There’s a kind of sucker punch in many presentations of American history, wherein we are told that the Puritans left England for America because they had suffered religious persecution—and then the Puritans persecuted other religions here! We’re given the impression that they were looking for freedom of religion and then denied it to others.
In the 1650’s several of our ancestors became Quakers and enduried escalating fines, prison, banishment, whipping and ear cutting. Some of these ancestors were closely involved when four Quakers were condemned to death and executed by public hanging for their religious beliefs in Boston in 1659, 1660 and 1661. Richard SCOTT’s daughter Patience, in June, 1659, a girl of about eleven years, having gone to Boston as a witness against ‘the persecution of the Quakers, was sent to prison; others older being banished. Today we ask, “What kind of people put an 11 year old girl in jail? “
In our 2011 imagination, the Quakers are the conscientious objector good guys while the Puritans are the hypocritical tyrants. Almost any book you read about the Massachusetts Bay Colony gives you the feeling that the moment those people set foot on shore in America they started betraying their own values. Objectivity is hard to come by when you’re reading about the Puritans. Is our modern perspective accurate?
The “Friends”, “Children of the Light” or “Quakers” were the most libertarian and fanatical of Protestant reformers, rejecting in toto formal religion. Anathema to the original English Quaker, George Fox, were priests in any form of employ of the state (“hirelings”). Moved by his own “direct revelation of the divine” – aren’t they all – he eschewed “steeplehouses” (churches) and relied on his charisma alone to draw vast outdoor crowds. The hot gospelling, spirit-filled hysteria attracted a following and alarmed the Puritan elite, not least because the Friends refused any form of deference, oaths or tithes.
Among Fox’s ideas were:
- Rituals can be safely ignored, as long as one experiences a true spiritual conversion.
- The qualification for ministry is given by the Holy Spirit, not by ecclesiastical study. This implies that anyone has the right to minister, assuming the Spirit guides them, including women and children.
- God “dwelleth in the hearts of his obedient people”: religious experience is not confined to a church building. Indeed, Fox refused to apply the word “church” to a building, using instead the name “steeple-house”, a usage maintained by many Quakers today. Fox would just as soon worship in fields and orchards, believing that God’s presence could be felt anywhere.
- Though Fox used the Bible to support his views, Fox reasoned that, because God was within the faithful, believers could follow their own inner guide rather than rely on a strict reading of Scripture or the word of clerics.
- As the Bible makes no mention of the Trinity, Fox also made no clear distinction between Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
In 1647 Fox began to preach publicly: in market-places, fields, appointed meetings of various kinds or even sometimes “steeple-houses” after the service. His powerful preaching began to attract a small following. It is not clear at what point the Society of Friends was formed but there was certainly a group of people who often travelled together. At first, they called themselves “Children of the Light” or “Friends of the Truth”, and later simply “Friends”. Fox seems to have had no desire to found a sect but only to proclaim what he saw as the pure and genuine principles of Christiani in their original simplicity, though he afterward showed great prowess as a religious legislator in the organization he gave to the new society.
There were a great many rival Christian denominations holding very diverse opinions; the atmosphere of dispute and confusion gave Fox an opportunity to put forward his own beliefs through his personal sermons. Fox’s preaching was grounded in scripture but was mainly effective because of the intense personal experience he was able to project. He was scathing about immorality, deceit and the exacting of tithes and urged his listeners to lead lives without sin, avoiding the Ranter‘s antinomian view that a believer becomes automatically sinless. By 1651 he had gathered other talented preachers around him and continued to roam the country despite a harsh reception from some listeners, who would whip and beat them to drive them away The worship of Friends in the form of silent waiting seems to have been well-established by this time, though it is not recorded how this came to be.
Fox was first arrested for blasphemy in October 1652, but was released on a technicality. He was arrested again for blasphemy in 1653. It was even proposed to put him to death but Parliament requested his release rather than have “a young man … die for religion”. Further imprisonments came at London in 1654, Launceston in 1656, Lancaster in 1660, Leicester in 1662, Lancaster again and Scarborough in 1664–66 and Worcester in 1673–75. Charges usually included causing a disturbance and travelling without a pass. Quakers fell foul of irregularly enforced laws forbidding unauthorized worship while actions motivated by belief in social equality—refusing to use or acknowledge titles, take hats off in court or bow to those who considered themselves socially superior—were seen as disrespectful.
In prison George Fox continued writing and preaching, feeling that imprisonment brought him into contact with people who needed his help—the jailers as well as his fellow prisoners. He also sought to set an example by his actions there, turning the other cheek when being beaten and refusing to show his captors any dejected feelings.
