Antiquities of the Christian Church
XXII. Sacred Seasons of the Puritans
With views of this sort in relation to fasts and thanksgivings, the colonists of Plymouth felt obligated to continue them in their newly adopted residence, – as suited to benefit them and their posterity. In a purpose so consistent with their profession, and expectations of help mainly from the hand of Omnipotence, they were not altogether without fear of having their liberty in this, as well as other respects, interrupted. The powerful exertions of bishop Laud and his friends to crush all innovations on the ritual of Episcopacy, in British America, reached them in various ways. The settlement at Weymouth, in 1622, was intended as one check to their religious freedom. The party formed at Plymouth, in 1624, – under the Rev. John Lyford, and sustained by the leading members of the company for this colony in London, had a like object. Still the Puritans, amid their perplexities, held fast to their creed with its practice. They excluded Mr. Lyford and his followers, who resorted to Gloucester the same year. At this location, there appear to have been persons of various persuasions, who probably observed fasts and feasts either at set dates, or as occasion suggested. The first occupants of Naumkeag, afterwards Salem, in 1626, with Roger Conant at their head, were the adherents of Mr. Lyford. They, of course, did not fully come into the ways of Plymouth. When Governor Endicott reached Salem, in 1628, though he may not have entirely separated from the conformists, yet he believed in the ecclesiastical order, taught by John Robinson. In a letter of his to Governor Bradford, dated May 11, 1629, he remarked on a conversation, which he had recently held with Dr. Samuel Fuller. His words were, "I rejoice much, that I am by him satisfied touching your judgment of the outward form of God's worship. It is, as far as I can yet gather, no other than is warranted by the evidence of truth, and the same, which I have professed and maintained ever since the Lord, in mercy, revealed himself unto me, being far from the common report, that hath been spread of you, touching that particular." Of course, the author of this passage was ready to harmonize with the inhabitants of Plymouth, as to the observance of fasts and thanksgivings. Succeeding emigrants to Salem, in 1629, were the Rev. Messrs. Higginson, Skelton, and others, who were of the class, called in England church puritans, and who still cleaved to the Episcopal denomination when embarking from their native shores. In their farewell address on so trying an exigency, they said, "We do not go to New England as Separatists from the church of England, though we cannot but separate from the corruptions of it; – but we go to practise the positive part of church reformation and propagate the gospel in America." Here is an intimation, that they intended to cast off such forms, – as to holy days, – which, they thought, did not accord with the simplicity of the gospel. So inclined, they kept several fasts on their passage, and, when reaching Salem, they were prepared to fall in with the views of Governor Endicott. As evidence of such a disposition, they, as members of his council decided, that it was best for John and Samuel Brown to leave the settlement, because they set up Episcopal worship. These two gentlemen charged such authorities with being separatists, and asserted, that as for themselves, they would "hold fast the forms of the church established by law." Subsequent emigrants to Massachusetts, for the most part, seconded the practice of the Salem colonists.
The planters of Connecticut carried thither, in 1635, similar conformity. So it was with those of Say brook in the same year.
The first settlers of Providence, under Roger Williams, in 1636, and of Rhode Island, under John Clark, in 1638, differed as is well known, from the rest of New England so far, as to withhold from civil rulers the power of law to enforce any occasional religious seasons. Still such rulers were at liberty to recommend fasts and thanksgivings.
New Haven, while a separate colony from Connecticut, followed the course of Massachusetts, as to these days. "Soon after they arrived (in 1638) at Quinnipiack, in the close of a day of fasting and prayer, they entered into what they termed a plantation covenant." The first records of their government, for about sixteen years, however, make no mention of fasts and thanksgivings. But their laws prove beyond a doubt, that these days were kept from their first organization, as a distinct colony.
We now look at Maine. Various, unsuccessful attempts were made to settle this part of our country, then extending only to the Kennebeck river, at an early period. Its chief proprietor. Sir Ferdinando Gorges, being an Episcopalian, naturally selected rulers for it of his own persuasion, who promoted the cause of the national church. Hence it was, that this colony, for the most part, did not adopt the Congregational forms. Thomas Jenner, a dissenting minister, in a letter of 1641, addressed to Governor Winthrop, observed, that while preaching at Saco, he had "not troubled the people with church discipline." He also stated, that he had advanced his opinion against "papal practices." These, as he subjoined, "I saw the people here were superstitiously addicted to." For such a step, he was charged by Mr. Vines, an inhabitant of that town, with striking "at the church of England." This shows how very little Congregational customs were then tolerated in one of the few settlements of Maine. So it was at Falmouth, occupied in 1628, where a church of conformists was soon established; and at York, colonized in 1630, where its proprietor apparently purposed lo have a bishop's diocese. From the wane of the royal cause in England, and the death of Charles I, in 1648, the sway of the national church diminished in this section of British America. At length, proposals began to be made by the people of Maine, in 1661, to come under the jurisdiction of Massachusetts, as a means of preserving social order among them, and even their very existence. The next year, a majority of the inhabitants there assumed a like relation; and thence, religious observances of dissenters prevailed among them.
From Maine we turn to New Hampshire. This colony was, at first, under Episcopal control. Dover and Portsmouth, both settled in 1623, appear to have been so influenced. The latter place soon had a church of conformists. But the occupation of Exeter by John Wheelwright and company, and of Hampton by Stephen Batchelor and associates, in 1638, introduced the Puritan forms there, as they had been at Dover in 1633, and were subsequently at Portsmouth about 1641. So that New Hampshire, as to the part claimed by Massachusetts, and also, to the other part not so claimed, had thrown off, by the last date, Episcopal conformity and adopted the Congregational order. Such a change was accelerated by the distractions of England, and the consequent temporary invalidation of Mason's claims. When New Hampshire resumed the powers of a colony, in 1679, they retained their prevailing attachment to the fasts and thanksgivings of the non-conformists. When their Assembly were about to meet in 1680, a public fast was observed to ask for a blessing on their proceedings. At the same time, however, while their charter allowed freedom of conscience to all Protestant denominations, it particularly required, that encouragement should be given to Episcopalians.
The stamp, thus put on the public sentiment of the preceding portions of New England, has never been effaced. Though the most of them have been changed from colonies to independent stales, they still preserve the religious customs of their fathers.
No relinquishment of fasts and thanksgivings was made in Vermont or in Maine, when they assumed State privileges. With regard to the former of these two Slates, they began to observe such days in 1778, and have not since faltered in so doing.
Hutchinson's Collections of papers. Journal of Rev. Francis Higginson, pp. 37, 39, 41, 46.
Letter from Hon. William Staples.
Trumbull's History of Connecticut, Vol. 1, p. 97.
Letter from Prof. James L. Kingsley.
New Haven Colony Laws, p. 38.
H Hutchinson's Collection of papers, pp. 1ll, 112,
Belknap's New Hampshire, Vol. 1. p. 177.
Letter from Hon. Charles K. Williams.