A STATED Meeting of the Society was held, at the invitation of Mr. Augustus P. Loring, Jr., at No. 2 Gloucester Street, Boston, on Thursday, December 21, 1933, at three o’clock in the afternoon, the President, Samuel Eliot Morison, in the chair.
The records of the Annual Meeting in November were read and approved.
The Corresponding Secretary reported that letters had been received from Mr. Joseph Henry Beale, Mr. Paul Birdsall, and Mr. Jeffrey Richardson Brackett accepting Resident Membership in the Society.
Mr. Chandler Bullock, of Worcester, and the Hon. Fred Tarbell Field, of Boston, were elected Resident Members; Mr. Milton Ellis, of Orono, Maine, and Mr. John Farquhar Fulton, of New Haven, were elected Corresponding Members; and the Hon. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, of Washington, D. C., and Mr. Charles Franklin Thwing, of Cleveland, were elected Honorary Members of the Society.
Mr. Clifford K. Shipton presented the following paper:
The New England Clergy of the “Glacial Age”
THERE has been no more striking reversal of historical judgment than that which concerns the Puritan clergy and their place in New England’s development. The historians of our fathers’ times worshipped at their shrines, but modern writers make them the villains of the colonial drama. The theory prevailing at present seems to be that Massachusetts and its satellite colonies were ruled tyrannously by a bigoted and backward clergy until suddenly liberated by the fall of the theocracy sometime between 1682 and 1725. Different historians choose different dates for the emancipation, but the theme is the same.
This interpretation can be traced back at least to Edward Randolph and Lord Culpepper, who reported to the home government in pre-Andros days that the generality of the people of New England were weary of the government and of the burdens which the clergy-ridden magistrates put upon them. Randolph wrote that only an eighth part of the inhabitants were freemen, and that even in this minority there were many men of good estate who wished to see a new government “to secure & protect them in their Just rights & propertyes.” The clergy, he added, refused baptism to thousands of children whose parents were hungering and thirsting after the rites of the Church of England.2 The Reverend Samuel Myles, of King’s Chapel, said that not one tenth of the inhabitants were members of Congregational churches.3 These statements, although denied at the time, have grown in the retelling until the author of the best modern work on the Andros period solemnly says that of the inhabitants in “the towns of Maine and probably in those of New Hampshire, the majority was Anglican.”4 It was fifty years after Andros’s time before the Anglicans were strong enough to organize a church in those places, and they were never numerous enough there in colonial times to maintain one without aid from England. The Episcopalian minority was not large enough to trouble the established Congregational churches.
The theory that a majority were yearning to be liberated from the bonds of the Puritan clergy had its test when under Andros the laws regarding compulsory church attendance and church rates were permitted to lapse. The New Englanders did not run whooping out of their meeting-houses like schoolboys at the end of a term. A few of them closed their fists upon the pennies in their pockets,5 but no parsons starved or preached to empty churches. As a matter of fact, when Ratcliffe arrived in Boston, the eager multitude of oppressed Anglicans foiled to materialize. Indeed, there were not enough to feed and clothe him, and Randolph had to suggest taking money from the collection bags in the Congregational churches for that purpose. And although in the whole colonial period the people who were discontented with the New England system for any religious or political reason tended to call themselves Episcopalians, they were never numerous enough or financially enthusiastic enough to support the second Anglican church in Boston.6 Most modern writers have assumed that because they themselves dislike the theocracy, the majority of the colonists felt the same way. “We know,” says Thomas J. Wertenbaker, without divulging the source of his information, “that public sentiment . . .by no means favored the old narrow administration in local affairs.”7 Hence, the argument continues, when the religious requirement for the franchise was removed by the charter of 1691, the oppressed masses “made good their right to believe as they would and live their lives as they chose” by using the ballot to overthrow the theocracy.8
Much of the phraseology used in this argument can be traced back to the appendix of Robert Calef’s More Wonders of the Invisible World. The best that can be said for it is that Calef himself seems to have comprised a very large part of his minority party, and that he did not have the same standards of intellectual honesty that his opponents showed. (Witness his insinuations that the Mathers were lecherous in their investigation of Margaret Rule.) The picture, which is built up of logic, a dislike of New England, and Calef’s statements, is not supported by contemporary records. I know of no evidence of discontent under the theocracy except among the small merchant class in Massachusetts and the Mason group in New Hampshire. Randolph, to his great disgust, found the Dudley government just as Puritan as the old Governor and Company.9 It was asserted that not one man in seven hundred supported the Andros régime;10 and not even the economic historians would blame all that on his taxation. As a defender of the theocracy I am not happy to point out that at all times the Boston mob gave evidence, some of it violent and some of it filthy, of its support of the old order. After the fall of Andros two popularly elected conventions voted to return to the old charter government, and when the councillors elected under the province charter gathered for the first time, they found that 46 per cent of their number had sat seven years before in the old Court of Assistants. This was a smaller turnover than had taken place in the last seven years under the old charter.
Likewise New Hampshire acted most strangely for a downtrodden victim of a bigoted theocracy. When, in 1680, the colony was “liberated” as a result of the royal order of 1679, its new assembly, elected on a very wide franchise and certainly not dominated by John Pike, the lone parson then in the colony, addressed the Massachusetts government in tones of sad affection, lamenting the cruel separation.11 When, in 1689, New Hampshire was free to go suitoring again, she turned once more to the Bay government. As regards either colony, the picture of masses yearning to be freed from the rule of the theocracy rests upon normally prejudiced logic and not on contemporary evidence.
Let us assume that the old charter government was an unpopular clerical tyranny; let us assume that it was overthrown by the newly enfranchised masses (those of the people who had the necessary 40s), and we have the logical picture of the ministers battling to regain their lost power.12 The attitude of the parsons toward the old charter is interesting. When it was first threatened, it was the country ministers and the survivors of the first, the English-educated, generation who urged Increase Mather to resist, holding that it was “better to trust in God then in Princes.”13 On the other hand, many of the clergy and many very Puritan laymen either favored submitting to Charles II or participated in the Andros government. Among these were the Reverend Samuel Willard of the Old South, Governor Simon Bradstreet, Thomas Brattle, John Eyre, Nathaniel Oliver, William Stoughton, and Gersholm Bulkley, of Connecticut, all good churchgoers. All pious men did not think alike as to the sanctity of the old charter.
