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The Beginnings of New England Or the Puritan Theocracy in its Relations to Civil and Religious Liberty online

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schismatics. Under such leaders the bigotry latent in the Puritan
commonwealth might easily break out in acts of deadly persecution.
[Sidenote: Endicott and Norton take the lead] [Sidenote: The Quakers and
their views]

The occasion was not long in coming. Already the preaching of George Fox
had borne fruit, and the noble sect of Quakers was an object of scorn
and loathing to all such as had not gone so far as they toward learning
the true lesson of Protestantism. Of all Protestant sects the Quakers
went furthest in stripping off from Christianity its non-essential
features of doctrine and ceremonial. Their ideal was not a theocracy
but a separation between church and state. They would abolish all
distinction between clergy and laity, and could not be coaxed or bullied
into paying tithes. They also refused to render military service, or
to take the oath of allegiance. In these ways they came at once into
antagonism both with church and with state. In doctrine their chief
peculiarity was the assertion of an "Inward Light" by which every
individual is to be guided in his conduct of life. They did not believe
that men ceased to be divinely inspired when the apostolic ages came
to an end, but held that at all times and places the human soul may be
enlightened by direct communion with its Heavenly Father. Such views
involved the most absolute assertion of the right of private judgment;
and when it is added that in the exercise of this right many Quakers
were found to reject the dogmas of original sin and the resurrection of
the body, to doubt the efficacy of baptism, and to call in question the
propriety of Christians turning the Lord's Day into a Jewish Sabbath, we
see that they had in some respects gone far on the road toward modern
rationalism. It was not to be expected that such opinions should
be treated by the Puritans in any other spirit than one of extreme
abhorrence and dread. The doctrine of the "Inward Light," or of private
inspiration, was something especially hateful to the Puritan. To the
modern rationalist, looking at things in the dry light of history,
it may seem that this doctrine was only the Puritan's own appeal to
individual judgment, stated in different form; but the Puritan could not
so regard it. To such a fanatic as Norton this inward light was but
a reflection from the glare of the bottomless pit, this private
inspiration was the beguiling voice of the Devil. As it led the Quakers
to strange and novel conclusions, this inward light seemed to array
itself in hostility to that final court of appeal for all good
Protestants, the sacred text of the Bible. The Quakers were accordingly
regarded as infidels who sought to deprive Protestantism of its only
firm support. They were wrongly accused of blasphemy in their treatment
of the Scriptures. Cotton Mather says that the Quakers were in the habit
of alluding to the Bible as the Word of the Devil. Such charges, from
passionate and uncritical enemies, are worthless except as they serve to
explain the bitter prejudice with which the Quakers were regarded. They
remind one of the silly accusation brought against Wyclif two centuries
earlier, that he taught his disciples that God ought to obey the Devil;
[24] and they are not altogether unlike the assumptions of some modern
theologians who take it for granted that any writer who accepts the
Darwinian theory must be a materialist. [Sidenote: Endicott and Norton
take the lead] [Sidenote: The Quakers and their views]

But worthless as Mather's statements are, in describing the views of
the Quakers, they are valuable as indicating the temper in which these
disturbers of the Puritan theocracy were regarded. In accusing them of
rejecting the Bible and making a law unto themselves, Mather simply put
on record a general belief which he shared. Nor can it be doubted that
the demeanour of the Quaker enthusiasts was sometimes such as to seem
to warrant the belief that their anarchical doctrines entailed, as a
natural consequence, disorderly and disreputable conduct. In those
days all manifestations of dissent were apt to be violent, and the
persecution which they encountered was likely to call forth strange and
unseemly vagaries. When we remember how the Quakers, in their scorn of
earthly magistrates and princes, would hoot at the governor as he
walked up the street; how they used to rush into church on Sundays and
interrupt the sermon with untimely remarks; how Thomas Newhouse once
came into the Old South Meeting-House with a glass bottle in each hand,
and, holding them up before the astonished congregation, knocked them
together and smashed them, with the remark, "Thus will the Lord break
you all in pieces"; how Lydia Wardwell and Deborah Wilson ran about the
streets in the primitive costume of Eve before the fall, and called
their conduct "testifying before the Lord"; we can hardly wonder that
people should have been reminded of the wretched scenes enacted at
Munster by the Anabaptists of the preceding century. [Sidenote: Violent
manifestations of dissent]

