IN 1655 Thomas Gould, Baptist, of Charlestown, Mass., refused to have his baby sprinkled and christened. The regular preacher ordered the church “to lay him under admonition, which the church was backward to do.” Not long afterward he was at church as the law required him to be, and when the time of sprinkling the children came, he went out. He was spoken to about it, but told them he could not stay because he “lookt upon it as no ordinance of Christ. They told me that now I had made known my judgment, I might stay…. So I stayed, and sat down in my seat, when they were at prayer and administering the service to infants. Then they dealt with me for my unreverent carriage.” Their dealing with him was to admonish him and exclude him from the communion.
In October, 1656, he was accused before the county court for denying baptism to his child. Of course he was convicted. He was admonished and given till the next term to consider his ways. During this time they made it so unpleasant for him that he ceased attending the church at Charlestown, and went to church at Cambridge instead. But this, being an apparent slight upon the minister, was only a new offense. Although not actually punished, he was subjected to petty annoyances, being again and again summoned both to the church and to the court to be admonished, until in May 28, 1665, he withdrew entirely from the Congregational Church, and with eight others formed a Baptist church. This being “schismatical,” was counted as open rebellion, and Gould and his brethren were summoned to appear before the church the next Sunday. They told the magistrates that they could not go at that time, but the following Sunday they would be there; but the minister refused to wait, and in his sermon “laid out the sins of these men, and delivered them up to Satan.”
They were called before one court after another, until their case reached the general court in October. Those among them who were freeman were disfranchised, and if they should be convicted again of continued schism, were to be imprisoned until further order. In April, 1666, they were fined four pounds, and were imprisoned until September, when they were ordered to be discharged upon payment of fines and costs. In April, 1668, they were ordered by the governor and council to appear at the meeting-house at nine o’clock on the morning of April 14, to meet six ministers who would debate with them. The debate, however, did not amount to much except that it gave to the ministers an opportunity to denounce the Baptists as they wished. The Baptists, asking for liberty to speak, were told that they stood there as delinquents, and ought not to have liberty to speak. Two days were spent in this way, when at the end of the second day, “Rev.” Jonathan Mitchell pronounced the following sentence from Deuteronomy 17:9-12:—
And thou shalt come unto the priests and 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 evil from Israel.
May 27, Gould and two of his brethern as “obstinate and turbulent Anabaptists,” were banished under penalty of perpetual imprisonment. They remained. Accordingly they were imprisoned. By this persecution much sympathy was awakened in the community, and a petition in their behalf was signed by sixty-six of the inhabitants of Charlestown, among whom were some of the most prominent citizens. The petition was to the legislature, and prayed for mercy upon the prisoners, saying, “They be aged and weakly men; …the sense of this their … most deplorable and afflicted condition hath sadly affected the hearts of many … Christians, and such as neither approve of their judgment or practice; especially considering that the men are reputed godly, and of a blameless conversation… We therefore most humbly beseech this honored court, in their Christian mercy and bowels of compassion, to pity and relieve these poor prisoners.” The petition was by vote declared scandalous and reproachful. The two persons who had taken the lead in getting it up, were fined, one ten and the other five pounds, and all the others who had signed the petition were compelled to sign a document expressing their sorrow for giving the court such just grounds of offense.
Report of these proceedings having reached England, thirteen of the Congregational ministers wrote, by the hand of Robert Mascall, a letter to their brethren in New England, in which they said:—
O, 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 who are sound in the faith? Amongst many Scriptures, that in the fourteenth of Romans much confirms me in liberty of conscience thus stated. To him that esteemeth anything 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 who in conscience believe the said baptism to be unclean, 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 interpretations upon others, pope-like? How do you cast a reproach upon us who 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 heart of your magistrates, that they may no more smite their fellow-servants, nor thus greatly injure us their brethren, and that they may not thus dishonor the name of God. My dear brother, pardon me, for I am affected; I speak for God, to whose grace I commend you all in New England; and humbly craving your prayers for us here, and remain your affectionate brother, ROBERT MAMSCALL.
Finsbury, near Morefield, March 25, 1669.
It seems that the imprisoned Baptists were by some means released after about a year’s confinement, but the next year afterward Gould and Turner were arrested and imprisoned “a long time.”
The cases which we have cited are not by any means all the persecutions and oppressions that fell upon the Baptists; but these are sufficient to show that the persecution was shameful enough, even had these been all the cases that ever occurred.