John Weatherford (c. 1740–1833) Preached from His Prison Cell Window

Historic marker near Weatherford’s burial site

You remember Patrick Henry as the Virginia orator who said, “Give me liberty or give me death.” He was also a champion of religious liberty. Before the American Revolution, some of the colonies had established churches. Virginia’s was the Church of England or Episcopalian Church. Some of its parsons pushed hard to restrict the preaching of other denominations. Persecution was strongest in Chesterfield and Culpeper counties. At one point, 44 Baptists preachers were in jail in Virginia at the same time for ignoring laws against preaching. One of those preachers was John Weatherford. It was Patrick Henry who paid his fines and his prison board, securing his release. Years later, the two men were neighbors.

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John Weatherford spent five months in jail. During that time, he refused to be silenced but preached through the bars of his cell window. The first couple times this happened, the authorities took no action, but when the crowds persisted in gathering, they resorted to the tactics described below by R. H. Winfree.

Excerpt from R. H. Winfree’s Account of Weatherford’s Treatment.

Some base fellows cut his hands with knives as he thrust them through the bars of the prison window. These scars he carried to his grave, being remarked upon by those attending his burial. In order to prevent their (the people) hearing, a brick wall was erected ten or twelve feet high before the prison and the top thereof lined with glass bottles set in mortar to prevent the people from sitting on the top of the wall to hear the Word. Weatherford devised means to overcome this.

A handkerchief was to be raised by the congregation on a pole above the wall, as a signal that the people were ready to hear. His voice being very strong, he could throw it beyond the impediments and convey the words of life and salvation to the listening crowd. Souls were blessed and converted by his preaching. Of those who felt they had experienced the renovating influence of Divine grace, nine wished to follow their Master by being buried in baptism.

Marie Durand (1715–1776) Immured 38 Years for Her Huguenot Faith

Marie Durand’s face was pinched with suffering, by Société de l’Histoire du Protestantisme français [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Imagine being confined in a circular stone prison with few necessities and no comforts. What little light and air you get comes through a six foot circular hole far above your head, through which rain and snow also descend in their season. You receive your food and water through a similar hole in the floor. Smoke from a fire below belches upward through the opening and you toss your refuse down it. Such was the home of Marie Durand and about forty Huguenot women for decades.

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Scratched on the rim of the refuse hole of the Tower of Constance is the French word “Resistez!” Resist! Tradition ascribes this slogan to Marie Durand because she was the most famous inmate of the tower when the slogan appeared.

Merely because her brother was a Huguenot pastor who held Protestant services in his home, she was ripped from her family as a teen—torn from the arms of the husband she had just wed—and flung into prison.

Young as she was, she became the light of the place, and because of her education, was able to act as an agent for the women. And for 38 long years she led the other women in song and prayer. With them she endured the cold of winter and the heat of summer. Letter after letter she wrote, trying to better their condition, and prevailed on the authorities to allow them a book of psalms. The women were allowed to knit, and, curiously, Marie was allowed to write to her outlawed pastor, Paul Rabaut.
If ever there was a prisoner unjustly imprisoned, it would seem to be Marie Durand. But sad as her story was, there was a sadder. One of the inmates was an eight year old girl, imprisoned for forty years because her mother had taken her to a Protestant service.

How bad was their incarceration? Here is an account by the aide-de-camp of Prince de Beauveau. Over the protests of King Louis XV, the Prince indignantly released the captives shartly after taking charge of the Languedoc district in which they were imprisoned.

We found at the entrance to the tower an assiduous doorkeeper. He led us upward by dark and torturous stairways, and at length opened for us with great noise a frightful door, over which one almost read the inscription of Dante, “All hope abandon, ye who enter here.” I have no colors with which to paint the horror of a spectacle to which our eyes were so little used, a picture hideous and at the same time touching, a picture of which the interest was only increased by disgust. We saw a great circular apartment, destitute of air and of daylight, and in that great room forty women languishing in misery, infection, and tears. The governor could scarcely contain his emotion, and for the first time, without doubt, those unfortunate women perceived compassion on a human face. I see them still, at our sudden entrance, like an apparition, all falling at his feet, deluging them with their tears, striving to find words, but able only to express themselves in sobs; then, when emboldened by our sympathy, recounting their common griefs. Alas! Their only crime was that of having been instructed in the same religion as that of Henry IV. The youngest of those martyrs was more than fifty years old. She was only eight years old when she was arrested, because she had gone to a preaching service with her mother, and the punishment was lasting still.

“You are free!” were the words uttered by a loud voice, but a voice trembling with pity, and I was proud that it was the voice of the governor. But, as the most of them were entirely without resources, without experience, without family or friends, these poor captives, astonished by liberty, ran the risk of new misfortunes, and their deliverer at once made provision for their needs.

Marie may have scratched “resist” on the pit, but what she wrote on hearts will last an eternity. She was released as an old woman and cared for by kindly Walloons. Her family home became a Huguenot monument, a testimony of religious steadfastness in the face of unjust ecclesiastical and royal oppression. Here are excerpts from two of Marie’s letters to Pastor Rabaut.

A Letter of 1762.

I have the honor to inform you that many of my fellow-prisoners were obliged to run in debt in their illnesses last year, and that I was in the same condition. I must tell you in truth that then I owed twenty-five crowns. Now I do not owe so much, having paid fifty livres. But God knows what I have gone through for it! All the summer I have done without a gown, apron, shoes, and other necessary things; provided only I can get out of debt before leaving this cruel prison I shall be satisfied.

A letter of 1764.

