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after Cromwell assumed the reins of government, who, when he thought himself well settled, and perceived that it would please the dominant party, began to undermine the sectarians, and in particular to suppress the Baptists. Mr. Baxter charges them with growing insolent both in England and Ireland, after Cromwell's death, and the succession of his son Richard was set aside: and that, joining their brethren in the army, they were every where put in power. He complains of some personal insults and ungenerous treatment, which he received from some who resided near to him, irritated by their remembrance of the opposition he had made to their sentiments, and who, though not many more than twenty, "talked," as he expresses it," as if they had been lords of the world*." This spirit of resentment and triumph was soon humbled by the disappointment of hope, and a subsequent series of sufferings.
This appears, in the first instance, from a petition presented to king Charles II. signed by thirty-five, on behalf of many others in Lincolnshire. It stated, that not only their meetings for religious worship were interrupted by the magistrates; and bonds for good behaviour were imposed upon them, for the violation of which, on account of renewing their assemblies, they were prosecuted as peace-breakers; but that they were abused in the streets, and their own houses could not afford them protection; for, if they were heard praying to God in their families, they were insulted by sounding of horns, beating against their doors, and threats that they should be hanged. If they appealed to the magistrates, the rage of their adversaries received a sanction from the odious terms with which those who sat on the bench of justice reviled them. Many of them were indicted at the sessions for not attending on the preaching of the episcopal clergy, and alarmed with a design of levying from every one of them a penalty of 207. a month.
The petition was graciously received by the king, who promised that he would take particular care that none should trouble them on account of their conscience, in things pertaining to religion; and immediately directed a member of parliament to go to the lord-chancellor and secretary, that the proper measures for this end might be taken.
In the same year, another petition and representation of their sufferings was presented by some Baptists, inhabitants of Kent, and prisoners in the jail at Maidstone. In this paper they appealed to their "Confession of Faith," as truly representing their principles concerning magistracy and government; and deplored the danger which threatened their lives and the ruin which hung over their wives and little ones, by the violence exercised against them. For, besides being made prisoners, the houses of some had, without any authority from the
His own Life, part 2. p. 206.
executive power, been broken open in the dead of night; and from others their goods and cattle had been taken away and detained.
Great also were the sufferings of those who resided in Gloucestershire. The most eminent cavaliers rode about armed with swords and pistols, ransacking their houses, and abusing their families in a violent manner. At the house of Mr. Helme, at Winchcombe, the bed whereon his children laid was not spared; and their outrageous conduct so frightened his wife as to throw her into an illness which threatened her life. Mr. Warren, who possessed the parsonage of Rencome, was with his wife and family penned up into an upper room of his house, and so harassed night and day by the violence of the assailants and the noise of hautboys, that he died in the place. Mr. Fletcher, who had been put into a vacant place by authority, was so beat and inhumanly treated by a cavalier of his parish, that he and his family fled for their lives. One pious minister was assaulted as he was entering his pulpit. Another was violently pulled out of his house; his wife, children, and goods, were thrown into the street, none of the parish were allowed to give them entertainment, and he himself was haled to jail *.
It is less surprising, that these people were insulted by the ignorant populace, and were abused by the petty officers of power, when even the legislature marked them as the objects of suspicion, hatred, and severity. For the parliament assembled upon the Restoration, when it passed an act for confirming all ministers in the possession of their benefices, how heterodox soever they had been, provided they would conform for the future, excepted such as had been of the Baptist persuasion +.
So far from being encouraged to conform, or being permitted in peace and security to dissent, they were pursued with cruelty. Divers of them were cast into Reading prison, for conscientiously scrupling to take some oaths administered to them. At Newport in Wales, at the end of sermon, two were set upon by soldiers with swords and stavest. At London, Dr. John Griffith was committed to Newgate, where he lay seventeen months, for no other crime but preaching to a congregation of Protestants. In Lincolnshire, Mr. Thomas Grantham and some others were taken from their meeting at Boston by some soldiers, and after having been lodged all night in a public inu, had their rest disturbed, and their minds grieved, by the incessant curses and oaths of their guards; they were, on the next morning, conveyed to the common jail, and detained there, without so much as the least pretence of any crime laid to their charge, till the assizes, when they were dismissed. At Dover, the magistrates were
* Crosby, vol. 2. p. 1–30.
+ Wall's History of Infant Baptism, vol. 2. p. 215.
severe against them, taking them from their meeting-houses, and committing them to prison. After four-and-twenty days they were admitted to bail, and appearing at the assizes were forbidden to assemble any more in their own place of worship, but were allowed the use of one of the churches. This privilege, which they enjoyed about the space of five months, was afterward denied to them. Upon meeting again in their own place, their worship was disturbed, and twenty-four of them, under different commitments, sent to prison; at the quarter-sessions, a bill of indictment was found against them; some traversed it, others submitted to the court, and the rest were remitted to prison again*.
A circumstance which much aggravated the proceedings against these people was, that they were not apprehended by the peaceofficers only, but by rude, youthful, and mercenary soldiers; who seized them, to the terror of women and children, with muskets and drawn swords, did violence to their persons, and spoiled their goods +.
In June 1661, one of these military banditti went to a meeting-house in Whitechapel, and laid hands on more than twenty; one of whom refusing to go with them unless they produced their warrant, they not only pulled him along by force, and beat him about the head with their hangers, but lifting him up several times between three or four, let him fall with violence, and drove his breast and stomach against the rails with such force, that his health was greatly injured by the blows and falls. When a suit was commenced against the actors of this tragedy, the persons, at whose complaint the soldiers were arrested, were themselves arrested, and sent to Newgate, where they lay about ten or twelve days before they could be bailed, and were held bound from sessions to sessions, for a long time, before they could be discharged.