But by 1689 there were very few native-born men of importance who were not opponents of the Andros régime and ready to participate in what has been portrayed as the counter-revolution of the clerics. Of the men who arrested Andros in the Town House at least ten had been of the moderate group of laymen who had supported the Dominion, and four were of the non-freeman class. The leader of the rebel forces which moved against the Castle was a lifelong Anglican. In like manner the clergy put aside their differences and presented a united front against the Andros government. As early as 1686 Randolph had complained that they were giving “encouragement to phannatticks of all Sects,” out of hostility to the Church of England,14 and when he and Andros were brought prisoners into the council chamber on April 18, they found the clergy shoulder to shoulder against them, conservative, liberal, and radical—Cotton Mather, Willard of the Old South, and Milburn the Anabaptist. Randolph believed that the clergy, longing to regain their place of authority in the state, had made the revolution and taken care to infect the other colonies. The pamphlet literature and the correspondence of the period do not make it appear so clearly that the ministers organized the attack, but they may have been the leaders, for Cotton Mather said that “the Care of the Churches, was what lay at the Bottom of all.”15
What was it that made the clergy change their minds and join in the revolution against Andros, a step which to economic historians seems “unreasonable and impolitic”? Was it a longing to withdraw again from the path of world affairs, or was it a sudden spasm of regret for their lost authority? One should not forget that these people had the strange idea that religion and things of the spirit were nearly as important as making money or carrying on historical research. At the time when Samuel Willard advocated surrendering the charter to the discretion of Charles II, there was little on the religious horizon to disturb him; but shortly thereafter the black smoke of the Inquisition began to boil up. Ichabod Chauncy (H. C. 1651) wrote back from England that the persecution of Dissenters had broken out there again, and that the Duke of York was in the pay of Louis XIV, whose rise was menacing Protestantism as had the Armada a century before.16 The accession of James II and the revocation of the Edict of Nantes rudely awakened those members of the New England clergy who had forgotten that it was a small part of the European world in which men of their faith were free from the menace of dungeon and stake. They knew, as the result of letters from the English and Irish Dissenters, more of the character of the new king than some modern American historians seem to know. They knew that in Scotland he had subjected the great Presbyterian majority to the blackest kind of tyranny. Only Anglicans could hold office or vote, every statute had to be approved by his agents, Presbyterian preachers were hunted down like wild animals, public worship by Dissenters was forbidden, and halter and torture were freely applied. In parts of England the prisons were full of Dissenters. Many of them were well known in the colonies, and wrote Increase Mather urging him to resist the spread of such tyranny to New England shores. Under such conditions even the country parsons of New England sat “longing (& yet trembling) to heare what newes” came from Monmouth’s rebellion.17 Randolph noted that while the rising of the West was in progress “not one Minister op’ned his lipps to pray for the King hoping that the tyme of their deliverance from monarchy & popery was at hand.”18 Dissenting parsons like Charles Morton came fleeing before the wrath of James to tell the story of their persecution and to stiffen New England’s determination to resist.
But, after all, James was a thousand leagues away. Is it possible that the New England clergy were right in seeing a menace in the Andros régime which some modern historians praise as the victory of light over the darkness of bigotry? Well, Randolph urged the English government to send out Anglican missionaries who were to be supported by the confiscated estates of the “traitors” or by taxes on the Congregational churches, and to have such privileges as a monopoly of the right to perform marriages.19 He suggested royal intervention in the affairs of the college,20 and hinted that the clergy might be silenced from London.21 These threats were given point by the statement of an Andros councillor that the New England colonies were not parts of England, but conquered territory like Ireland, and therefore subject to the despotic and absolute rule of the Crown.22 Andros himself, it was said, threatened the Puritans with the fate of the Huguenots if they continued to oppose him.23 Governor Cranfield of New Hampshire urged upon the Board of Trade that “the college at Cambridge [be] utterly extirpated, for from thence those half-witted Philosophers turn either Atheists or seditious Preachers.”24 He ordered the Congregational clergy of New Hampshire to administer the sacraments according to the Anglican liturgy to any who wished it, and commanded the churches to admit all suitable and not vicious persons to membership.25 He clapped Parson Joshua Moodey into jail for not obeying his ecclesiastical fiat, and sent Seaborn Cotton scuttling to Boston.
It is evident, then, that when the clergy joined in, or led, the overthrow of Andros, they were fighting for something more than the regaining of the political importance which they had enjoyed under the old charter. In fact, that document, the Magna Carta of those powers which they are supposed to have fought so bitterly to regain, seems to have been of little importance in their eyes. It was not until some time after the revolution that Massachusetts decided to go back to the old form of government, and no less a person than Calef is the authority for the statement that Cotton Mather and some of the other ministers were the chief opponents of that step.26 For the next half century they contrasted the wickedness of their own times with the piety of the years before 1680, but, as far as I know, not one of them ever expressed a desire to have the old charter restored. The restoration of the old order was a part of the political programme advanced by Elisha Cooke’s party, but the Mathers fought him savagely, and not one of the minor members of the clergy was to be found supporting him.27
By common consent Increase Mather is held to have been the soul of the theocracy, as the old charter is held to have been its foundation. But he and his son Cotton maintained that the new province charter, the adoption of which is regarded as marking the end of the rule of the clergy, was a far better document, containing “New and more Ample Privileges; Without which, the Old would not have been Sufficient.”28 Had the enfranchisement of those not church-members had the significance that modern writers give to it, the elder Mather, astute politician that he was, would not have praised the new charter and claimed the glory of having obtained it; he would have proved conclusively that some of his numerous enemies were responsible for it. For many years the new General Court utilized clerical advice as had the old government. The House of Representatives was the tool with which the religious conservatives tried to dislodge the Leverett-Colman group from the control of the college, and for fifty years every politician had to draw on the cloak of religious fundamentalism if he expected to enjoy the favor of the enlarged electorate.
The striking phenomenon of the decline of clerical influence in New England in the years between 1680 and 1740 has been generally misinterpreted through too much rationalizing and not enough searching into the records of the times. The transition has been oversimplified by using the Mathers to personify the old order. It was not their secular enemies—Calef, Checkley, the Banisters, and the Franklins—who defeated them and pushed them out of their important place in public life, but a group of ministers, together with Thomas Brattle and John Leverett. These men opposed the Mathers, not because they differed from them regarding matters of theology or the relation of Church to State, but primarily because of the incorrigible meddling of the pastors of the Second Church in the affairs of other parishes.29 Both the Mathers were among the theological progressives of their generations, but they lived long enough to be passed by their swiftly moving times, and to have their seventeenth-century religious theatricals become ridiculous in the eyes of younger parsons who read the Spectator and in it saw held up in derision such performances as Cotton Mather’s punning Vigilantius.
Obviously, then, those historians who have dated the fall of the theocracy from 1701, when Increase Mather was forced from the presidency of Harvard College, have overestimated the importance of that change. There had been minor points of difference between Mather and Samuel Willard, who replaced him, but had preferential voting been the practice, the members of the Mather faction would probably have cast their third votes for Willard.
It is a part of the popular theory that John Wise blocked a Mather plot to establish some sort of Presbyterian tyranny over the churches of New England. Modern writers have formed their judgment in this matter without reading Increase Mather’s statement of his position,30 which shows his ideas to have been very near those of Wise. The leaders of the new movement seem to have been Cotton Mather, Ebenezer Pemberton, and others of the younger group, who were engaged in a struggle to bring their churches to a gentler and more liberal Calvinism.31 Their opponents were the elderly, conservative, and usually uneducated laymen whom Wise wished to see put in control as ruling elders. Only young liberals signed the earliest set of surviving proposals for clerical organization (1704).32 A year later, when they had secured the signature of Increase Mather (perhaps by the argument that organization was needed to combat the growing irreligion), the proposals were published.
Although Wise is generally pictured as the victor in this struggle, he failed to check the liberal tendencies of the times. Lay elders were appointed in only a few of the most conservative churches, and the parsons generally secured the adoption of the Half-Way Covenant and the abolition of public relations by candidates for church-membership. The Say-brook Platform provided for the establishment in Connecticut of such a system as that proposed by the Boston ministers, and it served as a bulwark against the illiberal and dogmatic tendencies of the Great Awakening. In Massachusetts and New Hampshire ministerial associations were generally formed, at least one of them33 going the whole distance of the proposals of 1705. Since neither the proposals nor Wise’s writings had, to contemporaries, anything of the significance given to them by modern writers, deceived by the magnifying haze of the Revolution, few of the men involved played their parts with consistency. But the exceptions are only exceptions, and not the rule.
