“Some Scraps of New England History” The American Sentinel 7, 35, pp. 276, 277.

IN July, 1656, Mary Fisher and Anne Austin, two Quaker women, landed in Boston. By some means, news of their coming had preceded them. Before they were allowed to land at all, Richard Bellingham, the deputy-governor, Governor Endicott being absent, sent officers aboard the ship, “searched their trunks and chests, and took away the books they found there, which were about one hundred, and carried them ashore, after having commanded the said women to be kept prisoners aboard; and the said books were, by an order of the council, burnt in the market-place by the hangman.” The women were soon taken from the ship, however, and at once “shut up close prisoners, and command was given that none should come to them without leave; a fine of five pounds being laid on any that should otherwise come at or speak with them, tho’ but at the window. Their pens, ink, and paper were taken from them, and they not suffered to have any candle-light in the night season; nay, what is more, they were stript naked, under pretense to know whether they were witches, tho’ in searching no token was found upon them but of innocence. And in this search they were so barbarously misused that modesty forbids to mention it. And that none might have communication with them, a board was nailed up before the window of the jail.” August 18, the following order was issued to the jailer:—

To the Keeper of the Boston Jail:

You are by virtue hereof to keep the Quakers formerly committed to your custody as dangerous persons, industrious to improve all their abilities to seduce the people of this jurisdiction, both by words and letters, to the abominable tenets of the Quakers, and to keep them close prisoners, not suffering them to confer with any person, nor permitting them to have paper or ink.


August 18, 1656. Sec. of the Boston Court.

They were not only denied food by the authorities, but “liberty was denied even to send them provisions.” “Seeing [277] they were not provided with victuals, Nicholas Upshal, one who lived long in Boston, and was a member of the church there,” bought of the jailer for five shillings a week the privilege of furnishing them with food. September 7, another order was issued to the jailer, commanding him “to search as often as he saw meet, the boxes, chests, and things of the Quakers formerly committed to his custody, for pen, ink, and paper, papers and books, and to take them from them.”

“After having been about five weeks prisoners, William Chichester, master of a vessel, was bound in one hundred pound bond to carry them back, and not suffer any to speak with them, after they were put on board; and the jailer kept their beds … and their Bible, for his fees.” During the imprisonment they were frequently examined by the ministers with a view to getting some hold on them by which they might be dealt with for the heresy of schism, or some other such crime, but all in vain. It was well for the two women that they happened to be sent away when they were, for not long afterward Endicott returned, and was not a little displeased with Bellingham, the deputy-governor, for dealing so gently with them, declaring that if he had been there, he “would have had them well whipped,” although as yet the colony had no law at all concerning Quakers.

These two women had not been long gone before eight other Quakers arrived in Boston. They were subjected to the same sort of treatment to which the other two had been. In the same month of September, the Commissioners of the United Colonies met at Plymouth, and the Boston court called upon them to stir up Plymouth Colony to vigilance, especially against the Quakers. The letter ran as follows:—

Having heard some time since that our neighboring colony of Plymouth, our beloved brethren, in great part seem to be wanting to themselves in a due acknowledgment and encouragement of the ministry of the gospel, so as many pious ministers have (how justly we know not) deserted their stations, callings, and relations; our desire is that some such course may be taken, as that a pious orthodox ministry may be restated among them, that so the flood of errors and principles of anarchy may be prevented. Here hath arrived amongst us several persons professing themselves Quakers, fit instruments to propagate the kingdom of Satan, for the securing of our neighbors from such pests, we have imprisoned them all till they be dispatched away to the place from whence they came.

“The commissioners gave advice accordingly,” but Bradford, who was governor of Plymouth, would not take any such steps. After his death, however, severe measures were adopted.

October 14, 1656, the general court of Massachusetts enacted the following law:—

Whereas there is an accursed sect of heretics lately risen in the world, which are commonly called Quakers, who take upon them to be immediately sent of God and infallibly assisted by the Spirit, to speak and write blasphemous opinions, despising governments, and the order of God in the church and commonwealth, speaking evil of dignities, reproaching and reviling magistrates and ministers, seeking to turn the people from the faith, and gain proselytes to their pernicious ways: This court taking into consideration the premises, and to prevent the like mischief as by their means is wrought in our land, doth hereby order, and by the authority of this court be it ordered and enacted that what master or commander of any ship, bark, pink, or catch, shall henceforth bring into any harbor, creek, or cove, within this jurisdiction, any Quaker or Quakers, or other blasphemous heretics, shall pay, or cause to be paid, the fine of one hundred pounds to the treasurer of the county, except it appear he want true knowledge or information on their being such, and in that case he hath liberty to clear himself by his oath, when sufficient proof to the contrary is wanting. And for default of good payment, or good security for it, he shall be cast into prison, and there to continue till the said sum be satisfied to a treasurer as aforesaid. And the commander of any catch, ship, or vessel, being legally convicted, shall give in sufficient security to the governor, or any one or more of the magistrates, who have power to determine the same, to carry them back to the place whence he brought them, and on his refusal to do so, the governor or any one or more of the magistrates, are hereby empowered to issue out his or their warrants to commit such master or commander to prison, there to continue till he give in sufficient security to the content of the governor, or any of the magistrates as aforesaid. And it is hereby further ordered and enacted, that what Quaker soever shall arrive in this country from foreign parts, or shall come into this jurisdiction from any parts adjacent, shall be forthwith committed to the house of correction, and at their entrance to be severely whipped, and by the master thereof to be kept constantly to work, and none suffered to converse or speak with them during the time of their imprisonment, which shall be no longer than necessity requires. And it is ordered, if any person shall knowingly import into any harbor of this jurisdiction any Quaker’s books or writings concerning their devilish opinions, he shall pay for such book or writing, being legally proved against him or them, the sum of five pounds; and whosoever shall disperse or sell any such book or writing, and it be found with him or her, or in his or her house, and shall not immediately deliver the same to the next magistrate, shall forfeit or pay five pounds for the dispersing or selling of every such book or writing. And it is hereby further enacted that if any person within this colony shall take upon them to defend the heretical opinions of the Quakers, or any of their books or papers as aforesaid, being legally proved, shall be fined for the first time forty shillings; and if they persist in the same, and shall again defend it the second time, four pounds; if they shall again defend and maintain said accursed heretical opinions, they shall be committed to the house of correction till there be convenient passage to send them out of the land, being sentenced to the court of assistants to banishment. Lastly, it is hereby ordered that what person or persons soever shall revile the person of magistrates or ministers as is usual with the Quakers, such person or persons shall be severely whipped, or pay the sum of five pounds.

When this law was published, Nicholas Upshal, the kind and Christian old gentleman who had bought the privilege of feeding Mary Fisher and Anne Austin, when they were in prison, “publicly testified against it.” The next morning he was summoned to answer before the general court. He told them that “the execution of that law would be a forerunner of a judgment upon their country, and therefore in love and tenderness which he bare to the people and the place, desired them to take heed, lest they were found fighters against God.” He was fined twenty pounds, although a member of one of the churches. And then having absented himself from church on account of these things, he was fined three pounds, and banished, although winter was now come, and he “a weakly, ancient man.” [280]

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