Page images
PDF
EPUB

“By the next I shall add something more of consequence, and which must cause our loving friends of Connecticut to be very watchful, as also, if you please, their grievances, which I have labored already to answer, to preserve the English name; but now end abruptly, with best salutes and earnest prayers for your peace with the God of peace and all men. So praying, I rest,

“ Your worship's unfeigned

“ ROGER WILLIAMS, “All loving respects to Mrs. Winthrop and yours, as also to Mr. Deputy, Mr. Bellingham, theirs, and Mr, Wil.

son, &c.

“For his much honored Mr. Governor, these,”

CHAPTER XI.

Settlement on Rhode Island commenced-Mrs. Hutchinson-settle

ment at Pawtuxet.

1

The little colony at Providence was rapidly increased by the arrival of persons from the other colonies and from Europe, attracted thither by the freedom which the conscience there enjoyed. So tenaciously was this principle held, that the town disfranchised one of its citizens, for refusing to allow his wife to attend meeting as often as she wished.

* This act has been censured, as a deviation from * Backus, vol. i. p. 95. “ None might have a voice in government in this new plantation, who would not allow this liberty. Hence, about this time, I found the following town act, viz. " It was agreed, that Joshua Verin, upon breach of covenant, for restraining, liberty of conscience, shall be withheld from liberty of voting, till he shall declare the contrary.' Verin left the town, and his absence seems to have been considered as a forfeiture of his land, for in 1650, he wrote the following letter to the town, claiming his property. The town replied, that if he would come and prove his title, he should receive the land.

“ Gentlemen and countrymen of the town of Providence: "This is to certify you, that I look upon my purchase of the town of Providence to be my lawful right. În my travel, I have inquired, and do find it is recoverable according to law; for coming ay could not disinherit me. Some of you cannot but recollect, that we six which came first should have the first convenience, as it was put in practice by our house lots, and 2d by the meadow in Wanasquatucket river, and then those that were admitted by us unto the purchase to have the next which were about; but it is contrary to law, reason and equity, for to dispose of my part without my consent.' Therefore deal not worse with me than we dealt with the Indians, for we made conscience of purchasing of it of them, and hazarded our lives. Therefore we need not, nor any one of us ought to be denied of our purchase. So hoping you will take it into serious consideration, and to give me reasonable satisfaction, I rest, “ Yours in the way of right and equity,

" JOSHUA VERIN. " From Salem, the 21st Nov. 1650.

“ This be delivered to the deputies of the town of Providence, to be presented to the whole town.'

Winthrop's account of this affair (vol. i. p. 282) under the date of December 13, 1638, is a good specimen of the manner in which that great and good man was biassed by his feelings, when he spoke

their principles, because it inflicted a civil punishment on a man, for conduct which he might allege to have sprung from conscientious scruples. But this inconsistency, if it was such, was an error on the right side. The woman might have failed in duty to her husband, by an obstinate contempt of his just authority, and a disregard of his reasons able wishes. But the inhabitants of Providence were right in adhering to the great principle, that our duties to God are paramount to all human obligations; and that the right to worship him, in the manner which we deem most acceptable to him, is not, and cannot be, surrendered, even by the marriage covenant.

A settlement was made, in 1637–8, at Portsmouth, on the north side of the island which gives name to the State. The settlers were, like Mr. Williams and his companions, exiles or emigrants from Massachusetts. The cause of their removal may be traced to singular ferment which arose in Massachusetts, on account of Mrs. Hutchinson.

of Rhode Island. The account must have been founded on reports, perhaps on mere gossip:

At Providence, also, the devil was not idle. For whereas, at their first coming thither, Mr. Williams and the rest did make an order, that no man should be molested for his conscience, now men's wives, and children, and servants, claimed liberty hereby to go to all religious meetings, though never so often, or though private, upon the week days; and because one Verin refused to let his wife go to Mr. Williams so oft as she was called for, they required to have him censured. But there stood up one Arnold, a witty man of their own company, and withstood it, telling them, that when he consented to that order, he never intended it should extend to the breach of any ordinance of God, such as the subjection of wives to their husbands, &c. and gave divers solid reasons against it. Then one Greene, (who hath married the wife of one Beggerly, whose husband is living, and no divorce, &c. but only, it was said, that he had lived in adultery and had confessed it,) he replied, that if they should restrain their wives, &c. all the women in the country would cry

out of them, &c. Arnold answered him thus: Did you pretend to leave Massachusetts because you would not offend God to please men, and would you now break an ordinance and commandment of God, to please women? Some were of opinion, that if Verin would not suffer his wife to have her liberty, the church should dispose her to some other man who would use her better. Arnold told them, it was not the woman's desire to go so oft from home, but only Mr. Wil, liams' and others. In conclusion, when they would have censured Verin, Arnold told them, that it was against their own order, for Verin did that he did out of conscience; and their order was, that no man should be censured for his conscience.”

