Continuing trouble

The neighboring Plymouth colony, meanwhile, was enacting its own laws against Quaker outsiders. Measures were passed against concealing or entertaining a Quaker, and foreign male Friends making return visits would have one ear cut off the first time, the other ear the second time; women would be whipped; and either sex returning the fourth time would have their tongues bored with a hot iron. Residents who offered support would get similar treatment. Nevertheless, this was a mild law compared to Boston’s.

That autumn, Humphrey Norton – apparently traveling alone – was seized in Sandwich on Cape Cod, tried, found guilty, escorted to Fall River, and expelled.

In December, Robert Hodgson arrived alone on a foray that took him as far up the shoreline as Scituate. He conducted Meetings at the Howland brothers’ homes in Duxbury and Marshfield, but, thanks to friendly warnings, managed to avoid capture, returning to Rhode Island for the winter. Plymouth court sessions in October and December that year called in a number of individuals involved: William Newland for his part in the August visit of Copeland and Holder; Ralph Allen Sr. for Meetings at his house and “unworthy speeches” to constable William Bassett; Thomas Burgess Jr. for showing the warrant to Copeland and Holder; Henry Sanderson for refusing to assist the constable in capturing Norton; Arthur Howland of Marshfield for hospitality to Hodgson. The Hodgson visit also led to the questioning of Henry Howland, his son Zoeth, and John Howland’s son John Jr.

(Mary Jane Howland Taber, writing in 1907, reports her family descending from “Henry, brother of John Howland of the Mayflower,” and adds: “The Howlands settled in Old Dartmouth [New Bedford] in Roger Williams’ territory, at some distance from both the Puritans and Pilgrims.” The move, presumably, came after the jailing of three individuals at year’s end “for stubborn refusal to cooperate with the Court or for abusing the constable.”)

The Plymouth court report for December 22, 1657, says: “That wheras Robert Hutchin, one of those that are commonly called Quakers, goeing too and frow in some of the townes of this govment, procured sundry persons to give meeting to him, contrary to order of Court; and sundry alsoe began to bee taken with his novalties, which was likely to produce great desturbance in this govement.” A plan was made to interrupt a Meeting called for the “20th of December, being the Lords day,” and John Phillips, the Marshfield constable, was dispatched to Arthur Howland’s house “to interrupt the said meeting and to apprehend the said Robert Huchin; but … hee found noe man att the said house.” On Monday the constable was required to go warn Howland to appear “att the house of Mr. John Alden, before the magistrates … and likewise to apprehend the abovesaid Robert Huchin, hee being in the said house, accompanied by the said Arthur Howland and Joseph Rogers, son of John Rogers, of Marshfield, and another of his sonnes; the said constable then apprehending him, the said Robert Huchin was opposed and hindered by the said Arthur Howland, soe as hee could not bring him, the said Huchin, away with him.” Phillips had a warrant, but Howland “would not suffer him to goe along with him; on which the said Phillips pulled him to goe alonge with him; and then the said Arthur Howland thrust the said John Phillipes out of his dores; and the said John Phillipes charged the said Arthur Howland and the 2 sonnes of John Rogers abovesaid with the said Quaker, to have him forth coming; and then the said Arthur Howland said, if hee, the said John Phillipes, tooke such courses, hee would have either a sword or a gun in the belly of him; then the said Phillipes went downe to the mill to gitt more assistance, and when hee came up againe, the said Quaker was gon.”

Phillips then asked the young men present to help him, but “Joseph Rogers refused to assist him in bringing away the said Quaker.” Arthur Howland had to post bond to appear at Plymouth General Court the first Tuesday in March, but “refusing to give his owne single bond, was committed to the custody to the cheife marshall.” John Howland Jr. was “summoned to appear att the said Court for giving intelligence to Arthur Howland and the Quaker.”

Peter Easton, in notes preserved at the New England Historical Society, recorded in 1657, “This year friends came over first to Plimouth John Rows [Rous] Christopher Houlder Rober fowler Rogert houghon.”

In early 1658 Copeland and Brend returned to Plymouth to test the anti-Quaker ordinances; Norton and Rous in June. Arthur and Henry Howland were fined for holding separate Meetings, and Zoeth sat in the stocks as a consequence of criticizing the Pilgrim minister. A new ruling was enacted by which Quakers and their encouragers would lose their status as voting freemen, and a workhouse was added to the jail for “idle persons and vagrants.” Bassett was replaced by a tougher constable from Massachusetts.

That year, fifteen Quaker ministers were active in New England – and most of them in jail at some time.

Robert Hodgson continued to travel widely in Free Gospel ministry. In 1658 he was present at a gathering of American Quaker ministers held on Aquidneck Island. That year, Rhode Island Monthly Meeting was established. On August 6, the Woodhouse band split, with half going to Boston and the other half – William Brend, Sarah Gibbons, Dorothy Waugh, and Robert Hodgson being joined by William Ledra, who had held Meeting in Salem, and Thomas Harris from Barbados – setting sail for Barbados, where their efforts brought reinforcements to New England: Henry Fell; Robert Malins from Bandon, Ireland; Ann Cleaton [Clayton]; Marmaduke Stephenson, who had been at the plow in the eastern parts of Yorkshire when he heard within himself “the word of the Lord, saying ‘Go to Boston’”; and Peter Pearson, another Yorkshireman. The lives of Peter Cowsnocke, from the Isle of Man, and Warwickshire Friends Phillip Rose and Edward Teddes were apparently lost at sea.

