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John Clarke and the Baptists of Newport, R. I. 1
By Albert H. Newman, 1894

     THOUGH second to the Providence church in point of date, the Newport church deserves the first place as regards the consistent and persistent devotion of its leaders to Baptist principles, the thoroughness and vigor of its organization, and its evangelistic zeal. The exact date of its organization cannot be determined. The latest admissible date is 1644, but there is some probability in favor of an earlier date. The founder and for many years the pastor of this church was John Clarke, who deserves a high place on the roll of Baptist worthies. Born in England (probably in Suffolk, possibly in Bedfordshire), October 8, 1609, highly educated in arts and in medicine (we know not where or how), a pronounced separatist before he left England (whether a pedobaptist or an antipedo-baptist we are not informed), he arrived at Boston, November, 1637, hoping to find among those who had sought in the New World immunity from persecution a spirit of toleration. To quote his own account of his early experiences: "I was no sooner on shore but there appeared to me to be differences among them touching the Covenants; and in point of evidencing a man's good estate, some pressed hard for the Covenant of works, others pressed as
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1 Clarke, "Ill News;" " Records of the Colony of R. I.," i.; Arnold, i.; Backus; Winthrop; Hubbard; Lechford; Barrows, "History Sketch," "Dev. of Bapt. Pr. in R. I.," "Baptist Quarterly," 1872, pp. 483 seq.; J. C. C. Clarke, in "Baptist Quarterly," 1876, pp. 180 seq.; Adlam; Callender; Comer.
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hard for the Covenant of grace that was established upon better promises, and for the evidence of the Spirit, as that which is a more certain, constant, and satisfactory witness. I thought it not strange to see men differ about matters of Heaven, for I expect no less upon Earth: But to see that they were not able so to bear with each other in their different understandings and consciences as in those utmost parts of the World to live peaceably together, whereupon I moved the latter, forasmuch as the land was before us and wide enough, with the proffer of Abraham to Lot, and for peace sake, to turn aside to the right hand or to the left. The motion was readily accepted, and I was requested with some others to seek out a place." The controversy referred to was that over the so-called antinomian teachings of Mrs. Anne Hutchinson. In assuming the leadership of a new colony, the majority of whose members were in sympathy with Mrs. Hutchinson's views, and in which the Hutchinson family was embraced, Clarke in no way committed himself to the errors of the antinomians. He agreed with them in insisting on liberty of conscience; he believed that they ought to seek a place where they could hold their views in freedom; he was himself conscious of such a degree of incompatibility with the doctrines and the spirit of the Massachusetts theocracy that he could not hope peaceably to abide in the colony; and for the purpose of founding a new colony in which liberty of conscience should prevail he was willing to cast in his lot with these errorists.

      Clarke's narrative continues: "Thereupon, by reason of the suffocating heat of the summer before, I went to the North [New Hampshire] to be somewhat cooler, but the winter following proved so cold that we were forced in the spring to make toward the South; so, having sought the Lord for direction, we all agreed that, while our vessel was


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passing about a large and dangerous cape, we would cross over by land, having Long Island and Delaware Bay in our eye for the place of our residence; so to a town called Providence we came, which was begun by one Mr. Roger Williams (who for matter of conscience had not long before been exiled from the former jurisdiction), by whom we were courteously and lovingly received, and with whom we advised about our design." The result was that, after other places had been considered, with the approval of Williams and of the Plymouth magistrates they settled on the island of Aquidneck, soon afterward named Rhode Island. Through the kindly offices of Williams they were enabled to secure from the Indians a title to the island.

      On the "7th day of the first month " (March, 1838) the colony was solemnly organized: "We whose names are underwritten do here solemnly, in the presence of Jehovah, incorporate ourselves into a body politic, and, as he shall help, will submit our persons, lives, and estates unto our Lord Jesus Christ, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and to all those perfect and most absolute laws of his given us in his holy word of truth, to be guided and judged thereby." Nineteen names of the male members of the party follow, the list being headed by those of William Coddington and John Clarke. Coddington, who had had much experience in governmental matters in Massachusetts, was appointed judge or chief magistrate. He covenanted "to do justice and judgment impartially according to the laws of God, and to maintain the fundamental rights and privileges of this body politic."

