Henry Oldenburg’s (c.1618–1677) false imprisonment

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.

De Laune (d. 1685) Done to Death

Title page of an 1834 reprint of De Laune’s Plea

Where Protestants state churches existed, Protestants persecuted Protestants who differed from the official theology. The account of De Laune shows how bad it could get. Doctor Calamy preached a sermon, in which he invited Non-Conformists to show their reasons for dissenting from the Church of England. Thomas De Laune, a notable scholar, took up Calamy’s challenge and penned A Plea for the Nonconformists. He quoted arguments by several Church of England divines explaining why they rejected Roman Catholicism. He showed that the exact same arguments were held by Dissenters (Non-Conformists) in their rejection of the Church of England.

He pointed out the disconnect between Church of England writers who argued against Catholic persecution as “anti-christian, wolfish, and beastly, wholly contrary to Christianity and the lamb-like nature of Christ” but then turned around and persecuted Protestants who held different views from themselves. De Laune’s peaceable work, which asked only to be allowed to worship according to conscience, met a hostile and fateful reception.

De Laune was seized and imprisoned, charged with “contriving and intending to disquiet and disturb the peace and common tranquillity of this kingdom of England, &c.; to bring our said Lord the King into the greatest hate and contempt of his subjects; machining and farther intending to move, stir up, and procure, sedition and rebellion, and to disparage and scandalize the Book of Common Prayer, &c, by force and arms, &c; having unlawfully, seditiously, and maliciously written, printed, and published, and caused to be written, printed, and published, a certain false, seditious, and scandalous libel, of and concerning our said Lord the King, and the Book of Common Prayer, aforesaid, intitled A Plea for the Nonconformists.

Fined more money than he could raise, he was held in Newgate. His wife and children joined him in prison. The foul air of the place combined with hunger to kill his family. Six weeks after the last of them died, De Laune also died. 

Here is an excerpt from his Plea.

Thus, Sir, you have something which the Dissenters have to say for themselves, hoping it shall not be judged either unreasonable or unseasonable to present to you this their just defence, and give you thus the merits of the cause, not only from your call so to do, (and a silence thereupon might either bespeak consenting guilt, or prevent a satisfying reply to our conscientious scruples,) but also the many severe pressures and sufferings we lie under from you for our nonconformity, which may plead some excuse for this modest plea; and losers being admitted the liberty of speech, as sick men to groan, and the afflicted to cry; therefore may we not hope for a fair admission of our plaint for present, as better usage for the future, since we have not to do with savage Indians; but with our own countrymen, neighbours, fellow-citizens, acquaintance, relations, gentlemen, scholars; with men professing the same protestant religion with ourselves, and with so many who have offered reasons and arguments to us, and may therefore hope they will receive it from us,(how else can they answer our scruples,) and not stop our mouths with gaols, pillories, and halters, (say what they please to render us and our principles obnoxious, and refuse and reject our just defence, it being below common ingenuity to challenge an adversary to the field, and when he appears, cause him to be disarmed, gagged, and bound, and then manfully cudgel him, and boast of a conquest—far be it from us so to think,) and particularly since you yourselves lie under the same censure of schism, heresy, and sedition, from the popish party, as we from you, and have given the same arguments to justify your separation from them, as we from you, so that there wants nothing but demonstration, candour, and charity to set all honest protestants to rights.  

Inspector of Forests (Late Nineteenth Century) Exhibits Joy in a Chain Gang

Lord Radstock. It was through his influence the Russian revival began, in which the Inspector of Forests was converted. Mrs. Edward Trotter, Lord Radstock, an interpretation and a record (London: Hodder & Stoughton, c. 1914).

I wish we could furnish the name and a photo of the man featured in this story. We cannot. But we are convinced that, although he was considered a nobody in this world, God not only knows his name but has a new one reserved for him in heaven.

Excerpt from Mrs. Edward Trotter’s Lord Radstock: an Interpretation and a Record.

During the revivals with which Lord Radstock was connected in Russia, the meetings in St. Petersburg were like those of the Primitive Church, and remarkable and instantaneous were the answers. A woman possessed and blaspheming became infuriated when brought among the praying band; but the intercessors continued until midnight. At last the evil spirit was cast out and she fell senseless to the ground. She became an earnest Christian, and her husband, a drunkard and a skeptic, seeing the miracle performed on his wife, came to the meeting, was delivered from drink and eventually became Inspector of Colonel Paschkoff’s forest near Moscow.

Here he discovered great dishonesty, and the guilty parties, to revenge themselves, accused him to the police of blaspheming icons, which was a great crime in Russia. Though innocent, he was sentenced to exile in Siberia for life. Chained to a gang of desperate characters to march a thousand miles on foot in cold that was 20° to 40° below zero, all hope of human help was abandoned.

Colonel Paschkoff hurried to Moscow to console him, but found him radiant with joy, saying, “How good the Lord is; I have been praying to work among prisoners and this is how my prayer is answered.” Colonel Paschkoff just had time to slip a testament into his hand before he was marched off.

A year later, in 1878, at one of the meetings of the McCall Mission in Paris, a gentleman asked leave to speak. He was a Jew by birth and had been a skeptic but when traveling in Russia some months previously, he had come across a batch of prisoners, one of whom attracted him by his happy face. He heard him say, “It is all joy,” and, astonished, asked him his meaning. The prisoner then spoke of the love of God which filled his soul. “How did he know about this love?” asked the visitor, and the prisoner showed him the testament.

The Jew begged to have it. It was the only book the prisoner possessed, but yielding to his entreaties, he relinquished it. “Now,” said the Jew, “I, too, know that Jesus is the Messiah and the Savior.”

George Thompson (died 1893) Pens Praise Poems in Prison

Detail of the title page of George Thompson’s account of his imprisonment in Missouri. George Thompson, Prison Life and Reflections (Oberlin: James Fitch, 1847)

George Thompson, a seminary student and abolitionist at the Mission Institute in Quincy, Illinois, joined with friends Alanson Work and James E. Burr in an effort to liberate black slaves in Missouri. The slaves betrayed the trio to their masters with the result that all three were arrested around July 1st, 1841. Taken to Palmyra, they were incarcerated until their trial.

George served four years and eleven months in Missouri prisons. While in prison he maintained praise services morning and night and kept a journal which became the nucleus of his Prison Life and Reflections. He also wrote a good deal of doggerel verse which he published under the title The Prison Bard. We present an example of each.

Excerpts from Chapter VI of Prison Life and Reflections.

August 28. “Remember them in bonds as bound with them.” —Heb. xiii. 3.

Those who have never been bound can better sympathize with those who are, by imagining themselves in the same condition. They will then feel for them. We here can, in a small degree, “remember them in bonds as bound with them,” from experience.

1st. We know how the chain feels.

