Page images
PDF
EPUB

them, namely, the laws against the subtraction of tithes; and neglecting to resort to the parish-church, or some other, on every Sunday or holiday. They were also prosecuted on an act made in the beginning of queen Elizabeth's reign, for administering the oath of supremacy, and on one of the third of James, enjoining the oath 'of allegiance. When there remained no shadow of reason to detain those whom they had imprisoned on account of the rising of the fifthmonarchy men, it was a usual method with the magistrates to' tender them the oath of allegiance, which they knew they would not take, that their refusal might be a pretext for still holding them in confinement; though their demeanour was peaceable and unresisting, and by the most explicit declarations they solemnly expressed and pledged their allegiance.* By the misapplication of the law of James, many of them suffered the loss of personal liberty, and of all their substance, and were exposed to very hard and illicit treatment. The case of Thomas Goodyear, and Benjamin Staples, at the quarter-sessions at Oxford, is a striking instance of this. Thomas Goodyear, after receiving the sentence of premunire, was brought into court, like a common malefactor, with holts on bis legs, and on asking, “whether the jailer had orders to fetter him :” he was answered, “The jailer may do as he will with you, for you are out of the king's protection.” This man, encouraged by the example of his superior, when he brought them back to the prison, told the other prisoners, “that if they wanted clothes, they, might take theirs off their backs, for they can have no law against you." But one of the prisoners humanely answered, he would rather go naked, than strip honest men of their clothes, who were stripped of all they had beșide.t

It is but candid, however, to remark that, though the justices and inferior magistrates, from their bitterness against the Nonconformists, were disposed, in some cases, to put the 35th of Elizabeth in full force, yet the instances of enforcing this law, through the intervention of higher authority, were not many, nor equally encouraged with other modes of prosecution ; as the full enforcing thereof must have terminated in public executions. I * Gougli's History, vol. 1. p. 457-466.

+ Ibid. p. 531. 533. # Ibid. p. 537.

But notwithstanding this instance of moderation, violent prejudices against the Quakers were so universal, that they were left unmolested in few or no parts of the kingdom, In 1662, Mr. George Fox represented to the king, that since his restoration three thousand and sixty-eight of their friends had been imprisoned. A narrative signed by twelve witnesses, attested that four thousand two hundred of those called Quakers, both men and women, were in prison. No age or sex found commiseration. Men of seventy, or more years old, were subjected to all the rigours of a jail. In London and its suburbs, five hundred were, at this time, confined ; suffering every severity, their trades ruined, and their families exposed to ruin. The treatment of this people, even in this city, resembled the French dragoonings of the Hugonots, rather than the condition of those who were entitled to the privileges of a constitution limited to legal rule. They were beaten with cudgels, cut with swords, and dragged into the streets; there they lay in the kennels, senseless and helpless, besmeared with their blood: and the passengers and spectators, moved by the sight of their condition, would sometimes cry out shame upon the perpetrators, that such a resemblance of massacre should be committed in the streets of London. Some, for these expressions of compassion, had their share of the like treatment. The soldiers being asked, why they could be so cruel to their neighbours ? one of them answered, “ Nay, we are more merciful than we ought to be, for we have orders to kill; and that his musket was double charged, as most of those of the party were to his knowledge." Through this treatment, some who were haled out of the meeting'at Bull. and-Mouth, 31st of August, 1662, were so disabled as to keep their beds for some time: one was so wounded in the head that his brains were visible, and one died of the bruises and wounds he received. The coroner's jury, which was impanelled to view the body, broke up without giving a verdict; alleging as their reason, that if they pronounced it wilful murder, and the perpetrator could not be found, the city would be liable to a fine. The king, when an account of these barbarous transaetions was presented to him by one of the society, said, 5. I assure you, it was not by my advice, that any of your friends should be slain; you must tell the magistrates of the city of it, and prosecute the law

VOL. y.

against them.” The mayor was, by letter, duly apprized of these proceedings, but afforded no redress. The letter, accompanied by a narrative, was printed and published; for which the author was committed to Newgate by sir Richard Brown, the mayor, on the charge of dispersing scandalous papers.*

After the murder we bave mentioned, the meetings in the city were generally undisturbed for six weeks ; then similar practices of injustice and cruelty were renewed, under the sanction of the magistrates, and continued nearly to the end of the year 1662. By this time no less than twenty persons had died prisoners in Newgate, and seven more by sickness contracted there soon after their discharge.t

