than retard the Baptist cause. And many Pedobaptists, both here and in England, remonstrated with much severity against the intemperate zeal of their persecuting brethren. And among the rest, Sir Richard Saltonstall, one of the Massachusetts magistrates then in England, wrote to Mr. Cotton and Wilson of Boston in the following manner: “Reverend and dear friends, whom I unfeignedly love and respect, — It doth not a little grieve my spirit to hear what sad things are reported daily of your tyranny and persecutions in New England, as that you fine, whip, and imprison men for their consciences.
First, you compel such to come into your assemblies as you know will not join you in your worship, and when they show their dislike thereof, or witness against it, then you stir up your magistrates to punish them for such (as you conceive\ their public affronts. Truly, friends, this your practice of compelling any in matters of worship to do that whereof they are not fully persuaded, is to make them sin, for so the apostle, (Romans 14:8) tells us, and many are made hypocrites thereby, conforming in their outward man for fear of punishment. We pray for you, and wish you prosperity every way, hoped the Lord would have given you so much light and love there, that you might have been eyes to God’s people here, and not to practice those courses in a wilderness, which you went so far to prevent. These rigid ways have laid you very low in the hearts of the saints. I do assure you I have heard them pray in the public assemblies that the Lord would give you meek and humble spirits, not is strive so much for uniformity, as to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.”
MR. COTTON’S ANSWER:
Honored and dear Sir, “My brother Wilson and self do both of us acknowledge your love, as otherwise formerly, so now in the late lines we received from you, that you grieve in spirit to hear daily complaints against us.
Be pleased to understand we look at such complaints as altogether injurious in respect of ourselves, who had no hand or tongue at all is promote either the coming of the persons you aim at into our assemblies, or their punishment for their carriage there. Righteous judgement will not take up reports, much less reproaches against the innocent. We are amongst those, whom (if you knew us better) you would account peaceable in Israel. Yet neither are we so vast in our indulgence or toleration, as to think the men you speak of, suffered an unjust censure. For one of them, (Obadiah Holmes) being an excommunicate person himself, out of a church in Plymouth patent, came into this jurisdiction, and took upon him to baptize, which I think himself will not say he was compelled to perform. 12 And he was not ignorant that the rebaptizing of an elder person, and that by a private person out of office and under excommunication, are all of them manifest contestations against the order and government of our churches established, we know, by God’s law, and he knoweth, by the laws of the country. As for his whipping, it was more voluntarily chosen by him than inflicted on him. His censure by the court, was to have paid, as I know, pounds or else be whipped; his fine was offered to be paid by friends for him freely, but he chose rather to be whipped; in which case, if his suffering of stripes was any worship of God at all, surely it could be accounted no better than will-worship. 13 The other, (Mr. Clark) was wiser in that point, and his offense was less, so was his fine less, and himself as I hear, was contented to have it paid for him, whereupon he was released. 14 The imprisonment of either of them was no detriment. I believe they fared neither of them better at home, and, I am sure, Holmes had not been so well clad for many years hefore. “But be pleased to consider this point a little further, You think, to compel men in matter of worship is to make them sin. If the worship be lawful in itself, the magistrate compelling him to come to it, compelleth him not to sin, but the sin is in his will that needs to be compelled to a christian duty. If it do make men hypocrites, yet better be hypocrites than profane persons. Hypocrites give God part of his due, the outward man, but the profane person giveth God neither outward nor inward man. You know not, if you think we came into this wilderness to practice those courses here which we fled from in England. We believe there is a vast difference between men’s inventions and God’s institutions; we fled from men’s inventions, to which we else should have been compelled; we compel none to men’s inventions. If our ways (rigid ways as you call them) have laid us low in the hearts of God’s people, yea, and of the saints, (as you style them) we do not believe it is any part of their saint-ship. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth, we have tolerated in our churches some Anabaptists, some Antinomians, and some Seekers, and do so still at this day. We are far from arrogating infallibility of judgment to ourselves or affecting uniformity; uniformity God never required, infallibility he never granted us.
Such was Mr. Cotton’s logic in support of persecution, and Mr. Ivimey well observes, “that we have happily arrived at a period when arguments are not necessary to prove the absurdity of his reasoning;” and he also observes, “that the severities were not so much the result of the disposition of these New England persecutors, as of the principles which they had adopted.”
What on earth can be more shocking to any being, who has human feelings, than to see a humble and devout christian, who renders to Caesar what is his due, merely for not believing some things which his brethren believe, arrested in his peaceful and pious course sentenced to be tied to a public whipping post like a malefactor, and there to have his body barbarously scourged, to chastise and cure the conscientious scruples of his mind; and all this by his countrymen, his neighbours; yea, by his fellow christians, who profess to worship the same God, and trust for salvation in the same Redeemer! Who can contemplate such a scene of barbarity without being sickened at the sight, and retiring from it with disgust and horror! To say nothing of hanging, burning, and torturing to death, with all the murderous engines, which hellish ingenuity can invent, the circumstance merely of one christian beating another thirty strokes with a three-corded whip, for conscience’s sake, is a scene on which heaven must frown, the earth on which it is perpetrated must groan, and candid devils (if such there are) must be astonished and confounded at the folly and absurdity of men.
In the period now under review, I find but one more event, of any considerable importance as it respects the Baptists or their sentiments, and that was the case of President Dunstar. This learned gentleman was the first President of Cambridge College or Harvard University. He was a native of England, but when and where he was born I do not find; he became the President of this then infant institution in 1640, in which office he continued with much reputation and success about thirteen years. By the united testimonies of Johnson, Hubbard, and Prince, he was a man of profound erudition, and “an orthodox preacher of the truths of Christ.”
This eminent man, in 1653, was brought so far on to the Baptist ground, that he not only forbore to present an infant of his own unto baptism, but also thought himself under some obligations to bear his testimony in some sermons, against the administration of baptism to any infant whatever.”
For this defection he was immediately opposed with violence, and soon after removed from the town, and settled at Scituate in Plymouth Colony, where he spent the remainder of his days. What progress President Dunstar made in his pursuit of Baptist principles I do not find, but it does not appear that he ever openly espoused the Baptist cause. Captain Cudworth, writing to Mr. John Brown of Rehoboth, then in England, in 1658, says, “Through mercy we have yet among us worthy Mr. Dunstar, whom the Lord hath made boldly to bear testimony against the spirit of persecution.” Morton says that he fell asleep in the Lord, in 1659.
It is said by Mr. Backus, that President Dunstar was led to inquire into the Baptist sentiments, by the persecutions against Messrs. Holmes, Clark, and Crandal, and that his preaching against infant baptism set Thomas Gould to examining the subject; and his examination issued in the founding of the first Baptist church in Boston. While this learned advocate for apostolical baptism was yet in Cambridge, Mr. Jonathan Mitchel, the minister of the place, went to converse with him on the subject. “When I came from him, (says he) I had a strange experience; I found hurrying and pressing suggestions against Pedobaptism, and injected scruples and thoughts, whether, the other way might not be right, and infant baptism an invention of men; and whether I might, with a good conscience, baptize children, and the like.” But all these “unreasonable suggestions,” he ascribed to the devil, and resolved with Mr. Hooker, that “he would have an argument able to remove a mountain before he would recede from, or appear against a truth or practice received among the faithfill!” What an expeditious way of silencing one’s doubts and convictions! How many have reason to believe, in order to avoid going over to the despised Baptists, have entrenched themselves with barriers equally irrational and strong! “But sure I am,” says Mr. Backus, “that if any Baptist minister had told such a story, and made such an absurd resolution, our adversaries would then have such grounds to charge us with willfulness and obstinacy as they never yet had.” From these brief sketches of the early Baptists in this commonwealth, we shall proceed to a more systematical narration of their subsequent affairs, and give some detailed accounts of the churches and Associations, which have arisen within its bounds.
It is highly probable, that the late severities exercised towards our brethren in this jurisdiction, set many to examining into their principles, and we may also suppose, that those Baptists, who had hitherto traveled in communion with the Pedobaptist churches, some of whom were accused of the profane trick of turning their backs, when infants were sprinkled, were now constrained to come out and separate themselves from a church, whose tenets were bloody, and which had now begun its persecuting career. These events I state as probabilities, not being in possession of authentic details. But certain it is that the Baptists now began to be more numerous; they were also encouraged to take a bolder stand against the encroachments of their adversaries, their terrible legislative threatenings, and their merciless scourgings notwithstanding.
In 1666, a church was founded in Swansea, and two years after the church was begun, which afterwards took the name of the first in Boston. In 1685, a church was begun in Dartmouth, about seventy miles southwesterly from Boston. But so slow was the progress of the Baptists in this government, that in a hundred years from the organization of the church in Swansea, they had planted but eighteen churches, which had acquired a permanent standing. Some few besides had arisen during the century which had lost their visibility before its close. Many were the oppressions and privations, which our brethren suffered in this boasted asylum of liberty, until the American War. That calamitous scene, so distressing to the country otherwise, was nevertheless peculiarly auspicious to the cause of religious liberty in this commonwealth, as well as in other colonies, where religious establishments were domineering with tyrannic sway.
Although the war shook very sensibly the system of religious oppression, it was not the cause of its demolition here as it was the case in Virginia.
Many of its bands were indeed broken, yet some by the vigilance of a watchful priesthood were preserved entire. In the unsettled state of affairs, which succeeded the war, the Baptists with Mr. Backus at their head preferred a petition to the Legislature, praying “that ministers should in future be supported by Christ’s authority, and not at all by assessment and secular force.” And had statesmen been let alone in their discussions, it is highly probable that this petition would have been regarded; but the clergy, poor men, were afraid to be left on this precarious ground; they therefore put forth their cries; legislators heard them, pitied their dangerous condition, and disgraced their State Constitution with an article to regulate religious worship, and so on.
But notwithstanding the failure of this righteous request, our brethren, under the new government, found their circumstances materially improved.
The predominant party, it is true, still had the power of oppressing them in certain cases, but it was used less frequently than formerly; many became convinced of the truth of Bapfist sentiments, and embraced their communion, and many others, who went not so far, were constrained to let them alone. Many new churches soon arose in different parts of the State, so that by the year 1784, their whole number amounted to sixtyfour.
Twenty more were added to this number during the ten succeeding years. And the number of churches, as well as communicants, have been increasing in about the same proportion, from the last mentioned period to the present time. Their number will be exhibited in the General Table.
In this commonwealth are a part of the Warren Association, all the Boston except one or two small churches, part of those named Sturbridge, Leyden, Westfield, and Shaftsbury. Four of these six associations, namely the Boston, Sturbridge, Leyden, and Westfield, are considered as having their seat in Massachusetts, and those of Warren and Shaftsbury have always had a large portion of their members and influence in this State.
I have thought proper in farther prosecuting the history of this State, to consider it under two divisions; and the line, which we shall fix upon, will be drawn from about the northeast corner of the State of Rhode Island, and extend northerly to the State of New Hampshire. That portion of the State which lies east of this line, I shall consider the first division, and that which lies west of it the second.
FIRST DIVISION THIS division comprehends the oldest settlements as well as the oldest churches in the state, and in it are situated the Warren and Boston Associations. It embraces the counties of Essex, Middlesex, a part of Worcester, the whole of Suffolk, Norfolk, Bristol, Plymouth, Barnstable, Dukes, and Nantucket. It is bounded east and south by the Atlantic ocean.
In this division we find a number of churches distinguished for age and sufferings, and those now called the first in Swansea and Boston, stand the foremost on the list; their history will of necessity occupy more room than that of the rest. They are dated, the first in 1663, and the other in 1665; but both of them were in reality begun a number of years before.
Although the Swansea church is the oldest, yet as we shall regard the local and relative situation of the churches about to be described, we shall begin with the one in Boston, and then take notice of the other churches in the northern part of this division, before we come to Swansea and those in the southern.
First Church in Boston. The date of this church has already been given; it existed a few years in Charlestown, 16 where it was founded, and then its seat was removed to Noddle’s Island, a little out in the Massachusetts Bay, where it remained some time before it was established in the town from which it received its name.
We have given a general account of the Baptists in this government up to about the time of the founding of this body, which originated as follows:
Mr. Hubbard, one of the Massachusetts historians, observes, that “while some were studying how baptism might be enlarged and extended to the seed of the faithful in their several generations, there were others as studious to deprive all unadult children thereof, and restrain the privilege only to adult believers.” “Infant baptism,” says Dr. Mather, “hath been scrupled by multitudes in our day, who have been, in other points, most worthy christians, and as holy, watchful, fruitful, and heavenly people, as perhaps any in the world.” Some few of these people, he says, were among the first settlers in New England. Some of their names have been mentioned, and many things make it probable that there were many more who never happened to fall under the lash of the law, and whose names for that reason do not appear on the page of history; for the Baptists at this time had no one to tell their story, and we never get a view of them, except at the tribunals of their adversaries, in their prisons, or at their whipping posts.
After being long harassed in courts and churches, a few of our brethren, despairing of better times, and being prepared for the worst, took the bold step of embodying themselves into a church of the Baptist order. The constituents were nine in number; their names were Thomas Gould, Thomas Osburn, Edward Drinker, John George, Richard Goodall, William Turner, Robert Lambert, Mary Goodall, and Mary Newell. Gould and Osburn were members of the Pedobaptist church in Charlestown. Goodall was a member of a Baptist church in London, of which Mr. Kiffin was pastor. His wife was probably a member of the same church. Turner and Lambert were members of a church in Dartmouth, England, whose pastor was a Mr. Stead. Of the others we have not so particular information.
Turner accepted a captain’s commission in king Philip’s war, and lost his life in the defense of a colony, in which he was most cruelly oppressed.
The founding of this church was considered by the Massachusetts people, as a most heinous and heaven-daring offense, and many of the members of it spent most of their time in courts and prisons; they were often fined, and some of them were banished, or at least were ordered to depart out of the jurisdiction, or desist from the error of their way; neither of which however would they do; they were of course denounced obstinate heretics, and suffered accordingly. “It would take a volume,” says Morgan Edwards, “to contain an account of all their sufferings for ten or twelve years.”
The ostensible reason, which their enemies urged for distressing them, was, that they had formed a church without the approbation of their ministers and rulers. “This principle,” says Mr. Neal, “condemns all the dissenting congregations, which have been formed in England since the act of uniformity in the year 1662.” The fact was they were determined that no churches should be formed only upon their own plan, Our brethren well knew that no such permission would be granted, and, besides, they could not in principle solicit the favor. And finding by experience that the churches, established by law, would not suffer them to live quietly in their communion, nor peaceably separate from it, they resolved to set up a standard of their own, and united in a solemn covenant in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, to walk in fellowship and communion toother, in the practice of all the holy appointments of Christ, which he had, or should further make known to them.” “The king’s commissioners being here,” says Mr. Backus, “caused the court not to lay hold of these people so soon as otherwise they might have done. But in August a note was entered in Roxbury church records, and published in an Almanac, which has been communicated to me in these words: “The Anabaptists gathered themselves into a church, prophesied one by one, and some one among them administered the Lord’s supper after he was regularly excommunicated by the church at Charlestown; they also set up a lecture at Drinker’s house, once a fortnight.”
