Lo-lathrop Family Association Conference
October 13-15, 1989
Wm. Stevens Taber, Jr.
Reprinted from A New Home In Mattakeese: A Guide to Rev. John Lothropp's Barnstable (with permission from author).
Religious freedom, which we take for granted in America today, is not a right enjoyed by everyone in the world. In Iran and Lebanon, in Haiti and Nicaragua, in Sri Lanka and the Punjab, people today still suffer persecution, imprisonment and death for their religious beliefs. At the time of Reverend John Lothropp, such persecution was the lot of virtually all people in the world. The very idea of religious freedom was born in that time and was given life by the struggle and the sacrifice of a handful of English men and women known as Puritans. Reverend John Lothropp was among these people. He was a man with no ambition to shape history and no desire to rebel against authority, but his destiny would compel him into prominence and his unwilling genius would come to shape the religious and secular life of England and America.
Since the time of Richard the second, it had been a crime in England to worship outside of the established church. His successor, Henry IV, had given teeth to Richard's law by providing that persons suspected of such independent worship be burned at the stake. Henry IV's successors, down to James I and Charles I, Kings of England in the time of John Lothropp, all consolidated and strengthened the control of the English throne over the religious life of the English people, claiming that the authority of God flows directly to the King, and from him to the clergy, and from them to the congregation.
The Puritans, by contrast, believed that the authority of God flows not through the King but arises directly from the people of the congregation, and that the people have the right to choose their own minister and to worship as they please. The Puritans also believed that a person should find God in his or her own heart, not externally in the teaching of the church, and that noone should be bound to any congregation by other than his own conscience. As John Wickliffe, the great early reformer of the Christian Church, had taught, to restrain men to a prescribed form of prayer is contrary to the liberty which is granted to them by God.
Now by birth, John Lothropp was a member of the English privileged classes, those people who most benefited from the tyranny against which he would later rebel. He studied at Oxford and Cambridge, the two greatest universities in the world at the time, where he was a protege of Dr. John King, then Bishop of London and Vice Chancellor of Oxford and one of the most powerful men in England. Upon graduation, he was promptly ordained a deacon and curate of the Church of England and took up his pastoral duties at the Egerton Church in Kent. The English countryside in those days was a prosperous and peaceful place, and the life of a clergyman was a privileged and enjoyable one. During his 11 years at Egerton, he took his first wife, Hannah House, he saw four of his children born, and he lived an outwardly peaceful and settled existence. John Lothropp was a gentle man by nature, much loved by his family and friends and passionately in love with life, with the very ordinariness of daily life as much as with its moments of exhilaration. His years in Egerton must have been happy ones indeed. But also during these years, his doubts about the established church, about its rituals, its hierarchies, its authoritarian character, were growing, and his conscience was increasingly troubled.
John Lothropp was originally enrolled to study at Oxford, but in approximately 1602, he had followed his brother Thomas to study at Cambridge. This was one of those seemingly coincidental turns of fate which will shape events for centuries to come. Oxford had previously been a center for religious dissent. Early in the sixteenth century, Elizabeth I had appointed Robert Dudley the Earl of Leicester and Chancellor of Oxford, and Leicester had encouraged religious debate at Oxford. With the death of the Earl of Leicester, however, Oxford became a stronghold of conservative Anglican theology, and remained so when John Lothropp enrolled there, while Cambridge became the center of religious thinking at the cutting edge. John Lothropp must have been exposed at Cambridge to the teachings of the great reformer John Wickliff and to the radical thinking of his contemporaries, and Lothropp's own ideas, about the appropriateness of high religious ceremony, about democracy, and about the importance of the individual conscience in seeking God, had germinated. Upon leaving Cambridge, John Lothropp was appointed to a curate in Kent, and as it happened, the county of Kent was also a hotbed of religious reform, so the beliefs which would ultimately compel John Lothropp to his place in history were nurtured there as well.
Finally, in 1623, with a wife and four children to support, Reverend John threw over the security and comfort of his career in the Church of England and became minister of the First Independent Church of London. The church had been led by the Reverend Henry Jacob. In his last years, however, Jacob resigned as pastor of the church and went to Virginia. Upon his leaving the congregation in 1622, he wrote : "The Lord, I doubt not, will raise up others that shall in time bear witness unto this truth more effectually than I." His words were prophetic, for his successor was Reverend John Lothropp. Two years later, Jacob was dead.
