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Anne Bradstreet and Her Time
The Puritan Reign of Terror
by Campbell, Helen


The ten years which followed the death of Governor Winthrop early in 1649, were years of steady outward prosperity, yet causes were at work, which gradually complicated the political situation and prepared the necessity for the explanation which the mother country at last peremptorily demanded, Simon Bradstreet being selected as one of the men most capable of suitable reply. So long as Winthrop lived, his even and sagacious course hindered many complications which every circumstance fostered. Even in the fierce dissensions over Anne Hutchinson and her theories, he had still been able to retain the personal friendship of those whom as a magistrate he had most severely judged. Wheelwright and Coddington, who had suffered many losses; Sir Harry Vane, who had returned to England sore and deeply indignant at the colonial action; Clark and Williams, bitter as they might be against Massachusetts principles, had only affection for the gracious and humane governor, who gave himself as freely as he gave his fortune, and whose theories, however impracticable they may at times have seemed, have all justified themselves in later years. Through the early privations and the attempts of some to escape the obligations laid upon them, by the mere fact of having come together to the unknown country, he set his face steadily against all division, and there is no more characteristic passage in his Journal than that in which he gives the reasons which should bind them to common and united action. Various disaffected and uneasy souls had wandered off to other points, and Winthrop gives the results, at first quietly and judicially, but rising at the close to a noble indignation.
"Others who went to other places, upon like grounds, succeeded no better. They fled for fear of want, and many of them fell into it, even to extremity, as if they had hastened into the misery which they feared and fled from, besides the depriving themselves of the ordinances and church fellowship, and those civil liberties which they enjoyed here; whereas, such as staid in their places kept their peace and ease, and enjoyed still the blessing of the ordinances, and never tasted of those troubles and miseries, which they heard to have befallen those who departed. Much disputation there was about liberty of removing for outward advantages, and all ways were sought for an open door to get out at; but it is to be feared many crept out at a broken wall. For such as come together into a wilderness, where are nothing but wild beasts and beast-like men, and there confederate together in civil and church estate, whereby they do, implicitly at least, bind themselves to support each other, and all of them that society, whether civil or sacred, whereof they are members, how they can break from this without free consent, is hard to find, so as may satisfy a tender or good conscience in time of trial. Ask thy conscience, if thou wouldst have plucked up thy stakes, and brought thy family 3000 miles, if thou hadst expected that all, or most, would have forsaken thee there. Ask again, what liberty thou hast towards others, which thou likest not to allow others towards thyself; for if one may go, another may, and so the greater part, and so church and commonwealth may be left destitute in a wilderness, exposed to misery and reproach, and all for thy ease and pleasure, whereas these all, being now thy brethren, as near to thee as the Israelites were to Moses, it were much safer for thee after his example, to choose rather to suffer affliction with thy brethren than to enlarge thy ease and pleasure by furthering the occasion of their ruin."
What he demanded of others he gave freely himself, and no long time was required to prove to all, that union was their only salvation.

He had lived to see the spirit of co-operation active in many ways. Churches were quietly doing their work with as little wrangling over small doctrinal differences as could be expected from an age in which wrangling was the chief symptom of vitality. Education had settled upon a basis it has always retained, that of "universal knowledge at the public cost"; the College was doing its work so effectually that students came from England itself to share in her privileges, and justice gave as impartial and even- handed results as conscientious magistrates knew how to furnish. The strenuous needs and sacrifices of the early days were over. A generation had arisen, knowing them only by hearsay, and for even the humblest, substantial prosperity was the rule. Johnson, in his "Wonder-Working Providence," wrote words that held no exaggeration in their description of the comfort which has, from that day to this, been the characteristic of New England homes. "The Lord hath been pleased to turn all the wigwams, huts, and hovels the English dwelt in at their first coming, into orderly, fair, and well-built houses, well furnished many of them, together with orchards, filled with goodly fruit-trees, and gardens with variety of flowers.... There are many hundreds of laboring men, who had not enough to bring them over, yet now, worth scores, and some, hundreds of pounds. The Lord whose promises are large to His Sion, hath blessed his people's provision, and satisfied her poor with bread, in a very little space. Everything in the country proved a staple commodity. And those who were formerly forced to fetch most of the bread they eat, and the beer they drink, a thousand leagues by sea, are, through the blessing of the Lord, so increased, that they have not only fed their elder sisters, Virginia, Barbadoes and many of the Summer Islands, that were preferred before her for fruitfulness, but also the grandmother of us all, even the fertile isle of Great Britain."