That other “attempt to restore the clerical tyranny of the theocracy,” the proposed Massachusetts Synod of 1725, has been misunderstood because it has been regarded through the eyes of its opponents. The accusations which Timothy Cutler and Samuel Myles made of the evil intent of the Congregational ministers have been taken as gospel by some modern writers,34 but contemporary evidence all supports the sorrowful protest of Colman to Bishop Kennett of Peterborough that in all the debate among the Congregational ministers for years past on the subject of the proposed synod, not one word had been dropped which might have been construed as prejudicial to the interests of the Anglicans here.35 In this instance, as in the others mentioned, the oft-described efforts of the New England clergy to win back their old civil and ecclesiastical authority simmer down to nothing more than reasonable steps to deal with the growing irreligion of the times.
Another charge frequently levelled against the New England clergy is that they were intolerant, and it is frequently said that the decline of their influence was due to popular resentment against their bigoted persecution of the Baptists and Quakers.36 In this regard it should be obvious that the Boston executions could not have shaken down the clergy all over New England, that the matter had pretty well blown over before the decline in clerical influence became serious, and that, at least after 1680, the Boston mob was much less tolerant of Quakers and Baptists than was the ministry. The later prosecutions on religious grounds, such as that against Thomas Maule, were clearly initiated and pushed by the civil magistrates, not by the clergy. Single sentences are frequently printed from the works of the New England parsons to illustrate their intemperate bigotry, but when these are compared with the works, for example, of the Jesuit Râle or Quakers like Maule, Story, or Keith, it would seem that the clergy of the Congregational churches were a little above the level of their times in the matter of language. Of course this has no necessary connection with practice. In 1680, Increase Mather seems to have held that the toleration of Anabaptists was well enough for England, but that if they were tolerated here they would come in such numbers as to swamp the colonies.37 The opposition to “that cursed Bratt, Toleration,” seems to have come chiefly from the survivors of the immigrant ministers,38 the country parsons,39 and some of the magistrates.40 To all the clergy the enthusiasm and disorder of the Baptist and Quaker meetings and the illiteracy of their preachers were abhorrent, for of course erudition and logic were the foundation stones of New England Puritanism.41 I-told-you-so’s burst from the Congregational pulpits when the unsavory records of such Baptist preachers as Gorton of New London42 and May, alias Axel, of Boston43 came to light.
The Mathers were generally, in the matter of tolerance, ahead of the older and the country preachers. In 1681, Increase Mather denied the persecution of any group “meerly on account of their Opinion,” and pointed out that no one was being molested under pretence of maintaining law and order.44 Cotton Mather, in 1692, preached a sermon taking a strong stand against the persecution of “erroneous and conscientious dissenters by the civil magistrate.” He censured the “zeal of former times” which had sent the “mad quakers unto the gallows instead of bedlam,”45 and he expressed a desire that the civil magistrates permit heretics to go their own way unless they created disturbances that would be intolerable coming from men of any creed.46 He praised the province charter for providing “a Righteous and Generous Liberty of Conscience.”47 In 1700, referring to the Quaker episode, he said: “If any man will appear in the Vindication of it, let him do as he pleases; for my Part I will not.”48 Some years later, when the Boston mob became excited over the manufacture of a popish image in the town, he tried to quiet the people by saying that it was but “an ornamental Business,” and was denounced for his pains.49 It is only by assuming an impossible duplicity that one can square such of Mather’s statements with Mr. Parrington’s assertion that the younger Mather did not have “a grain of liberalism in his makeup.”50
In regard to the toleration of the Episcopalians the question was somewhat different. According to an anti-Andros pamphlet,
The good people of New-England want not a kindness for the Church of England … they Believe there are Thousands in that Communion with whom they Expect Eternal happiness in the same Heaven. Such Renowned Names as those of Burnet, Tillotson, & c are as precious and as Valued amongst the people of New-England, and their Books as much Read and Lov’d and Liv’d, as with any here at home.51
The Puritans still insisted that they did not differ from the Church of England in doctrine, but only as to liturgy and ceremonies.52 Mather, in England in the service of the colony, was assisted by Bishop Burnet and Archbishop Tillotson, and after his return he said that
Had the Sees in England, fourscore Years ago, been filled with such Arch-Bishops, and Bishops, as those which King William … has preferred to Episcopal dignity, there had never been a New-England.53
John Barnard of Marblehead and Benjamin Colman of Boston corresponded freely with the heads of the Anglican Church. To the series of progressively liberal statutes dealing with the minor sects which the legislatures of Massachusetts and Connecticut enacted after 1692, culminating with the admission of organized Quaker, Baptist, and Anglican churches into the Massachusetts religious establishment, the Congregational clergy made no objections.
What, then, was behind the terrific brawls which broke out as soon as Timothy Cutler was established at Christ Church, Boston? Not intolerance on the part of the Congregational ministers. They had been getting on famously with the English-educated Anglican clergymen here when Cutler and Myles, both Puritan apostates, opened a bitter offensive against the New England system, threatening to bring down royal intervention and to subvert completely the college and the churches. These two were no champions of liberty against Puritanism. To Cutler, at least, both Tillotson and Burnet were heretical, and most Dissenters were condemned to the unpleasant side of the hereafter.54 Colman and several of the Episcopalian ministers complained to the English bishops that Cutler and Myles were compelling the Congregationalists to close ranks in self-defence, and the Bishop of London reproved the trouble-makers. The case for the toleration of Anglicanism by the Puritan clergy may be rested upon the testimony of a half dozen of England’s greatest bishops.
The amount of material which could be presented to acquit the rank and file of the New England parsons from the charge of intolerance is indeed embarrassing. Two or three examples will suffice. Thomas Prince said:
I am for leaving every one to the freedom of worshipping according to the light of his conscience; and for extending charity to every one who receives the Gospel as the rule of his faith and life.55
And Benjamin Colman laid down a rule of conduct which could not be subscribed to by the present clergy of that great church which uses the word “Puritan” as a synonym for narrow superstition:
It is indeed best to err on the charitable Side, and no Temper is more hateful than a censorious, jealous, judging one, suspecting every Body of Evil but our selves, and a few whom we are fond of, confining the Church of Christ to a narrow Compass, and Salvation to those only of our own Persuasion.… There are some Practices and Principles that look Catholic, which though I cannot reason my self into, yet I bear a secret Reverence to in others, and dare not for the World speak a Word against. Their Souls look enlarged to me, and mine does so the more to my self, for not daring to judge them.56
These were the words of pastors of great urban churches, men who belonged to the liberal wing of the clergy. Israel Loring was a country parson who was usually to be found in the conservative camp. In 1737, he was called to preach the Election sermon, which was a sort of keynote address for the coming session of the General Court. At this time the legislature was taking steps toward the admission of the chief religious minorities to the same footing that the Congregational churches enjoyed, steps which meant strife and starvation for the pastors of many of the old parishes. Nevertheless, Loring told the General Court:
Unity of the Faith is not to be expected, till we get to Heaven.… By all Means, let us espouse generous Principles; let us breathe a catholick Spirit; let us be one with every one, that is one with Jesus Christ; whether they be Lutherans, or Calvinists, Episcopalians, or Presbyterians, Congregationalists, or Antipœdobaptists; or whatever other Denomination they may be of.57
It is not generally realized that in theory any man of good life who had experienced regeneration, regardless of his sect or theological opinions, was eligible for full membership in the New England churches:
In the same Church there have been Presbyterians, Independents, Episcopalians and Antipœdobaptists, all welcome to the same Table of the Lord when they have manifested to the Judgment of Christian Charity a work of Regeneration in their souls.58
There is record of many Anglicans who were members of Congregational churches for lack of Episcopalian places of worship. This was real toleration, not mere laxness or latitudinarianism, for men still believed the tenets and forms of their sects to be of great importance.