Late that year, Robert Hodgson, with traveling companions Christopher Holder and William Robinson, was reported preaching in Virginia and along the Carolina coast, where they may have been the first ministers of any denomination to appear. By 1659 the three Public Friends had been joined by Thomas Thurston, and their labors in Maryland convinced many people, who were thereafter disqualified as jurors or witnesses. Authorities ordered that “vagabond” Quakers be whipped out of the province henceforth. (Holder and Thurston had come from Gloucester; Robinson, from Cumberland.) “As happened everywhere,” Rufus Jones writes, “‘a large convincement’ resulted from their labors.” They were likely joined in Virginia, 1659, by Humphrey Norton as well. As happened wherever these enthusiastic souls went, there were marked results from their preaching and personal labors. William Robinson writes, in an extant letter: “There are many people convinced, and some in several parts are brought into the sense and feeling of truth.”

Even so, on Eighth Month 15, 1659, George Fox wrote an epistle to “My Dear Friends, Robert Hodson [note spelling], William Robinson, Marmaduke Stephenson, Peter Pearson, William Brend, William Ledra, and the rest of Friends in New England and Virginia,” having apparently heard of some quarreling among themselves. Within the next two years, Robinson, Stephenson, and Ledra – along with Mary Dyer – would be dead, hanged by Puritan authorities in Boston. Considering the closeness of their labors together, the hangings must have been a difficult and personal blow to Hodgson, no matter how strong his religious faith. Fox’s epistle counseled them:

Be faithful … dwell in the Power of God … And go on in Peace and Love and Unity one with another … And take heed of Judging one another in the Sight of weak Friends, but dwell in the Power of the Lord God, and that will keep that down in every particular, which is to be judged … Therefore dwell all (I warn you from the Lord God of Power, of Life, of Heaven and Earth), dwell in his Power and Wisdom and Life … through which ye will feel the Preciousness and Weight of Truth, which now is going over all the World … For the Lord hath a Seed … if ye in Patience all of you wait, and not matter the Weather, the Storms, the Winds, the Hail, the Rain, when ye are to sow the Seed, nor the rough Ground, that is to be tilled. For the Husband-man waits patiently after the Seed is sown; there is a Winter before the Summer comes: And there must be a great Work before the Misty Heathen be cleared in their understandings … and the dark Air be driven back, and the Prince of Life and Light be witnessed. Dwell in the Life and Light be witnessed … So, live in Patience and in Peace and in the weighty Wisdom of God, and then ye will see the end of all frothy Spirits, that will not abide the Trial … that ye may stand in the Seed, which is Everlasting. In that the Lord preserve you. Ye may write over, how Things are there; for Truth is well here and spreads abroad in the World in other Nations, and is of a good report. G.F.

In Fox’s usage, the Seed and the Truth are synonyms for Christ.

That year Robert Hodgson was also cited as a contributing author to Francis Howgill’s The Popish Inquisition Newly Erected in New England, a seventy-two page outcry published in London in opposition to the escalating oppression the missionaries encountered.

Events in New England continued to deteriorate. In May 1658, three Southwicks as well as Samuel Shattuck, Joshua Buffum, and Nicholas Phelps were banished from Salem. On September 12 the following year, the Massachusetts General Court sentenced Nicholas Davis, Mary Dyer, William Robinson, and Marmaduke Stephenson to “banishment upon pain of death.” Robinson and Stephenson left Boston for Salem – from which the leading Friends had already been banished, and still within Massachusetts Bay jurisdiction. On September 13, Christopher Holder, seeking passage back to England, was arrested in Boston and jailed.

To the south, Plymouth General Court on October 6, 1659, found: “William Ledra and Peter Peirson, 2 of those called Quakers, whoe have been prisoners att Plymouth for some time, were sent for severally out of prison, and presented before the court,” which ordered them to pay jailors’ fees, leave the colony, and never return. They refused and furthermore, “Peter Peirson openly deneyed the humanities of Christ,” so they were ordered returned to jail. Eleven residents of [?] and Sandwich were fined five pounds apiece for refusing “the oath of fidelitie to the state of England and to this government.” Then “John Barnes, Willam Newland, and Henery Howland appeared, being summoned, and were convicted by law, and sentenced by the Court to bee disenfranchised of theire freedome of this corporation. … Barnes for his … drunkeness, and Willam Newland and Henery Howland for theire being abettors and entertainers of Quakers.” (Howland’s son or grandson Nathaniel became a Friends minister, recorded at Dartmouth in 1723; Henry’s son Zoeth was killed by Indians during King Philips’ War in 1676.)

