Puritans torturing quakers

Persecution of Quakers by the Puritans

The Rev. John Norton was born at Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire, England, where he was ordained. He joined the Puritan movement, and sailed in 1634 to New England, arriving Plymouth. In 1638 at the age of 38, he was called to become the “teacher” for the congregation in recently-settled Ipswich.

In 1652 Norton left Ipswich and later succeeded John Cotton as minister of First Church in Boston. Cotton Mather wrote in his eulogy of the Rev. Rogers, “Here was a Renowned Church consisting mostly of such illuminated Christians, that their Pastors in the Exercise of their Ministry, might His Colleague here was the celebrious Norton, and glorious was the Church of Ipswich now, in two such extraordinary persons, with their different Gifts, but united Hearts, carrying on the Concerns of the Lord’s kingdom in it!”‘


For the Puritans, the “Lord’s Kingdom” did not include Quakers, and the Rev. Norton is known as the chief instigator of the persecution of Quakers in New England. He is quoted as saying, “I would carry fire in one hand and faggots in the other, to burn all the Quakers in the world.” The punishment for a Quaker to set foot in Massachusetts in 1660 was death by hanging.

Thomas Franklin Waters wrote about the travails of the Quakers in Ipswich and surrounding communities. Roger Darby his wife lived in High St, and were warned, fined and dealt with harshly.

A notable group of these enthusiasts faced the Court in September, 1658:

Samuel Shattuck, celebrated in Whittier’s poem, The King’s Missive, “having been apprehended by the constable two Lord’s Days at the Quaker meeting and two days absence from the public meeting” was fined 30 pounds. Nicolas Phelps was fined the same sum for equal offence.

Joshua Buffum, for a single Sabbath’s absence was fined 15 pounds, “And for persisting still in their course and opinion as Quakers, the sentence of the Court is, these three be committed to the House of Correction, there to be kept until they give security to renounce their opinions or remove themselves out of the jurisdiction.”

Quakers were punished harshly by the Puritans, who saw them as a serious threat to their authority.

Severe sentences were decreed for that “cursed set of heretics” called Quakers “coming again into this jurisdiction:”

  • Beginning in 1656, laws forbade any captain to land Quakers. Any individual of that sect was to be committed at once to the House of Correction, to be severely whipped on his or her entrance, and kept constantly at work, and none were suffered to speak with them.
  • The following year it was decreed that any Quaker arriving in the Colony should have one of his ears cut off.
  • For another offence, he should lose the other ear
  • Every Quaker woman should be severely whipped.
  • For a third offence, the tongue was to be bored through with a hot iron.
  • A sentence of death was ordered and executed in several cases at Boston.
  • A 1661 law ordered that “any wandering Quakers be apprehended, stripped naked from the middle upward, tied to cart’s-tayle and whipped thro the town.”
  • Quakers who persistently returned were to be branded with the letter R on the left shoulder.

In 1658, William Shattuck and five other Quakers were brought to appear before the Ipswich Court. They had been apprehended on their way to a meeting at the house of Nicholas Phelps, about five miles from Salem. In court, they were given the following examination:

“One of the prisoners asked how they might know a Quaker?’ Simon Bradstreet, one of the magistrates, answered, ‘Thou are one of them for coming in with thy hat on.’ They replied, ‘It was a horrible thing to make such cruel laws, to whip, cut off ears, and bore through the tongue, for not putting off the hat.’

Then one of them said, ‘That the Quakers held forth blasphemies at their meetings.’ To which they replied, ‘They desire that they would make such a thing appear, if it were so, that they might be convinced;’ and that ‘they would do well to send some to their meetings, that they might hear and give account of what was done and spoken there, and not conclude of anything they knew not.’ But, said Major-General Denison, ‘If ye meet together and say anything, we may conclude that ye speak blasphemy.'”

The result of this examination was that they were sent to Boston. After being in close confinement three weeks they addressed a letter to the magistrates at Salem, dated “From the house of bondage in Boston, wherein we are made captives by the wills of men, although made free by the Son of God. John viii. 36. In which we quietly rest this 16th of the fifth month, 1658.” The appeal resulted in their release.”

The lashing of Lydia Wardwell


Lydia Perkins was the wife of Eliakim Wardwell of Hampton, a Quaker who was repeatedly brought into court by the authorities. In protest, she walked naked into the meeting-house at Newbury. For this, she was arraigned in 1663 at the Ipswich court, sentenced “to be severely whipt and pay the costs and fees to the marshal of Hampton for bringing her. Costs, ten shillings, fees two shillings and sixpence.” The woman was tied to a fence post at the Sparks Tavern where the Ipswich Court sat, and the sentence was carried out, “lashed to the satisfaction of the crowd of onlookers,” a large circle of men and boys being thus entertained.

The story was told by George Bishop, in his book, “New England Judged.”

“His wife Lydia, being a young and tender chaste woman, seeing the wickedness of your priests and rulers to her husband, was not at all offended with the truth, but as your wickedness abounded, so she withdrew and separated from your church at Newbury…and as a sign to them she went in (though it was exceeding hard to her modest and shamefaced disposition,) naked amongst them, which put them into such a rage, instead of consideration, they soon laid hands on her, and to the next court at Ipswich had her, where without law they condemned her to be tyed to the fence-post of the tavern where they sat and there sorely lashed her with twenty or thirty cruel stripes.”

Mary Dyer
Monument to Mary Dyer

At the Ipswich court, John Emery was fined four pounds for entertaining quakers. His offence consisted of granting food and lodging to two men and two women, who were traveling through. One of the witnesses testified that John Emery took the Quakers by the hand and bid them welcome.

After being exiled, some Quakers repeatedly returned to Massachusetts. On June 1, 1660, Quaker Mary Dyer was taken to the gallows. Her husband pleaded for her life, but she herself refused to repent. The execution of Mary Dyer and three other Quakers so appalled King Charles II that in 1661 he ordered an end to the death penalty for Quakers in all his colonies. By 1677 members of the Society of Friends were free to hold regular meetings. Three centuries after Mary Dyer’s martyrdom, a descendant left a bequest that paid for Sylvia Shaw Judson, a Quaker woman herself, to produce a life-size bronze statue of Mary Dyer. In 1959 the statue was erected on the west lawn of the Massachusetts State House, where it stands today.

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