     It should be observed that at the time of the formation of this colony Roger Williams's Providence was still in a rudimentary state, with a population small in comparison with that of the Aquidneck colony, and with scarcely the beginnings of organized political life. The colony under


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Clarke and Coddington was not only numerically far stronger than that under Williams, but it embraced far more of culture and of political experience and wisdom. Portsmouth was the first part of the island to be settled. In April, 1639, Coddington, Clarke, and others organized a new community at Newport. Portsmouth and Newport were reunited in 1640. In 1643, as already stated, Roger Williams was sent to England by the Rhode Island and Providence people conjointly to secure a charter. The charter was secured, but partly, it may be, on account of the designation " Providence Plantations," which may have seemed to give a certain ascendency to Providence the union of the three settlements under the charter did not take place till 1647.

     It is interesting to note the stress that was laid as seen in the first act of incorporation and in subsequent legislation on the sole headship of Christ and on the principle of civil and religious liberty. While accepting the word of God as the embodiment of perfect and absolute laws by which they agreed to be guided and judged, they were careful to limit punishment for breaches of the laws of God to such as "tend to civil disturbance." In 1641 it was "ordered, and unanimously agreed upon, that the government which this body politic doth attend unto in this Island, and the jurisdiction thereof in favor of our prince, is a DEMOCRACY, or popular government." It was further ordered "that none be accounted a delinquent for DOCTRINE provided it be not directly repugnant to the government or laws established." In September, 1641, it was ordered "that the law of the last court, made concerning liberty of conscience in point of doctrine, is perpetuated." The toleration principles of the Rhode Islanders, as well as those of the Providence people, were soon put to a severe test. Samuel Gorton, a man of education and


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ability, who represented antinomianism in some of its worst features, first at Portsmouth and then at Providence sought to overthrow the established forms of government and to arouse the people to revolt. His anarchism was grounded in his religious views; and with his thoroughly perverse but pretentious interpretation of Scripture, and his intense, magnetic personality, he was able to secure a considerable following. At Portsmouth he was whipped and expelled; while even Roger Williams opposed his receiving the privileges of citizenship at Providence and planned to move out of the colony himself should the favorers of Gorton succeed in securing his admission.

     In the incorporation of Portsmouth, Newport, Providence, and Warwick, as "Providence Plantations, in Narragansett Bay, in New England," under the charter secured by Williams, Clarke was probably more influential than Williams himself. The model of government prepared by the islanders, in which Clarke's influence was no doubt predominant, was accepted substantially by the Providence representatives. ("Records of the Colony of R. I. and Providence Plantations," i., 147 seq.) Roger Williams has received more credit than is his due for the Code of Laws adopted by the united colonies in 1647. They were certainly drawn up in substantially the form in which they were adopted by the islanders, and external and internal evidences point to Clarke as the principal author. In the preamble it is agreed and declared "that the form of Government established in Providence Plantations is DEMOCRATICAL; that is to say, a Government held by the free and voluntary consent of all or the greater part of the free inhabitants." The preamble closes: "And now to the end that we may give, each to other (notwithstanding our different consciences touching the truth as it is in Jesus, whereof upon the point we all make


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mention), as good and hopeful assurance as we are able, touching each man's peaceable and quiet enjoyment of his lawful right and liberty, we do agree unto, and . . . enact, establish, and confirm, these orders following." The Code is, naturally, based upon English law, but it is in every way admirably adapted to the needs of the colonists. It would be impossible to find a document of the kind in which the rights of individuals and of the community are more carefully guarded. The document closes with these noble words, that have been quoted so often as to have become famous: "These are the Laws that concern all men, and these are the Penalties for the transgression thereof, which by common consent are Ratified and Established throughout this whole Colony; and otherwise than thus what is herein forbidden all men may walk as their consciences persuade them, every one in the name of his God. And let the Saints of the Most High walk in this Colony without Molestation in the name of Jehovah, their God, forever and ever."