Thomas Gould was the founder of this church, and for many years had the principal share of the sufferings it underwent. The manner in which he came to embrace the Baptist sentiments, and the treatment of the church in Charlestown towards him are thus related by himself: “It having been a long time a scruple to me about infant baptism, God was pleased at last to make it clear to me by the rule of the gospel, that children were not capable nor fit subjects for such an ordinance, because Christ gave this commission to his apostles, first to preach to make them disciples, and then to baptize them, which infants were not capable of; so that I durst not bring forth my child to be partaker of it; so looking that my child had no right to it, which was in the year 1655, when the Lord was pleased to give me a child; I stayed some space of time and said nothing, to see what the church would do with me. On a third day of the week when there was a meeting at my house, to keep a day of thanksgiving to God, for his mercy shown to my wife, at that time one coming to the meeting brought a note from the elders of the church to this effect, that they desired me to come down on the morrow to the elder’s house, and to send word again what time of that day I would come, and they would stay at home for me; and if I could not come that day, to send them word. I looking on the writing with many friends with me, I told them I had promised to go another way on the morrow. Master Dunstar (probably President Dunstar) being present, desired me to send them word that I could not come on the morrow, but that I would come any other time that they would appoint me; and so I sent word back by the same messenger. The fifth day, meeting with elder Green, I told him how it was, he told me it was well, and that they would appoint another day when he had spoken with the pastor, and then they would send me word. This lay about two months before l heard any more from them. On a first day in the afternoon one told me I must stop, for the church would speak with me. They called me out, and Master Sims told the church, that this brother did withhold his child from baptism, and that they had sent unto him to come down on such a day to speak with them, and if he could not come on that day, to set a day when he would be at home; but he refusing to come, would appoint no time, when we wrote to him to take his own time, and send us word. I replied that there was no such word in the letter, for me to appoint the day; but what time of that day I should come. Mr. Sims stood up and told me, I did lie, for they sent to me to appoint the day. I replied again that there was no such thing in the letter. He replied again, that they did not set down a time, and not a day, therefore he told me it was a lie, and that they would leave my judgment, and deal with me for a lie and told the church, that he and the elder agreed to write, that if I could not come that day, to appoint the time when I could come, and that he read it after the elder wrote it, and the elder affirmed it was so; but I still replied there was no such thing in the letter, and thought I could produce the letter. They bid me let them see the letter, or they would proceed against me for a lie. Brother Thomas Wilder, sitting before me, stood up and told them, that it was so in the letter as I said, for he read it when it came to me. But they answered, it was not so, and bid him produce the letter, or they would proceed with me; he said I think I can produce the letter, and forthwith took it out of his pocket, which I wondered at; and I desired him to give it to Mr. Russel to read, and so he did, and he read it very faithfully, and it was just as I had said, that I must send them word what time of that day I would come down; so that their mouths were stopped, and master Sims put it off and said he was mistaken, for he thought he had read it otherwise; but the elder said, it is nothing, let us proceed with him for his judgment. Now let any man judge what a fair beginning this was, and if you wait awhile you may see as fair an ending. They called me forth to know why I would not bring my child to baptism? My answer was, I did not see any rule of Christ for it, for that ordinance belongs to such as can make profession of their faith, as the Scripture doth plainly hold forth. They answered me, that was meant of grown persons and not of children. But that which was most alleged by them was, that children were capable of circumcision in the time of the law, and therefore as capable in the time of the gospel of baptism; and asked me, why children were not to be baptized in the time of the gospel, as well as children were circumcised in the time of the law? My answer was, God gave a strict command in the law for the circumcision of children; but we have no command in the gospel, nor example, for the baptizing of children. Many other things were spoken, then a meeting was appointed by the church the next week at Mr. Russell’s. “Being met at Mr. Russell’s house, Mr. Sims took a writing out of his pocket, wherein he had drawn up many arguments for infant baptism, and told the church that I must answer those arguments, which I suppose he had drawn from some author, and told me I must keep to those arguments. My answer was, I thought the church had met together to answer my scruples, and to satisfy my conscience by a rule of God, and not for me to answer his writing.
He said he had drawn it up for the help of his memory, and desired we might go on. Then I requested three things of them. First. That they should not make me offender for a word. Second. They should not drive me faster than I was able to go. Third. That if any present should see cause to clear up anything that is spoken by me, they might have their liberty without offense; because here are many of you that have their liberty to speak against me if you see cause. But it was denied, and Mr. Sims was pleased to reply, that he was able to deal with me himself, and that I knew it. So we spent four or five hours speaking to many things to and again, but so hot both sides, that we quickly forgot and went from the arguments that were written. At last one of the company stood up and said, I will give you one plain place of Scripture where children were baptized. I told him that would put an end to the controversy. That place is in the second of the Acts, 39th and 40th verses. After he had read the Scripture, Master Sims told me that promise belonged to infants, for the Scripture saith, The promise is to you and your children, and to all that are afar off; and he said no more; to which I replied, Even so many as the Lord our God shall call. Mr. Sims replied that I spoke blasphemously in adding to the Scriptures. I said, pray do not condemn me, for if I am deceived, my eyes deceive me. He replied again, I added to the scripture, which was blasphemy. I looking into my Bible, read the words again, and said it was so. He replied the same words a third time before the church. Mr. Russell stood up and told him it was so as I had read it. Ay, it may be so in your Bible, saith Mr. Sims. Mr. Russell answered, yea, in yours too if you will look into it. Then he said he was mistaken, for he thought on another place; so after many other words we broke up for that time. “At another meeting, the church required me to bring out my child to baptism. I told them I durst not do it, for I did not see any rule for it in the word of God. They brought many places of Scripture in the Old and New Testament, as circumcision and the promise to Abraham, and that children were holy, and they were disciples.
But I told them that all these places made nothing for infant baptism. Then stood up W. D. in the church and said, “Put him in the court! Put him in the court!” But Mr. Sims said, “I pray forbear such words.” But it proved so, for presently after they put me in the court, and put me in seven or eight courts, whilst they looked upon me to be a member of their church. The elder pressed the church to lay me under admonition, which the church was backward to do. Afterwards I went out at the sprinkling of children, which was a great trouble to some honest hearts, and they told me of it. But I told them I could not stay, for I looked upon it as no ordinance of Christ. They told me that now I had made known my judgment, I might stay, for they knew I did not join with them. So I stayed and sat down in my seat when they were at prayer and administering that service to infants. Then they dealt with me for my irreverent carriage. One stood up and accused me, that I stopped my ears; but I denied it. “At another meeting they asked me if I would suffer the church to fetch my child and baptize it? I answered, if they would fetch my child and do it as their own act, they might do it; but when they should bring my child, I would make known to the congregation that I had no hand in it; then some of the church were against doing of it. A brother stood up and said, “Brother Gould, you were once for children’s baptism, why are you fallen from it?” I answered, “It is true, and I suppose you were once for crossing in baptism, why are you fallen from that?” The man was silent, but Mr. Sims stood up in a great heat, and desired the church to take notice of it, that I compared the ordinance of Christ to the cross in baptism; this was one of the great offenses they dealt with me for. After this, the deputy-governor, Mr. Bellingham, meeting me in Boston, called me to him and said, “Goodman Gould, I desire you that you would let the church baptize your child.” I told him that “if the church would do it upon their own account, they should do it, but I durst not bring out my child.” So he called to Mrs. Norton of Charlestown, and prayed her to fetch Goodman Gould’s child and baptize it. So she spake to them, but not rightly informing them, she gave them to understand I would bring out my child. They called me out again, and asked me if I would bring forth my child? I told them “No, I durst not do it, for I see no rule for it,” In much the same manner the church proceeded with their obnoxious brother, until Master Sims, who was not only a petulant but an ignorant priest, put on him the second admonition. “This,” says he, ‘continued a long time before they called me out again. In the mean time, I had some friends, who came to me out of old England, who were Baptists, and desired to meet at my house on a first day, which I granted; of these was myself, my wife, and Thomas Osbourne, that were of their church.
Afterward they called me forth, and asked why I kept the meeting in private on the Lord’s day, and did not come to the public? My answer was, “I know not what reason the church had to call me forth.” They asked me if I was not a member of that church? I told them they had not acted toward me as a member, who had put me by the ordinances of Christ seven years ago; they had denied me the privileges of a member. They asked whether I looked upon admonition as an appointment of Christ? I told them “yes but not to lie under it above seven years, and to be put by the ordinances of Christ in the church; for the rule of Christ is first to deal with men in the first and second place, and then in the third place before the church; but the first time that ever they dealt with me, they called me before the whole church.” Many meetings we had about this thing, whether I was a member or not, but could come to no conclusion; for I still affirmed that their actings rendered me no member. Then Mr. Sims told the church that I was ripe for excommunication, and was very earnest for it; but the church would not consent.”
It was not till some time after this, that they “delivered him up to Satan for not hearing the church.”
This account was found by Mr. Backus among Mr. Callender’s papers. It gives the reader a view of the spirit of the times, and also of the deliberate manner in which Mr. Gould proceeded amidst a constant scene of irritation and abuse. It appears from a number of expressions in different parts of the narrative, which have not been extracted, that he would have preferred remaining with his Pedobaptist brethren, if they would have permitted him to enjoy his Baptist principles in peace; but because he could not in conscience bring out his babe to be christened, they drove him on to a separation, which he did not meditate at first. The names of the first members of the Baptist church which he founded, have already been mentioned. The sufferings which they endured for a number of years are related by Mr. Backus in a more extensive manner than we can do it here.
But it is sufficient to say, that they were many and grievous, and were similar to those to which the Baptists of that day were everywhere exposed, where the defense of the church was entrusted with the civil power. This little Anabaptist church consisting of only nine members, a part of whom were females, and the rest itinerate mechanics, made full employ for the rulers of Massachusetts a number of years, The innocent people, who gave them so much trouble, were accused of no other crime than that of forming a church without their permission, and of meeting in their own houses to worship their Maker according to the dictates of their consciences. And for these heinous offenses, they were incessantly stunned with the harangues of the priests and lawyers, and distressed and ruined by courts, legislatures, forfeitures, and prisons.
The New England persecutors we would charitably believe, were actuated more by their principles than dispositions. They certainly conducted the business in a bungling and ridiculous manner, and at times manifested some misgivings for their injustice and absurdity.
After Mr. Gould and his companions had been condemned as heretics and law-breakers, fined and imprisoned for non-conformity, they were challenged to a public dispute upon their peculiar sentiments, that it might be determined whether they were erroneous or not! The six following divines, namely Messrs. John Allen, Thomas Cobbet, John Higginson, Samuel Danforth, Jonathan Mitchell, and Thomas Shepard were nominated to manage the dispute on the Pedobaptist side, which was appointed to be April 14, 1668, in the meeting house in Boston, at o’clock in the morning. But lest these six learned clergymen should not be a match for a few illiterate Baptists, the Governor and magistrates were requested to meet with them. The news of this dispute soon spread abroad, and Mr. Clark’s church in Newport sent William Hiscox, Joseph Tory, and Samuel Hubbard, to assist their brethren in Boston in it, who arrived there three days before it was to come on. No particular account of this dispute has been preserved. Mr. Backus has made an extract of considerable length from a paper supposed to have been written by Mr. Gould’s wife, in which some things respecting it are mentioned, and by which it appears that the Baptists instead of having full liberty to vindicate their sentiments, were called together only to be tantalized and abused. “When the disputants were met, there was a long speech made by one of them of what vile persons the Baptism were, and how they acted against the churches and government here, and stood condemned by the court. The others desiring liberty, to speak, they would not suffer them, but told them they stood there as delinquents, and ought not to have liberty to speak. Then they desired they might choose a moderator as well as they; but they denied them. Two days were spent to little purpose. In the close, Master Jonathan Mitchell pronounced that dreadful sentence against them in Deuteronomy, 17th chapter, from the 8th to the end of the 12th verse.” The passage is as follows:
If there arise a matter too hard. for thee in judgment, between blood and blood, between plea and plea, and between stroke and stroke, being matters of controversy, within thy gates; then shall thou arise, and get thee up into the place, which the Lord thy God shall choose: And thou shalt come unto the priests, the Levites, and unto the judge that shall be in those days, and inquire; and they shall show thee the sentence of judgment. And thou shalt do according to the sentence which they of that place, which the Lord shall choose, shall show thee; and thou shalt observe to do according to all that they inform thee: According to the sentence of the law, which they shall teach thee, and according to the judgment which they shall tell thee, thou shalt do: thou shalt not decline from the sentence which they shall show thee, to the right hand nor to the left. And the man, that will do presumptuously, and will not hearken unto the priest, that standeth to minister there before the Lord thy God, or unto the judge, even that man shall die: and thou shalt put away the evil from Israel. (Deuteronomy 17:8-12.)
This was the same Mitchell, who was afraid to converse with President Dunstar, lest his mind should be shaken upon infant baptism; who found such satanical scruples against it, that he had much ado to write his sermons for Sunday; and who, in the end, resolved that he would have an argument able to remove a mountain, before he would give it up.
So far as we can gain information of the management of this dispute, on the part of the Pedobaptists, it exceeded in cowardly and contemptible tyranny, any thing of the kind we read of in England. 18 We will excuse in part the men, and lay the most of the blame at the door of their popish, ever hurtful principles of confounding together the Jewish and Christian dispensations, of placing Aaron and Moses in the same chair, and of committing the defense of the church to the civil power.
This curious disputation was in April. The May following the Assembly enacted, that “Whereas the council in March last did for the further conviction, etc. appoint a meeting of divers elders, and required the said persons to attend the said meeting, which was held in Boston with a great concourse of people. This court, being sensible of their duty to God and the country, and being desirous that their proceedings in this great cause might be clear and regular, do order that the said Gould and company be required to appear before this court, on the seventh instant, at eight in the morning, that the court may understand from themselves, whether upon the means used, or other considerations, they have altered their former declared resolution, and are willing to desist from their former offensive practice, that accordingly a mete effectual remedy may be applied to so dangerous a malady. At the time they made their appearance, and after the court had heard what they had to say for themselves, proceeded. Whereas, Thomas Gould, William Turner, and John Farnum, sen. obstinate and turbulent Anabaptists, have sometime since combined themselves with others in a pretended church estate, without the knowledge and approbation of the authority here established, to the great grief and offense of the godly orthodox; the said persons did, in open court, assert their former practice to have been according to the mind of God, that nothing that they had heard convinced them to the contrary; which practice, being also otherwise circumstanced with making infant baptism a nullity, and thereby making us all to be unbaptized persons, and so consequently no regular churches, ministry, or ordinances; as also renouncing all our churches, as being so bad and corrupt, as they are not fit to be held communion with; denying to submit to the government of Christ in the church, and entertaining of those who are under church censure, thereby making the discipline of Christ to be of none effect, and manifestly tending to the disturbance and destruction of these churches; opening the door for all sorts of abominations to come in among us, to the disturbance not only of ecclesiastical enjoyments, but also contempt of our civil order, and the authority here established; which duty to God and the country doth oblige us to prevent, by using the most compassionate effectual means to attain the same; all which considering, together with the danger of disseminating their errors, and encouraging presumptuous irregularities by their examples, should they continue in this jurisdiction; this court do judge it necessary that they be removed to some other part of this country, or elsewhere, and accordingly doth order, that the said Thomas Gould, William Turner, and John Farnum, sen. do before the twentieth of July next remove themselves out of this jurisdiction; and that if after the said 20th of July, either of them be found in any part of this jurisdiction, without license had from this court or the council, he or they shall be forthwith apprehended and committed to prison by warrant from any magistrate, and there remain without bail or mainprise, until he or they shall give sufficient security to the Governor or any magistrate, immediately to depart the jurisdiction, and not to return as above raid. And all constables and other officers are required to be faithful and deligent in the execution of this sentence. And it is further ordered, that the keepers of all prisons, whereto the said Thomas, or any of them shall be committed, shall not permit any resort of companies of more than two at one time to any of the said persons. And our experience of their high obstinate and presumptuous carriage, doth engage us to prohibit them any further meeting together, on the Lord’s day or other days, upon pretense of their church estate, or for the administration or exercise of any pretended ecclesiastical functions or dispensation of the seals or preaching; wherein, if they shall be taken offending, they shall be imprisoned until the tenth of July next, and then left at their liberty within ten days to depart the jurisdiction upon penalty as aforesaid. And whereas Thomas Gould is committed to prison in the county of Middlesex, by the last court of assistants, for non-payment of a fine imposed, this court judgeth it meet, after the sentence of this court is published, this day after the lecture to them, that the said Gould shall be discharged from imprisonment in Middlesex as to his fine, that so he may have time to prepare to submit to the judgment of this court.”
