Each family history of early New England settlers contain a wealth of history researched by the authors. Dr. William Prescott who authored the Prescott Memorial did lengthy research into the Puritan history. He had this report to offer within the works cited:
To obtain a knowledge of the persecutions and sufferings of the Puritans while in England, the reader may consult Bancroft's History of the United States, Vol.1 pp 275 to 3l3.
In the meantime we (Dr. Wm. Prescott et al) shall quote a few passages to show the cruelty and relentlessness of the mother church, and with what intolerant spirit they pursued and persecuted the "non conformists" Puritans.
They had been persecuted and harrassed in their native land (England) for a century; "for as early as 1534, so far was the freedom of private inquiry from being recognized in England, as a right, that all means of forming a judgement on religious subjects were peremptorily denied. The Act of Supremacy, which effectually severed the English nation from the Roman See, contained no clause whatever favorable to religious liberty. And a statute, alike arrogant in its pretentions and vindictive in its menaces, was after great opposition in Parliament, enacted for abolishing diversity of opinions".
"The Church of England, at least it ceremonial part, was established by an act of Parliament, or a royal ordinance. Puritanism, zealous for independence, admitted no voucher but the Bible - a fixed rule, which it would allow neither Parliament, nor heirarchy, nor king to interpret. The principle was announced and accepted, that not even a ceremony should be tolerated unless it was enjoined by the word of God. The would yield nothing to the temporal sovereign. They would retain nothing that would even seem a relic of the religion they had renounced.." (Vol. l, p.275)
1553 to l557: The reign of Mary involved both parties in danger. Rogers and Hooper the first martyrs of Protestant England were Puritans, and they remained firm to the end; while Cranmer, the head and founder of the English Church, desired, almost to the last, by delays, recantations and entreaties to save himself from the horrid death to which he was doomed. The Puritan martyrs never sough by concessions to escape the flames. For them compromise was itself apostacy. On the death of Mary in l558, the Puritans who had sought safety in exile, returned to England with still stronger antipathies to the forms of worship and the vestures worn by the arrogant clergy, which they repelled as associated with Roman intolerance. But the controversy did not remain a dispute about ceremonies. The first act of Parliament in the reign of Elizabeth declared the supremacy of the crown in the state ecclesiastical; and the conformity of common prayer was soon established under the severest penalties leaving out of sight the scruples of the Puritans. (Bancroft's U.S. Vol.1, p. 280, l.2.)
Elizabeth was inclined to respect the faith of the Catholics and to love the magnificence of their worship. She long struggled to retain images, the crucifix and tapers in her private chapel - Ibid p.283.
When rigorous orders for enforcing conformity were first issued, the Puritans were rather excited to defiance than intimidated. Of the London ministers, about thirty refused to subscribe. Ibid., p.285. At length, in l567 a separate congregation was formed; immediately upon which the government became alarmed and the leading men and several women were sent to Bridewell for a year. In vain did some of the best English statesmen of the day favor moderation. Up until l58l the Puritans as a body had avoided a separation from the church. They had desired a reform and not a schism. Ibed., p. 286.
"But for the Puritans", said Burleigh, "the old religion would have retained the affection of the multitude. If Elizabeth reformed the court, the ministers, whom she persecuted, reformed the commons. That the English people became Protestant is due to the Puritans. How then, could the party be subdued? No part is left but to tolerate or destroy. Extermination could alone produce conformity. Ibed., p. 289, 290.
In l593, Barrow and Greenwood, men of inimpeached loyalty were selected as examples, and hanged at Tyburn for their opinions. The Queen repented that she had sanctioned the execution. The number of the nonconforming clergy, after forty years of molestation and persecution had increased; their popularity was more deeply rooted and their enmity to the established order was irreconcilable. Their followers already constituted a powerful politcal party. The precious spark of liberty had been kindled and preserved by the Puritans alone.
Elizabeth was victorious over her foreign enemies, but never could crush the religious sect which to her seemed so dangerous to the State. Her career was full of glory abroad; it was unsuccessful against the progress of free thought and free opinion at home. In the latter years of her reign her popularity declined and her death was the occasion of little regret and she was soon forgotten. Ibid p.289, 290 and 29l.