     Although John Clarke did not write as voluminously on the doctrine of liberty of conscience as did Roger Williams, and although Williams was in advance of Clarke in publishing his views to the world, it is probable that Clarke had embraced these views some time before he knew of Williams. When he reached Boston in 1637 his indignation at the denial of liberty of conscience by the Massachusetts authorities was soon made manifest. That he was from this time onward as thoroughly mastered by this fundamental Baptist principle as was Williams himself is evident from his logical and comprehensive defense of this principle in his "Il1 News from New England " (1652), as well as from his consistent adherence to this principle in his public life and in the legislation that he influenced from 1638 till his death in 1675. His argument for liberty


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of conscience in the work referred to is so able and apt that it deserves some further notice. In expounding his position to the Massachusetts authorities in 1651, when along with Holmes and Crandall he was called upon to suffer for conscience' sake, he presented a brief summary of their views, which in the "Il1 News" he has developed at some length: "I testify that no servant of Christ Jesus hath any liberty, much less authority, from his Lord, to smite his fellow-servant." This he proves by referring to Scripture passages in which brotherly love, meekness, lowliness, etc., are inculcated. "But to smite is an argument of a domineering, proud, and lofty spirit, which is far from a Spirit that is meek and lowly." He further refers to the injunction when smitten to turn the other cheek. "This Lord, being also that Prince of Peace, doth so far dislike such practices as these among any servants of his . . . that he hath absolutely and expressly declared that he by no means will have a striker to supply the office of an elder or steward therein, no, nor one that is of a lordly or domineering spirit, nor yet one that is froward and will be soon angry." He further testified, on the occasion referred to, that no servant of Christ has liberty or authority, "with outward force or arm of flesh, to constrain or restrain another's conscience, nor yet his outward man for conscience' sake, or worship of his God, etc." He claims that "if any servant of Christ Jesus . . . have any such liberty or authority from his Lord so to do, then he is able to shew it . . . either out of the words of the Lord himself, or out of those that were spoken or writ by the Apostles. . . . And indeed for a man to act in the name of the Lord, and not to have a word or warrant from him, is high presumption." He shows that there is no such word and that such conduct is a direct usurpation of the authority of Christ. Moreover, it is in sheer contradiction
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of our Lord's command: "Do to others as ye would that others should do unto you." He holds that "to persecute, prosecute, or enforce others" is contradictory to Christ's representation of believers as lambs in the midst of wolves. "But the Lord hath reserved this great work of ordering the understanding and conscience, which is the spirit of man, by way of constraint or restraint; and also the outward man, with respect to the worship of God, . . . in his own hand, and in the hand of his Spirit, and hath intended to manage it as a part of his Kingdom, by his own Spirit, and by another manner of ministry than that which is put forth in the kingdoms of men." This proposition he proves by abundant citations of Scripture. Again: "That which presupposeth one man to have dominion over another man's conscience" he speaks of as "but a forcing of servants and worshipers upon the Lord, at the least, which he seeks not for, and is a ready way to make men dissemblers and hypocrites before God and man, which wise men abhor; and to put men upon the profaning the name of the Lord, that can no servant of Christ Jesus have any liberty, much less authority, from his Lord to do." He shows further that Christ Jesus "sharply reproved and checked his servants when he hath espied such a spirit as this breaking forth in them." Again: "That which of itself is inconsistent with the civil peace, liberty, prosperity, and safety of a place, commonwealth, or nation, no servant of Christ can have liberty, much less authority, from his Lord, to do. But this outward forcing of men in matters of conscience toward God to believe as others believe, and to practice and worship as others do, cannot stand with the peace, liberty, prosperity, and safety of a place, commonwealth, or nation. Therefore," etc. He maintains that there can be no peace in a commonwealth "so long as there is an outward force and power to be had to maintain
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and uphold the carnal interests and advantages of some upon religious accounts, and so prosecute others who for conscience' sake toward God dare not, yea, cannot, conform to their way. What hopes are thereby begotten and nourished in some? what jealousies, suspicions, and fears in others? what revengeful desires in most? yea, what plottings and contrivings in all? and as a fruit and effect hereof, what riding? running? troublesome and tumultuous assemblings together, and sidings? yea, and outrageous murderings and bloodsheddings are hereby produced in a nation, to gain that power and sword to their party, either to crush, suppress, or cause the other to conform, or at the least and best to save themselves from being crushed, suppressed, or forced to conformity?" He insists that by granting liberty of conscience "shall all parties be deeply obliged, to the utmost of their lives and estates, to bear up that power, without which they cannot expect to enjoy peace, liberty, and safety themselves."

