Have you ever had to defend your beliefs and risk financial fines, time in jail, community criticism or physical harm? I am willing to bet that few of us have had to face those things in any substantial way. Standing up to friends, family or work colleagues about your beliefs rarely results in more than irritation and discomfort. We have our ancestors to thank for the freedoms that we take for granted. Through their work and sacrifices, we can vote (for those of us who are women, non-white and non property owners), worship freely and have political beliefs different from those of our fellow citizens.
Every time we discover someone in our family who has stood up against injustice or for greater rights for our society, we learn more about our nation’s history and for how much we have to be grateful. I am humbled by people like my Quaker relatives in Sandwich, who through their brave actions, slowly eroded the religious intolerance in New England in the 1650’s and early 1660’s.
Crackdown in Boston
As mentioned in the previous blog, the first Quakers appeared in Boston in 1656. Once the increased threat of Quakerism was perceived, it didn’t take long for the Puritan governments of Massachusetts Bay Colony and Plymouth Colonies to broaden the restrictions against both the missionary Quaker’s from England and the local citizens who wanted to practice the Quaker religion.
In Massachusetts Bay Colony, they passed a new law on October 14, 1657 that penalized “anyone concealing or entertaining a Quaker should be fined 40 shillings per hour and imprisoned until paid up. Any male foreign Quakers returning after their first visit were to have an ear cut off and on the next visit the other ear. Females returning were to be whipped. Either sex on their fourth visit was to have their tongue bored with a hot iron. Local person showing support were to be treated similarly” (*Lovell)
In 1658, English Quakers Christopher Holder, John Copeland and John Rouse went to Boston and Salem to preach again. They were imprisoned and had their right ears cut off. The Quaker women who came to support them were jailed and whipped.
Crackdown in Plymouth
In Plymouth the punishments were not as severe and primarily focused on financial penalties. They were to be fined 5 pounds or whipped for hosting a foreign Quaker in their homes. For holding a Quaker meeting, the speaker and the house owner were each fined 40 shillings and the attendees were fined 10 shillings each. If they refused to take the oath of allegiance, they would have their freeman status removed (ability to vote and participate in government). It was surprising how many of the residents of Sandwich didn’t let this inhibit their religious calling and they kept meeting. The Colony brought in a new sheriff who terrorized the community, but the Sandwich Quakers (and even some of their neighbors) continued to make a stand against the laws. In the historical account of these events, the Allen Family is often mentioned for meetings in their home, being sent to jail, hosting missionaries, loosing their freeman status and consistently being fined throughout the years for their participation in Quaker activities.
My Quaker Allen Family
I have discovered that I am related to the Allen Family through Rose Allen Holloway Newland (my 11th Great Grandmother). She was right in the middle of the Quaker conversions and persecutions, along with 4 of her brothers.
Here are examples of the discrimination and penalties they experienced:
Rose Allen Holloway Newland & her 2nd husband William Newland
- 1657 – William was imprisoned for 5 months for having meetings in their home
- 1658 – Fined 24 pounds for having meetings in their home (10 shillings per meeting)
- 1659 – Freeman status removed – unable to vote
- Total fines = 36 pounds
- 1658-Fined for not taking the oath of fidelity
- Total fines = 25 pounds 15 shillings
- 1657 – Imprisoned for 5 months for having meetings in their home
- 1658 – Fined for not taking the oath of fidelity
- 1658 – Freeman status removed – unable to vote
- Total fines = 68 pounds
- 1657 – His home was one of the first meeting place of the Quakers
- 1658 – Fined 50 shillings for having meetings in his home
- 1658 – Fined 48 pounds
- 1661 – Imprisoned in Boston
- Total fines = 86 pounds 17 shillings
- 1657 – His home was one of the first meeting places of the Quakers
- 1658 – Freeman status removed – unable to vote
- Total fines = 38 pounds and 16 shillings
Escalation of Persecution and Resolution
When the fines, whippings and mutilations seemed to have no affect on the Quakers retreating from the colonies, the Massachusetts Bay Colony passed a new law in late 1658. It mandated that all Quakers would be banished and that if they returned they would be executed. Despite the threat of death, some of the missionaries decided to return to Boston to challenge the laws. In 1659, William Robinson and Marmaduke Stevenson were hung in Boston. The following year, Mary Dyer was hung despite tremendous controversy. The fourth and last martyr, William Leddra was executed in 1661. The hangings only ended in late 1661 when King Charles II sent a royal missive that ordered the suspension of imprisonment and corporal punishment of the Quakers.
It is remarkable that people in that restrictive environment made the decision to face persecution because their hearts and minds were drawn to a new message. But maybe it is because of their controlling religion that the message was heard? The beginnings of new religious thought rarely occurs without resistance. It threatens the status quo and the people in power and it forces individuals to face alternative points of view. We all have our reactions to different religions (or sects within a particular religion) primarily because our spiritual and religious beliefs run deep within our core values. We are fortunate in America that regardless of how you feel towards another religion, we are all protected to be able to practice it without risk of oppression, imprisonment or torture. Those Founding Fathers really got that right!
Anderson, Robert Charles, George Freeman Sanborn, and Melinde Lutz Sanborn. 1999. The great migration: immigrants to New England, 1634-1635. Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society.
Dillingham, John H. 1891. The Society of Friends in Barnstable County, Massachusetts. New York: H.W. Blake & Co.
Freeman, Frederick. 1860. The history of Cape Cod the annals of Barnstable County, including the District of Mashpee. Boston: Printed for the author, by Geo. C. Rand & Avery.
Lovell, Russell A. 1984. Sandwich, a Cape Cod town. Sandwich, Mass: Town of Sandwich, Sandwich Archives and Historical Center.