Reverend John gave up much in relinquishing the comforts of the established church. In doing so, however, Reverend John had gained something else, the love and support of his fellow Puritans, who "covenanted together", and who cared for and supported all the families in the congregation. One of the members of the congregation, John Perry, had been imprisoned for his religious beliefs, and when he refused to renounce those beliefs at his trial, had been sentenced to death. He was then the father of four daughters, none older than four. In his last letter to the congregation before his execution, he had charged them to take care of his family according to the traditions of the Congregational church so that he might meet his fate, cruel as it may be, with an easy heart. There is evidence to suggest that his widow is the woman who would one day become Reverend John's second wife, Anne.
Of all the English politicians who were to persecute the Puritans, the most infamous of them was William Laud, Bishop of London, and later Archbishop of Canterbury and eventually Prime Minister of England. Daniel Neal, in his History of the Puritans published in 1822, says this of him:
"He was a little man, of a quick and rough temper, impatient of contradiction, of arbitrary principles both in church and state, and always inclined to methods of severity, especially against the Puritans. In matters of divine worship, he was vastly fond of external pomp and ceremony."
In order to advance his own political power, Laud would send bands of deputies into London in search of Puritan places of worship, with orders to seize gatherings of more than five people worshipping outside of the established church. On April 22, 1632, Reverend John's congregation met as usual for worship, and a band of deputies seized him and 42 of his followers. They were imprisoned in an establishment known as "the Clink". Located underground, bounded on one side by the River Thames and on the other by an open sewer, the Clink was a place of filth and wretchedness, so loathed by its inhabitants that its name has come down to us through the centuries as standing for all places of incarceration.
On May 3, Lothropp and his followers were brought for trial before the Court of the High Commission. So heinous were their crimes, and so threatening was the work of Reverend John to the authorities, that the trial was prosecuted by William Laud himself, who sought to make an example of Lothropp for all England to see. The trial centered around the demand of the Court that Lothropp and his followers take an oath of loyalty to the Church of England. Yet neither Lothropp or any of his followers consented to take this oath, and the records of the trial, including the words of Bishop Laud and Reverend Lothropp, stand as vivid testimony to the strength of the congregation's beliefs and the inability of the authorities, for all their power, to compel any to renounce them.
Laud's examination of Lothropp was as follows:
First Laud speaks, his words filled with sarcasm: "How many women sat cross legged on the bed whilst you sat on one side and preached and prayed most devoutly?"
Lothropp replies, quietly, not proudly: "I keep no such evil company. They were not such women."
Laud continues: "Are you a minister?"
Lothropp replies: "I am."
Laud: "How are you a minister and by whom are you qualified?"
Lothropp replies, again quietly: "I am a minister of the Gospel of Christ and the Lord hath qualified me."
Laud: "Will you lay your hand on the book and take the oath?"
Continued in next column
Laud, again sarcastically, asks Lothropp to produce a license from God: "Mr. Lothropp, you say that the Lord hath qualified you? What authority, what orders have you? The Lord hath qualified you - is that a sufficient answer? You must give a better answer before you and I part."
Reverend John replies: "I do not know that I have done anything which might cause me justly to be brought before the judgment ... of man" (and again refuses to take the oath.)
Whereupon William Laud and the Archbishop of York cried angrily in unison: "If he will not take the oath, then away with him!"
Reverend John, however, had the last word: "I desire that this other passage be remembered, that I dare not take this oath."
