Hatred of Baptists was not limited to the Old World. The New World had its haters also and Baptists had to battle the whip, the club, and prison to gain their religious liberty.
Boston authorities imprisoned three Baptists and whipped one of them grievously. This whipping of Obadiah Holmes was witnessed by Henry Dunster, president of Harvard College, and it made a life-changing impression on him. Dunster looked closer at the question of infant baptism and concluded that the Baptist position was the Bible position. Well, when he made that announcement, it produced heart-burn in every Puritan in New England.
Dunster was a scholar of Hebrew, Greek, Latin, and the Oriental languages. He was also an able preacher, and his conversion to Baptist principles was one of the most sensational events that occurred during that period. He refused to permit his own child to be “baptized” by the Congregational Church where he was a member! He felt strongly impressed (by the Puritans) to resign his position at Harvard. (Hey, what happened to academic freedom?)
All this sensational news didn’t hurt the growth of Baptists in New England, and they continued to erect buildings (illegally) while the Puritans turned up the heat. The Baptists built a church building in 1679, but the authorities passed a law that required a “license from the authorities.” The Puritan authorities thought they could control the Baptists if they required a license to meet. That is what a license is for today—control.
Even the King of England chided the Puritans by reminding them that, “liberty of conscience was made a principal motive for your transportation into these parts.” But to no avail. When the Baptists arrived for a service they found the church door nailed shut. They had to have a license to meet. Just two problems: It was contrary to their convictions to ask for permission to do what God had commanded them to do and they could not get a license even if they applied for one! Those laws were rescinded in later years and even Cotton Mather preached an ordination sermon for a Baptist preacher in Boston and apologized for the persecution of Baptists!
While the Puritan clergy were demanding the execution of “witches” the Baptists were calling for toleration and caution. Rev. Cotton Mather and twelve other pastors issued a statement concerning a large number of accused “witches” in their jails. They called for “speedy and vigorous punishment” of the “witches.” Build the scaffold, get the rope, hang them high, and let them swing. All in the name of Christ!
Baptist William Milburne was arrested for circulating a petition for signatures of those who objected to further persecution of suspected “witches.” “The innocent will be condemned,” the Baptist said, and “a woeful chain of consequences will follow, inextricable damage will be done this province.” (It wasn’t going to help the “witches” much either.)
Robert Calef of the Baptist Church in Boston, wrote More Wonders from the Invisible World that was published in 1700. It was a criticism of the witchcraft hysteria and the part played in Cotton Mather’s book on witchcraft. But no printer in New England would print it. They wouldn’t touch it with a ten-foot broomstick, so it had to be published in England.
While Puritans (many of them decent but deceived men) yelled for the death of “witches,” Baptists were calling for a return to common sense and decency.