American History Stories—Volume I - Mara L. Pratt

[Illustration] from American History Stories - I by Mara L. Pratt


Religious Troubles

One might think, after all the Puritans had suffered because of their desire to have their own style of church worship, that they would be perfectly willing to let all other people have the same freedom that they themselves had sought.

But this was not the way people thought in those days.

"Believe what you wish," they would say, "only please do not come among our people."

With all the trouble the Puritans had to contend against, they may be excused for speaking thus. Enemies were on all sides of them, as well as in England, and it seemed absolutely necessary to them that they should be united among themselves.

But there were people of other beliefs who had also found it uncomfortable to live under the strict laws of England, and who preferred to come to a new world where they thought they could do more as they pleased.

Their ways, however, were not the ways of the Puritans, so, naturally, they were not very welcome.

In 1631, a young minister, named Roger Williams, came to the colony, and he soon began to give the Puritan leaders much trouble.

He thought that people should worship where they pleased—and he publicly said so. But, what was still worse, he preached that the early settlers had no right to the very land they lived on unless they bought that land of the Indians.

"Surely," the Puritans said, "we have enough trouble with the Indians without putting this new idea into their heads."

As was the case with troublesome people in those days, Roger Williams was ordered out of the country. Fearing that, if caught, he might be sent back to England, he made his escape into the deep forests.

It was midwinter, but the Indians welcomed and protected him. He gradually made his way to that part of the country now called Rhode Island. Here, in 1636, he purchased land of the Indians, and, before very long, many of his friends in Salem followed him and made a settlement.

[Illustration] from American History Stories - I by Mara L. Pratt


They built a town and named it Providence. In this colony, it was declared that every one should be free to worship as he pleased. There, for the first time in the history of the world, all people were allowed to act as seemed to them best in their own churches.

Roger Williams, meanwhile, did not forget the kindness of the Indians. After he had learned to speak their language, he spent much of his time with them, teaching them to read and work.

You may be sure, his people all loved this good, well-meaning man. At one time, when he had been away in England nearly two years, the whole colony crossed the river to meet him as he returned.

The old men and the young men, the old women and the young women, and all the children, met him with flowers and songs and every sign of joy.

Roger Williams' kind old heart was touched when he saw how his people loved him, and he was not ashamed to let the tears run down his cheeks as he thanked them for their love.

Meanwhile, there had sprung up in England another class of people, under the leadership of George Fox, who went much further in their idea of simple form of church worship than even the Puritans had.

These people, called "Friends," would have no form at all. They believed it was best and most pleasing to God to go into their little churches, with no minister, no singing, no praying, and sit there, perfectly quiet, fixing their minds only on holy things. This, compared with the elaborate form of worship in the English Church, was certainly a great change, to say the least.

The English Church, which thought the Puritans had been foolish enough, thought these last people more than foolish—they thought them mad.

There is a funny little story connected with these Friends, which shows how later they came to receive their peculiar name of Quakers. It is said that one of these people was brought for trial before an English judge.

The English judge having been rather severe, the Quaker turned to him and said, "Dost thou not quake with fear before the Great Judge, who this day hath heard thy cruel judgment upon his chosen people?"

But just then, the Quaker, who was very nervous and excitable, began to shiver and shake and quake to such an extent that the whole court burst into a roar of laughter. From that time these people were nicknamed "Quakers."

In due time the Quakers were driven from England, as the Puritans had been before them. They, too, came over to America, hoping to find freedom to worship God in the way they thought best.

It was about thirty-five years after the Mayflower entered Plymouth harbor that the first Quakers came.

There had been many changes in the colonies in that time. The little children had now come to be middle-aged men and women with children of their own.

The men and women who had done the hard work of settling the little home at Plymouth, had now grown to be quite old, and very, very many of them had, long since, been laid away in the quaint little burying-ground.

Many, many other men and women had come over from England, so that now, instead of thinking of a few people living in their huts at Plymouth, you must think of little towns all along the coast, having residences, stores, churches, and schools, all of which were quite fair buildings for the times.