It is truly difficult to preserve one’s patience while reviewing these tyrannical proceedings. We would gladly draw a veil over the hults of the fathers of Massachusetts; but what is history, but a relation of facts, whether pleasant or painfill? The injuries sustained by Thomas Gould and his associates excited the compassion of many, who did not think with them, both in Europe and America. While they were suffering in prison because they would not go into exile, a petition was presented to the court in their favor, signed by sixty-six persons, among whom are said to have been Captain Hutchinson, Captain Oliver, and others of note in the country. But the court was under the influence of the clergy; and so far were they,” says Backus, from listening to the petition, that the chief promoters of it were fined, and the others were compelled to make all acknowledgment for reflecting on their honours.” About this time, the following letter was sent from England, which exhibits a very correct view of the inquity of these measures. “My Dear Brother, The ardent affection and great honors that I have for New England transport me, and I hope your churches shall ever be to me as the gates of heaven. I have ever been warmed with the apprehension of the grace of God towards me in carrying me thither. I have always thought that of the congregational, churches, of New England in our days. But now it is otherwise, with joy as to ourselves, and grief as to you, be it spoken. Now the greater my love is to New England the more am I grieved at their failings. It is frequently said here, that they are swerved aside towards Presbytery; if so, the. Lord restore them all. But another sad thing, that much affects us is, to hear that you, even in New England, persecute your brethren; men sound in the faith; of holy lite; agreeing in worship and discipline with you; only differing in the point of baptism. Dear brother, we here do love and honor them, hold familiarity with them, and take sweet counsel together; they lie in the bosom of Christ, and therefore they ought to be laid in our bosoms. In a word, we freely admit them into churches; few of our churches, but many of our members are Anabaptists; I mean baptized again. This is love in England; this is moderation; this is a right New Testament spirit.
But do you now (as is above said) bear with, yea, more than bear with the Presbyterians? yea, and that the worst sort of them, namely those who are the corruptest, rigidest, whose principles tend to corrupt the churches; turning the world into the church, and the church into the world; and which doth no less than bring a people under mere slavery? It is an iron yoke, which neither we nor our congregational brethren in Scotland were ever able to bear. I have heard them utter these words in the pulpit, that it is no wrong to make the independents sell all they have, and depart the land: and many more things I might mention of that kind; but this I hint only, to show what cause there is to withstand that wicked tyranny which was once set up in poor miserable Scotland, which I verily believe was a great wrong and injury to the reformation. The generality of them here, even to this day, will not freely consent to our enjoyment of our liberty; though through mercy, the best and most reformed of them do otherwise. How much more, therefore, would it concern dear New England, to turn the edge against those, who, if not prevented, will certainly corrupt and enslave, not only their own, but also their churches? Whereas Anabaptists are neither spirited nor principled to injure nor hurt your government nor your liberties; but rather these be a means to preserve your churches from apostasy, and provoke them to their primitive purity, as they were in the first planting, in admission of members to receive none into your churches but visible saints, and in restoring the entire jurisdiction of every congregation complete and undisturbed. We are hearty and full for our Presbyterian brethren enjoying equal liberty with ourselves. Oh, that they had the same spirit towards us! But, oh, how it grieves and affects us, that New England should persecute! Will you not give what you take? Is liberty of conscience your due? and is it not as due unto others that are sound in the faith? Read the preface to the declaration of the faith and order, owned and practiced in the Congregational churches in England. Amongst many other scriptures, that in the 14th of Romans much confirms me in liberty of conscience thus stated; to him that esteems any thing unclean, to him it is unclean.
Therefore, though we approve of the baptism of the immediate children of church members, and of their admission into the church when they evidence a real work of grace; yet to those that in conscience believe the said baptism to be unclean, to him it is unclean. Both that and mere ruling elders, though we approve of them, yet our grounds are mere interpretations of, and not any express scripture. I cannot say so clearly of anything else in our religion, neither as to faith or practice. Now must we force our interpretation upon others pope-like! In verse 5th of that chapter, the Spirit of God saith, let everyone be fully persuaded in his own mind; therefore this being the express will of God, who shall make a contrary law, and say, persuaded or not persuaded, you shall do as we say, and as we do! And verse 2nd, what is not of faith is sin; therefore there must be a word for what we do, and we must see and believe it, or else we sin if we do not. And Deuteronomy and last, as we must not add, nor may we diminish. What is commanded we must do. Also 8th of Matthew. And what principles is persecution grounded upon? Domination and infallibility. This we teach is the truth. But are we infallible, and have we the government? God made none, no not the apostles, who could not err, to be lords over faith; therefore, what monstrous pride is this! At this rate, any persuasion getting uppermost may command, and persecute them that obey them not; all non-conformists must be ill-used. Oh wicked and monstrous principle! Whate’er you can plead for yourselves against those that persecute you, those whom ye persecute may plead for themselves, against you. Whatever they can say against the poor men, your enemies say against you. And what is that horrid principle crept into precious New England; who have felt what persecution is, and have always pleaded for liberty of conscience!
Have not those run equal hazards with you for the enjoyment of their liberties; and how do you cast a reproach upon us, that are congregational in England, and furnish our adversaries with weapons against us? We blush and are filled with shame and confusion of face, when we hear of these things. Dear brother, we pray that God would open your eyes and persuade the hearts of your magistrates, that they may no more smite their fellowservants, nor thus greatly injure us their brethren; and that they may not thus injure the name of God, and cause his people to be reproached, nor the holy way of God (the congregational way) to be evil spoken of. My dear brother, pardon my plainness and freedom, for the zeal of God’s house constrains me. What cause have we to bless God who gives us to find favor in the eyes of his Majesty? and to pray God to continue him, and to requite it graciously to him in spiritual blessings. Well, strive I beseech you with God by prayers, and use all lawful ways and means even to your greatest hazard, that those poor men may be set free. For be assured, that this liberty of conscience, as we state it, is the cause of God; and hereby you may be a means to divert the judgments of God from falling upon dear New England, for our Father in faithfulness will afflict us if we repent not. Doth not the very gospel say, what measure we mete to others, shall be measured to us? God is not unrighteous. What is more provoking to him than the persecuting of his saints! Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm; did he not reprove kings for their sake? Those who have the unction the apostle John speaks of, and the spirit and gift of prophecies. With what marvellous strength did holy Mr. Burroughs urge that place against persecution? Persecution is bad in wicked men, but it is most abominable in good men, who have suffered and pleaded for liberty of conscience themselves.
Discountenante men that certainly err, but persecute them not. I mean gross errors. Well, we are travelling to our place of rest. With joy we look for new heavens and new earth. We shall ere long be in the fulness of bliss, holy, harmless in the bosom of Christ. Let us pray the earth may be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, that they may not hurt nor destroy in all his holy mountain. The Lord grant we may by the next hear better things of the government of New England. My most hearty love to your brother and to all the brethren. My respects and service to my dear cousin Leveret and to Mr. Francis Willoughby. The Lord make them instrumental for his glory, in helping to reform things among you. I shall be glad to hear from you. I remember our good old sweet communion together. My dear brother, once again pardon me, for I am affected!
I speak for God, to whose grace I commit you all in New England, humbly craving your prayers for us here, and remain, Your affectionate brother, ROBERT MASCALL.
Finsbury, near Morefield, the 25th of March , 1669.”
Another letter of a similar import was about this time addressed to the Governor, signed by twelve dissenting ministers in London, among whom were the learned Dr. Goodwin, Dr. Owen, Mr. Nye, and Mr. Caryl.
But all remonstrances were without effect, and Mr. Backus concludes from the best information he could gain, that these turbulent Anabaptists were imprisoned more than a year after the sentence of banishment was pronounced against them. After Mr. Gould was released, he went to live on Noddle’s Island in Boston harbour, where the church assembled for some years. At what time it was removed to Boston, is not certain; but it was not till after the year 1672.
The next members, who were added to it after its constitution were Isaac Hull, John Yarnurn, Jacob Barney, John Russell, jr. John Johnson, George Farlow, Benjamin Sweetser, and Ellis Callender, all before 1669. After them were added Joshua Turner, Thomas Foster, John Russell, senior, William Hamlit, James Loudon, Thomas Skinner, John Williams, Philip Squire, Mary Gould, Susanna Jackson, Mary Greenleaf, etc.
Mr. Gould died in 1675. I can learn nothing more of his history than what has been related in the preceding sketches. It is much to be regretted that a more particular account of him has not been preserved; his name ought to be recorded on the tallest page of the history of the New England Baptists; and when the reader considers that the church, which he founded, included the whole of the Baptist interest in the colony of Massachusetts, for about seventy years, he will not think it improper to give this lengthy and particular account of its origin.
Mr. Gould was succeeded in the pastoral office by Isaac Hull. How long he continued among them, their records do not show.
John Russell was his successor, and it seems probable that both of these ministers preached in the church at the same time. They were companions in sufferings, having both been fined and imprisoned for nonconformity.
Of Mr. Hull, we have scarce any account. Of Mr. Russell, the following sketches have been preserved. He was ordained in 1679, but died the next year. Previous to his death he wrote a narrative of the sufferings of this little flock, which was sent over to London, and printed in 1680, with a preface to it by Messrs. William Kiffin, Daniel Dyke, William Collins, Hansard Knollys, John Harris, and Nehemiah Cox. These eminent Baptist ministers made some very severe but judicious reflections on the unaccountable conduct of the New England fathers. It seems strange, said they, that christians in New England should pursue the very same persecuting measures, which they fled from Old England to avoid! This argument they knew not how to withstand, and their reasonings against it were altogether frivolous and contemptible. Protestants, said they, ought not to persecute Protestants, yet that Protestants may punish Protestants cannot be denied! Because Mr. Russell was by occupation a shoe-maker, many low, abusive reflections were made upon him, even after he was dead. One of the Boston divines published an answer to his narrative with a Latin title, the English of which was, Cobler keep to your Last. Dr.
Mather published a piece in which he accused the Baptists of the sin of Jeroboam, in making priests of the lowest order of the people, etc. Mr. Willard said, “Truly if Goodman Russell was a fit man for a minister, we have but fooled ourselves in building colleges and in instructing children in learning.” Hubbard, who was generally more candid and fair than the rest, in speaking of the narrative, etc. observed, “One John Russell, a wedder drop’d shoe-maker, stitched up a pamphlet, wherein he endeavors to clear the innocency of those commonly (though falsely he says) called Anabaptists.” In this scurrilous manner was this honest and worthy minister treated by his impotent adversaries. But had he and his associates met with nothing more than the revilings of priests, their case would have been less deplorable, but to these were added forfeitures, stripes, and prisons.
Those three eminent ministers of Swansea, Job, Russell, and John Mason, were great-grand-children of this worthy but much despised man. From him also descended the Russells of Providence, Rhode Island; and Jonathan Russell, Esq. late Charge de Affairs in France and England, is one of his descendants.
In 1678, this church built them a house for worship, out of which, however, they were soon shut, and a long difficulty ensued upon the matter. They had been often reproached for meeting in private houses, “but since,” said they, “we have for our convenience, obtained a public house, on purpose for that use, we are become more offensive than before.” Their leaders were convented before the General Court, who not finding any old law to suit their purpose, made a new one, which forbid their assembling, and they furthermore enacted that their house, and all houses for worship, which were built without legal permission, together with the premises, appurtenances, etc. should be forfeited to the use of the county, and be disposed by the county-treasurer, by sale or demolishing, as the court that gave judgment in the case should order.
This affair went the whole round of courts and legislatures. The patient little flock submitted quietly to the orders of the sanctimonious court, and “waited to see what God would do for them.”
Not long after this, the king of England wrote to the Massachusetts rulers, “requiring that liberty of conscience should be allowed to all protestants, so as that they might not be discountenanced from sharing in the government, much less that no good subjects 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 the more to be wondered at, whereas liberty of conscience was made a principal motive for your transportation into those parts.” But this remonstrance from the throne was disregarded by the priest-led magistrates.
Deplorable indeed, says Mr. Backus, was the case of these brethren; but having information of the king’s letter in their favor, they again presumed to meet in their house, which they had done but a few times before they were again called before the canting, vexatious court to answer for their high offense of worshipping God contrary to law. But being emboldened by the royal mandate in their favor, they began to take a bolder stand against the unrighteous encroachments of their adversaries.
But the next thing we hear of, the doors were nailed up by the Marshall, and a paper put on them, which said, “All persons are to take notice, that by order of the court, the doors of this house are shut up, and that they are inhibited to hold any meeting, or to open the doors thereof without license from authority, til the General Court take further order, as they will answer the contrary at their peril.
Dated at Boston, 8th March, 1680, EDWARD RAWSON , Secretary” The church thought fit to regard this paper blockade, and accordingly the next Lord’s day assembled in their yard; and in the ensuing week erected a shed for their covering. But when they came together the second Lord’s day, they found their doors opened, and since then they have been left to the care of the sexton, and not constables and sheriffs. But the leaders of the church were convented before the Assembly, the May following, where they plead, First , That the house was their own. Second , That it was built when there was no law to forbid it, there, therefore, they were not transgressors. Third, That it was the express will and pleasure of the king, that they should enjoy their liberty. After some reviling speeches were cast upon them, they were publicly admonished by the Governor, pardoned for their past offenses, but prohibited from meeting in their house for the future without permission from the authority. But it does not appear that this prohibition was regarded either by the church or the rulers.
These scenes transpired during the lives of Elders Hull and Russell. They were the principal leaders of the church through all this perplexing affair, and for that reason we have thought proper to relate it in connection with their history.
Mr. Hull survived Mr. Russell nine years, and how much longer the records of the church do not show; but being aged and feeble and often incapable of ministerial work, they sent over to England, and obtained for their next pastor John Emblen, who arrived here in 1684, and continued in office untill 1699, when he died. Nothing farther can be learnt of his character, than that he was well esteemed.
After Mr. Emblen’s death, this church wrote again to England for another minister, but could not obtain one. They next applied to Mr. Sereyen, of Charleston, South Carolina, who had been one of their number; but he informed them that he could by no means be spared. “But if,” said he, “the Lord do not please to supply you, in the way you expected, your way will be to improve the gifts you have in the church. Brother Ellis Callender and Joseph Russell, I know have gifts that may tend to edification, etc.”
Pursuant to this advice, the church called Mr. Callender to the ministry shortly after, and in 1708, he was ordained their pastor, which office he sustained to the edification of his flock a number of years. He had been a member of the church thirty-nine years before he was ordained, and “continued in high esteem among them, till 1726,” when he must have been not far from eighty years of age.
His son, Elisha Callender, became his successor, and continued in the pastoral office, until his death, which happened in 1788. He appears to have been the first learned pastor of this flock, and was distinguished for a pious and successful ministry. He was educated at Cambridge, and was ordained in 1718, by the assistance of three Pedobaptist ministers, namely Dr. Increase Mather, Dr. Cotton Mather, and Mr. John Webb. This was a singular event in those days, and probably no great good came out of it in the end. Both parties must have strained a point in order to unite on such an important occasion. The sermon was preached by the younger Dr.
Mather, which was entitled, Good Men United. In it are some very respectful addresses to the Baptist church, and a number of very severe reflections on their persecutors. Happy, says Backus, is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth.
This temporary expression of catholicism promised more than was afterwards realized. The report of it in England, induced Thomas Hollis, Esq. a wealthy merchant of the Baptist persuasion, to become one of the most liberal benefactors to Cambridge College, that it ever enjoyed. Mr. Callender was succeeded by Jeremiah Condy, who was ordained in 1739. He was educated at Cambridge College, where he graduated in 1726.
He went over to England not long after, and tarried there until he was called by this church to become its pastor. His doctrinal sentiments were less orthodox than those of his predecessors; and four years after his settlement a number of his members withdrew and founded the Second Church in this town, as will be more particularly related when we come to their history. The church did not flourish under his ministry, but was in a declining state, when the care of it devolved on the renowned Samuel Stillman, D.D. This eminent minister, who afterwards shone as a star of the first magnitude among the American Baptists, became the pastor of this church in 1765, just a hundred years from its beginning. Mr. Condy from that period retired to a private station, and died in 1768, aged years. Dr. Stillman’s ministry was long and prosperous, and whatever peculiar events transpired, during its continuance, will be related in his biography.
He was succeeded by Joseph, more commonly called Judge Clay. This eminent man, as he said to a friend a little before his death, had in the ministry a rapid and peculiar course. He was born in Savannah, Georgia, August 16, 1764. He graduated at Princeton College, New Jersey, in 1784, and after preparatory studies commenced the practice of law, in which profession he continued until 1795. The year following he was appointed Judge of the District of Georgia, and continued on the bench until 1801.
Although he had been instructed in the Holy Scriptures from a child, and had manifested an habitual reverence for the christian religion, it was not until the year 1803, that he made a public profession, and joined the Baptist church at Savannah, under the pastoral care of the Reverend Mr. Holcombe. This church called him to the ministry and in 1804, he was ordained in their fellowship as an assistant pastor with Mr. Holcombe. In September, 1806, Mr. Clay made a visit to the New England States, and preached in most of the principal towns to very general satisfaction. And as this church had, for a considerable time, been contemplating an assistant pastor, (on account of the advanced age, and increasing infirmities of Dr.