The king's declaration of indulgence retarded, in 1663, the furious career of the persecuting magistrates; and few instances of sufferings in the metropolis occur in this year, compared with the preceding. Yet the Quakers did not remain quite unmolested; for sir John Robinson, who preceded sir R. Brown in the mayoralty, ordered a guard to be. placed at the entrance of the Bull-and-Mouth meetinghouse, to prevent any persons from entering into it. The meetings on this were held in the streets; but those who preached or prayed were generally haled away to prison, and blows were unmercifully dealt on the heads both of men and women, who did not disperse at the command of the mayor and his officers. In this year there was also a severe persecution of this people at Colchester in Essex. Their meetings were interrupted by acts of violence: and many were disabled and bruised, and the lives of others were brought into great danger by blows with clubs, car-, bines, and swords. One of them, when a trooper was beating him with a sword, and the blade fell out of the hilt, took it and gave it to him, saying, “ I will give it thee up again ; I desire the Lord may not lay this day's work to thy charge." I

The operation of the conventicle, act, passed in 1664, though levelled at every body of dissenters, fell with peculiar weight on the Quakers ; numbers of them, and of them only, were condemned to transportation upon this act; and the proceedings against them were conducted with peculiar * Googb, vol. 1. p. 538-546.

# Ibid. vol. 2. p. 1, 2. Ibid. vol. 2. p. 91_24.

and hostile precipitancy. For, " as the penalty for the first offence was imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months, and for the second not exceeding six, at the arbitrary discretion of two justices;" it was usual for these justices to commit them for a few days for the first and second offences, not out of tenderness, but in order to subject them more speedily to the penalty of transportation for the third offence. For, from their long-approved constancy, they promised themselves an assurance of finding them again at their religious assemblies, as soon as at liberty.* The privileges of the subject were held at this time by so precarious a tenure, that the history of this society furnishes instances of the judges refusing to accept the verdict of the grand jury, when they have returned the bill ignoramus; and of bis sending them out again with menaces and fresh instructions. The evidence produced against them, on their trial, was sometimes so insufficient, that the jury remonstrated against it, and entreated not to be troubled any more with such evidence. When neither persuasions nor menaces could induce a jury to alter their verdict to the dictates of the court, some of them were bound in 1001. each to appear at the King's-bench-bar the first day of the following term.

The awful visitation of Providence, by a destructive pestilence in 1665, had no effect in softening the enmity of their persecutors. Persecution continued, and the meetings were disturbed as before. Many who were cast into the filthy holes of Newgate were released by this disease, which had infected the jails, from a life'worse than death. “But (says my author), what must fix an indelible stamp of utter insensibility to every motive of humanity, of civility, or common decency, on the characters of the magistrates, to the disgrace of the government, and of that church with which they were so zealous to enforce conformity, was, that during the very height of the contagion, they continued to crowd the infected prisons with fresh prisoners."

In 1668, the Quakers were not, in comparison with former years, much disturbed by the civil power; their sufferings were mostly by excommunications, imprisonments, and dis

* Gough, vol. 2. p. 112, 116.

Ibid. p. 128, 129.

+ Ibid. p. 117, 118, § Ibid. p. 139, 140.

[ocr errors]

traints, for their conscientious scruples against paying ecclesiastical demands, several of which, however, were unreasonably severe.

The third act against conventicles, which was carried into a law in 1670, opened new scenes of persecution, in which the Quakers had their peculiar share. Many were cruelly spoiled of their property; people of considerable substance were reduced to extreme poverty; and the sick had their beds taken from under them, and were reduced to lie on the floor. When the sufferers, according to the privilege allowed by the act, appealed against the heavy fines and the exorbitant distraints, they generally obtained little by the appeal but additional loss. The influence of the convicting justice, the partiality of the bench, corrupt juries, or a neglect in putting into due execution the decrees of the quarter-sessions, to which they appealed, left them unredressed. A misconstruction of the word couventicles, which the act limited to meetings for religious worship, contrary to the liturgy of the church of England, often exposed them to illegal fines; for, if they met merely to provide for their poor, or visited a sick friend, or attended the funerals of the deceased, there were not wanting informers hardy enough to swear such meetings conventicles, nor justices prejudiced against them to issue their warrants to levy the fines accordingly; of which Mr. Gough gires various instances* The penalty on the preacher being 201. for the first offence, and 401. for the second, the desire of gain often tempted the unprincipled informer to swear against a preacher, when there was not a word spoken in the meeting. At other times, a word spoken, though not on subjects of religion, was termed preaching ; and an answer to an impertinent question, extorted from some one or other present, bore the same construction. The magistrates were as ready to fine as the informer to swear; and, by this iniquitous combination, the innocent were robbed under the cover of an act of parliament. It is a pleasure to find, and truth requires one to add, that some justices, apprized of the villany of the informers, had too much honour to encourage their vicious disposition to plunder without mercy, and to swear without scruple. The lord-mayor of London, in particular, sitting in a court of aldermen, in the year 1670, * Gough's History, vol. 2. p. 305--316.

4 Ibid. p. 316-318.

« PreviousContinue »