With such conditions the colonists were happy, and as the work of their hands prospered, one might have thought that gentler modes of judgment would have grown with it, and toleration if not welcome have been given to the few dissenting minds that appeared among them. Had Winthrop lived, this might have been possible, but the new generation, fast replacing the early rulers, had their prejudices but not their experience, and were as fierce opponents of any new ism as their fathers had been before them, while their rash action often complicated the slower and more considerate movements of the elders that remained.

For England the ten years in which the Colony had made itself a power, had been filled with more and more agitation and distress. There was little time for attention to anything but their own difficulties and perplexities, the only glances across seas being those of distrust and jealousy. Winthrop happily died before the news of the beheadal of Charles I. had reached New England, and for a time, Cromwell was too busy with the reduction of Ireland and the problem of government suddenly thrust upon him, to do anything but ignore the active life so much after his own heart, in the new venture of which he had once so nearly become a part. It is possible that the attitude of New England for a time based itself on the supposition, that life with them was so thoroughly in harmony with the Protector's own theories that interference was impossible. There were men among them, however, who watched his course warily, and who were not indisposed to follow the example he had set by revolt against hated institutions, but for the most part they went their way, quietly reticent and content to wait for time to demonstrate the truth or error of their convictions. But for the most there was entire content with the present.

Evidently no hint of a possible and coming Restoration found slightest credence with them, and thus they laid up a store of offences for which they were suddenly to be called to account. When at last the Restoration had been accomplished and Charles II, whose laughing eyes had held less mockery for William Penn than any among the representatives of sects he so heartily despised, turned to question how Quakers had fared in this objectionable and presumptuous Colony of New England, the answer was not one to propitiate, or to incline to any favor. The story is not one that any New Englander will care to dwell upon, even to-day, when indifference is the rule toward all theological dissension, past or present. It is certain that had Winthrop lived, matters could never have reached the extremity they did. It is equally certain that the non-combatants conquered, though the victory was a bloody one. Two sides are still taken to-day, even among New England authorities. For Quakers, there is of course but one, yet in all their statements there seems to be infinitely less bitterness than they might reasonably have shown. That one or two wild fanatics committed actions, which could have no other foundation than unsettled minds, cannot be denied by even the most uncompromising advocate of the Quaker side. But they were so evidently the result of distempered and excited brains, that only a community who held every inexplicable action to result from the direct influence of Satan, could have done anything but pass them by in silent forbearance.

Had John Cotton been alive in the year in which the Quakers chose Boston as their working ground, his gentle and conciliating nature, shown so fully in the trial of Anne Hutchinson, would have found some means of reconciling their theories with such phases of the Puritan creed as were in sympathy with them. But a far different mind held his place, and had become the leading minister in the Colony. John Norton, who had taken Nathaniel Ward's place at Ipswich, was called after twenty years of service, to the Boston church, and his melancholy temperament and argumentative, not to say pragmatical turn of mind, made him ready to seize upon the first cause of offence.

News of the doings of the obnoxious sect in England had been fully discussed in the Colony, and the law passed as a means of protection against the heresies of Anne Hutchinson and her school, and which had simply waited new opportunity for its execution, came into exercise sooner than they had expected.