Stillman, and by his particular desire) they unanimously agreed to invite him to come and take upon him that office, and in the event of the Doctor’s death, to become their sole pastor. To this invitation he signified his acceptance the December following, so far as to consent to come and spend one year with them, and then be at liberty to act as duty might appear. While the church was anxiously waiting the period of his arrival, Dr. Stillman was suddenly removed from his pastoral office by death. On the 16th of June following, Mr. Clay arrived in Boston with his family, to the great joy of that afflicted people. The favourable impressions under which he commenced his public labors, seemed to presage his future usefulness and prosperity. Mr. Clay continued his ministrations with this people, until the beginning of November, 1808; when agreeably to his previous engagement, he left them, and sailed for Savannah, expecting to return to them again in the spring. But soon after, finding his health declining, he wrote to the church, proposing to them to look out for another pastor, and soon after requested a dismission from his pastoral care. On the 27th of October, 1809, the church addressed an affectionate letter to him, in which they signified their compliance with his request. As part of the family were resident in Boston, Mrs. Clay came with the remainder on a visit in November of that year, having left him much as usual, excepting a depression of spirits occasioned by her coming away.
But finding his complaints increasing, and urged by a desire to be with his family, he soon after embarked for Boston, and arrived there, December, 1810. Although in a very feeble, debilitated state, no serious apprehensions were at first entertained respecting his recovery. But it was soon perceived that his complaints became daily more and more alarming, notwithstanding the continued efforts of the best medical aid. Exhausted nature at length gave up the conflict, and on the 11th of January, 1811, he gently fell asleep in Jesus, being in the 47th year of his age. Mr. Clay was above the middling stature; his form elegant, his countenance comely, and his manners, though somewhat reserved, were easy and graceful. As a christian, his deportment was modest, grave, and humble. Though accustomed to move in the higher circles of life, yet, as a christian minister, he cheerfully condescended to men of low estate. As a public speaker he held a respectable rank. His voice was pleasant and harmonious, his gestures natural, and his language generally classical and pure. His system of doctrine was highly Calvinistical, and it is believed he never shunned to declare what he thought to be the whole cousel or God. The divinity of Christ, his obedience and death, together with the work of the Holy Spirit in renewing the heart and in comforting the saints, were sentiments, which he enforced with much interest and ability.
Judge Clay lived but about seven years after he entered the ministry, most of which time he spent in itinerating in different parts of the United States.
The novelty of such a distinguished statesman becoming a Baptist minister, collected large assemblies wherever he preached, and many learned characters flocked to hear their professional brother. Some of his discourses were of the most masterly kind, and displayed, in a very attracting manner, the splendid resources of his devout and highly cultivated mind. At other times that nervous affection and depression of spirits, of which he was frequently the unhappy subject, in a measure unfitted him for the labors of the pulpit; “but his most desultory performances were pious and affectionate, and in many instances truly eloquent. His preaching was blessed to the awakening and comforting of numbers in different places. He left behind him a large circle of sincere friends to mourn his early removal.”
This honorable preacher possessed an estate in Georgia, which placed him above the need of any reward for his ministerial services, and he had conceived the benevolent design of planting his family in an eligible situation in one of the middle States, and bestowing his labors on destitute churches, which were not well able to support preachers among them. For this employment he was well fitted. But the solicitations of Dr. Stillman and his respectable church, induced him to alter his plan, and settle among them. But in this situation, as has been stated, Providence saw fit that he should not long continue. By the decease of this eminent minister, in the meridian of life, all the flattering expectations of the christian public were cut off. He left behind him an amiable widow, and a number of children.
His oldest daughter had, a little before his death, married into the family of the Honorable William Gray, lately Lieutenant-Governor of Massachusetts.
For about four years past this church has been destitute of a pastor. It has had many candidates, but no one as yet has appeared to meet their united views.
The lot in the possession of this church, is of the following dimensions:
On Back Street, 375 feet; on Stillman Street, about 250 feet; 114 feet cf this distance it continues the same width as on Back Street. This space forms a handsome court in front of the meeting-house. 40 feet further it is about 70 feet wide, and the remainder of it is 80. This spacious lot has been enlarged at different times to its present convenient size.
The original house built in 1678 was small; but I do not find by any records or tradition that any alteration was made in it until 1771; then it was removed, and a new one built, 53 feet by 57. This house was enlarged in 1791, to its present dimensions, which are 77 feet by 57. It is built of wood, has a porch in front, and a small vestry in the rear. Besides this vestry, there is one almost adjoining the house on the north side, 46 feet by 19, built in 1799.
Second Church in Boston. This Church proceeded from the First in 1743. As it arose after the storm of persecution was over, and has never experienced any vicissitudes except what are common in the progress of such churches, its history will be short compared with the one we have just related.
While Mr. Condy was pastor of the first church, a number of its members became dissatisfied with his doctrinal sentiments, which appear to have been different from those on which that body was founded, or which it has maintained since his time. These brethren sent in a protest to the church, in which they stated many articles of grievance; but the substance of all was, that their pastor was what they called an Arminian; and that if matters remained as they were, they should be under the painful necessity of proceeding to a separation. This was in September, 1742, and as they obtained no satisfaction, in July of the next year, seven brethren, namely James Bound, John Proctor, Ephraim Bosworth, John Dabney, Thomas Boucher, Ephraim Bound, and Thomas Lewis, formed themselves into a new church, and elected Ephraim Bound their pastor. James Bound and Mr. Dabney were from England; Boucher was from Wales; Proctor was of Boston; Bosworth was of Hull near to Boston, and bearing no children, he gave the church a good estate, the remains of which they still enjoy. Of the other brethren we have no particular account. Not long after this church began its progress, one Philip Freeman came over from London and united with them. He sent over an account of their principles and conduct to Dr.
Gill, which met the approbation of that illustrious divine, and induced him to make them a generous donation of the following articles, namely one large cup, four smaller ones, two dishes, two plates and a large damask cloth for the communion table; 7 sets of baptismal garments, namely one for the minister, three for men, and three more for women, and books to the amount of about fifty dollars. 20 At the same time they received a further gift of forty-eight volumes of the sermons of the then late Reverend Mr. Hill, an independent minister of London, successor to Dr.
Ridgley. The sermons were sent by the author’s father, to be given away at the direction of the church.
Mr. Bound’s ordination was a matter of some difficulty, as no ministers could be found near to assist on the occasion. The church applied to the aged Mr. Wightman, of Groton, Connecticut, but he was too old and infirm to undertake such a journey. Finally, Mr. Bound went to Warwick, Rhode Island, where he met the venerable Elder from Groton, and was ordained by him, Dr. Green of Leicester, and an Elder Whipple. “Mr. Bound was a plain, unlettered man, but an able minister of the New Testament: Like Apollos he was mighty in the Scriptures, and the want of human learning was abundantly made up by that gracious unction, with which God was pleased to favor him. Numbers came from considerable distance to hear the word, and additions were made to the church, not only of the inhabitants of Boston, but also from Hull, Newton, Needham, Medfield, Chelmsford, Lynn, and other places.” 21 Under his ministry the church increased from seven to a hundred and twenty, and many were awakened by his means who joined to Pedobaptist churches. But in the midst of prosperity and usefulness, in the 20th year of his ministry, he was seized by a paralytic shock, from the effects of which he never fully recovered. He died 1765, much lamented by his flock and friends, but with a comfortable assurance of a blessed immortality. During his feeble state, the church obtained occasional assistance from others, particularly from the late Dr. Stillman, who, at their invitation, removed from Bordentown, New Jersey, and served them as all assistant to Mr. Bound, for the space of one year.
The second pastor of this church was Mr. John Davis, a native of the State of Delaware, and a son of David Davis, one of the pastors of the Welsh Track church, in that State. He was educated in the University of Pennsylvania, and commenced his labors herein the spring of 1770. His ministry in Boston was short, but highly respectable. He, in company with Mr. Backus, took an active part against the oppressive measures of the ruling party, and in 1771, he was chosen by the Warren Association, as their agent, to use his influence both in Massachusetts and in London, to obtain the establishment of equal religious liberty in the land. In the prosecution of this agency, the nature of which will be explained in Mr. Backus’ biography, he met with the cordial approbation of his friends, but with much abusive treatment from the opposite party. Everything in Mr. Davis presaged a course of distinguished usefulness. His learning, abilities, and zeal, were adequate to any services to which his brethren might call him. Mr. Backus had now begun his history, and had the promise of assistance from this literary companion; but a mysterious Providence saw fit to cut him down almost in the beginning of his course, in about two years after his settlement in Boston, he went into a decline. By the advice of his friends he returned to his native state, hoping that a softer atmosphere might remove his complaints. And having in some measure recovered his health, with a view of confirming it, he set out on a journey into the western country, in company with Dr. David Jones, of Pennsylvania, and near the Ohio River, December l3th, 1773, after an illness of three weeks, finished his earthly course, in the 36th year of his age. His last words, according to Mr. Jones’ account, were, “in a little time I expect to be with Christ, to see and know him as he is known, and as he is not known. My faith in my Savior is unshaken.” Mr. Davis was a member of the Philosophical Society of Philadelphia; and was also one of the Fellows of the Baptist College at Providence.
The third pastor of this church was Isaac Skillman, D. D. a native of New Jersey, and a graduate of Princeton College. Mr. Skillman was sent out into the ministry by the first church in New York, and having been ordained there, it was mutually agreed that he should discharge the pastoral duties here, without a formal installation. 22 He commenced his labors in 1773, and continued them until 1787, a period of fourteen years.
At his own request, he was then dismissed, and returned to New Jersey.
He afterwards took the charge of the Salem church in that State, where he closed his life and ministry together a few years since. Dr. Skillman was a man of learning and abilities, but never very popular as a preacher.
The fourth in office here, was Thomas Gait, a native of the town, and a graduate of Providence College. Mr. Gair was awakened under the ministry of Dr. Stillman, when about sixteen years of age, and soon after joined the church of which he was pastor. Not long after he had finished his education, in which he was assisted by his friends, he was settled in Medfield, where he continued about ten years. Peculiar circumstances then making it necessary for him to leave that people, he, upon the removal of Dr. Skillmall, began to labor here, and in a few months after was publicly installed in the pastoral office. “To undissembled piety and respectable talents, Mr. Gair added a dignified deportment, and a gentleness of manners, which rendered him highly acceptable to all classes of people.”
But while rising into eminence and usefulness, he was suddenly arrested with a nervous, putrid fever, of which he died, April 27th, 1790, in the 36th year of his age.
Thomas Baldwin, D.D. the present pastor of this body, was the immediate successor of Mr. Gait, and was invested with the pastoral office, November, 1790. He was born at Norwich in Connecticut, the birth place of Mr. Backus, December 23, 1753. He was ordained in Canaan, New Hampshire, in 1783, and labored in that town, and adjoining ones, until he removed to his present situation. He has been the pastor of this flock over twenty years, which has increased under his successful ministry, from ninety to upwards of four hundred, besides suffering large diminutions in different ways. By Dr. Baldwin have been baptized persons who have united with this church. About the time he commenced his pastoral labors, a revival began, in which not far from seventy were added to this church, and about the same number to the old one.
In 1803, another revival commenced, which became more extensive in its prevalence; it continued for more than two years, in which time about two hundred were added to this church, and nearly the same number to the First.
The lot in the possession of this church was, in its original form, the gift of Mr. Bosworth: additions have been made to it at different times, so that it is now of the following size. On Back Street (not far from the old church) 90 feet, and continues the same width 270 feet to within 12 feet at one corner and upwards of 30 at the other of Margin Street, which was lately made by filling up a Mill Pond. This lot would be one of the handsomest in town were it not for the incumbrance of one of considerable size near its middle, on which are a cluster of old unsightly buildings, which they hope soon to purchase and move off; Adjoining Back Street is the parsonage house which is reputed in common times worth about 200 dollars a year.
This house was built with the avails of Mr. Bosworth’s estate. The meeting house stands back almost 200 feet, and has an alley leading to it 12 feet wide.
The first house of worship erected by this church was small, and was finished in 1746. This was enlarged during the ministry of Mr. Gair, in 1789. Another addition was made to it in 1797, which made it 69 feet by 53; but this large building was generally well filled, and often crowded to an uncomfortable degree. The Congregation continuing to increase, and the house, which was built of wood, needing considerable repairs, it was, in 1810, removed to make room for their present spacious edifice, of brick, covered with slate, and is eighty feet by seventy-five, exclusive of the tower, which is thirty eight feet by eighteen. This house, exclusive of some costly appendages, was built at the expense of more than 22,000 dollars.
Third Church in Boston. This body was formed in 1807, of members, 19 of whom were from the Second Church, and 5 from the First.
Nothing very special has occurred during its progress. The motives which led to its formation were, that the great revival in this town in 1803, and onward, increased the two churches so much, that many were unable to get seats in their houses, and they conceived, that the state of religion in the town rendered it peculiarly desirable, that another place should be erected, where the name of Jesus, and the discriminating truths of of the gospel might be proclaimed.
In 1806, a house for worship was begun, which was opened August 5th, 1807, the same day the church was formed. This house is situated on Charles Street, in the west part of the town; it is built of brick, 75 feet square, exclusive of the tower. It is an elegant edifice, adorned with a cupola and bell, and cost 27,000 dollars. The lot is but a little larger than the house, most of which was given by the Mount Vernon Company.
The same year this church was formed, Mr. Caleb Blood, of Shaftsbury, Vermont, became its pastor, which office he sustained about three years, when he removed to his present situation at Portland, Maine.
Successor to him was Mr. Daniel Sharp, who was born at Huddersfield, in Yorkshire, England, in 1783; his father is pastor of the Baptist church at Forsley, near Leeds, in the same county. Mr. Sharp came to America in 1805, and was sent into the ministry by the Fayette Street Church, New York, the year following. After studying about two years with Dr.
Staughton, of Philadelphia, he became pastor of the church in Newark, New Jersey, where he continued until the autumn of 1811, when he came on to Boston; and the ensuing spring was invested with the pastoral care of this body.
African Church. This community of sable brethren arose in 1805; their number at first was twenty, most of whom were the fruits of the ministry of Mr. Thomas Paul, a man of their own color, who is their present pastor. The year after this church was formed, they began to make exertions towards building them a place of worship. They chose a committee to make collections; among whom was Cato Gardiner, a native of Africa, who had long been one of Dr. Stillman’s respectable members.
Cato was all alive in the business; by his importunity Dr. Stillman drew a subscription paper, which he circulated in different places, and obtained about fifteen hundred dollars. Cato, notwithstanding his age, had faith to believe that his brethren would have a house for their use, and that he should live to see it finished, which he did, and soon after died. Others of the church made collections to a considerable amount, and having received encouragement to go forward in their design, they chose a committee of white men to superintend their building, which was finished in 1806. This committee consisted of Messrs. Daniel Wild, John Wait, William Bentley, Mitchell Lincoln, Ward Jackson, and Edward Stevens. Some of these gentlemen made large advances towards the house, which with the lot they hold in trust for the church, until the debts are discharged, then they are to give a deed of it to the body for whom it was built. This house is built of brick 40 feet by 48, three stories high. The lower story is fitted up for a school room, for coloured children, and has been occupied for that purpose from the time it was finished. The instructer is Prince Saunders, a man of color of education; his school generally consists of about 40 scholars. The two upper stories are well finished with pews, pulpit, galleries, etc., the lot is small, and that with the house cost 8,000 dollars. Debts of considerable amount have been upon this establishment till lately, but by Mr. Paul’s collections they are now nearly all discharged.
Mr. Paul, the pastor of this flock, was born in Exeter, New Hampshire, in 1773; he was sent into the ministry by the church in Limerick, Maine, at the age of 28; he has preached successfully in various places both before and after he was settled in Boston.
Notwithstanding our brethren in Boston were so severely persecuted at first yet the storm was soon over, and they lived in the undisturbed enjoyment of their rjghts, whiIe their brethren, in different parts of the country, were fleeced, imprisoned, and distressed in various ways. The reason that this difference was, that in this town all monies for religious purposes are collected by a tax on the pews, and not on the estates of the worshippers. This custom has prevailed from early times, and Mr. Backus assures us, that no one of the Baptist persuasion has been obliged to pay any money to the Congregationalists since about 1690.