Parilamentarians grew suspicious of monarchist plots and fearful that the group travelling with Fox aimed to overthrow the government: by this time his meetings were regularly attracting crowds of over a thousand. In early 1655 he was arrested at Whetstone, Leicestershire and taken to London under armed guard. In Mar he was brought before the Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell. After affirming that he had no intention of taking up arms Fox was able to speak with Cromwell for most of the morning about the Friends and advised him to listen to God’s voice and obey it so that, as Fox left, Cromwell “with tears in his eyes said, ‘Come again to my house; for if thou and I were but an hour of a day together, we should be nearer one to the other'; adding that he wished [Fox] no more ill than he did to his own soul.”
This episode was later recalled as an example of “speaking truth to power”, a preaching technique by which subsequent Quakers hoped to influence the powerful. Although not used until the 20th century, the phrase is related to the ideas of plain speech and simplicity which Fox practiced, but motivated by the more worldly goal of eradicating war, injustice and oppression.
The persecutions of these years—with about a thousand Friends in prison by 1657—hardened George Fox’s opinions of traditional religious and social practices. In his preaching, he often emphasized the Quaker rejection of baptism by water; this was a useful way of highlighting how the focus of Friends on inward transformation differed from what he saw as the superstition of outward ritual. It was also deliberately provocative to adherents of those practices, providing opportunities for Fox to argue with them on matters of scripture. This pattern was also found in his court appearances: when a judge challenged him to remove his hat, Fox riposted by asking where in the Bible such an injunction could be found.
In July 1656,the first Quaker missionaries, Anne Austin and Mary Fisher landed in Boston to bring the message of the “inner light” to the New World and immediatley became targets of the civil government. For their story, see Puritans V. Quakers – Boston Martyrs
John Ap John
John was the brother of our ancestor Mary JOHNSON PEASLEE.
- Born: 1625
- Died: 1697
- Place of Birth: Cefn Mawr
- Famous For: First person to become a Quaker in Wales.
- Biography: Local historian Howard Paddock writes about the religious pioneer from Cefn.
- It is generally accepted that John ap John was born about 1625 at a freehold property called Pen y Cefn in the county of Denbighshire. The son of a yeoman farmer, he became one of the country’s leading dissenters. It was John ap John who first brought Quakerism into Wales and because of this he is commonly called ‘The First Apostle of Welsh Quakerism.’ The very first Quaker Meeting in Wales was held at his home in Cefn Mawr, an area which was then known as Cristionydd Kenrick, a township within the Parish of Ruabon.
- John ap John was educated at Wrexham where he possibly came under the influence of Walter Craddock, a leading Puritan preacher. During the Civil War it is thought that John ap John served as a Chaplain with the Parliamentarian Army at Beaumaris, Anglesey. After the war, he joined Morgan Llwyd’s Church at Wrexham, where he soon became a leading member and travelling preacher.
- It was through Morgan Llwyd that he met George Fox, the founder Of the Society of Friends. In 1653, John ap John stayed at Fox’s headquarters in Swarthmore, Lancashire where he learned about the philosophy of ‘The Inner Light’ and the teachings of George Fox. When John ap John was convinced of the truth he became the very first Welsh Quaker.
- To say simply that he spent the greater part of his life tramping through Wales preaching the Quaker message would be to ignore the bravery of this man. For these were the days of religious intolerance, when heretics were condemned to death and the Law Courts threatened to burn Quakers. He spent a life-time being persecuted and was incarcerated because of his beliefs in the jails of Cardiff, Usk, Tenby, Swansea, Welshpool and possibly Carmarthen. He was gaoled for such offences as refusing to remove his hat in the presence of a social superior and fined for holding religious services inside his own home
- In 1681, John ap John met William Penn in London and was instrumental in persuading Penn to allocate 30,000 acres of his American land to Welsh Quakers.
John ap John died in 1697 at the home of son in law, John Mellor of Ipstones, Staffordshire, and was buried in nearby Basford. He lies in an unmarked grave in what today simply looks like a field.
There was dissent to Puritan beliefs in New England almost from the beginning and Anne Hutchinson, the daughter of our ancestor Rev. Francis MARBURY played an important role.
Anne Hutchinson (1591–1643) was one of the most prominent women in colonial America, noted for her strong religious convictions, and for her stand against the staunch religious orthodoxy of 17th century Massachusetts. She was a Puritan whose religious ideas were at odds with the established Puritan clergy in the Boston area, and her popularity and charisma created a schism in the Boston church which threatened to destroy the Puritans’ religious experiment in New England. Creating the most challenging situation for the ruling magistrates and ministers during her first three years in Boston, she was eventually tried and convicted, then banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony with many of her followers.
Anne Hutchinson figures prominently in an excellent book , The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell.
Anne is a key figure in the study of the development of religious freedom in England’s American colonies and the history of women in ministry. She challenged the authority of the ministers, exposing the subordination of women in the culture of colonial Massachusetts. Although her religious ideas remain controversial, her implicit rejection of state authority to prescribe specific religious rites and interpretations, was later enshrined in the American Constitution. The State of Massachusetts honors her with a State House monument calling her a “courageous exponent of civil liberty and religious toleration.”
