John Norton, a heavy Reverend, is 54 and a learned divine "but with
a narrow technical mind". He stands weightily on the stage, uses his
mind and learning sharply, often uses more words than anyone else. He
will not entertain concepts promoting freedom of religion, individual
conscience, the Quaker stillness, silence, communing with God. To his
mind, there is no democracy in the one true system of religion,
Puritanism; the Minister has to fulfill a demanding leadership role -
one for which he is very well equipped (more than so many of the
deputies and magistrates).
The Minister offers his often lengthy and high class education, his
skills in using the Bible to interpret, guide, direct the individual's
and the community's spiritual (and in New England their secular)
lives. He has a hard voice, a cool even cold manner, is moved to anger
in dispute, and has a long memory if his religious and personal
authority is opposed or denied.
He married twice but had no children. Since his arrival in 1635 -
incidentally on the same vessel as the Dyers - he has in parts served
the Colony well. His depth of learning and his output is impressive,
and he is aware of his leadership. He had been influential during the
Wheelright and Anne Hutchinson disputes of the ''Thirties' and helped
draw up the famous Cambridge Platform in the 'Forties'. He is a
"prolific writer whose pen is at the service of the authorities" -
often writing in Latin.
As is his nature, he writes an "extremely
technical exposition of the Puritan system of theology" in 1654 and in
1659 The Heart of New England Rent - a "bitter attack on the Quakers
written by order of the General Court." Others fear these peculiar
people the Quakers, not through any direct experience until now, but
by hearsay, allegation and prejudice.
Norton sees the attractions of simplicity and humility, the (quite
possible) dangers of delusion and error, and also the underlying power
to dissolve the position, role (and power) of the Minister. Norton's
cool rationality has no "humane outlook and breadth of vision'"
comparable to other of the divines in the Colony.
In his persecution of the Quakers he shows himself "bigoted,
narrow-minded and tyrannical." Rising popularity for tolerance of the
Quakers does not move him - he is among the few "who hold out firmly
for the passage of laws inflicting the Death Penalty."
In 1662, he and the agent Bradstreet present a petition for a new
Royal Charter for the Bay Colony to Charles II which is refused. "It
signally fails owing in no small part to the Quaker persecution."
Norton lost popularity and prestige. It might have affected his health
and disposition. He dies in the Spring 1663 "of apoplexy" after
preaching a (rousing) sermon. In many matters he served the Colony
well - and'was well rewarded. He left a large estate.