Ironically, the reason that William Penn was
bringing a shipload of Christians to the New World was in the hope of
finding religious freedom.
On the bow of the good ship, Welcome, Penn watched
the waves splash up and flow past. They were making good headway. His
thoughts returned to earlier events in England they left far behind.
The date was August 14, 1670, and summer was
nearing its end in London. William Penn arrived at the Quaker meeting
hall on Gracechurch Street, just in time to find the entrance barred
by government soldiers. Not a man to be stopped by the problems, Penn
preached to the waiting congregation right there in the street in
front of the church. But before he was finished, he was arrested and
soon haled into court for "disturbing the peace."
The indictment, issued on September 1, claimed that
Penn was "in contempt of the said Lord the King and His
law." He was said to be a terror, a disturber of the people, and
"against the peace of the said Lord the King, his Crown, and
It was business as usual, persecuting
"heretics" in England in the seventeenth century. Official
British court records of that time fill in the details for us:
When the trial convened in a few days, Penn, with
his codefendant, William Meade, demanded to know what law had been
violated. Unable to produce anything definite, they told him that the
indictment was based on "the common law."
"Where is that ‘common law’; what does it
say?" Penn asked.
The recorder answered, "We have so many cases
in the common law, I do not have to answer your curiosity."
"If it be common, it should not be hard to
produce, said Penn.
At this, the Lord Mayor, Sir Samuel Starling, cried
out, "You ought to have your tongue cut out!"
But refusing to be shaken, Penn and Meade continued
to stand their ground and soon the jury of common men of the city
returned a verdict of "not guilty."
Astounded that the jury would vote in favor of
justice, the officials became desperate. The official court record
tells what happened next: "Members of the court threatened the
jury with fines and hinted at torture if they did not bring in a
verdict to the judge’s taste—but they would not yield, nor would
they ever do it!" Their foreman shouted in answer to Penn’s
impassioned appeal to them to "give not away your right!"
Again and again the jury was sent out for a new
verdict. Repeatedly it came back into the courtroom with the same one,
despite a threat by the Lord Mayor to keep the jury "lock’d up
without meat, drink, fire, and tobacco" until they rendered the
vote that the judge wanted.
When the defiant jury returned the fifth time with
the same verdict, Penn stood up and said, "What hope is there of
ever having justice done when juries are threatened and their verdicts
At this, the judge, the Lord Mayor, went into a
rage. "Stop his mouth"; the court reporter wrote his words
as he spoke. "Jaylor, bring fetters and stake him to the
Penn replied, "Do your pleasure, I matter not
your fetters." At this, the court reporter, aghast at Penn’s
refusal to yield his religious beliefs to an official of the
government, added his own comment to the court report, "Till now,
I never understood the reason of the policy and prudence of the
Spaniards, in suffering the Inquisition among them. And certainly it
will never be well with us, till something like unto the Spanish
Inquisition be in England!"
What was the outcome of that farce of the trial?
Penn, Meade, and all the jurors were imprisoned until each of them had
paid a fine of forty marks.
So it was that William Penn determined to sail to a
new land where he could find religious freedom. On behalf of several
dozen humble Christians, he arranged for the sailing ship, Welcome, to
carry them to America.
As the ship carrying Penn and other persecuted
Christians neared the Western Continent, somehow they managed to elude
Cotton Mather’s brig full of soldiers sent to capture and sell them
as slaves in Barbados. But other Christians, such as Mary Dyer, were
not so fortunate. By court order, she was killed in Boston by hanging—because
she refused to change her Christian beliefs to those of the government
church. Exasperated with their stubbornness, legislators enacted a
State law, that the "cursed sect of the Quakers" be
"sentenced to banishment upon pain of death."
Then there was Mr. Painter, a Baptist who was
whipped for refusing to let his child be sprinkled instead of being
baptized by immersion. And Obadiah Holmes, an "unregistered
pastor" who had baptized a fellow believer and was beaten
unmercifully by court order. Other churches besides the Quakers and
Baptists suffered also. The general court of Massachusetts ruled that
Episcopal worship "will disturb our peace in our present
enjoyments." Men and women were beaten, thrown into prison, and
You are reading about life in America 300 years
ago! What had gone wrong? And, more important, could it happen again?
In this book, we are going to show you that it can happen again—and
that movements are on foot so that it will happen again in this, our
own land of freedom. Already legislative decisions and judicial
actions are taking us in that direction.
In recent decades, legislation and Supreme Court
decisions have already laid the foundation for what is ahead. And when
the change comes, it will bring with it coercive religious laws—that
will force you to violate your own personal beliefs about religion.
But, in order to understand this better, we need to
go back still further in time.
"When a religion is good, I conceive that
it will support itself; and, when it cannot support itself and God
does not take care to support it, so that its professors are oblig’d
to call for the help of the civil power, it is a sign, I apprehend,
of its being a bad one!"—Benjamin Franklin, Vol. 8, 154.