John Clarke & Obadiah Holmes
Three men were observed entering Lynn, Massachusetts on Saturday July 19, 1651. They were later identified as John Clarke, pastor of the Baptist church in Newport, Rhode Island, Obadiah Holmes and John Crandall. These men had just completed walking eighty miles to reach their destination. They had taken this journey at the request of William Witter, a member of the church in Newport who due to age and blindness could no longer make the strenuous journey. Witter, desiring to hear the Word of God and partake of the Lord’s Supper, had requested the church to send pastor Clarke to Lynn to conduct a service in his home. Clarke and his companions were well aware of the danger they were exposing themselves to by entering Massachusetts. However, they were unaware they had been observed and were being closely monitored by the authorities. The next day, July 20th, as Clarke was preaching the Word of God for the benefit of Witter and a few of his neighbors, two constables burst into the room and arrested the three Rhode Islanders. After having suffered the indignities of being treated like criminals, they were transported to Boston where they were imprisoned for two weeks. When they finally appeared before the court, the Puritan preacher John Cotton accused them of soul murder by their denial of infant baptism. The authorities denied the defendants a trial or the opportunity to offer a defense, they simply read the charges and imposed the fines. Clarke was fined twenty pounds. Holmes thirty pounds, and Crandall five pounds, and if they did not pay the fine, they were to be “well whipt.” Something in the defendant’s attitude must have enraged Governor Endicott, for he shouted at them, “You deny infant baptism. You deserve to die! I will not have such trash brought into our jurisdiction.” As the three men were being escorted from the room Holmes proclaimed, “I bless God I am counted worthy to suffer for the name of Jesus.” These words so enraged the most Reverend John Wilson that he could not restrain himself and struck Holmes across the face saying “the curse of God go with thee.” Clarke fully expected to be publicly whipped but unbeknownst to him someone paid his fine and he and John Crandall were released. Holmes however refused to accept the offer of friends to pay his fine, believing it would be an admission of guilt. He was confined in prison from July until September when the sentence was finally announced that he was to receive thirty stripes. Holmes was whipped “in such an unmerciful manner, that in many days, if not some weeks, he could take no rest, but he lay on his knees and elbows, not being able to suffer any part of his body to touch the bed whereon he lay.” The authorities believed that Holmes’ public humiliation and suffering would put an end to all Baptist dissent. But they could not have been more wrong, for it stimulated the study of Baptist teachings and encouraged those who had previously kept their Baptist beliefs hidden to publicly express their faith. Henry Dunster, the President of Harvard University, was motivated to investigate infant baptism. His research caused him to renounce his former opinion and embrace Believer’s Baptism, a position that would cost him the Presidency of Harvard. Through this renewed interest and the influence of Henry Dunster, Thomas Goold and several other men and women of like faith established the First Baptist Church of Boston. Thank God for men who put principles and compassion for fellow believers above their personal safety.