Sir, very dear and much honored Pastor, it is to you we have recourse; it is to your pastoral kindness I apply for a remedy to prevent an infection which is likely to spread among us…In the name of the divine mercy, use every possible effort to rescue us from our frightful sepulchre. We are in urgent need of all the help you can give…[she continues with kind expressions toward him and his family] Burn my letter if you please. Have the goodness to pray for us, particularly for our sick; the health of nearly all of us is much affected.

Hans Burki (fl. 1710) Describes His Brutal Incarceration

Anabaptist bridge crossing the Combe du Bez above Corgémont; Berne, Switzerland. Memorial plaque at the site of Anabaptist worship in the 17th century during the religious troubles, © Chriusha (Хрюша) / CC-BY-SA-3.0 / via Wikimedia Commons]]

Neither the Swiss Catholics nor the reformed church had no use for Mennonites, however holy their lives; and theyimprisoned and cruelly persecuted many members of the sect. Around 1710 they held almost sixty Mennonite prisoners at Berne. Several Swiss leaders wished to execute these prisoners, but more humane voices prevailed, and instead they were shipped down the Rhine to be transported to America. So brutal had been their incarceration that most were half-starved, sickly, and unfit to travel.

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Compassionate Dutch Mennonites raised money to assist these fellow-believers, and prevailed on the sympathetic government of Holland to take them in. Thus the Mennonites escaped transportation, although many of them later migrated to the United States and Canada.

What follows is the account of one of the arrest and subsequent mistreatment of one of those Mennonites. This account by Burki (Burgholder) is typical of several which have survived.

Hans Burki’s Report

For the remembrance of my descendants and of all my fellow-believers, I Hans Burki, of Langnau, want to relate what happened to me.

I had gone to the mountain called Bluttenried (Community of Langnau), in company with my wife and two sons. There a poor man came to us to whom we gave something to eat; this man subsequently went to Harvag to the authorities and told them that he saw me. Thereupon the Bailiff of Trachselwald sent the traitor with a few others to take me prisoner. They came quite early in the morning to my hut, in which I stood unawares of any evil, and when I noticed the man before the door I had him supplied with something to eat. Then I was made a captive and they took me away from my wife and twelve children and led me to Castle Trachselwald and placed me into a prison or dungeon for four days, during which time I was taken sick.

Then the bailiff with two provosts brought me on a cart into the city of Berne. There they placed me, sick as I was, in the prison, called Ahur. After two days the gentlemen called and questioned me, whereupon I confessed my faith. Then they locked me up alone in a separate hole in the Ahur, and there I lay sick about five weeks, and altogther 17 weeks, in solitary confinement. Thereupon they led me into another prison, named the Island. There I lay during the whole long and cold winter with an unhealthy body, and suffered very much from the intense cold. For a long time I was watched so closely that none of my family or anyone else could come to me, so that my friends did not know whether I was living or dead.

Thereupon, at the beginning of the month of May, 1709, I was brought with all the other prisoners to the hospital, and there, too, I was kept under such close surveillance that only a very few persons could speak to us. We were compelled to work on wool from early morning until late at night, viz: from four o’clock in the morning until eight o’clock at night, and we got nothing to eat and drink but bread and water. This lasted about thirty-flve weeks. Thereafter ten more weeks we were treated less severely.

Then the authorities had us conveyed to the ship, viz: on March 18, 1710, with the design of having us taken to America. The authorities told us that if at any time and by any means we were to return to their country, they would inflict the death penalty on us. Thus the merciful Father has by his strong hand and through the medium of our brethren and friends in Holland, delivered us from our oppressors, as we arrived at Nimewegen, and came to the town where they had to release us. For this we thank the Almighty God and Father of all mercy, who will not forsake all those who place their confidence in him, but will cause them to prosper. The whole time of my imprisonment has been about 21 months, for in the month of July, 1708 I was taken captive, and on the 18th of March, 1710, I was led away from Berne.

Will come to a close here.

Alexander Cruden (1699–1770) Urges Reform of Insane Asylums

Alexander Cruden from A Complete Concordance to the Sacred Scriptures (Blackie and Son, 1863)

Alexander Cruden, a bookseller and corrector of proofs, is famed as the compiler of a useful Bible study tool—the first complete English language concordance of the Bible. Hardworking, loyal and gentle, he was also be obsessive (he titled himself “Alexander the Corrector,” believing God had appointed him to correct English morals); and his obsessive horror of blasphemy once caused him to strike a cursing man with a shovel, leading to one of his three incarcerations in madhouses.

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While it is true that Cruden was obssesive, this weakness gave him the drive to persist in the massive work of single-handedly compiling his concordance. It also once led him to unflagging exertions to save a childlike seaman from the gallows for a petty crime. Another time, his obsession with improving morals caused him to gently reprove a prostitute who accosted him, and his concerned rescued her from her trade.

In 1739, after a woman toyed with his affections and then tired of him, she had Cruden decoyed into a coach and incarcerated at Bethnal Green, a private asylum. At first he was chained by the leg to his bedstead both day and night and his hands were padlocked behind his back or tied up in the long crossed sleeves of his waistcoat, so that he had to feed himself like a dog, and could only get into bed by entering at the foot and wriggling his body up. Later he was chained only at night. Friends were kept from visiting him. A warder struck him such a blow on the face that he almost lost an eye and was weeks recovering. Medical authorities are agreed that his madness was so mild that he should never have been incarcerated at all, certainly not in so harsh a manner.

