OF all the pests which so far the New England Puritans dreaded and hated, the Baptists or, as they were nicknamed, “the Anabaptists,” were the greatest. It was not one of the least of the offenses of Roger William’s that he was a Baptist. Not long after Roger Williams’ banishment, that Thomas Shepard of Charlestown in the sermon before referred to entitled “Eye Salve,” had told the governor and the magistrates that “Anabaptists have ever been looked at by the godly leaders of this people as a scab;” and the president of Harvard College said that “such a rough thing as a New England Anabaptist is not to be handled over tenderly.” According to these principles, therefore, the general court of Massachusetts in 1644—
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, … and shall appear to the court willfully and obstinately to continue therein, after due time and means of conviction, every such person or persons shall be sentenced to banishment.
The next year, however, a strong petition was presented for the repeal of the law because of the offense that had been “taken threat by the godly in England, ‘but many of the elders entreated that the law might continue still in force.’” The law remained, but the representative of the colony who went to England in 1646 explained to parliament that “‘it is true we have a severe law, but wee never did or will execute the rigor of it upon any … But the reason wherefore wee are loath either to repeale or alter the law is because wee would have it … to beare witnesse against their judgment, … which we conceive … to bee erroneous.” In pursuance of this law and in the same year, a Baptist by the name of Painter, for refusing to let his child be sprinkled, “was brought before the court, where he declared their baptism to be antichristian.” He was sentenced to be whipped, which he bore without flinching.
And now, in 1651, three Baptist ministers, John Clarke, Obadiah Holmes, and John Crandall, went from the Providence plantation to Lynn, Massachusetts, to visit an aged Baptist. They arrived on Saturday, July 19, and the next day they worshiped together in his private house. While Mr. Clarke was preaching, two constables entered the house with a warrant to arrest “certain erroneous persons being strangers.” The three ministers were carried off at once to the tavern, and were notified that they must attend worship at the parish church in the afternoon. They protested, saying that if they were forced into the meeting-house, they should be obliged to dissent from the service. The constable told them that was nothing to him. He was ordered to bring them to church, and to church they must go. As they entered the meeting-house, the congregation was at prayers, and the three prisoners took off their hats; but as soon as the prayer was over, they put on their hats again, and began reading in their seats. The officers were ordered to take off their hats again.
When the service was over, Elder Clarke asked permission to speak. His request was granted on condition that he would not speak about what he had just heard preached. He began to explain why he had put on his hat, saying that he “could not judge that they were gathered according to the visible order of the Lord.” He was allowed to proceed no further, and the three were shut up for the night. The following Tuesday they were taken to Boston and put in prison. July 31, they were tried before the court of assistants, and were fined, Clarke twenty pounds, Holmes thirty, and John Crandall five, “or each to be well whipped.” At the beginning of the trial Elder Clarke had asked that they be shown the law under which they were being tried, and now he made the same request again, but Endicott broke in, “You have deserved death. I will not have such trash brought into our jurisdiction. You go up and down, and secretly insinuate things into those that are weak, but you cannot maintain it before our ministers; you may try a dispute with them.”
As they were sent away from the court to prison, Elder Holmes says, “As I went from the bar, I exprest myself in these words: ‘I blesse God I am counted worthy to suffer for the name of Jesus; whereupon John Wilson (their pastor, as they call him) strook me before the judgment-seat, and cursed me, saying, ‘the curse of God … goe with thee;’ so we were carried to the prison.”
The Baptists were ready to defend their doctrines as well as to attack the popish ceremonies of the Puritans; therefore Elder Clarke, as soon as they had arrived at the prison, wrote a letter to the court, and proposed to debate the Baptist principles with any of their ministers. He was asked in reply what the Baptist principles were that he would debate. Clarke drew up four propositions, the first stating their faith in Christ; second, that baptism, or dipping in water, is one of the commandments of the Lord Jesus Christ, and that a visible believer or disciple of Christ Jesus (that is, one who manifests repentance toward and faith in Jesus Christ) is the only person to be baptized or dipped  in water etc.; third, that every such believer in Christ may in point of liberty, and ought in point of duty, to improve that talent which the Lord had given him, and in the congregation may ask for information to himself; or if he can, may speak by way of prophecy, for edification, and upon all occasions and in all places as far as the jurisdiction of his Lord extends, may and ought to walk as a child of light; and, fourth, “I testify that no such believer or servant of Christ Jesus hath any liberty, much less authority, from his Lord, to smite his fellow-servant, nor with outward force, or arm of flesh to constrain, or restrain, his conscience, nor his outward man for conscience’ sake, or worship of his God, where injury is not offered to any person, name, or estate of others, every man being such as shall appear before the judgment-seat of Christ, and must give an account of himself to God; and, therefore, ought to be fully persuaded in his own mind for what he undertakes, because he that doubteth is damned if he eat, and so also if he act, because he doth not eat or act in faith, and what is not of faith is sin.”
There was at first some talk, or rather a bluff, that Cotton would debate with him; but after consulting together, Cotton declined, and as Elder Clarke’s fine had been paid by his friends, he was released, and ordered to go out of the colony as soon as possible. They all three refused to pay the fine that was imposed. Crandall was admitted to bail, but they resolved to hold Elder Holmes, and make him an example. What happened to him he himself tells in a letter to his brethren in London, as follows:—
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 to 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 am no disputant, yet seeing I am to seal with my blood what I hold, I am ready to defend by the word, and to dispute that point with any that shall come forth to withstand it.” Mr. Nowel answered, now was no time to dispute; then said I, “I desire to give an account of the faith and order which 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 came to convince me of error? And, when upon the governor’s words, a motion was made for a public dispute, and often renewed upon fair terms, and desired by hundreds, what was the reason it was not granted?” Mr. Nowel told me, it was his fault who 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 an hundredth part of a wampum peague to free it out of their hands; and that I made as much conscience of unbuttoning one button, as I did of paying the thirty pounds in reference thereunto. I told them, moreover, that the Lord having manifested his love towards me in giving me repentance towards God, and faith in Christ, and so to be baptized in water by a messenger of Jesus, in 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 God would not fail;” so it pleased the Lord to come in, and to fill my heart and tongue as a vessel full, and with an audible voice I break forth, praying 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 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 hand 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 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.”
When the whipping was over, two men, John Hazel and John Spur, went up to the suffering man, and shook hands with him, Hazel not speaking anything at all, and Spur simply saying, “Blessed be the Lord;” yet both were fined forty shillings, with the choice of paying the fine or being whipped. They both refused to pay the fine, but a friend paid Spur’s, and after imprisonment for a week, another paid Hazel’s. The whipping of Holmes was thirty lashes with a three-thonged whip of knotted cord wielded with both hands, and was so severe that when taken back to prison, his lacerated body could not bear to touch the bed. For many days he was compelled to rest propped up on his hands and knees.