« PreviousContinue »
could scarcely have perceived motes. And as for withcraft, they could scent it from afar, probably in consequence of the strong odor of brimstone which it usually gave out; and they could tell, to a nicety, its exact symptoms and diagnosis, with as much facility and certainty, as the physician can tell the disease of his patient, by feeling his pulse and examining his tongue. But, unlike the skillful physician, and like the empiric, they had but one remedy for the cure of the malady; a remedy, however, at once very simple and very efficacious, – the halter. This medicine was never known to fail in effectually subduing the most obstinate case of witchcraft!
It would, indeed, appear that the Puritans who peopled New England should have learned some mercy and toleration, in the severe school of suffering in which they had been trained up in Protestant England. It would seem that, having felt the smart of the rod of persecution on their own shoulders, they should have been very slow in applying it to the shoulders of others. Having emigrated to a new world for the enjoyment of the inestimable blessings of religious liberty; having braved, for this high and noble motive, the unknown perils of a boundless ocean, and the untried hardships and dangers of a frightful wilderness in a new world ; they were surely not going to re-assert the very same intolerant principle, to which they had been indebted for all their past trials and sufferings. They were surely not going to set up again, in a virgin hemisphere yet unstained with the blood of the martyr, that very Moloch which had consumed their fathers, and had threatened themselves with a fiery death. If they were really sincere and consistent in their principles, they would certainly have done for ever with all kinds of persecution, no matter what might be the pretext for it; and they would have given to the breeze the glorious banner of universal civil and religious liberty.
But, alas for the weakness and inconsistency of poor human nature ! These, our reasonable anticipations, are all doomed to utter disappointment, and we find the Puritans, who, in England and in Holland, were the loudest champions of the fullest liberty of conscience, become themselves, immediately after their arrival in America, the most stern and relentless persecutors ! We find them setting up on our continent that very principle of church and state in which all their wrongs had originated, and lording it over the consciences of their fellow-men, with as high a hand as ever the haughty church of England had lorded it over themselves! Were they sincere, were they honest in all this? Or were they merely weak and inconsistent ? Were they hypocrites, or were they mere blind fanatics? We venture not to decide. But of one thing we are quite certain ;-they were not the immaculate saints they are usually represented to have been.
The inimitable Washington Irving thus humorously hits off their canting inconsistency and hypocrisy in the matter of persecution :
" Having served a regular apprenticeship in the school of persecution, it behoved them to show that they had become proficients in the art. They accordingly employed their leisure hours in banishing scourging, o
hanging divers heretical Papists, Quakers, and Anabaptists, for daring to abuse the liberty of conscience, which they now clearly proved to imply nothing more than that every man should think as he pleased in matters of religion, provided he thought right, for otherwise it would be giving a latitude to damnable heresies. Now as they (the majority) were perfectly convinced that they alone thought right, it consequently followed that whoever thought differently from them thought wrong, and whoever thought wrong, and obstinately persisted in not being convinced and converted, was a flagrant violator of the inestimable liberty of conscience, and a corrupt and infectious member of the body politic, and deserved to be lopped off and cast into the fire."!
In the matter of the Blue Laws proper, we must award the palm of excellence to Connecticut; but in the matter of scourging, branding, banishing, or hanging heretics and witches, we must certainly assign the precedency to Massachusetts. Whether it was, that there were more heretics and witches in the latter colony, or that the hardy pioneers of the former had become more civilized, and their hearts softer in consequence of their greater proximity to the Indians, certain it is that the adventurous “moss troopers," who inhabited the plantations on the Connecticut river, are not recorded to have actually hung any witches or heretics ; though they had severe laws against both, and though they more than once put both in bodily terror. On the contrary, the unadulterated and unmitigated Puritans of Massachusetts were not satisfied with mere laws on paper, or with mere empty threats ; they went boldly to work to rid the country, -given by the Lord “as an inheritance to his saints,” — of all the pests, which tainted its moral and religious atmosphere by their poisonous breath. No one could be either a heretic or a witch in Massachusetts, and live. The colony was too holy by far for any such wretches, and they must either die the death, or seek from the savage of the unexplored wilderness that mercy, which they sought in vain from their Christian brethren! So blind and unfeeling is bigotry!
