Follow Tom Follow Tom

April – The Massachusetts Act That Banished Baptists

My great, great… grandfather came to Massachusetts in 1635 as a Baptist seeking freedom and land and with a desire to reach the Indians for Jesus. With the colony struggling just to survive during those first years, religious differences were insignificant. A family history written in 1868 says of Thomas that “he held positions of honor and trust in the new settlement; he was a merchant, a planter, one of the select men of the town, a juryman, and withal a preacher.” However, when life grew less stressful, this all changed.

In 1644, Massachusetts passed an Act for the banishment of Baptists. You can read the text of the act on my web site as a Word document here. These Pilgrims were no longer so ready to accept those with different beliefs, even their Baptist cousins (as mentioned here two months ago). In 1651, Obadiah Holmes attended a prayer meeting in Lynn, Massachusetts, and was arrested for it. Refusing to pay the fine, he was whipped so harshly that, for weeks afterward, he could only sleep on his elbows and knees. As he was led from the whipping post, he is reported to have said that he was whipped “as with roses.” The movie of this event “As With Roses” can be purchased at Shiloh Films.

Suffering as a Baptist, my ancestor gave shelter to any in need, including Quakers, the only religious group that perhaps suffered more in that colony than Baptists. With his Puritan friends making life difficult for him and threatening fines, my ancestor left the mainland for Nantucket in 1659 and his own freedom to worship.

April – Punishment on a 19th Century Whaler

After my last update, I exchanged emails with one of the recipients. He clarified the difficulty of a large sailing ship navigating a harbor full of anchored vessels with the following:

Most often, professionals known as “pilots” would handle the delicate procedure. Also in many case the ships didn’t enter the harbor at all but would anchor in deeper waters, and their cargos were “lightered” to and from the wharves. Finally, many Nantucket ships actually called in at Martha’s Vineyard (officers and crews would sail over and board the “prepared” vessel)…

Democracy did not exist on a whale ship. The captain’s rule was absolute. In First Fury, a group of sailors (including Ann) are caught disobeying the captain’s orders. On a 19th century whaling ship, punishment for such a thing included “being put in irons” or flogging, which was the most common. In flogging, a sailor was hung by his wrists until his toes just touched the deck. Then, the one executing the sentence would use a whip, rope, or a cat-o’nine-tails (a whip with 9 thin ropes often with some kind of weight at the end of each) to bare down on the offender’s stripped back. A picture of a flogging can viewed here. Richard Henry Dana In Two Years Before the Mast describes a flogging at sea as “Swinging the rope over his head, and bending his body so as to give it full force, the captain brought it down upon the poor fellow’s back. Once, twice – six times.” The full account can be found at This was not done in private; all the crew was required to watch.
Next month, see where Ann lived in Rochester, New York.

March – Baptists in the English Civil War

By the 1630’s, Baptists in England had grown in number and were extensively involved in the English Civil War which pitted Parliament against the King. Colonel John Hutchinson and his wife Lucie, as Presbyterians, served on the side of Parliament while Lucie’s brother served the King. John believed in the freedom of individuals to choose what they believed while his father was strictly Presbyterian and held no sympathy for those holding any other belief.

One night, the Presbyterian ministers that served the Colonel and his military troop, came to John late in the evening complaining about those loud and rowdy Baptists—who made up a large part of the men serving under him.  The ministers wanted the Colonel to have them quit singing so boisterously. Such noise was unseemly at the late hour. After breaking up the Baptist meeting, John happened to pick up some Baptist literature left on a chair. Once read and considered, these pamphlets raised questions in the minds of the Hutchinsons. Needless to say, aside from the inner turmoil over baptism, issues arose with family and friends when John and Lucie took hold of Baptist beliefs.

March-Navigating a Harbor

After my last update, I exchanged emails with one of the recipients. He mentioned the difficulty of a large sailing ship navigating a harbor full of anchored vessels. That was especially true for whalers like the Christopher Mitchell. These ships often had a good number of “greenhands,” or first time sailors. Like the old shanty asks, “What do you do with a drunken sailor?” You wouldn’t put him to hauling ropes. But they put greenhands on such work. In Whale Hunt, Nelson Cole Haley describes that scene. While those on shore may gasp or laugh and other crews might jeer as the Mitchell veered left and right (like a drunken sailor), his Captain stood proudly on his ship as if it were manned by the most experienced crew.

Turning a green crew into a finely tuned machine became one of the first orders of business. To see how greenhands responded to such training, have a look at First Fury.

Follow Tom