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HISTORY OF THE QUAKERS.
FROM THE PROTECTORSHIP OF CROMWELL TO THE DECLARATION OF INDULGENCE, 1674.
MR. NEAL has allowed a few pages only to the History of the Quakers and they are chiefly spent on the wild extravagances and sufferings of James Naylor. But the lot of this people, while other sectarists breathed a freer air under the protectorship of Cromwell, was peculiarly hard and afflictive. The change of government, on his taking the reins, produced no revolution in their favour; but their sufferings continued to increase with the increase of their numbers. The subordinate magistrates were continued in office; and the ecclesiastics, their former persecutors, retained power to be troublesome to them. The protector has been represented as the friend of religious liberty; and so, in some instances, he certainly showed himself; but the Quakers derived little benefit from his liberal views and regard to the rights of conscience. For, though he himself did not openly disturb them on account of their religious opinions and practices, yet those who acted under his authority grievously persecuted them, and he gave little or no check to their intolerance, although he had the power, and was repeatedly and earnestly solicited to do it. The dominant parties had imbibed a spirit of hatred and animosity against this people: and the protector, it is supposed, might be fearful of disobliging them, by animadverting on their oppressive measures: or he might consider the Quakers as too contemptible or too pacific a body to fear any danger from, even under the greatest provocations*.
To give some colour of law to the severities practised against them, pretexts were drawn from supposed violations of the regulations of civil policy. "A Christian exhortation to an assembly, after the priest had done and the worship was over, was denominated interrupting public worship, and disturbing the priest in his office: an honest testimony against sin in the streets or markets, was styled a breach of the peace: and their appearing before the magistrates covered, a contempt of authority: hence proceeded fines, imprisonments, and spoiling of goods. Nay, so hot for per
Gough's History of the Quakers, vol. 1. p. 132. 198.
secution were some magistrates, that by an unparalleled misconstruction of the law against vagrants, they tortured with cruel whippings the bodies of both men and women of good estate and reputation, merely because they went under the denomination of Quakers*.
In 1656, Henry Clifton, only riding through Upwell in Cambridgeshire, after having been carried before two justices, was sent to prison, where he lay a considerable time in the dungeon among condemned felons. Richard Hubberthorn and Richard Weaver, travelling from home to pay a friendly visit to Ann Blakeley, who was, for her open testimony against the sins of the times, imprisoned at Cambridge, were also committed to prison. Thomas Curtis, a woollen-draper of Reading, going to Plymouth on business, and from thence to West-Alvington, accompanied by John Martindale, were both cast, as vagrants, into Exeter gaol; and at the ensuing assizes brought before the judge, where nothing was laid to their charge. But, for not taking off their hats, they were fined 407. each for contempt, and for nonpayment detained above a year in prison. During this term, Martindale, having obtained leave of the gaoler to visit a friend at Ilchester, went to a meeting at Colyton; where he, Humphrey Sprague, and Thomas Dyer, lodging at a friend's house, were apprehended by a warrant, and carried before the justices at the quarter-sessions at Honiton; and, though one of them was but two, and another but five miles from home, were sentenced, as vagrants, to be whipped in the market-place, and sent with a pass from tithing to tithing; which was accordingly done. George Whitehead, a virtuous and learned young man of a reputable family in Westmoreland, preaching at Nayland in Suffolk, April 1657, was sentenced by two justices to be openly whipped as a vagrant, till his body were bloody. The constable, to whom the warrant was given, employed a foolish fellow, void of discretion and feeling, to execute it; who laid on his stripes with unmerciful violence; whereby Whitehead's back and breasts were grievously cut, his skin torn, and his blood shed in abundance. But the insensible fool went on, unrestrained by the constable, till his hand was stayed by the cry of the spectators, who, affected with the cruelty, called out to him to stop. Humphrey Smith and Samuel Curtis, riding together near Axminster, George Bewley, John Ellis, and Humphrey Sprague, after a meeting in Bridport, were whipped as vagabonds, and sent away with passes. Joan Edmunds, wife of Edward Edmunds, of Totness, about ten miles from home, being stopped by a drunken fellow, who took away her horse, on complaining to a justice, was sent to Exeter gaol, because she had no pass: her horse was ordered to be sold, and part of the money applied to defray the charge of carrying her to prison. Her habitation lying in the direct road, she was taken
Gough's History, vol. 1. p. 139, 140.
six miles about, to prevent this injustice being exposed amongst her neighbours, who well knew she was no vagrant*.
Another pretext on which many of these people suffered, under the form of law, very illegal severities, was that of breaking the sabbath. Their religious zeal, in frequenting their assemblies for public worship, obliged them to travel to the places where they were held, sometimes at a considerable distance from their habitations. This was called a breach of the sabbath; and it was punished by impounding their horses, by distress of goods, by fines, by imprisonment, by whipping, and by sitting in the stockst.
If magistrates could be guilty of such unrighteous severities, it is not surprising that the licentious rabble should attack this people with violence and abuse. In numerous instances, and in various places, the houses in which they held their assemblies for religious worship were riotously assaulted. Their services were interrupted by hallooing, singing, and railing: the windows were broken by stones and bullets: their persons were buffeted and stoned, their faces and clothes daubed with filth and excrements; some were knocked down, and others had their teeth beaten out; nor did the tenderness of sex protect the women. The rabble were too often led and encouraged by clergymen.