Such incidents, however, do not afford the slightest excuse for the
cruel treatment which the Quakers received in Boston, nor do they go
far toward explaining it. Persecution began immediately, before the
new-comers had a chance to behave themselves well or ill. Their mere
coming to Boston was taken as an act of invasion. It was indeed an
attack upon the Puritan theocratic idea. Of all the sectaries of that
age of sects, the Quakers were the most aggressive. There were at one
time more than four thousand of them in English jails; yet when any of
them left England, it was less to escape persecution than to preach
their doctrines far and wide over the earth. Their missionaries found
their way to Paris, to Vienna; even to Rome, where they testified under
the very roof of the Vatican. In this dauntless spirit they came to New
England to convert its inhabitants, or at any rate to establish the
principle that in whatever community it might please them to stay, there
they would stay in spite of judge or hangman. At first they came to
Barbadoes, whence two of their number, Anne Austin and Mary Fisher,
sailed for Boston. When they landed, on a May morning in 1656, Endicott
happened to be away from Boston, but the deputy-governor, Richard
Bellingham, was equal to the occasion. He arrested the two women and
locked them up in jail, where, for fear they might proclaim their
heresies to the crowd gathered outside, the windows were boarded up.
There was no law as yet enacted against Quakers, but a council summoned
for the occasion pronounced their doctrines blasphemous and devilish.
The books which the poor women had with them were seized and publicly
burned, and the women themselves were kept in prison half-starved for
five weeks until the ship they had come in was ready to return to
Barbadoes. Soon after their departure Endicott came home. He found fault
with Bellingham's conduct as too gentle; if he had been there he would
have had the hussies flogged. [Sidenote: Anne Austin and Mary Fisher]

Five years afterward Mary Fisher went to Adrianople and tried to convert
the Grand Turk, who treated her with grave courtesy and allowed her to
prophesy unmolested. This is one of the numerous incidents that, on a
superficial view of history, might be cited in support of the opinion
that there has been on the whole more tolerance in the Mussulman than in
the Christian world. Rightly interpreted, however, the fact has no such
implication. In Massachusetts the preaching of Quaker doctrines might
(and did) lead to a revolution; in Turkey it was as harmless as the
barking of dogs. Governor Endicott was afraid of Mary Fisher; Mahomet
III. was not.

No sooner had the two women been shipped from Boston than eight other
Quakers arrived from London. They were at once arrested. While they were
lying in jail the Federal Commissioners, then in session at Plymouth,
recommended that laws be forthwith enacted to keep these dreaded
heretics out of the land. Next year they stooped so far as to seek the
aid of Rhode Island, the colony which they had refused to admit into
their confederacy. "They sent a letter to the authorities of that
colony, signing themselves their loving friends and neighbours, and
beseeching them to preserve the whole body of colonies against 'such a
pest' by banishing and excluding all Quakers, a measure to which 'the
rule of charity did oblige them.'" Roger Williams was then president of
Rhode Island, and in full accord with his noble spirit was the reply of
the assembly. "We have no law amongst us whereby to punish any for only
declaring by words their minds and understandings concerning the things
and ways of God as to salvation and our eternal condition." As for these
Quakers we find that where they are "most of all suffered to declare
themselves freely and only opposed by arguments in discourse, there
they least of all desire to come." Any breach of the civil law shall be
punished, but the "freedom of different consciences shall be respected."
This reply enraged the confederated colonies, and Massachusetts, as the
strongest and most overbearing, threatened to cut off the trade of
Rhode Island, which forthwith appealed to Cromwell for protection. The
language of the appeal is as touching as its broad Christian spirit is
grand. It recognizes that by stopping trade the men of Massachusetts
will injure themselves, yet, it goes on to say, "for the safeguard of
their religion they may seem to neglect themselves in that respect; for
what will not men do for their God?" But whatever fortune may befall,
"let us not be compelled to exercise any civil power over men's
consciences." [25] [Sidenote: Noble conduct of Rhode Island]