2nd. We know what it is to be at the will of another; to do as others say; receive what they see fit to give; eat and drink what their will supplies, and await their pleasure.

3rd. We understand what it is to be forcibly separated from wife, children, parents, and friends, and denied the sweetness of their society.

4th. To live in uncertainty—not knowing today what they will do with us tomorrow.

5th. To be looked down upon with scorn, reproach, and contempt, by men, women, and little children.

6th. What we now suffer is for trying to benefit the poor, down-trodden slave.

O, that we may feel for them more than we should have done had we not been placed here. I do. I believe I shall.


On the 6th of Sept., court commenced, but our case did not come up till the 10th. There were three reasons for its delay. First: it took some time for the Sheriff to hunt up men for jurors. Second: Confident of the weakness of their case, they had sent to St. Louis for one Crockett, who was paid a large sum, by the voluntary contributions of individuals—and our trial must be delayed till he arrived. But the third, and perhaps most prominent reason was, they could not, for a long time, find any indictment against us, for it had become universally acknowledged, by friends and foes, that we had broken NO LAW of Missouri! And what to do they knew not. To send us to the penitentiary they were determined, but the how puzzled them for a time…

My Cell No. 2 from The Prison Bard

Come ye who love the Savior’s name,
  And joy His praise to swell;
Attend, while I His grace proclaim,
  In this, our “hallowed cell.”

The God of comfort to our hearts,
  Our glory and delight,
A joy unspeakable imparts,
  And new, increasing light.

‘Tis here, we read and sing and pray
  Before the mercy seat;
‘Tis here, we find from day to day,
  With God, communion sweet.


The hoary-headed, hard in sin
  Just bending o’er the grave
Do here, their real lives begin,
  For Him, who died to save.


But O, to hear the converts sing,
  And shout with joyful voice—
To hear them pray, and praise their King,
  The angels must rejoice.


The little band increases fast,
  And sinners crowd the door;
The glorious time has come at last—
  O, Lord, we plead for more.

I love in such a place to dwell—
  These lambs to me are dear.
Glory to Jesus! for my cell
  Hosannah! that I’m here.

O! what is liberty to me
  Or friends, however near?
Since scenes like these I here may see,
  And things like these can hear.

Let those who wish, seek worldly fame,
  And warriors wonders tell;
But give to me, reproach and shame,
  With Jesus and MY CELL.

George Borrow (1803–1881) Threatens an International Incident when Held in Spanish Prison

Street scene in Segovia, Spain, from George Borrow’s The Bible in Spain, vol II (London: John Murray, 1896).

George Borrow had been a friend of gypsies, an agnostic, a brilliant, self-taught linguist and starving author before abruptly professing a conversion to Christianity and offering his services to the British and Foreign Bible Society. His first assignment was in Russia, where he prepared a Manchu translation of the Bible in an astonishingly short time.

On his second assignment, in Spain, Borrow risked his life in adventures across the country, during a civil war, distributing Bibles. At the instigation of priests, he was arrested. An arrogant man (as his own words show), he used the situation to tweak the noses of the Spanish authorities, and viewed himself as a martyr, although it is hard to see him in that light since he could easily have eluded arrest and because he suffered no real hardship or danger while imprisoned. Indeed, he had great leverage, for his imprisonment threatened an international incident. In this unusual case, the prisoner was more powerful than his captors.

Nonetheless, his interesting experiences formed the basis of a vivid book. Here are excerpts from the pertinent chapters (39-42) of his instant best-seller The Bible in Spain.

The Bible In Spain

Chapter 39

At length the Gospel of Saint Luke in the Gypsy language was in a state of readiness. I therefore deposited a certain number of copies in the despacho, and announced them for sale. The Basque, which was by this time also printed, was likewise advertised. For this last work there was little demand. Not so, however, for the Gypsy Luke, of which I could have easily disposed of the whole edition in less than a fortnight. Long, however, before this period had expired, the clergy were up in arms.

[The clergy cause the police to confiscate Borrow’s Bibles. The corrupt police sell them for high prices; Borrow is visited by an official who warns him he is in danger of arrest. Borrow forces him from his apartment and sends him his sombrero by his landlady.]

“A trampa has been laid for you, Don Jorge,” said Maria Diaz [Borrow’s landlady], when she had reascended from the street; “that corchete came here with no other intention than to have a dispute with you; out of every word you have said he will make a long history, as is the custom with these people: indeed he said, as I handed him his hat, that ere twenty-four hours were over, you should see the inside of the prison of Madrid.”

In effect, during the course of the morning, I was told that a warrant had been issued for my apprehension. The prospect of incarceration, however, did not fill me with much dismay; an adventurous life and inveterate habits of wandering having long familiarized me to situations of every kind, so much so as to feel myself quite as comfortable in a prison as in the gilded chamber of palaces; indeed more so, as in the former place I can always add to my store of useful information, whereas in the latter, ennui frequently assails me. I had, moreover, been thinking for some time past of paying a visit to the prison, partly in the hope of being able to say a few words of Christian instruction to the criminals, and partly with the view of making certain investigations in the robber language of Spain, a subject about which I had long felt much curiosity; indeed, I had already made application for admittance into the Carcel de la Corte, but had found the matter surrounded with difficulties, as my friend Ofalia would have said. I rather rejoiced then in the opportunity which was now about to present itself of entering the prison, not in the character of a visitor for an hour, but as a martyr, and as one suffering in the holy cause of religion. I was determined, however, to disappoint my enemies for that day at least, and to render null the threat of the alguazil, that I should be imprisoned within twenty-four hours. I therefore took up my abode for the rest of the day in a celebrated French tavern in the Calle del Caballero de Gracia, which, as it was one of the most fashionable and public places in Madrid, I naturally concluded was one of the last where the corregidor would think of seeking me.

About ten at night, Maria Diaz, to whom I had communicated the place of my retreat, arrived with her son, Juan Lopez. “O senor,” said she on seeing me, “they are already in quest of you; the alcalde of the barrio, with a large comitiva of alguazils and such like people, have just been at our house with a warrant for your imprisonment from the corregidor. They searched the whole house, and were much disappointed at not finding you. Woe is me, what will they do when they catch you?”

“Be under no apprehensions, good Maria,” said I; “you forget that I am an Englishman, and so it seems does the corregidor. Whenever he catches me, depend upon it he will be glad enough to let me go. For the present, however, we will permit him to follow his own course, for the spirit of folly seems to have seized him.”