It is difficult to re-create for our own minds, the state of outraged susceptibility--of conviction that Jehovah in person had received the extremity of insult from every one who dared to go outside the fine points for a system of belief, which filled the churches in 1656. The "Inward Light" struck every minister upon whose ears the horrid words fell, as only less shocking than witchcraft or any other light amusement of Satan, and a day of public humiliation had already been appointed by the General Court, "to seek the face of God in behalf of our native country, in reference to the abounding of errors, especially those of the Ranters and Quakers."

The discussion of their offences was in full height, when in July, 1656, there sailed into Boston harbor a ship from the Barbadoes, in which were two Quaker women, Mary Fisher and Anne Austin.

Never were unwelcome visitors met by a more formidable delegation. Down to the wharf posted Governor and Deputy-Governor, four principal Magistrates, with a train of yeoman supplemented by half the population of Boston, who faced the astonished master of the vessel with orders which forced him to give bonds to carry the women back to the point from whence they came. This might have seemed sufficient, but was by no means considered so. The unhappy women were ordered to goal till the return of the vessel; a few books brought with them were burned by the executioner, and from every pulpit in the Colony came fierce denunciations of the intruders.

They left, and the excitement was subsiding a little when a stronger occasion for terror presented itself in another vessel, this time from England, bearing eight more of the firebrands, four men and four women, besides a zealous convert made on the way from Long Island, where the vessel had stopped for a short time. Eleven weeks of imprisonment did not silence the voices of these self- elected missionaries, and the uncompromising character of their utterances ought to have commended them to a people who had been driven out of England for the identical cause. A people who had fallen to such depths of frenzied fanaticism as to drive cattle and swine into churches and cathedrals and baptize them with mock solemnity, who had destroyed or mutilated beyond repair organs, fonts, stained glass and every article of priestly use or adornment, might naturally have looked with understanding and sympathetic eyes on the women who, made desperate by suffering, turned upon them and pronounced their own preachers, "hirelings, Baals, and seed of the serpent."

The Quakers frowned upon Church music, but not before the Puritan Prynne had written of choirs: "Choirsters bellow the tenor as it were oxen; bark a counterpart, as it were a kennel of dogs; roar out a treble, as it were a sort of bulls; and grunt a bass, as it were a number of hogs." They arraigned bishops, but in words less full of bitterness, than those in which one of the noblest among Puritan leaders of thought, recorded his conviction. Milton, writing of all bishops: "They shall be thrown down eternally, into the darkest and deepest gulf of hell the trample and spurn of all the other damned ... and shall exercise a raving and bestial tyranny over them ... they shall remain in that plight forever, the basest, the lowermost, the most dejected and down-trodden vassels of perdition."

No word from the most fanatical Quaker who ever appeared before tribunal of man, exceeded this, or thousands of similar declarations, from men as ready for martyrdom as those they judged, and as obstinately bent upon proving their creed the only one that reasonable human beings should hold. The wildest alarm seized upon not only Massachusetts but each one of the confederated colonies. The General Court passed a series of laws against them, by which ship-masters were fined a hundred pounds if a Quaker was brought over by them, as well as forced to give security for the return of all to the point from whence they came. They enacted, also, that all Quakers who entered the Colony from any point should "be forthwith committed to the House of Correction, and at their entrance to be severely whipped, and by the master thereof to be kept constantly to work, and none suffered to converse or speak with them during the time of their imprisonment."

No Quaker book could be imported, circulated or concealed, save on penalty of a fine of five pounds, and whoever should venture to defend the new opinions, paid for the first offence a fine of two pounds; for the second, double that amount and for the third, imprisonment in the House of Correction till there should "be convenient passage for them to be sent out of the land."

Through the streets of Boston went the crier with his drum, publishing the law which was instantly violated by an indignant citizen, one Nicholas Upsall, who, for "reproaching the honored Magistrates, and speaking against the law made and published against Quakers," not only once but with a continuous and confounding energy, was sentenced to pay a fine of twenty pounds, and "to depart the jurisdiction within one month, not to return, under the penalty of imprisonment."