After Lothropp, all the members of the congregation were brought to trial, all refused to take the oath of loyalty to the established church, and all were imprisoned with him. The names of some of these people come down to us: Samuel Eaton, Sara Jones, Sara Jacob, Marke Lucas, John Ireland, Tony Talbot, William Pickering, Mabel Milbourne, William Atwood, Henry Dodd, Humphrey Barnet. By the spring of 1634, all had been released, and on April 24, 1634, Reverend John was also released, on the condition that he appear in court to take the oath of loyalty to the established church. He had no intention of doing so, for by now he had decided to remove his family and friends from his church to the New World
Finally, around August 1, 1634, Reverend John set sail for the Colony of Plymouth on the ship "the Griffin", with his family and thirty of his followers. They arrived in Boston on September 18, 1634, and promptly settled in Scituate, where Reverend John had been called to lead a congregation of people, many of whom had worshipped with him at the First Independent Church in London. These were unsettled years for the group, however. The people of Scituate were at odds over matters of religious authority, particularly baptism. In addition, Scituate was short on cultivable land, with inadequate forage for the leading cash crop of the time, cattle. Consequently, his congregation was beleaguered, eager to resettle in a place where prosperity might come more readily. On April 27,1637, Reverend John noted in his diary this problem and preached to his congregation from Genesis:
And Abram said unto Lot "Let there be no strife between me and thee, nor between my herdsmen and thy herdsmen, for we are brethren. Is not the whole of the land before us? Separate thyself, I pray thee, from me. If thou will take the left hand, then I will go to the right. Or if thou will depart to the right hand, then I will go to the left."
Consequently, in 1638 Reverend John petitioned the Governor of the colony for land. Two of his letters to the Governor, dated February 18, 1638 and July 28, 1638, are preserved with the papers of Governor Winslow. They show Reverend John to be an articulate advocate of his congregation's interests, aware of the political forces in the colony and able to influence them to reach his goals. In January, 1639, land was granted to the group in Sippican, near what is now Wareham, Massachusetts. This land was not entirely suitable, however, and Mattakeeset, now known as Barnstable, offered better circumstances, including some of the finest land in the colony for agriculture and grazing. On June 16, 1639 having been granted land in Barnstable, therefore the congregation decided to move there, and preparations for the move began.
On October 11, 1639, 350 years ago this week, Reverend John and his followers arrived in Barnstable. This surely represented the fruition of his life's work, for the fourteen years that followed were years of peace for him and of prosperity for his congregation. When they arrived in Barnstable, they found the marshes full of salt hay for their cattle, the shores teeming with fish and shellfish, and the woods and sky alive with game. Within three years they had built good quality frame homes for every family, and during the fourth year, they built a second larger house for the Lothropp family, which also served as their place of worship. Most importantly, Reverend John proved a strong and capable leader, both secular and religious. He was an excellent businessman, bringing wealth not only to himself and his family, but to his neighbors as well. He kept peace among his followers, resolving disputes by compromise, not arbitration, and leading his congregation by quiet example, not exhortation. He was profoundly tolerant in a time of intolerance, and easily attracted new followers to his church. Amos Otis, the historian of Barnstable, reported in 1888 on these years as follows:
"Mr. Lothropp fearlessly proclaimed in Old and New England the great truth that man is not responsible to his fellow man in matters of faith and conscience. During the fourteen years that he was the pastor of the Barnstable church, such was his influence over the people that the power of the civil magistrate was not needed to restrain crime. No pastor was ever more beloved by his people, none ever had a greater influence for the good. Mr. Lothropp was as distinguished for his worldly wisdom as for his piety. He was a good businessman, and so were all his sons. Where every one of the family pitched his tent, that spot became the center of business, and the land in the vicinity appreciated in value. It is men that make a place, and to Mr. Lothropp in early times, we are more indebted than to any other family."
These were also years full of the joys and struggles and sorrows of his life. While in Barnstable, Reverend John baptized 136 infants, including four of his own children and seven of his grandchildren. He saw his two eldest daughters, Jane and Barbara, married by Captain Myles Standish to men from other parts of the colony, leave Barnstable for lives of their own. He witnessed the death in infancy of his youngest son. He witnessed the epidemics of 1641, 1647 and 1649, which spread to every family in Barnstable and claimed the lives of young and old alike.
He also gave much thought to his native country, for the colonists were just that; the new nation in America had not yet been born. Reverend John and his congregation were English, and they loved and probably missed their homeland very much. Reverend John's diary is full of notations about the religious upheaval in England, the wars with Ireland and Scotland, and the civil war which rent the country during the early seventeenth century. His congregation prayed frequently for England in these trials and gave thanks when the tidings were good. Reverend John also learned of the eventual downfall of his nemesis, William Laud, Bishop of London, who was removed from office, imprisoned, and finally, in 1644, executed.