This lady, with her husband, came to Boston, from England, in 1636. She possessed talents, which she appears to have felt no reluctance to display. She was treated with great respect by Mr. Cotton, and by other distinguished individuals, particularly by Governor Vane. It was the custom of the members of the church to meet every week, to repeat Mr. Cotton's sermons, and converse on religious doctrines. Mrs. Hutchinson commenced a meeting of the females, in which she repeated the sermons, with her own comments. Her eloquence was admired, and her meetings were thronged. Her vanity was inflamed, and she proceeded to announce opinions and doctrines, which soon became the topic of conversation, and the source of vehement contentions throughout the colony. Parties were formed, among the ministers as well as the people ; Mr. Cotton himself being inclined to the side of Mrs. Hutchinson, while most of the ministers and magistrates opposed her. The opinions ascribed to her related to such points as the nature of the indwelling of the Holy Ghost in the person of the believer, and the connection between sanctification and justification. From these opinions others, still more heretical, were supposed to flow, and, as usually happens, the inferences which men chose to form were considered as substantial errors actually held by Mrs. Hutchinson.*

The alarm spread through the colony. The ministers thronged to Boston, to confer with Mr. Cotton and others. Long discussions ensued, without effect, and at length it was resolved to try the virtue of a general synod. It was accordingly held at Newtown, (now Cambridge) on the 30th of August, 1637, and was attended not only by all the ministers and messengers of the churches, but by the magistrates. Three weeks were spent in debates, during which the mild spirit of Winthrop often interposed to soften

*“ Every man and woman, who had brains enough to form some imperfect conception of them, inferred and maintained some other point, such as these : a man is justified before he believes; faith is no cause of justification; and if faith be before justification, it is only passive faith, an empty vessel, &c. and assurance is by immediate revelation only. The fear of God and love of our neighbor seemed to be laid by, and out of the question.” Hutchinson, vol. i. the asperity of controversy. The synod collected, with great industry, all the erroneous opinions then to be found in the country, amounting to eighty-two, and finished its session, by condemning these errors, and pronouncing its judgment on certain points of church discipline.*

p. 59.

The effect of the synod was the usual one, of increasing the pertinacity with which the different parties held their opinions. Mrs. Hutchinson continued her lectures, and nearly all the members of the Boston church became her converts. She forsook the public assemblies, and set up a meeting in her own house. She accused the greater part of the ministers in the country as preachers of error. The civil power now interposed, to apply the remedy for heresy, which has often been used, when argument had failed. Mrs. Hutchinson was summoned before the General Court, and many of the ministers. She was tried, found guilty, and sentenced to be banished. The church excommunicated her, though she is said to have recanted her errors. Rev. Mr. Wheelwright, her brother-in-law, who had publicly espoused her cause, was likewise banished.

The Court proceeded to a more extraordinary measure. Nearly sixty citizens of Boston, and a number in other towns, were required to surrender their arms and ammunition to a person appointed by the Court, under a penalty of ten pounds; and were forbidden, under the same penalty, to buy or borrow any arms or ammunition until further orders. The pretence, as set forth in the act,f was a fear, that the principles which they had learned of Mrs. Hutchinson and Mr. Wheelwright might impel them to disturb the peace of the community, as certain persons in Germany had done. Though anabaptism is not named, it is easy to perceive, that this dreadful phantom, which so haunted the imaginations of our ancestors, was, on this, as on other

* One of these decisions of the synod will be approved by the good sense of Christians in this age. “That though women might meet (some few together) to pray and edify one another, yet such a set assembly, (as was then in practice in Boston) where sixty or more did meet every week, and one woman in a prophetical way, by resolving questions of doctrine and expounding Scripture) took upon her the whole exercise, was agreed to be disorderly, and without rule.” Winthrop, vol. i. p. 240. † Backus, vol. i. 86.

« PreviousContinue »