Not only were the clergy tolerant of the theological differences between the sects: they led the way for their congregations in the changes which were taking place in Puritanism, ameliorating its horrors and giving to its Deity at least the virtues of a human being. In the reforming Synod of 1679–80, for instance, they voted to permit private examination of candidates for church-membership in place of the public confession, and they accepted the Half-Way Covenant. This softening of Puritanism was unpopular with the laity. Governor William Leete, of Connecticut, protested to Increase Mather.59 When Cotton Mather wished to introduce these reforms at the Second Church, he had to do it by trickery because of the opposition of the leading laymen.60 His enemy, the Reverend Ebenezer Pemberton, angered the elders of the Old South by sneaking candidates into church-membership without public relations. Councillors Sewall and Dudley, not Mather and the older clergy, led in the efforts to drive Leverett, Appleton, Colman, and the other young liberals from Harvard. Out on the frontier Solomon Stoddard advocated accepting the doubtful candidates for church-membership and letting grace and good fellowship work upon them, but after his death his parish relapsed to the harsher religion. The church at Cromwell, Connecticut, to take another example, was led by a young minister, Joseph Smith, to a point of religious liberalism which it did not again reach until the nineteenth century. Even as simple a reform as the introduction of singing by note met with stubborn opposition and cries of “popery” from the laymen, although apparently all the New England ministers except Samuel Niles were early converts to it.61 Indeed, much of the world has not yet caught up to these colonial parsons. Not many years ago a minister of Groton, Massachusetts, complained that his church had been ruined by the liberalism of one of these clergymen in the years before the Great Awakening, and many theological schools still consider some of the ideas of those days heretical. They have been denounced as “blind leaders of the blind”62 by men who scorn to read their sermons,63 and their part in our intellectual history has been entirely misunderstood: “Nevertheless rationalism was in the air, and although it might be excluded from the minister’s study, it spread its subtle infection through the mass of the people.”64 Of course the student of primitive religion can turn up many relics of the intellectual past in the writings of the clergy, such as Cotton Mather’s account of praying to death his stepson-in-law,65 but these relapses are few indeed compared with the forward steps by which the clergy strode ahead of the great majority of their flocks.
In matters pertaining to the material world, no less than in religion, the ministers of this period were in advance of the laymen. Men like the Mathers and Jared Eliot of Connecticut had an insatiable curiosity about scientific things, and were eagerly receptive of European discoveries. Mr. Wertenbaker says that “about 1670 Copernican astronomy, it appears, was getting a little foothold in Harvard, a century after its promulgation in Europe.…”66 The insinuation is typical of a school to whom the intellectual inferiority of our colonial ancestors to Europeans is an obsession. Actually the New Englanders seized upon the new astronomy an incredibly short time after it escaped from the censorship of the continental church, and the clergy here were converted to it, despite its effect on the Bible, nearly two centuries before the Roman Catholic Church accepted it.67 No new scientific idea that won general acceptance with the leaders of European thought failed of quick adoption in New England parsonages. In his Illustrious Providences, Increase Mather expresses a desire to write a natural history of New England, “the Rules and method described by that Learned and excellent person Robert Boyle Esq. being duely observed therein.”68 After the manner of modern observatories he sent out questionnaires to collect information on comets, earthquakes, and similar phenomena. Like most of his contemporaries he considered these, with examples of poltergeist and mental telepathy that he encountered, as supernatural occurrences and divine portents. An English friend wrote him, however, that this attitude had been challenged by one Dr. Spencer of Cambridge. Mather asked for and was sent a copy of Spencer’s book,69 and in that same year let it be known in a public sermon that he had been converted to the belief that comets at least proceeded from natural causes. He was deeply interested in the collection of fossils and must have believed, like everyone else, that they had been planted by God to test the faith of men; but we find him quickly seizing upon the hypothesis of Professor John Woodward that they were deposited by forces of nature during the deluge.70
Cotton Mather had the same insatiable scientific curiosity. He held that “the Improvement of Knowledge in the Works of Nature, is a Thing whereby God, and His Christ is glorified,” and therefore resolved to “make a valuable Collection of many Curiosities, which this Countrey has afforded; and present it unto the Royal Society.”71 He made a list of doubtful points in natural history, sent out requests for information, and employed “many suitable Hands to prosecute the Enquiries.”72 He wrote an enormously popular compendium of the sciences containing the latest discoveries in astronomy, meteorology, physics, zoölogy, and ethnography, informing his readers, for instance, in quite the modern way, how long it would take a cannon ball to reach the nearest star.73 And, in spite of the fact that he was a neurotic who once had a vision of an angel, his scientific works are far from being mere credulous compilations, and are much better than some of the contemporary material published by the Royal Society. He used admirable caution, refusing, for example, to believe a story about a tapeworm until he had sent his physician to measure the specimen. His story of the two-headed snake has been repeated since to illustrate his simple belief in wonders, but such a reptile was exhibited at the University of Virginia in the year of our Lord 1933.74
Greater than these men, and a far more profound thinker in scientific matters than any American layman of his time, was Jonathan Edwards. He concluded that air was not an element but contained a “considerably rarer” substance; he demonstrated that fixed stars were suns (which others knew); and he was far ahead of his time in his theories concerning atoms, sound, the refrangibility of light rays, and geologic formations.75
This was a period in which the frontier of science against religion was being vigorously pushed forward. And in New England it was the clergymen, not the laymen, who wrested from the hand of God the meteor and the comet.76 It was not until the next generation that a layman, Professor John Winthrop, took the lead in scientific thought.
But how can this be reconciled with the theory advanced in the five best-selling books on American colonial history, including the standard college texts, that “from a political standpoint, the witchcraft movement was an effort on the part of the old clerical order to retain their influence and power?”77 According to Mr. Adams, the clergy “led in fanning the flames of intolerance and persecution” and helped “to brutalize the natures of the citizens by calling for the blood of victims to whom the community would otherwise have shown mercy.”78 Mr. Hockett says that the witchcraft persecution “was closely associated with the efforts of the clergy to counteract the forces which were depriving them of their former prestige.”79
Just as religiously inclined scientists from Sir Charles Lyell to Kirtley Mather have pointed to the field of the unknown as a place for God in the modern universe, so some seventeenth-century parsons, English and colonial, sought to illustrate the nearness of God by collecting examples of phenomena which were not then to be explained by natural causes. The idea that the deliberate purpose of the clergy was to bring on a witchcraft epidemic is based on nothing stronger than a suspicion of their motives. Increase Mather’s interest, his correspondence shows, was to collect examples of all sorts of phenomena, both natural and supernatural, to make a case-book for scientific study. Public interest in the spectacular made it easier to collect examples of the providence of God, and it was to this task that he first addressed himself. It must be remembered that at the level of scientific knowledge at which the world then stood, God and the devil had to be accepted as the direct causes of most of the common occurrences of life. To arrive at a denial of witchcraft, Thomas Maule had to deny the existence of the devil and hell.80 European intellectual leaders from Boyle to Blackstone felt themselves driven by the logic of the facts before them to believe in witchcraft, and in the face of this it is hard to justify Mr. Hockett’s statement that such a belief here proved the low level of New England culture.81
The interest of the colonial parsons in witchcraft has been exaggerated by reprints of their writings which contain only their more spectacular stories. Thus in the original of Illustrious Providences, less than half the material refers to witchcrafts, which are related with no more interest than stories of earthquakes.