On October 9, Mary Dyer and Hope Clifton, just in from Providence to visit Christopher Holder, were arrested and jailed in Boston. The next day, Mary Scott of Providence (daughter of Catherine Scott, the sister of Anne Hutchinson), also attempting to visit Holder, was arrested and jailed, as was Robert Harper of Sandwich, in Boston on business. After a month in Salem and other communities north of Boston, Robinson and Stephenson made their way back to the city, accompanied by a small band of supporters: Hannah Phelps, Margaret Buffum Smith, Mary Trask, and William King of Salem; Daniel Gould of Newport; and Robert Hodgson’s future mother-in-law, Alice Shotten [a variant of Scott?] Cowland, who, expecting the worst, had brought “linen wherein to wrap the dead bodies of those who were to suffer.” All came, according to George Bishop’s New England Judged (Sowle, 1703), “as one … together in the moving and power of the Lord, to look your bloody laws in the face, and to accompany those who should suffer by them.” All were “apprehended and sent to prison.”

On October 20, Dyer, Robinson, and Stephenson were sentenced to death and began writing appeals. Governor Winthrop of Connecticut made a personal appeal to the court and offered sanctuary in his colony; Governor Temple of Acadia and Nova Scotia offered “to take them to Nova Scotia at his own expense and give them homes and land.” Both governors were turned down, and Robinson and Stephenson were hanged on October 27. Alice Cowland’s linen was not used. Friends were not even allowed to provide coffins. A last-minute reprieve sent Dyer home.

On November 11, Gould, Harper, Holder, and King were examined in the morning and sent back to jail. Clifton, Cowland, Phelps, Smith, and Trask were examined in the afternoon, as well as Provided Smith, who had been arrested on coming to visit her sister. (Provided was a teenage girl ordered sold into slavery after her parents’ banishment earlier in the year; ship captains had all refused to take her to Barbados to sell.) The next day all were called back to court and sentences were read: whippings “in the open street” for Gould, Harper, King, Smith, Southwick, and Trask; admonishment by the governor for Clifton, Cowland, Phelps, and Scott; and banishment for the “high-born” Holder, who shipped out for England almost immediately. First, however, they were returned to prison “to answer your jailer’s fees, and there continued until some friendly people engaging for the payment of the same of their own accords, they gained their liberty.”

The next year, 1660, Robert Hodgson was back in England for a General Meeting at Skipton of male representatives from “around the nation and at least one returned minister from America” who took up “the business of the church, both in this nation and beyond the seas.” Business beyond the seas included the Massachusetts confrontations, which were reaching their tragic culmination; Hodgson could present the English Friends a first-hand perspective of the political and social turmoil.

Mary Dyer, who had returned to Boston a month before to challenge “banishment on pain of death,” was hanged at Boston Neck, June 1, 1660, sickening Edward Wanton, the man officiating at the gallows. On reaching home, he proclaimed: “We have been murdering the Lord’s people,” took off his sword, and became a Quaker.

On March 14, 1661, William Leddra, from Cornwall and Barbados, was hanged in Boston.

In the autumn, banished Salem Quaker Samuel Shattuck returned to Boston. As the Massachusetts authorities prepared to seize him, he produced a royal order from the new king, Charles II, dated September 9, requiring that any condemned Quakers be returned to England for trial. No more Quakers were hanged.

Robert Hodgson, still in England in early 1661, was present when George Fox confronted troublesome Friend John Perrot, as reported in Larry Ingles’ First Among Friends (Oxford, 1994); Ingles confirmed, by letter to Sabron Reynolds Newton, that this was indeed Robert the Missioner. Perrot’s record among Friends is not unsullied; in 1657, the year Mary Fisher obtained an audience with the Sultan at Constantinople, two Irish Quakers – John Perrot of Waterford and John Luffe of Limmerick – also set off for the eastern Mediterranean but had to change plans, settling on an audience with the Pope. Luffe was examined by Alexander VII and, in the words of John Punshon, “was hanged as a reward for his audacity. Perrot avoided this fate, and there is a hint that he betrayed his countryman. He was first placed in the madhouse and then removed to prison whence he was released in 1661.” Difficulties with Perrot would continue, forcing many Friends to the conclusion that he was breaking their unity; in 1665, for instance, the year Robert Hodgson married Rachel Shotten, a dispute arose in Salem over George Fox’s letter criticizing Perrot over a matter of hat testimony (Kenneth Carroll, John Carroll, Friends Historical Society, London, 1971). Shattuck, opposing its being read publicly, called Ann Richardson, apparently on the other side of the dispute, a “Suttel Serpent.” She then “produced a testimony” against Shattuck and, with Jane Nicholson, wrote another against Josiah Southwick. “Some time later, Robert Hodgson … met Ann Richardson at the house of Nicholas Easton [later governor of Rhode Island] … and told her he did not have unity with her papers for ‘they were to[o] hard.’ ”

These boisterous, rough-and-tumble events hardly fit the later image of Quakers as a soft-spoken, mild people. The apocalyptic nature of the new faith, set against a turbulent set of events in England and in the New World, instead produced an outspoken and defiant reaction to revolutionary upheaval.


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