It was thus that the famous Roger Williams was driven forth,- to say nothing of the treatment of Richard Waterman, of Ann Hutchinson, and of a number of other “pestilent heretics” of Massachusetts. And what were the offenses which drew down upon Roger Williams the terrible chastisement, of being driven out into the wilderness in the dead of winter, there to find shelter from the savages, or to perish of hunger und cold? The following are the weighty charges preferred against him in the General Court, held July 8th, 1635 :
That he held these “ dangerous opinions : 1. That the magistrate ought not to punish the breach of the first table, otherwise than in such cases as did disturb the civil peace. 2. That he ought not to tender an sath to an unregenerate man. 3. That a man ought not to pray with
1 History of New York. Irving's works, in two volumes, 8vo. Philadelphia, 1840. Vol. I, p. 76. 2 Sentence of banishment was passed on him in October, 1885 ; and the court mercifully allowed him to remain in the colony till the following spring, on condition of his not dissemivating bele doctrines; yet it became necessary for Williams to fly in the following January, as he learned that his accusers were about sending him to England for trial and punishment..
such, though wife, children, &c. 4. That a man ought not to give thanks after sacrament, nor after meals."
The first article was evidently the main ground of difficulty. The Puritans asserted, and Roger Williams denied, that the civil magistrate had any right to punish mere religious delinquencies, or "breaches of the first table" of the commandments, embracing the duties we owe to God, unless such delinquencies should disturb “the civil peace.” The Paritans asserted, and Roger Williams protested against, the principle of a union of church and state. The Puritans asserted the right in the state to enforce religious conformity ; Roger Williams protested against that right. The Puritans triumphed, and so did Roger Williams; they drove him out, and he, when driven out, became the founder of a new colony, which he moulded according to his own liberal principles.
We subjoin the sentence of banishment pronounced against him, as a curious specimen of colonial jurisprudence :
“Whereas Mr. Roger Williams, one of the elders of the church of Salem, hath broached and divulged divers new and dangerous opinions against the authority of magistrates, as also written letters of defamation both of magistrates and churches here, and that before any conviction, and yet maintaineth the same without retraction ; it is therefore ordered that the said Mr. Williams shall depart out of this jurisdiction within six weeks now next ensuing, which, if he neglects to perform, it shall be lawful for the governor and two of the magistrates to send him to some place out of this jurisdiction, not to return any more without license from the court." ?
This and many similar sentences of banishment against heretics, found on the old Massachusetts Records, exhibit the stern and relentless spirit of the Puritans; a spirit worthy of all reprobation, and reproved in the following fine passage of the Protestant divine, Jortin, whom our author quotes, and of whose sentiments we heartily approve :
“ To banish, imprison, starve, hang, and burn men for their religion, is not the gospel of Christ, but the gospel of the devil. tion begins, Christianity ends, and if the name of it remains, the spirit is gone. Christ never used anything like force or violence, except once, and that was to drive men out of the temple, and not to drive them in."
But the Quakers,— the poor, harmless, and inoffensive Quakers,— were those who smarted most under the lash of puritanical intolerance :
“ The Quakers were whipped, branded, had their ears cut off, their tongues bored with hot irons, and were banished, upon the pain of death in case of their return, and actually executed upon the gallows." 4
Yet they had asked for no special privilege ; they had merely sought the boon of religious toleration. They could not find this privilege in England ; and, like the Puritans themselves, they had emigrated to the new world with the fondly cherished hope that, here at least, they might enjoy freedom of conscience. But sadly were they mistaken. The
1 Record of the court. Blue Laws of Massachusetts, p. 65.
4 Ibid. Preface, D. vi.
Puritans had no buwels of mercy for those who, like themselves, had filed from persecution in the old world. Towards Quakers, especially, they entertained feelings of the most deadly hatred, as the laws common to all the New England colonies clearly prove. Among the Blue Laws of Connecticut we find the following:
“18. No Quaker or dissenter from the established worship of this dominion, shall be allowed to give a vote for the election of magistrates or ang officers.
** 19. No food or lodging shall be afforded to a Quaker, Adamite, or other heretic.”
But, as we have already intimated, the laws of the Plymouth colony against Quakers were the most rigid of all, and the only ones, in fact, which were stric dy executed. The following are among the orders of the Court, assembled at Plymouth at different times in the years 1657, 1658, 1659, &c. They were copied by our author from the Plymouth Records themselves :
" It is ordered by the court, that in case any shall bring in any Quaker, Rantor, or other notorious heretiques, either by lande or water, into any parte of this government, shall forthwith, uport order from any one magistrate, returne them to the place from whence they came, or clear the government of them on the penaltie of paying the fine of twenty shillings for every weeke that they shall stay in the government after warninge."?