If we are intellectually honest, we shall not sweep aside as “chimney-corner tales” the strange stories told by the ministers. Many of them are exactly parallel with the cases which psychologists and psychiatrists study today in vain efforts to square them with the natural world as we know it. No modern report of psychic phenomena is more acutely critical and levelheaded than that sent Increase Mather by the Reverend Samuel Willard of Groton.82
It has become a stock statement with the writers of text-books that it was Increase Mather’s Illustrious Providences that brought on the epidemic.83 Just why this work is selected for the honor is not clear, seeing that in the eight years between its publication and the Salem troubles a number of other books on the subject came on the New England market. Both the enlarged edition of Glanvill (published in 1681) and Sir Matthew Hale’s decision (published in 1682) were known in the colonies. Or why not give the credit to Cotton Mather’s Memorable Providences, which appeared in 1689? The affair is not so simple as its surface suggests.
The attitude of the New England clergy on the eve of the Salem outbreak is illustrated by the preface which Morton, Allen, Moodey, and Willard affixed to Cotton Mather’s Memorable Providences:
For, Though it be Folly to impute every dubious Accident, or unwonted Effect to Providence, to Witchcraft; yet there are some things which cannot be excepted against, but must be ascribed hither.
When the accusations were made at Salem Village, the parsons urged that any found guilty be punished, but they bitterly opposed the use of any of the traditional witch-hunting methods, such as ducking, or any other superstitious practices.84 On the eve of the trials Cotton Mather wrote to Judge John Richards urging that spectral evidence be excluded, and that only evidence that would be acceptable in an ordinary civil or criminal case be admitted.85 Robert Calef86 and the Puritan-baiters after him have pooh-poohed the stand of Mather and the bulk of the clergy on the matter of spectral evidence, but it cannot be denied that in this the latter were far ahead of the European civil law of the time. John Fiske hopefully said that had the advice of the clergy been followed, probably no one would have swung at Salem Village. That is too optimistic, for in the case of George Burroughs, and perhaps of others, the evidence offered was such that the magistrates had no choice, unless they thought that those who testified were either mad or lying.
Curiously enough, and perhaps significantly, the clergy did not attend the trials and executions with the same unanimity and satisfaction that they showed when mere pirates were on the programme. Since this was the greatest assault which the devil had made on New England, they should have been there to urge on and support the magistrates, but even Cotton Mather was present only once. This conspicuous absence of the clergy may have been an accident, or it may have been due to suspicions such as those which Deodat Lawson expressed in a sermon on the occasion of the examination of one of the first batches of suspects. While urging the punishment of the guilty, he voiced a warning against hysterical accusations and false evidence, urging the people not to “Bite and Devour one another.”87
Heartbreaking and terrible as the story of the trials is, one must recognize that they were far above European practice, and if we ask that the clergy should have intervened on grounds of humanity, we should also have to expect them to intervene in the ordinary course of civil justice. The fact that Samuel Willard argued against third-degree methods88 is evidence that the use of more brutal violence to extract confessions was not generally known.
“In Massachusetts,” says Mr. Hockett, “it was the class least interested in religion which first denounced the persecution.”89 Is this true? The first voices raised against the proceedings were those of the pious and bewildered relatives of the accused. Then, after the jails were filled with the suspected, and the first hanging had taken place, came the sharp reply of a group of the clergy to the governor and council, urging the “need of a very critical and Exquisite Caution, lest by too much Credulity for Things received only on the Devils Authority, there be a Door opened for a long Train of miserable Consequences.”90 With fine disregard for the ministers, the court then proceeded to condemn five more on spectral evidence and order them to the gallows. On August 1, 1693, on the eve of the next session of the court, the Cambridge association of ministers unanimously reiterated the condemnation of the type of evidence accepted by the judges.91 John Wise, a parson, and Robert Pike, a layman, addressed themselves to the court on behalf of individual suspects, but got no better attention. With the hangings continuing, Increase Mather drew up a statement of the position of the ministers (printed as Cases of Conscience), secured the signatures of fourteen of the leading clergymen to it, and placed it before Governor Phips. That worthy was converted to the point of view of the ministers and under their influence took the steps which ended the affair.92 The parsons now had a good opportunity to reburnish their place in society by taking advantage of the swing in public opinion against the witchcraft judges, and to claim credit for their part in stopping the tragedy. They preferred, however, to point out that the judges had been acting according to their own best lights and had accepted European practice. “Pitty and Prayers rather than Censures are their due,” said Increase Mather;93 and his son said that they had acted in ignorance, not wickedness.94
One searches in vain for contemporary evidence to support the statement that the Mathers, by “frenzied sermons” and all other means that they could muster, sought “to arouse the fears and superstitions of the crowd.”95 The “frenzied sermons” simply do not exist. The works on supernatural phenomena, when read through, do not appear inflammatory. Cotton Mather’s Wonders of the Invisible World, for example, begins with a denunciation of the water trial and like superstitions, says that all good men are “amazed, at the Number, and Quality of those Accused, of Late,” expresses fear that innocent persons have suffered, and urges a “most Critical Enquiry … to find out the Fallacy.” In order to “find out the Fallacy” of the Salem proceedings, he describes cases which he is sure indicate witchcraft, but he points out no witches and he closes with a warning in the form of a horrible story of an innocent woman recently burned in Stockholm on false testimony.96 Now Mather was not an ass. He would not begin and close his book with pleas for caution if his intention were to organize another witch hunt. In fact, the stories of his own investigations, particularly that of Margaret Rule, show that he always kept a firm hand on the victims of the witchcrafts and prevented their tales from doing harm to any one.97
According to the modern popular version, “the ravings and goadings of the more fanatical clergy and church members” swept the colony into the witchcraft affair, and it was “courageous laymen, like Thomas Brattle and Robert Calef,” who “exerted their influence against the delusion.”98 Brattle certainly could not be claimed by the “class least interested in religion,” for he was the chief founder of the Church in Brattle Square. As for his being courageous in this instance, there is not the slightest evidence that he made public his views, as did Increase Mather and the other fourteen ministers. He himself believed with the parsons that the witnesses were afflicted by the devil, and he supported his criticism of the trials by saying that the clergy, almost to a man, were “very much dissatisfied,” utterly condemned the proceedings, and freely delivered their judgment against the methods used.99 In this, as always, Brattle identified himself with the pious group, albeit with the liberal wing. He names several magistrates who agreed with him and the clergy in opposing the Salem judges, and, with one possible exception, their names are redolent with orthodox piety. They were certainly not of “the class least interested in religion,” but, like Brattle, they have left no evidence of bearing public testimony against the witchcraft affair.
