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

ng 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.


"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,


"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."