I slept at the tavern, and in the forenoon of the following day repaired to the embassy, where I had an interview with Sir George, to whom I related every circumstance of the affair. He said that he could scarcely believe that the corregidor entertained any serious intentions of imprisoning me: in the first place, because I had committed no offence; and in the second, because I was not under the jurisdiction of that functionary, but under that of the captain-general, who was alone empowered to decide upon matters which relate to foreigners, and before whom I must be brought in the presence of the consul of my nation. “However,” said he, “there is no knowing to what length these jacks in office may go. I therefore advise you, if you are under any apprehension, to remain as my guest at the embassy for a few days, for here you will be quite safe.” I assured him that I was under no apprehension whatever, having long been accustomed to adventures of this kind. From the apartment of Sir George, I proceeded to that of the first secretary of embassy, Mr. Southern, with whom I entered into conversation. I had scarcely been there a minute when my servant Francisco rushed in, much out of breath, and in violent agitation, exclaiming in Basque, “Niri jauna (master mine), the alguaziloac and the corchetoac, and all the other lapurrac (thieves) are again at the house. They seem half mad, and not being able to find you, are searching your papers, thinking, I suppose, that you are hid among them.”

Mr. Southern here interrupting him, inquired of me what all this meant. Whereupon I told him, saying at the same time, that it was my intention to proceed at once to my lodgings. “But perhaps these fellows will arrest you,” said Mr. S., “before we can interfere.”

“I must take my chance as to that,” I replied, and presently afterwards departed.

Ere, however, I had reached the middle of the street of Alcala, two fellows came up to me, and telling me that I was their prisoner, commanded me to follow them to the office of the corregidor…

[He describes his captors in unflattering terms.]

I waited patiently on the bench at least one hour, expecting every moment to be summoned before my lord the corregidor. I suppose, however, that I was not deemed worthy of being permitted to see so exalted a personage, for at the end of that time, an elderly man, one however evidently of the alguazil genus, came into the room and advanced directly towards me. “Stand up,” said he. I obeyed. “What is your name?” he demanded. I told him. “Then,” he replied, exhibiting a paper which he held in his hand, “Senor, it is the will of his excellency the corregidor that you be forthwith sent to prison.”

He looked at me steadfastly as he spoke, perhaps expecting that I should sink into the earth at the formidable name of prison; I however only smiled. He then delivered the paper, which I suppose was the warrant for my committal, into the hand of one of my two captors, and obeying a sign which they made, I followed them.…

[He describes the efforts made by the British consul to keep him out of prison, and his thoughts on passing a site where reformers were burned in an earlier century.]

We arrived at the prison, which stands in a narrow street not far from the great square. We entered a dusky passage, at the end of which was a wicket door. My conductors knocked, a fierce visage peered through the wicket; there was an exchange of words, and in a few moments I found myself within the prison of Madrid, in a kind of corridor which overlooked at a considerable altitude what appeared to be a court, from which arose a hubbub of voices, and occasionally wild shouts and cries. Within the corridor which served as a kind of office, were several people; one of them sat behind a desk, and to him the alguazils went up, and after discoursing with him some time in low tones, delivered the warrant into his hands. He perused it with attention, then rising he advanced to me. What a figure! He was about forty years of age, and his height might have amounted to some six feet two inches, had he not been curved much after the fashion of the letter S. No weasel ever appeared lanker, and he looked as if a breath of air would have been sufficient to blow him away; his face might certainly have been called handsome, had it not been for its extraordinary and portentous meagreness; his nose was like an eagle’s bill, his teeth white as ivory, his eyes black (Oh how black!) and fraught with a strange expression, his skin was dark, and the hair of his head like the plumage of the raven. A deep quiet smile dwelt continually on his features; but with all the quiet it was a cruel smile, such a one as would have graced the countenance of a Nero. “Mais en revanche personne n’ etoit plus honnete.

“Caballero,” said he, “allow me to introduce myself to you as the alcayde of this prison. I perceive by this paper that I am to have the honor of your company for a time, a short time doubtless, beneath this roof; I hope you will banish every apprehension from your mind. I am charged to treat you with all the respect which is due to the illustrious nation to which you belong, and which a cavalier of such exalted category as yourself is entitled to expect. A needless charge, it is true, as I should only have been too happy of my own accord to have afforded you every comfort and attention. Caballero, you will rather consider yourself here as a guest than a prisoner; you will be permitted to roam over every part of this house whenever you think proper. You will find matters here not altogether below the attention of a philosophic mind! Pray, issue whatever commands you may think fit to the turnkeys and officials, even as if they were your own servants. I will now have the honor of conducting you to your apartment—the only one at present unoccupied. We invariably reserve it for cavaliers of distinction. I am happy to say that my orders are again in consonance with my inclination. No charge whatever will be made for it to you, though the daily hire of it is not unfrequently an ounce of gold. I entreat you, therefore, to follow me, cavalier, who am at all times and seasons the most obedient and devoted of your servants.” Here he took off his hat and bowed profoundly.

Such was the speech of the alcayde of the prison of Madrid; a speech delivered in pure sonorous Castilian, with calmness, gravity, and almost with dignity; a speech which would have done honor to a gentleman of high birth, to Monsieur Basompierre, of the Old Bastile, receiving an Italian prince, or the high constable of the Tower an English duke attainted of high treason. Now, who in the name of wonder was this alcayde?

One of the greatest rascals in all Spain. A fellow who had more than once by his grasping cupidity, and by his curtailment of the miserable rations of the prisoners, caused an insurrection in the court below only to be repressed by bloodshed, and by summoning military aid; a fellow of low birth, who, only five years previous, had been DRUMMER to a band of royalist volunteers!

But Spain is the land of extraordinary characters.

I followed the alcayde to the end of the corridor, where was a massive grated door, on each side of which sat a grim fellow of a turnkey. The door was opened, and turning to the right we proceeded down another corridor, in which were many people walking about, whom I subsequently discovered to be prisoners like myself, but for political offences. At the end of this corridor, which extended the whole length of the patio, we turned into another, and the first apartment in this was the one destined for myself. It was large and lofty, but totally destitute of every species of furniture, with the exception of a huge wooden pitcher, intended to hold my daily allowance of water. “Caballero,”said the alcayde, “the apartment is without furniture, as you see. It is already the third hour of the tarde, I therefore advise you to lose no time in sending to your lodgings for a bed and whatever you may stand in need of, the llavero here shall do your bidding. Caballero, adieu till I see you again.”

I followed his advice, and writing a note in pencil to Maria Diaz, I dispatched it by the llavero, and then sitting down on the wooden pitcher, I fell into a reverie, which continued for a considerable time.

Night arrived, and so did Maria Diaz, attended by two porters and Francisco, all loaded with furniture. A lamp was lighted, charcoal was kindled in the brasero, and the prison gloom was to a certain degree dispelled.

I now left my seat on the pitcher, and sitting down on a chair, proceeded to dispatch some wine and viands, which my good hostess had not forgotten to bring with her. Suddenly Mr. Southern entered. He laughed heartily at finding me engaged in the manner I have described. “B-,” said he, “you are the man to get through the world, for you appear to take all things coolly, and as matters of course.…”

He then informed me that Sir George had already sent in an official note to Ofalia, demanding redress for such a wanton outrage on the person of a British subject. “You must remain in prison,’said he, “tonight, but depend upon it that tomorrow, if you are disposed, you may quit in triumph.”