[Illustration] from American History Stories - I by Mara L. Pratt


The Old South Church, the Old North Church and King's Chapel, which stand now in Boston, were built in these early times.

The new-comers, the Quakers, were strange in their looks and in their manners, it is true; but so were the Puritans as to that matter. Then, too, in their enthusiasm they often forgot the rights of the Puritans in whose towns they were living.

And so it came about that the Puritans had these Quakers whipped in the streets; they cut off their ears and their noses; they put cleft sticks upon their tongues to keep them from speaking; and they punished them in many other ways.

Until within a few years, there stood on the beautiful Common in Boston an elm tree, to whose boughs the Puritans hanged a woman named Mary Dyer, not so much because she was a Quaker and preached the Quaker doctrines, but because she insisted on preaching on the streets and in direct defiance of the laws of Boston.

[Illustration] from American History Stories - I by Mara L. Pratt


And surely, we have to admit that the Puritans thought they had a right to enforce their own laws: only of course punishments were very severe; still we must remember they would have used these same punishments on their own people had they broken the same laws.

The one thing that exasperated the Puritans with the Quakers above all other things, was the fact that the Quakers allowed the women to preach and pray as they liked. "A preaching woman," said the Puritans, "is a disgrace to religion! Away with such!"

You can imagine, therefore, how annoyed the Puritans were with Mary Dyer when she insisted on preaching.

For a time Mary Dyer lived quietly in Rhode Island; but when she heard of the cruel treatment of the Quakers in Boston, she was determined to go to their aid. Twice was she driven from the town, and threatened with hanging if she came again.

But Mary Dyer was fearless; her one thought was that her friends, the Quakers, were in prison, many of them dying of fever and hunger. A third time she entered the town. She was at once seized, brought before the judge, and condemned to be hanged. Many friends begged that she might be spared, but the judge would not yield.

On the 27th of October, 1659, Boston Common was to witness the hanging of a woman. The streets were thronged with people, all anxious to get even one glance at the unhappy Quakeress. By her side walked two young men, also Quakers, who were to be hanged with her.

It was one of these who first ascended the fatal ladder. As he was speaking of his faith, and his willingness to die, someone in the crowd called out: "Hold thy tongue! Art thou going to die with a lie in thy mouth?"

Soon the other young man was led forth. As the rope was being fastened he cried, "Know all ye, that we die not for wrong doing, but for conscience' sake!"

And then the judge called, "Mary Dyer!"

Her two friends were hanging dead before her eyes. Fearlessly she mounted the scaffold, and quietly allowed the hangman to fasten the blindfold and the rope. All was ready. The great crowd stood breathless.

The hangman raised his hand to give the signal, when there was heard a cry from the distance, "Stop! stop! she is reprieved! The Governor has reprieved her!"

Shouts of joy rang through the Common, mingled with hisses from those who had longed to see her hanged. She was taken back to the prison, where she was received by her brave son, who looked upon her as one brought back from death. He it was who had besought the Governor to save his mother, and at last won from him her reprieve.

Joyfully, the son carried away the mother to their home in Rhode Island. I wish I could tell you that the good woman lived out her days there with her brave boy, happy and free. But it was not so. Before many months had passed, again she was seized with the idea that it was her duty to go again to Boston and speak for her people.

Nothing could keep her from it; even the prayers and tears of her son, who loved her so, could not prevail upon her to give up the dangerous journey.

Hardly was she within the limits of the city before she was seized upon by the officers and again carried before the judge.

The judge, exasperated with her foolhardiness, as he called it, offered her, once more, her choice between hanging and promising to leave the colony forever. She would not accept the chance to escape, and was sentenced to be hanged on the morrow at nine o'clock.

Half wild with grief, Mary's husband begged the judge to save her once more; but the judge, saying that she had made her own fate, would not change her sentence.

At the appointed hour, the officer led her forth from the prison to the Common, and there, before the eyes of a great number of people, she was hanged, declaring, with her last breath, that she was giving her life, not for any wrong act of hers, but for her religion's sake.