There could never, of course, be a doubt as to who drew up this state
paper. During his last visit to England, three years before, Roger
Williams had spent several weeks at Sir Harry Vane's country house in
Lincolnshire, and he had also been intimately associated with Cromwell
and Milton. The views of these great men were the most advanced of
that age. They were coming to understand the true principle upon which
toleration should be based. (See my Excursions of an Evolutionist, pp.
247, 289-293.) Vane had said in Parliament, "Why should the labours of
any be suppressed, if sober, though never so different? We now profess
to seek God, we desire to see light!" [Sidenote: Roger Williams appeals
to Cromwell]

This Williams called a "heavenly speech." The sentiment it expressed was
in accordance with the practical policy of Cromwell, and in the appeal
of the president of Rhode Island to the Lord Protector one hears the
tone with which friend speaks to friend.

In thus protecting the Quakers, Williams never for a moment concealed
his antipathy to their doctrines. The author of "George Fox digged out
of his Burrowes," the sturdy controversialist who in his seventy-third
year rowed himself in a boat the whole length of Narragansett bay to
engage in a theological tournament against three Quaker champions, was
animated by nothing less than the broadest liberalism in his bold reply
to the Federal Commissioners in 1657. The event showed that under his
guidance the policy of Rhode Island was not only honourable but wise.
The four confederated colonies all proceeded to pass laws banishing
Quakers and making it a penal offence for shipmasters to bring them to
New England. These laws differed in severity. Those of Connecticut, in
which we may trace the influence of the younger John Winthrop, were the
mildest; those of Massachusetts were the most severe, and as Quakers
kept coming all the more in spite of them, they grew harsher and
harsher. At first the Quaker who persisted in returning was to be
flogged and imprisoned at hard labour, next his ears were to be cut off,
and for a third offence his tongue was to be bored with a hot iron.
At length in 1658, the Federal Commissioners, sitting at Boston with
Endicott as chairman, recommended capital punishment. It must be borne
in mind that the general reluctance toward prescribing or inflicting the
death penalty was much weaker then than now. On the statute-books there
were not less than fifteen capital crimes, including such offences as
idolatry, witchcraft, blasphemy, marriage within the Levitical degrees,
"presumptuous sabbath-breaking," and cursing or smiting one's parents.
[26] The infliction of the penalty, however, lay practically very much
within the discretion of the court, and was generally avoided except in
cases of murder or other heinous felony. In some of these ecclesiastical
offences the statute seems to have served the purpose of a threat, and
was therefore perhaps the more easily enacted. Yet none of the colonies
except Massachusetts now adopted the suggestion of the Federal
Commissioners and threatened the Quakers with death. [Sidenote: Laws
passed against the Quakers]

In Massachusetts the opposition was very strong indeed, and its
character shows how wide the divergence in sentiment had already become
between the upper stratum of society and the people in general. This
divergence was one result of the excessive weight given to the clergy by
the restriction of the suffrage to church members. One might almost say
that it was not the people of Massachusetts, after all, that shed
the blood of the Quakers; it was Endicott and the clergy. The bill
establishing death as the penalty for returning after banishment was
passed in the upper house without serious difficulty; but in the lower
house it was at first defeated. Of the twenty-six deputies fifteen were
opposed to it, but one of these fell sick and two were intimidated,
so that finally the infamous measure was passed by a vote of thirteen
against twelve. Probably it would not have passed but for a hopeful
feeling that an occasion for putting it into execution would not
be likely to arise. It was hoped that the mere threat would prove
effective. Endicott begged the Quakers to keep away, saying earnestly
that he did not desire their death; but the more resolute spirits
were not deterred by fear of the gallows. In September, 1659, William
Robinson, Marmaduke Stevenson, and Mary Dyer, who had come to Boston
expressly to defy the cruel law, were banished. Mrs. Dyer was a lady
of good family, wife of the secretary of Rhode Island. She had been an
intimate friend of Mrs. Hutchinson. While she went home to her husband,
Stevenson and Robinson went only to Salem and then faced about and came
back to Boston. Mrs. Dyer also returned. All three felt themselves
under divine command to resist and defy the persecutors. On the 27th of
October they were led to the gallows on Boston Common, under escort of
a hundred soldiers. Many people had begun to cry shame on such
proceedings, and it was thought necessary to take precautions against a
tumult. The victims tried to address the crowd, but their voices were
drowned by the beating of drums. While the Rev. John Wilson railed and
scoffed at them from the foot of the gallows the two brave men were
hanged. The halter had been placed upon Mrs. Dyer when her son, who
had come in all haste from Rhode Island, obtained her reprieve on
his promise to take her away. The bodies of the two men were denied
Christian burial and thrown uncovered into a pit. All the efforts of
husband and son were unable to keep Mrs. Dyer at home. In the following
spring she returned to Boston and on the first day of June was again
taken to the gallows. At the last moment she was offered freedom if she
would only promise to go away and stay, but she refused. "In obedience
to the will of the Lord I came," said she, "and in his will I abide
faithful unto death." And so she died. [Sidenote: Executions on Boston
Common] [Sidenote: Wenlock Christison's defiance and victory]