“I am by no means disposed for any such thing,” I replied. “They have put me in prison for their pleasure, and I intend to remain here for my own.”

“If the confinement is not irksome to you,” said Mr. Southern, “I think, indeed, it will be your wisest plan; the government have committed themselves sadly with regard to you; and, to speak plainly, we are by no means sorry for it. They have on more than one occasion treated ourselves very cavalierly, and we have now, if you continue firm, an excellent opportunity of humbling their insolence. I will instantly acquaint Sir George with your determination, and you shall hear from us early on the morrow.” He then bade me farewell; and flinging myself on my bed, I was soon asleep in the prison of Madrid.

Chapter 40

Ofalia quickly perceived that the imprisonment of a British subject in a manner so illegal as that which had attended my own, was likely to be followed by rather serious consequences.…

[he describes the situation, and a visit from an authority]

I turned to the alcayde, who stood at the door: “Take notice,’said I, “that I will not quit this prison till I have received full satisfaction for being sent hither uncondemned. You may expel me if you please, but any attempt to do so shall be resisted with all the bodily strength of which I am possessed.”

“Your worship is right,” said the alcayde with a bow, but in a low voice.

Sir George, on hearing of this affair, sent me a letter in which he highly commanded my resolution not to leave the prison for the present, at the same time begging me to let him know if there were anything that he could send me from the embassy to render my situation more tolerable.

I will now leave for the present my own immediate affairs, and proceed to give some account of the prison of Madrid and its inmates. …

I shall not attempt to enter into a particular description of the prison of Madrid, indeed it would be quite impossible to describe so irregular and rambling an edifice. Its principal features consisted of two courts, the one behind the other, intended for the great body of the prisoners to take air and recreation in. Three large vaulted dungeons or calabozos occupied three sides of this court, immediately below the corridors of which I have already spoken. These dungeons were roomy enough to contain respectively from one hundred to one hundred and fifty prisoners, who were at night secured therein with lock and bar, but during the day were permitted to roam about the courts as they thought fit. The second court was considerably larger than the first, though it contained but two dungeons, horribly filthy and disgusting places; this second court being used for the reception of the lower grades of thieves. Of the two dungeons one was, if possible, yet more horrible than the other; it was called the gallineria, or chicken coop, and within it every night were pent up the young fry of the prison, wretched boys from seven to fifteen years of age, the greater part almost in a state of nudity. The common bed of all the inmates of these dungeons was the ground, between which and their bodies nothing intervened, save occasionally a manta or horse-cloth, or perhaps a small mattress; this latter luxury was, however, of exceedingly rare occurrence.

Besides the calabozos connected with the courts, were other dungeons in various parts of the prison; some of them quite dark, intended for the reception of those whom it might be deemed expedient to treat with peculiar severity. There was likewise a ward set apart for females. Connected with the principal corridor were many small apartments, where resided prisoners confined for debt or for political offences. And, lastly, there was a small capilla or chapel, in which prisoners cast for death passed the last three days of their existence in company of their ghostly advisers.

I shall not soon forget my first Sunday in prison. Sunday is the gala day of the prison, at least of that of Madrid, and whatever robber finery is to be found within it, is sure to be exhibited on that day of holiness. There is not a set of people in the world more vain than robbers in general, more fond of cutting a figure whenever they have an opportunity, and of attracting the eyes of their fellow creatures by the gallantry of their appearance…

[Borrow here describes several of the prisoners and their audacious crimes and bad ends. Chapter 41 consists almost entirely of Borrow’s interactions with his landlady and a former servant.]

Chapter 42

I remained about three weeks in the prison of Madrid, and then left it. If I had possessed any pride, or harbored any rancor against the party who had consigned me to durance, the manner in which I was restored to liberty would no doubt have been highly gratifying to those evil passions; the government having acknowledged, by a document transmitted to Sir George, that I had been incarcerated on insufficient grounds, and that no stigma attached itself to me from the imprisonment I had undergone; at the same time agreeing to defray all the expenses to which I had been subjected throughout the progress of this affair.

It moreover expressed its willingness to dismiss the individual owing to whose information I had been first arrested, namely, the corchete or police officer who had visited me in my apartments in the Calle de Santiago, and behaved himself in the manner which I have described in a former chapter. I declined, however, to avail myself of this condescension of the government, more especially as I was informed that the individual in question had a wife and family, who, if he were disgraced, would be at once reduced to want. I moreover considered that, in what he had done and said, he had probably only obeyed some private orders which he had received; I therefore freely forgave him, and if he does not retain his situation at the present moment, it is certainly no fault of mine.

[He refuses compensation for his incarceration, not wishing to accept money from the Spanish authorities.]

The heaviest loss which resulted from my confinement, and for which no indemnification could be either offered or received, was in the death of my affectionate and faithful Basque Francisco, who having attended me during the whole time of my imprisonment, caught the pestilential typhus or gaol fever, which was then raging in the Carcel de la Corte, of which he expired within a few days subsequent to my liberation…

It is reasonable to expect that after having been subjected to an imprisonment which my enemies themselves admitted to be unjust, I should in future experience more liberal treatment at their hands than that which they had hitherto adopted towards me. The sole object of my ambition at this time was to procure toleration for the sale of the Gospel in this unhappy and distracted kingdom, and to have attained this end I would not only have consented to twenty such imprisonments in succession, as that which I had undergone, but would gladly have sacrificed life itself. I soon perceived, however, that I was likely to gain nothing by my incarceration; on the contrary, I had become an object of personal dislike to the government since the termination of this affair, which it was probable I had never been before; their pride and vanity were humbled by the concessions which they had been obliged to make in order to avoid a rupture with England. This dislike they were now determined to gratify, by thwarting my views as much as possible. I had an interview with Ofalia on the subject uppermost in my mind: I found him morose and snappish. “It will be for your interest to be still,” said he; “beware! you have already thrown the whole corte into confusion; beware, I repeat; another time you may not escape so easily.”

“Perhaps not,” I replied, “and perhaps I do not wish it; it is a pleasant thing to be persecuted for the Gospel’s sake. I now take the liberty of inquiring whether, if I attempt to circulate the word of God, I am to be interrupted.”

“Of course,” exclaimed Ofalia; “the church forbids such circulation.”

“I shall make the attempt, however,” I exclaimed.

“Do you mean what you say?” demanded Ofalia, arching his eyebrows and elongating his mouth.

“Yes,” I continued, “I shall make the attempt in every village in Spain to which I can penetrate.”

