Baptist History Homepage


An Historical Address Delivered at the Dedication of a Monument in Barrington, Rhode Island [Formerly Swansea, Mass.] June 17, 1905

Rev. John Myles and the Founding of the
First Baptist Church in Massachusetts

By Henry M. King, 1905

Preface

Rev. John Myles came to New England from Swansea, Wales, in 1663, being driven from his native land by religious persecution in the reign of Charles II. He settled in Rehoboth, Mass., and subsequently removed to that part of Sowams known as Wannamoisett, to which was given the name of Swansea, in remembrance of the Welsh town from which Mr. Myles came. In the old world he had been a successful preacher and leader of men, and in the new world such were his character and influence that he is worthy to be regarded as one of the founders of our free Republic, though his name does not always appear in the Encyclopaedias. He founded the first Baptist church on Massachusetts soil, and founded a town the most unique in some respects of any of the New England settlements. He died in 1683, and after the lapse of 222 years there was no stone to mark his grave. Indeed the place of his burial was not positively known, though he "was most probably buried in the old graveyard near where his meeting house and dwelling house stood at Tyler's Point" (Tustin) in the present town of Barrington, R. I.

Through the efforts of Hon. Thomas W. Bicknell, President of the Barrington Historic Antiquarian Society and of the Bristol County Historical Association, a rough boulder was procured and placed in the old cemetery near the supposed place of the grave, and dedicated to Mr. Myles' memory on June 17, 1905. Appropriate services were held first in the Town Hall in Barrington, and then in the cemetery, both being presided over by Mr. Bicknell. The services in the Hall consisted of a brief address by the President, prayer by Rev. G. E. Morse, minister of the John Myles Baptist church in North Swansea, Mass., the Historical Address by Rev. Henry M. King, D. D., minister of the First Baptist church in Providence, a brief address by Rev. H. W. Watjen, minister of the Baptist church in Warren, R. I., a poem by Rev. M. L. Williston, minister of the Congregational church in Barrington, and appropriate musical selections by a chorus under the leadership of Mr. F. S. Martin of Warren. These included the singing of the "Swansea Song," written by Hezekiah Butterworth.

The services at the Cemetery consisted of a Dedicatory Address by Rev. W. H. Eaton, D. D., Secretary of the Massachusetts Baptist Missionary Society, a poem written by Miss Imogene C. Eaton of East Providence and addresses by Mr. Hezekiah Butterworth of Boston and by ex-Governor John W. Davis of Pawtucket, R. I., both of them descendants of the first settlers. Gen. Nelson A. Miles, a lineal descendant of Rev. John Myles, was expected to be present, but was compelled to send a letter of regret. The day was beautiful, the attendance from Barrington, Providence and adjacent towns large, and the services of great interest throughout.

H. M. K.

First Baptist Parsonage,
December, 1905.
______________________

By a remarkable reaction in public sentiment the English people who had beheaded Charles I on the afternoon of January 30, 1649, being unable to endure longer his oppressive and tyrannical usurpation of power, were ready almost with one consent, when Cromwell died, to re-establish the throne and welcome a king. For nearly ten years they had enjoyed under the Protectorate an unusual measure of liberty and religious toleration.

It is true that the government of the Great Commoner was never wholly acceptable to the people, and became, as it progressed, increasingly unpopular. The people became more and more dissatisfied, and hoped to find stability and rest by a return to royalty and the
[p. 2]
reinstatement of the Stuart line, under which they were encouraged to believe they might preserve the liberties which they had enjoyed for a brief time.

It has been truly said by a recent student of the period: "Cromwell did not himself hold the highest conceptions on the subject (of religious liberty), but he put in practice the views he did hold. By him the leading sects were all tolerated. The nation was ready for no such freedom, but the people were forced to concede each other's rights. The English government was as little representative as at any period in his history. Yet this short specimen of limited toleration (for such it was) led many men to see its desirability. The nation went back heartily to the domination of overbearing kings, but never quite forgot the days of Cromwellian freedom."

It is the old and oft repeated story of human history, the people longing for "the leeks and the onions and the garlic" of a bondage from which they had escaped, and needing the
[p. 3]
painful discipline of forty years of wandering in the wilderness before they were ready to enter the land of promise. The leaders of the Reformation, Luther, Zwingli, Melanchthon, shrank back from the full emancipation, of which at first they fondly dreamed, and though accomplishing much, allowed themselves to be satisfied with half a victory. Our Puritan fathers, heroic men, fled into exile that they might enjoy personal freedom, at the same time putting straight jackets on some of their own number, and driving into a new exile those who came to help them on to a full and glorious liberty. The great founders of our Republic, boldly declaring their sublime faith that all men "are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, that to secure these rights governments are established among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed," a declaration of principles unsurpassed since the utterance of the immortal Sermon on the Mount, yet allowed to remain, like a festering sore in
[p. 4]
the body politic, a system of human slavery unnatural, utterly inconsistent with their declaration of principles, and more cruel than that which the ancient Hebrews either practiced or endured, and whose abscission came near exhausting the wealth and the life-blood of the nation. So inconsistent is the life of men and of nations; so slow is the progress of society and human government, its movements being not only checked and retarded, but often reversed and turned backward; so necessary is it that men should be educated by painful processes before they are ready to choose, and fit to enjoy, the full blessings of "liberty, equality and fraternity."

