An Exile and a Compact of Freedom
When the court-appointed Mr. Hooker failed to turn Roger Williams from what were considered religious errors in October of 1635, the court ordered Williams exiled within six weeks. The Boston court postponed the deadline of his departure until the spring of 1636, on condition that he would not further disseminate his views. When they heard that he held private meetings, continued to preach his radical views, and drew away as many as twenty followers with whom he planned to set up a rival colony, they moved at once to arrest him and to put him on a ship ready to sail for England. Williams would not have survived if he had not already befriended the Indians. He later said of his winter experience: “I was unmercifully driven from my chamber to a winter’s flight, exposed to the miseries, poverties, necessities, wants, debts, hardships of sea and land in a banished condition…I was sorely tossed for one fourteen weeks in bitter winter season, not knowing what bread and bed did mean…exposed to a winter’s miseries in a howling wilderness of frost and snow.”
In June 1636, Williams and several friends from Salem established the nucleus of Providence Plantations just outside the Massachusetts Bay jurisdiction. He named the settlement to commemorate God’s providence to him in his distress. Until they could apply for a proper charter from England, they drew up a compact on June 16, 1636, promising to abide by “such orders and agreements as shall be made by the greater number of the present householders…only in civil things.” The charter of 1663 provided that “no person within said colony, at any time hereafter shall be in any wise molested, punished, disquieted, or called in question for any differences of opinion in matters of religion, and do not actually disturb the civil peace of said colony; but that all and any persons may from time to time, and at all times hereafter freely and fully have and enjoy his and their own judgments and consciences in matters of religious concernment.”
Dr. Dale R. Hart: From: This Day in Baptist History Vol. I. (Thompson/Cummins) p. 247.
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The unknown Apostle of Liberty
1676 – On this day one of the greatest of our Baptist leaders and American founders, Dr. John Clarke, died. He was born in London in 1609 and became skilled as a physician when apprenticed to a doctor. His fame lies in the founding of Rhode Island with Roger Williams and one of the first Baptist churches in America. He also, along with Williams, laid the principles of religious and civil liberty which led to the First Amendment to our Constitution. His journey toward the Baptists after leaving Anglicanism saw him going first to the dissenters and then he moved to Leyden, Holland, to flee persecution. It was there that he came in contact with some Baptists but he was yet to travel to America, join the Puritans, become disgusted with their intolerance toward the Baptists and other dissenters and finally become a Baptist pastor himself. But no doubt his greatest achievement was securing a permanent charter for Rhode Island. He spent twelve years in England to do it, first trying through Cromwell and then finally through King Charles II after he was restored to the throne. This Baptist charter on religious liberty was the first charter on total religious liberty in the history of the human race. It read in part, “Our royal will is, that no person within said Colony, at any time…, shall be…molested, punished, disquieted, or called in question, for differences of opinion in matters of religion, that do not actually disturb the civil peace of said Colony…not using this liberty to licentiousness and profaneness, not to civil injury or outward disturbance of others…” What a great debt we owe John Clarke.
Dr. Greg J. Dixon, from: This Day in Baptist History Vol. I: Cummins/Thompson /, p. 160.
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First experiment in liberty
1638 – Roger Williams, as the forerunner of religious liberty in America, procured a deed for Aquidnet Island, as the agent for Dr. John Clarke and his company from the Narraganset sachems. On the same day Williams also was able to secure a deed for Providence for himself. Dr. Clarke and a company of nineteen had become disenchanted with both the Puritans and Pilgrims in the winter of 1637 and went first to New Hampshire and then turned south toward Long Island and Delaware. Stopping at Providence, they stayed with Williams who persuaded them to go to Aquidnet where Dr. Clarke founded what many believe to be the First Baptist church in America. Prior to this, Williams among a few others of the Puritans had a sincere desire to take the gospel to the Indians. He went out among the Massoits, made friends, learned their language, and taught them the gospel of Christ. The Indians were most happy that a white man met on their level. Williams even drafted a treaty of friendship between them which paved the way for future colonies. Later, when the Boston authorities planned to seize Williams and put him on a ship to send him back to London because of the issue of infant baptism, he, only in his coat and what food he could carry, in a blinding snow storm, left his wife and baby, and walked to the Narragansett Indians. Greeting him as a friend, they insisted that he remain with them in hiding. While there he was able to mediate a conflict that developed between two chieftains. War was averted, and as a reward Chief Massasoit gave him a tract of land. Also during exile Williams decided to establish his own independent colony which would be open to all who desired to enjoy religious freedom. This eventually became the State of Rhode Island.
Dr. Greg J. Dixon, from: This Day in Baptist History Vol. I: Cummins/Thompson /, pp. 119.
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The well from which Williams drank
1641 – Samuel Howe died after being imprisoned and bitterly persecuted. No doubt Howe is from where Roger Williams lit his torch of “soul liberty”. Howe pastored the church in “Deadmans Place London for seven years and made no small stir in the religious circle of his day. His followers admitted that “they owned no other head of the church than Jesus Christ.” Williams spoke in glowing terms of Howe in The Hierling Ministry, “I cannot but with honorable testimony remember the eminently Christian witness of and prophet of Christ, even that despised and yet beloved Samuel Howe, who, being by calling a cobbler…yet…by searching the scriptures, grew so excellent a textuary, or scripture learned man, that few of those high rabbis…could apply or readily from the scriptures outgo him.” At Howe’s death the state church officials refused his burial in the “consecrated ground” and even posted a guard at Shoreditch, the parish cemetery. The Man of God was buried at Agnes-La-Clair and according to Roger Williams, “hundreds of God’s people attended the service.” Thank God for these wonderful men who had their feet on the ground, and their hearts in heaven.