He recounted his story in a pamphlet with the lengthy title The London Citizen exceedingly injured: giving an account of his severe and long campaign at Bethnal Green for nine weeks and six days; the Citizen being sent there in March, 1738, by Robert Wightman, a notoriously conceited, whimsical man; where he was chained, handcuffed, straight-waistcoated, and imprisoned: with a history of Wightman’s Blind Bench, a sort of Court that met at Wightman’s room, and unaccountably proceeded to pass decrees in relation to the London Citizen, etc.

A copy of this pamphlet was delivered to King George, and is generally credited as one of the factors which prompted the king to initiate reforms in the handling of the insane.

Excerpt from The London Citizen exceedingly injured

Saturday. The prisoner, being still chained night and day to his beadstead in this hot season, and being alarmed with being sent to Bethlehem [Bedlam], happily projected to cut the bedstead through with a knife with which he eats his victuals. He made some progress in it this day.

May 28. Made his own bed himself, very early, to conceal his design.

Monday 29. Again used his knife upon the bedstead.

30th. [He wrote a letter asking for a saw, but prudently did not send it.] Therefore he went to work again, prayed hard and wrought hard till his shirt was almost as wet as if dipt in water; and as if he had received more than Common Vigour and Strength he finished the great operation about four o’clock in the afternoon. Upon which he kneeled down and returned God thanks. He prayed at night that he might awake seasonably for his escape, and slept some hours as soundly as ever he did in his life; committing this affair to God, who have never left nor forsaken him.

Wednesday, May 31st. The Prisoner’s Birthday, he awoke early, performed his devotions, held his chain in his hand, still fastened to his leg, and deliberately got out at the Window into the Garden; mounted the Garden wall with much difficulty, lost one of his slippers, and jumped down into the back way just before the clocks struck two.

Helped by a soldier, he was taken before the Lord Mayor by a constable and a watchman, where Wightman, master of the asylum, demanded his return.

Excerpt from The Wonderful Village

Cruden, almost in despair, fell in his knees before the court, and begged most earnestly not to be delivered into the hands of the cruel Wightman; and then, moved as it would seem by a sudden blaze of indignation at the infamy of the whole business, he stood erect and told his Lordship plainly that he would pursue him, or the greatest subject in England, to the bitter end, if they should send him to a madhouse when he was not mad.

The evident sincerity of his appeal, or, it may have been, the unsavoury keenness of Wightman to get him back, turned the scale. The Lord Mayor ordered his release, and within an hour or two he was safely lodged at Mr. Morgan’s house near Hyde Park, where Mrs. Morgan set to work to dress the injured foot.

The woman whom Cruden had rescued from prostitution, having become his servant, found him dead one morning, kneeling beside his bed in prayer.

Katherine Evans (died 1692) and Sarah Cheever (17th century) Write Home While Held by the Maltese Inquisition

Senglea Gate, Malta. © Plamen Agov • [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Katherine Evans and Sarah Cheevers were members of the Society of Friends (Quakers). In 1658, they felt impelled by the Spirit of the Lord to sail to Alexandria, where they hoped to distribute Christian literature and win souls. On the way, their ship put into Malta, a solidly Catholic island. The Inquisition arrested, interrogated and imprisoned them. At times, the conditions of their incarceration were terrible.

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Francis Anne Budge described one stage of their imprisonment in these words:

They were next removed to a room where the heat was so intense that it was thought they could not long survive it; for it parched their skin, caused their hair to fall off, and made them faint away; whilst the closeness of the apartment frequently compelled them to rise from their bed, and lie down on the floor in the hope of inhaling any breath of air that might find entrance under the door. In addition to these sufferings they were so violently stung by gnats that their faces became swollen as with small-pox.

They could have escaped their incarceration merely by agreeing to kiss a crucifix; this, however, they considered idolatry, and refused to do. The pair were separated for a year, one of their more trying experiences. They succeeded, however, in establishing a secret means of communicating to each other by letter.
Altogether they were in prison for over three years, but despite hunger, thirst, threats, and endless interrogation, and their longing for home and family, they remained true to their principles and preached the gospel at every turn.

Perhaps the deepest pain for prisoners who are close to their families, is the separation from those they love. The two women wrote their families, and their letters are testimony to Christ, who was more important to them than freedom or comfort. Here are those letters.

Letter from Katherine Evans to Her Husband and Children

For the hand of John Evans, my right dear and precious husband, with my tender-hearted children, who are more dear and precious unto me than the apple of mine eye.

My dear heart, my soul doth dearly salute thee, with my dear and precious children, which are dear and precious in the light of the Lord, to thy endless joy and my everlasting comfort; glory be to our Lord God eternally, who hath called you with a holy calling, and hath caused his beauty to shine upon you in this day of his power, wherein he is making up of his jewels, and binding up of his faithful one in the bond of everlasting love and salvation, among whom he hath numbered you of his own free grace; in which I beseech you (dear hearts) in the fear of the Lord to abide in your measures, according to the manifestation of the revelation of the son of God in you; keep a diligent watch over every thought, word and action, and let your minds be continually stayed continually in the light, where you will find out the snares and baits of Satan, and be preserved out of his traps, nets and pits, that you may not be captivated by him at his will. Oh, my dear husband and children, how often I have poured out my soul to our everlasting Father for you, with rivers of tears, night and day, that you might be kept pure and single in the sight of our God, improving your talents as wise virgins, having oil in your vessels, and your lamps burning, and clothed with the long, white robes of righteousness, ready to enter the bed chamber, and to sup with the lamb and to feed at the feast of fat things, where your souls may be nourished, refreshed, comforted, and satisfied, never to hunger again…