     From the beginning Clarke was the trusted counselor of the Rhode Island colonists. While he seems to have shrunk from occupying the highest position at home, his influence is manifest in every important measure, and whenever it became necessary to send a representative to England in the interests of colonial rights he was the chosen representative of the people. When William Coddington had without the approval of a majority of the citizens of the island secured in England a grant of the territory in his own right, Clarke was sent to England by Newport and Portsmouth to procure the annulling of the charter. In this undertaking he had the cooperation of Roger Williams, who acted on behalf of Providence and Warwick. Williams returned soon after the business had been accomplished, but for twelve years Clarke remained in England as the representative of the colonists and the


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guardian of their rights. It was during this visit to England that he published "Ill News from New England," a work that did more than any other publication to call the attention of the world to the intolerance of New England Puritanism and the iniquity of such intolerance. In England he was closely associated with many of the leading men of the Cromwellian age, notably with John Milton, the Latin secretary, a radical in politics and religion.

     Just how his time was employed during this long residence in the mother-land we are not informed; but it is probable that he was at the same time deepening the foundations of his theological, civic, and medical knowledge, and seeking to advance the cause of Christ in such ways as were open to him. The following contemporary notice, being a communication from the town of Warwick to the colonial council, is of interest: "We know that Mr. Clarke did publicly exercise his ministry in the Word of God in London, as his letters have made report, as that being a chief place for his profit and preferment, which, we doubt not, brought him in good means for his maintenance; as also he was much about modelizing of matters concerning the affairs of England, as his letters have declared, in which, no doubt, he was encouraged by men of no small estates, who, in all likelihood, did communicate liberally for such of his labors and studies." The stress laid upon his possible emoluments was due to the somewhat niggardly desire on the part of the town to be released from its proportion of the allowance made to Clarke for his services. Much of his time was no doubt given to the affairs of the colony, and after the accession of Charles II. he succeeded in securing a charter for "Rhode Island and Providence Plantations," in 1663. The charter of 1644, ratified in 1647, had never been satisfactory on account of the indefiniteness of its provisions. Disputes as to boundaries had


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arisen which could scarcely be settled by other than British authority. Moreover, with the restoration of the Stuarts the acts of the revolutionary period had been nullified. This charter, though given by a king of despotic tendencies, who was at that very time bitterly persecuting dissenters, is one of the most remarkable, in its provisions for civil and religious liberty, ever issued by an English sovereign. It makes suitable acknowledgment of the Indian titles to the land; it declares "that no person within the said colony, at any time hereafter, shall be anywise molested, punished, disquieted, or called in question for any difference in opinion in matters of religion which do not actually disturb the civil peace of our said colony; but that all and every person and persons may, from time to time, and at all times hereafter, freely and fully have and enjoy his and their own judgments and consciences in matters of religious concernments; . . . they behaving themselves peaceably and quietly, and not using this liberty to licentiousness and profaneness, nor to the civil injury or outward disturbance of others." The provisions of the earlier charter for government by a majority of the freemen of the colony are substantially confirmed in the new.

      Rhode Island, through Clarke's diplomacy, secured the recognition of claims to territory disputed by Connecticut and Massachusetts. Clarke was bitterly opposed in his efforts to secure the charter by the representatives of Massachusetts and Connecticut, and these colonies were greatly chagrined by his success. It was natural that they should insinuate that this Baptist statesman, who had so ruthlessly exposed the intolerance of the Massachusetts authorities, had secured the charter by improper means. But the documentary history of the time fully vindicates Clarke, while it reflects gravely upon the methods of his traducers. (Arnold, i., 287 seq.)