This is the astonishing fact, that the English people in the middle of the seventeenth century beheaded Charles I, and in ten years invited his son, Charles II, to return from the continent, where he was living in exile, and take the throne and the sceptre, which they had wrested from the father.

To be sure, the dissenting bodies of Christians sent to him before he left the continent, their representatives, hoping to secure his
[p. 5]
promised protection of their rights and privileges, when he should become king. The Presbyterians who had found Cromwell a little too tolerant to meet their wishes, hoped to bring about through the new king a recognition of their Church as the National Church. This was their conception of religious liberty. The Baptists formulated their propositions, asking for themselves and for all men, as they had always done, full liberty of conscience, and sent them signed by ten representative men to the claimant of the throne. Their fundamental principle and urgent request found expression in the following respectful and ringing words --

"Forasmuch as it cannot be denied but that our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, by his death and resurrection, has purchased the liberties of his own people, and is thereby become their sole Lord and King, to whom, and to whom only, they owe obedience in things spiritual; we do therefore humbly beseech your majesty, that you would engage your royal word never to erect, or suffer to be erected, any such tyrannical, popish and
[p. 6]
anti-Christian hierarchy (Episcopal, Presbyterian, or by what name soever it may be called) as shall assume a power or impose a yoke upon the consciences of others; but that every one of your majesty's subjects may hereafter be left at liberty to worship God in such a way, form, and manner, as shall appear to them to be agreeable to the mind and will of Christ, revealed in his Word, according to that proportion or measure of faith and knowledge which they have received."

That was a characteristic utterance of Baptists at that early date, demanding not toleration, but full religious liberty for all men. Other religious bodies made their appeals according to their conceptions of toleration. The king treated their approaches in a conciliatory and crafty manner, and on May 29, 1660, the thirtieth anniversary of his birth, Charles II was welcomed back to England with genuine public rejoicings.

He kept the word of promise to their ear,
And broke it to their hope.

The dissenting bodies were doomed to bitter disappointment. In 1661 the Savoy Conference
[p. 7]
was called together, which was an attempt to formulate and prescribe a national creed. In 1662 the intolerable Act of Uniformity was passed which compelled every clergyman of every name, on or before Aug. 24th, St. Bartholomew's Day, to assent in toto to the Book of Common Prayer, under penalty of losing his benefice, and compelled every occupant of a benefice to receive a bishop's ordination. On June 14, 1662, Sir Henry Vane was beheaded on Tower Hill. He had been in New England long enough to be the liberal Governor of the Massachusetts Bay (1635 to 1637). He was the firm friend of Roger Williams, which is only another way of saving that he was the firm friend of liberty. In the same year the Corporation Act was passed, which required every office-holder in a municipal corporation to take an oath of non-resistance to the crown, and to receive the sacrament according to the rights of the Church of England, an Act aimed against dissenters to keep them out of office, municipal and parliamentary. In 1664 the Conventicle Act was passed, imposing severe fines
[p. 8]
upon all persons attending meetings for worship, outside the established Church, five persons above those residing in the place constituting an unlawful assembly. And in 1665 the Five Mile Act was passed, prohibiting ministers who had been expelled, from settling within five miles of any town, and from teaching publicly or privately, till they had first subscribed to the Act of Uniformity, and taken the oath of non-resistance to the crown. Charles II was a Roman Catholic, and it is said "made several attempts to grant toleration to his co-religionists, but he always gave way when the anti-popish passion seized the people." During this reign of terror it is said that more than eight thousand persons were sent to prison, many were reduced to poverty, and not a few lost their lives.

Such was the condition of things in England in the sixties of the seventeenth century, a condition repressive of all freedom of conduct, of speech, of faith, of conscience and almost of thought. Of the government under Charles II, Macaulay says in caustic language, "It had just ability enough to deceive, and
[p. 9]
just religion enough to persecute." The Act of Uniformity of 1662 dispossessed of their parishes, it is said, two thousand ministers, who had been appointed by Cromwell. Presbyterians, Independents and Baptists alike suffered ejectment. Then came a fresh deportation of "sifted wheat" to the shores of New England.

Among those who were driven out by the cruel Act of Uniformity was John Myles (often now spelled Miles) the pastor of a Baptist church in Ilston, in Swansea, Wales. Of his early life we know comparatively little. He is reported to have been born at Newton, in Herefordshire, about 1621, and to have matriculated at Brasenose College, Oxford, March 11th, 1636. "He sprang from a region whose soil had been enriched by the blood of martyrs in medieval and later times." When the young man reached his majority there seemed, however, to be few traces of primitive,
[p. 10]
spiritual religion remaining in his country. Another has said -- "The destitution of gospel privileges in Wales about 1641 was truly appalling. Evangelical preachers had been hunted out by the Laudian inquisition, and the great majority of the ministers of the established Church were ignorant and corrupt." In that year a petition was sent to the King and Parliament by some distressed souls, stating that "after minutely searching, scarcely were there found as many conscientious, settled preachers in Wales as there were counties in it." Mr. Myles not only occupied a benefice under appointment of Cromwell, but his name appears as one of the "testers" (or triers) appointed under the "Act for the Better Propagation of the Gospel in Wales," signed February 22, 1649, which had for its purpose the sifting out of corrupt and worthless ministers, and the furnishing of a better class for the Principality. This reveals the excellent character of the man, and the confidence which Cromwell had in his spirituality and good judgment.