In our deepest affliction, when I looked for every breath to be my last, I could not wsh I had not come over seas, because I knew it was my eternal Father’s will to prove me, together with my dear and faithful friend [i.e. Sarah]; in all afflictions and miseries, the Lord remembered mercy, and did not leave nor forsake us, nor suffer his faithfulness to fail us, but caused the sweet drops of his mercy to distil upon us, and the brightness of his glorious countenance to shine into our hearts, and was never wanting to us in revelations nor visions. Oh how may I do to set forth the fulness of God’s love to our souls? No tongue can express it, no heart can conceive it, nor mind can comprehend it. Oh, the ravishments, the raptures, the glorious bright-shining countenance of our Lord God, who is our fulness in emptiness, our strength in weakness, our health in sickness, our life in death, our joy in sorrow, our peace in disquietness, our praise in heaviness, our power in all needs or necessities. He alone ia a full God unto us, and to all that can trust him; he has emptied us of our selves, and has unburdened us of ourselves, and has wholly built us upon the sure foundation, the rock of ages, Christ Jesus, the light of the world, where the swelling seas, nor raging, foaming waves, nor stormy winds, though they beat vehemently, cannot be able to remove us; glory, honor, and parises is to our God forever, who out of his everlasting treasures does fill us with his eternal riches day by day; he did nourish our souls with the choicest of his mercies and doth feed our bodies with his good creatures; and relieve all our necessities in a full measure. Praises, praises be to him alone who is our everlasting portion, our confidence, and our rejoicing, whom we serve acceptably with reverence and God-like fear; for our God is a consuming fire.

Oh my dear husband and precious children, you may feel the issues of love and life which stream forth as a river to every soul of you, from a heart that is wholly joined to the fountain; my prayers are for you day and night without ceasing, beseeching the Lord God of power to pour down his tender mercies upon you, and to keep you in his pure fear, and to increase your faith, to confirm you in all righteousness, and strengthen you in believing in the name of the Lord God almighty, that you may be established as Mount Sion that can never be moved. Keep your souls unspotted of the world, and love one another in the eternal, and bear one another’s burdens for the seed’s sake, and so fulfil the law of God. This is the word of the Lord unto you, my dearly beloved.

Dear hearts, I do commit you into the hands of the almighty, who dwelleth on high, and to the word of his grace in you, who is able to build you up to everlasting life, and eternal salvation. By me who am thy dear and precious wife and spouse in the marriage of the lamb, in the bed undefiled.


My dearly beloved yoke-mate in the work of our God, doth dearly salute you; salute us dearly to our precious friends in all places. I do believe we shall see your faces again with joy.

Letter from Sarah Cheevers to Her Husband and Children.

My dear husband, my life is given up to serve the living God, and to obey his pure call in the measure of the manifestation of his love, light, life and spirit of Christ Jesus, his only begotten son, whom he hath manifested in me and thousands, but the brightness of his appearing to put an end to sin and Satan, and bring to light immortality through the preaching of the everlasting gospel by the spirit of prophecy, which is poured out upon the sons and daughters of the living God, according to his purpose, whereof he hath chosen me, who am the least of all; but God who is rich in mercy, for his own name sake hath passed by mine offences, and hath counted me worthy to bear testimony to his holy name before the mighty men of the earth. Oh the love of the Lord to my soul! My tongue cannot express, neither hath it entered into the heart of man to conveive of the things that God hath laid up for them that fear him.

Therefore doth my soul breathe to my God for thee and my children night an day, that your minds may be joined to the light of the Lord Jesus, to lead you out of Satan’s kingdom, into the kingdom of God, where we may enjoy one another in the life eternal, where neither sea nor land can separate; in which light and life I do salute thee my dear husband, with my children, wishing you to embrace God’s love in making his truth so clearly manifest among you, whereof I am a witness even of the everlasting fountain that hath been opened by the messengers of Chirst, who preach to you the word of God in season, directing you where you may find your savior to purge and cleanse you from your sins and to reconcile you to his father, and to have unity with him and all the saints in the light, that ye may be fellow citizens in the kingdom of glory, rest and peace, which Christ hath purchased for them that love him and obey him. What profit is there for to gain the whole world and lose youro own souls? Seek first the kingdom of God and the righteousness thereof, and all other thigs shall be added to you, godliness is great gain, having the promise of this life that now is and that which is to come; which is fulfilled to me, who have tasted of the Lord’s endless love and mercies to my soul, and from a moving of the same love and life do I breathe to thee my dear husband, with my children; my dear love salutes you all; my prayers to my God are for you all, that your minds may be joined to the light, wherewith you are lightened, that I may enjpy you in that which is eternal, and have community with you in the spirit. He that is joined to the Lord, is one spirit, one heart, one mind, one soul, to serve the Lord with one consent. I cannot by pen or paper set forth the large love of God in fulfilling his gracious promises to me in the wilderness, being put into prison for God’s truth, there to remain all days of my life, being searched, tried, examined upon pain of death among the enemies of God and his truth; standing in jeopardy for my life until the Lord had subdued and brought them under by his mighty pwer and made them to feed us, and would have given us money or clothes, but the Lord did deck our table richly in the wilderness. The day of the Lord is appearing, wherein he will discover every deed of farkness, let it be done never so secret; the light of Christ Jesus will make it manifest in every conscience; the Lord will rip up all coverings that is not of his own spirit. The God of peace be with you all. Amen.

Written in the Inquisition prison by the hand of Sarah Cheevers, for the hand of Henry Cheevers my dear husband; give this, fail not.

