Wednesday, August 14, 2013


The petition protesting the disenfranchisement  of Lieut. Robert Pike
was partially successful, as James Currier details in his History of Newbury Part 1

"The objectionable order relating to public preaching in the
colony was repealed August 30, 1653 ; but at the same time
it was enacted " that every person that shall publish and main-
taine any hetrodoxe and erronjous doctorine shalbe lyable to
be questioned and censured by the County Court where he
liveth according to the meritt of his offence." *

The sentence imposed upon Lieut. Pike was not revoked
until several years later, as appears from the following order
adopted by the General Court October 23, 1657 : —

In ansr to the peticon of Robert Pike, humbly desiring ye courts
favo"" his fine being paid, to remitt to him & release him from the other
pte of the Courts former sentence against him, M"" Worcester ye pastor
of ye church at Salisbury appearing on ye behalfe of the peticoner and
acknowledging himself much bound to the court if they would be
pleased to graunt ye said Pikes request, the court grants his request. t
* Massachusetts Colony Records, vol. iv., part I., p. 151.

 t ibid., p. 313.

Nathan Whitington's article in The New England Magazine gave me a bit
more background on what prompted the General Court's law and Robert Pike's
objections to it.

It seems that there were a Joseph Peasley and a Thomas Macy in Salisbury, who were accustomed to hold forth their doctrine to the people on the Sabbath in the absence of the minister. They were both of a Baptist sect in the town, and were inclined to Quakerism. Macy was the first settler of Nantucket afterwards, and Pike one of the proprietors of the island when Macy emigrated thither. In order to stop the preaching o fthe two sectaries the General Court enacted a law making it a misdemeanor for any one to preach on the Sabbath who was not a regularly ordained minister. With regard to this law Robert Pike declared "that those members who had voted for it had violated their oaths as freemen; that their act was against the liberty of the country, both civil and ecclesiastical, and that he stood ready to make his declaration good."

The old notion that the magistrate holds by divine right and is above criticism still prevailed extensively, notwithstanding the fact that the members of the General Court were chosen by the people of the towns. The Court had never been subjected to adverse criticism before, and the members were horrified at the blasphemy, as it seemed to their sensitive souls. Wherefore they passed an order declaring that Lieutenant Robert Pike had been guilty of defaming the General Court, and ordered that he should be disfranchised, disabled from holding any public office, bound to his good behavior, and fined twenty marks, equal to thirteen pounds, six shillings and eight pence.

Once I saw that the controversy involved Quakers I understood why some of my ancestors
had signed the petition. John Emery would be brought before the Salem Court ten years
after the Pike incident for entertaining Quakers in his house. Tristram Coffin likewise was
known to associate with Quakers and several of his children would become Quakers

For Robert Pike to speak up against the General Court took a certain amount of courage,
since Quakers in the eyes of the colonial government were only a little better than
Catholics. But it was in total character for the man. Four decades later he would speak out
again and criticize the abuses of the witchcraft trials. I recommend the Whittington article
for anyone interested in more information on his life.

The Robert Pike incident was troublesome, but it was not as divisive and long lasting in
Newbury as the controversy that was slowly simmering before it exploded.
To be continued.

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