Chapter 19: Persecutions in America
The Baptists had hardly got settled in America when they begun to experience persecutions similar to those experienced by their ancestors in the old countries.
Massachusetts was at this time under the rule of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and the Congregationalists, or Puritans, as they were generally termed, were established by law. In the year 1664, an act was passed containing the following clause:
“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 after due time and means of conviction—every such person or persons shall be sentenced to banishment.” This law was intended to operate directly against Baptists.
In the year 1651, Obadiah Holmes, John Crandall and John Clarke, the pastor of the Newport Baptist church, were sent by this church to Lynn to visit an infirm member, “William Witter, who resided at that place. The journey was made and the next day being the Sabbath, it was decided to have worship where they were, and that Mr. Clarke should preach in order that old Mr. Witter might have an opportunity to hear his own pastor, whom he had not heard preach for a long time. Mr. Clarke’s text on the occasion is found in Rev. 3:10. “Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, 1 also keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.”
Before Mr. Clarke had proceeded very far in his discourse, two constables entered and arrested Clarke, Holmes and Crandall under the following warrant:
“By virtue hereof, you are required to go to the house of William Witter, and to search from house to house for certain erroneous persons, being strangers, and them to apprehend, and in safe custody to keep, tomorrow morning, by eight o’clock, to bring before me. – Robert Bridges.”
The three persons apprehended were all fined. Mr. Crandall was fined five pounds, Mr. Clarke twenty pounds and Mr. Holmes thirty pounds. The friends of Clarke and Crandall paid their fines for them, but Mr. Holmes would not allow his fine to be paid, nor would he pay it himself, though he must either pay or be “well whipped.” So read the sentence. “With him it was a matter of conscience, and considering the punishment unjust, he would rather suffer than evade it by permitting his fine to be paid, though the offer was made.
The following is a copy of the sentence against Mr. Holmes:
“Forasmuch as you, Obadiah Holmes, being come into this jurisdiction about the 21st of the fifth month, did meet at one William Witter’s house at Lynn, and did here privately (and at other times), being an excommunicated person, did take upon you to preach and baptize upon the Lord’s day, or other days, and being taken then by the constable, and coming afterward to the assembly at Lynn, did, in disrespect to the ordinance of God and his worship, keep on your hat, the pastor being in prayer, insomuch as you would not give reverence in vailing your hat, till it was forced off your head, to the disturbance of the congregation, and professing against the institution of the church, as not being according to the gospel of Jesus Christ; and that you, the said Obadiah Holmes, did, upon the day following, meet again at said William Witter’s, in contempt to authority, you being then in the custody of the law, and did then receive the sacrament, being excommunicate, and that you did baptize such as were baptized before, and thereby did necessarily deny the baptism before administered to be baptism, the churches no churches, and also other ordinances and ministers, as if all was a nullity; and did also deny the lawfulness of baptizing infants; and all this tends to the dishonor of God among us, the peace of the churches, and seducing the subjects of this commonwealth from the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and perverting the straight ways of the Lord; the court doth fine you thirty pounds, to be paid, or sufficient sureties that the sum shall be paid by the first day of the next Court of Assistance, or else to be well whipt; and that you shall remain in prison till it be paid, or security given in for it. – By the Court, Increase Norvel.”
It will be seen that several of these specifications were for occurrences which transpired after the arrest of Mr. Holmes. It is asserted in the sentence that Mr. Holmes, after coming to the assembly at Lynn, kept on his hat in the congregation, the pastor being in prayer. The facts are that the three men had been taken from Mr. Witter’s house and carried to the Congregational assembly, against their will, while the assembly was at worship. To show their dissent the three prisoners kept on their hats, until they were rudely removed by the constable. It is also specified in the sentence against Mr. Holmes that he, while being in the custody of the law, did “receive the sacrament, being excommunicate,” and did baptize such as were baptized before. Mr. Holmes had formerly belonged to the Congregationalists, but had abandoned their faith.
Governor Endicott was present at the trial of these men, and said to Mr. Clarke: “You have denied infants baptism. You deserve death. I will not have such trash brought into my jurisdiction.” The simple truth is, these men were Baptists and preached Baptist doctrines, and had to suffer for it as Baptists have always suffered where other denominations have had the power.
The sentence was passed against Mr. Holmes in July, and he was kept a prisoner until September when he was taken out to be punished in Boston. Two magistrates, Nowell and Flint, were present to see it done severely. Mr. Holmes was stripped to his waist and whipped with a three corded whip. He says, in giving an account of his punishment: “I had such a spiritual manifestation of God’s presence, as I never had before, and the outward pain was so removed from 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, spitting in his hands three times, 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.”