From the First Church in Boston have originated, First, The church at Kittery, in the District of Maine, in 1682, as has been related in the account of that District. Second, The Second Church in this town. Third, Most of the church in Charlestown, which was formed in 1801. Other churches around have probably received a part of their members from this, but I have not received sufficient information on this point to make any authentic statements.
Charlestown Church was embodied in 1801 of twenty members, most of whom were dismissed from the church then under the care of Dr.
Stillman. The same day the church was organized, a very commodious house which had just been finished was opened for public worship. Dr.
Stillman preached on the occasion from, Behold, holy good and pleasant it is, For brethren to dwell together in unity. At the close of his discourse, he made the following interesting address to the new formed church: “Dearly Beloved In Our Lord Jesus Christ In the year 1665, the First Baptist Church in Boston, from which most of you have been dismissed, originated in this town. Today she sends you back at your own desire, in conjunction with our friends from the Second Baptist Church in Boston, to form a church where she began. But how great the difference between that period and this! Then the right of private judgment was denied; now all is candour, love and friendship. This event is surely providential: to human agency alone it cannot be ascribed.
The churches you have left have dismissed you with all that christian affection, which has arisen from a long and pleasing acquaintance with you, and from your constant endeavor to behave as becomes the gospel: believing, at the same time, that this event will terminate in the better accommodation of yourselves and families, and the advancement of the interests of religion and morality. Go and prosper, and the Lord be with you.”
The first pastor here was Mr. Thomas Waterman from England, now at Woburn, who tarried with them but a short time. In 1804 they obtained for their pastor Mr. William Collier, who still continues with them. Mr. Collier was born at Scituate a little below Boston in 1771; was educated at Brown University; sent into the ministry by the Second Church in Boston, and was for about four years pastor of the First Church in New York. The church under consideration moved on in harmony from the commencement of Mr. Collier’s ministry until 1809, when a series of difficulties began respecting church order, etc. which issued in the division of the church and the founding a new one, of which we shall give some account when we come to speak of the churches which hold to Weekly Communion. At the time of this division a question arose respecting the meeting house.
This had been built by an association of gentlemen of the Baptist persuasion previous to the founding of the church. It is fifty feet by seventv-five, with a tower, cupola, bell, etc. and cost upwards of 11,000 dollars. It was expected the pews would pay the expense of it. The fee of it was in Mr. Oliver Holden, who gave the lot, was treasurer to the association, by whom it was built, and had made large advances towards its erection. No deed had been conveyed either to the original undertakers or the church, and matters were left in a loose way, until the division took place. The church, desirous of retaining the house for their use, inquired of Mr. Holden the lowest terms on which he would give them a deed which were not such as they saw fit to comply with. They next proposed to relinquish all their right in the house, provided he would exonerate them from all debts upon it, which proposal he accepted, it being then expected that a minister would come on from the southward to occupy it. The church was thus rendered destitute of a house for worship. By Mr. Holden’s permission they occupied his, until, by their own exertions, and the assistance of others, they erected the one which they now occupy, which is a commodious brick building, one story high, 70 feet by 47 1/2.
The fee of it is in the church, where it ever ought to be. Mr. Holden and his associates meet in a school house, and thus, by their going out, one after another, the great house is left alone.
Respecting the branches of the Second Church in Boston, we have already observed, that during the ministry of Mr. Bound additions were made to it from Hull, Newton, Needham, Medfield, Chelmsford, Lynn, etc. In most of these places churches afterwards arose, and these members doubtless laid the foundations for them. In Chelmsford a church was formed in 1771, and Elisha Rich, who afterwards went to Vermont, was its first pastor.
After him was Samuel Fletcher and Abishai Crossman, who were only sojourners, and soon went to other places. In 1792, John Peckens was settled among them, and yet remains in the pastoral office. The church in Medfield was formed in 1776, and Thomas Gair was its pastor ten years.
After him they were a long time destitute, but have lately settled among them, much to their satisfaction, a young man by the name of William Gammell, from the First Church in Boston. The church in Newton, only nine miles from Boston, was formed in 1780, partly of members from the Second Church, and partly from the remains of two Separate churches, one of Newton and the other of Brookline. Mr. Caleb Blood, now of Portland, Maine, became its pastor the year after it was formed, and continued in that office about seven years, when he went to Shaftsbury, in Vermont. In 1788, Joseph Grafton was settled among them, and still continues their worthy and much respected pastor. Mr. Grafton was born in Newport, Rhode Island, June 9, 1757. Under his ministry in this place a number of precious revivals have been experienced, and the church has been built up to a large and respectable body.
In Cambridge, adjoining Boston, there was a Baptist church as early as 1751, but it seems never to have flourished much, and after experiencing a number of painful vicissitudes, it was broken up, and the members scattered in different ways. In 1781, a new church arose of members in Cambridge, and the adjoining towns of Woburn and Lexington. The seat of the church has since been transferred to Woburn, and it is now supplied by the labours of Mr. Thomas Waterman, from England.
Haverhill . — This town is on the Merrimack River, thirty miles north of Boston. The Baptist church here was founded in troublesome times, under the ministry of its late renowned pastor, Hezekiah Smith, D. D.
In the New Light Stir in Whitefield’s time, a small society of Separates was formed in Haverhill, which, however, did not continue long; but the sayour of this New Light spirit probably remained after the society was broken up. Sometime after this, one of the parish ministers of the town became obnoxious to his people; controversies and councils ensued, and in the end he was shut out of his meeting house, and dismissed from his office, and the parish remained destitute of a preacher, until Mr. Smith, who was then travelling as an itinerant through New England, paid them a visit, and preached among them so much to their acceptance, that they invited him to tarry and supply them awhile. This was in the summer of 1764. He had calculated on returning to New Jersey the ensuing autumn; but finding his labors blessed, he consented to remain and labor for the present in this vacant parish. He had been treated with respect by the Pedobaptist ministers around, and some of them had invited him to preach in their pulpits; but as soon as he was stationed in one of their folds, which their quarrels had made vacant, they dismissed their civilities, and exerted all their influence against him. They doubtless feared the prevalence of Baptist principles in this Pedobaptist flock, and that not without just grounds; for in May, 1765, a Baptist Church was founded in the center of the town, Mr. Smith became its pastor, and continued in the successful and dignified discharge of that office forty years. A number of the first members of this church and congregation were, for a while, harassed with sheriffs and parish rates; but their oppressors, finding them not easy of management, were induced soon to let them alone.
As no very remarkable occurrences appear to have transpired in the progress of this church, we shall confine our attention principally to the history of its founder and late distinguished pastor.
Mr. Smith was born on Long Island, in the State of New York, April 21, 1737. He was a happy instance of early piety, as appears by his making a public profession of religion before he was nineteen years of age. He was educated at Princeton College, New Jersey, that distinguished seminary of illustrious men, where he graduated in 1762. He was a companion of Dr.
Manning from early years, and during the President’s life, though stationed seventy miles apart, they were generally called together on all important occasions, which regarded the Baptist interest. They were both taught the rudiments of science at Mr. Eaton’s Academy at Hopewell, and they were also classmates in College. Mr. Smith, soon after he began to preach, took a journey to the southward, in which he was gone over a year; he went as far as Georgia, preached much in South Carolina, was ordained, and! aboured a while at a place then called Cashaway, now Mount Pleasant, on the Pedee River, in that State, and in different places made collections of considerable amount for the College, which his friend Manning was about establishing in Rhode Island. His beginning at Haverhill has already been mentioned. At first he was treated here with much abuse by a set of outrageous zealots, who equalled the rude Virginians in their mode of defending their established worship. The most scandalous reports were circulated against his character; and in addition to these, he was personally insulted, and his life endangered. A beetle was cast at him one evening as he was walking the street, whick he took up and carried to his lodging. After he was in bed, a stone was thrown through his window, and struck near his head, of sufficient size to have proved fatal had it hit him. His horse was disfigured in the same way that many other Baptist ministers’ horses have been, and a paper put on the door of the house where he lodged, which threatened him with worse treatment if he did not depart. He was once assaulted at a private house in Bradford, where he had appointed to preach, by a sheriff and his gang; As he got up to speak, the chair on which he leaned was snatched away, and much tumult ensued; but the rioters shortly withdrew, and he proceeded in his discourse. Some of them, however, laid wait for him on his return home; but he, without knowing their cruel design, providentially tarried till the coldness of the air forced them from their stand. These were some of the opposing measures which at first attended this intruder upon parish lines.
But such was his undaunted courage, his patient forbearance, and powerful eloquence, that his impotent adversaries were soon put to shame, and he arose to pre-eminent esteem among all around him. He made frequent excursions in the neighboring towns, and a number of churches arose mostly by his means. He also often journied in his active days considerable distances around in New Hampshire, Maine, and other places, and a large circle of his most cordial friends, and many of the seals of his ministry, are to be found in almost every part of the surrounding country. As he advanced in years, his labors were mostly confined to his own congregation. During most of the revolutionary war he served as a chaplain in the American army, where his dignified and exemplary deportment gained him the confidence and esteem of both officers and soldiers. Like Mr. Gano, often did he expose his own life to danger in the field of battle, while animating the soldiers and soothing the sorrows of the wounded and dying.
The preceding sketches of the life of Dr. Smith have been selected mostly from Backus’ History, and from a brief memoir in the Baptist Magazine.
The following description, etc. was drawn by Dr. Baldwin, to whom we are also indebted for what has been selected from the Magazine. “As a preacher Dr. Smith was equalled by few. His subjects were well chosen, and always evangelical. His voice was strong and commanding, and his manner solemn and impressive. He was often led to pour the balm of consolation into the wounded conscience but the general tenor of his preaching was calculated to arouse the careless and secure. “In stature, Dr. Smith was considerably above the middling size, being about six feet in height, and well proportioned. His countenance, though open and pleasant, was peculiarly solemn and majestic. In his deportment, he was mild, dignified and grave, equally distant from priestly hauteur, and superstitious reserve. He never thought religion incompatible with real politeness; hence the gentleman, the scholar and the christian were happily blended in his character. And such was the urbanity of his manners, that many who differed from him in his religious opinions, honored and respected him as a gentleman and companion. While the wicked were awed by his presence, it was impossible for a good man to be in his company, without being pleased and edified. In a word, he lived beloved and respected, and died greatly lamented.”
Dr. Smith was one of the fellows of Brown University, and was, through life, a zealous promoter of that institution. Dr. Messer, who now presides over it, was brought up under his ministry.
Successor to Dr. Smith is Mr. William Batchelder, who was born in Boston, 1769; commenced his ministry in Deerfield, New Hampshire, but removed hither from Berwick, in the District of Maine. Under his ministry the church has had large additions, and now contains about three hundred members.
As we proceed eastward from Boston, we find the churches of Malden, Reading, Salem, Marblehead, Beverly, Danvers, Ipswich, Newburyport, etc. of only a part of which some brief sketches call be given.
Salem . — This town lies about thirteen miles eastward of Boston. In it Roger Williams began his Anabaptistical career about 1635; but very few of his sentiments have been found here from the time of his banishment until within a few years past. The Salem church is yet in its infancy, but it has arisen to a distinguished rank among her sister communities, and originated in the following manner: In the winter of 1803-4, a Baptist meeting was set up in a small private house by eight or ten professors of the denomination who belonged to a number of the neighbouring churches.
They conducted the meeting mostly in a social manner, but procured preachers to come among them as often as convenient. Perceiving a disposition in many to attend their worship, they often lamented that their meeting place was not more commodious. The matter lay so heavily upon their minds, that they soon held a special prayer meeting, to make known their wants unto God. And their fervent supplications were answered in a most remarkable manner; in two weeks from this time, the following gentlemen, namely Captain Edward Russel, and Michael Webb, Esq. came forward and offered to erect for them a place of worship. This proposition was as grateful as it was unexpected. By these gentlemen a one-story wooden building, fifty-five feet by thirty-six, was set forward, and was so far finished, that by the last of April, 1804, the first sermon was preached in it by Mr. Lucius Bolles, who was at that time studying with Dr.
Stillman of Boston, and laboring with him as an assistant. Spiritual as well as temporal blessings were poured upon this little band, and the number of baptized believers increased so much, that on the 9th of January, 1805, they were embodied into a church, and the same day Mr. Bolles was ordained their pastor. Since that time they have enjoyed many refreshing seasons, and have advanced rapidly to a large and flourishing community.
Their congregation increased so fast, that the house, with which Providence had so remarkably ffirnished them, soon became too small for their convenience. They therefore soon began a more spacious one, which was opened for worship, January, 1806. This is a very neat, commodious brick building, seventy-two feet by sixty-two. It is built on a lot of feet by 250, 24 and cost 16,000 dollars. Their former house is converted into a vestry. This latter spacious building is well filled with worshippers, and the church has increased to upwards of 500. One hundred and thirty were added to them in about eight months, in the year 1809.
This infant church and congregation have often excited the astonishment and gratitude of surrounding older communities, by their spirited exertions and surprising acts of munificence in promoting the cause of Zion. They, from their begimdng, began to display a liberality worthy of imitation, and in one year, very lately, they contributed for charitable and missionary purposes about twelve hundred dollars.
Mr. Bolles was born in Ashford, Connecticut, in 1779. He was educated at Brown University, and was, for about three years previous to his settlement here, a pupil and assistant to Dr. Stillman.
Most of the members of the Marblehead church were dismissed from Salem. This body is only four miles distant; its pastor, Mr. Ferdinand Ellis, is a graduate of Brown University; was formerly a tutor in that institution, and a minister of the Pedobaptist persuasion.
Beverly . — This town is connected to Salem by a bridge fifteen hundred feet in length. The church in it is of recent origin, and was formed in 1801, of nineteen members. Joshua Young was its pastor about two years. After him was Elisha Williams, under whose ministry they have enjoyed two very considerable revivals. In the first about sixty were added to their number; in the second between forty and fifty. Upwards of a hundred and sixty were added to the church while under his care. But notwithstanding these successes of this worthy pastor, some members raised a difficulty against him, and he has been dismissed from office, but still resides in the town.
Mr. Williams is a son of the late Dr. Williams, a Pedobaptist minister of East Hartford, Connecticut; he was educated at Yale College, New Haven, began to preach at Livermore, in the District of Maine, was for some years pastor of the church in Brunswick, in that District; and removed from that place to Beverly, in 1805.
Danvers . — This town also joins to Salem. The church here was formed in 1793; Morgan Edwards would call it a grand-daughter of Haverhill, as it came out of the church at Rowley, which was a branch of that body.
Danvers is distinguished for giving birth to James Froster, D. D. who died pastor of the first church in New York. Mr. Jeremiah Chaplin, who now officiates here, is a native of the place, and was for a short time pastor of the same church in New York.
Newburyport . — In 1805, a church was formed in this town, (which lies upwards of thirty miles northeast of Boston) of only nineteen members.
Mr. Joshua Chase, one of their number, was called to the ministry, and preached among them a short time, when he removed to the District of Maine. Not long after his removal, the church obtained for its pastor, Mr. John Peak, who had preached in divers places in New England, but who removed hither from Barnstable on Cape Cod. Soon after his settlement, this little body, mostly by the assistance of others, erected a large brick building,70 feet by 60, which cost upwards of sixteen thousand dollars.
Thus they were put in possession of a costly commodious building, which, however, they occupied under some peculiar embarrassments. The pewholders were to govern the house and elect their teacher; and at a certain time, the Baptists came within one vote of being turned out of it, and having it applied to another denomination. But all their prospects and embarrassments, all the benevolent designs of their friends abroad, and of spectators at home, were suddenly closed by a destructive fire in 1811, in which this stately edifice was consumed. As it was detached from other buildings, it was, at the commencement of the fire, made a place of deposit for furniture, goods, etc. But the flames spread so rapidly, and soon became so vehement, that it was enveloped by them, and every combustible part of it was reduced to ashes. After this, Mr. Peak traveled as far as Philadelphia and Baltimore, and in various places collected sufficient sums to erect for them a neat, commodious, brick house, which, if not so splendid as their former one, is held by a more substantial and consistent tenure, and occupied without the fear of molestation.
