Another view of the period - seen from both sides
True spirituality, in the light of our so obvious failings, allow
few of us to claim access to knowledge of moral certainties, less so
Yet, as in all religious confrontations, each side, Puritan and
Quaker in Massachusetts, claimed God on their side. What they
undertook was right and proper and according to God’s laws, they
claimed. The Colony’s leaders also stood firm on the authority of
their civil laws.
The Colony’s Puritan leadership, civil and ecclesiast, had always
been stern. First-Day service missed resulted in enquiry, even
‘inquisition’, and maybe a fine resulting. Banishment, from the
“company of the Elect”, was seen by all as a drastic step, for
individual and family.
Even as resident-settlers were moved to become Quaker, the fine was
imposed, as a start. Residents, being of fixed abode and good local
reputation, were often left alone, or incurred only fines, as they
sustained their faith quietly and were “less visibly challenging.”
Of the estimated 20-43 Quakers who ‘invaded’ Massachusetts, a few
went quietly and persuasively about their aim of first living this new
Life and then of converting others.
In considering reports about the most boisterous of the Colony’s
unwelcome visitors, the Puritan leadership believed that hiding behind
religious sentiments, the invading core of Quakers intended only to
foment civil and social disorder.
Perhaps while disorder, sedition, rebellion were not their serious
intentions, the aim of the more extreme of the Quakers was to ensure
the surrender, capitulation, by the Colony’s General Court - repeal of
the laws of banishment on those professing to be and acting as
Quakers. If that were achieved, freedom of religious expression and
worship might well follow – without punishment.
From 1656 into the 1660s and beyond, hundreds of resident-settlers
and some members of their families saw the truth of the Quaker message
and became converts. That put them on the path to the core of the
spiritual message: to join with the Inward Light, the Light of Christ,
living as best one’s intellect and heart can, according to much higher
In the fuller picture available from official records, the Puritan
magistrates of the General Court of the Colony can be seen in a more
sympathetic light. They were not “the cold and calculating, unfeeling
and inhumane, self-righteous and legalistic persecutors of the
Quakers” which the conventional story, around the hanging of four
Quakers, seems to present.
The Quakers, as preachers and missionaries, saw their activities as
their religious idealism in action – the Puritans recognised only
fanaticism and intent to disrupt.
Mary Dyer is recorded only as preaching in public; but others among
these early Quaker ‘invaders’, attempted and seemingly succeeded in
interfering with and causing consternation and anger in orthodox
Puritan church services in many parts of the Colony. They berated
Ministers before their congregations, and outside they claimed that
magistrates’ powers were ungodly and unrighteous and could be
The Puritan leadership reacted by demanding the use of civil powers
as they recognised that ecclesiastical solutions could not be
effective. Yet those in seats of power were also divided: they had
fled religious oppression in old England – were they now not taking
the same path?
One report says that even hard old pioneer Endecott was somewhat
conciliatory in the early days of the confrontation. Maybe recognising
that ultimate power was politically a mirage, he visited Quakers under
arrest and pointed out to them they could not win against General
Court and the laws carrying banishment; other Quakers had been given
the chance to leave, unharmed, and had done so. Why not them?
Immovable religious mysticism answered him.
Endecott, later, even sent his son, a physician, to treat one
over-whipped and seriously ill Quaker.
What exactly did the leadership say about these troublesome
“Under the call to conscience, Quakers act on wild ungovernable
passions and delusions. They mislead others into degenerate social
irresponsibility even blasphemy.”
For example, mystical grace, to the Puritans, became opaque
understanding even blasphemy when “Some Quakers believe they are
perfect, without sin. Some believe they are Christ and God”.
They saw Quakers as making ‘unusual and extreme departures from
true scriptural guidance.’ And, “Their pride results in delusions that
they are among the Elect.”
“They demonstrate false spiritual pride in claiming to themselves
knowledge of God’s Will.
Affecting and infecting the whole of the Colony, “Their arrogance
results in lack of spiritual disciplines, lack of moral restraint,
leading to heresies, moral abominations and anarchy.”
A brief summing up: The Puritan leadership made their stand on
banishment on pain of death of those intent on demanding what was not
theirs to demand: freedom of worship according to their specific views
The Colony’s leadership insisted: the Quakers had freedom – to stay
out of a religious environment whose fundamental objectives were not
theirs. The Colony’s leadership defended its right to leadership – and
mercy: even the most determined of Quakers if convicted had their
sentence of hanging suspended – if they would promise to leave the
Colony and not return.
Four Quakers refused and paid a heavy price, the concept of
martyrdom notwithstanding. Others, too, came very close to being
hanged, the Colony’s leadership relenting on several occasions for
Resident-settlers throughout the Colony, who became, for the most
part, quiet-Quakers, were the leavening, catalyst, suffused influence.
It took a time, decades, but freedom of conscience within religion,
hard-earned, became everyone’s right. In the Colony, which,
marvellously, spiritually, sought to build “A Citie on a Hill”
dedicated to God.
weeps, for Man’s ignorance
which leads to the world’s misery,
and covers the eternal bliss