Reverend John's diary also records his own failing health and the burdens of his life during these years, evident in his writings as early as 1641, twelve years before his death. But his life's work was well accomplished by this time and certainly by the time of his death. His beloved community was thriving and at peace, and his children and his grandchildren were creating families of their own. And what families they proved to be. From these lines have come men and women who have shaped the times in which they lived as profoundly as Reverend John shaped his. Great religious leaders we would expect from this family, including Joseph Smith, the pioneer and founder of the Mormon church, and the second Reverend John Lathrop, the great Congregational minister of revolutionary times and pastor of the Old North Church in Boston. Great soldiers and great statesmen have also arisen from this family. Ulysses S. Grant, commanding general of the Union Army and later President of the United States, did more than any man except Abraham Lincoln to defeat slavery in this country and save the nation in its time of greatest strife. Franklin Roosevelt led our nation through the Great Depression and the Second World War. Oliver Wendel Holmes created much of modern jurisprudence. Other statesmen of this family include John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, Adlai Stevenson III, Sir Robert Borden, Thomas Dewey, George Romney, Kingman Brewster, George Kennan, Wayne Morse, and the present occupant of the White House, George Bush. Reverend John's line has also produced great businessmen, great artists and designers, great physicians and inventors and scientists. Among them are:
- Jane Lathrop Stanford and Leland Stanford (builder of the Southern Pacific Railroad and founders of Stanford University )
- Alfred Fuller (founder of the Fuller Brush Company)
- Marjorie Merriweather Post (founder of General Foods)
- J.P. Morgan, the great financier
- Frederick Law Olmstead ( the greatest of American landscape architects )
- Louis Comfort Tiffany, the great designer
- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the great poet
- Louis Auchincloss, the novelist
- Charles Ives, the great composer
- Georgia O'Keefe, the great contemporary artist
- Benjamin Spock, the great physician and educator
- Eli Whitney, the inventor of the cotton gin
Let us bear in mind, however, at this time of remembering all that has past before us in this family, and reflecting on the accomplishments of the past, that Reverend John would take no great pleasure in knowing that we remember him here today. Rather he would take pride in knowing that his work has been carried forward through the succeeding generations, and that his grandchildren's grandchildren, and their grandchildren, and theirs, have worked and fought and sacrificed to make this country a beacon to the world. Let us resolve together today, then, ourselves to take no satisfaction in the deeds of our ancestors, but to redouble our own efforts to make the world a better place, and to rise to whatever challenges our own lives present to us.
Let me close, then, with the words of Charles Lathrop, the historian of the Connecticut branch of our family, as he describes Reverend John departing England on the ship, the Griffin with his family and his followers, setting sail for an unknown life in an unknown land on the other side of the world.
"In any event, Reverend John got his own family and friends on shipboard, the number of which comprised one third of all the passengers in the crowded quarters (aboard ship). As the Griffin finally cleared the coast and put out to sea, and ... (as) Rev. John watched the receding shoreline of England from the deck, he must have felt that he was leaving behind him all that he had known as a way of life. (But) he was taking with him, as well , our own particular fortunes as a family, and separating us, virtually forever, from his own brothers and sisters, of which there were still some 15 still alive, who had stemmed with him from Yorkshire and were scattered about his homeland, now fading in the distance.
Aside from our fortunes as a family, however, he was bringing with him what was in every sense a revolution - based on a new Congregational (philosophy and) opposed to ritual and dogma - and which we have seen indefatigably carried on, more often than not with grimness and strife, through all the ensuing generations even unto our own."
Huntington, Rev. Elijah Baldwin, A Genealogical Memoir Of The Lo-lathrop Family, Ridgefield, Connecticut, 1884 [More]
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Morton, Nathaniel, New England Memorial [More]
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Neal,Daniel, A History Of The Puritans Or Protestant Non - Conformists, New York, 1855
Neal, Daniel, History Of New England [More]
Otis, Amos, Genealogical Notes Of Barnstable Families, 1888 [More]
Price, Richard, John Lothropp, A Puritan Biography And Genealogy, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1984 [More]
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Sprague, William B., DD, The Annals Of The American Pulpit, 1857 [More]