Then came a period in which fines, imprisonments, whippings and now and then a cropping of ears, failed to lessen the numbers who came, with full knowledge of what the consequences must be, and who behaved themselves with the aggressiveness of those bent upon martyrdom. More and more excited by daily defiance, penalties were doubled, the fine for harboring a Quaker being increased to forty shillings an hour, and the excitement rising to higher and higher point. Could they but have looked upon the insane freaks of some of their visitors with the same feeling which rose in the Mohammedan mind, there would have been a different story for both sides. Dr. Palfrey describes the Turk's method, which only a Turk, however, could have carried out: "Prompted by that superstitious reverence which he (the Turk) was educated to pay to lunatics, as persons inspired, he received these visitors with deferential and ceremonious observance, and with a prodigious activity of genuflections and salams, bowed them out of his country. They could make nothing of it, and in that quarter gave up their enterprise in despair."

The General Court was the despairing body at this time. Months had passed, and severity had simply multiplied the numbers to be dealt with. But one remedy remained to be tried, a remedy against which Simon Bradstreet's voice is said to have been the only one raised, and the General Court, following the advice of Endicott and Norton, passed the vote which is still one of the darkest blots on the old records--
"Whereas, there is an accursed and pernicious sect of heretics lately risen up in the world who are commonly called Quakers, who take upon them to be immediately sent of God and infallibly assisted; who do speak and write blasphemous things, despising government and the order of God in church and commonwealth, speaking evil of dignities, reproaching and reviling magistrates and the ministers of the Gospel, seeking to turn the people from the faith, and to gain proselytes to their pernicious ways; and whereas the several jurisdictions have made divers laws to prohibit and restrain the aforesaid cursed heretics from coming amongst them, yet notwithstanding they are not deterred thereby, but arrogantly and presumptuously do press into several of the jurisdictions, and there vent their pernicious and devilish opinions, which being permitted, tends manifestly to the disturbance of our peace, the withdrawing of the hearts of the people from their subjection to government, and so in issue to cause division and ruin if not timely prevented; it is therefore propounded and seriously commended to the several General Courts, upon the considerations aforesaid, to make a law that all such Quakers formerly convicted and punished as such, shall (if they return again) be imprisoned, and forthwith banished or expelled out of the said jurisdiction, under pain of death; and if afterwards they presume to come again into that jurisdiction, then to be put to death as presumptuously incorrigible, unless they shall plainly and publicly renounce their cursed opinions; and for such Quakers as shall come into any jurisdiction from any foreign parts, or such as shall arise within the same, after due conviction that either he or she is of that cursed sect of heretics, they be banished under pain of severe corporal punishment; and if they return again, then to be punished accordingly, and banished under pain of death; and if afterwards they shall yet presume to come again, then to be put to death as aforesaid, except they do then and there plainly and publicly renounce their said cursed opinions and devilish tenets."
This was not the first time that death had been named as the penalty against any who returned after banishment, and it had proved effectual in keeping away many malcontents. But the Quakers were of different stuff, the same determined temper which had made the Puritan submit to any penalty rather than give up his faith, being the common possession of both.

In an address made to the King, partly aggressive partly apologetic in tone, the wretched story sums itself up in a single paragraph: "Twenty-two have been banished upon pain of death. Three have been martyred, and three have had their right ears cut. One hath been burned in the hand with the letter H. Thirty-one persons have received six hundred and fifty stripes. One was beat while his body was like a jelly. Several were beat with pitched ropes. Five appeals made to England were denied by the rulers of Boston. One thousand, forty-four pounds' worth of goods hath been taken from them (being poor men) for meeting together in the fear of the Lord, and for keeping the commands of Christ. One now lieth in iron fetters condemned to die."

