Dear friends, thank you for your gracious return. Do please accept my apologies for cutting our time short last month. I fear my emotions overwhelmed me. My dear Nathaniel—he’s my husband, for you new friends—encouraged me to try again. He says I have much to offer, for he tells me that in the last days many will undergo what my family had and much worse. The strength I found, he tells me, may help those who suffer the same.
Please bear with me as I take my time and try to also share the joy. For what are memories if you cannot find joy in them?
I was quite young when we left Wales for the land claimed by the Massachusetts Bay Colony. I remember little of the place except once passing beneath the window of our town’s mayor. Some men from the king visited him, seeking the names of the families leaving for America. The mayor was a tall man with a fierce face and a pointed beard. His very presence frightened me. I cannot remember why I should have ventured beneath his window, but I did.
“…condemned wretches, poor gentleman, libertines, those fitter to spoil Wales and England than to help raise the commonwealth…” he had sputtered.
At first I did not understand, but when my father’s name was mentioned, I scurried away confused that he should be listed with such men. My father, the youngest son of a lawyer, had become a vicar. However, he had discovered the truth of salvation by grace alone. ‘Twas then he had attached himself to those of the dissenting Puritans. Rather unusual in Wales, ‘tis true. He soon lost his vicarage and ‘twas shortly after this that he attached himself to Dr. John Clarke. When Dr. Clarke decided to cross the Atlantic with other Puritans, my father and my mother determined they should follow. Baptists were still feeling the sting of their brother, Edward Wightman, who died at the hands of the monarch in 1611 for stating, “That the baptizing of infants is an abominable custom; that the Lord’s Supper and baptism are not to be celebrated as they are now practiced in the church of England, and that Christianity is not wholly professed and preached in the Church of England, but only in part.”[i]
If my memory serves me correctly, Dr. Clarke was a member of a Baptist church in Bedfordshire, England. Yes, a great distance from Wales, but not when one finds brethren of like-faith. Though Dr. Clarke associated with other Pedobaptists, he stood on the side of freedom of conscience. He was a gracious man, and like so many who came to New England, he sought the freedom to worship God according to his conscience.
‘Twas the banishment of Rev. Whellwright and Mrs. Ann Hutchinson that led to the separation between Dr. Clarke and my father. Dr. Clark chose to help the Hutchinsons, while my father chose to step aside and let justice take its course. Perhaps, when the leaders of the colony of Massachusetts claimed their country to be infested with no less then eighty-two heretical opinions, my father decided to speak out his beliefs.
On First Days (I believe you call them Sundays), Father began to raise questions regarding the rules by which the Puritans expected all to live. One such First Day a traveler passed through our village. No one would open his door to the man at sunset. Our First Day began at sunset on what is Saturday, but my father welcomed him. A great lover of music, my father entertained this stranger until the constable banged upon our door and threatened to arrest him. Father questioned the law, but at that time did not press the situation and excused the customs of our village to the stranger, who graciously accepted the invitation to retire early without further noise.
Soon Father’s acts of rebellion became noised about by gossips and those who felt it their duty to correct his poor behavior. If he spoke in town, he would be countered by another who claimed offense to his words.
I too began to notice the children refusing to play with me, the girls drifting away or turning their backs, and any act of kindness my sweet mother attempted to perform was met with sour faces.
One day, I asked my mother how she kept her cheery disposition. Her answer, “We are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”[ii] She sighed at the confused look upon my face and continued. “If I have died with Christ, what offense can one bring me? My life is not here but with Christ Who resides in Heaven. They can do me no harm with their words or actions, because I do not live in this world, though my body be present here. I live with Christ in Heaven. ‘But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.’”[iii]
While I understood her words, I did not fully grasp her meaning until the day I stood before those who sought to have me whipped.
Alas, I see our time is running out. Forgive me dear friends, for leaving you again, but you see Nathaniel returns today from Virginia and I promised to stand at the shore in Newport to meet him.
Godspeed, one and all.
Sarah speaks the truth when she said the mayors and others sought to reassure the king that the populating of America would not weaken the Commonwealth by stating only those of little value were going.
England was in the midst of much change, a reformation and the beginnings of discontent that would lead to a civil war. I believe to understand those who came to America in the 1600’s you must also understand England at that time. The colonists brought with them the values and attitudes of their home country.