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      There was universal rejoicing throughout Rhode Island and Providence Plantations that the aspirations of the colonists for liberty and for their rights in relation to the other colonies had been so amply secured by their honored and beloved agent. The bearer of the royally sealed document was handsomely rewarded for his fidelity. It was voted "that Mr. John Clarke, the Colonies' agent in England, be saved harmless in his estate; and to that end that all his disbursements going to England, and all his expenses and engagements there already laid out, . . . as also . . . expenses and engagements he shall be necessitated yet further to disburse, . . . shall all be repaid, paid and discharged by this Colony. . . . That in consideration of . . . his great pains, labor and travail with much faithfulness exercised for above twelve years in behalf of this Colony, in England, the thanks of the Colony be sent unto him by the Governor and Deputy Governor; and for a gratuity unto him, the Assembly engage that the Colony shall pay unto the said John Clarke, . . . over and besides what is above engaged the sum . . . of one hundred pound sterling." This was undoubtedly the crowning achievement of Clarkes' civil career. The charter remained in force until 1843. From the time of its adoption Rhode Island was practically a free, democratic state, with the amplest provision for liberty of conscience.

      The later services of John Clarke must be passed over. His life was one of singular disinterestedness and self-devotion. Few men have been so prominently engaged in public affairs without arousing antagonisms among those with whom they have been associated. But so well balanced was his mind, so just were his judgments, so thorough was his understanding of human nature and of the problems of his time, so evident was it to all that he


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was seeking no private ends at the expense of others, that he seems to have been universally honored, trusted, and beloved. If enemies he had they were the enemies of his religion and of his colony.

      But the aspect of his life which justifies his introduction into the present work has as yet been barely touched upon. John Clarke was a Baptist of the completest and purest type, the most important American Baptist of the century in which he lived. When or under what circumstances he adopted Baptist views seems not to have been recorded. There is some probability in favor of the supposition that he came to America a Baptist. The fact that we have no intimation of any change in his views, or of his baptism in New England, is so far favorable to this supposition. He may have had his attention called to the matter by Roger Williams, who, about a year after Clarke's first visit to Providence, introduced believers' baptism and organized a Baptist church. He may have been baptized by Mark Lukar, one of the earliest of the English Particular Baptists, who is said to have been one of the founders of the Newport church, and who for many years nobly served the church as a ruling elder. At any rate this connecting-link between the first Particular Baptist church of England and the second of America, hitherto overlooked, is a matter of no small interest. If Robert Lenthall, who was driven from Weymouth, Mass., for erroneous views in 1638, and who accepted citizenship at Newport in 1640, was a Baptist, Clarke may have been influenced by him; but the account we have of Lenthall's views leaves us in doubt as to his precise position.

      Clarke began his ministry on the island soon after his arrival. Winthrop designates him, in 1638, as "a physician and preacher to those of the island." The colonists were not long in building a meeting-house at the common


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expense, and a church was soon organized, on what basis we are not informed. A number of those who had been members of the Boston church, and had incurred censure on account of their sympathy with Mrs. Hutchinson and her views, were members of this church.

      By 1640-41 religious dissension had become acute. A number of the islanders carried their antinomian views to their extreme consequences, and, if correctly represented, sought to promulgate a licentious pantheism. Easton, Coddington, and Coggeshall represented the antinomian position and were opposed by Clarice, Lenthall, Harding, and others. "Professed Anabaptists," according to Winthrop, appeared on the island as early as 1641. He is probably in error in representing the Anabaptists of the island as denying magistracy, the bearing of arms, and the existence of true churches, and maintaining the necessity of special apostolic intervention in order to the constitution of such. It seems to have been some of the antinomians that held to these views. As like views were currently attributed to the Anabaptists of the sixteenth century, and as men of Winthrop's stamp were looking for the development of such views among contemporary Baptists, it was natural that when he learned that there were Baptists on the island, and that there were advocates of these views of magistracy, warfare, and church constitution, he should have taken it for granted that the two sets of views belonged to the same party. It is probable that the anti-pedobaptists, under Clarke's leadership, began to hold separate meetings in 1641. In a MS. copy of Lechford's "Plain Dealing" (written probably in 1641) it is stated that "at the island called Aquedny are about one hundred families. There is a church where one Master Clarke is Pastor. . . . The place where the church is is called Newport." In the printed work (1642) the number of