Public sentiment in Boston was now turning so strongly against the
magistrates that they began to weaken in their purpose. But there
was one more victim. In November, 1660, William Leddra returned from
banishment. The case was clear enough, but he was kept in prison four
months and every effort was made to induce him to promise to leave the
colony, but in vain. In the following March he too was put to death. A
few days before the execution, as Leddra was being questioned in court,
a memorable scene occurred. Wenlock Christison was one of those who had
been banished under penalty of death. On his return he made straight for
the town-house, strode into the court-room, and with uplifted finger
addressed the judges in words of authority. "I am come here to warn
you," said he, "that ye shed no more innocent blood." He was instantly
seized and dragged off to jail. After three months he was brought to
trial before the Court of Assistants. The magistrates debated for more
than a fortnight as to what should be done. The air was thick with
mutterings of insurrection, and they had lost all heart for their
dreadful work. Not so the savage old man who presided, frowning gloomily
under his black skull cap. Losing his patience at last, Endicott smote
the table with fury, upbraided the judges for their weakness, and
declared himself so disgusted that he was ready to go back to England.
[27] "You that will not consent, record it," he shouted, as the question
was again put to vote, "I thank God I am not afraid to give judgment."
Christison was condemned to death, but the sentence was never executed.
In the interval the legislature assembled, and the law was modified. The
martyrs had not died in vain. Their cause was victorious. A revolution
had been effected. The Puritan ideal of a commonwealth composed of a
united body of believers was broken down, never again to be restored.
The principle had been admitted that the heretic might come to
Massachusetts and stay there.

It was not in a moment, however, that these results were fully realized.
For some years longer Quakers were fined, imprisoned, and now and then
tied to the cart's tail and whipped from one town to another. But these
acts of persecution came to be more and more discountenanced by public
opinion until at length they ceased.

It was on the 25th of May, 1660, just one week before the martyrdom of
Mary Dyer, that Charles II. returned to England to occupy his father's
throne. One of the first papers laid before him was a memorial in behalf
of the oppressed Quakers in New England. In the course of the following
year he sent a letter to Endicott and the other New England governors,
ordering them to suspend proceedings against the Quakers, and if any
were then in prison, to send them to England for trial. Christison's
victory had already been won, but the "King's Missive" was now partially
obeyed by the release of all prisoners. As for sending anybody to
England for trial, that was something that no New England government
could ever be made to allow.

Charles's defence of the Quakers was due, neither to liberality
of disposition nor to any sympathy with them, but rather to his
inclinations toward Romanism. Unlike in other respects, Quakers and
Catholics were alike in this, that they were the only sects which the
Protestant world in general agreed in excluding from toleration. Charles
wished to secure toleration for Catholics, and he could not prudently
take steps toward this end without pursuing a policy broad enough to
diminish persecution in other directions, and from these circumstances
the Quakers profited. At times there was something almost like a
political alliance between Quaker and Catholic, as instanced in the
relations between William Penn and Charles's brother, the Duke of York.
[Sidenote: The "King's Missive"] [Sidenote: Why Charles II. interfered
to protect the Quakers]