Daniel Defoe (1659–1731) Glorifies the Pillory, Instrument of His Shame and Punishment

Daniel Defoe, from Walter Besant’s London in the time of the Stuarts [from an engraving in the British Museum] (Adam and Charles Black, 1903)

Daniel Defoe is best known as the author of Robinson Crusoe, Moll Flanders, and A Journal of the Plague Year. These fictions capture the Puritan interest in the progress of the soul toward repentance. Defoe was also a religious dissenter (one who rejected the established church) and a political satirist. (His Review laid the foundation for journalism independent of government sponsorship; he commenced it as a weekly but soon issued it three times a week, and wrote every article himself for nine years). A satire of his, titled, “The Shortest Way with the Dissenters,” landed him in prison and compelled him to appear three times in the pillory. Defoe had extended High Church arguments to a ridiculous and savage length, but the satire was so cleverly written it was seriously accepted by both sides, until exposed as a hoax. The national fury was intense.

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While in prison, Defoe published several works, including a pamphlet calling Dissenters to acknowledge the value of the national church and the national church to grant full tolerance to Dissenters. Along with this, and perhaps with the intent to draw the sting from his punishment, Defoe published his “A Hymn to the Pillory.” He was something of a hero with the crowd so that, it is said, instead of hurling at him the customary stones and rotten eggs, they pelted him with flowers. Consequently, it was the government, not himself, that was shamed. Below is an excerpt from his verses on the occasion.

Excerpts from “A Hymn to the Pillory”

…Actions receive their tincture from the times,
And as they change, are virtues made or crimes.
Thou art the state-trap of the law,
But neither can keep knaves nor honest men in awe;
These are too hardened in offence,
And those upheld by innocence.

How have thy opening vacancies received
In every age the criminals of state!
And how has mankind been deceived
When they distinguish crimes by fate!
Tell us, great engine, how to understand
Or reconcile the justice of the land;
How Bastwick, Prynne, Hunt, Hollingsby, and Pye,
Men of unspotted honesty,
Men that had learning, wit, and sense,
And more than most men have had since,
Could equal title to thee claim
With Oates and Fuller, men of later fame:
Even the learned Selden saw
A prospect of thee through the law:
He had thy lofty pinnacles in view,
But so much honor never was thy due:
Had the great Selden triumphed on thy stage,
Selden, the honor of this age,
No man would ever shun thee more,
Or grudge to stand where Selden stood before.

Thou art no shame to truth and honesty,
Nor is the character of such defaced by thee
Who suffer by oppressed injury.
Shame, like the exhalations of the sun,
Falls back where first the motion was begun;
And they who for no crime shall on thy brows appear,
Bear less reproach than they who placed them there…

William Penn (1644–1718) Helps Establish the Right to a Jury Trial

William Penn and William Mead plaque at the Old Bailey. Paul Clarke [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.

In the United States prisoners enjoy the right to trial by a jury if they choose it. On paper, William Penn also had that right. In actuality, the Stuart government bullied or tampered with juries to force them to return verdicts pleasing to its officials. When Penn and William Mead were arrested in 1670 for preaching, the mayor and magistrate attempted to coerce their jury. The excerpt below recounts the whole shameful episode. In the end, Penn and Mead prevailed on the sturdy jury to stand with them, and a higher court ruled that magistrates might no longer coerce juries. Penn had helped establish a major civil right for accused prisoners in English-speaking lands.

Quakers—That of God in Everyone.
Though many are familiar with the Quaker names such as William Penn, Susan B. Anthony, Daniel Boone, and Johns Hopkins, lesser-known Quakers also impacted society in significant ways. These are untold stories Friends who profoundly influenced the course of American history by seeing that of God in everyone.


At worst, William Penn’s “crimes” were misdemeanors. He preached in public when it was against the law to do so. He refused to remove his hat as a sign of respect to any man. He published a book without obtaining a license—a rule generally neglected at that time by authors and publishers, and only selectively enforced by the government. Nonetheless, he paid the full penalty for his civil disobedience, often going to prison.

His times in prison resulted in more than civil rights. During a 1669 incarceration in the Tower of London on a charge of blasphemy (his ideas on the Trinity did not match those of the Church of England), Penn committed another misdemeanor by obtaining paper and ink to write his most famous book No Cross, No Crown. That winter was particularly cold and Penn was subjected to its rigors without a fire. He suffered the cold and ate the common prison fare, which was none too good. But once again he proved that incarceration cannot prevent a man from doing good if he chooses.

A Selection from Samuel M. Janney’s Life of William Penn

In this year [1670] was renewed the noted “Conventicle Act,” which was professedly against “seditious conventicles,” but really intended to suppress all religious meetings, conducted “in any other manner than according to the liturgy and practice of the church of England” It had been first suggested by some of the bishops. The chaplain of the Archbishop of Canterbury had previously printed a discourse against toleration, in which he asserted as a main principle, that, “it would be less injurious to the government to dispense with profane and loose persons, than to allow toleration to religious dissenters”

“This act,” says Thomas Ellwood, “broke down and overran the bounds and banks anciently set for the security of Englishmen’s lives, liberties, and properties; namely, trials by jury, instead thereof, authorizing justices of the peace (and that too, privately, out of sessions) to convict, fine, and by their warrants, distrain upon offenders against it, directly contrary to the Great Charter” There is a remarkable clause in this act, which shows the bitter spirit of persecution then existing in the House of Commons. It provides, “that in case of any doubt arising about the interpretation of it, the act shall be construed most largely and beneficially for the suppression of Conventicles,” thus violating one of the plainest maxims of civil policy, which requires that in criminal prosecutions, the prisoner should always have the advantage of such doubts.

The chief burden of this persecuting statute fell upon Friends [Quakers], for it was their practice to keep up their meetings for divine worship at stated times and places; as though no such law existed, for they held that no human authority could exempt them from openly avowing their allegiance to God by that mode of worship, to which they believed that he had called them; whereas, many others among the dissenters, stooped for the storm to pass over them, by changing the places of their meetings, and holding them at unusual times.