Few have won cheaper canonization than Robert Calef, who, to Mr. Adams, represents “the cause of intellectual freedom.”100 Calef believed: “That there are Witches is plain from that Rule of Truth, the Scriptures, which commands their punishment by Death. But what that Witchcraft is, or wherein it does consist is the whole difficulty.”101 He supports his contentions by a theological argument duller than Cotton Mather’s worst because he, unlike the minister, had never learned to roar. The essential difference between his beliefs and those of the clergy was an obscure point in the constitutional law of the lower world: viz., whether the devil could delegate his powers. In practice they differed in that Calef did not feel bound to accept evidence which he could not refute but which interfered with his preconceptions; he simply denied its existence or insinuated that the witnesses were liars. It is not to be denied that Calef represented the future, and the clergy, in this respect, the past; but one wonders if the mind which arbitrarily denies without evidence is more deserving of honor than that which holds to an error toward which honestly weighed evidence points. As for courage, there is no evidence that Calef raised his voice until a year after the last poor victim at Salem had been cut down, and he did not take to print for seven years more. Why hail his courage and not that of Bradstreet, Danforth, and the other magistrates named by Brattle as opposing the witchcraft trials while they were still going on? They did not, like the clergy, run the risks of print, but they did dissent while there was still someone besides Stoughton on the side of the court.
If someone must be tagged with a medal for representing “the cause of intellectual freedom,” it should be the Reverend John Hale. In what is by far the best account of the witchcraft delusion he describes the general belief which he and others held before the Salem affair, and the general amazement and horror at the swift spread of the delusion. Instead of stopping there and joining Calef in yapping at those who disagreed with him and in misrepresenting their activities, he pondered deeply on events, and at last saw dimly their psychological basis. This he proclaimed, admitting his error, and begging for a revision of the historical beliefs and for the making of all possible restitution to the sufferers. His pamphlet, A Modest Enquiry (Boston, 1702), although now very rare, was then more widely read and more influential than Calef’s work.102
Now, since the clerical rule was unpopular, since it was overthrown by the extension of the franchise, since the ministers sought to regain their authority by whipping up the witchcraft affair, ergo, their defeat was a ruinous blow to their prestige.103 Is it necessary to deny this? Neither Mr. Adams nor anyone else can produce evidence to support his statement that Calef “carried the minds of the people with him.”104 Surely Calef’s book, first printed eight years after the tragedy was over, could not have awakened sufficient interest to lure the people from the clergy. When the Salem sufferers indicted Mr. Parris, they laid the trouble to the fact that he differed “from the Opinion of the generality of the Orthodox Ministers of the Country,”105 and there is no evidence that the people harbored resentment against even the witchcraft judges.
It is often retold that Samuel Sewall publicly admitted his error in the witchcraft affair, but it is not so well known that several of the ministers involved, including Mr. Parris himself, had the same courage. Michael Wigglesworth, of infant-damnation fame, wrote to Increase Mather, saying: “I fear that innocent blood hath been shed; and that many have had their hands defiled therewith.”106 He urged that Mather lead the clergy in attempting to persuade the General Court to make all possible restitution. Others had the same idea, and it was the clergy, not the laymen, of Essex County who united in a like appeal to the government.107 The civil authorities did not have the same interest in the matter, perhaps because there was no pressure from the electorate, and it was not pressed until the Reverend Israel Loring brought it to the attention of the General Court a generation later.
In their attitude toward witchcraft, the clergy were in advance of European opinion, but in other fields they owed their superiority over the general run of the population to their wide reading and willingness to adopt new European ideas. The best example of this is the support which the ministers from Boston to Marblehead gave to the practice of inoculation for smallpox despite the violent rage of the mob and the opposition, on purely religious grounds, of such college-bred laymen as Adam Winthrop. These clergy urged their native physicians to adopt the practice, while the only M.D. in New England, William Douglass of Paris and Padua, opposed it. Many country parsons themselves practised medicine, and Cotton Mather collected their observations on diseases and remedies in order to make these discoveries serviceable to the world.108
The interests of the clergy spread into other fields of knowledge as well. The Mathers were particularly notable for their correspondence with the intellectual leaders of Europe, such as the orientalist John Leusden of Utrecht and August Hermann Francke at Halle. Cotton Mather corresponded with the Danish missionaries at Malabar and with Defoe in England, discussing with the latter the possibility of their joining forces in a coöperative history.
The ministers were no less catholic in their reading, although old John Higginson warned Increase Mather to stick to the Bible and works of known sound divinity lest he fall into the devil’s hands. But five years later even good old Higginson admitted that he smacked his lips over such light reading as Knox’s History of the Island of Ceylon and Tavernier’s Travels. This hunger for works on geography and secular history is apparent in the inventories of many parsons’ estates. George Corwin of Salem seems to have bought everything of that sort to be had. Gurdon Saltonstall and Cotton Mather read the first volume of Bishop Burnet’s History within a year after its publication and found it fascinating. Jonathan Edwards subscribed to an English monthly periodical, knew the English classics, and read Fielding and Richardson, highly recommending the latter.109 It was a chaplain, Thomas Buckingham of Hartford, who found a place for Comus in his military kit, and a college-bred layman, Lieutenant-Governor Vaughan of New Hampshire, who left a library consisting only of the Bible and Fox’s Martyrs.
The clergy were equally broad in their religious reading. Individuals among them were interested in the works of the Huguenot Pierre Jurien, found the Meditationes Sacrae of Paul Gerhardt edifying, and (to the rage of Timothy Cutler) read the works of the latitudinarian Anglican bishops and the less harmful deists. No less a person than Cotton Mather read the De Imitatione of Thomas à Kempis in search of spiritual help, although the General Court had legislated against the volume fifty years before.
In every field in which there was intellectual and social advance in these years, be it in urging the compensation of witchcraft sufferers or the wearing of wigs, the movement was led by clergymen and bitterly opposed by laymen, and every parson who is to be found opposing one of these advances, will be found advocating others.
Nevertheless, the most striking social phenomenon of these years is the decline of clerical authority and of the relative importance of religion in New England life. In the first place, the exalted position of the clergy in early New Haven and Massachusetts was unnatural, and as soon as the peculiar conditions which had caused it ceased to exist, it was bound to decline. Nations have habits of thought, and just as the English nation has always abhorred cruel punishments, so it has disliked theocracy. The religious conservatives of England preferred a national church dominated by the civil government, while the religious radicals turned naturally to Lollardy and Brownism, to the Baptists and the Quakers, to Independency rather than to a Calvinistic church-state. The very essence of the English dissenting mind was lay-preaching and the right of the individual to decide matters of religion for himself. As Barrett Wendell has said, “Protestantism can have no priesthood. This truth Cotton Mather never guessed at.”110 The second factor in the decline of clerical authority was the invasion of men’s minds by secular things. The New Englander was still keenly religious, but business and other matters were ever increasingly diverting his attention. To blame this decline in the relative importance of religion, as is done, on the supposed narrowness and bigotry of the ministry is to show ignorance of the whole social evolution of the time as well as ignorance of the clergy.
