Friday, August 09, 2013


If you have Pilgrim or Puritan ancestors, you need to know how religion
affected their lives.
Religion was an integral part of life in early colonial Massachusetts. This is no
great surprise, considering it was founded by two religious groups. But I don't think
many of us understand how entwined it was with the colonial government. Awhile
back when I was doing a series on my ancestor William Gerrish, I came across two
stories that about religious disputes in the town of Newbury, Massachusetts. They
involved Gerrish and several other ancestors on both sides of the arguments. My
interest was caught by the fact that many of the men had known each other for years
and had served together as town officials peaceably (well, except for Gerrish). But these
two incidents divided Newbury, the first slightly and the second on a wider scale. One
was started by the government, the other by a congregation and soon involved the
General Court and several neighboring towns as well.

I have to admit here that as a Catholic (and wouldn't my Puritan ancestors be horrified
by that) I don't know much about the finer theological points of Congregationalist
church in 17th century New England, so my focus is more on the social and political
aspects of what took place in Newbury. The first incident took place in 1653, and involved a man named Robert Pike. This is from John James Currier's book History 
of Newbury, Mass., 1635-1902 , Volume 1 pp.162-163:  

The General Court passed an order, May 18, 1653, declaring it to be unlawful for any
person to preach in any town in the colony without the consent of the elders of four neighboring churches or by the approval of the county court. Robert Pike, of Salisbury,
boldly denounced this act as an unjustifiable interference with the personal rights and privileges of freemen, and farther said "several churches had called theire members to accompt which did act in that lawe making, and that some places were about to show
theire minds to the Generall Court about it." *

August 30, 1653, Lieut. Pike was ordered to appear at the General Court and answer for his intemperate zeal and seditious speech. He was disfranchised September 7, 1653) and prohibited from holding public office in the town or in the colony. A fine of twenty marks, equal to thirteen pounds, six shillings, and cightpence, was imposed as an additional penalty; and he was required to give bonds for his good behavior during the court's pleasure.*

The prompt and vigorous measures adopted by the General Court to assert its rights and protect its members from criticism and censure aroused a strong feeling of indignation among the inhabitants of Newbury, Haverhill, Andover, Hampton, and Salisbury. Petitions were prepared and circulated in these towns asking that the fine and punishment imposed upon "Lieutenant Robert Pike" be remitted. Several of these petitions are on file at the State House in Boston, but many of the signatures can hardly be deciphered and some are illegible. The petition from Newbury reads as follows : f—

The humble petition of the inhabitants of Newbury, to the honored General Court now assembled at Boston, showeth:

That whereas our loving friend, Lieutenant Robert Pike, of Salisbury, hath by occasion, as it is witnessed against him, let fall some words for which the honored Court hath been pleased [to censure him] we having had experience that he hath been a peaceable man and a useful instrument ... do therefore humbly desire this honored Court that the said sentence may be [revoked] and that the said Lieutenant Pike be . . restored to his former liberty. So . . . pray &c

* Massachusetts Colony Records, vol. hr., part I., p. 156.
t Massachusetts Archives, vol. B., leaf 209. See also " The New Puritan,** pp. 44 and 45

There followed a list of the men from Newbury  who signed the petition. In the
book the names are in three columns. I've used red to mark the names of those who
are my ancestors:
Richd. Kent, Jun.
Wm Moody
Daniel Peirce
Geo. Little
Saml Moody
Richd. Dole
John Poore
Dan Thurston
Joseph Plummer
Richd Thurly
John Wolcot
John Hull
Rob. Adams
Wm Chandler
John Tillotson
John Baily
John Wheeler
Rob. Cooper
Richd. Kent, Sen.

Wm Titcombe
John Bartlett
Tho. Browne
Richd. Bartlett
Gyles Cromlome
Aquilla Chase
Edw. Richardson
Wm Richardson
John Bishop
Sam Poore
John Hutchins
Wm Sawyer
Richd. Fitts
John Bond
Chris Bartlett
James Ordway
Edwd. Woodman
Stephen Swett
Wm Ilsly
Tho Smith.

Benj Swett
Joseph Swett
Steph. Greenleaf
Anthony Morse
Henry Lunt
Solomon Kyes
Tristram Coffin
Francis Plummer
Sam. Plummer
Dan Thurston
Wm Cottle
John Rolfe
John Muslewhite
John Emery, Sen.
John Emery, Jun.
Sam Moore
Nich. Batt
John Cheney Jr
Daniel Cheney

This petition, along with several others from other towns. would prompt a reaction
from the General Court, and a curt conversation between two of my ancestors.

To be continued..

1 comment:

Diane B said...

Bill, Robert Pike is my 11th great grandfather. So I think I know how this story ends. Thanks so much for these great details!