John Brown’s (1800–1859) Final Speech and Prophecy Before Hanging

John Brown ascending the scaffold to be hanged, from Frank Leslie’s illustrated newspaper (1859) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

John Brown, an impassioned opponent of slavery, believed the Bible and his faith required him to do more than talk. He developed a plan to create a small guerilla force in the Virginia mountains from which to harass southern slave owners and propagandize slaves. With 21 other men, he attacked an arsenal at Harper’s Ferry to get the guns and ammunition he needed. He captured it, but before he could escape to the hills, found himself surrounded by a force under Robert E. Lee.

Christian History: Christianity and the Civil War is a reprint of issue 33, covering the faith of participants in the American civil war.

Christianity and the Civil War magazine

Ten of his men died in the ensuing fight. A few escaped. The rest were captured and brought to trial. Such was Brown’s dignified bearing at his trial, that it was slavery which was tried as much as himself. He and the other survivors were sentenced to hang.

Final Speech

I have, may it please the Court, a few words to say.

In the first place, I deny everything but what I have all along admitted, the design on my part to free the slaves. I intended certainly to have made a clean thing of that matter, as I did last winter, when I went into Missouri and there took slaves without the snapping of a gun on either side, moved them through the country, and finally left them in Canada. I designed to have done the same thing again, on a larger scale. That was all I intended. I never did intend murder, or treason, or the destruction of property, or to excite or incite slaves to rebellion, or to make insurrection.

I have another objection; and that is, it is unjust that I should suffer such a penalty. Had I interfered in the manner which I admit, and which I admit has been fairly proved (for I admire the truthfulness and candor of the greater portion of the witnesses who have testified in this case), had I so interfered in behalf of the rich, the powerful, the intelligent, the so-called great, or in behalf of any of their friends, either father, mother, brother, sister, wife, or children, or any of that class, and suffered and sacrificed what I have in this interference, it would have been all right; and every man in this court would have deemed it an act worthy of reward rather than punishment.
This court acknowledges, as I suppose, the validity of the law of God. I see a book kissed here which I suppose to be the Bible, or at least the New Testament. That teaches me that all things whatsoever I would that men should do to me, I should do even so to them. It teaches me, further, to “remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them.” I endeavored to act up to that instruction. I say, I am yet too young to understand that God is any respecter of persons. I believe that to have interfered as I have done as I have always freely admitted I have done in behalf of His despised poor, was not wrong, but right. Now, if it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle my blood further with the blood of my children and with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments, I submit; so let it be done!

Let me say one word further.

I feel entirely satisfied with the treatment I have received on my trial. Considering all the circumstances. it has been more generous than I expected. But I feel no consciousness of guilt. I have stated from the first what was my intention and what was not. I never had any design against the life of any person, nor any disposition to commit treason, or excite slaves to rebel, or make any general insurrection. I never encouraged any man to do so, but always discouraged any idea of that kind.

Let me say, also, a word in regard to the statements made by some of those connected with me. I hear it has been stated by some of them that I have induced them to join me. But the contrary is true. I do not say this to injure them, but as regretting their weakness. There is not one of them but joined me of his own accord, and the greater part of them at their own expense. A number of them I never saw, and never had a word of conversation with, till the day they came to me; and that was for the purpose I have stated.

Now I have done.

On his way to be hanged, he pressed this far-seeing (if strangely punctuated) note into someone’s hand.

John Brown’s Final Note

Charlestown, Va. 2nd December, 1859. I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land: will never be purged away; but with Blood. I had as I now think: vainly flattered myself that without very much bloodshed; it might be done.

Silvio Pellico (1789–1854) Determines to Live as a Christian in Prison

“Arrest of Silvio Pellico and Piero Maroncelli” by Carlo Felice Biscarra [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

For supporting an organization called the “Charcoal Burners” (the Carbonari) which conspired to bring revolution to Naples, Pellico was arrested by the Austrians and thrown into prison. Austria had decreed death to anyone who belonged to a secret organization and severe punishment to supporters; Pellico did not know whether he would be jailed or executed. As it turned out he was jailed.

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He would write a moving account of his experiences, under the title, My Prisons (Le Mie Prigioni). The following is chapter 3 from a translation titled My Ten Years’ Imprisonment.

My Prisons, Chapter 3

To awake the first night in a prison is a horrible thing. Is it possible, I murmured, trying to collect my thoughts, is it possible I am here? Is not all that passed a dream? Did they really seize me yesterday? Was it I whom they examined from morning till night, who am doomed to the same process day after day, and who wept so bitterly last night when I thought of my dear parents? Slumber, the unbroken silence, and rest had, in restoring my mental powers, added incalculably to the capability of reflecting, and, consequently, of grief. There was nothing to distract my attention; my fancy grew busy with absent forms, and pictured, to my eye the pain and terror of my father and mother, and of all dear to me, on first hearing the tidings of my arrest.

At this moment, said I, they are sleeping in peace; or perhaps, anxiety for me may keep them watching, yet little anticipating the fate to which I am here consigned. Happy for them, were it the will of God, that they should cease to exist ere they hear of this horrible misfortune. Who will give them strength to bear it? Some inward voice seemed to whisper me, He whom the afflicted look up to, love and acknowledge in their hearts; who enabled a mother to follow her son to the mount of Golgotha, and to stand under His cross. He, the friend of the unhappy, the friend of man.

Strange this should be the first time I truly felt the power of religion in my heart; and to filial love did I owe this consolation. Though not ill-disposed, I had hitherto been little impressed with its truth, and had not well adhered to it. All common-place objections I estimated at their just value, yet there were many doubts and sophisms which had shaken my faith. It was long, indeed, since they had ceased to trouble my belief in the existence of the Deity; and persuaded of this, it followed necessarily, as part of His eternal justice, that there must be another life for man who suffers so unjustly here. Hence, I argued, the sovereign reason in man for aspiring to the possession of that second life; and hence, too, a worship founded on the love of God, and of his neighbour, and an unceasing impulse to dignify his nature by generous sacrifices. I had already made myself familiar with this doctrine, and I now repeated, “And what else is Christianity but this constant ambition to elevate and dignify our nature?” and I was astonished, when I reflected how pure, how philosophical, and how invulnerable the essence of Christianity manifested itself, that there could come an epoch when philosophy dared to assert, “From this time forth I will stand instead of a religion like this.” And in what manner—by inculcating vice? Certainly not. By teaching virtue? Why that will be to teach us to love God and our neighbor; and that is precisely what Christianity has already done, on far higher and purer motives. Yet, notwithstanding such had, for years, been my opinion, I had failed to draw the conclusion, Then be a Christian! No longer let corruption and abuses, the work of man, deter you; no longer make stumbling-blocks of little points of doctrine, since the principal point, made thus irresistibly clear, is to love God and your neighbor.