The change in the position of the ministry was a slow development. Increase Mather and the preachers of his generation influenced the province as statesmen and judges, while Cotton Mather influenced the public chiefly from the pulpit. The father looked backward to Calvin and John Knox; the son, forward to the Anti-Saloon League. The clergy could lead Governor Phips around; but after his day they had little influence with the executive. In Connecticut, Gurdon Saltonstall had stepped from the pulpit to the governor’s chair, but John Law and later governors mounted from the Bar.
The same is true in local affairs. One might even call this the era of the revolt of the congregations against their ministers. It was not, however, the “revolt against narrow and bigoted Puritanism” that figures so prominently in popular writings. It was not a revolt against antiquated theology, against bigotry, superstition, or social Puritanism. It has been shown that in these matters the clergy were more liberal than their congregations. Rather, it was an assertion of the right of the layman, particularly the deacon, to judge theological dogma for himself and to reprove the erring pastor, and this he wished to do because the ministers were too liberal. The young ministers, fresh from the colleges, quailed before the baleful, censorious glares of the old deacons or elders who perched on the edge of their pews, vulture-like, waiting for a slip over a theological precipice. Each young minister must by love or logic win his deacons, and after an inquisition by the elders he must have doubted the reality of the decline of religious interest, at least in some quarters. Few preachers had the firmness of John Hancock of Lexington, who agreed to the appointment of ruling elders on condition that he should define their functions; and then explained that their functions were confined to saddling his horse and holding his bridle.
Even where ministers were orthodox, their hold was frequently shaken by the division of the town into parishes. Church and town meetings were no longer controlled by the same group; and when there were two or more ministers in a town meeting, the voice of God was too frequently jangling and contradictory. This came to be most lamentably true at the end of the period when the first tremors of the Great Awakening were beginning to split the towns into hostile churches.111 Quite generally, weaker parishes had to plead for favors from the civil government at town meetings, and parishes with internal troubles had to air them before not too sympathetic audiences. In the government of the towns, as in that of the province, the clergy slipped from their former high place.
One indication of this situation was the very general financial strife in the parishes. In Massachusetts and Connecticut the inhabitants were required to contribute toward the support of a minister, but the town was left to fix his salary. Too frequently the town meeting took a leaf from the book of the General Court and expressed its disapprobation of the parson’s marriage or his theology by cutting down his pay. Rarely was the town willing to increase the amount of his salary in proportion to the decline in the value of money. A great part of the clergy were forced to supplement their income by farming or some other independent business. Jonathan Edwards’s father sold liquor, and a clerical contemporary of his went into the real estate business and sold hundred-acre lots that turned out to contain eighty-six acres. Many of those with large families had to surrender their pulpits to youths without dependents.
So there was in New England, no less than in Virginia, a “Parson’s Cause.” After 1711, the legislatures passed special acts requiring the payment of particular ministers, and in 1735 Connecticut ordered that no minister’s salary should be left more than two months in arrears. These statutes had no more effect than to give the ministers a little better case in their continual suits at law for their back pay. For those who could not live on their salaries even when paid, there was no legal redress. If a minister did not quarrel with his parish over financial matters, it was a fact likely to be noticed in his obituary.
Many ministers might be quoted on the treatment they received. Ephraim Little of Plymouth, who was relatively successful and spoke with less prejudice and more moderation than some others, said: “It is greatly to be Lamented that the Gospel-Ministry has no greater Success than it has; that there is so much Contempt cast upon it, and that the Support of it is by so many, look’t upon to be so heavy a Burden.”112 The same situation existed in Connecticut, where Timothy Cutler in his Congregationalist days declared: “We know the Vile Words that are cast about, of Priest-Craft, and Priest-Ridden, and an Ambitious and Designing Clergy, and the like Effusions of Men’s Corrupt Minds; and the Jealousies the World hath of us.”113 Youths sang “profane and filthy songs” under Cotton Mather’s windows and took sticks from his wood pile to beat off those who would stop them. The worst story is that of the ordination of Peter Thacher at the New North Church in Boston, when the congregation below was sprinkled from the galleries with a liquid which contemporaries rightly thought should remain unnamed.
These conditions were bound to have an effect upon the personnel of the clergy. Throughout most of New England’s first century the ministerial career was by far the most alluring of those open to ambitious youth. In later society no individual held a place of importance and prominence to compare with that of a minister in early New England. This was due, not only to his learning among a people who reverenced education, but to the overwhelming importance of religion itself. Urchins held prayer meetings in their playtime and in all sincerity aped the piety of their elders. They stopped their ball games to argue about immortality just as later generations paused to talk about Indians or airplanes. Naturally those ambitious youths who wanted to wield power prepared themselves for the post of vice-regent of God.
The decline of the influence of the clergy in secular affairs, the decline of general interest in things religious, and the new opportunities offered by trade, medicine, and law drew off from the ministry such able young men as Josiah Willard, Nathaniel Williams, and John Read. But although the percentage of the graduating classes at Harvard and Yale that went into the ministry steadily shrank, the total entering the profession increased more rapidly than the number of pulpits available. Thus between 1680 and 1689 Harvard turned out thirty-three new parsons, while the two colleges in the decade 1731–1740 turned out one hundred and eighty-nine. With their eyes on the bright boys who were scuttling into other professions, the clergy complained that youth was shunning the career of the pulpit, but there must have been a plenteous supply of ordinary lads, for towns in 1740 found it very much easier to get good schoolmasters cheap than had been the case a generation before. Jonathan Edwards seems to have been the last of the very great who entered the ministry because there was no other suitable outlet for his abilities. The horrible things which his logic did to theology were full revenge.
In the latter part of the “Glacial Age,” then, were the clergy poor things, stunted by the cold winds of adversity? Was their character such that the people were justified in casting them down from their high places and out of their pulpits? In this connection a study of the lives of the Congregationalist and Presbyterian clergy of New England and of the New England settlements on Long Island reveals some interesting figures.114 Between 1680 and 1740 there were some five hundred ordained ministers and settled preachers of these persuasions in this area. Of these, one hundred either died immediately after ordination, began to preach too soon before 1740 to get into trouble by that date, or were settled in parishes for which adequate records are not available. Of the remaining four hundred, the pastorates of 28 per cent were marked by notable trouble between pulpit and parish. There were many others who suffered in silence or who lost their pulpits in the years immediately following 1740. Of the four hundred, 8 per cent were dismissed or forced to resign in spite of the fact that either step was regarded as disgraceful to pastor and parish. As one would expect, the commonest cause of difficulty was financial, 12 per cent of the clergy being seriously involved with their parishioners on those grounds, and 5 per cent either leaving or being forced from their pulpits. The next most fruitful source of discord arose from the division of parishes and the building of new meeting-houses. Such difficulties involved 8 per cent of the clergy, but only three individuals had their connections terminated on those grounds. Difficulties in theology entangled 5 per cent of the clergy, but only five individuals left or were discharged for that reason.
As a general thing, these discords—strife over finances, theology, and the creation of new parishes—were not due to faults of the parsons, but to the times. The same cannot be said of the other golden apples. Of the four hundred, 3 per cent were concerned in scandals, and six individuals resigned or were discharged under that cloud. The troubles of 4 per cent may be laid to their own personalities, usually to an uncontrolled tongue; nine left their parishes for this reason. With more leisure for thought, with good educations and wits whetted by college and association gatherings, the parsons were strongly inclined to humor and facetiousness which their hard-working parishioners did not appreciate. Where their stories have been preserved, they are typically Yankee, based largely upon exaggeration,115 but occasionally, even in the Cambridge association, somewhat Boccaccio-like. Curiously enough, intemperance was the most fatal offence, six parsons being accused and all six discharged.