In the same year it was further
“ Enacted by the court and the authoritie thereof, that noe Quaker or person commonly soe called, bee entertained by any person or persons within this government, under the penalty of five pounds for every such default, or be whipt, and in case any one shall entertaine any such person ignorantly, if hee shal testify on his oath that hee knew not them to bee such, he shal be freed of the aforesaid penalty, provided hee upon his first discerning them to bee such, doe discover them to the constable or his deputy."
October 6th, 1657, an order was passed banishing Humphrey Norton, a Quaker, from the colony, and on the 14th of October following, this additional law was enacted against Quakers ; -- for atrocious cruelty it is surpassed by few documents of the kind on record in any country, Christian or pagan:
“As an addition to the late order in reference to the coming or bringing in of the cursed sect of the Quakers into this jurisdiction, it is ordered that whosoever shall from henceforth bring, or cause to be brought, directly or indirectly, any knowr Quaker or Quakers, or other blasphemous heretiques into this jurisdiction. every such person shall forfeit the sum of one hundred pounds to the country and shall by warrant from any magistrate, be committed to prison, there to remain till the penalty be satisfied and paid, and if any person or persons within this jurisdiction shall henceforth entertaine and conceal any such Quaker or Quakers, or other blasphemous heretiques (knowing them so to be), every such person shall forfeit to the country forty shillings for every hour's enter 1 15:d. p. 122.
2 Ibid. p 13.
3 lbid, p. 14.
tainment and concealment of any Quaker or Quakers as aforesaid, and shall be committed to prison as aforesaid, until the forfeitures be fully satisfied and paid ; and it is further ordered, that if any Quaker of Quakers shall presume, after they have once suffered what the law requireth, to come into this jurisdiction, every such male Quaker shall for the first offence, have one of his ears cut off, and be kept att work in the house of correction till he can be sent away att his own charge ; and for the second offence, shall have the other ear cut off, &c., and kept att the house of correction as aforesaid. And every woman Quaker that hath suffered the law here, that shall presume to come into this jurisdiction, shall be severely whipt, and kept at the house of correction at work, till she be sent away at her own charge, and so also for her coming again she shall be alike used as aforesaid. And for every Quaker, he or she, that shall a third time herein again offend, THEY SHALL HAVE THEIR TONGUÉS BORED THROUGH WITH A HOT IRON, and be kept at the house of oorrection, close at work, till they be sent away at their own charge." I
Alas for the gallantry and the tender mercies of the pilgrim fathers ! If these laws, and many more of a similar nature, too numerous and lengthy for quotation, be any index of their character, then shall we thank God, as long as we live, that we have not a drop of Puritan blood in our veins. We could not even feel easy or comfortable, were we descended from those holy men, with long visages and sanctimonious looks, but with cold and iron hearts steeled against humanity ; who could pray as long prayers at the corners of the streets as the ancient Pharisees, or the more modern Praise-God-Bare-Bones of Cromwell's fanatical army, but wbo were as merciless as fanatical, and as hypocritical as any other Pharisees of them all, whether ancient or modern. Much would we prefer to be ranked with the publicans and sinners, than with such saints !
By laws subsequently enacted, all persons under suspicion of holding the “diabolical doctrines” of the “cursed sect” of Quakers, were forbidden, under severe penalties, from meeting together for worship;: Quakers, Ranters, and all such corrupt persons could not be admitted as freemen, nor be allowed to vote ;3 their books were to be seized by the public officers, and presented to the court ;^ and even their horses were to be taken and confiscated to the government. This last law is so curious. that we must copy it entire :
"Whereas we find that, of late time, the Quakers have bin furnished with horses, and thereby they have not only more speedy passage from place to place to the poisoning of the inhabitants with their cursed tenetts, but alsoe thereby have escaped the hands of the officers, that might otherwise havé apprehended them. It is therefore enacted by the court and the authoritie thereof, that if any person or persons whatsoever in this government, doth or shall furnish any of them with horse or horsekind, the same to bee forfited and seized on for the use of this govern. ment; or any horses that they shall bring into the government, or shall be brought in for them, and they make use of, shall bee forfited as aforesaid; and that it shall be lawful for any inhabitant to make seizure of any such horse and to deliver him to the constable or treasurer for the use of the county." Ibid. p. 14-15. 2 P. 16.
4 Ibid. p. 20.