In prison I finally determined to admit this conclusion, and I admitted it. The fear, indeed, of appearing to others more religious than I had before been, and to yield more to misfortune than to conviction, made me sometimes hesitate; but feeling that I had done no wrong, I felt no debasement, and cared nothing to encounter the possible reproaches I had not deserved, resolving henceforward to declare myself openly a Christian.

Adoniram Judson (1788–1850) Tortured in Burmese Prisons

Judson in prison at Oung-pen-la, from George Winfred Hervey’s The Story of Baptist Missions in Foreign Lands (St. Louis: Chancy R. Barns, 1884).

Adoniram Judson was a pioneering American missionary, and for a many years a household name in the United States. When Burma was battling Britain, Judson was seized as a spy because he was white. In vain Judson protested he was an American. His defence fell on deaf ears.

Christian History Institute will soon be releasing the Judson Torchlighter and we will link this ad to it.

His confinement was so cruel that afterward he did not care to speak of it, saying he would fain consign his memories to oblivion. His son recorded what little Judson had to say about it and added details from the accounts of other victims.

Here is Judson’s brief account.

I was seized on the 8th of June, 1824, in consequence of the war with Bengal, and in company with Dr. Price, three Englishmen, one American, and one Greek, was thrown into the death prison at Ava, where we lay eleven months—nine months in three pairs, and two months in five pairs of fetters. The scenes we witnessed and the sufferings we underwent during that period I would fain consign to oblivion. From the death prison at Ava we were removed to a country prison at Oung-pen-la, ten miles distant, under circumstances of such severe treatment, that one of our number, the Greek, expired on the road; and some of the rest, among whom was myself, were scarcely able to move for several days.

It was the intention of the government in removing us from Ava, to have us sacrificed in order to insure victory over the foreigners; but the sudden disgrace and death of the adviser of that measure prevented its execution. I remained in the Oung-pen-la prison six months in one pair of fetters; at the expiration of which period I was taken out of irons, and sent under a strict guard to the Burmese headquarters at Mah-looan, to act as interpreter and translator. Two months more elapsed, when on my return to Ava, I was released at the instance of Moung Shwa-loo, the north governor of the palace, and put under his charge. During the six weeks that I resided with him the affairs of the government became desperate, the British troops making steady advances on the capital; and after Dr. Price had been twice dispatched to negotiate for peace (a business which I declined as long as possible), I was taken by force and associated with him. We found the British above Pah-gan; and on returning to Ava with their final terms, I had the happiness of procuring the release of the very last of my fellow-prisoners; and on the 21st instant, obtained the reluctant consent of the government to my final departure from Ava with Mrs. Judson.

The following account occurs in Adoniram Judson: A Biography by his son, Edward Judson. Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1894.

…For most of the time of his confinement he was shut up in a loathsome, wretched place. It derived its remarkable, well-selected name, Let-ma-yoon — literally interpreted, Hand, shrink not — from the revolting scenes of cruelty practiced within its walls…The Let-ma-yoon was a building about forty feet long and thirty feet wide. It was five or six feet high along the sides, but as the roof sloped, the center of it was perhaps double that height. There was no ventilation except through the chinks between the boards and through the door, which was generally closed. On the thin roof poured the burning rays of a tropical sun. In this room were confined nearly one hundred prisoners of both sexes and all nationalities. Dr. Price thus describes the impressions he received on entering the prison:

“A little bamboo door opened, and I rose to go toward it. But oh! who can describe my sensations? shackled like a common felon in the care of hangmen the off scouring of the country, turned like a dog into his kennel, my wife, my dear family, left to suffer alone all the rudeness such wretches are capable of. The worst, however, was yet to come; for making the best of my way up the high steps, I was ushered into the grand apartment. Horror of horrors, what a sight! never to my dying day shall I forget the scene: a dim lamp in the midst, just making darkness visible, and discovering to my horrified gaze sixty or seventy wretched objects some in long rows made fast in the stocks, some strung on long poles, some simply fettered; but all sensible of a new acquisition of misery in the approach of a new prisoner. Stupefied, I stopped to gaze, till goaded on, I proceeded toward the farther end, when I again halted. A new and unexpected sight met my eyes. Till now I had been kept in ignorance of the fate of my companions. A long row of white objects, stretched on the floor in a most crowded situation, revealed to me however but too well their sad state, and I was again urged forward. Poor old Rodgers, wishing to retain the end of the bamboo, made way for me to be placed alongside of Mr. Judson.

“‘We all hoped you would have escaped, you were so long coming,’ was the first friendly salutation I had yet received; but alas, it was made by friends whose sympathy was now unavailing.”

The following description of the interior of this jail is given by an English fellow-prisoner of Judson:

“The only articles of furniture the place contained were these: First, and most prominent, was a gigantic row of stocks, similar in its construction to that formerly used in England, but now nearly extinct, though dilapidated specimens may still be seen in some of the marketplaces of our own country towns. It was capable of accommodating more than a dozen occupants, and like a huge alligator opened and shut its jaws with a loud snap upon its prey. Several smaller reptiles, interesting varieties of the same species, lay basking around this monster, each holding by the leg a pair of hapless victims consigned to its custody. There were heavy logs of timber, bored with holes to admit the feet, and fitted with wooden pins to hold them fast. In the center of the apartment was placed a tripod, holding a large earthen cup filled with earth-oil, to be used as a lamp during the night-watches; and lastly, a simple but suspicious looking piece of machinery whose painful uses it was my fate to test before many hours had elapsed. It was merely a long bamboo suspended from the roof by a rope at each end, and worked by blocks or pulleys, to raise or depress it at pleasure.

“Before me, stretched on the floor, lay forty or fifty hapless wretches, whose crimes or misfortunes had brought them into this place of torment. They were all nearly naked, and the half-famished features and skeleton frames of many of them too plainly told the story of their protracted sufferings. Very few were without chains, and some had one or both feet in the stocks besides. A sight of such squalid wretchedness can hardly be imagined. Silence seemed to be the order of the day; perhaps the poor creatures were so engrossed with their own misery that they hardly cared to make any remarks on the intrusion of so unusual an inmate as myself.

“The prison had never been washed, nor even swept, since it was built. So I was told, and have no doubt it was true, for, besides the ocular proof from its present condition, it is certain no attempt was made to cleanse it during my subsequent tenancy of eleven months. This gave a kind of fixedness or permanency to the fetid odors, until the very floors and walls were saturated with them, and joined in emitting the pest. As might have been expected from such a state of things, the place was teeming with creeping vermin to such an extent that very soon reconciled me to the plunder of the greater portion of my dress.”

