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On Toleration in Massachusetts

  • E. Brooks Holifield (a1)

On a December day in 1676, Thomas Shepard, minister of the Church of Christ in Charlestown, passionately “discoursed of Reformation,” bemoaning the inability of the ministers and magistrates to unite against the disorderly mob of Quakers and Anabaptists. If the Quakers were suppressed, he argued, maybe the recalcitrant magistrates would “see reason to handle” the troublesome Anabaptists. His sympathic audience, Mr. Rowlandson, the Lancaster minister, Mr. Willard, pastor of the Old South Church, and Mr. Sewall, their host, listened quietly. It had not always been like this. Magistrates had once been reliable champions of the “Congregational Way.”

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1. Sewall, Samuel, “Diary,” Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, V/5 (Boston, 1878), p. 30.

2. Winthrop, John, Journal, Vol. 11, ed. Hosmer, J. K. (New York, 1908), p. 177.

3. Shurtleff, Nathaniel, ed. Records of the Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay in New England (Boston, 1854), p. 85. (Hereafter designated as Records.)

4. Records, IV/1, p. 277.

5. Ibid., p. 383.

6. Backus, Isaac, A History of New England with Particular Reference to the Denomination of Christians called Baptists, I, ed. Weston, David (Newton, Mass., 1871) pp. 23ff. See also Bishope, George, New England Judged (London, 1661), pp. 167.

7. Hull, John, “Diary,” Transactions of the Collections of the American Antiquarian Society, III (Boston, 1857), p. 238.

8. William Hamlit, “Letter to Hubbard,” January 9, 1674, in Backus, op. cit., p. 327.

9. Hull, loc. cit.

10. Toppan, Robert, ed. Edward Randolph, II (Boston, 1898), p. 277.

11. Hull, loc. cit.

12. Hubbard, William, The Happiness of a People in the Wisdome of their Rulers (Boston, 1676), p. 38.

13. Mather, Increase, A Discourse Concerning the Danger of Apostasy (Boston, 1679), p. 76.

14. Ibid., “To the Reader,” n. p.

15. Miller, Perry, The New England Mind: From Colony to Province (Boston, 1961), p. 137.

16. Sewall, loc. cit.

17. Johnson, Edward, Wonder-Working Providence of Sion's Saviour in New England, intro. by Poole, W. F. (Andover, 1867), p. 215.

18. Ward, Nathaniel, The Simple Cobbler of Aggawam in America (London, 1647), p. 3.

19. Mather, op. cit., p. 65.

20. Miller, op. cit., p. 171.

21. Bailyn, Bernard, The New England Merchants in the Seventeenth Century (New York, 1955), p. 108.

22. “Result of the Synod of 1662,” The Creeds and Platforms of Congregationalism, ed. W. Walker (Boston, 1960), p. 328.

23. Mather, Cotton, Magnalia Christi Americana, Book V (London, 1702), p. 82. See also Hill, Hamilton A., History of the Old South Church (Boston, 1890), pp. 1655, for the primary sources.

24. Hutchinson, Thomas, The History of the Colony and Province of Massachusetts Bay, I, ed. Mayo, L. S. (Boston, 1936), p. 232.

25. Ibid.

26. Hill, op. cit., p. 109.

27. Mather, Cotton, Magnalia Christi Americana, V, p.83.

28. Hutchinson, loc. cit.

29. Hill, op. cit., p. 10, n. 1.

30. The selection of the period from 1658–1680 as the framework for this study is not entirely arbitrary. There were signs of tolerance in the colony before 1658, but the question of toleration did not become crucial until this period.

31. It would not be correct to see this as part of a larger struggle between “democratic,” tolerant deputies and theocratic, intolerant magistrates. When a Mr. Temple from Connecticut offered to provide funds for the condemned Quakers to leave the colony, majority of magistrates accepted this humanitarian offer. Two or three magistrates joined with the deputies to reject Temple's suggestion. (Bishop, op. cit., pp. 119–20.) The Quakers were then executed. The deputies did exhibit a striking tolerance of Baptists in 1670, but, as we shall see, there were special circumstances. (See Backus, op. cit., p. 316.)

32. Bishope, op. cit., p. 79.

33. Bailyn, op. cit., pp. 88, 90.

34. Hutchinson, op. cit., p. 169, n. 1.

35. Felt, Joseph B., The Ecclesiastical History of New England, II (Boston, 1862), p. 205.

36. Hull, op cit., p. 198.

37. Hill, op. cit., p. 56.

38. Bailyn, op. cit., p. 51, 71.

39. Hutchinson, loc. cit., n. 2.

40. Felt, op. cit., p. 489.

41. Hill, op. cit., pp. 32, 43, 57.

42. Records, IV/2, p. 413.

43. I find no significant information about half the petitioners called before the General Court: Richard Way, William Howard, Randal Nichols, Solomon Phips, and James Cary. Sixty-six citizens signed the petition. The ten who were called before the court were the “more prominent signers,” according to McLoughlin, William G. and Davidson, Martha Whiting, “The Baptist Debate of April 14–15, 1668,” Massachusetts Historical Society Proceedings, LXXVI (1965), p. 94. Relevant information about almost all the other petitioners is not available. Only three other prominent New Englanders—John Usher, Samuel Shrimpton, and Elisha Hutchinson—signed the petition (Boston Archives, X: 221, 223). Perry Miller puts Shrimpton and Hutchinson at opposite ends of the New England political spectrum. (op. cit., p. 140.) Apparently they were not active in the quarrel over the Third Church.