The distribution of these disputes by decades is illuminating. In each of the first three there were eleven notable quarrels. In the period 1711–1720, there were thirteen. Then was felt the full force of the social transition of the age: during the years 1721–1730 there was strife in thirty-seven churches, and in the last decade, in thirty-six. The last figure is misleading. There was more strife in the years 1731–1740 than in the previous decade, but there is not so much material on it. The newspapers were devoting less space to such news, and the proportion of new parishes for which printed records are inadequate is much greater. When the increase in the number of parishes in the years 1680–1720 is taken into consideration, it becomes apparent that the average of church peace was increasing at that time. The years of strife that followed were those of swift social evolution in which the frontier was advancing, depreciating currency was drawing down one class and throwing up another, and economic developments were changing the face of the land. Consequently the quarrelling in the churches cannot properly be laid to a rebellion of the people against a bigoted and persecuting clergy.
It is true, of course, that the New England clergy had not preserved the standards of the first generation. Any priesthood declines when its religion loses its first vigor. Secular matters demanded an ever greater share of the thoughts of the ministers, and few parsons had the moral courage of Samuel Moody of York, who gave away a horse of which he was proud because it “insisted on entering the pulpit with him.” Solomon Stoddard’s roaring sermon on the defects of preachers shows that the better clergy were troubled by the situation.116 A comparison of the above statistics with those for the clergy of colonial Virginia117 might suggest that the New England parsons averaged a bit worse than the much-maligned Southerners! But before this statement becomes incorporated in the New History, let it be added that were Virginian records as abundant as those of New England, there would be no apparent parallel.
This prevalent sin of worldliness led many of the ministers to engage in business operations far more extensive than their financial needs would justify, even though the demands of their profession on their time and energy were much greater than is the case today. Real estate and wild lands were the favorite ventures. One wonders how some of these parsons, with their travelling back and forth to Maine, had time to do anything for their parishes. In the case of Ephraim Little of Plymouth and his extensive business dealings, we find the town apparently distrustful of his methods. When the Reverend Josiah Dwight applied for a raise—and indeed his salary of £60 was not sufficient to support a family in 1723—the town expressed the opinion “that the great stroke of husbandry under his management takes up much of his time and thought,” and gave him a small increase with a warning “to devote himself more especially to his sacred functions.”118 Apparently he did not, for shortly thereafter he was discharged by a vote of sixty to one. The most amazing story of secular activities on the part of clergymen is that of the mining venture of the three Woodbridge cousins.119 The successful ministerial careers of a few who, like Samuel Moody of York, did not engage in business, suggest that some of the trouble of the parsons was due to a natural resentment on the part of the congregations.
The records indicate that too many of the clergy were grasping in their dealings with the parish. Sometimes the settlement of a youth fresh from college made him the richest man in town. It is said of Timothy Collins, B.A. Yale 1718, that the time which the management of his property caused him to take from his ministerial duties was a source of his trouble.120 Nathaniel Collins of Enfield seemed to think that a post in the ministry was like a purchased army commission, a saleable commodity. Some of the clergy asserted loudly that their salaries were insufficient but left estates one tenth the size of the great mercantile fortunes. Some of the reputed poor, like John Swift of Framingham, left several slaves.
It was inevitable, under conditions then prevailing, that the clergy should lose much of their fire. Harvard particularly seems to have been turning out numbers of dull fellows—good, logical, sleep-provoking scholars. Salmon Treat tells us that some of them read their sermons like children learning their letters, laboriously following their notes with an extended forefinger.121 However, the greater part of the complaints against the dullness of the preachers came from congregations which had little use for scholarship or humanized theology, who wanted to hear the roar of the fires of hell and the crackling of the sinners in the flames. They found more satisfactory the bloody-minded Scotchmen and the itinerant illiterates who were frequently a bit touched mentally. By 1740, a plentiful supply of these was forcing the dull preachers from their pulpits or starving them by splitting their parishes.
Equally unpopular were those educated at Harvard and Yale who relapsed to the standards of the English country clergy, and became too preoccupied with fishing and fowling to attend to their duties.122 Dullness and fowling aside, there was a real difference of opinion as to what a good preacher should be, a difference at the bottom of many of the quarrels. The new frontier parishes did not wish even the ideal preacher as Mather Byles described him, “a most graceful, polished, and fluent speaker, a perfect gentleman in manner, and a deep scholar.”123 They desired a violence inconsistent with even, brilliant logic, and a fiery intolerance which education bred out of a man. These were the qualities to be had in the itinerant preachers and in the harsher Scotch Presbyterians who had heard their fellows shriek in the iron boots of James of York, and had learned intolerance in that school of persecution.
But if the New England ministry did contain many weak vessels, it also boasted the greatest minds of the times. Of the men active in the awakening interest in science, all but two were orthodox clergymen. Many others had vast scholarship and eager minds. The primitive religion of their parishioners did not hold them back; one should not forget Cotton Mather courageously backing inoculation despite the bomb thrown into his room, and despite the mob searching for Dr. Boylston with a noose. Many of them accepted country parishes where there was no hope that their lives or those of their families would ever rise above poverty. As a boy Jonathan Edwards saw his sisters cut off their hair to sell, to eke out his father’s income, and his own daughters had to take in sewing and make fans. He, perhaps the best-paid minister outside Boston, was sometimes without money to buy paper to write down his thoughts, and that was a loss to the age. There were so many great souls standing out from among the small ones, that one wonders if a century-old established church ever had a better ministry than did New England of the Glacial Age.
If we New Englanders do not write our own history, we must expect to have it written for us by men who understand our forebears no better than we understand the fathers of Virginia, or of the settlements of Puget Sound. Mr. Wertenbaker, who, as becomes a real historian, strains hard to be fair, informs us that New England piety forbade a man to go out into the country in quest of chestnuts, to smoke a pipe, or to do other such pleasant things.124 But when one reads the diaries and correspondence of the Puritans, one finds Cotton Mather fishing in Spy Pond, Parson William Waldron tramping all day in the mud of Back Bay after snipe, and Parson Joseph Green galloping off for a day’s hunting with one small son forward and one aft. We are also informed, in a list of Puritanical restrictions, that one of the duties of tithingmen was to keep the boys from going swimming.125 Sooner or later one of the new historians is going to find the account of Judge Samuel Sewall going bathing off Blackstone’s Point, and then we shall be given a picture of a base old hypocrite enjoying pleasures which he forbade to the boys. In the same account of forbidden pleasures we are informed that Parson John Higginson frowned upon the importation of children’s toys. This seemed so out of keeping with the old gentleman’s character that I went to the secondary work126 on which the author relied and found that the John Higginson in question was not the parson, but his son, a merchant, and that the sentence referred to came from a business letter discussing the market for various commodities and having no connotation of Puritanical restrictions.
Fed on such misinterpretations, the modern intelligentsia use the picture of the Puritan priest to frighten their children at cocktail time, but one should not forget this glimpse which Cotton Mather gives of himself: “I would alwayes have about me some little Matters, (as Pennies, or Fruits, or Paints,) proper to be bestow’d on little Children.”127
Mr. Charles K. Bolton read a communication entitled “The Fisheries of Baccalaos,” to be published elsewhere.128