Thursday, April 23, 2020

A Baptist Pastor Resisting Government Overreach

Pastor Obadiah Holmes about to be whipped (AD 1651)
The following article is courtesy of the New England Historical Society

It's the story of a Baptist pastor in America who became an enemy of the state. The brutal treatment he received at the hands of a tyrannical government, all in the name of public good, became the impetus for America's "separation of church and state." 

It's a story that not many people know, but many have heard of this Baptist pastor's great-grandson (5x) - President Abraham Lincoln.

In our day of unconstitutional government overreach, I offer up the story of Obadiah Holmes


The Puritan leaders of Massachusetts viewed Obadiah Holmes as a loathsome Baptist, and they ordered him whipped 30 times in public. They probably should have thought twice about doing so.

In Puritan eyes, crimes against their religion were far worse than crimes against property. They punished blasphemy with the whip, the Bilbo, the brand or the ear Hcrop.

But the savage beating of Obadiah Holmes brought international attention to the very ideas the Puritans wanted to suppress.

As he stood at the whipping post, Obadiah Holmes provoked a Puritan magistrate to a debate over his beliefs. Several centuries later, one of his descendants would ride his debating skill to the presidency of the United States.

Obadiah Holmes was baptized March 18, 1610, in Didsbury, England in the county of Lancashire. He had a restless soul, a pugnacious spirit, a hot temper and a tendency to find fault. As a boy, he rebelled against his religious parents. “I minded nothing but folly, and vanity,” he wrote. After his mother died, he blamed himself for her death and changed his ways.
At 21, Obadiah Holmes married Katherine Hyde, and they had nine children. Together they ‘braved the dangers of the sea’ to come to Massachusetts in the Great Puritan Migration. He started a glassmaking business in Salem, but moved to Rehoboth in Plymouth Colony. There he led a small group of Baptists who opposed infant baptism.

A grand jury — included William Bradford, John Alden and Miles Standish — indicted Obadiah Holmes for heresy. So he and his family left Plymouth for Newport, R.I., in 1650.

In Newport he quickly associated with Baptist ministers John Crandall and John Clarke, a prominent advocate of religious freedom.

The Fateful Trip to Lynn

In the summer of 1651, the three men took a mission trip to an elderly Baptist man in the town of Lynn, just north of Boston. While they held a small religious service in the old man’s home, two constables burst in, arrested them and took them to jail in Boston.

A court found the three men guilty of a half-dozen crimes of heresy and fined John Clarke 20 pounds, John Crandall 5 pounds and Obadiah Holmes 30 pounds. Friends of Clarke and Crandall paid the fine. Holmes refused to let them.

On July 31, 1651, a magistrate sentenced Obadiah Holmes to 30 lashes, one for each pound he owed. Holmes proclaimed,“I bless God I am counted worthy to suffer for the name of Jesus.”

Obadiah Holmes awaited his whipping for five weeks in a Boston jail. Roger Williams heard about his sentence, and he sent a blistering letter to Gov. Endecott for persecuting people for their religious beliefs.

The Whipping

On Sept. 5, 1651, a crowd gathered around the whipping post in Boston to watch the flogging. Obadiah Holmes asked to speak, but Magistrate Encrease Nowell refused. Holmes spoke anyway, saying he was about to shed his blood for what he believed. Nowell said it was no time for debate.
“I am to suffer for … the Word of God and testimony of Jesus Christ,” said Obadiah Holmes.
“No, it is for your error and going about to seduce the people,” Nowell said.
The two men continued to debate as the executioner tore off Holmes’ clothes.

Then the executioner tied him to the whipping post and lashed him 30 times with a three-corded whip.

When the whipping ended, a bleeding, panting Obadiah Holmes said:
 "You have struck me as with roses."
The whipping left his skin so raw and painful he couldn’t lie down, but rested on his knees and elbows for days.

“Those who have seen the scars on Mr. Holmes’ back (which the old man was wont to call the marks of the Lord Jesus), have expressed a wonder that he should live,” wrote Joseph Jenckes, a Rhode Island governor.

After Obadiah Holmes recovered enough to travel, he returned to Newport where family and friends welcomed him four miles outside the town. The next year he took over as pastor of the Newport Church, the second Baptist church in America. He held the position for 30 years until his death.
An Ill Wind

News spread fast and far about the savage whipping and the persecution of the Baptists in Massachusetts. In the end it resulted in more, not less, religious freedom.