King James ascended the throne in l603 who although sincerely attached to Protestantism was false and deceitful. He was intolerant and loved arbitrary power. "No bishop, no king" was a maxim often in his mouth. He substituted authority for argument and where he could not produce conviction, demanded obedience. "I will" said he, "have none of that liberty as to ceremonies; I will have one doctrine, one discipline, one religion, in substance and in ceremony".
The Puritans desired permission occasion all to assemble and at their meetings to have the liberty of free discussions, but the king, presuming that concessions in religion would be olllowed by greater political liberty, refused the request. He treated them with the greatest indignity and declared that "as to the Puritans, I will make them conform or I will drive them out of the land or hang them," and, "if any would not confor, be quiet, and show their obedience, they were worthy to be hanged," and afterward boasted that he had soundly peppered off the Puritans. Ibid p.29l to 297.
In 1604 alone, three hundred Puritan ministers were silenced, imprisoned or exiled. But this neither intimidated nor weakend them. The lines were distinctly drawn, the established church, withits non-essential, not to sayfrivolous ceremonies and the monarch, on the one side, were arrayed against the Puritan clergy and the people on the other. A war of opinion began as the result.
At length, "the poor, persecuted flock of Christ", despairing of success and of obtaining rest in England resolved to seek safety in exile. The minds of the emigrants were attracted to Holland where they heard was freedom of religion for all men. The departure from England was effected with much suffering and great hazard. The first attempt in l607 was prevented. The next spring, l608 the design was renewed. But just as a boat was bearing a party of the emigrants to their ship, a company of horsemen appeard and seized the helpless women and children who had not yet had an opportunity to embark. It was heart rending to witness the weeping and distress of those poor women and helpless children. But as they had no homes to which they could be conveyed, the magistrates were soon glad to be rid of them and they were suffered to depart. Such was the flight of Robinson and Brewster and their followers from the land of their fathers. They had been inured to the pursuits of husbandry (agriculture) but when arrive in Holland they were obliged to learn mechanical trades. Brewster became a printer; Bradford learned to art of dying silk, etc. They soon removed to Leyden. Ibed p.299 to 303.
While at Leyden "we are well weaned", said Robinson and Brewster, "from the delicate milk of our mother country, and inured to the difficulties of a strange land. We are knit together as a body in a most sacred covenant of the Lord." Here, however, they were too much confined and it became necessary to seek a country more congenial to their enlarged desires and more adequate to their neccessities. After various schemes had been discussed the Puritans resolved, in l6l9 to remove to America. They accordingly made ready for their departure, trusting in God and their own exertions. Every enterprise of the Pilgrims began from God. A solemn fast was held. "Let us seek God" said they "for a right way for us, and for ou little ones, and for all our substance". They embarked on board the Speedwell and the Mayflower. Mr. Robinson gave them a farewell address, breathing a freedom of opinion and an independence of authority. "I charge you before God," said he, "that you follow me no farther than you have seen me follow the Lord Jesus Christ." In August, l620 the Mayflower and the Speedwell, freighted with the first colony of New England left Southampton for America. But they had not gone far when it was found that the Speedwell needed repairs and was too weak for the service, and they returned to Plymouth - some of the passengers returned to London and other went aboard the Mayflower which now being freighted with one hundred souls, set sail on the 6th of September, l620 for the new world. After a long and boisterous voyage of sixty three days, they, on the 9th of November espied land and in two days more were safely moored in the harbor of Cape Cod. After much suffering from cold and wet, from storm and fatigue, in examining and exploring the coast for a good shelter and a suitable site for a resting place, they entered the harbor of Plymouth, Dec l5, l620. From that time forward the history of the Pilgrim fathers is well known. Bancroft's Hist. U.S., Vol 1, p.304-3l3.
The relentless English Church About 1640 nonconformity began to show itself in the Council of Virginia and it was contended that "to toler-ate Puritanism was to nurse a republican party." It was therefore specially ordered, in March 1643 that no mini-ster should preach or teach, publicly or privately, except in conformity to the constitutions of the Church of England and nonconformists were banished from the colony. Bancroft's History of the U.S. Vol 1., p. 206, 7.