Surely it was enough for Mr. Judson to be shut up in the hot, stifling stench of a place like this without having his ankles and legs weighted with five pairs of irons, the scars from which he wore to his dying day. He could say with the Apostle Paul, “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” In each pair of fetters the two iron rings were connected by a chain so short that the heel of one foot could hardly be advanced to the toe of the other; and this task could be accomplished only by “shuffling a few inches at a time.” The five pairs of irons weighed about fourteen pounds, and when they were removed after being long worn, there was a strained sensation, the equilibrium of the body seemingly being destroyed, so that the head was too heavy for the feet. Then at nightfall, lest the prisoners should escape, they were “strung” on a bamboo pole.

“When night came on,” writes one of Mr. Judson’s fellow-prisoners, “the ‘Father’ of the establishment, entering, stalked toward our corner. The meaning of the bamboo now became apparent. It was passed between the legs of each individual, and when it had threaded our number, seven in all, a man at each end hoisted it up by the blocks to a height which allowed our shoulders to rest on the ground, while our feet depended from the iron rings of the fetters. The adjustment of the height was left to the judgment of our kind-hearted parent, who stood by to see that it was not high enough to endanger life, nor low enough to exempt from pain.

In the morning, our considerate parent made his appearance, and with his customary grin, lowered the bamboo to within a foot of the floor, to the great relief of our benumbed limbs, in which the blood slowly began again to circulate.”

When Mr. Judson was subjected to these indignities and tortures, he was in the very prime of life — thirty-six years old. He had come to that age when a good physical constitution is thoroughly seasoned and well qualified to endure hardship. He had always taken the best care of his health. Even before leaving America, he had adopted the following rules: First, frequently to inhale large quantities of air, so as to expand the lungs to the uttermost; secondly, daily to sponge the whole body in cold water; and thirdly, and above all, to take systematic exercise in walking.

Again, he had that tough, wiry physique which endures unexpectedly even during prolonged crises. All this was in his favor. But on the other hand, he was a student, unused to suffering hardship. His naturally vigorous constitution had been somewhat enfeebled by ten years of close application to study in a tropical climate, and of late years it had been completely shattered by repeated attacks of fever and ague. He was reared in the cold, bracing air of New England, and during the tedious hours of imprisonment, how often must his memory have projected the sufferings of the Oriental jail against the background of the cool, green hillsides of his childhood!

He was possessed moreover of an active, methodical nature, to which the enforced idleness of twenty-one months must have brought the keenest torture. There was his Burman Bible unfinished, and ten years of work in Rangoon going to pieces in his absence. He longed to be preaching the gospel. Now that he had at last completely mastered the native tongue, he was filled with Jeremiah’s consuming zeal: “His word was in mine heart, and a burning fire shut up in my bones.”

Endowed with a nervous temperament, his nature was exceedingly sensitive to discomfort. One of his fellow-prisoners says: “His painful sensitiveness to anything gross or uncleanly, amounting almost to folly, was an unfortunate virtue to possess, and made him live a life of constant martyrdom.”

A nature amply endowed with these fine sensibilities must have instinctively shrunk from the filth of the dungeon and the squalor of the prisoners; while the constrained and crowded position, night and day, and the galling fetters were almost unendurable.

There was also much to shock his moral nature. He found himself thrown into close association with the basest criminals of the Burman capital. His pure look rested upon their repulsive features, his reluctant ears were filled with their vulgar and blasphemous jests. Besides this, again and again be saw the wretched prisoner tortured with the cord and mallet, and was forced to hear the writhing victim’s shriek of anguish.

He was likewise a man of the strongest and tenderest affections. What keen mental anguish must he have experienced at the thought of his beloved wife threading alone the hot, crowded streets, hourly exposed to the insults of rude Burman officials; day by day bringing or sending food to the jail; assuaging the wretchedness of the prisoners by bribing their keepers; pleading for the release of her husband with one Burman officer after another, and with such pathetic eloquence that on one occasion she melted to tears even the old governor of the prison; carrying her little Maria all the way in her arms to that place never to be forgotten, Oung-pen-la, her only conveyance a rough cart, the violent motion of which, together with the dreadful heat and dust, made her almost distracted; nursing her infant and the little native girls under her care through a course of small-pox: and at last, breaking down herself and brought to death’s door by the same loathsome disease, succeeded by the dread spotted fever!

Add to these horrors of Mr. Judson’s imprisonment the daily and even hourly anticipation of torture and death, and it will be difficult to conceive of a denser cloud of miseries than that which settled down on his devoted head. The prisoners knew that they were arrested as spies. The Burman king and his generals were exasperated by the rapid and unexpected successes of the English army, and Mr. Judson and his fellow-prisoners had every reason to suppose that this pent-up fury would be poured upon their heads. It was customary to question the prisoner with instruments of torture — the cord and the iron mallet. Rumors of a frightful doom were constantly sounding in their ears. Now they heard their keepers during the night sharpening the knives to decapitate the prisoners the next morning; now the roar of their mysterious fellow-prisoner, a huge, starving lioness, convinced them that they were to be executed by being thrown into her cage; now it was reported that they were to be burned up together with their prison as a sacrifice; now that they were to be buried alive at the head of the Burman army in order to insure its victory over the English. The following description by Mr. Gouger of the solemn hour of three, shows the exquisite mental torture to which the prisoners were subjected:

“Within the walls nothing worthy of notice occurred until the hour of three in the afternoon. As this hour approached, we noticed that the talking and jesting of the community gradually died away; all seemed to be under the influence of some powerful restraint, until that fatal hour was announced by the deep tones of a powerful gong suspended in the palace-yard, and a death-like silence prevailed. If a word was spoken it was in a whisper. It seemed as though even breathing was suspended under the control of a panic terror, too deep for expression, which pervaded every bosom. We did not long remain in ignorance of the cause. If any of the prisoners were to suffer death that day, the hour of three was that at which they were taken out for execution. The very manner of it was the acme of cold-blooded cruelty. The hour was scarcely tolled by the gong when the wicket opened, and the hideous figure of a spotted man appeared, who without uttering a word walked straight to his victim, now for the first time probably made acquainted with his doom. As many of these unfortunate people knew no more than ourselves the fate that awaited them, this mystery was terrible and agonizing; each one fearing, up to the last moment, that the stride of the spotted terror might be directed his way. When the culprit disappeared with his conductor, and the prison door closed behind them, those who remained began again to breathe more freely; for another day, at least, their lives were safe.

“I have described this process just as I saw it practiced. On this first day, two men were thus led away in total silence; not a useless question was asked by the one party, nor explanation given by the other; all was too well understood. After this inhuman custom was made known to us, we could not but participate with the rest in their diurnal misgivings, and shudder at the sound of the gong and the apparition of the pahquet. It was a solemn daily lesson of an impressive character, ‘Be ye also ready.'”

James Montgomery (1771–1854) Frisks Along a River Bank Following His Release from Jail

James Montgomery, from Theron Brown and Hezekiah Butterworth’s Story of the Hymns and Tunes (New York: George H. Doran, 1906).