Somewhere about 1645 Mr. Myles entered
[p. 11]
upon a new spiritual life, which was to be a life of successful service in the Christian ministry on both sides of the Atlantic. He and a companion, Mr. Thomas Proud, went up to London, where they had opportunity to follow the new light which had come to them, and were baptised into the Baptist Church in Broad street, then in charge of William Consett and Edward Draper. The Londoners believed that the coming of these Welsh brethren was a direct and immediate answer to prayer, for they had just spent a day in earnest supplication before God, driven by a sense of the spiritual need which they saw all about them, "that He would send laborers into the dark corners of the land."

Mr. Myles on returning to Wales gave himself unreservedly to the work of preaching the gospel, and with such marked success that on Oct. 1, 1649, a Baptist church was organized at Ilston, of which he became the pastor. According to the records which have been preserved, this was the first Baptist church in Wales. The following paragraph is taken from the records:
[p. 12]
"We cannot but admire at the unsearchable wisdom, power and love of God, in bringing about his own designs, far above and beyond the capacity and understanding of the wisest of men. Thus, to the glory of his own great name, hath He dealt with us; for when there had been no company or society of people, holding forth and professing the doctrine, worship, order and discipline of the gospel, according to the primitive institution, that ever we heard of in all Wales, since the apostacy, it pleased the Lord to choose this dark corner to place his name in, and honor us, undeserving creatures, with the happiness of being the first in all these parts, among whom was practiced the glorious ordinance of baptism, and here to gather the first church of baptised believers."

If it shall be found that Mr. Myles was instrumental in founding the first Baptist church in the Swansea of the new world, a double honor rests upon the head of this ancient preacher of truth and righteousness. Eight months before the church at Ilston was organized Charles I lost his head. It was in the
[p. 13]
atmosphere of a new and welcome toleration that religious activities were greatly multiplied, the fear of civil and ecclesiastical penalties was removed, and large spiritual results were secured. At the end of the second year the little church in Ilston numbered fifty-five members. Forty were added in 1651, and forty-seven in 1652. In eleven years two hundred and sixty-three persons had been added to the church-roll, all of whom are named in the records of the church, making it a large church for that period. Moreover several other churches had sprung into existence in that section. In all this activity and progress Mr. Myles was an active agent, and an acknowledged leader. In 1651 he was chosen to represent the Welsh Baptists at the ministers" meeting in London. But the accession of Charles II to the throne brought disaster to this brief prosperity, sent fear and consternation throughout the realm, made the land unendurable for lovers of soul-liberty, and separated in thousands of instances pastors and people. Not a few of these pastors sought refuge and a larger freedom in this new world.
[p. 14]
Mr. Myles was one of a group of intelligent and sturdy Welsh Baptists who migrated to America, and were greatly useful in laying the foundations of their denomination in this country, being characterized by a profound reverence for the Word of God and a clear apprehension of its truths, by a love for education, and an intense passion for liberty and the rights of conscience. Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia and other sections were all under immense obligation to this Welsh influence. Roger Williams (if he was a Welshman), John Myles, Samuel Jones, Isaac Eaton, Thomas Griffith, Evan Morgan, Abel Morgan, Morgan Edwards, Morgan John Rhys, David Thomas, David Jones, John Williams and others, all of them worthy compatriots of
[p. 15]
Vavasor Powell of the seventeenth century, and Christmas Evans of the eighteenth, both of whom fulfilled a powerful ministry in their native land, exerted an incalculable influence upon American Baptists, and it may be said, upon the religious, educational and political life of this Republic. Brown University owes its existence to the initiative of these Welsh Baptists.

It is a matter of history that some portion of Mr. Myles' church at Ilston emigrated with him to this country, and settled in Rehoboth. How large a portion, it is impossible to ascertain, certainly not the whole church, as is sometimes represented, and probably a very small portion of it. For as I have been recently informed by a clergyman from Wales,
[p. 16]
well acquainted with the history of the Welsh Baptists, a church still exists in old Swansea, which dates its origin back to 1649, and claims to have maintained an unbroken continuity of life since that time.

It was in 1663 that Mr. Myles and his little company of devoted followers came to this country, forty-three years after the Mayflower crossed the Atlantic, and thirty-two years after the arrival of Roger Williams. Whether this company was large or small, the pastor brought the church records with him, written of course in the Welsh tongue. This fact has given rise undoubtedly to the prevalent belief that the church was transplanted bodily. Very fortunately those records, going back to 1649, have been preserved, having been translated by some unknown hand, and are still in the possession of the American Swansea Baptist church, and in good condition. It is interesting to know that the first Baptist church in Pennsylvania, called the Pennepek or Lower Dublin church, kept its records in the Welsh language for many years, and of course conducted its worship in that tongue, and that
[p. 17]
the first Baptist church in Delaware was a Welsh church, and came bodily from Wales.

It was in the town of Rehoboth, within the limits of Plymouth Colony, that Mr. Myles decided to make a home for himself and his company, guided undoubtedly by his knowledge that the spirit of this Colony was more tolerant and hospitable than that of the Massachusetts Bay.