This unsocial and intolerant spirit of political and religious discord fostered a mutual hostility and pre-vented that frequent intercourse between Virginia and New England which would have been of great advantage to both.
The Puritans were accused by churchmen who followed them to America, as separatists. "We separate," assured the (Puritan) ministers, "not from the church, but from its corruptions. We came away from the Common Prayer and needless ceremonies in our native land, where we suffered much from nonconformity. In this land of lib-erty we cannot and we will not use them. Their imposit-ion would be a sinful violation of the worship of God."
The present and succeeding generations can have no adequate conception of the difficulties, dangers, hard-ships and sufferings endured by our Puritan ancestors, and against which they toiled and struggled so patiently and sucessfully. They seemed to be prepared, under the Providence of God, for the work before them (to wit) The Founding of a Great Republic on Christian Principals We have a just cause of pride in being considered desc-endants of the Puritans. John Quincy Adams once said, "he would rather have one drop of Puritan blood in his veins than all the blood that ever flowed in the veins of kings and princes." Theirs was a nobility founded on honest virtue, Christian humility and the purest of patriotism.
The blood of these freemen have become extensively diffused throughout our country. It is the prevailing opinion that three-fourths of all the present native inhabitants of New England and no inconsiderable portion of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio and most of the western states are descendants of the Old Puritan Stock who were made freemen before the death of Gov. Winthrop.
It becomes our duty, therefore as descendants to cherish their memory and to religiously observe the anniversary of their landing on the shores of Plymouth.
Mr. Hunphrey's Preface to a Sermon preached by Rev. John Cotton and published in London in l630 (from 2 Sam.7:l0)
"Have special care that you ever have the ordinances of God planted amongst you, or else never looke for security. As soon as God's ordinances cease, your security ceaseth likewise; but if God plant his ordinances among you, feare not he will sustain you". etc. Source: Gen. Reg. Vol II p.l52.
The first meeting house in Hampton, MA was built of hewn logs. The second was a framed building and built in l643. The seats were on one side devoted to the male members of the congregation and those on the other to the female. A committee was chosen to assign seats to each person according to his standing in the church or society; and no one ws allowed to occupy any other seat than the one assigned him under severe penalty. Robert Page who was an efficient member for more than 20 years a deacon of the church and for many years a selectman and representative and also marshal of the old County of Norfolk, was honored with the high privilege of occupying with seven other dignitaries the front seat on one side and his wife with seven other women the front seat on the opposite side.
The Freeman's Oath was the first paper printed in New England. It was printed at Cambridge by Stephen Daye in l639 upon a single sheet, in the form of a handbill and without date. The oath was in these words as est-ablished in l634 in Massachusetts:
"I ____being by God's providence, an Inhabitant and Freeman within the Jurisdiction of this Commonwealth; do freely acknowledge myself to be subject to the Govern ment thereof: And therefore do here swear by the great and dreadful Name of the Ever-living God, that I will be true and faithful to the same, and will accordingly yield assistance and support thereunto, with my person and estate, as in equity I am bound; and will also truly endeavor to maintain and preserve all the liberties and privileges thereof, submitting myself to the wholesome Laws and Orders made and established by the same. And further that I will not plot or practice any evil against it, or consent to any that shall do so; but will timely discover and reveal the same to the lawful authority now here established for the speedy preventing thereof.
Moreover, I do solemnly bind myself in the sight of God that when I shall be called to give my voyce touching any matter of this state in which Freemen are to deal, I will give my vote and suffrage as I shall judge in mine own consciience may best conduce and tend to the public weal of the body. So help me God in the Lord Jesus Christ."
It is to be recollected that none but Freemen could vote at any election or hold any office, not even that of a juryman. And none could be admitted freeman unless he was a member of the church. Whenever any person, not a church member, was tried for any crime or offence, there fore, it was by both judge and jury belonging to the church and entertaining strong prejudices against him.
Were the laws and customs thus, in our day of reckless and unprincipled office-seeking, there would, most likely be a large preponderance of hypocrites over the humble pious Christians of our churches. Dr. William Prescott.Transcribed by Janice Farnsworth