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inhabitants is given as two hundred, and after "Newport" is added, "but the church, I hear, is now dissolved; as also divers churches in the country have been broken up and dissolved through dissension." It is evident that religious affairs on the island were in great confusion about 1641 42, and it is probable that at this time a more general congregation to which Clarke ministered was broken up, and that the antipedobaptist members now began a separate meeting. An early tradition, put on record by John Comer in the next century, places the organization of the church in the year 1644. It 's probable that the Baptist meeting, begun in 1641 or 1642, assumed more completely the character of a church in 1644.

     Samuel Hubbard, a well-educated and deeply spiritual man, having lived for a number of years in Connecticut, where he embraced Baptist views, removed to Newport and was received by baptism, along with his wife, into the Newport church in November, 1648. He thus describes their experience at Fairfield, Conn.: "God having enlightened both, but mostly my wife, into his holy ordinance of baptizing only visible believers, and being zealous for it, she was mostly struck at, and.answered twice publicly, where I was also said to be as bad as she, and threatened with imprisonment to Hartford gaol, if we did not renounce it or remove. That Scripture came into our minds, 'If they persecute you in one place, flee to another.'" He conducted an extensivecorrespondence, private and on behalf of the church, and to his letters we are indebted for much valuable information with reference to the religious history of the time. He was a lifelong friend of Roger Williams and frequently exchanged views with him in correspondence. In 1665 Stephen Mumford, an English Seventh-Day Baptist, united with the church and propagated his views so industriously that Hubbard,


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Hiscox, and others were soon zealous Sabbatarians. At last they became so convinced of the sinfulness of the neglect of the Sabbath (which they regarded as an ordinance of God, binding for all time and transferred by no Scriptural warrant to the first day), and by consequence so censorious and intolerant of the common practice, that in 1671 a Seventh-Day Baptist church was formed at Newport.

     Two of Clarke's brothers, Thomas and Joseph, appear among the early members of the Newport church. The latter became somewhat prominent in the affairs of the colony. The first deacon appears to have been William Weeden, and Mark Lukar was designated a "ruling elder." The Baptist cause at Seekonk, Mass., led by Obadiah Holmes, was fostered by Clarke and his brethren, who visited the community for preaching and the administration of baptism. After the meeting had been broken up by the authorities most of the members removed to Newport, where they formed a valuable accession to the church. The evangelistic visit of Clarke, Holmes, and Crandall to Lynn, Mass., to minister to an aged and infirm Baptist, William Witter by name, and possibly to assist others who were inclined to the Baptist way, with the cruel persecution that they suffered there, may be reserved for the next chapter. This occurred in the summer of 1651. Clarke was soon afterward sent to England as agent of the colony. During his prolonged absence the work was carried on by Obadiah Holmes and Joseph Torrey, the latter as well as the former one of the Seekonk company. Shortly after Clarke's departure controversy arose with reference to the laying on of hands. Soon after the division in Providence on the ground of this ceremony, in 1652, William Vaughan, a member of the Newport church, who had adopted Six Principle views, visited Providence to submit to the laying on of hands and to arrange for a Six Principle


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propaganda in Newport. He returned accompanied by Wickenden and Dexter. The time did not prove ripe for the establishment of a new congregation, but from this time onward an active and aggressive minority favored insistence on the six principles, and in 1656 a new church was formed on this basis.

     After his return in 1664 Clarke resumed the leadership of the congregation and was ably assisted by Holmes, Torrey, Lukar, and Weeden, who for so many years had been among the chief burden-bearers in the church. Next to Clarke, Torrey was the most prominent man among the Baptists of the island in civil affairs, having been at one time attorney-general and for years general recorder. The church was sadly afflicted in 1676 by the death of four of its standard-bearers. Torrey died early in the year, and was followed in April by Clarke, in October by Weeden, and in December by Lukar. The church had already suffered two schisms, and the Quaker agitation had hindered its progress. When these four noted men had been removed by death, those who remained may well have felt discouraged.