Born in Alford, Lincolnshire, England, Anne was the daughter of Francis Marbury, an Anglican minister with strong Puritan leanings, who had been imprisoned for two years, and then later put under house arrest for his overt criticism of the Anglican hierarchy for not staffing churches with better trained ministers. Marbury was also a school teacher, and when under house arrest, he used his time to teach his children, and Anne grew up with a far better education than most girls, who generally had few educational opportunities in 16th century England. As a young adult living in London, she married there an old friend from Alford, William Hutchinson, and the couple moved back to Alford where they began a family and visited various churches in the area. Hearing of a dynamic young preacher named John Cotton in the market town of Boston, Lincolnshire, about 21 miles away, the couple went to hear him preach, and thereafter made the difficult trip by horseback at every opportunity. Enamored with Cotton’s preaching, Anne Hutchinson was distraught when Cotton was compelled to emigrate following threats of imprisonment for his Puritan messages and practices.
In 1634, after the birth of her 14th child, Hutchinson followed Cotton to New England with her husband and 11 living children, and soon became well established in the growing settlement of Boston, in the English colonies. She was a midwife, and very helpful to those needing her assistance. In 1637, Anne delivered a stillborn, deformed baby of her friend and future Boston Martyr, Mary Dyer. Puritans believed that birth defects were punishments for the parents sins. See below for the story of Mary and Anne’s troubles with the Puritan authorities.
She was very forthcoming with her personal religious opinions and understandings. Soon she was hosting women at her house once a week, providing commentary on recent sermons, and sharing her religious views, including criticism of many local ministers. These meetings became so popular, that she soon began offering meetings to men as well, to include the young governor of the colony, Harry Vane, and up to 80 people a week were visiting her house to learn from her interpretations and views of religious matters. As a follower of Cotton, she espoused a “covenant of grace,” while accusing all of the local ministers (except for Cotton and her husband’s brother-in-law, John Wheelwright) of preaching a “covenant of works.” Several ministers complained about Hutchinson to John Winthrop, who served several terms as governor of the colony, and eventually the situation erupted into what is known as the Antinomian Controversy, resulting in Hutchinson’s 1637 trial, conviction, and banishment from the colony.
With encouragement from Roger Williams, Hutchinson and many followers established the settlement of Portsmouth in what would become the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. She lived there for a few years, but after her husband’s death, threats of Massachusetts taking over Rhode Island compelled her to move totally outside the reach of Boston, into the lands of the Dutch. Sometime in 1642 she settled with her younger children in New Netherland near an ancient landmark called Split Rock in what would later become Bronx, New York City. Here she had a home built, but tensions with the native Siwanoy were high, and following inhumane treatment by the Dutch, the natives went on a series of rampages known as Kieft’s War, and in August 1643, all but one of the 16 members of Hutchinson’s household were massacred during an attack. The lone survivor, nine-year old Susanna Hutchinson, was taken captive, and held for several years before being returned to family members in Boston.
Anne Hutchinson’s brother-in-law, Richard SCOTT Sr. (1605 – 1680) was one of the first Quakers in the Rhode Island colony. He came over in 1634 on the ship “Griffin” and was admitted to the church at Boston, 28 Aug 1634. His wife, Katherine Marbury’s father was also the daughter a London clergyman, Rev. Francis Marbury.
Governor John Winthrop relates:
“One Scott and Eliot of Ipswich were lost in their way homewards and wandered up and down six days and ate nothing. At length thoy were found by an Indian, being almost senseless for want of food.”
Richard removed in 1634 to Ipswich and before 1637 to Providence, Rhode Island. 20 Aug 1637 – Richard signed the famous Providence Compact. Roger Williams established a settlement with twelve “loving friends.” He called it “Providence” because he felt that God’s Providence had brought him there. He said that his settlement was to be a haven for those “distressed of conscience,” and it soon attracted quite a collection of dissenters and otherwise-minded individuals. From the beginning, the settlement was governed by a majority vote of the heads of households, but “only in civil things,” and newcomers could be admitted to full citizenship by a majority vote. In August of 1637 they drew up a town agreement, which again restricted the government to “civil things.” In 1640, another agreement was signed by thirty-nine freemen, which declared their determination “still to hold forth liberty of conscience.” Thus, Williams had founded the first place in modern history where citizenship and religion were separated, a place where there was religious liberty and separation of church and state.
16 Jan 1639 – Governor Winthrop says of Mrs. Scott:
“At Providence things grew still worse, for a sister of Mrs. Hutchinson, the wife of one Scott, being affected with Anabaptistery and going to live at Providence, Mr. Williams, was taken (or rather emboldened) by her to make open profession thereof and accordingly was re-baptised by one Holyman, a poor man late of Salem. Then Mr. Williams re-baptized him and some ten more. They also denied the baptism of infants and would have no magistrates.”