James Montgomery was no criminal, but spent time in prison all the same. He had become editor of a newspaper, the Iris Sheffield, and the jittery British government twice imprisoned him for printing details which it claimed were subversive. The record seems to show that Montgomery had not intended subversion in those particular articles, but that he was sympathetic towrd the French Revolution. Furthermore, he may have authored anonymous satires in support of Parliamentary reform. This kind of agitation was not well-received by the government.

Montgomery also wrote hymns and poems. Asked which of his poetical works would be remembered, he reckoned that none would, unless it were a few of his hymns or religious pieces. However, in his own day, a narrative poem was highly praised, Wordworth writing to him that “From the time I first read your ‘Wanderer in Switzerland,’ I have felt a lively interest in your destiny as a poet.” Today, serious students of English literature know his name, but otherwise he is a footnote, and it is as he said: his hymns find scattered inclusion in hymnals, and little more. The verse which has fared best is one of his carols. You may have sung or heard it: “Angels from the Realms of Glory.” On the whole, Montgomery‘s work was too malencholy and lacking in genius to last.

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Some of the poems which appeared in his first volume of poetry, The Prison Amusements, were written during his incarceration. These are not particularly quotable. Of greater interest are his comments on his first stint in prison, which we reproduce below.

During his first imprisonment, which lasted only three months, he longed greatly for the freedom to walk abroad. His description of his first walk after being unloosed is delightful. And while it has no spiritual power, it has freshness, and any young prisoner might react the same upon release.

Excerpt from The Poetical Works of James Montgomery, 1841

The room which I occupied overlooked the castle walls and gave me ample views of the adjacent country, then passing from the forlornness of winter to the first blooms of a promising spring. From my window I was daily in the habit of marking these, and dwelt with peculiar delight on the well-known walk by the river Ouse, where stood a long range of well-grown trees, beyond which, on the left, lay pasture fields that led towards a wooden windmill, the motion and configuration of whose arns, as the body was turned about, east, west, north and south, to meet the wind from every point, proved the source of very humble, but very dear pleasure to one with whom it was ever as a living thing—the companion of his eye and the inspirer of his thoughts, having more than once suggested grave meditations on the vanity of the world, and the flight of time.

During such reveries, I often purposed that my first ramble, on recovery of my freedom, should be down by that river, under those trees, across the fields beyond, and away to the windmill. And so it came to pass. One fine morning, in the middle of April, I was liberated. Immediately afterwards I sallied forth, and took my walk in that direction—from whence, with feelings which none but an emancipated captive can fully understand, I looked back upon the castle walls, and to the window of that very chamber from which I had been accustomed to look forward, both with the eye and with hope, upon the ground which I was now treading, with a spring in my step as though the very soil were elastic under my feet. While I was thus traversing the fields, not with any apprehension of falling over the verge of the narrow footpath, but from mere wantonness of instinct, in the joy of liberty long wished for, and, though late, come at last, I willfully diverged from the track, crossing it now to the right, then to the left, like a butterfly fluttering here and there, making a long course and little way, just to prove my legs, that they were no longer under restraint, but might tread where and how they pleased; and that I myself was in reality abroad again in the world—not gazing at a section of landscape over stone walls that might not be scaled; nor when, in the castle yard, the ponderous gates, or the small wicket, happened to be opened to let in or let out visitors or captives, looking up the street from a particular point which might not be passed. Now to some wise people this may appear very childish, even in such a stripling as I was then: but the feeling was pure and natural, and the expression innocent and graceful as every unsophisticated emotion and spontaneous manifestation must be.

James Ireland (1745–1806) Endures Insult in Prison for Preaching as a Baptist

Placque beside Ireland’s church. It reads,
In memory of
1746 James Ireland 1806
Minister of the Gospel Born in Edinburgh, Scotland and converted in Frederick County, Va.
Baptized and ordained at Sandy Creek, N.C. Imprisoned at Culpeper,
Va. for preaching the gospel, organizer of Baptist churches,
pastor of Buckmarsh Baptist Church 1786 – 1806
His body lies in Buckmarsh Cemetery near here.
“Whether it be right in the sight of God
to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye,
for we cannot but speak the things
which we have seen and heard.” Acts IV: 19-20
In gratitude for the blessings of spiritual
religion and freedom of conscience won in part through
his sufferings this memorial is erected
by the Baptists of Virginia on the one hundred and twenty-
fifth anniversary of his death, May 5, 1931

James Ireland was one of thirty Baptist preachers imprisoned in Viriginia during the three years 1768–1770. Warned that he would be arrested if he attempted to preach, he counted the cost and preached anyhow. He was standing on a table speaking in the open air when two men seized him and dragged him to prison for preaching without proper authority. The laws under which he was imprisoned had been repealed seventy years earlier, but that mattered little to the authorities. At that time, the Church of England was the established church of Virginia and some bigoted and ungodly churchmen were completely opposed to the work of any other denomination and cared not how they thwarted it.

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Housed with roughs and drunks in a cell infested with mice and spiders, Ireland did not have an easy time of it. The jailer, who also owned a local tavern, encouraged the drunks to beat him up. Nonetheless, Ireland persisted in preaching through his window bars and drew large audiences. Local authorities sought to break up the crowd by sending horsemen to ride among them, trampling and beating them. The jailer also allowed poisoned food to be delivered to the preacher. Perhaps the most disgraceful action taken against the godly convict was when two of his opponents pulled up a bench and urinated in his face as he tried to preach. In spite of all such abuse, and other attempts on his life (mentioned in the excerpt below), Ireland addressed letters of encouragement to his friends “From My Palace in Culpepper.”

Following William and Mary’s Toleration Act of 1770, Ireland obtained his release, having been incarcerated five months. He went on to become a mighty planter of Baptist churches.

The following excerpt is from a compendium by Raleigh Travers Green and Philip Slaughter.

Excerpt from Genealogical and historical notes on Culpeper county, Virginia

In 1769 or 1770, at a meeting in Pittsylvania County, Mr. Ireland was baptised by the Rev’d Samuel Harris, immediately returned to his home with credentials signed by eleven ministers, “and in the spirit and power of his Master devoted himself to the great work of preaching the gospel.”

But, his growing popularity and success excited the indignation of those who were in authority and brought down upon his head fierce persecution. “Being roughly seized by order of magistrates, he was thrust into the Culpeper jail because he had dared to preach without the authority or sanction of the bishop.” He was accompanied to prison amid the abuses of his persecutors, and while incarcerated in his cell not only suffered by the inclemency of the weather, but by the personal maltreatment of his foes. They attempted to blow him up with gunpowder, to suffocate him by burning brimstone, etc., at the door and window of his prison, and even to poison him. He states that he might speak of a hundred instances of cruelty which were practiced.