Mr. Holmes said many came to him after his punishment, “rejoicing to see the power of the Lord manifested in weak flesh.” John Hazel and John Spur came and shook hands with Mr. Holmes, the former not speaking, and the latter only exclaiming, “Blessed be the Lord;” yet these two were sentenced to pay forty shillings or be whipped.
Though Mr. Holmes bore his punishment with great fortitude, it was not because the constable had any mercy, for when he reached the prison his body was found to be terribly lacerated, so much so “that in many days, if not some weeks, he could take no rest but as he lay upon his knees and elbows, not being able to suffer any part of his body to touch the bed whereon he lay.”
Mr. Holmes says: “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 plastered my sores; but there was present information given of 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.”
Mr. Benedict, quoting from Backus, says: “In 1644, a poor man by the name of Painter was suddenly turned Anabaptist, and for refusing to have his child baptized, he was complained of to the court, who with judicial dignity, interposed their authority in the case in favor of the child. And because the poor man gave it as his opinion that infant baptism was an anti-Christian ordinance, he was tied up and whipped.””
Dr. Ford says: “In 1638, a man was fined in Massachusetts for writing against the law for the support of religion, and another man for reading what the other had written.”
In 1770, Massachusetts was under the rule of the Puritan Presbyterians, and Baptists were severely taxed, not only to build their meeting houses, but also to settle their pastors. I here insert a letter addressed to the Philadelphia Baptist Association, which shows not only the difficulties which the Baptists experienced in the early settlement of America, but also shows why they so earnestly contended for both civil and religious liberty in the colonies. This letter was addressed to the Philadelphia Association, in 1770, and is as follows:
“The laws of this province never were intended to exempt the Baptists from paying toward building and repairing Presbyterian meeting houses, and making up Presbyterian ministers’ salaries; for besides other insufficiencies, they are all limited both as to extent and duration. The first law extended only five miles round each Baptist meeting house; those without this circle had no relief, neither had they within; for, though it exempted their polls, it left their estate to the mercy of harpies and their estates went to wreck. The Baptists sought a better law, and with great difficulty and waste of time and money, obtained it; but this was not universal. It extended not to any parish until a Presbyterian meeting house should be built, and a Presbyterian minister settled there; in consequence of which the Baptists have never been freed from the first and great expense of their parishes—expenses equal to the current expenses of ten or twelve years. This is the present case of the people of Ashfield, which is a Baptist settlement. There were but five families of other denominations in the place when the Baptist church was constituted; but those five and a few more, have lately built a Presbyterian meeting house there, and settled an orthodox minister, as they call him; which last cost them £200.
“To pay for both they laid a tax on the land; and, as the Baptists are the most numerous, the greatest part fell to their share. The Presbyterians, in April last, demanded the money. The Baptists pleaded poverty, alleging that they had been twice driven from their plantations by the Indians’ last war; that they were but new settlers, and had cleared out a few spots of land, and had not been able to build commodious dwelling houses. Their tyrants would not hear. Then the Baptists pleaded the ingratitude of such conduct; for they had built a fort there at their own expense, and had maintained it for two years, and so had protected the interior Presbyterians, as well as their neighbors, who now rose up against them; that the Baptists to the westward had raised money to relieve Presbyterians who had, like them, suffered by the Indians; and that it was cruel to take from them what the Indians had left! But nothing touched the hearts of these cruel people. Then the Baptists urged the law of the province; but were soon told that that law extended to no new parish till the meeting house and minister were paid for. Then the Baptists petitioned the General Court. Proceedings were stopped till further orders, and the poor people went home rejoicing, thinking their property safe; but they had not all got home before said order came; and it was an order for the Presbyterians to proceed. Accordingly, in the month of April, they fell foul on their plantations; and not on skirts and corners, but on cleared and improved spots; and so have mangled their estates and left them hardly any but a wilderness. They sold the house and garden of one man, and the young orchards, meadows, and cornfields of others; nay, they sold their dead, for they sold their graveyards. The orthodox minister was one of the purchasers. These spots amounted to three hundred and ninety-five acres and have since been valued at £363-8B., but were sold for £35-10s. This was the first payment. Two more are coming, which will not leave them an inch of land at this rate. The Baptists waited on the assembly five times this year for relief, but were not heard, under pretense they did no business; but their enemies were heard and had their business done. At last the Baptists got together about a score of the members of Cambridge, and made their complaints known; but, in general, they were treated very superciliously. One of them spoke to this effect: “The general assembly have a right to do what they did, and if you don’t like it, you may quit the place!” But, alas, they must leave their all behind! When they came together to mangle the estates of the Baptists, they diverted themselves with the tears and lamentations of the oppressed. One of them whose name is Wells, stood up to preach a mock Bermon on the occasion; and among other things used words to this effect: ‘The Baptists for refusing to pay an orthodox minister, shall be cut in pound pieces, and boiled for their fat to grease the devil’s carriage, etc.'”