That Massachusetts felt herself responsible for not only her own safety but that of her allies, and that this safety appeared to be menaced by a people who recognized few outward laws, was the only palliation of a course which in time showed itself as folly, even to the most embittered. The political consequences were of a nature, of which in their first access of zeal, they had taken no account. The complaints and appeals of the Quakers had at last produced some effect, and there was well-grounded apprehension that the sense of power which had brought the Colony to act with the freedom of an independent state, might result in the loss of some of their most dearly-prized privileges. The Quakers had conquered, and the magistrates suddenly became conscious that such strength as theirs need never have dreaded the power of this feeble folk, and that their institutions could never fall before an attack from any hands save those of the King himself, toward whom they now turned with an alarmed deprecation. The Puritan reign of terror for New England was over, its story to this generation seeming as incredible as it is shameful. Brutality is not quite dead even to-day, but there is cause for rejoicing that, for America at least, freedom of conscience can never again mean whipping, branding and torturing of unnamable sorts for tender women and even children. Puritan and Quaker have sunk old differences, but it is the Quaker who, while ignoring some phases of a past in which neither present as calm an expression to the world as should be the portion of the infallibility claimed tacitly by both sides, is still able to write:

"The mission of the Puritans was almost a complete failure. Their plan of government was repudiated, and was succeeded by more humane laws and wiser political arrangements. Their religion, though it long retained its hold in theory, was replaced by one less bigoted and superstitious. It is now a thing of the past, a mere tradition, an antiquated curiosity. The early Quakers, or some of them, in common with the Puritans, may illustrate some of the least attractive characteristics of their times; but they were abreast, if not in advance, of the foremost advocates of religious and civil freedom. They were more than advocates--they were the pioneers, who, by their heroic fortitude, patient suffering and persistent devotion, rescued the old Bay Colony from the jaws of the certain death to which the narrow and mistaken policy of the bigoted and sometimes insincere founders had doomed it. They forced them to abandon pretentious claims, to admit strangers without insulting them, to tolerate religious differences, and to incorporate into their legislation the spirit of liberty which is now the life-blood of our institutions. The religion of the Society of Friends is still an active force, having its full share of influence upon our civilization. The vital principle--'The Inward Light'--scoffed at and denounced by the Puritans as a delusion, is recognized as a profound spiritual truth by sages and philosophers."

Through it all, though Simon Bradstreet's name occurs often in the records of the Court, it is usually as asking some question intended to divert attention if possible from the more aggressive phases of the examination, and sooth the excited feelings of either side. But naturally his sympathies were chiefly with his own party, and his wife would share his convictions. There is no surprise, therefore, in finding him numbered by the Quakers as among those most bitterly against them.

It is certain that Simon Bradstreet plead for moderation, but some of the Quaker offences were such as would most deeply wound his sense of decorum, and from the Quaker standpoint he is numbered among the worst persecutors.

In "New England Judged by the Spirit of the Lord," a prominent Quaker wrote: "Your high-priest, John Norton, and Simon Bradstreet, one of your magistrates, ... were deeply concerned in the Blood of the Innocents and their cruel sufferings, the one as advising, the other as acting," and he writes at another: point "Simon Bradstreet, a man hardened in Blood and a cruel persecutor."

There is a curious suggestiveness in another count of the same indictment. "Simon Bradstreet and William Hathorn aforesaid were Assistant to Denison in these executions, whose Names I Record to Rot and Stink as of you all to all Generations, unto whom this shall be left as a perpetual Record of your Everlasting Shame."

William Hathorn had an unwholesome interest in all sorrow and catastrophe, the shadow of these evil days descending to the representative Nathanael Hawthorne, whose pen has touched Puritan weaknesses and Puritan strength, with a power no other has ever held, but the association was hardly more happy for Bradstreet then, than at a later day when an economical Hathorn bundled him out of his tomb to make room for his own bones.

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