The reputation of the Puritans for religious intolerance and cruel persecution, which had been manifested again and again in formal legislation and open acts of violence, was well known on the other side of the Atlantic. John and Samuel Brown had been compelled to return to England because they were guilty of the crime of non-conformity, being unwilling
[p. 18]
to renounce the book of Common Prayer, and offer their worship to God in the prescribed Puritan method. Roger Williams had been banished, and his presence in England seven years afterwards, as a distinguished exile, driven out into the wilderness by Puritan authority, must have produced a wide and profound impression among the Baptists of the mother country. Obadiah Holmes, who with his two Baptist companions from Newport, Dr. John Clarke and John Crandall, had been arrested at Lynn for holding religious service in the home of an aged brother, to whom
[p. 19]
they were paying a visit of Christian sympathy, had been whipped unmercifully on Boston Common, Clarke and Crandall being imprisoned and fined, and the treatment of these worthies by the Puritan authorities had called forth a severe remonstrance from Richard Saltonstall, who had been previously a Puritan magistrate, and was then on a visit to England.

"It doth not a little grieve my spirit to hear what sad things are reported daily of your tyranny and persecutions in New England as that you fine, whip and imprison men for their consciences."

These things were well known. Surely to leave old England, even under the reign of Charles II for that section of New England would have been to jump out of the frying pan into the fire. But even within the limits of the Plymouth Colony, notwithstanding the reputation the Pilgrims had of possessing a better spirit, which indeed they justly deserved, Mr. Myles did not find the free air and the bright sunshine of an unrestricted liberty, which he may
[p. 20]
have expected, nor was his bed always a bed of fragrant roses. He was compelled even here, at first, to feel the sharp thorn of persecution. Fourteen years before his arrival, in 1649, the year in which Charles I was beheaded, and also the year in which Mr. Myles founded the first Baptist church in Wales, there had been a division in the church of the standing order in Rehoboth, of which Rev. Samuel Newman was pastor. Obadiah Holmes (to whom reference has already been made as being whipped by the authorities in Boston, but who in his exalted martyr-spirit rose heroically above the pain of the bloody lashes, and declared to the executioner, "You have struck me as with roses") with several other members of the church took exception to the doctrine and the domineering methods of the pastor, withdrew from the meetings of the church and organized meetings of their own. Shortly after they were immersed by Dr. John Clarke and Mark Lucar of Newport. Some writers speak of this step at
[p. 21]
Rehoboth as a new church organization, which would place the date of the origin of the first Baptist church in Massachusetts thirteen or fourteen years before the coming of Mr. Myles. But though the form of church organization in those days was very simple, it is doubtful if these Baptists did more than hold meetings by themselves for mutual comfort and edification. They were of course excommunicated from Mr. Newman's church, and Mr. Holmes and two of his associates were cited to appear before the Plymouth Court, four petitions or papers of accusation having been lodged against them, one from the neighboring church in Taunton, one from all the ministers in Plymouth Colony except two, one from thirty-five citizens of Rehoboth, members of Mr. Newman's church, and a fourth from what Benedict calls "the meddling Court at Boston, under their Secretary's hand, urging the Plymouth rulers speedily to suppress this growing schism."
[p. 22]
The Puritan rulers undoubtedly instigated the whole proceeding, as they frequently manifested a lively sense of responsibility for the consciences and conduct of their neighbors.

They had interfered with the rights of the Salem church in accepting Roger Williams as their pastor and desiring to retain him, and gave them no peace until he was driven out. In 1642 Governor Bellingham wrote to the Plymouth Governor, urging the latter to "consider and advise with us how we may avoid those who are secretly sowing the seed of familism and anabaptism." In 1646 the Confederate Commissioners urged upon each General Court that "a due watch be kept and continued at the door of God's house that anabaptism, familism and all errors of like nature may be seasonably and duly suppressed." Later the Puritan authorities had even presumed to reprimand the men of Providence for harboring the Quakers within their borders, and protested against the exercise of such hospitality. So now the Massachusetts Court addressed the Court at Plymouth
[p. 23]
in such words as these -- "We have heard heretofore of diverse Anabaptists arisen up in your jurisdiction and connived at; but being but few we well hoped that it might have pleased God, by the endeavors of yourselves and the faithful elders with you, to have reduced such erring men again into the right way. But now to our great grief we are credibly informed that your patient bearing with such men hath produced another effect, namely, the multiplying and increasing of the same errors, and we fear may be of other errors also, if timely care be not taken to suppress the same. Particularly we understand that within this few weeks there have been at Seekonk thirteen or fourteen rebaptized (a swift progress in one town), yet we hear not if any effectual restriction is intended thereabouts."

The Plymouth magistrates, however, did nothing but charge the accused to abstain from practices offensive to others, and bound them over, the one for the other, in the sum of ten pounds, for their future appearance at the court. At the October Court of that
[p. 24]
year (1650) the Grand Jury found a bill against nine persons, five men and four women, viz.: John Hazel, Edward Smith and wife, Obadiah Holmes, Joseph Tory and wife, the wife of James Mann, and William Buell and wife. The crime with which they were charged was the continuing to hold meetings on the Lord's day from house to house in defiance of the order of the Court. There is, however, no record of any sentence being executed upon them. The bark of the Plymouth magistrates seems generally to have so far exhausted their strength and satisfied their desire that they had little strength or disposition to do much biting. They barked loudly when commanded by their Puritan neighbors, but their bite was of a milder type than the Bay approved.

