“Some Scraps of New England History” The American Sentinel 7, 36, pp. 283, 284.

September 15, 1892


NOTWITHSTANDING these laws and penalties, and the spirit to inflict the penalties in the severest way, the Quakers continued to come. In fact, wherever such laws were, that was the very place where the Quakers wished to be, because they were opposed to every kind of soul-oppression and every form of the union of Church and State. Not only in this, but in almost everything else, their views made them objects of special hatred to the theocrats of Massachusetts. They recognized no such distinction among Christians as clergy and laity, and could neither be coaxed nor forced to pay tithes. They refused to do military service, and would not take an oath. They would not take their hats off either in church or in court. “In doctrine their chief peculiarity was the assertion of an ‘inward light,’ by which every individual is to be guided in his conduct of life.” And “the doctrine of the ‘inward light,’ or of private inspiration, was something especially hateful to the Puritan.” Another thing no less hateful to the Puritan than this, was their refusal to keep Sunday in the Puritan way. They called “in question the propriety of Christians turning the Lord’s day into a Jewish Sabbath.” They were denounced as infidels, blasphemers, agents of the devil, and were counted as easily guilty of every heresy and every crime in the Puritan theoretical catalogue.

Admission to the confederacy of the New England colonies had been absolutely refused Rhode Island, on account of its principles of liberty of conscience; but hatred of the Quakers led Massachusetts colony in 1657 to ask Rhode Island to join the confederacy in the endeavor to save New England from the Quakers. “They sent a letter to the authorities of that colony, signing themselves their loving friends and neighbors, and beseeching them to preserve the whole body of colonists against ‘such a pest,’ by banishing and excluding all Quakers, a measure to which ‘the rule of charity did oblige them.’”

But Roger Williams was still president of Rhode Island, and, true to his principles, he replied: “We have no law amongst us whereby to punish any for only declaring by words their minds and understandings concerning things and ways of God as to salvation and our eternal condition. As for these Quakers, we find that where they are most of all suffered to declare themselves freely and only opposed by arguments in discourse, there they least of all desire to come. Any breach of the civil law shall be punished, but the freedom of different consciences shall be respected.”

This reply enraged the whole confederacy. Massachusetts threatened to cut off the trade of Rhode Island. In this strait Rhode Island, by Roger Williams, appealed for protection to Cromwell, who now ruled England. The appeal presented the case as it was, but that which made it of everlasting importance, as the grandest and most touching appeal in all history, is the piteous plea, “But whatever fortune may befall, let us not be compelled to exercise any civil power over mens consciences.”

In this year, October 14, another law was passed against Quakers, in which it was enacted that—

If any person or persons within this jurisdiction shall henceforth entertain and conceal any such Quaker or Quakers, or other blasphemous heretics, knowing them so to be, every such person shall forfeit to the country forty shillings for every such hour’s entertainment and concealment of any Quaker or Quakers, etc., as aforesaid, and shall be committed to prison as aforesaid, till forfeiture be fully satisfied and paid: and it is further ordered that if any Quaker or Quakers shall presume, after they have once suffered what the law requires, to come into this jurisdiction, every such male Quaker shall for the first offense have one of his ears cut off, and be kept at work in the house of correction till he can be sent away at his own charge, and for the second offense shall have his other ear out off: and every woman Quaker that has fulfilled the law here that shall presume to come into this jurisdiction, shall be severely whipped, and kept at the house of correction at work, till she be sent away at her own charge, and so also for her coming again she shall be alike used as aforesaid: and for every Quaker, he or she, that shall presume a third time herein again to offend, they shall have their tongues burned through with a red-hot iron, and be kept at the house of correction close to work, till they be sent away at their own charge. And it is further ordered that all and every Quaker arising from among ourselves, shall be dealt with, and suffer the like punishments, as the law provides against foreign Quakers.