It was not long before Penn was made to feel the force of this arbitrary law, for on going to the meeting at Grace-church street, he found the house guarded by a band of soldiers. He and other Friends not being permitted to enter, gathered around the doors, where, after standing some time in silence, he felt it his duty to preach, but had not proceeded far, when he and another of the society, William Mead, were arrested by the constables, who produced warrants from Sir Samuel Starling the Mayor of London, dated August the 14th, 1670.

They were conducted by the officers to a place of confinement in Newgate market, as related in the following letter.


“Second day morning, 15th of 6th mo. (August) 1070.

“My Dear Father:

“This comes by the hand of one who can best allay the trouble it brings. As true as ever Paul said, that such as live godly in Christ Jesus, shall suffer persecution, so for no other reason am I at present a sufferer. Yesterday I was taken by a band of soldiers, with one Capt. Mead, a linen draper, and in the evening carried before the Mayor; he proceeded against me according to the ancient law; he told me I should have my hat pulled off, for all I was Admiral Penn’s son. I told him that I desired to be in common with others, and sought no refuge from the common usage. He answered, it had been no matter if thou hadst been a commander twenty years ago. I discoursed with him about the hat; he avoided it, and because I did not readily answer him my name, William, when he asked me in order to a mittimus, he bid his clerk write one for Bridewell, and there would he see me whipped himself, for all I was Penn’s son, that starved the seamen. Indeed these words grieved me, as well as that it manifested his great weakness and malice to the whole company, that were about one hundred people. I told him I could very well bear his severe expressions to me concerning myself, but was sorry to hear him speak those abuses of my father, that was not present, at which the assembly seemed to murmur. In short, he committed that person with me as rioters; and at present we are at the sign of the Black Dog, in Newgate market.

“And now, dear father, be not displeased nor grieved. What if this be designed of the Lord for an exercise of our patience? I am sure it hath wonderfully laid bare the nakedness of the Mayor. Several Independents were taken from Sir J. Dethicks, and Baptists elsewhere. It is the effect of a present commotion in the spirits of some, which the Lord God will rebuke; and I doubt not but I may be at liberty in a day or two, to see thee. I am very well, and have no trouble upon my spirits, besides my absence from thee, especially at this juncture, but otherwise I can say, I was never better; and what they have to charge me with is harmless. Well, eternity, which is at the door, (for he that shall come will come, and will not terry,) that shall make amends for all. The Lord God everlasting consolate and support thee by his holy power, and preserve to his eternal rest and glory. Amen.

“Thy faithful and obedient son,


“My duty to my mother. For my dear father, Sir William Penn”

The trial, as related in the published works of Penn, is deeply interesting, and resulting as it did, in the greater security and more firm establishment of civil liberty in England, is deemed worthy of insertion here.

There being present on the Bench as Justices:

Saml. Starling, Mayor, John Robinson, Alderman;
John Howell, Recorder Joseph Shelden     “
Thos. Bludworth, Alderman Richard Brown, sheriff
Wm. Peak,              “ John Smith,            “
Richard Ford,       “ James Edwards,     “

The citizens of London that were summoned for jurors, appearing, were empanneled, viz:

Clerk. Call over the Jury.

Crier. Oyez, Thomas Veer, Ed. Bushell, John Hammond, Charles Wilson, Gregory Walklet, John Brightman, Wm. Plumstead, Henry Henley, James Damask, Henry Michel, Wm. Lever, John Baily.

You shall well and truly try, and true deliverance make between our Sovereign Lord the King, and the prisoners at the bar, according to your evidence; so help you God.

That William Penn, gent., and William Mead, late of London, linen-draper, with divers other persons, to the jurors unknown, to the number of three hundred, the 15th day of August, in the 22nd year of the King, about eleven of the clock in the forenoon, the same day with force and arms, &c., in the Parish of St. Bennet, Grace-Church, in Bridge-Ward, London, in the street called Grace-Church Street, unlawfully and tumultuously did assemble and congregate themselves together, to the disturbance of the peace of the said Lord the King; and the aforesaid William Penn and William Mead, together with other persons, to the jurors aforesaid unknown, then and there so assemble and congregate together; the aforesaid William Penn, by agreement between him and William Mead, before made, and by abetment of the aforesaid Wm. Mead, then and there, in the open street, did take upon himself to preach and speak, and then, and there, did preach and speak, unto the aforesaid Wm. Mead, and other persons there, in the street aforesaid, being assembled and congregated together, by reason whereof a great concourse and tumult of people in the street aforesaid, then and there a long time did remain and continue, in contempt of the said Lord the King, and of his law; to the great disturbance of his peace, to the great terror and disturbance of many of his liege people and subjects, to the ill example of all others in the like case offenders, and against the peace of the said Lord the King, his crown and dignity.

What say you, Wm. Penn and Wm. Mead, are you guilty, as you stand indicted, in the manner and form as aforesaid, or not guilty?

Penn. It is impossible that we should be able to remember the indictment verbatim, and therefore we desire a copy of it, as is customary on the like occasions.

Reed. You must first plead to the indictment, before you have a copy of it.

Penn. I am unacquainted with the formality of the law, and, therefore, before I shall answer directly, I request two things of the court, First, That no advantage may be taken against me, nor I deprived any benefit which I might otherwise have received. Secondly, That you will promise me a fair hearing and liberty of making my defense.

Court. No advantage shall be taken against you, you shall have liberty, you shall be heard.

Penn. Then I plead not guilty in manner and form.

