By James Cudworth.
FROM the first imprisonment of George Fox, founder of the religious denomination known as Quakers, in 1649, its members were objects of continuous persecution. At the time Cudworth, a magistrate of Scituate, Mass., wrote this letter (1658) there were seldom less than 1000 Quakers in English and colonial prisons.
Between 1661 and 1697 over 13,000 of them were jailed in England, 198 were transported as slaves and 338 died in prison. These persecutions were upon such pretexts as refusing to pay tithes, to swear or to remove the hat; for preaching in public places or traveling on the Sabbath. In New England stringent exclusion laws were passed, but the Quakers seemed to thrive on persecution. Numerous women were "stripped naked from the waist, tied to a cart's tail and whipped through the streets." Four Quakers one a woman, Mary Dyer were hanged on Boston Common.
AS for the state and condition of things among us, it is sad, and like so to continue; the antichristian persecuting spirit is very active, and that in the powers of this world. He that will not whip and lash, persecute and punish men that differ in matters of religion, must not sit on the bench, nor sustain any office in the commonwealth.
Last election, Mr. Hatherly and myself left off the bench, and myself discharged of my captainship, because I had entertained some of the Quakers at my house (thereby that I might be the better acquainted with their principles). I thought it better so to do, than with the blind world to censure, condemn, rail at, and revile them, when they neither saw their persons, nor knew any of their principles. But the Quakers and myself cannot close in divers things; and so I signified to the court I was no Quaker, but must bear my testimony against sundry things that they held, as I had occasion and opportunity. But withal, I told them, that as I was no Quaker, so I would be no persecutor. This spirit did work those two years that I was of the magistracy; during which time I was on sundry occasions forced to declare my dissent in sundry actings of that nature; which, although done with all moderation of expression, together with due respect unto the rest, yet it wrought great disaffection and prejudice in them, against me; so that if I should say some of themselves set others on work to frame a petition against me, that so they might have a seeming ground from others (though first moved and acted by themselves, to lay me what they could under reproach) I should do no wrong. The petition was with nineteen hands; it will be too long to make rehearsal. It wrought such a disturbance in our town, and in our military company, that when the act of court was read in the head of the company, had not I been present and made a speech to them, I fear there had been such actings as would have been of a sad consequence.
The court was again followed with another petition of fifty-four hands, and the court returned the petitioners an answer with much plausibleness of speech, carrying with it great show of respect to them, readily acknowledging, with the petitioners, my parts and gifts, and how useful I had been in my place; professing they had nothing at all against me, only in that thing of giving entertainment to the Quakers; when as I broke no law in giving them a night's lodging or two and some victuals. For, our law then was, If any entertain a Quaker, and keep him after he is warned by a magistrate to depart, the party so entertaining shall pay twenty shillings a week, for entertaining them. Since hath been made a law, If any entertain a Quaker, if but a quarter of an hour, he is to forfeit five pounds. Another, That if any see a Quaker, he is bound, if he live six miles or more from the constable, yet he must presently go and give notice to the constable, or else is subject to the censure of the court (which may be hang him). Another, That if the constable know or hear of any Quaker in his precincts, he is presently to apprehend him; and if he will not presently depart the town, the constable is to whip them, and send them away. And divers have been whipped with us in our patent; and truly, to tell you plainly, that the whipping of them with that cruelty, as some have been whipped, and their patience under it, hath sometimes been the occasion of gaining more adherence to them, than if they had suffered them openly to have preached a sermon.
Also another law, That if there be a Quaker meeting anywhere in this colony, the party in whose house, or on whose ground, is to pay forty shillings; the preaching Quaker forty shillings; every hearer forty shillings. Yea, and if they have meetings, though nothing be spoken when they so meet, which they say, so it falls out sometimes our last law, That now they are to be apprehended, and carried before a magistrate, and by him committed to be kept close prisoner, until he will promise to depart and never come again; and will also pay his fees (which I perceive they will do neither the one nor the other) ; and they must be kept only with the country's allowance, which is but small (namely, coarse bread and water). No friend may bring them anything; none may be permitted to speak with them; nay, if they have money of their own, they may not make use of that to relieve themselves.
In the Massachusetts (namely, Boston colony) after they have whipped them, and cut their ears, have now, at last, gone the furthest step they can: they banish them upon pain of death, if ever they come there again. We expect that we must do the like; we must dance after their pipe. Now Plymouth saddle is on the Bay horse (viz., Boston), we shall follow them on the career; for, it is well if in some there be not a desire to be their apes and imitators in all their proceedings in things of this nature.
All these carnal and antichristian ways, being not of God's appointment, effect nothing as to the obstructing or hindering of them in their way or course. It is only the Word and Spirit of the Lord that is able to convince gainsayers : they are the mighty weapons of a Christian's warfare, by which great and mighty things are done and accomplished.
They have many meetings and many adherents, almost the whole town of Sandwich is adhering towards them; and give me leave a little to acquaint you with their sufferings, which is grievous unto and saddens the hearts of most of the precious saints of God. It lies down and rises up with them, and they cannot put it out of their minds, to see and hear of poor families deprived of their comforts and brought into penury and want (you may say, by what means, and to what end?). As far as I am able to judge of the end, it is to force them from their homes and lawful habitations, and to drive them out of their coasts.
The Massachusetts have banished six of their own inhabitants, to be gone upon pain of death ; and I wish that blood be not shed. But our poor people are pillaged and plundered of their goods; and haply, when they have no more to satisfy their unsatiable desire, at last may be forced to flee, and glad they have their lives for a prey.
As for the means by which they are impoverished: these in the first place were scrupulous of an oath; Why then we must put in force an old law, that all Must take the oath of fidelity. This being tendered, they will not take it; and then we must add more force to the law, and that is, if any man refuse, or neglect to take it by such a time, shall pay five pounds or depart the colony. When the time is come, they are the same as they were; then goes out the marshal, and fetcheth away their cows and other cattle. Well, another court comes, they are required to take the oath again, they cannot then five pounds more. On this account thirty-five head of cattle, as I have been credibly informed, hath been by the authority of our court taken from them the latter part of this summer; and these people say, If they have more right to them, than themselves, Let them take them. Some that had a cow only, some two cows, some three cows, and many small children in their families, to whom in summer time a cow or two was the greatest outward comfort they had for their subsistence. A poor weaver that hath seven or eight small children (I know not which) , he himself lame in his body, had but two cows, and both taken from him. The marshal asked him, What he would do? He must have his cows. The man said, That God that gave him them, he doubted not, but would still provide for him.