Andrew Bryan, a slave in Savannah, Georgia, became a Christian while listening to another slave preach. Soon Bryan himself began to preach. Afraid that slaves who listened to black preachers would rise up in rebellion, plantation owners whipped and imprisoned Andrew Bryan. Afterward, he held up his hand and declared that he “would freely suffer death for the cause of Christ.” Bryan’s slaveholder was upset at what had been done to Bryan and gave him the use of a barn for church services. Eventually Bryan bought his freedom, gathered a congregation of seven hundred, and built the First Baptist Church of Savannah.
Henry Oldenburg, unpaid secretary of the Royal Society, spent the summer months of 1667 in the tower of London. As secretary, he maintained a voluminous correspondence. He had apparently complained to a foreign correspondent that the English navy had failed to prepare as it should. When the navy suffered humiliation, the government looked for individuals it could blame and fingered Oldenburg among others for treasonous correspondence. Although Oldenburg was not imprisoned for his faith, he was a man of faith and piety—the person who more than any other made the reputation of the young Royal Society, managing most of its scientific correspondence with such candor and tact that strangers were willing to trust their work to him.
It is hard to know whether to hail or to hiss some captives of faith. Such a one was Jean Le Noir (1622–1692). A canonist (specialist in church law) at Seez, France, he accused his superiors of heresy in writings and in sermons. As they were orthodox Catholics, his attacks went nowhere. He himself was attracted to Jansenism, a Catholic reform movement that, like Calvinism, looked back to Augustine’s ideas of predestination and limited free will, but was censured and outlawed by various popes. He forbade the folk of one town to venerate the Virgin, and unloaded on his bishop for allowing jugglers at a Christmas celebration. Eventually his writings and accusations led to legal restrictions. When he failed to abide by these, he was sentenced to the galleys. He issued a moving appeal and his sentence was reduced to imprisonment. He served time in three prisons, dying in captivity in Nantes.
Robert Barclay was one of the sventeenth century’s greatest Quaker theologians and willing to suffer for the faith. He held that the only real Christianity is that in which the Spirit of Christ is present and he rejected any faith that rested on history, liturgy, or doctrinal statements without inner life. He went to prison at least twice for his teachings. In January 1677 he wrote a treatise on universal love while in Abderdeen prison where he was kept. He was held for about five months that time in conditions that were sometimes crowded with little air and less light. In 1679 he was committed to prison again, but held for only a few hours.
As might be expected, he opposed persecution and argued that state authorities have no right to punish people for their conscientious views considering that only God has power over conscience.
Slave owners on St. Thomas (in the Virgin Islands) were suspicious of Moravians who settled as missionaries. Because the Moravians preached to congregations of hundreds of slaves and taught their own slaves to read and write, they feared the missionaries would stir rebellion. Consequently they sought to shut down their work. When Frederic Martin married a couple without first having his ordination countersigned by island authorities, those authorities warned the missionaries they were under close observation. The team was falsely implicated in a robbery. The Moravians would not testify under oath and that became the governor’s pretext to jail them.
Governor Moth threw Friedrich Martin and his co-workers Matthäus Freundlich and his wife Rebecca Shelly Freundlich (a former slave) into prison. Moth released Martin after four weeks because Martin became desperately ill. However he held the other two for over fifteen weeks. By then they were almost dead with starvation and were saved only because Count von Zinzendorf, head of the Moravians, visited the island, learned of their situation, and demanded their release.
As a teenager, the British accepted Prince Owusu-Ansa of the Asante tribe of the Gold Coast (Ghana), as a “hostage.” The British intended to prepare the young man to act as a peacemaker between Britain and his own people. Educated in Cape Coast and later in Great Britain (with permission of the Asantehene—i.e., king of Asante) he became a Christian. Upon his return to the Gold Coast, he worked with Wesleyan Methodist missionaries to evangelize his people. Owusu-Ansa successfully spread Christianity for many years before leaving the ministry to become a councillor to and educator of his people. Most of the captives we mention went to prison for their faith. By contrast, Owusu-Ansa gained his faith during captivity.
In January 1746 authorities locked up Thomas Marsh because members of a church in Canterbury, Connecticut, were about to ordain him as their pastor. Marsh was not an ordained minister within the colony’s established church. A sizable group in Canterbury were unhappy with the establishment “soul-guide” available to them and wanted someone who would preach truth as their consciences said it should be preached.
On his way from England to Portugal to survey the damage done by the great Lisbon earthquake, John Howard was captured by a French privateer. He was cruelly treated. He wrote, “Before we reached Brest I suffered the extremity of thirst, not having for above forty hours one drop of water, nor scarcely a morsel of food. In the castle at Brest I lay six nights upon straw, and observed how cruelly my countrymen were used there and at Morlaix, whither I was carried next; during two months I was at Carhaix upon parole, I corresponded with the English prisoners at Brest, Morlaix, and Dinnan: at the last of these towns were several of our ship’s crew, and my servant. I had sufficient evidence of their being treated with such barbarity that many hundreds had perished, and that thirty-six were buried in a hole at Dinnan in one day.” Continue reading “John Howard reformed Europe’s prisons”
The very thing De Laune feared came upon him. Challenged to respond to England’s persecution of those who dissented from the state religion, he did so but noted that such responses were usually met with violence. You can read his story in the Post-Reformation section under De Laune Done to Death.