Clerk. What sayst thou, Wm. Mead; art thou guilty in manner and form, as thou stand’st indicted, or not guilty?

Mead. I shall desire the same liberty as granted to Penn.

Court. You shall have it.

Mead. Then I plead not guilty in manner and form.

The Court adjourned until afternoon.

Crier. 0yez,etc.

Clerk. Bring Wm. Penn and Wm. Mead to the bar.

Observer. The said prisoners were brought, but were set aside, and other business prosecuted; where we cannot choose but observe, that it was the constant and unkind practice of the court to the prisoners, to make them wait upon the trials of felons and murderers, thereby designing, in all probability, both to affront and tire them.

After five hours’ attendance the court broke up, and adjourned to the third instant.

The third of September, 1670, the court sat.

Crier. Oyez, etc.

Mayor. Sirrah, who bid you put off their hats? Put on their hats again.

Observer. Whereupon one of the officers, putting the prisoners’ hats upon their heads, (pursuant to the order of the Court), brought them to the bar.

Recorder. Do you know where you are?

Penn. Yes.

Reed. Do you know it is the King’s court?

Penn. I know it to be a court, and I suppose it to be the King’s court.

Reed. Do you know there is respect due to the court?

Penn. Yes.

Reed. Why do you not pay it then?

Penn. I do So.

Reed. Why do you not put off your hat then?

Penn. Because I do not believe that to be respect.

Reed. Well, the court sets forty marks a-piece upon your heads, as a fine, for your contempt of the court.

Penn. I desire it may be observed, that we came into the court with our hats off, (that is, taken off), and if they have been put on since, it was by order from the bench; and therefore, not we, but the bench should be fined.

Mead. I have a question to ask the Recorder; am I fined also?

Reed. Yes.

Mead. I desire the jury and all tbe people to take notice of this injustice of the Recorder, who spake not to me to pull off my hat, and yet hath he put a fine upon my head. 0, fear the Lord and dread his power, and yield to the guidance of this Holy Spirit; for He is not far from every one of you.

The Jury sworn again.

Observer. J. Robinson, Lieutenant of the Tower, disingenuously objected against Edward Bushell, as if he had not kissed the book, and therefore would have him sworn again: though indeed it was on purpose to have made use of his tenderness of conscience, in avoiding reiterated oaths, to have put him, by his being a juryman, apprehending him to be a person not fit to answer their arbitrary ends.

The clerk read the indictment as aforesaid.

Clerk. Crier, call James Cook into the court, give him his oath.

Clerk. James Cook, lay your hand upon the book: “The evidence you shall give the court betwixt our Sovereign the King and the prisoners at the bar, shall be the truth, and the whole truth, and nothing but the truth; so help you God”

Cook. I was sent for from the exchange, to go and disperse a meeting in Gracious street, where I saw Mr. Penn speaking to the people, but I eould not hear what he said, because of the noise; I endeavored to make way to take him, but I could not get to him for the crowd of people; upon which Captain Mead came to me, about the kennel of the street, and desired me to let him go on; for when he had done, he would bring Mr. Penn to me.

Court. What number do you think might be there?

Cook. About three or four hundred people.

Court. Call Richard Reed, give him his oath.

Reed being sworn, was asked, What do you know concerning the prisoners at the bar?

Reed. My Lord, I went to Gracious street, where I found a great crowd of people, and I heard Mr. Penn preach to them, and I saw Capt. Mead speaking to Lieutenant Cook, but what he said I could not tell.

Mead. What did Wm. Penn say?

Reed. There was such a great noise, that I could not tell what he said.

Mead. Jury, observe this evidence: he saith he heard him preach, and yet saith, he doth not know what he said.

Jury, take notice, he swears now a clean contrary thing, to what he swore before the Mayor, when we were committed: for now he swears that he saw me in Gracious streets, and yet he swore before the Mayor, when I was committed, that he did not see me there. I appeal to the Mayor himself, if this be not true: but no answer was given.

Court. What number do you think might be there?

Reed. About four or five hundred.

Penn. I desire to know of him what day it was?

Reed. The 14th day of August.

Penn. Did he speak to me, or let me know he was there; for I am very sure I never saw him.

Clerk. Crier, call into the court.

Court. Give him his oath.

My Lord, I saw a great number of people, and Mr. Penn, I suppose, was speaking; I saw him make a motion with his hands, and heard some noise, but could not understand what he said; but for Capt. Mead, I did not see him there.

Reed. What say you, Mr. Mead? Were you there?

Mead. It is a maxim in your own law, nemo tenetur accusare seipsum, which, if it be not true Latin, I am sure that it is true English, that no man is bound to accuse himself. And why dost thou offer to ensnare me with such a question? Doth not this shew thy malice? Is this like unto a judge, that ought to be counsel for the prisoner at the bar?

Reed. Sir, hold your tongue, I did not go about to ensnare you.

Penn. I desire we may come more close to the point, and that silence be commanded in the court.

Crier. 0yez, all manner of persons keep silence, upon pain of imprisonment—silence in the court.

Penn. We confess ourselves to be so far from recanting, or declining to vindicate the assemblage of ourselves to preach, pray, or worship the eternal, holy, just God, that we declare to all the world, that we do believe it to be our indispensable duty, to meet incessantly upon so good an account; nor shall all the powers upon earth be able to divert us from reverencing and adoring our God, who made us.

Brown. You are not here for worshipping God, but for breaking the law; you do yourselves a great deal of wrong in going on in that discourse.

Penn. I affirm I have broken no law, nor am I guilty of, the indictment that is laid to my charge: and to the end, the bench, the jury, and myself, with those that hear us, may have a more direct understanding of this procedure, I desire you would let me know by what law it is you prosecute me, and upon what law you ground my indictment.

