Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Halloween Nears - Wenlock Christison defends Quaker Witches in 1659 Puritan Massachusetts

Article from The Salisbury Times (now The Delmarva Times), Salisbury, Maryland by Dr. William H. Wroten, Jr.

"In the middle of the 17C, religious freedom was not a major characteristic of Puritan New England; in fact, persecutions were being committed; and Massachusetts was on the threshold of her witchcraft period. In September, 1659, three Quakers, Mary Dyer, William Robinson and Marmaduke Stevenson counting martyrdom were banished from Massachusetts. All three, however, returned and the two men were hanged. Mrs. Dyer, after having her hands and legs bound, face covered and the rope adjusted about her neck was reprieved. When she returned again in the spring of 1660, she was executed. Later in the same year Quaker William Leddra was to suffer the same fate...

"Massachusetts theocracy was fighting a hopeless battle. The suffering of the Quakers was winning sympathy from thousands who were not necessarily interested in the Quaker doctrine. Shortly before the execution of Leddra, Wenlock Christison walked into the office of Governor John Endicott, and looking him straight in the eye said, "I came to warn you that you should shed no more innocent blood, for the blood that you have shed already cries to the Lord for vengeance to come upon you."

"For his action, Christison was brought to trial but the magistrates were not sure what should be done, for public sentiment was turning against the cruel persecutions. Yet there was one among the group who was not hesitant, and that was Governor Endicott. Pounding on the table, the good governor exclaimed, "You that will not consent, record it. I thank God I am not afraid to give judgment." Governor Endicott had his way and Christison was condemned to death, but the sentence was never carried out. Partly from fear of interference by the King and also because of the growing opposition by the people, persecution began to take milder forms.

"Before this at Plymouth, Christison had been robbed of his waistcoat, had his Bible taken to pay for his fines, and suffered a whipping. Later he was banished from Boston and threatened with the death penalty should he return - but return he did, and on this occasion was told to renounce his religious principles or be executed. Although it was at this time that Christison saw Leddra hanged, he refused to change his faith or in any other way seek mercy from the court... 

"Back, by way of Salem, Wenlock Christison in June, 1664 met two other Quakers, Mary Thompson and Alice Gary, who recently had arrived from Virginia where they had been persecuted. Christison was shortly arrested on the old charge, and along with the women once again banished form the colony. Only this time all three were stripped to the waist, fastened to a cart and whipped through Boston, Roxbury and Dedham. Christison received ten lashes and the two ladies six lashes in each of the towns.

"Finding no haven in Rhode Island, (probably the only colony in all New England which could claim any religious toleration at this time) the three came back to Boston supposedly under the protection of the King's Agents. But again there was trouble, a trial and the sentence that they should be whipped out of the province. However, shortly after this all three sailed to the Caribbean region - never to return to New 1670 Wenlock Christison and Alice Gary were in Maryland. Dr. Peter Sharpe of Calvert County turned over to Christison 150 acres of land in Talbot County - a plantation fittingly named in Christison's case, the "Ending of Controversie."  The Quaker records of Talbot County show that a daughter, Elizabeth, was born to Wenlock and Mary Christison in 1673. 

"Christison soon rose to a position of trust in Maryland; he was one of the first Quakers to have the honor of holding public office. He became a member of the House of Delegates from Talbot County in 1676 and served in that body at St. Mary's City until his death in 1679." 

Post Script
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow recreated Christison's 1661 trial in John Endicott, one of three dramatic poems in a collection called New England Tragedies.

No comments:

Post a Comment