BOSTON ASSOCIATION THIS Association was formed in 1812 by a division of the Warren. That body had become so numerous and extensive, that but few churches could conveniently provide for the large assemblies which convened on its interesting anniversaries. A division was therefore thought necessary, and was amicably agreed upon in 1811. The line was to run from Boston westward as far as the Association extended; those churches, which were near this line on either side, were considered at their option to fall in with either the new or old Association, as best suited their convenience. The general table will exhibit a view of the churches in each body.
As this Association has been formed so lately, its movements do not furnish articles for an historical narrative; but it ought to be observed, that a considerable number of its churches and ministers have long been among the main pillars and active promoters of the respectable body from which it proceeded.
We shall now turn our attention to the southern part of this First Division, in which it will be perceived most of the churches south of Boston are included.
First Church in Swansea . — This is the oldest church in Massachusetts, and was the fourth which was formed in. America. It is dated in 1663; but it was begun about 13 years before by Obadiah Holmes and others. The account of Mr Holmes’ persecution at Boston has already been related; some further information of his character will be given, when we come to Newport, in Rhode Island. He was for some years after he came to this country in the Pedobaptist connection, first at Salem, and then at Rehoboth, where one Samuel Newman was pastor. This Newman undertook a domineering course of discipline, different from what had been taught in the old Puritan school, and Holmes and some others withdrew from his church, and set up a meeting by themselves, about 1649. Soon after this they fell in with Baptist principles, and were baptized, it is supposed, by Mr. Clark of Newport, as they joined his church. Mr. Holmes became the leader of this little company, against whom Mr. Newman pronounced the sentence of excommunication, and stirred up the civil power to take them in hand. They were in the Plymouth colony, and before the court in that town Mr. Holmes and two of his associates were cited to appear, where they found four petitions had been lodged against them. One from Rehoboth signed by fifty-five persons; one from the church at Taunton, the adjoining town eastward; one from all the clergymen but two in the Plymouth colony; and a fourth from the meddling court at Boston, under their Secretary’s hand, urging the Plymouth rulers speedily to suppress this growing schism. But the rulers of this colony appear to have been more mild and tolerant than those of Massachusetts, and probably did no more than they found absolutely necessary to keep the teasing clergy in humor. With all these stimulations to severity, they only charged them to desist from their practice, which was offensive to others, and Obadiah Holmes and Joseph Tory were bound the one for the other, in the sum of ten pounds, for their appearance at court. No imprisonment was inflicted and no other bonds or sureties were required. One of the company it seems promised to comply with their requisition, and was dismissed. This was in June, 1650. At the next October court the Grand Jury found a bill against them, and by their presentment we learn that the company consisted of John Hazel, Edward Smith and wife, Obadiah Holmes, Joseph Tory and wife, the wife of James Mann, and William Buell and wife. They were charged with the crime of continuing a meeting from house to house on the Lord’s day, contrary to the order of court, etc. but no sentence appears on record against them. Not long after this Mr. Holmes removed to Newport, and became pastor of the old church there, and a part of his company removed with him. But before his removal, that scene of suffering at Boston, which has already been related, was experienced.
In 1665, John Miles came over from Wales and began the church, which has continued to the present time. He had founded a Baptist church in Swansea, in his native country, in 1649, and was one of about two thousand ministers who were ejected from their places by the cruel Act of Uniformity in 1662. He brought to this country the records of the Swansea church in Wales, which, being in the Welsh language, can be of no use to the present generation; but large extracts were made from them by Mr. Backus, and sent over to Mr. Tommas of Leominster, England, the historian of the Welsh Baptists.
Some of Mr. Miles’ company in Wales came over with him, and at the house of John Butterworth in Rehoboth, they, to the number of seven, united in a solemn covenant together. Their names were John Miles, elder, James Brown, Nicholas Tanner, Joseph Carpenter, John Butterworth, Eldad Kingsley, and Benjamin Alby.
This measure became offensive to the orthodox churches of the colony; the court was solicited to interpose its influence; and the members of this little church were fined five pounds each, for setting up a public meeting without the knowledge and approbation of the court, to the disturbance of the peace of the place; ordered to desist from their meeting for the space of a month, and advised to remove their meeting to some other place, where they might not prejudice any other church, etc. Rehoboth, at this time, included nearly all the present county of Bristol. In what part of this large township this church was formed, I do not find; but not long after, its seat was removed to near Kelly’s bridge, at the upper end of Warren, on a neck of land, which is now in the township of Barrington, where their first meeting house was built. Afterwards its seat was removed to the place where its present meeting house stands, which is only three miles from Warren, and about ten from Providence. In 1667, the Plymouth court, instead of passing the sentence of banishment against this little company of Baptists, as the men of Boston had done against Thomas Gould and his associates, made them an ample grant of Wannamoiset, which they called Swansea. It then included the extensive territory, which has since been divided into the towns of Swansea, Warren, and Barrington. Barrington and Warren, now in Rhode Island, were then claimed by the Plymouth colony, and afterwards by the Massachusetts government until 1741.
What is now the town of Swansea became the residence of the Baptists; a second church arose in it in 1693, and no church of the Pedobaptists has ever been established here to perplex and fleece them. Some of their members, who resided in other towns around, were at times harassed with ministerial taxes; but their sufferings of this kind were trifling, compared with what their brethren in other places endured. Besides the constituent members of this church, there were families by the name of Luther, Cole, Bowen, Wheaton, Martin, Barnes, Thurber, Bosworth, Mason, Child, etc. among the early planters of Swansea, whose posterity are still numerous in the surrounding country.
Mr. Miles continued pastor of this church until his death, which happened in 1683. What few sketches have been preserved of his life go to show that he bore an excellent character, and was eminently useful in his day. He lived near a bridge, which still bears his name, but a small distance from the present meeting house. He labored frequently with his brethren in Boston, in the time of their sufferings, and at one time there was a proposition for his becoming their pastor, which was not, however, carried into effect. We are told that being once brought before the magistrates for preaching, he requested a Bible, and opened to these words in Job, But ye should say, Why persecute him? seeing the root of the matter is found in me; which, having read, he sat down; and such an effect had the sword of the Spirit, that he was afterwards treated with moderation, if not with kindness. All I can learn of his posterity is, that a son went back to England, and a grandson of his was an Episcopal minister in Boston, (Massachusetts) in 1724.
Next to Mr. Miles was Samuel Luther, who was ordained here in 1685, by the assistance of Elders Hull and Emblen of Boston. He was much esteemed, both at home and abroad, until his death in 1717. His posterity are numerous in these parts, and many of them are of this and the neighboring churches.
After him was Ephraim Wheaton, who had been his colleague thirteen years. He lived in the bounds of Rehoboth, and faithfully discharged the pastoral duties of this church until he died in 1734, aged 75. His posterity are numerous in these parts, in Providence and other places. His ministry in Swansea was attended with good success; in five years from 1718, he baptized and received into his church fifty members. That was, in those days, a remarkable circumstance, of which he wrote an account to Mr. Hollis of London, who sent him a letter of gratulation on his ministerial success, with a present of books.
Samuel Maxwell was ordained a colleague pastor with Mr. Wheaton in 1733; but five years after he became a Sabbatarian, and was dismissed from his office. He was esteemed a pious man, and lived to a good old age, but does not appear to have had much success in the ministry.
After him was Benjamin Herrington from the Narraganset country. He had a crowded audience for a few years; but being accused of the sin of uncleanness, which charge he never cleared up, he went off to Canterbury, in Connecticut, where he preached to a few people, and lived in obscurity to old age.
In 1751, Jabez Wood of Middleborough became the pastor of this church, in which office he continued without much success about thirty years, when he was dismissed and removed to Vermont, where he died in 1794.
He was a grandson of Thomas Nelson, who then belonged to this church, whose history will be related when we come to Middleborough.
Next to Mr. Wood was Charles Thompson, one of the first graduates of the Institution, which has since taken the name of Brown University. As the necessary materials for the history of this valuable man are not now at hand, we shall defer his biography till we come to Warren, Rhode Island, where he began his pastoral labors.
After he removed from Swansea, the church was, for some years, under the care of Mr. Samuel Northup, a native of North Kingston, Rhode Island, who died lately in the care of a church in Rehoboth.
The present pastor of this body is the aged and respectable Mr. Abner Lewis, who has preached in different places, but removed hither from Harwich in Cape Cod.
Second Church in Swansea. — This church was begun by some members from Providence and other places, who settled to the eastward of the old church, and set up a meeting by themselves, which their gifted brethren carried on until the church was formed, and Thomas Barnes, one of their number, was ordained their pastor in 1693. This office he filled with respect till his death, which happened in 1706. One of the leaders of this church was Samuel Mason, who was a soldier in Cromwell’s army, but came over to America on the restoration of Charles II. He settled in Rehoboth, where, and in the adjoining towns, and also in remoter places, his posterity is very numerous. His sons were Noah, Samson, James, John, Samuel, Joseph, Isaac, Peletiah, and Benjamin. James and John went to Boston, but the remaining six lived in Rehoboth and Swansea, until the youngest of them was seventy years of age. Isaac was ordained a Deacon in the church at the same time that Mr. Barnes became its pastor, and continued in the faithful discharge of that office until his death in 1742.
Joseph, another of the brothers, was ordained a pastor of this body in 1709, and six years after John Pierce was ordained his colleague. These two elders ministered to this church, as long as they were capable of ministerial service, and both of them lived to about the age of ninety. Mr. Pierce was the grandfather of Mr. Joseph Cornell, late pastor of the second church in Providence. He began preaching among a few Baptists in Scituate, where President Dunster spent his last days; but being persecuted for worshipping God in his own house, he with others of the company removed to Swansea about 1711.
Next to these venerable elders were in succession three by the name of Mason, grandchildren on the father’s side of the famous Samson Mason, and on the mother’s, of John Russell once pastor of the old church in Boston. Job was ordained in 1738, Russell in 1752, and John in 1788. The last of them died but a short time since. They were all highly esteemed for their piety and usefulness. Next to them was Elder Benjamin Mason; but whether he was a brother of his predecessors, I have not learnt. The church is now under the care of Mr. Philip Slade; it abounds wiith members; but in point of doctrine and discipline, it has probably seen better days. From this church have proceeded a considerable number of ministers, who have removed to other parts, among whom are Nathan Masons, who went to Nova-Scotia, as is related in the history of that Province; Joseph Cornell, whose name has just been mentioned; Nathaniel Cole, now of Plainfield, Conecticut; and a number of others, whose names and station cannot be accurately ascertained.
This church was founded on what some of the Rhode Island brethen call the Six Principle plan, as stated in Hebrews 6:1,2, and made the laying-onof- hands on every baptized member a term of communion; they also opposed the practice of singing in public worship, which was not introduced until after the year 1780, almost a hundred years from their beginning. The laying-on-of-hands they still strenuously hold, and belong to the Rhode Island Yearly Meeting. They have a commodious place of worship a few miles from the old church.
Reheboth . This township, before its late division,25 was not far from twelve miles square, For a number of miles on its western side, it joins the State of Rhode Island, and is separated from Providence only by the Pawtucket River.
It is probable there have been Baptists in this town from about 1650, when Obadiah Holmes separated from the parish worship, but no church was gathered in it until 1732, when one arose near its southeast corner under the ministry of Mr. John Comer, of whom more will be said when we come to Newport. By the year 1794, no less than seven Baptist churches had been formed in Rehoboth, most of them were small, and hardly any two of them were united in their views of doctrine and discipline. Elhanan Winchester, who afterwards distinguished himself by the propagation of the doctrine of Universal Restoration, was, for a few years, pastor of one of them. The youngest of these churches is that at the lower end of the great Seekhonk plain, within about three miles of Providence, which is supplied by Mr. John Pitman of that town.
Rehoboth has been a fruitful nursery of Baptists for many years, and from it multitudes have emigrated to almost every part of New England.
Middleborough . — The first church in this town was formed in 1756; some account of its origin and progress may be found in the biography of Mr. Backus, who was, for about fifty years, its worthy pastor. After his death Mr. Ezra Kendall had the care of it a few years, and next to him was Mr. Samuel Abbot, a native of New Hampshire, who is its present pastor.
Second church in Middleborough . — This church arose in the following manner: Thomas Nelson, formerly a member of the first church in Swansea, removed in 1717 to the south part of Middleborough, to a place called Assawamset, his being the first English family which settled there.
He set up a meeting at his house, and procured preachers to visit him as often as he could. One of whom was the late Ebenezer Hinds, who began to preach there statedly in 1753. By these means a little company of baptized believers was collected. The remains of a Pedobaptist church of the Separate order, at a place called the Beech Woods, embraced the Baptist principles after the death of their pastor, Mr. James Mead, and in 1757, the church under consideration was formed, and Mr. Hinds soon after became its pastor. Thomas Nelson, who must be considered the father of this church, died at the age of eighty, a short time before it was founded. His widow lived to the age of a hundred and five years and seven months, and died in 1780. She had living of her posterity at her death, as near as could be ascertained, three hundred, thirty and seven. Of her grandsons, William, Samuel, and Ebenezer Nelson, became Baptist ministers. Two of them are yet living; one in this town, and the other at Reading near Boston. Among her great-grandchildren are Stephen S.
Nelson, of Mount Pleasant, New York, and Dr. Thomas Nelson, of Bristol, Rhode Island.
Mr. Hinds continued in office here not far from forty years, when he removed from them, and died, a short time since, on Cape Cod, at the age of about ninety. He retained his mental and bodily powers to a very singular degree. But two or three years previous to his death, he could mount his horse with the greatest ease, and ride off journies of a number of weeks, to preach among his old acquaintances, or rather in places where his old acquaintances had lived. Beside these churches two others have been formed in this town, which is very large in its boundaries, and from it great numbers of Baptists have emigrated to the District of Maine and other places. The four churches in it are all of respectable standing, and contain together upwards of four hundred members. Middleborough is in Plymouth county, and but a few miles from the place where the fathers of the Plymouth Colony landed in 1620. Around it a number of churches have been established, most of whom have, at different times, been distressed for religious or rather irreligious taxes for the support of the established clergy.
Kingston Church, only 4 miles from Plymouth, has suffered most severely by these vexatious things, while their sister communities all around have enjoyed an exemption from their tormenting and ruinous effects. This church was formed in 1805, under the ministry of Ezra Kendall, who was then pastor of the old church in Middleborough. For about six years its members, together with those of the congregation, were annually harassed for the support of the parish preacher. A considerable number of them have had their property attached and sold at auction, to satisfy the outrageous and unrighteous demands of the Congregational party. As late as 1810, one of their number was dragged from his house, bound fast, carried and lodged in Plymouth gaol, because he refused to pay his money for the support of a minister, which he did not wish to hear.
The most grievous and wanton havock was made of the property of the Kingston Baptists down to the year 1811, and from that period they have been spared, not for the want of a disposition in the Pedobaptist oppressors, but in consequence of a late law of the Massachusetts Legislature, which will be noticed at the close of this chapter. Such coercions have been practiced in the nineteenth century in a State whose Constitution declares, that No subject shall be hurt, molested, or restrained, in his person, liberty, or estate, for worshipping GOD, in the manner and season most agreeable to the dictates of his own conscience, etc. Samuel Glover is the present pastor of this body. He was sent into the ministry by the first church in Boston, and was educated at Brown University.
In Harwich and Barnstable, on Cape Cod, are two large respectable churches of considerable age, both of which have, in former times, been distressed in consequence of imposts for religious purposes. Both of these churches arose out of Pedobaptist ones of the Separate order. The one at Harwich was formed in 1757; that at Barnstable in 1771; they have had different preachers to labor among them, some of whom are dead and others are now settled in other places. The Harwich church is under the care of Mr. James Barnaby, a graduate of Brown University; the one at Barnstable has for its pastor Barnabas Bates, a native of England, who was educated a Roman Catholic; came to this country when fifteen years of age, and was sent into the ministry by the first church in Boston.
There are yet remaining in the region under consideration a considerable number of churches, of which our limits will not permit us to give any particular account. Most of them belong to the Warren Association, where their names, numbers, and pastors will be exhibited.
SECOND DIVISION THIS division comprehends a considerable part of this State, and extends from a line drawn north and south, between twenty and thirty miles west of Boston to its western side. It is bounded south by Rhode lsland and Connecticut, west by New York, and north by Vermont and New Hampshire. In it are about sixty churches, which belong to the Boston, Warren, Sturbridge, Leyden, Westfield, Danbury and Shaftsbury Associations. Of these seven Associations, three only, namely Sturbridge, Leyden, and Westfield, are considered as having their seat in the region now under consideration; and of these we shall, in the first place, give some brief, account.