44. Hutchinson, op. cit., p. 196.

45. Felt, op. cit., p. 212.

46. Hutchinson, loc. cit.

47. Hill, op. cit., p. 15.

48. Boston Town Records, 2nd Report, 1634–60.

49. Hill, op. cit., p. 93.

50. Backus, op. cit., p. 337.

51. Sewall, op. cit., p. 55.

52. Ibid., pp. 356–7.

53. Johnson, loc. cit.

54. Backus, op. cit., p. 827.

55. Records, V, p. 134.

56. Hill, op. cit., p. 25.

57. Bailyn, op. cit., pp. 80, 108.

58. In Leverett, Charles, A Memoir of Sir John Leverett (Boston, 1856), p. 67.

59. Hubbard, op. cit., p. 51.

60. The signers are named in Hill, op. cit., p. 218, a. 1.

61. Bailyn, op. cit., p. 40.

62. Ibid.

63. Hill, op. cit., p. 114.

64. Sewall, op. cit., p. 179.

65. Hill, op. cit., p. 117.

66. Ibid.

67. Bailyn, op. cit., p. 87.

68. Hill, op. cit., p. 114.

69. Hutchinson, op. cit., p. 122.

70. Hill, op. cit., p. 113.

71. Bailyn, op. cit., pp. 128, 135.

72. Hill, op. cit., p. 114.

73. Ibid., p. 119.

74. Hutchinson, op. cit., p. 65, n. 3.

75. Bailyn, op. cit, p. 40.

76. Hill, op. cit., p. 117.

77. Ibid., n. 1.

78. Bailyn, op. cit., p. 102.

79. Hull, op. cit., p. 198.

80. Hill, op. cit., p. 56.

81. Ibid.

82. Ibid., p. 136.

83. I am, furthermore, unable to find significant information about Nathaniel Duncan, Thomas Bumstead, Thomas Clarke. (probably the blacksmith), John Wilson, William Dinsdale, Thomas Snow, James Johnson, Nathaniel Williams, Henry Powning, John Webb, Thomas Marshall, William Hudson, Henry Phillips, or John Newgate.

84. Drinker, Edward, “Letter to Clark,” 11, 1670, in Backus, op. cit., p. 316.

85. Hull, op. cit., p. 229; Hill, op. cit., pp. 77, 79; Backus, op. cit, p. 316.

86. Backus, loc. cit.

87. Randolph, Edward, “Representation of the Affairs of New England, May 6, 1677.” in Edward Randolph, IX, ed. Toppan, Robert (Boston, 1898), pp. 254–5.

88. Ibid., p. 254.

89. Ibid., p. 255.

90. Miller, op. cit., p. 140.

91. Backus, op. cit., p. 305. It is Interesting that Tyng was also a supporter of Davenport, and that he accompanied Oliver when he took the Boston invitation to the New Haven preacher. (See Hill, op. cit., p. 15.)

92. Hill, op. cit., p. 108.

93. Benjamin Sweetater, “Letter to Samuel Hubbard, October, 1671,” in Backus, op. cit., p. 319.

94. Drinker, “Letter to Clark, Nov. 30, 1670,” in Backus, op. cit., p. 316.

95. Hull, op. cit., p. 238.

96. Osgood, H. L., The American Colonies in the Seventeenth Century, III (New York, 1907), p. 325.

97. Backus, op. cit., p. 389.

98. Ibid., p. 390.

99. Bradstreet, Simon, “Letter to Increase Mather, April 20, 1681,” Massachusetts Historical Society Collections, IV/8 (Boston, 1868), p. 478.

100. This is true, at least, of his famous son, Solomon Stoddard, who lectured Increase Mather on the evils of Baptists in 1677: “I hear Mr. Miles still preaches in Boston; I fear it will be a means to fill that Town, which is already full of unstable persons, with error.“ urged, Solomon that “all due means be used for prevention.” In Massachusetts Historical Society Collections, IV/8 (Boston, 1868), pp. 586–7.

101. Charles Chauncy, et al., “An Introduction to the Judgement of Messrs. Davenport and Street adverse to the decisions of the Synod…” In Pulsifer, David, Copies of Manuscripts (1833), p. 55.

102. Mather, Increase, The First Principles of New England Concerning the Subject of Baptism and Communion of Churches (Cambridge, Mass., 1675), n. p.

103. Chauncy, “Anti-Synodalia Scripta Americana,” in Propositions concerning the Subject of Baptism and Consecration of Churches Collected and Confirmed out of the Word of God by a Synod of Elders and Messengers of the churches (1662), p. 2.

104. Ibid., p. 28.

105. Ibid.

106. Ibid., p. 20. See also Davenport, John, “The Said Judgement of Mr. John Davenport,” in Copies of Manuscripts, by David Pulsifer (1833), p. 6.

107. Mather, Increase, Propositions concerning the Subject of Baptism (1662), p. 15.

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