1655 – Scott was admitted a freeman. He and his family were constantly subjected to religious persecution.
Mary Dyer – Future Boston Martyr
William and Mary Dyer were open supporters of Anne (Marbury) Hutchinson (sister of our ancestor Katherine MARBURY SCOTT) and the Rev. John Wheelwright during the Antinomian controversy. Mary and Anne were friends, and when Mary went into premature labor on October 17, 1637, Anne, an experienced midwife, was called to her side. After hours of agonizing labor, Mary’s body gave forth a stillborn daughter. The child was badly deformed. Also present at the stillbirth were the midwife Jane Hawkins, and at least one other unnamed woman, who was reputed to be the source of the information later spread about the monstrous birth that, one observer later wrote, was “whispered by s[ome] women in private to some others (as many of that sex as[semble] in such a strang business).” William Dyer and Anne agreed that the birth must remain a secret, knowing that the unfortunate birth could play into the hands of the Boston magistrates. Mary herself could be personally blamed for the malformed baby.
While English law permitted a midwife to bury a child in private, a midwife could not lawfully deliver or bury a child in secret. Anne Hutchinson immediately sought the counsel of Rev. John Cotton about whether the stillbirth should be publicly recorded. Although he had betrayed her politically, Anne felt she could count on him in this crisis. Cotton, with a flash of nonconformity, dismissed the ancient folk wisdom that held that infant death was conspicuous punishment for the parents’ sins and advised her to ignore the law and to bury the deformed fetus in secret.
Acting on this special dispensation, Jane Hawkins and Anne buried the stillborn child – exactly as they had always done in old England where custom-imbedded law dictated to the midwife: “If any child be dead born, you yourself shall see it buried in such secret place as neither hog nor dog, nor any other beast may come unto it, and in such sort done, as it may not be found or perceived, as much as you may.” The birth and burial remained a secret for five months.
In November, 1637, William was disenfranchised and disarmed along with dozens of other followers of Anne Hutchinson. On March 22, 1638, when Anne Hutchinson was excommunicated from the church and withdrew from the assemblage, Mary Dyer rose and accompanied her out of the church. As the two women left, there were several women hanging around outside the church and one was heard to ask, “Who is that woman accompanying Anne Hutchinson?” Another voice answered loud enough to be heard inside the church, “She is the mother of a monster!” Governor Winthrop heard this and was excitedly questioned Cotton, who broke down and confessed that “God, Cotton and Anne Hutchinson” had buried a deformed child five months ago. Although the child had been buried “too deep for dog or hog,” it was not too deep for Winthrop who ordered it exhumed. Winthrop and the clergymen who examined it showed an inordinate interest in the physical characteristics of the “monster.” According to John Winthrop’s Journal, Mary Dyer, who was “notoriously infected with Mrs Hutchinson’s errors,” was divinely punished for this sinful heresy by being delivered of a stillborn “monster.” Winthrop included gruesome, detailed descriptions in his journal and in letters sent to correspondents in England and New England:
It was a woman child, stillborn, about two months before the just time, having life a few hours before; it came hiplings [breach birth] till she turned it; it was of ordinary bigness; it had a face, but no head, and the ears stood upon the shoulders and were like an ape’s; it had no forehead, but over the eyes four horns, hard and sharp, two of them were above one inch long, the other two shorter; the eyes standing out, and the mouth also; the nose hooked upward all over the breast and back, full of sharp pricks and scales, like a thornback; the navel and all the belly, with the distinction of the sex, were where the back should be; and the back and hips before, where the belly should have been; behind, between the shoulders, it had two mouths, and in each of them a piece of red flesh sticking out; it had arms and legs as other children; but, instead of toes, it had on each foot three claws, like a young fowl, with sharp talons.
Excommunicated and banished in their turn, the Dyers followed Anne Hutchinson to Rhode Island where William became one of the founders of Portsmouth. On 7 March 1638 he was one of the eighteen who signed the companct and he was elected Clerk. The Dyers ultimately settled in Newport where by 19 March 1640 William had acquired 87 acres of land. He served as Secretary for the towns of Portsmouth and Newport from 1640-47; General Recorder 1647; Attorney General 1650-1653.
In 1652 William and Mary Dyer accompanied Roger Williams and John Clarke (1609-1676) on a political mission to England. Mary remained for five years, becoming a follower of George Fox, founder of the Society of Friends, whose doctrine of the Inner Light was not unlike Mrs. Hutchinson’s “Antinomianism“
Continue to my post Puritans V. Quakers – Boston Martyrs for more of Mary’s story and her sad end.