Hits and Misses

Hits and Misses

Monday, June 6, 2016

My Family's Puritan Ministers, Part 2 of 3

One of my forebears, Reverend Thomas Shepard (1605-1649), left a manuscript describing his encounter with Archbishop Laud (see list of sources at the end of Part 3).  We should perhaps allow for Shepard heightening the drama, but he represents Laud in the interview as enraged:  "He asked how long I had lived in his diocese.  I answered, Three years and upwards.  He asked who maintained me all this while, charging me to deal plainly with him, adding withal that he had been more cheated and equivocated by some of my malignant faction than ever was man by Jesuit, at the speaking of which words he looked as though blood would have gushed out of his face and did shake as if he had been handed with an ague fit, to my apprehension by reason of his extreme malice and secret venom."  Shepard, by all accounts one of the mildest of men, begged to be excused from answering (in fact, he had been supported in Essex by Dr. Edmund Wilson, the brother of my ancestor Reverend John Wilson, whom I’ll mention below).  Laud then began to rail bitterly at Shepard, eventually sentencing him as follows:  “I charge you that you neither preach, read, marry, bury, or exercise any ministerial function in any part of my diocese, for if you do, and I hear of it, I will be upon your back and follow you wherever you go, in any part of the kingdom, and so everlastingly disable you.”

We need to recall that Laud wielded both religious and political power.   Laud’s “charge” to Shepard was legal and all-encompassing, having effect throughout the realm of England.  It quite literally took away Shepard’s means of supporting himself as a minister.  Not only that:  I take Laud’s use of “everlastingly” at the closing of his charge—“and so everlastingly disable you”—to mean that any disobedience of Shepard will mean that he’ll be lost both in this life and in the life to come.  The interview ends with Laud exclaiming, “Get you gone, and now make your complaints to whom you will!”  “So away I went,” Shepard relates, and his next phrase quietly underscores that he serves a greater master:  “and blessed be God that I may go to him.”  

For Thomas Shepard and other ministers of the Puritan persuasion, Archbishop Laud’s burning zeal to enforce uniformity made many of them question whether they should—or could—stay in England.  In The Barbarous Years, Bernard Bailyn magisterially sums up the outcomes of Laud’s campaign:  “It created fear and a sense of desperation, forged a mutually supportive community of previously scattered dissidents, steeled their resistance, propelled many from a ‘loose conformity’ to outright nonconformity, and precipitated a willingness on the part of certain of the Puritan leaders to contemplate flight.”

One of the ministers in my family tree who did take flight was Samuel Whiting (1597-1679).   Originally from Boston, Lincolnshire, Whiting received his A.M. from Emmanuel College, Cambridge, in 1620, and, subsequently, his D.D.  He served as Rector of Skirbeck, Lincolnshire, from 1625 to 1636.  His second marriage was to Elizabeth St John in 1629.  When his case came before Laud’s Court of High Commission, the Earl of Lincoln intervened on his behalf.  Having momentarily escaped Laud’s clutches, as he presumably saw it, Whiting came over to New England in 1636 and served as minister in Lynn for the next 43 years.  Three of his sons followed him into the ministry.

Another forebear was Reverend John Wilson (1591-1667), the brother of the Doctor Edmund Wilson who helped support Thomas Shepard in Essex.  He could have had an illustrious career in the Church of England:  not only had he gone to Eton, but his father was a canon at Windsor and his mother was a niece of Archbishop Edmund Grindal.  At King’s College, Cambridge, however, he became a Puritan.  He received his A.M. in 1613.  From 1616-1618 he was a Fellow of King’s.  A lecturer in Sudbury, Sussex, Wilson was suspended in 1627 and imprisoned for seditious speeches.  He was restored after the Earl of Warwick intervened on his behalf.  When he was investigated again, he resigned and emigrated to Boston in 1630.  His wife, Elizabeth Mansfield, flatly refused to accompany him, so he went back to England the next year and eventually persuaded her to return with him.  After being the teacher in Boston, he became the first minister of the First Church in 1632, with John Cotton following him as teacher.  He volunteered to be a chaplain in the Pequot War in 1637.  He remained in Boston until his death in 1667.  His son, grandson, and great-grandson all became ministers in their turn.

Reverend Peter Bulkeley (1583-1659) was the brother of my ancestor Judith Bulkeley.  Their father Edward came from a landed family in Odell, Bedfordshire; he had been a Fellow at St. John’s, Cambridge, earned a D.D., and then became the Rector of Odell.  Peter Bulkeley followed his father to St. John’s, earning his A.M. in 1608 and then on his father’s death becoming Rector in Odell.  The Lord Keeper Williams was a long-standing friend of the family, so he had overlooked first Edward’s and then Peter’s non-conformity, but when Laud became Archbishop in 1633 that was no longer an option.  Bulkeley was silenced with his case being referred to the High Commission.  With no hope of reinstatement, he sold his estate and came over to New England with his family in 1635.    
Peter Bulkeley settled first in Newtown (Cambridge).  The next year, with twelve others, he purchased land from the Indians and began the town of Concord.  John Jones was the first pastor at Concord, and Bulkeley was the teacher.  Then, in 1637, Bulkeley was installed at pastor.  That Concord never suffered attacks by Indians was generally credited to his good relationships with them.  He served the church in Concord until his death in 1659.  A son, Edward, and a grandson, John, followed him into the ministry. 

This brings us back to Thomas Shepard, whom we left right after his interview with the furious Archbishop Laud.  Silenced and unfrocked, Shepard, his first wife Margaret Toutville, and their son Thomas (who would also become a minister) sailed on the Defence to Massachusetts Bay in 1635, arriving on October 3rd.   Thomas Hooker baptized their son, who was about a year old at that point. 

Hooker was about to lead his congregation to the Connecticut River, so Shepard and his congregation bought their houses and property.  Shepard was ordained at Cambridge on February 1, 1636, and ministered there until he died in 1649, aged 44.  Harvard College was located in Cambridge in part because of Shepard's ministry there, and he served as its unofficial chaplain as well as an overseer.  When the college was nearly insolvent, Shepard proposed a "motion of beneficence" to the Confederation of New England in 1644:  each family was asked to donate annually a quarter-bushel of wheat or its equivalence.  The motion gave Harvard nearly 270 pounds over the next nine years.  Shepard had some fifteen works published during his lifetime and after his death.  Three of his four sons followed him into the ministry.  Described by Edward Johnson as a "poor, weak, pale-complexioned man," Thomas Shepard by all accounts was an extraordinary preacher, a "Pastor Evangelicus," in Cotton Mather's phrase.

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