     Obadiah Holmes, already a septuagenarian (he was born about 1606), succeeded to the pastorate and retained it till his death in 1682. He was well educated, and had for many years, at great personal cost, labored in the Baptist cause. The narrative of his sufferings in Massachusetts in 1651 will be found in the next chapter. Among the more noted members of the church during the latter part of the century was John Cooke, who had been a Congregational minister in the Plymouth colony, and who was converted to Baptist views before 1680 by reading the "Narrative " of Elder Russell, of the Boston church. As a boy he was among the passengers of the "Mayflower" and was still living in 1694. Another prominent member


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was Philip Edes, who, according to Samuel Hubbard, was "one in office in Oliver's [Cromwell's] house, was for liberty of conscience, a merchant, a precious man, of a holy life and conversation, beloved of all sorts of men, his death much bewailed by all." As has already been made evident, the First Baptist Church of Newport was strictly Calvinistic in doctrine. A correspondence with the Particular Baptists of England was kept up, and the relations of the church with the Swansea and Boston churches were most intimate.

      About 1687 the church secured the services of a young Englishman, Richard Dingley by name, who had spent some time in Boston, and who came to Newport recommended by Boston Baptists. Thomas Skinner, pastor of the Boston church, assisted at his ordination. After about seven years of service he removed to South Carolina. For a number of years the church was without a regular pastor and its vital forces seem to have run very low. William Peckham, a member of the church, became pastor in 1711. In 1718 an Englishman named Daniel White was appointed assistant pastor, and by his rashness in administering the ordinances, though himself unordained, and his disposition to disregard the rights of the less aggressive and probably less intelligent pastor, the church was thrown into confusion. The result was that White and his friends withdrew and formed a separate congregation in 1724. The new church did not prosper, and when White abandoned the enterprise in I 728 it is said that "the only surviving member that he left behind him was a solitary woman."

      Unwisely, as it would seem, Peckham, who must have been from age or other causes utterly unfitted for the leadership of the church, continued to sustain the relation of elder or head pastor until his death in 1732.


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The pastorate of John Comer was in many respects a successful one, but it ended unpleasantly. Comer came to the church (1725) as a young man of twenty-one, yet with a maturity far beyond his years. A native of Boston, he had had his preparatory training at Cambridge and had studied at Yale College. He had a profound experience of divine grace when he was seventeen years of age, and a year afterward "was received into full communion with the [Congregational] church in Cambridge." He had probably already resolved to devote himself to the gospel ministry. A short time afterward a "near companion" of his "embraced the principle of believers' baptism . . . and was baptized by Mr. E. Callender, in Boston." On remonstrating with his friend for abandoning what he regarded as a divine institution, Comer was induced to read Joseph Stennett's treatise on baptism. It was his expectation that he would find many flaws in it and that by pointing these out he would be able to win his friend from the error of his way. He "resolved to turn to every Scripture quoted, and not to take any one without." In so doing he found that he "had never duly considered the viii. of the Acts, the iii. of Matthew, and the vi. of Romans, and such like places. Hereupon I got (though privately) books on the other side of the controversy and found them, if weighed in the balance, wanting." The result was a great inner conflict. He was convinced that his baptism was defective, and yet he shrank from severing his otherwise happy relations with the Congregationalists. It was not until he had pursued his studies at Yale that he resolved to follow the path of duty in this matter. In January, 1725, he was baptized by Elisha Callender, and shortly afterward entered the Baptist ministry. He soon had his choice between the pastorate of the Swansea and that of the Newport church. Through much prayer
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and the helpful counsel of Callender he decided in favor of Newport. In March, 1726, he was ordained to the ministry by Elder Peckham and Deacon Maxwell. The church had dwindled down to a membership of eighteen ten men and eight women. Comer kept a minute diary, and we are indebted to him for much interesting information about the Baptists of his time. His researches into the history of the earlier time have likewise been of great use to later investigators. He informs us that there were in Newport at this time seven congregations: "Two Baptist churches, one under hands, Mr. James Clarke and Mr. Daniel Wightman, Pastors. My flock. . . . One Seventh-Day church, Mr. Joseph Crandall, Pastor. One congregation under the care of Mr. Daniel White" (already mentioned), and congregations of Congregationalists, Episcopalians, and Quakers, the last "very large." The antinomians of the early time had for the most part become Quakers.