The persons assembling in the same meeting-house were assaulted by a like body of soldiers, October the 20th, 1661, and one of them, the minister objecting to the authority under which they professed to act, was by a mittimus pretending and asserting great matters, cast into Newgate, where he lay thirty weeks, without any thing laid to his charge, and then they released him.
On the 3d of November, in the same year, a similar outrage was committed, in the same place, with as little show or face of law. The preacher and three more were seized, and thrown into New-prison, from which, in time of sessions, one was removed to Newgate, under pretence of being brought to his trial; which, however, he could never procure, though he called for it in the face of the court, nor was his name returned in the calendar. Yet he was kept in jail twelve weeks,
Crosby, vol. 2, p. 149, 153. 154, 155.
+ Ibid. vol. 2. p. 161.
till fetched out by a person in authority. He suffered in all eighteen, and the other persons twenty-eight, weeks' impri
In the following year, their religious assemblies, in different parts of the town, met with the like violent interruptions from the soldiery, breaking in with their swords and muskets, and acting under the authority of sir John Robinson, lieutenant of the Tower, as in the former cases. In one instance a child in the cradle was awaked out of its sleep by their violence, and so terrified, that it fell sick, and died in three days. In other instances, the forms and furniture of their places of worship were broken and destroyed. Robinson, being told by them that they had broken the pulpit in Brick-lane, replied, "It was well done;" and gave them a piece of gold, as a reward for their good service. In all cases, the persons of those assembled were exposed to their indiscriminating rage; neither sex, nor childhood, nor old age, nor women with child, were spared. At one place the mob was let in to act with soldiers, at the direction of Robinson. Many of the conscientious sufferers, by illegal commitments, were cast into prison.
Even the walls of the prison did not afford them a secure retreat. In the prison itself they were exposed to outrage and fury. When they have been engaged together in religious conversation and acts of devotion, the felons of the jail, the thieves and housebreakers, the pickpockets and highwaymen, have been let into their rooms, have threatened them, violently assaulted, and beaten them +.
But in the country, were usually the greatest injustice and cruelty practised. The gentlemen in the commission of the peace, near Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire, distinguished themselves by their virulence in prosecuting the Nonconformists, and particularly the Baptists. They filled not the county jail only with prisoners of this description, but hired large houses in Aylesbury, and converted them into prisons; and not contented with the severities in daily exercise, such as confiscation of goods and imprisonment, they attempted to revive the old practice of punishing heretics with banishment and death. They grounded their proceedings on the oppressive act of the 35th of Elizabeth, for the punishment of persons obstinately refusing to come to church; which went to banish them, if, after three months' imprisonment, they refused conformity; and if they did not leave the kingdom within a limited time, or should return, to inflict death without benefit of clergy. In 1664, some of these justices proceeded on this act against ten men and two women, all Baptists, who had been apprehended at their meeting in or near Aylesbury: on these persons, because they refused to conform, and to abjure the realm, sentence of death was passed, and immediately their goods also were seized. The other dissenters, who constituted the ma
Crosby, vol. 2. p. 162-165.
See Neal, vol. 1. p. 346, of this edition.
+ Ibid. vol. 2. p. 172–179.
jority of inhabitants in the town, alarmed at these proceedings, and anticipating their own doom, shut up their shops: this stop to commerce struck the whole town with horror and surprise. A son of one of the condemned persons immediately took horse for London, and was introduced, by Mr. William Kiffin, a gentleman of note amongst the Baptists, and of interest at court, to chancellor Hyde, who was easily engaged to lay the case before the king. His majesty expressed great surprise, that any of his subjects should be put to death for their religion, and inquired whether any law in force justified such proceedings? Being satisfied on this point, he promised his pardon. But lest any precipitancy in executing the sentence should supersede the benefit of his grace, while the pardon was passing through the usual forms, the king, on a renewed application, granted an immediate reprieve. The condemned persons, however, were continued close prisoners till the next assizes, and then the judge brought down his majesty's pardon, and they were all set at liberty. This would undoubtedly check the disposition of the justices to a similar process. But the virtuous sufferers, besides their other calamities, owed their safety to favour instead of law; and appeared under the ignominious character of pardoned criminals, when they ought to have enjoyed the security and reputation of peaceable and innocent subjects.
The rage of the people, sanctioned by the conduct of the magistrates and the clergy towards the Baptists, rose to such a height as to deny them the benefit of the common burying places. Nay, there wanted not instances of their being taken out of their graves. The inhabitants of Croft in Lincolnshire treated in this manner the corpse of Mr. Robert Shalder, in the year 1666. He had suffered much by imprisonment, and died soon after his release. He was buried amongst his ancestors; and on the same day his grave was opened, and his body taken out, dragged on a sledge to his own gate, and left there.
In the year 1670, the Baptists of Lewes, and other places in the county of Sussex, suffered in their property by the proceedings of sir Thomas Nutt and other justices, on the conventicleact. They were convicted without being admitted to plead in their own defence. They were fined in an arbitrary manner; and those fines were recovered in a way exceedingly oppressive and injurious, by distress and sale of goods. Where the fines amounted, as levied on various persons, to 57. there were enacted, by distraints, 291. 17s. In some instances, four cheeses were seized to recover 10s. five pair of shoes for 5s. a cow for 21. 15s. and a horse for 5s. Cattle worth 277. was sold for 147. 5s. as a distress for 117. 10s. One person, for a meeting held in his house, was fined 207. for which were taken from him six cows, two young bullocks, and a horse, his whole stock. On entering an
Crosby, vol. 2. p. 180-185.