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An Act Made At A General Court Held At Boston The 20th Of October 1658








"Whereas, there is a pernicious sect, commonly called Quakers, lately
risen, 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 laudable customs of our nation, in giving civil respect to
equals, or reverence to superiors; whose actions tend to undermine the
civil government, and also to destroy the order of the churches, by
denying all established forms of worship, and by withdrawing from
orderly church fellowship, allowed and approved by all orthodox
professors of truth, and instead thereof, and in opposition thereunto,
frequently meeting by themselves, insinuating themselves into the minds
of the simple, or such as are at least affected to the order and
government of church and commonwealth, whereby divers of our inhabitants
have been infected, notwithstanding all former laws, made upon the
experience of their arrogant and bold obtrusions, to disseminate their
principles 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 any
person or persons, of the cursed sect of the Quakers, who is not an
inhabitant of, but is found within this jurisdiction, shall be
apprehended without warrant, where no magistrate is hand, by any
constable commissioner, or select-man, and conveyed from constable to
constable, to the next magistrate, who shall commit the said person to
close prison, there to remain (without bail) until the next court of
Assistants, where they shall have legal trial. And being convicted to be
of the sect of the Quakers, shall be sentenced to banishment, on pain of
death. And that every inhabitant of this jurisdiction, being convicted
to be of the aforesaid sect, either by taking up, publishing, or
defending the horrid opinions of the Quakers, or the stirring up 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 the church assemblies; and instead
thereof, frequenting meetings of their own, in opposition to our church
order; adhering to, or approving of any known Quaker, and the tenets and
practices of Quakers, that are opposite to the orthodox received
opinions of the godly; and endeaving to disaffect others to civil
government and church order, or condemning the practice and proceedings
of this court against the Quakers, manifesting thereby their complying
with those, whose design is to overthrow the order established in church
and state: every such person, upon conviction 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 behaviour and appear at the
next court, where, continuing obstinate, and refusing to retract and
reform the 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 to prison, according to his discretion, until he come to
trial as aforesaid."

It appears there were also laws passed in both of the then colonies of
New-Plymouth and New-Haven, and in the Dutch settlement at
New-Amsterdam, now New-York, prohibiting the people called Quakers, from
coming into those places, under severe penalties; in consequence of
which, some underwent considerable suffering.

The two first who were executed were William Robinson, merchant, of
London, and Marmaduke Stevenson, a countryman, of Yorkshire. These
coming to Boston, in the beginning of September, were sent for by the
court of Assistants, and there sentenced to banishment, on pain of
death. This sentence was passed also on Mary Dyar, mentioned hereafter,
and Nicholas Davis, who were both at Boston. But William Robinson, being
looked upon as a teacher, was also condemned to be whipped severely; and
the constable was commanded to get an able man to do it. Then Robinson
was brought into the street, and there stripped; and having his hands
put through the holes of the carriage of a great gun, where the jailer
held him, the executioner gave him twenty stripes, with a three-fold
cord-whip. Then he and the other prisoners were shortly after released,
and banished, as appears from the following warrant:

"You are required by these, presently to set at
liberty William Robinson, Marmaduke Stevenson, Mary
Dyar, and Nicholas Davis, who, by an order of the
court and council, had been imprisoned, because it
appeared by their own confession, words, and
actions, that they are Quakers: wherefore, a
sentence was pronounced against them, to depart
this jurisdiction, on pain of death; and that they
must answer it at their peril, if they, or any of
them, after the 14th of this present month,
September, are found within this jurisdiction, or
any part thereof.

"EDWARD RAWSON"

"Boston, September 12, 1659."

Though Mary Dyar and Nicholas Davis left that jurisdiction for that
time, yet Robinson and Stevenson, though they departed the town of
Boston, could not yet resolve (not being free in mind) to depart that
jurisdiction, though their lives were at stake. And so they went to
Salem, and some places thereabout, to visit and build up their friends
in the faith. But it was not long before they were taken, and put again
into prison at Boston, and chains locked to their legs. In the next
month, Mary Dyar returned also. And as she stood before the prison,
speaking with one Christopher Holden, who was come thither to inquire
for a ship bound for England, whither he intended to go, she was also
taken into custody. Thus, they had now three persons, who, according to
their law, had forfeited their lives. And, on the 20th of October, these
three were brought into court, where John Endicot and others were
assembled. And being called to the bar, Endicot commanded the keeper to
pull off their hats; and then said, that they had made several laws to
keep the Quakers from amongst them, and neither whipping, nor
imprisoning, nor cutting off ears, nor banishing upon pain of death,
would keep them from amongst them. And further, he said, that he or they
desired not the death of any of them. Yet, notwithstanding, his
following words, without more ado, were, "Give ear, and hearken to your
sentence of death." Sentence of death was also passed upon Marmaduke
Stevenson, Mary Dyar, and William Edrid. Several others were imprisoned,
whipped, and fined. We have no disposition to justify the Pilgrims for
these proceedings, but we think, considering the circumstances of the
age in which they lived, their conduct admits of much palliation. The
following remarks of Mr. Hawes, in his tribute to the memory of the
Pilgrims, are worthy of serious consideration.