Many of these abuses," observes the historian, "being committed on the first day of the week, the day they called their sabbath, with impunity, under a government and by a people who pretended to make it a point to observe it with all the pharisaical strictness, and in many cases beyond the strictness, which the Mosaical law appointed for observing the seventh day, furnish an occasion to reflect upon the irrational inconsistency of superstition in every shape; by which I understand an over-zealous attachment to some circumstantials of religion, while the essential part, viz., the inwardly sanctifying power thereof, whereby we are taught to honour God, and love and do good to mankind, is overlooked. These men, it is probable, would have thought it a heinous crime to have been employed on that day in any honest labour, though in itself lawful, and in some sort necessary, and yet showed no reluctance or compunction in committing unlawful actions, as opposite to good government as religion, in assaulting persons, and destroying the property of inoffensive, unresisting neighbours and fellow-citizens with violence and outrage, whose only crime was, the applying the day to the best purpose, the assembling to worship their Maker in that way they were persuaded in their consciences was most acceptable to him ‡.
So general was the persecution under which this people suffered, that scarcely one of them, whose travels and services to the society are preserved on record, escaped personal abuse, or cruel imprisonment, in any quarter of the nation.
George Fox, in 1653, was summoned before the magistrates at
+ Ibid. p. 271, 272, note.
Gough's History, vol. 1. p. 225-232.
Carlisle, and committed to prison till the assizes, as a blasphemer, and heretic, and a seducer. He had exasperated them by his plain-dealing, in endeavouring to show them, that although they, being Presbyterians and Independents, were high in the profession of religion, they were without the possession of what they professed. The ground of his being summoned was, his having exhorted the people to truth and honesty, at the market-cross on a market-day, and having preached to them on the Sunday, after the service was concluded; on which he had been assaulted by rude people in the church, and rescued by the governor. During his confinement, the general wish was "that he might be hanged:" and the high-sheriff declared with rancour, that he would guard him to execution himself. At the assizes, it was found that the charge of blasphemy could not be made good, and it was concluded not to bring him to trial; and he was left with the magistrates of the town. By their order he was put among the felons and murderers, in a dungeon, noisome and filthy to the last degree, where men and women were kept together, one of whom was almost eaten up with lice; and the deputy of the gaoler would often fall on him, and the friends who visited him, with a cudgel: while the prisoners, vile as they were, behaved affectionately to him, received his admonitions with deference, and some embraced his doctrine. At length, the parliament, having instituted an inquiry concerning his situation, and the governor having remoustrated on it, he was released. In 1654, at Whetstone in Leicestershire, he was brought before colonel Hacker, who gave him liberty to go home, if he would stay there, and not go abroad to meetings. To this Fox replied, "if he should agree thereto, it would imply that he was guilty of something, for which his home was made his prison; and if he went to meeting, they would consider that as a breach of their order: therefore he plainly told them he should go to meeting, and could not answer their requirings." Upon this he was, next day, carried prisoner by captain Drury to London. When Cromwell was informed of his arrival, he sent to him this message: "That the protector required of George Fox, that he should promise not to take up the sword, or any other weapon, against him or the government as it then was: that he should write it in what words he saw proper, and set his hand to it." Fox returned an answer to this effect; and was afterward introduced to Cromwell, and they had much discourse about religion, in which the protector carried himself with great moderation; and Fox had his liberty given him*.
In 1656, Fox, accompanied by William Salt of London, and Edward Pyott of Bristol, travelled through Devonshire into Cornwall, to Market-Jew, where he wrote a paper, containing an exhortation to fear God, and learn of Christ the light; which fell into the hands of major Ceely, a justice of St. Ives, who·
Gough's History, vol. 1. p. 132–136. 155, 156.
committed Fox and his companions to Launceston jail, on the charge of spreading papers to the disturbance of the public peace, and having no pass, though persons unknown, for travelling up and down, and refusing to take the oath of abjuration, and to give sureties for their good behaviour. After nine weeks' confinement they were brought to their trial, before judge Glyn, at the assizes: here they demanded justice for their false imprisonment; and major Ceely, not adhering to the charges in the mittimus, brought up new accusations of a treasonable proposal, and an assault: and they were indicted for coming, by force and arms, into a court, into which they were conducted as prisoners. But on no ground could any illegal criminality be proved against them. The judge ordered them to be taken away; and, in their absence, fined them twenty marks apiece for coming into court with their hats on, and commanded that they should be detained in prison till their fines were paid. Seeing no prospect of an immediate release from such a commitment, they discontinued the weekly payment of seven shillings apiece for themselves, and as much for their horses, which the jailer had extorted. Upon this they were turned into a dismal and most noisome dungeon, called Doomsdale, where the excrements of former prisoners had been accumulating for many years. They were not allowed beds or straw to lie on; and, the filthiness of the place not allowing them . room to sit down, they were obliged to stand all night. Neither were they permitted to cleanse it, or to have any victuals but what they received with difficulty through the grate. This cruel treatment continued till the sessions at Bodmin, when, on a representation of their case to the justices, an order was obtained for opening the door of Doomsdale, and for permission to clean it, and to buy their provisions in the town. About the end of thirty weeks they were discharged by an order from major-general Desborrow, in consequence of applications made in their favour to Cromwell. During this imprisonment one of Fox's friends offered himself to the protector to lie in prison, body for body, in his stead: to which proposal Cromwell answered, he could not grant it, being contrary to law; and turning to some of his council standing by him, asked, "Which of you would do as much for me, if I were in the same condition*?" The next places at which we find Fox are, Cardiff, Swansea, and Brecknock. He visited these towns in 1657; settled a meeting at Swansea; and, at the latter place, met with rude treatment, and was exposed to danger from the populace, raised and stimulated to riot and tumult by the magistrates +.
Another sufferer amongst the Quakers, was Miles Halhead, one of their first zealous preachers; who, at Skipton and Doncaster, was sorely beaten and bruised by the populace, and left for dead. Thomas Briggs, in Lancaster, Robert Widders and
• Gough's History, vol. 1. P. 210-217.
+ Ibid. p. 289.