The Quakers, however, not only continued to come, and to come again when imprisoned, whipped, and banished; but their preachings, and much more their persecutions, raised up others in the colonies. This result followed so promptly that May 20, 1658, the following statute was enacted:—

That Quakers and such accursed heretics, arising among ourselves, may be dealt with according to their deserts, and that their pestilent errors and practices may be speedily prevented, it is hereby ordered, as an addition to the former laws against Quakers, that every such person or persons, professing any of their pernicious ways by speaking, writing, or by meeting on the Lord’s day, or at any other time, to strengthen themselves, or seduce others to their diabolical doctrines, shall, after due means of conviction, incur the penalty ensuing; that is, every person so meeting, shall pay to the country for every time ten shillings; and every one speaking in such meeting, shall pay five pounds apiece; and in case any such person, after having been punished by scourging or whipping for such, according to the former law, shall be still kept at work in the house of correction, till they put in security with two sufficient men, that they shall not any more vent their hateful errors, nor use their sinful practices, or else shall depart this jurisdiction at their own charges, and if any of them return again, then each such person shall incur the penalty of the law formerly made for strangers.

In 1658 “Rev.” John Norton, supported by the rest of the clergy, circulated a petition praying that the penalty of death should be visited upon all Quakers who should return after having been banished. The Board of Commissioners of the United Colonies met in Boston in September. The petition was presented to the Board, which in response advised the general court of each colony to enact such a law. Accordingly, October 16, the general court of Massachusetts enacted the following law:—

Whereas there is a pernicious sect, commonly called Quakers, lately risen up, who by word and writing have published and maintained many dangerous and horrid tenets, and do take upon them to change and alter the received and laudable customs of our nation, not giving civil respects to equals, or reverence to superiors; whose actions tend to undermine civil government, and to destroy the order of the churches, by denying all established forms of worship, and by withdrawing from orderly church fellowship, allowed and proved by all orthodox professors of truth, and instead thereof, and in opposition thereto, frequently meet by themselves, insinuating themselves into the minds of the simple, or such as are least affected to the order and government of the church and commonwealth, whereby diverse particular inhabitants have been infected, notwithstanding all former laws made, have been upon the experience of their arrogant and bold determinations, to disseminate their practice amongst us, prohibiting their coming into this jurisdiction, they have not been deterred from their impious attempts to undermine our peace and hazard our ruin.

For prevention thereof, this court doth order and enact that every person or persons, of the accursed sect of Quakers, who is not an inhabitant of, but is found within, this jurisdiction, shall be apprehended without warrant, where no magistrate is at hand, by any constable, commissioner, or selectman, and conveyed from constable to constable, to the next magistrate who shall commit the said person to close prison, there to remain (without bail) till the next court of assistants, where they shall have a legal trial: and being convicted [Note:—“For which conviction, it was counted sufficient that they appeared with their hats on and said ‘thee’ and ‘thou’] to be of the sect of the Quakers, shall be sentenced to be banished upon pain of death: and that every inhabitant of this jurisdiction being convicted to be [284] of the aforesaid sect, either by taking up, publishing, or defending the horrid opinion of the Quakers, or stirring up of mutiny, sedition, or rebellion against the government, or by taking up their abusive and destructive practices, viz., denying civil respect to equals and superiors, and withdrawing from our church assemblies, and instead thereof frequenting meetings of their own in opposition to our church order, or by adhering to, or approving of, any known Quaker, and the tenets practiced, that are opposite to the orthodox received opinions of the godly, and endeavoring to disaffect others to civil government and church order, or condemning the practice and proceedings of this court against the Quakers, manifesting thereby their plotting with those whose design is to overthrow the order established in Church and State, every such person convicted before the said court of assistants, in manner aforesaid, shall be committed to close prison for one month, and then, unless they choose voluntarily to depart this jurisdiction, shall give bond for their good behavior, and appear at the next court, where continuing obstinate, and refusing to retract and reform their aforesaid opinions, they shall be sentenced to banishment upon pain of death; and any one magistrate upon information given him of any such person, shall cause him to be apprehended, and shall commit any such person, according to his discretion, till he comes to trial as aforesaid.

Nor were any of these laws in any sense a dead letter. They were enforced in the regular Puritan way. [284]

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