STURBRIDGE ASSOCIATION THIS body was formed at the place from which it took its name in 1802, of churches which had belonged to the Warren Association. Nothing remarkable has occurred in its progress. Of a few of its most ancient churches we shall relate a few particulars.
Sturbridge . — This church arose in the following manner: In 1247, a Separate church was formed in this town, and Mr. John Blunt was ordained its pastor. In about two years after, Baptist principles began to prevail amongst them, and Elder Moulton of Brimfield baptized 13 of their number, among whom was Daniel Fisk, one of their deacons. John Newell was their other deacon, and Henry Fisk and David Morse were their ruling elders. It was not long before these officers, with Mr. Blunt their pastor, and others to the number of upwards of sixty, were baptized, and in they began to travel in a Baptist church. For three years from that period, they were oppressed for parish taxes in a most grievous manner; five of them were imprisoned in Worcester gaol, and property of different kinds was taken from them to a large amount. 26 Some of the principal brethren in Boston endeavored in vain to allay the vengeance of their oppressors; but the crime of dissenting was not to be forgiven, and the havock which followed, may be seen in the note below. The storm of persecution was furious, but not of long continuance. The Baptists soon arose to respect, and were let alone by the established party; and deacon Fisk, who was so cruelly treated at first, became afterwards a representative of the town, and died a member of the House of Assembly, in 1778. This church has had a number of teachers, but for some time past it has been under the care of Zenas L. Leonard, who was educated at Brown University, and who has, for a number of years, been a member of the State Legislature.
Before the church at Sturbridge was formed, there had arisen three of our denomination in Sutton, Brimfield, and Leicester. The Sutton church was formed in 1735; the first promoters of it removed hither from Danvers, near Salem, in which town it was then included. One Peter Clarke, being minister of that place, preached so much upon infant baptism, that a number of his people adopted the opposite opinion, and because they did not relish the continual brow-beating of their minister, removed from the sound of his declamations, and began a settlement in this place. But no sooner were they settled here, than the Sutton minister began in Mr. Clarke’s strain, and by this means a number of his people became convinced of Baptist sentiments; then the emigrants from Danvers and the converts in Sutton united in forming the church at the time above mentioned, and two years after, Benjamin Marsh and Thomas Green were ordained its pastors. This church was long since dissolved. Mr. Marsh continued its pastor about forty years, and died in 1775, at the age of ninety. He was a native of Salem, and was esteemed a godly and exemplary man, but his gifts were not great. There are, at present, three churches in this town, one belonging to the Warren Association, one to the Groton Conference, and the other to the Association whose history we now have in view. This last church was formed in 1768, partly out of the remains of a Congregational, Separate one, which was gathered in 1751, which had been previously broken up and scattered. Its present pastor is Samuel Waters who is a native of the place.
In 1788, the old church in Sutton was divided by mutual agreement, and the one at Leicester was formed, of which Thomas Green became pastor.
He was a native of Malden near Boston, but was an early settler in Leicester. He was not only a useful minister, but a skill physician; and being often called abroad both to preach and practice in his medical profession, he disseminated his principles throughout a wide circle around, and his church became very extensive. After spending a life of eminent usefulness, he finished his course in 1773, aged 75. The late John Green, M.D. of Worcester, was a son of this eminent minister, whose son, Dr.
Thomas Green, was many years pastor of the church in North Yarmouth, Maine. His successor was Benjamin Foster, afterwards pastor of the first church in New York. Next to him was Isaac Beals, who is now in Vermont. Since his removal they have had Nathan Dana and Peter Rogers, but now are destitute of a pastor.
The Brimfield church was gathered in 1736, and a few years after, Ebenezer Moulton was ordained its pastor, in which office he continued until 1763. He then went to Nova-Scotia, where he continued about fifteen years, and then came back and died among his old people in 1785. After him this church had two pastors from Middleborough; the first was James Mellen, who died in 1769 the second was Elijah Codding, who is still with them.
In the shire town of Worcester, the Baptists have never made much progress until within a short time past. But now they have a flourishing church there which was raised amidst much opposition in 1812. It belongs to the Warren Association, and is under the care of Mr. William Bentley, a native of Boston, who came out from the first church in that town.
A number of churches belonging to the Sturbridge Association are in the northeast corner of Connecticut; some account of them will be given, when we come to that State.
LEYDEN ASSOCIATION THIS body was formed in Leyden, in 1763, of thirteen churches, which are situated at no great distance from the Connecticut River, in the three States of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont. Leyden is about thirty miles above North Hampton, and upwards of a hundred northwest of Boston. The church here was formed in 1780, and Joseph Green, from Norwich, Connecticut, became its pastor. Most of the settlers of the town and the constituents of this church came from Rhode Island and the adjoining parts of Connecticut. As there was no church of the established order in the place, they were not troubled with ministerial taxes; but a considerable number of churches throughout this region, in the counties of Hampshire and Berkshire, were, for a time, unmercifully harassed with those scourges to dissenters.
The Ashfield church formerly belonged to the Warren Association, but for some reason it does not now associate with any connection. It was formed in 1761, and Ebenezer Smith became its pastor. For a number of years this church and its adherents were persecuted with great severity by the predominant party. In 1770, about four hundred acres of their land were disposed of at public sale by the furious parish tax-gatherers. For a demand of less than four dollars, Mr. Smith was dispossessed of ten acres of his home lot. From his father was taken twenty acres, containing his orchard and burying ground, which was struck off to one Wells for less than seven dollars. This coveting of fields, and taking them by force, goes beyond any thing we read of in England. There is an account of the pope taking land in a similar way from the Waldenses in France; but in Protestant countries no example of the kind appears. In these distressing circumstances the Baptists petitioned the Boston Assembly for relief; a number of fair promises were made, but no assistance was afforded them, until they, by the assistance of Governor Hutchinson, addressed the king and council, by whom the law, which sanctioned their oppressions, was disannulled, and their lands were ordered to be restored. The business was not finally settled until 1774, by which time the minister, who had been the occasion of all this oppression, became obnoxious to his own people, and went off with the avails of the estate which had been settled upon him. The church in Montague and Leverett was formed in 1765. They gave in certificates to the parish assessors according to law; but these certificates were no better than American protections; and they were, notwithstanding, taxed and distressed. In a short time Samuel Harvey had a cow and calf and yoke of oxen taken from him for the support of the parish minister; and for the same purpose a cow was taken from a Mr. Sawyer. Major Richard Montague was carried six miles towards the prison, and kept all night; in the morning the officer released him, and went back and took out of his pen a large valuable animal of that species into which the devil once entered, in the country of the Gergesenes. Major Montague was a principal leader in this church, and his son Elijah has for many years been its pastor.
In a similar way have many other churches in this vicinity been robbed of their property, for the support of an act of clergy, who were well contented to fatten on the spoils of their neighbors. There is, however, one honourable exception to this general remark. A Mr. Cook of Bernardston was settled with a salary of 75 pounds a year; at the time of his settlement he gave a written instrument, which was registered in the town book, binding himself to deduct that part of his salary, which fell to the share of the Baptists, which was annually about sixteen pounds, WESTFIELD ASSOCIATION THIS is a small body, which was formed of only six churches in 1811. In the town from which it received its name, which is about a hundred miles west of Boston, a church was formed in 1784. Adam Hamilton, a native of England, was for a time its pastor, and was highly esteemed in the Baptist connection wherever he preached; but on account of his misconduct he sometime since was rejected from their fellowship, and sank into disrepute. The church is now destitute of a pastor.
West Springfield . — As early as 1727, some persons were baptized in this town by Mr. Elisha Callender, then pastor of the first church in Boston. Their names were John Leonard, Ebenezer Leonard, William Scott, Abel Leonard, and Thomas Lamb. These people set up a meeting, and, as often as they could, obtained Baptist ministers to come among them; and in 1740, they, with others who had joined them, were formed into a church, and Edward Upham became their pastor. He was born at Malden in 1709, and educated at Cambridge College, where he graduated in 1754. After ministering at Springfield about nine years, he removed to Newport and became the successor of John Callender, the author of the Century Sermon. Here he remained about twenty years, when he went back to his old flock at Springfield, and continued his labors among them till he was turned of eighty, when a violent disorder confined him to his bed. After remaining in this condition about five years, he died in 1795, at the good old age of eighty-seven. Mr. Upham was one of the earliest and most zealous friends of Rhode Island College, of which he was an original Trustee and Fellow.
This church appears to have been once dissolved and formed anew, as it is now dated in 1789. Its present pastor is Jesse Wightman, a grandson of the founder of the Groton church in Connecticut. A second church has arisen in this town, whose pastor is Thomas Rand, who was educated at Brown University.
West Springfield is on the west side of Connecticut River, twenty-eight miles above Hartford. Opposite is Springfield, in which a small church was formed in 1811.
Chesterfield is the largest church in this association; it, was formed in of only ten members, which have now increased to about two hundred.
This body, by giving annual certificates, has from its beginning escaped the rapacious hands of the sacred constables. Its first pastor was Ebenezer Vining; its present is Asa Todd, an elder of good repute, who was born in North Haven, Connecticut in 1756.
The Hinsdale church in this body has been much distressed even within the present century for taxes towards building a meeting- ouse for the Congregational society.
On west of these churches, in the county of Berkshire, are eight belonging to the Shaftsbury Association. South of them are some connected with the Danbury Association in Connecticut. And interspersed among all of these are a considerable number of good repute, which for different reasons do not belong to any associate connection. As correct a view of them as can be obtained will be exhibited in the General Table.
A few sketches of the churches in Cheshire must close the history of this State. This town has been a distinguished nursery of Baptists for many years. Great numbers have been baptized in it, who have removed to other places; but there yet remain two churches, which, together, contain upwards of two hundred and fifty members.
In 1766, some men of Providence and Coventry in Rhode Island, purchased a large tract of land, near the head of Hoosack River, which was afterwards settled by people from that State, from Swansea, and other places near; the settlement was at first called New Providence. Afterwards a part of it was incorporated with the town of Adams, and probably some of it fell into other towns. In 1793, the town of Cheshire was incorporated out of part of Adams, Lanesborough, and a number of surrounding towns.
These frequent subdivisions of townships has led to some confusion in this part of our narrative, as there is no one at hand to give explanations on the matter; but it is sufficient to observe that in this region have arisen a number of churches, which were begun by people mostly from Rhode Island, Swansea, and Rehoboth; the oldest of them are now called the first and second in Cheshire, and belong to the Shaftsbury Association. The first of these was, in its beginning, called Adams, and was begun by Peter Werden from Rhode Island, of whom a farther account will be given in the biographical department. The second was planted by Nathan Mason of Swansea, who previously founded a church in Nova Scotia, as has been stated in the history of that Province.
These two churches have passed through various changes, and have been favored with refreshing seasons of a remarkable kind. The first is, by the emigrations of its members to other parts, reduced to a small number, and is under the care of a young man by the name of Bartemus Braman. The other is still large, and has for its minister Mr. John Leland, whose name is well known throughout the United States. Mr. Mason was born in Swansea, 1726, and was baptized in the 24th year of his age, by Job Mason, then pastor of the second church in that town. In 1763 he, with a company of his brethren, went to Nova Scotia, where they tarried about eight years, when he came back and settled in this place, where he spent the remainder of his useful life. The company, which came back from Nova Scotia, consisted of twelve; they found here six more of their Swansea brethren, and these eighteen were formed into a church in 1771, and united with the Rhode Island Yearly Meeting. In ten years from that time they increased to about two hundred members, which were scattered in many of the surrounding towns, and laid the foundations for some of the neighboring churches. Among the number added in this period was Mr. Joseph Cornell, late pastor of the second church in Providence, Rhode- Island. This church was founded on the Six Principle Plan, which lays peculiar stress upon the Laying-on-of-hands. But disputes upon this doctrine at length crept in among them, and finally arose so high, that in 1788 the church was divided. The greater part, among whom was Elder Mason, held that the Laying-on-of-hands ought not to be a bar of communion. Those, who held this doctrine, maintained a church a number of years, but it appears now to have become extinct.
Mr. Mason died a short time since in a good old age, and left behind a character fair and irreproachable. “He was,” says Mr. Leland, “a man of peace and godliness, preaching seven days in a week by his life and conversation.” Sometime previous to his death, Mr. Leland returned from Virginia, settled in Cheshire, and took a part with him in the ministry.
Under his labors a revival commenced in 1799, which prevailed in such an astonishing manner, that from the first of September, 1799, to the first of April, 1800, two hundred and twenty were added to the church, which increased its number to three hundred and ninety-six. Since that time some have been added, but great numbers have removed from them to the western country.
Mr. Leland was born in Grafton, Worcester county, Massachusetts, 1754; at the age of twenty he was baptized by Mr. Noah Alden, joined the church in Bellingham, and not long after began to preach. In 1776, he went into Virginia, where he remained about fourteen years. Some account of his labors in that state will be given when we come to its history. In 1791, he returned to New England and settled in Cheshire, as has been related. Mr. Leland has made great and successful exertions for liberty of conscience, both in Virginia and New England. For the vindication of this importaut subject he published his l/irginia Chronicle, Jack Nips, Blow at the Root, Stroke at the Branches, Yankee Spy, etc. His speech in the Massachusetts Assembly will be given in the Appendix.
Cheshire is famous for its excellent cheese, and in 1801, a number of farmers united their efforts, and made one of the astonishing weight of thirteen hundred pounds! 28 This was called the Mammoth Cheese; it was designed as a present to Mr. Jefferson, then President of the United States, and Mr. Leland was commissioned to conduct it to Washington. In the journey he was gone four months, in which time he preached seventyfour times, and multitudes everywhere flocked to hear the Mammoth priest. Mr. Leland is remarkable for his singularities, and also for his success in the ministry. In 1810, he had baptized eleven hundred and sixty-three persons, about seven hundred of them in Virginia.
From this Cheshire church have proceeded, besides Mr. Cornell, Josiah Goddard, now of Conway, the compiler of a Hymn Book, which is well esteemed; Aaron Seamans, now of North Hampton, New York, and a number of other ministers. It was with this church that the late worthy Lemuel Covel was settled as an assistant to Mr. Leland a little before his death.
We have thus given a general view of the progress of our brethren in Massachusetts, and from the foregoing sketches it appears that their sufferings and successes have both been great.
We shall now give a brief account of the laws, which have operated against them, and also those by which they have been exempted from time to time.
In the writings of Dr. Cotton Mather we find the following correct statement; “The reforming churches, flying from Rome, carried, some of them more and some of them less, all of them something of Rome with them, especially in that spirit of imposition and persecution, which too much cleaved to them all.” 29 This remarkable concession explains the whole subsequent conduct of the Massachusetts rulers. They legislated by the advice and with the assistance of their ministers, who desired that their government might be considered a theocracy, and that the Lord would lead his people by the hand of Moses and Aaron. At first, none but church members were allowed to vote in the election of rulers, and as none could be admitted into their churches but by the ministers, they had, in effect, the keys of the state as well as the church in their hands. 30 Thus, in the beginning of their government, church and state were united by the strongest ties; the ministers assisted in legislation, and the magistrate, in return, lent his aid in ecclesiastical affairs.
The Massachusetts people seem to have been ambitious from the first of erecting a peculiar government for themselves, in which no dissenter should be permitted to remain. They compared their Colony to the land of Canaan, the Congregational party were the chosen people of God, and all, who differed from them in opinion and practice, were like the seven nations of the Canaanites, who were to be driven out of the land which the Lord their God had given them. 31 At first their ministers were supported by the voluntary contributions of their flocks; but in 1638, a law was made, empowering the parish officers to distrain the due proportion from those who would not contribute in a voluntary way. This law wasmuch opposed by some of their own party, and one Nathaniel Briscoe, of Watertown, wrote a book against it, for which he was fined ten pounds; and one John Stowers, for reading some of it before a company of his friends, was fined forty shiilings. 32 But notwithstanding the murmurs of some, this law prevailed, and has been the source of unspeakable trouble and damage to the Baptists and other dissenters in this commonwealth.