Baptists were also persecuted in Virginia under the rule of the Episcopal church, or church of England, for “preaching the gospel of the Son of God.” As many as thirty ministers were imprisoned in Virginia for this offence, besides suffering all kinds of insults and abuses.
Among these honored men were James Ireland, John Weatherford, Samuel Harries, John Shackelford, Lewis and Joseph Craig, John Waller and Aaron Bledsoe. All these preachers suffered for conscience sake, under Episcopal rule in the Old Dominion. Ireland was seized by the throat, on one occasion, by the officers of the established church, while engaged in prayer in the congregation, and immediately hurried away to jail in Culpeper.
“He was accompanied to prison amid the abuses of his persecutors, and while incarcerated in his cell not only suffered by the extreme inclemency of the weather, but by the personal maltreatment of his foes. They attempted to blow him up with gunpowder, but the quantity obtained was only sufficient to force up some of the flooring of the prison. The individual who led in this infamous conduct was, shortly after, in a hunting excursion, and while asleep in the woods, bitten by a mad wolf, of which wound he died in the most excruciating pain.
“There was also an attempt made by Elder Ireland’s enemies to suffocate him, by burning brimstone, etc., at the door and window of his prison. A scheme was also formed to poison him. But the mercy of God prevented. He states that he might speak of a hundred instances of cruelty which were practiced. ‘I expected,’ says he, ‘every court, to be brought out to the post before the gazing multitude; I sat down and counted the cost, and believed through Christ strengthening me, I could suffer all things for His sake. It appears that their power did not reach so far, or it would have been executed.'”
Ireland enjoyed so much of the Divine presence while in jail that he wrote of it as “my palace in Culpeper.”
The imprisonment of John Weatherford failed to close his mouth as a herald of the cross, and he preached from the door of his prison as long as he was permitted, and when this privilege was denied him he preached through the grates of the window. Soon his enemies put a stop to this and a high wall was built around his jail, so that he could not see his congregation. Still this courageous man was undaunted, and when the congregation was assembled a handkerchief was tied to a pole, as a signal for him to commence preaching. With his powerful voice this man of God would preach so that his listeners could hear him. Some souls were converted, as a result of his preaching, before his release from prison. Elder Chastain, of Buckingham, was sent for who came and baptized the converts in the night.
Weatherford’s imprisonment continued five months, when through the influence of Patrick Henry, he was liberated.
On June 4th, 1768, a number of Baptist ministers were arrested and brought before the magistrates of Spottsylvania county, Virginia, and bound over for trial. Among them were Lewis and Joseph Craig, Aaron Bledsoe, John Walker and James Childs. The crime, as specified in the indictment against those men, was, “For preaching the Gospel of the Son of God in the colony of Virginia.”
It was at the trial of these men that Patrick Henry appeared for their defence, having ridden some fifty or sixty miles, in order to be present. He poured forth such a torrent of burning eloquence that the judge stopped him before he got through with his argument, with the words, “Sheriff, discharge those men. ”
The Lewis Craig just referred to was the same who afterwards led his church through the Cumberland gap, and on into the wilds of Kentucky, then known as “the dark and bloody ground,” where he aided in planting Baptist churches.
Joseph Craig is represented as having been a man of eccentric character, a few instances of which are mentioned.
On one occasion while preaching at Guinea’s Bridge he was arrested and an attempt made to carry him before a magistrate. ”Thinking it no dishonor to cheat the devil,” as he termed it, he slipped off the horse and took to the bushes. They hunted him with dogs, but Asahel like, being light of foot, he made good his escape. On another occasion, being pursued by his persecutors, he climbed a tree, but was shaken down, his hands tied and an attempt made to carry him to court. He then said, “If you put Joseph Craig in prison, I will have no hand in it,” and forth with lay down in the road, and his persecutors had to let him go.
Baptists continued to be persecuted for their religious faith by the various denominations, which had establishments in the colonies of America, until their numbers increased so they could command respect. The persecutions did not cease finally, however, until the Declaration of Independence was made, and the Constitution of the United States guaranteed to them, and all other denominations, the fullest liberty in religious matters. This has continued until the present time in the United States, but the Baptists are at the present time suffering severe persecutions at the hands of the Greek Catholics in Southern Russia, of which mention has already been made.
The Baptists are also suffering persecutions in Cuba at the hands of the Roman Catholics. A. J. Diaz, a Cuban, was converted a few years ago in New York, and led to embrace Baptist principles by reading the New Testament. He returned immediately to his native land, and commenced teaching his countrymen the religion of the New Testament. Soon it was ascertained that he and those whom he had led to the truth had, though unconsciously, embraced Baptist doctrines.