If the Puritans intended to intimidate heretics by it, they failed. Two years after the whipping of Obadiah Holmes, Harvard President Henry Dunster wouldn’t have his infant son baptized.

John Clarke turned the persecution of Baptists into an international cause celebre. He went to England and wrote a book called Ill Newes in New England. It included a letter from Obadiah Holmes describing his whipping.

Richard Saltonstall, a prominent Puritan founder of Massachusetts then in London, read the book. He sent a letter to the Puritan pastors in the colony and berated them for ‘tyranny and persecutions in New England.’

President Abraham Lincoln
At the time, the dissenters of Rhode Island felt very much persecuted by Connecticut and Massachusetts. The two colonies wanted to divide Rhode Island and absorb it. Rhode Island needed a royal charter to survive.

Clarke spent a decade in England as an agent for the colony of Rhode Island. When King Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660, Clarke lobbied him for a charter. Charles had little use for Puritans. They had, after all, beheaded his father.

Clarke drafted the Rhode Island Royal Charter and Charles approved it in July 1663. The charter granted unprecedented religious freedom in Rhode Island and remained in effect for 180 years.

Obadiah Holmes died Oct. 15, 1682, in Newport, R.I.

His great-great-great-great-great-grandson, Abraham Lincoln, was elected the 16th president of the United States.


Rex Ray said...


It’s a very heart-rendering story. Our country is the better for men like Holmes.

Your post shows a picture that’s over “Obadiah Holmes died…”

But when your post is ‘copy-paste’ the picture moves up three paragraphs.

I imagine since they didn’t have photographs in 1682, the picture is Abraham Lincoln’s.

On a serious note, today on a radio-talk-show, a woman announced her ‘hair salon’ will be open tomorrow. The show’s host said people have threatened to burn her business, and wondered if police will arrest her.

Iowa Steve said...

FYI, it's heart-rending, not rendering

Heart rendering means melting the fat out of your heart

RB Kuter said...

Amazing how the greatest opponents to followers of Jesus are often, perhaps most often, other professing "Christians"!

This brought to mind believers we met in Viet Nam some years ago when the country was more "closed" and oppressed by their government and the church was forced to go underground "except" for the one or two state-sanctioned, institutionalized churches. Those church leaders opposed "evangelism" due to the increased risk of bringing down government attention and its oppression on their "approved" church's limited worship functions.

So those faithful who refused to be stifled continued meeting secretly in homes separate from those government approved leaders of the sanctioned churches. And the Kingdom expanded, not because of those "visible" churches, but because of those stealth house-sized groups of passionate propagators of the Gospel.

Probably a sample of what lies ahead.

Rex Ray said...


I think a more accurate title of the post would be, “A Baptist Pastor Resist Religious Leaders”, because that’s who were in power, and ordered his beating.

I know you want to connect his story to our government today, but how’s this for “unconstitutional government overreach”?

“Governor of Oklahoma prevents any vehicle with New York license plates to enter Oklahoma.”

This week, four more workers in the VA I go to, have COVID-19.

Rex Ray said...


I went to Google to find out details of our Government ‘overreaching’ by putting American Japanese citizens in ‘concentration camps’ during World War II.

But Google wouldn’t let me ask a question. Instead the only thing I could click on was this:

“Protect yourself and others around you by knowing the facts and taking appropriate precautions. Follow advice provided by your local public health agency.

To prevent the spread of COVID-19:
Clean your hands often. Use soap and water, or an alcohol-based hand rub.
Maintain a safe distance from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
Don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth.
Cover your nose and mouth with your bent elbow or a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
Stay home if you feel unwell.
If you have a fever, a cough, and difficulty breathing, seek medical attention. Call in advance.
Follow the directions of your local health authority.
Avoiding unneeded visits to medical facilities allows healthcare systems to operate more effectively, therefore protecting you and others.”

Wade, are you like the man that told his wife? “The whole world’s gone crazy except me and you, and sometimes I wonder about you.” :)

Rex Ray said...

Google worked this time.

More than 112,000 Japanese Americans living on the West Coast were forced into interior camps.