     The early stages of Comer's ministry were highly prosperous. He surpassed most of his contemporaries in evangelistic zeal and gifts. During the first year twenty-four were added to the church. The church contributed for the support of the pastor during the first year more than 85, during the second year more than 93, while in the third year the pastor's income had fallen to 38. The support given was generous for the time, and the falling off was due to the fact that the pastor had adopted the doctrine of the laying on of hands. Congregational singing, repudiated by many Baptist churches of the time, especially those of the Arminian persuasion, was introduced into the Newport church through Comer's influence. Though young in years and in the pastoral office, Comer's reputation soon became so widespread that he was often applied to for counsel even from remote parts


[p. 116]
of the country. His evangelistic zeal led him to extend his labors far beyond Newport and Rhode Island.

     The adoption of the doctrine of the laying on of hands as an obligatory ordinance involved serious embarrassment for the pastor and the church. The chief difficulty of the pastor lay in the fact that while he sympathized with the Six Principle churches in this particular doctrine he was strongly opposed to their Arminianism. Moreover, he had built a needlessly expensive house and had become heavily involved in debt. The church could not, of course, be expected to sit patiently under the preaching of doctrine that they believed to be erroneous. On January 9th he records: "I passed under hands by Mr. Daniel Wightman, and offered for transient communion until Spring, or till I saw how God in his Holy Providence might dispose of me."

      For more than two years he was without a settled charge, though for most of the time he preached once each Lord's Day for the Six Principle church at Newport. Here also his ministry was fruitful; for forty were added to the church during one year, the largest addition the church had ever had in any year of its history. At the close of his engagement it numbered 150 and was by far the largest church in the colony. His "preaching the doctrines of grace" proved an obstacle to his permanent settlement there. After a tour of the churches of New Jersey and Pennsylvania, where the Particular Baptist churches practiced the laying on of hands, he assisted in organizing a church on a like basis in Rehoboth, Mass. (January, 1732), where he labored happily and successfully till his death (May 23, 1734).

     Comer gives us an account of a meeting at Newport (June 21, 1729) of the "Yearly Association" of the General (Six Principle) Baptists. He speaks of it as "the largest


[p. 117]
Convention that ever hath been," thus intimating that this was far from being its first meeting. Besides the Newport and Providence churches, the churches of New York, Groton, Conn., Dartmouth, R. I., New London, Conn., and South Kingston, R. I., were represented. There were thirty-two delegates present eight ministers, three deacons, and twenty-one brethren. "There are of churches in communion thirteen distinct bodies. In Providence, besides those mentioned, there are two under the care of Mr. Peter Place [and] Mr. Samuel Fisk. In the town of Swanzey one under the care of Mr. Joseph Maxson. In the town of Warwick one under the care of Mr. Manasseh Martin. In North Kingston one under the care of Mr. Richard Sweet. 'Tis supposed there were 250 communicants and 1000 auditors. Each of these held the Doctrine of General Redemption. There are three other churches that hold the Doctrine of Free Grace. One at Newport, . . . formerly my flock. One at Swanzey under the care of Mr. Ephraim Wheaton. One at Boston under the care of Mr. Elisha Callender. There are two churches in the observation of the Seventh Day. One at Westerly under the care of Mr. Joseph Maxson. One at Newport under the care of Mr. Joseph Crandal."

      John Callender, a nephew of Elisha Callender, and like him a graduate of Harvard, was called to the pastorate of the First Church, Newport, in 1730, a youth of twenty-one. He continued in this relation till his death in 1748. On the occasion of the centennial of the settlement of the island (March, I 738) Callender preached an historical sermon, which is said to have been the first attempt to collect and arrange the materials relating to the early history of the colony. It is still regarded as a masterpiece.

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[From Albert H. Newman, A History of the Baptist Churches in the U. S., 1894, pp. 96-117. Document from Google Books. jrd]



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