The concepts of freedom about which Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence came from the pulpit and pen of the Rev. John Wise of Ipswich, Massachusetts.
“The first human subject and original of civil power is the people…and when they are free, they may set up what species of government they please. The end of all good government is to cultivate humanity and promote the happiness of all, and the good of every man in all his rights, his life, liberty, estate, honor, etc., without injury or abuse done to any.”– Rev. John Wise, Chebacco Parish of Ipswich (Essex), circa 1700
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”— Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776
In 1683 at the age of 31, John Wise became the minister of the church at Chebacco Parish (now Essex). He built his home on the road between Chebacco and the town of Ipswich.
His congregation quickly became convinced that The Rev. Wise was spiritually powerful and that his prayers begat results. When the crew of a ship from his parish were captured by pirates he beseeched the Lord on a Sabbath morning to give them speedy deliverance, and if no other way be possible, for the Lord to help them “rise up and butcher their enemies.” The next day the men arrived back home, having attacked and killed the pirates.
Before Rev. Wise arrived in Ipswich he served for a short time as chaplain in King Philip’s War. He was one of three ministers assigned to serve as chaplain with General Phipps’ ill-fated 1690 expedition in the Battle of Quebec. His services were highly esteemed “not only for the Pious Discharge of his Sacred Office, but his Heroic Spirit, and Martial Skill and Wisdom did greatly distinguish him.” Wise was not a passive observer, but rather a fierce opponent of the enemy, and described the failures of the English forces to be an “unpardonable folly.” When they stalled in the countryside he became “very troubled in mind” and chided the commander, “You are out of your wits– we did not come hither to drive a parcel of Cowardly Frenchmen from swamp to swamp, but to attack Quebec thither!” After much urging from Wise, word was given to march, but he wrote in his journal, “I will assure you things went on with insufferable dullness enough to any men.”
John Wise was of great muscular strength and had a reputation as a superior wrestler. John Chandler of Andover being undefeated, prevailed upon Mr. Wise to a match. The story is told that after reluctantly accepting the match, Wise quickly had the boastful antagonist on his back, then picked him up and pitched him over the fence. Humiliated in defeat, Mr. Chandler asked Mr. Wise if he would mind throwing his horse over in like fashion.
Even more legendary was his intellect and witty if somewhat wordy prose. He took stands against the witchcraft hysteria and stood in support of Dr. Manning, an Ipswich physician who proposed inoculation for smallpox. In the widely read “A Vindication of the Government of the New England Churches,” Wise defended the rights of congregations to be self-ruled.
In 1689, the British Crown revoked the Massachusetts Bay Colony charter and appointed Sir Edmond Andros as governor, who thereupon imposed a Province Tax to be collected in each town. Rev. Wise, John and Samuel Appleton and the selectmen of Ipswich initiated a campaign of resistance.
Wise advised the town not to appoint a tax collector, arguing that the tax violated rights guaranteed in the Charter. For leading the rebellion, Wise and the others were arrested, tried in Boston, imprisoned, and fined heavily. He was deposed from his ministry until he and all but Samuel Appleton conceded. The people of Boston, now greatly encouraged, rose up in resistance and Andros was arrested. The town of Ipswich paid the Reverend’s fine and sent him as its representative to take part in reorganizing the government. Wise personally prosecuted Chief Justice Dudley for refusing him the privileges of habeas corpus while he was imprisoned.