In Hawaii, 1,200 to 1,800 were also interned. The internment is considered to have resulted more from racism than from any security risk posed by Japanese Americans.

California defined anyone with 1/16th or more Japanese lineage as sufficient to be interned.

Colonel Karl Bendetsen, the architect behind the program, went so far as saying anyone with "one drop of Japanese blood" qualified.

20,000 Japanese Americans served in the U.S. Army during World War II.

Wade Burleson said...


As you know, the religious leaders of Massachusetts were the political leaders in Obadiah's day. There was no separation. They were the judges, they were the mayors, they were the governors.

The imprisonment of Japanese American citizens is one of the worst overreaches of the federal government in the history of our country.

Interesting, Rex, about Google! I'm checking that out.

RB Kuter said...

Rex Ray, just watched a series based upon the Japanese held in WW II camps in US. It was pitiful and one questions it's legitimacy. Apparently that policy was not applied across the board. German internment camps were rare with only a few held, probably due to there being so many in the US. Maybe the exaggerated response to the Japanese involved elements of shock from the direct attack on the US at Pearl Harbor and racism due to the visible physical appearance of Japanese as opposed to Germans and Italians. Probably some of all.

Today, there is a similar crazed reaction to extreme crisis like Pearl Harbor and Corona Virus. All sense of logic and rationale disappear and discrimination, accusations, and exploitation surfaces and run rampant. The lowly common citizens are the ones victimized by the out of control mobs of power players, politicians, and opportunists.

This current flu is frightening but the response by governments may be even more reason to be frightened by the display of the willingness and authority to control our personal lives. Unprecedented even over WW I and II. The power of their controlled propaganda media machine is unlimited. I fear it being a view into future trends.

Anonymous said...

"Wade, are you like the man that told his wife? “The whole world’s gone crazy except me and you, and sometimes I wonder about you.” :)"

Rex - believe it or not, Larken Rose actually predicted what is happening today play by play in a book he wrote back in 2005. He reads two minutes of his chapter explaining how tyranny will come to life. Worth the watch!


Rex Ray said...

RB Ruter,

The ‘system’ for my computer is so ‘flakey’ it doesn’t ‘work’ all the time. Sometimes I can’t get Google or Wade’s post, and when I get his post, I can’t get the comments. So I’ll write from my poor memory. The food allotment was 45 cents a day. They worked taking care of crops. One doctor supplied for 200 people. THIS WAS DONE BY PRESIDENT ROOSEVELT’S ORDERS.

(President Truman tried to make ‘amends’ by giving them billions of dollars.)

There’s something about Roosevelt’s actions that only the Lord knows. There was a report that a large fleet of airplanes was headed for Pearl Harbor, BUT IT WAS IGNORED. DID SOMEONE DROP THE FOOTBALL, OR WERE THEY OBEYING ORDERS?

Did Roosevelt want America to hate Japanese and be united in the war he would declare? Was he faking it when he said, “I hate war, Elanor hates war!”

My uncle, Rex Ray, was a missionary to China 30 years and spent time in Japan. At the time Japan was paying big money to America for all the scrap-iron they could buy. He wrote many letters to congress that Japan was using the iron to make weapons to kill Americans.

Rex Ray said...

RB Ruter,

Just heard your link. I know it’s intended to be about the virous, but it also fits what Roosevelt did.

RB Kuter said...

Rex Ray, sorry to hear about your computer woes. Very frustrating.

Regarding WW II and the Japanese attack, there probably has been so much activity going on involving world events that we will never know about including how the US finally became engaged in WW II. The Japanese obviously was intent on ruling the eastern hemisphere at least but we will never know whether they felt pushed to that strategy by the domination of western powers or not.

I mean, the European imperialists, and that is of course what they were in the most basic sense, had taken control of all of Southeast Asia, India, China, and the islands. The Japanese wanted to increase its power and be competitive in the world arena and could not do that without the resources lying under those Asian countries under the control of the "west". The Japanese felt cut out of the feeding trough.

Believe me, I am not trying to defend the Japanese desperate attempt to overrun the world but just saying that there were a LOT of underlying issues and circumstances that really muddy the waters and pretty much make it impossible to see things from a simple "black and white" perspective. I guess that's the way most wars, conflicts and historical events of any significance are. Take the case of Jesus Christ, for example!

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