Soon after this public arraignment of this little Baptist group, Obadiah Holmes and some of his companions fled to Newport for
[p. 25]
residence to escape further annoyance, and enjoy the blessings of unrestricted liberty. It was only nine months after that Mr. Holmes made his visit of Christian sympathy to a Baptist brother in Lynn, which terminated so painfully, the Puritan magistrates making full amends for the leniency of the Plymouth rulers by the severity of the punishment which they inflicted upon the criminal now that he was in their power.

A few, however, of these early Baptist dissenters appear to have remained in Rehoboth, quietly holding their beliefs, and waiting for the favorable opportunity to avow them openly. They were compelled to wait thirteen years. The opportunity came in 1663, at the coming of John Myles with his Welsh Baptists.

The meeting for church organization and the declaration of fellowship was held in the house of John Butterworth. Seven persons, whose names are given in the records, then and there entered into solemn covenant to walk together in the truth and ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ, as they understood
[p. 26]
them, amenable to no human authority outside of themselves, ecclesiastical or civil, recognizing only the Lordship of Him, who is Head over all things to his Church. The names of the constituent members are as follows: John Myles, James Brown, Nicholas Tanner, Joseph Carpenter, John Butterworth, Eldad Kingsley and Benjamin Alby. All these men were men of sterling character and clear convictions, and a worthy posterity honors and reveres their memory. James Brown came of especially good stock, as is well known. His father, John Brown, had been for many years a citizen of Rehoboth, and was one of the magistrates. He was far advanced in his views of religious liberty long before the organization of the church. In 1655 it is reported that he expressed before the Court his conscientious scruples against taxing all the inhabitants for the support of religion, and generously offered himself to pay the taxes of all his townsmen, who refused for conscience sake. It will be noticed that the names of the sisters are not given with the names of the brethren; yet
[p. 27]
there were undoubtedly wives and mothers who formed an active and influential part of that church organization. Whoever heard of a good thing starting in this world, in which consecrated women did not have a hand? The world has long given to woman ample credit for the introduction of evil; it is time she had her proper recognition in all movements for the moral and religious progress of the world, and its restoration to its lost fellowship with God. Her name may be omitted in the earthly records, but it will stand high in the records of Heaven.

So far as appears from any accessible sources of information, only one of these
[p. 28]
seven brethren, Nicholas Tanner, accompanied Mr. Myles in his migration from Wales. As we do not know how many companions he had on his journey to this new world, so we do not know what became of them after their arrival. Backus says: "Nicholas Tanner, Obadiah Bowen, John Thomas and others also came over to this country (that is, with Mr. Myles) and one of Bowen's posterity is now Chancellor of the University at Providence." The first Chancellor of Brown University was Stephen Hopkins, LL. D. (1764-1785), and the second Chancellor was Jabez Bowen, LL. D. (1785-1815.) It is possible that some of the Welsh immigrants were detained for good reasons from that first meeting for organization, who subsequently came into the fellowship. It seems as if the little church organized itself about the strong personality of the pastor, and the imported church records.

This church was the fifth Baptist church in America. The church in Providence, founded by Roger Williams, had
[p. 29]
had an existence for twenty-five years. The traditional date of the origin of the first church in Newport, founded by Dr. John Clarke upon the remains of a Congregational Church, is 1644. About the year 1652 there was a division in the Providence Church, which led to the formation of a second church under the leadership of Thomas Olney. This church ceased to exist in 1718, after the pastorates of Mr. Olney and his son, Thomas, Jr. In the year 1656 there was a division in the church in Newport, and a Six Principle Baptist church was formed, which still exists (now called the Second Baptist church), and is in full fellowship with regular Baptist churches.

At the first, the little church in Rehoboth appears to have enjoyed a measure of peace, and to have been permitted without violent opposition to worship God "under its own vine and fig tree," though not without many misgivings, heart-burnings and generous attempts to reclaim its members from the
[p. 30]
error of their ways, on the part of the Standing Order. Dr. Mather, speaking of them, says: "There being many good men among those, I do not know that they have been persecuted with any harder means than those of kind conferences to reclaim them." Such generous interest seems to have been unappreciated and unsuccessful. Rev. Samuel Newman, the established pastor of the town, died the year of Mr. Myles’ arrival. Whether the loss of his conscientious and active guardianship over the religious faiths of the people had anything to do with the temporary cessation of hostility against the new movement, we may not say. The cessation, however, was only temporary. Four years afterwards we find this record:

"At the Court holden at Plymouth the 2d of July, 1667, before Thomas Prince, Governor (seven assistants are also mentioned, including John Alden and William Bradford) * * * * Mr. Myles and Mr. Brown, for their breach of order, in setting up of a public meeting without the knowledge and approbation of the Court to the disturbance of
[p. 31]
the peace of the place, are fined each of them five pounds, and Mr. Tanner the sum of one pound, and we judge that their continuance at Rehoboth, being very prejudicial to the peace of that church and that town, may not be allowed, and do therefore order all persons concerned therein wholly to desist from the said meeting in that place or township, within this month. Yet in case they shall remove their meeting into some other place, where they may not prejudice any other church, and shall give us any reasonable satisfaction respecting their principles, we know not but they may be permitted by this government so to do." Which being interpreted is -- "Stop your meetings for worship or get out, or rather, if you conclude to move to some other place, such as we may approve, and shall satisfy us as to your views and intentions, we may permit you to go. This seems to be a rather peculiar form of banishment. What
[p. 32]
was the occasion of this new outbreak we do not know. Baylies strangely suggests that “neither the designs nor characters of Myles and his church were understood at this time."