"It is alleged that they enacted laws which were oppressive to other
denominations, and, moreover, that they were actually guilty of
persecution. This, indeed, is a serious charge, and to some extent must
be admitted to be true. And yet whoever candidly examines the facts in
the case, will find abundant evidence that our fathers, in this respect,
were far from being sinners above all who have dwelt on the earth. Many
of the laws that are complained of were enacted when there were few or
none of any other denomination in the land. They were designed to
protect and support their own ecclesiastical and civil order; and not to
operate at all as persecuting or oppressive enactments against
christians belonging to other sects. It is also true that most of those
persons who are said to have been persecuted and oppressed, suffered not
so much for their religious opinions, as for their offences against the
state. Some of them outraged all decency and order, and committed such
acts as would unquestionably, at the present day, subject a man to
imprisonment, if not to severer punishment.

"This, according to Winthrop, was the ground of the sentence of
banishment, passed on Roger Williams. 'He broached and divulged divers
new opinions against the authority of magistrates, as also wrote letters
of defamation both of the magistrates and churches.'"--Winthrop's Hist.
of N. E. edit. by Savage, vol. 1, p. 167.

"For a particular account of the causes for which Mr. Williams was
banished, see Hutchinson's History of Massachusetts, vol. 1, p. 41;
Dwight's Travels, vol. 1, p. 142; Magnalia, vol. 2, p. 430. As for the
laws subsequently enacted against the Baptists and Quakers, no one most
certainly can justify them. They were oppressive and wrong. But let no
one reproach, too severely, the memory of our fathers, in this matter,
till he is certain, that in similar circumstances, he would have shown
a better temper.

"It is allowed that they were culpable; but we do not concede, that in
the present instance, they stood alone, or that they merited all the
censure bestowed on them. 'Laws similar to those of Massachusetts were
passed elsewhere against the Quakers and also against the Baptists,
particularly in Virginia. If no execution took place here, it was not
owing to the moderation of the church.'"--Jefferson Virg. Query,
XVIII.

"The prevalent opinion among most sects of christians, at that day, that
toleration is sinful, ought to be remembered; nor should it be
forgotten, that the first Quakers in New England, besides speaking and
writing what was deemed blasphemous, reviled magistrates and ministers,
and disturbed religious assemblies; and that the tendency of their
opinions and practices was to the subversion of the commonwealth in the
period of its infancy."--Holmes' Am. Annals. Hutch. vol. 1, p. 180-9.

"It should be added, that in Massachusetts the law which enacted that
all Quakers returning into the state after banishment, should be
punished with death, and under which four persons were executed, met
with great, and at first, successful opposition. The deputies, who
constituted the popular branch of the legislature, at first rejected it;
but afterwards, on reconsideration, concurred with the magistrates, (by
whom it was originally proposed,) by a majority of only one."--Chr.
Spect. 1830, p. 266.

"The fathers of New England, endured incredible hardships in providing
for themselves a home in the wilderness; and to protect themselves in
the undisturbed enjoyment of rights, which they had purchased at so dear
a rate, they sometimes adopted measures which, if tried by the more
enlightened and liberal views of the present day, must at once be
pronounced altogether unjustifiable. But shall they be condemned without
mercy for not acting up to principles which were unacknowledged and
unknown throughout the whole of christendom? Shall they alone be held
responsible for opinions and conduct which had become sacred by
antiquity, and which were common to christians of all other
denominations? Every government then in existence assumed to itself the
right to legislate in matters of religion; and to restrain heresy by
penal statutes. This right was claimed by rulers, admitted by subjects,
and is sanctioned by the names of Lord Bacon and Montesquieu, and many
others equally famed for their talents and learning. It is unjust then,
to 'press upon one poor persecuted sect, the sins of all christendom?'
The fault of our fathers was the fault of the age; and though this
cannot justify, it certainly furnishes an extenuation of their conduct.
As well might you condemn them for not understanding the art of
navigating by steam, as for not understanding and acting up to the
principles of religious toleration. At the same time, it is but just to
say, that imperfect as were their views of the rights of conscience,
they were nevertheless far in advance of the age to which they
belonged; and it is to them more than to any other class of men on
earth, the world is indebted for the more rational views that now
prevail on the subject of civil and religious liberty."





Next: Persecutions Of The French Protestants In The South Of France During The Years 1814 And 1820

Previous: At A General Court Held At Boston The 14th Of October 1657



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