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.”
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 Dennison, ‘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.”
Resources and further reading:
- Walking in the Way of Peace : Quaker Pacifism in the Seventeenth Century
- New England Historical Society: Shattuck and the Devil trop to stop Quaker Persecution in New England
- Salem Patch: Whittier’s The King’s Missive
- Ipswich in the Massachusetts Bay Colony
- Memorials of the Descendents of William Shattuck
- Wikipedia: John Norton (Divine)
- Whittier, the King’s Missive
- Hallowell, Richard P., The Quaker Invasion of Massachusetts, 1887
- The City upon a Hill under Siege: The Puritan Perception of the Quaker Threat to Massachusetts Bay, 1656-1661
- Quakers fight for religious freedom in Puritan Massachusetts, 1656-1661
- The Boston Martyrs