Dr. Greg J. Dixon; adapted from: This Day in Baptist History Vol. I: Cummins Thompson /, pp. 23-25.
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Baptists planted the seeds for the First Amendment
The principles of “Religious Liberty” as embodied in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution began in the colony of Rhode Island. Roger Williams obtained the first charter in 1643 or 44’, and the first body of laws was drawn under it in 1647. Under this charter the following words were added: “And otherwise than this what is herein forbidden, all men may walk as their consciences persuade them, everyone in the name of his God. And let the lambs of the Most High walk in this colony without molestation in the name of Jehovah their God forever.” The second charter was gained by Dr. John Clarke on July 8, 1663. A few years earlier, in 1656, the Rhode Island founders’ conviction of religious freedom was severely tested by their neighbors in the Congregational Colonies of Plymouth, Massachusetts and Connecticut. They pressed them hard to give up the principle of religious liberty and to join their confederacy to crush the Quakers and prevent any more of them from coming to New England. This Rhode Island refused to do and sent the following answer: “We shall strictly adhere to the foundation principle on which this colony was first settled, to wit, that every man who submits to the civil authority may peaceably worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience without molestation.” The answer made these neighbors hate them more and seek their ruin by violent actions and slanderous words that reached England. In fact Williams spent five years in England, “…to keep off the rage against us.” They also encouraged the Punham Indians to harass the R.I. people to the great loss of property, and the Indian leader Myantonomo was put to death for his attachment to Providence. Baptists laid the foundation for religious liberty in America.
Dr. Greg J. Dixon: adapted From: This Day in Baptist History Vol. I: Cummins/Thompson, pp. 279-80.
76 – March 17 Baptists and the Land of the Free
What an important date March 17, 1644, is for American freedom. It was on that date that Roger Williams obtained a free and absolute charter, entitled “The Incorporation of Providence Plantation, in the Narragansett Bay, in New-England.” The influence of our godly Baptist forefathers created in Rhode Island the only one of the thirteen original colonies that featured total religious freedom! Nine of the thirteen colonies maintained a State church, and others such as Pennsylvania and Maryland offered partial religious freedom, but only Rhode Island granted complete religious liberty. Though Baptists have been persecuted by many wherever they have existed, they have never persecuted others. When laying the cornerstone of the great Metropolitan Tabernacle I London, Mr. Spurgeon stated: “Persecuted alike by Romanists and Protestants of almost every sect, yet there has never existed a Government holding Baptist principles which persecuted others; nor, I believe, any body of Baptists ever held it to be right to put the consciences of others under the control of man. We have ever been ready to suffer, as our martyrologies will prove, but we are not ready to accept any help from the State, to prostitute the purity of the Bride of Christ to any alliance with Government, and we will never make the Church, although the Queen, the despot over the consciences of men.” Historically Baptists have always held to the principle of voluntarism, and as a result, they would rather provide total religious freedom than to dictate the religious persuasion of another. Baptists have ever championed a free church in a free state. Unfortunately today the Baptists reach out their hands to readily join with the state and are no longer the free people our forefathers fought and died for, “Soul Liberty.”
Dr. Dale R. Hart, adapted from: “This Day in Baptist History III” David L. Cummins. pp. 157 – 158
Susannah was the great granddaughter of Roger Williams
November 25, 1707 – Valentine and Susannah Wightman received a summons from the County of New London, Connecticut (Groton) to appear before Richard Christopher…to answer to the charges and be dealt with as the Law directs. In 1704 a company of Dissenters petitioned the “Hounorable Court at Newhaven” that though they differed in “some Poynts of Religion” but “yet we desier to live Pesable…with our neighbors…that since it has Pleased the Almity God to put it into the hart of our grasious Queen to grant us dissenters proclaimated liberty of Conscience…and we understand that your laws requires us to Petition to you for the Settling of our Meeting…do beseech of you that you would not deny us herein…that our meeting might be…held at Will Starks in New London.” The request was ignored, and accepting silence as consent, the group of 12 dissenters called Mr. Wightman to be their pastor. The young pastor, his wife, and his two children came to Groton from Rhode Island on Sept. 6, 1707. Susannah was the granddaughter of Obadiah Holmes and the great-granddaughter of Roger Williams.The case against them was resolved on June 4, 1708, when it was proved that Wightman was in compliance with the Toleration Act of England which was in effect in America at that time. From 1712 to 1714, Wightman made regular trips to New York, and his converts were formed into a Baptist church, which became the first in New York City. In sharp opposition of the Standing Order churches he founded Baptist churches in Waterford, Lyme, Stonington, and other places. A man named Wait Palmer was converted to Baptist views under Wightman’s ministry and he baptized Shubal Sterns who became the “Father of the Separate Baptists.”
Dr. Greg J. Dixon from: This Day in Baptist History Vol. I: Cummins /Thompson/ , pp. 491-92.