Q is for Quakers

 

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The Quakers couldn’t have presented a more dramatic contrast to the established church in Essex County. Puritans evidenced no tolerance for other faiths, and the Quakers seemed to incur more than their share of the community’s disdain and intolerance.

The Puritan church held a high and strict version of Calvinist theology. Their narrow interpretation of scripture did not tolerate even the slightest deviation, and sin and crime were synonymous. Their ministers were jealous gatekeepers of God’s Word, and no concept threatened them like the Quaker belief in an ordained ministers’ irrelevance.

Quakers ideas were far less rigid than other faiths, especially in their rejection of many ordinances and rituals. They discarded baptism, the Lord’s Supper and even paid ordained clergy. The Puritans considered these beliefs as heretical, especially the Quaker’s reliance of the “Inner Light” to guide them. Their worship consisted of waiting in silence until moved by the Inner Light which was then shared with the other members.

These early Quakers were not viewed as peaceful or docile but were instead just as zealous in their beliefs as the Puritans. They would burst into church services, bang pots and pans together, and would even strip naked to show they weren’t attached to worldly things. The Quakers patterned their protestations after the prophet Isaiah who went naked for three years as a sign of judgment and their impending doom.

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The Puritans in New England were prepared when the first Quaker preachers arrived in Boston Harbor in 1656. Ann Austin and Mary Fisher who thought they had the gift of prophecy, were arrested as witches before they even set foot onshore. While still on board ship, Austin and Fisher were ordered to be stripped naked and searched for signs of witchcraft (Devil’s Marks). Their literature was burned, and the women were jailed for five weeks before being banished from the colony.

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Although the Quakers were intensely persecuted by Puritans, they continued to arrive in the Massachusetts Colony.  They seemed intent upon disrupting the staunch Puritan Society and would stand in the Meetinghouse to speak after sermons and would shout from their jail cells. The prisons became filled with Quakers, and at least four were executed.  Those who refused to comply with laws prohibiting writing and speaking out were subjected to hideous deterrents such as cutting off an ear or having their tongues bored through with a hot iron.

Despite these persecutions, the Quakers found a number of supporters amongst locals and were repeated imprisoned, fined and physically punished. In 1663, which was a banner year for Quaker protests, a group of women appeared in church naked as the day they were born. They attempted to demonstrate that they were like newborns:  innocent and without shame. Deborah Wilson’s sentence for this crime was wrought with irony. She was stripped to the waist, tied to a cart, and whipped as she was paraded through town.

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A “King’s Missive” from King Charles II halted all Quaker executions, although less severe punishments continued.  After 1675, Quakers were able to freely live, work and worship after the Massachusetts’ Bay Colony experienced an influx of other faith groups.

 

N is for Nimrod the Rebellious Indian and O is for Ordinaries or Taverns

N is for Nimrod, the Indian who made it into the Essex Court Records a few times. At first, he was like most of the other Native Americans from the area and hoped that the Puritans would help to defend his tribe against their more aggressive enemies.  Eventually, Nimrod began more antagonistic actions towards the Puritan community. The delicate and controversial topic of the Puritans and the Native Americans needs to be reviewed before Nimrod’s actions can be understood.

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The Puritan’s initial contacts with the Indians were mostly for trade and diplomacy.  In the earliest colonial decades, Puritans were vastly outnumbered by the Native Americans and were attempting to establish themselves in the area.  Missionary attempts to convert the native populations were still considered too much of a risk.

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J is for Judges of the Salem Witchcraft Trials

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It is in our human nature to blame others for our own troubles, and the Puritans in New England were no different.  Numerous problems beset the Massachusetts Colony, and the community sought to uncover the cause of their plight. The contemporary thinking was that  God was angry with the Puritans and had sent Satan to test their faith.

God did indeed test the Puritans’ beliefs and convictions. The disastrous wars with the Native populations and the “Papist” French had taken their toll, not only with mounting causalities but also economic decline. Extreme weather, crop failure, increased taxes and inflation combined with an unstable government and uncertainty with a new governor.

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D is for Drunkenness

 

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Drunkenness and alcoholism registered quite high on the Puritan’s Wickedness Scale, but that does not mean that they didn’t imbibe. Rums, beer, ale, and cider, were the favorite beverages. Moderate drinking was permitted at ordinaries (taverns) and at home. Other gatherings where alcohol was consumed were suspect and subject to investigation by the assigned church police known as tithingmen.

The original pilgrims brought more beer than water on the Mayflower because water could make you sick. Though the Americas had plenty of fresh, unspoiled water, imprudent Americans sickened and sometimes died by drinking from polluted sources. In some cases, even when it was safe to drink, river water had so much mud that a bucket of it needed to sit long enough to allow suspended material to settle.

Early colonists took a healthful dram for breakfast; whiskey was a regular lunchtime tipple, ale accompanied supper, and the day ended with a nightcap. We might think the Puritans staggered around all day in a drunken state, but most were able to handle their alcohol because it was integrated into daily life. Increase Mather, a prominent Puritan minister, delivered a sermon describing alcohol as being “a good creature of God” – although the drunkard was “of the devil.”

The Puritans enjoyed their drink at taverns referred to as ordinaries which were regulated as was the brewing of spirits. The ordinary also served food and was the hub for gatherings and conversations in the colonies.

Still, drunkenness was a surprisingly common crime in Puritan Massachusetts and was frequently mentioned in the Essex County Court records. Women’s names came up in the court records almost as often as men. Mehitabel was accused of drunkenness and brought to court on a few occasions. To Puritans, drunkenness was excessiveness and therefore sinful.

Merriment, in general, was seen as excessive; a trivial pleasure that was unnecessary and shunned in Puritan society. In England, there was the prevailing attitude “to eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we will die.” This hedonistic enjoyment was in diametrical opposition to the deepest-felt Puritan beliefs. Alcohol was a necessity, but it was considered outrageous to partake in drunken behavior.

Many colonists believed alcohol could cure the sick, strengthen the weak, enliven the aged, and make the world a better place. Craftsmen drank at work, as did hired hands in the fields, sailors at sea, and soldiers in camp. College students enjoyed a malted beverage, which explains why Harvard had its own brewery. In 1639, President Nathaniel Eaton lost his job when the college did not supply sufficient beer.

The Tithingman

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The above  image of a tithingman might imply that his job was a cross between a spiritual policeman and a royal fool.  In fact, his position was one of the most important in Puritan New England and went beyond just policing unruly children.

The key responsibility for a tithingman was to keep order in church during the long services conducted in the meeting house or early church buildings.   Most buildings had no heat or fireplace so winter services must have been a challenge.  Stifling hot church services were no reason to keep the congregation at home sitting under the shade of an old oak tree.

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