But Mr. Myles had lived among them for four years, and held meetings, and preached, and gathered members to his flock. In May, 1666, he was "received an inhabitant among them," that is, into full citizenship, as Mr. Tanner, his Welsh member, had been in April of that year. Moreover on April 13 of that year, he was voted by the town "to be a lecturer, viz., to preach once a fortnight on the week day, once on the Sabbath day," to assist the pastor of the established church, Rev. Zachariah Symmes, who was in feeble health. Again on August 13, it was voted "that Mr. Myles shall still continue a lecturer on the week day, and further on the Sabbath." This was of course a temporary arrangement, until some one of their own communion could be found, yet was an expression of great liberality. Moreover, Baptists had lived among them for eighteen years, and had not been altogether unknown or ignored by the Honorable Court.
[p. 33]
But whatever may have been the occasion of this fresh exhibition of hostility and persecution, it proved to be the last one. Indeed it may be said that again the bark of the Plymouth Court was worse than its bite, for in less than four months from this decision of the authorities (Oct. 30, 1667) an amicable arrangement was entered into, whereby a portion of territory lying adjacent to Rehoboth, called Wannamoisett, was set apart for the occupation of the Baptists, and such persons as might wish to join them; for such had been the conduct and spirit of the Baptists that they had won the confidence and friendship of not a few of their neighbors and fellow citizens. This new town was named Swansea, after the Welsh town from which Mr. Myles had come. This was the habit of many of the New England settlers, to give to the new homes the names of their places of residence in the "Old Home." This territory has since been divided into the towns of Swansea, Somerset, Warren and Barrington, the last two being now included in Rhode Island. This settlement was supposed by the
[p. 34]
Plymouth magistrates evidently to be sufficiently removed from Rehoboth not to be "prejudicial to the peace of that church and town," and was undoubtedly acceptable to the Baptists, for it required no great journey, and they would still be near the Baptist settlements in Providence and Newport. It seems that the name "Rehoboth," which means "The Lord hath made room for his beloved," was not quite applicable to the town which bore it. It should have signified "The Lord hath made room for some of his beloved."

If the description of the town given by Rev. Samuel Peters, LL. D., in his Life of Rev. Hugh Peters, in which he strangely confounds Rev. Samuel Newman, who prepared a Concordance to the Bible, with the famous Alexander Cruden, the author of Cruden's Concordance, was accurate, the town could hardly be regarded as an attractive place of residence at that time. This distinguished divine says: IIt also was a frontier against the Pequod Indians, at the head of a creek emptying into Narragansett bay, where were plenty of fish and oysters, on which the settlers
[p. 35]
might live and protect Boston, if the Indians did not scalp them. This pious clergyman (Mr. Newman) with his pious companions, not knowing their danger, went and formed the settlement of Rehoboth; the scite being pleasant, the air salubrious, and the prospect horrible."

In the new town of Swansea set apart for this Baptist colony (an example which was followed in the early history of Western Massachusetts, only there the boundary lines were very irregularly drawn, so as to include the existing homesteads of all Baptist families) the little church found its permanent home, and through the vicissitudes of two hundred and forty-two years has, by the protecting grace of God, continued to this day. They built their first meeting-house about three miles northeast of Warren, and a second one in 1679 near Kelley's Bridge, and also a
[p. 36]
parsonage for their minister. Both meeting house and parsonage were erected by vote of the town.

Among the men intimately associated with Mr. Myles in the founding of the town was Captain Thomas Willett. They two are called "the fathers of the town." Captain Willett's wife was a sister of James Brown, who was one of the constituent members of the church, but Mr. Willett was not a Baptist, and he represented a considerable party who were not members of the church, and yet were prominent in the management of town affairs. In the records of the Court of New Plymouth for 1667, we find this action taken -- "The Court hath appointed Capt. Thomas Willett, Mr. Paine, Sen., Mr. Brown, Mr. John Allen and John Butterworth, to have the trust of admittance
[p. 37]
of town inhabitants in said town, and to have the disposal of the land therein, and ordering the other affairs of said town. The Court do allow and approve that the township granted unto Capt. Thomas Willett, and others, his neighbors, at Wannamoisett, and parts adjacent, shall henceforth be called and known by the name of Swansea."

Mr. Paine as well as Captain Willett was a Pedobaptist. This official authorization of trustees to determine the terms of admission to citizenship led to a unique condition of things, not consonant with the principles of full, unrestricted religious liberty.

It is said that Captain Willett, shortly after the grant of territory, made the following propositions to his associates:
"1. That no erroneous person be admitted into the township, either as an inhabitant or a sojourner.
2. That no man of any evil behaviour as contentious persons, &c., be admitted.
3. That none may be admitted who may become a charge to the place."
[p. 38]
These propositions were presented to the church, and a reply defining with great particularity the church's understanding of them was formulated and returned to Capt. Willett, officially signed "in behalf and in the name of the church meeting at Swansea" by John Myles, pastor, and John Butterworth. This reply while admitting to citizenship all those who held different views from those entertained by the members of the church on the mode and the proper subjects of baptism, discriminated positively against all Roman Catholics, and all persons denying evangelical views which are enumerated at length, and "holding damnable heresies inconsistent with the faith of the gospel," Anglicans, Lutherans, Socinians, Sabbatarians, Quakers and some others. "It is evident," says the editor of Backus' History, "that this ancient Baptist church was not, at first, clear in the view that civil government has no right of interference with religious belief, and that it took upon itself the dangerous task of deciding between Christian doctrines as more or less essential. And Prof. A. H. Newman
[p. 39]
says: "Here we see a result of Myles' training in connection with the state-church system of the Commonwealth and the Protectorate. He had failed to grasp the great principle of absolute liberty of conscience which the mass of Antipedobaptists from the reformation time onward had consistently advocated and practiced."