Besides all this, Charles had good reason to feel that the governments
of New England were assuming too many airs of sovereignty. There were
plenty of people at hand to work upon his mind. The friends of Gorton
and Child and Vassall were loud with their complaints. Samuel Maverick
swore that the people of New England were all rebels, and he could prove
it. The king was assured that the Confederacy was "a war combination,
made by the four colonies when they had a design to throw off their
dependence on England, and for that purpose." The enemies of the New
England people, while dilating upon the rebellious disposition of
Massachusetts, could also remind the king that for several years that
colony had been coining and circulating shillings and sixpences with the
name "Massachusetts" and a tree on one side, and the name "New England"
with the date on the other. There was no recognition of England upon
this coinage, which was begun in 1652 and kept up for more than thirty
years. Such pieces of money used to be called "pine-tree shillings";
but, so far as looks go, the tree might be anything, and an adroit
friend of New England once gravely assured the king that it was meant
for the royal oak in which his majesty hid himself after the battle of

Against the colony of New Haven the king had a special grudge. Two of
the regicide judges, who had sat in the tribunal which condemned his
father, escaped to New England in 1660 and were well received there.
They were gentlemen of high position. Edward Whalley was a cousin of
Cromwell and Hampden. He had distinguished himself at Naseby and Dunbar,
and had risen to the rank of lieutenant-general. He had commanded at
the capture of Worcester, where it is interesting to observe that the
royalist commander who surrendered to him was Sir Henry Washington, own
cousin to the grandfather of George Washington. The other regicide,
William Goffe, as a major-general in Cromwell's army, had won such
distinction that there were some who pointed to him as the proper person
to succeed the Lord Protector on the death of the latter. He had married
Whalley's daughter. Soon after the arrival of these gentlemen, a royal
order for their arrest was sent to Boston. If they had been arrested and
sent back to England, their severed heads would soon have been placed
over Temple Bar. The king's detectives hotly pursued them through the
woodland paths of New England, and they would soon have been taken but
for the aid they got from the people. Many are the stories of their
hairbreadth escapes. Sometimes they took refuge in a cave on a mountain
near New Haven, sometimes they hid in friendly cellars; and once, being
hard put to it, they skulked under a wooden bridge, while their pursuers
on horseback galloped by overhead. After lurking about New Haven and
Milford for two or three years, on hearing of the expected arrival
of Colonel Nichols and his commission, they sought a more secluded
hiding-place near Hadley, a village lately settled far up the
Connecticut river, within the jurisdiction of Massachusetts. Here the
avengers lost the trail, the pursuit was abandoned, and the weary
regicides were presently forgotten. The people of New Haven had been
especially zealous in shielding the fugitives. Mr. Davenport had not
only harboured them in his own house, but on the Sabbath before their
expected arrival he had preached a very bold sermon, openly advising
his people to aid and comfort them as far as possible. [28] The colony,
moreover, did not officially recognize the restoration of Charles II. to
the throne until that event had been commonly known in New England for
more than a year. For these reasons the wrath of the king was specially
roused against New Haven, when circumstances combined to enable him at
once to punish this disloyal colony and deal a blow at the Confederacy.
We have seen that in restricting the suffrage to church members New
Haven had followed the example of Massachusetts, but Connecticut had
not; and at this time there was warm controversy between the two younger
colonies as to the wisdom Of such a policy. As yet none of the colonies
save Massachusetts had obtained a charter, and Connecticut was naturally
anxious to obtain one. Whether through a complaisant spirit connected
with this desire, or through mere accident, Connecticut had been prompt
in acknowledging the restoration of Charles II.; and in August, 1661,
she dispatched the younger Winthrop to England to apply for a charter.
Winthrop was a man of winning address and of wide culture. His
scientific tastes were a passport to the favour of the king at a time
when the Royal Society was being founded, of which Winthrop himself was
soon chosen a fellow. In every way the occasion was an auspicious one.
The king looked upon the rise of the New England Confederacy with
unfriendly eyes. Massachusetts was as yet the only member of the league

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Online LibraryJohn FiskeThe Beginnings of New England Or the Puritan Theocracy in its Relations to Civil and Religious Liberty → online text (page 13 of 20)