We are informed, in 1657, the people of Ipswich settled a minister, and voted to give him a hundred pounds to build him a house, and taxed all the inhabitants to pay it. “This being a new thing, several persons would not comply with the scheme,” and one, who had his pewter seized for the tax, prosecuted the collector, and recovered his furniture with cost and damages. The reason rendered by the judge for this decision, was just such as every advocate for liberty would give. 33 In these squabbles none but Pedobaptists were concerned; but the opposing efforts of a few soon gave way to the prevalence of an iniquitous and tyrannical custom, and for more than a hundred and fifty years past, all the towns and parishes throughout this commonwealth, with the exception of Boston and a few other places, have raised all monies for supporting their ministers, building their meeting houses, and for other religious purposes, by a general assessment upon all rateable poles of every description, and upon all taxable property, which happened to lie within the parish bounds. The taxing laws go upon the supposition that all are of the predominant party, and if any are exempted, it is not because it is their right, but in consequence of a special act of favor from the government. According to Mr. Backus, the first law of the Massachusetts Assembly to exempt any denomination from sacred taxes, was passed immediately after the great earthquake in 1727. 34 This was in favor of the Episcopalians. The next year a law was passed to exempt Anabaptists and Quakers, provided, that they usually attended the meetings of their respective societies, and lived within five miles of the place of meeting; otherwise their taxes must be paid. This law was to continue in force no longer than till May, 1733. And between the time of its passing and expiration, twenty-eight Baptists, two Quakers, and two Episcopalians, were imprisoned at Bristol by the constables of Rehoboth, for ministerial taxes. The pretext for this oppression was, that the law of 1727 was not to go into operation until the next year. But the Governor and Council decided the contrary. 35 As soon as this law expired, taxes were again imposed upon our brethren, and some were imprisoned; but by applying to the Legislature they were again exempted until 1740. Fresh troubles breaking out at the expiration of that term of grace, they were again obliged to beg for mercy, and obtained a respite of seven years more. After that an exempting law was passed for ten years, which brings us down to 1757. Then another one was passed, which lasted thirteen years, that is, until 1770; but so was it framed, that no tongue nor pen, says Mr. Backus, can fully describe all the evils that were practiced under it. Such was the precarious and ever failing tenure, by which the Baptists, Quakers, and others, held their liberty and preserved their horses, cows, swine, poultry, furniture, etc. from the destructive hands of ministerial collectors. The rulers in this government, instead of enacting a perpetual law for the exemption of dissenters in case they would give certificates as they did in Connecticut, chose rather to hold the rod continually over their heads, and keep them forever in uncertainty and fear.
In 1770, another act was passed, which appears to have continued until the State Constitution was formed. Soon after this period, the disputes came on which terminated in the American war, and until its close all parties were so much engaged in its struggles, that the business of parish taxes does not appear to have been prosecuted in a very rigorous manner.
The exertions, which our brethren of this Commonwealth made to secure to themselves and descendants the enjoyment of religious freedom, under the new form of government, have already been in part related, and will be more fully brought to view in the biography of Mr. Backus.
All the exempting acts, which we have referred to, were qualified with requisitions of an humiliating nature, which some refused to comply with; most, however, to avoid greater evils, consented to make, what Mr. Leland calls, the Certificate Bow.
We have seen that the law of 1728 exempted only those who lived within five miles of the place of meeting. This limitation was afterwards left out, but it was still necessary that a long perplexing certificate should, upon oath or solemn affirmation, be annually presented to the county clerk, who must give it to the parish assessors, before any one could be excused from paying the sacred rates. This certificate was to be signed by “Meet persons in each respective society,” and was to contain a list of all who professed themselves Anabaptists, etc. and usually attended their meetings. The law of 1752 37 enacted that certificates in future should be signed by the Baptist minister, and two principal members of the church; but it was, at the same time, furthermore enacted, that no minister or church should have power to give lawful certificates, until they should have obtained “From three other churches, in this or the neighboring provinces, a certificate from each respectively, that they esteemed such church to be of their denomination, and that they conscientiously believed them to be Anabaptists.” 38 This was truly adding insult to injury, since it was well known that our brethren had never acknowledged the term Anabaptists as descriptive of their sentiments, but had always understood it as the language of either ignorance or malice. But now they were obliged to heap certificate upon certificate, and in the end to testify a conscientious belief of a point which they had ever contended was erroneous and false. It is difficult to conceive how any could obtain certificates under these detestable regulations: it is probable, however, they qualified the matter by saying, commonly called Anabaptists, etc.
The next law modified matters a little by requiring the certificates to say they conscientiously believed the persons in question to be of their persuasion, etc.
The law of 1770 enacted that certificates should be signed by three or more principal members of the church, and minister, if any there were. The word conscientious was retained, but the term church was exchanged for congregation, and Anabaptist for Antipedobaptist. By this law, and all former ones, certificates were to be annually procured. At the same time this law was passed, it was further enacted, that parishes might, if they pleased, vote the Baptists clear without any certificates. But it does not appear that any vote of this kind was ever passed.
These statements will give the Baptists in other parts, a view of the vexatious entanglements in which their brethren in this boasted asylum of liberty are continually involved.
When the State Constitution was adopted, the Baptists, and other dissenters, hoped for a full relief from their long scene of affliction on account of religious imposts. The Bill of Rights apparently secured to them the peaceable enjoyment of that religious freedom, which they had so long and ardently desired, and to the attainment of which, they had made every exertion, which prudence could dictate and diligence perform. This Bill declares that in this Commonwealth, “no subordination of any one sect or denomination to another shall ever be established by law.” And that “no subject shall be hurt, molested or restrained in his person, liberty, or estate, for worshipping God in the manner and season most agreeable to the dictates of his own conscience,” etc. What more could any subject ask of his government? and we may further inquire, by what unaccountable process has this Bill of Rights been so often contradicted and violated?
The only solution of this mysterious affair is, that the same Bill, (Article IlI.) declares that, “As the happiness of a people, and the good order and preservation of civil government essentially depend on piety, religion, morality, etc., the Legislature shall, from time to time, authorise and require the several towns, parishes, and precincts, etc. to make suitable provision, at their own expense, for the institution of the public worship of God, and for the support and maintenance of public protestant teachers of piety, religion, morality, etc.” The way in which this provision was to be made was prescribed in an act of 1786, which empowers “The qualified voters of any parish or precinct, at every annual meeting, to grant such sum or sums of money as they shall judge necessary, for ministers — meeting houses or other parish charges, to be assessed on the poles and property, within the same, as by law provided.” 39 The Congregational denomination, it is true, is not named in this act, nor any other which regards the support of religious teachers, etc. The power was given to the majority of every parish, precinct, etc. and it was well known to the lawmakers, that the Congregationalists, with a very few exceptions, composed this majority, so that they without being named as such, became, in fact, the established party, and had without appearing to ask the favor, a control of all other sects put into their hands. If it should so happen that in any town, parish, etc. the Baptists should be a majority, they also had the power of assessing taxes and collecting them by law. But this power they rather deprecate than desire; they do not thank any government to sanction among them a mode of procedure so contrary to all their notions of regulating religious affairs.
Thus we see that the Bill of Rights with all its strong assurances of impartiality, with all its expressions of paternal care, was counteracted by subsequent acts of the Legislature. The major party was put in possession of a religious establishment; the Congregationalists composed this majority, and of course conducted the business of parish taxes as they pleased; and all minorities were obliged to submit to their regulations. But there was still one avenue left for the escape of dissenters. The Bill of Rights declares, that “all monies paid by the subject, to the support of public worship, etc. shall, if he require it, be uniformly applied to the support of a public teacher or teachers of his own religious sect or denomination, provided there be any on whose instructions he attends;” otherwise his money is forfeited to the use of the parish. The construction put upon this article was, that the money must be paid into the treasury, and then be drawn out by an order on the treasurer, etc. And in this way the business was conducted from the adoption of the State Constitution, until 1811, that is, about thirty years. The Baptists and all others, excepting the Quakers, must pay their proportion towards the support of religion, and then they might draw their money back again, if they could, for their own ministers. Those communities of the established order, ‘who were condescending upon the matter, paid over these monies without hesitation; but in many cases difficulties ensued, and the money, once deposited in the treasury, could not be drawn back without a legal process, and not always then. It would be tedious to go over the whole history of this perplexing economy; it is sufficient to observe, that in a multitude of cases, the Baptists as well as others, were treated in a churlish, fraudulent, and abusive manner. After all their precautions and attempts for justice, they were shuffled out of their rights, and obliged to sit down and console themselves for their losses as well as they could. Assessors, collectors, treasurers, judges, and jurors, were generally against them, and of course their attempts at: redress were easily defeated.
In this posture the business of taxes for religious purposes remained, until the beginning of 1811, when an event took place, which awakened the fears and called forth the energies of the united body of dissenters. At the time referred to, the late Judge Parsons, then the Chief Justice of the State, in a trial of one of these cases respecting drawing back money, etc., decided, that no society, except those which were incorporated by law, could be entitled to the privilege. Immediately upon the news of this decision, a Circular Address, signed in behalf of others, by Dr. Baldwin of Boston, Mr. Williams of Beverly, and Mr. Bolles of Salem, was distributed through the State; accompanying it was the following petition to the Legislature: “To the Honorable Senate, and House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in General Court assembled, the Petition of the Subscribers, being of the religious denomination of Christians, called (Baptists, or as the case may be.)
Humbly Sheweth THAT whereas it appears to have been the wise and equitable intention of the framers of the Constitution of this state, to secure to the citizens individually, the equal enjoyment of their religious rights and privileges; and to bar in the most effectual manner every attempt to introduce, or maintain a “subordination of any one sect or denomination of Christians to another.” And whereas it is also expressly declared in the third article of the Bill of Rights, which makes a part of the said Constitution, that “all monies paid by the subject to the support of the public worship and of the public teachers, shall, if he require it, be uniformly applied to the support of the public teacher, or teachers of his own religious sect, or denomination, provided there be any one whose religious instructions he attends.
In conformity to the construction which has heretofore been given to this Article, many when taxed to the support of religious teachers of a different denomination, have applied to the monies thus collected, and required, that they should be paid over to the religious teacher of their own denomination, on whose ministrations they attended. In some instances, the money thus required, has been paid over to the religions teacher of their choice; but more frequently it has been detained, until recovered by a legal process, notwithstanding the plain provisions of the above article Your Honors’ petitioners beg leave further to state, that by the late decisions of the Supreme Bench, a new construction, as we conceive, has been given to the above article; limiting it wholly to incorporated religious Societies; so that no money can be claimed by the subject for the use of the religious teacher on whose instructions he attends, unless he be the teacher of an incorporated society. By the above construction, a great proportion of persons who regularly worship in unincorporated societies, will be obliged to pay to the support of teachers with whom they disagree in principle, and from whose instructions they conscientiously dissent; and without any legal remedy whatever.
In consequence of the foregoing construction, which we believe to be contrary to the intentions of the framers of the constitution, many worthy conscientious Christians will be subjected to a double proportion of ministerial taxes. Duty, honor, and gratitude, will oblige them to pay to the teacher on whose instructions they attend; and by the above construction of the laws, they will also be obliged to pay to the support of such as they do not, and cannot conscientiously hear.
Your Honors’ petitioners beg leave further to observe, that to the unequal operation of the laws, or more especially to the abovementioned construction of them, may (as we humbly conceive) be attributed, the unusual and increasing number of petitions to the General Court for acts of incorporation. To this mode of procedure, however, many have conscientious scruples; but even if they had not, it must be acknowledged as but a partial remedy for the evil of which we complain: while the state is subjected to a needless expense in granting acts of incorporation. IN ORDER, THEREFORE, more effectually to remedy the foregoing evils, and place your petitioners upon an equal footing of privileges with their fellow citizens, we pray your Honors to take this subject into your serious and wise consideration and cause the several existing laws respecting the worship of God, to be so revised end amended, that all denominations of christians may be exempt from being taxed to the support of religious teachers, excepting those on whose ministrations they voluntarily attend. Or otherways to grant such relief in the premises, as your Honors may deem proper; and your petitioners, as in duty bound, shall ever pray.”
This petition was signed by many thousands of citizens of almost every denomination, for many of the Congregationalists went heartily into this measure. When the business came before the Assembly, it underwent a long and animated discussion; the Speech of Mr. John Leland, who accepted a seat in the Legislature for the purpose of aiding this measure, will be given in the Appendix. Other able speeches were made by different gentlemen, and particularly by Reverend Mr. Cannon, a Methodist minister from Nantucket. 40 In the end, a law was passed of the following import. That whenever any person shall become a member of any religious society, corporate or unincorporate, and shall produce a certificate of such membership to the clerk of the town where he dwells, signed by a commitee of the society chosen for the purpose, such person shalt ever afterwards, so long as he collects such membership, be exempted from taxation for the support of public worship and public teachers of religion, in every other religious corporation whatsoever. This law was passed June, 1811. It afforded peculiar relief to the Baptists and other dissenters, but still neither party is altogether satisfied with it. The Congregationalists are afraid that they have given up too much, but the dissenters suppose they have not yet obtained what they claim as their just and indisputable right, namely a free exemption from all taxes and all certificates. They think it best, however, for the present, to shift along with what they have got, and obtain the rest when Providence shall open a door. The Connecticut rulers, notwithstanding all the approaches cast upon them for their ancient Blue Laws, have, long ago, done better for dissenters than Massachusetts has at this late period. There a dissenter may write his own certificate; here we see he must procure one from others.
A few remarks on civil incorporations, and a brief recapitulation shall close this long, perplexing narrative of law affairs. In Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, and all the middle, southern and western States, churches and religious societies obtain acts of incorporation, merely for the purpose of managing and defending their property. No religious duties are imposed upon them in consequence of these acts, nor is there the least danger of any inconvenience arising from their being known in law as bodies politic and corporate. For these reasons they wonder why our brethren in this State should have any scruples about the business of incorporation. They ought to be informed that as the law of this Commonwealth now stands, every religious society, which becomes incorporated by civil law, is authorized, in case a major vote can be obtained, to assess whatever sums they please on the corporate body, and collect it by a course of law. This is one evil, which many fear from incorporations.
In the second place, every incorporated society, of whatever denomination, is bound by law, to be constantly provided with a preacher, (whether the Lord send them one or not) and in case they are without for the term of three months in any six, they are liable, for the first offense, to a fine of not more than sixty dollars, nor less than thirty; and for every after offense, their fine cannot be over a hundred dollars, nor less than sixty. The costs of prosecution they must also pay. The imposing of these fines is left at the discretion of the county court, and the avails of them are to be disposed of to the support of the public worship of God, etc. 41 This is the second evil feared from incorporations. But it ought to be observed, that though these evils may arise to incorporate societies, yet there is, at present, no great danger of them.
But a still greater objection to incorporations in the minds of many of our brethren is, that they cannot persuade themselves but that it is blending law and gospel together. They have been so long harassed with this policy, that the very sound of law, in connection with the gospel, has become offensive to their ears, and awakens their strong suspicions and disgust.
And much to their comfort, the law of 1811 has provided that all unincorporate religious socities shall have the power to manage and defend their property, to prosecute and sue for any right, etc. To recapitulate the foregoing sketches: We thus see, that our brethren have had a long scene of adversity and distress in this renowned land of freedom. All taxes for the support of government they have ever cheerfully paid, but those for religious purposes have been as obnoxious to them as the vapours of Babylon, and as ruinous as the locusts of Egypt.
They have ever protested against them as unequal and unjust, as not authorized either by the original charter of the colony, by the tenure of their lands, by the State Constitution, or upon any other consideration.
Their oppressions have been grievous, but the principle, from which they have proceeded, has ground them to the quick. Their oppressors have, however, held the reins, and led them as they chose. Laws made in their favor were often administered against them; the course of justice was prevented by the quibbles of lawyers and the connivance of courts; the interested clergy were always canting against them; and the petty parish officers always acted upon the principle that the priests must have their salaries, and they must collect them according to law; and finally, the important Bill of Rights, as construed by renowned statesmen, became a vague, evasive thing, which, like the Oracle of Delphi, gave answers susceptible of many different meanings.
We have happily arrived at an age, in which the spirit of imposition has lost much of its former force. Many of the prevailing party here, like the Episcopalians of Virginia, have just notions of religious liberty, and are willing all should enjoy it; but we believe there is a large portion of the ancient leaven remaining, and dissenters need to be on their guard to prevent its operations. 43