The Baptist interpretation of religion, that it is a matter between the individual soul and God, and that the soul in religious matters is amenable to no human authority, civil or ecclesiastical, wherever it has been truly held, has always had for its corollary the sublime
[p. 40]
doctrine of soul-liberty. Mr. Myles, who undoubtedly drew up the reply to Capt. Willett's propositions, though facing in the right direction, had not yet fully arrived. He needed to take a few lessons of Roger Williams and John Clarke. Though this reply seems like a declaration of principles, it should be said that there is no evidence that Swansea ever in a single instance carried out its religious restrictions against new comers. Pastor and people undoubtedly soon fell into line with Providence, and Newport, and Boston, and joined hands with them in the struggle which was then waging, for the separation of church and state, and did not reach its complete victory even in New England till more than a century and a half later.

It would be interesting, did time permit, to trace in detail the fortunes of the little church and community during the stormy times that soon followed in King Philip's war, and also to sketch the useful career of this brave man
[p. 41]
of God, who escaped the persecutions of the old world to suffer some persecution and much hardness, for the sake of truth and conscience, in the wilderness of the new world. The parish was a large one, and he was its only minister, some of his parishioners travelling five or six miles to enjoy his ministry, and all, whether Baptists or not, joining in his support. "Pastor's lots" were set apart for his use. A school was established by vote of the town in 1673 "for the teaching of grammar, rhetoric, and arithmetic, and the tongues of Latin, Greek and Hebrew, also to read English and to write." Mr. Myles was chosen schoolmaster for the town. He must have been competent by reason of his University training to teach these languages, but it is doubtful if a heavy demand was made upon his services in this direction. Very likely these languages were what would be denominated in modern times "electives" and not "required studies." In fulfilling his twofold office it was his custom to go from one section of the town to another with his Bible and schoolbooks in his saddle bags. He has been called "the Pestalozzi of America."
[p. 42]
His appointment as schoolmaster seems to have been a life tenure and to have been transferable. "It was voted and ordered * * * that a salary of 40 per annum in current country pay, which passeth from man to man, be duly paid from time to time, and at all times hereafter to the schoolmaster thereof, and that Mr. John Myles, the present pastor of the church here assembling, be the schoolmaster, otherwise to have power to dispose the same to an able schoolmaster, during the said pastor's life, and from and after his decease that the school and salary thereto belonging during their respective natural lives; provided, nevertheless, that the said school and forty pounds salary aforesaid shall be continued to the said John Myles, and to the said successive pastors for and during such time as he or they, and any or every one of them shall be contented to take their ministerial maintenance by weekly contributions and no longer."

"It is further ordered that said school shall be only free to such children whose parents pay any rates towards the said school, and to none other, and that the schoolmaster and
[p. 43]
successive schoolmasters thereof for the time being shall have liberty to take in any other scholars they think fit, to be educated there, and every scholar at first entrance shall pay twelve pence in silver towards buying of books for the said school."

In the midst of the peace and prosperity of the community, the growth of the church, the provisions for the education of the young, the increasing comfort of the homes, suddenly, in 1675, King Philip's war burst upon the town. An historian says: "Swansea received the first blow in this sanguinary war. Houses were robbed and cattle killed. Four days later the massacre commenced. Nine of the inhabitants were slain and seven wounded." Mr. Myles' house was used as a garrison, and he himself became the brave leader of his little flock in the defence of their firesides. Assistance arriving from neighboring towns, the Indians fled, leaving in their wake mutilated bodies and burning buildings. The families of the parish were scattered, seeking shelter in Providence and Newport. Mr. Myles found his way to Boston, where in 1665, two years
[p. 44]
after the Swansea church was formed, a Baptist church had been organized under the leadership of Thomas Goold, who was a friend of Henry Dunster, the first president of Harvard University, a man who was said to be "a miracle of scholarship," but being compelled to dissent from the scripturalness of infant baptism, or as Cotton Mather said: "having fallen into the briars of antipedobaptism," and being unable to recant, he was ejected from his office.

President Dunster undoubtedly attended the early conferences of the Baptists in Boston,
[p. 45]
and had large influence in the development of their views and their establishment in the truth, but he died before it was deemed prudent, or found possible, openly to effect a church organization. Mr. Myles was acting pastor of the Boston church for fifteen months and more, the first pastor, Thomas Goold, having died Oct. 27, 1675, and his services were so acceptable that he was urged to remain as permanent pastor. His presence in Boston was not acceptable, however, to the Puritan authorities. He was arrested and brought before the Governor's Council, charged with violating the laws by holding unauthorized meetings for worship. After being reprimanded he was let go, inasmuch as he was only a sojourner in the Bay Colony, and expected to return to his loved Swansea so soon as the Indian war should be terminated. After the war was over, the people returned to their desolated homes to lay amid the ashes of their former prosperity the foundations of a new life, domestic, civil, educational and religious.