Mr. Diaz was ordained to the ministry by the Baptist church at Key West, Florida, and commenced the work of establishing churches in the city of Havana in the year 1886. The work has extended throughout the Island until there are, today, more than two thousand Baptists in Cuba.
In 1890, Mr. Diaz and two of his companions in the ministry, D. Herrera and A. Godinis, were imprisoned at the instigation of the Catholic priests. The complaints were unfounded, and they were finally liberated. Repeated efforts have been made to drive Mr. Diaz from Cuba, but he says he will stay there and preach while the Lord will let him live.
The line of demarkation has been drawn by other denominations all along the past, and no sympathy was ever shown the Baptists, nor did any other denomination ever desire to affiliate with them in any way, until their rapidly increasing numbers enabled them to command respect.
In 1679, the Baptists built a meeting house in Boston, but did it so cautiously that others did not know what it was designed for until they occupied it in February of the same year. In May following a law was made to take it from them, if they continued to meet in it, so they had to refrain, says Backus, from meeting in it for a time. News of this was sent to England, and the king interfered in their behalf. “Some friends in London informed the Baptists of this, upon which they met in their house again, but their chief leaders were brought before the Court of Assistants for it, in March, 1680; and because they would not promise not to meet there again, the court sent an officer, who nailed up the doors of their house, and forbid their meeting there any more upon their peril, without leave from the court.”
A law was passed in Massachusetts in 1715, “to require each county to charge the grand jury to prosecute every town or district which neglected to settle or support such ministers as they called orthodox; if they could not bring them to do it, the court was to make complaint to the Legislature, and they were to order such sums to be assessed on delinquent towns as they judged proper, and the ministers were to draw their salaries out of the State treasury.”
The Congregationalists were foremost in Massachusetts in securing the passage of such laws as the above, in nailing up Baptist meeting houses, and in bringing Baptist preachers before the courts. Notwithstanding this, in 1718, less than forty years after they nailed up the Baptist meeting house in Boston, Dr. Increase Mather, his son, and a Mr. Webb, all Congregational preachers, were invited to aid in the ordination of a Baptist preacher in that city.
In May of this year Mr. Elisha Callender was called to the pastorate of the Baptist church in Boston. Dr. Increase Mather wrote a preface to the ordination sermon, says Mr. Backus, in which he said: “It was a grateful surprise to me, when several brethren of the Antipedobaptist persuasion came to me, desiring that I would give them the right hand of fellowship in ordaining one whom they had chosen to be their pastor.”
This is the first account we have of Baptists affiliating with any other denomination in this way. The long, dark night of persecutions, no doubt led them to crave the sympathy of those who had been their persecutors. The practice of pulpit affiliation became somewhat general in later years, and no doubt originated the adoption of alien immersions in some of our churches, neither of which practice was heard of before the beginning of the eighteenth century. Other denominations would not condescend to affiliate with Baptists, and the universal practice of what was considered anabaptism upon the part of the Baptists, was one of the prime causes.
The imposition of hands after baptism, was a common custom among the Baptists in the seventeenth century, both in Europe and America, says Cathcart, though it never was a general practice. Its observance often occasioned bitter controversies, which sometimes rent churches. This custom was based on the supposition that it was an ordinance of Christ, and was supposed to rest upon Scriptural example. The practice has long since been abandoned, as being without Scriptural warrant.
It was also the custom of the Baptists in America at one time, in some localities at least, to observe the Lord’s Supper when convened in their annual meetings. It is recorded of the Baptists of Texas, in their State Convention of 1854, that “on Sabbath in the afternoon, a very large number of Baptists from different parts of the State, met and communed together around the sacramental board.”
This practice of observing the Lord’s Supper in Associational capacity, as well as some other loose practices, has also been abandoned and is remembered only by our oldest members.
Perhaps none of our churches in modern times have become as irregular in practice and discipline as the church at Corinth, yet this church was regarded by an inspired apostle as a true church, though in error. A constant appeal to the word of God by the Baptists, purges out any false doctrine and keeps their churches pure.
NOTE.—The persecutions which the Baptists endured, as shown in the preceding chapter, have been recorded in no spirit of unkindness, but for the two-fold purpose of showing the dangers attending a union of church and State, and the price which they have paid to secure for themselves and others, both civil and religious liberty. Let them and all others who would enjoy this boon, guard against all such unholy alliances in the future, and watch with an anxious eye the insidious advances of Romanism which is seeking the overthrow of our Independence as a nation, that our religious liberties may be brought to an end.
Author of the “Compendium Of Baptist History”. Please inform the Editor of the AHB (via the Contact page) if you have biographical information on this author. Thank you.