At a town meeting held May 27, 1678, "John Allen and John Brown were chosen to draw
[p. 46]
up a letter in behalf of the church and town, to be sent to Mr. John Myles, pastor of the church and minister of the town, manifesting their desire of his return to them; and Thomas Esterbrooks was chosen to carry the town's letter to Mr. Myles, at Boston." From this action it appears that in this town, on a small scale, church and state were pretty closely allied, if not actually wedded. It was the town that voted to build a new meeting house in the place of the one destroyed by the Indians, and determined its location, and to build also a new house for the pastor, "to indemnify him for debts due him in the time of the Indian war." This civil aid was not unknown in other New England towns, and indicated no right to interfere in church affairs. Myles gave to the town the following receipt: "Received of the town the full of all debts due to me from said town from the beginning of the world till the 18 of June, 1679."

With the interruption of a visit or two to his brethren in Boston, to whom his visits were always most welcome, and frequent missionary excursions in the neighborhood, Mr. Myles
[p. 47]
spent the little remainder of his eventful and laborious life with his Swansea church. He died Feb. 3, 1683, at the early age of 62 years, having spent twenty years in his adopted country. Such was his learning, his piety, his strength of character, his courage of conviction, his conciliatory spirit and his willingness to suffer for conscience and truth, that he commended himself to friends and foes alike.

Backus speaks of Mr. Myles, writing in 1777, as the "learned and pious Mr. Myles * * * whose memory is still precious among us." Cotton Mather associates him with that eminent Baptist, who was in this country but a short time, viz.: Hanserd Knollys, and calls them "godly anabaptists,"
[p. 48]
who "have a respectful character in the churches of this wilderness." And a recent writer truthfully characterizes him as "a man of good talents and education, with unusual energy of character. He was liberal in his religious opinions, but not loose; he was an apostle and not a proselyter. His sacrifices for conscience's sake testify to his adherence to truth, and his interest in civil society is evinced by the labors which he undertook for its prosperous advancement. His burial place is unknown, but it is supposed to be with many of his people, near his home and place of preaching, at Tyler's Point (now Barrington), Swansea. Silence alone marks the resting place of this pioneer and founder of a larger religious freedom, through the First Baptist church within the bounds of the present commonwealth of Massachusetts."

This silence which has so long marked the resting place of this lover of liberty, this father of a New England town, this founder of a church in the wilderness, this pioneer of a better civilization, is this day happily broken, and
[p. 49]
a suitable monument erected to his memory by the hands of an appreciative and thoughtful generosity.

Of the descendants of Mr. Myles it may be said that his son, John, Jr., lived and died in Swansea, serving many years as clerk of the town, and that his only other son, Samuel, graduated at Cambridge in 1684, went to England and continued his studies, took orders in the church of England, and returning to America became rector of King's Chapel in Boston in 1689, and continued in that office until his death in 1728. Several later descendants devoted their property and lives to their country in the war of the American Revolution. Gen. Nelson A. Miles of our time has by his eminent service to his country added distinction to the name of his great ancestor.

The strong personality of the founder of a local church often leaves its impress on the spiritual body, which he nourishes into being, and fosters during the period of its infancy. Roger Williams, John Clarke and John Myles were founders of churches, which have lived until now, and have influenced in no small measure the thought and life of their communities,
[p. 50]
and indeed the life and the institutions of the whole nation. These churches were planted within a narrow circle, in a little corner of our expanding republic; but their power has reached to our remotest boundaries. Indeed, it may be said without exaggeration: "Their line is gone out throughout all the earth, and their words to the ends of the earth."

This church in Swansea, cradled in suffering and anointed with blood, though more remote than its neighbors from the tides of commerce and of life, has maintained a prosperous spiritual existence, has been the mother of churches larger and stronger than itself, and has filled up the measure of its numerous days with an honorable and beneficent service, whose annals no human pen can adequately record, and no human mind can fully comprehend.

These churches of Jesus Christ, little or large, rural or urban, planted in the new communities of a growing nation, and often presided over by university trained men, have been not only the divinely appointed means of extending the empire of him who said: "Fear not little flock, for it is your Father's good
[p. 51]
pleasure to give you the kingdom," but they have been the mighty agencies for the dissemination of intelligence and morality, for the production of social and civic virtue, and for the promotion of peace, and prosperity, and true freedom among the people. They have given to men new and higher conceptions of national greatness and glory, and have filled with an ever-increasing beauty and spiritual significance our national emblem, which waves its bright colors on every breeze from ocean to ocean, the pride, the joy and the inspiration of a free, virtuous and united people, an emblem under which it is worth while to live, and for which, if need be, it is worth while to die, an emblem on which the eyes of the fathers, who laid in tears and blood the foundations of our churches and of our Republic, would look if they could, with inexpressible delight.

With its red for love,
And its white for law,
And its blue for the hope
That our fathers saw
Of a larger liberty.

================

[Henry Melville King, "An Historical Address Delivered at the Dedication of a Monument in Barrington, Rhode Island" (Formerly Swansea, Mass.) June 17, 1905. -- jrd]



Return to John Myles Index Page
Return to Baptist History Homepage
1