Reed. Upon the common law.

Penn. What is that common law?

Reed. You must not think that I am able to run up so many years, and over so many adjudged cases, which we call common law, to answer your curiosity.

Penn. This answer, I am sure, is very short of my question; for if it be common, it should not be so hard to produce.

Reed. Sir, will you plead to your indictment?

Penn. Shall I plead to an indictment that hath no foundation in law? If it contain that law you say I have broken, why should you decline to produce that law, since it will be impossible for the jury to determine or agree to bring in their verdict, who hath not the law produced, by which they should measure the truth of this indictment, and the guilt or contrary of my fact.

Reed. You are a saucy fellow; speak to the indictment.

Penn. I say it is my place to speak to matter of law; I am arraigned a prisoner; my liberty, which is next to life itself, is now concerned; you are many mouths and ears against me, and if I must not be allowed to make the best of my case, it is hard: I say again, unless you show me, and the people, the law you ground your indictment upon, I shall take it for granted, your proceedings are merely arbitrary.

Observer. (At this time several upon the bench urged hard upon the prisoner, to bear him down.)

Reed. The question is, whether you are guilty of this indictment?

Penn. The question is not whether I am guilty of this indictment, but whether this indictment be legal. It is too general and imperfect an answer, to say it is the common law, unless we knew both where and what it is; for where there is no law, there is no transgression, and that law which is not in being, is so far from being common, that it is no law at all.

Reed. You are an impertinent fellow; will you teach the Court what law is? It’s lex non scripta, that which many have studied thirty or forty years to know, and would you have me tell you in a moment?

Penn. Certainly, if the common law be so hard to be understood, it’s far from being very common; but if the Lord Cook in his Institutes be (if any consideration, he tells us, that common law is common right; and that common right is the great charter privileges, confirmed 9 Hen. III. 29; 25 Edw. I. 1; 2 Edw. III. 8; Cook’s Insts. 2, p. 56.

Reed. Sir, you are a troublesome fellow, and it is not for the honor of the court to suffer you to go on.

Penn. I have asked but one question, and you have not answered me; though the rights and privileges of every Englishman be concerned in it.

Reed. If I should suffer you to ask questions till to-morrow morning, you would be never the wiser.

Penn. That’s according as the answers are.

Reed. Sir, we must not stand to hear you talk all night.

Penn. I design no affront to the court, but to be heard in my just plea: and I may plainly tell you, that if you will deny me the oyer of that law, which you suggest I have broken, you do at once deny me an acknowledged right, and evidence to the world your resolution to sacrifice the privileges of Englishmen to your sinister and arbitrary designs.

Reed. Take him away; my Lord, if you take not some course with this pestilent fellow, to stop his mouth, we shall not be able to do any thing to-night.

Mayor. Take him away, take him away! turn him into the Bale-dock.

Penn. These are but so many vain exclamations; is this justice or true judgment? Must I, therefore, be taken away because I plead for the fundamental laws of England? However, this I leave upon your consciences, who are of the jury (and my sole judges), that if these ancient fundamental laws, which relate to liberty and property (and are not limited to particular persuasions in matters of religion), must not be indispensably maintained and observed, who can say he has a right to the coat upon his back? Certainly, our liberties are openly to be invaded; our wives to be ravished; our children slaved; our families mined; and our estates led away in triumph by every sturdy beggar and malicious informer, but our (pretended) forfeits for conscience-sake; the Lord of heaven and earth will be judge between us in this matter.

Reed. Be silent there.

Penn. I am not to be silent in a case wherein I am so much concerned; and not only myself, but many ten thousand families besides.

Observer. They having rudely haled him in the Bale-dock, Wm. Mead they left in the court, who spoke as follows:

Mead. You men of the jury, here I do now stand to answer to an indictment against me, which is a bundle of stuff full of lies and falsehoods; for therein I am accused, that I met, vi and armis, illicite and tumultuouse. Time was when I had freedom to use a carnal weapon, and then I thought I feared no man; but now I fear the living God, and dare not make use thereof, nor hurt any man; nor do I know I demeaned myself as a tumultuous person. I say I am a peaceable man, therefore it is a very proper question what Wm. Penn demanded in this case, an oyer of the law on which our indictment is grounded.

Reed. I have made answer to that already.

Mead, turning his-face to the jury, said, "you men of the jury, who are my judges, if the Recorder will not tell you what makes a riot, a rout or an unlawful assembly, Cook, (he that once they called) the Lord Cook, tells us what makes a riot, a rout, and an unlawful assembly, a riot is, when three or more are met together to beat a man, or to enter forcibly into another man’s land, to cut down his grass, his wood, or break down his pales."

Observer. Here the Recorder interrupted him, and said, I thank you, sir, that you will tell me what the law is? scornfully pulling off his hat.

Mead. Thou mays’t put on thy hat, I have never a fee for thee now.

Brown. He talks at random, one while an Independent, another while some other religion, and now a Quaker, and next a Papist.

Mead. Turpe est doctori cum culpa redarguit ipsum.

Mayor. You deserve to have your tongue cut out.

Reed. If you discourse on this manner, I shall take occasion against you.

Mead. Thou didst promise me I should have fair liberty to be heard. Why may I not have the privileges of an Englishman? I am an Englishman, and you might be ashamed of this dealing.

Reed. I look upon you to be an enemy to the laws of England, which ought to be observed and kept, nor are you worthy of such privileges as others have.

Mead. The Lord is judge between me and thee in this matter.

Observer. Upon which they took him away into the Bale-dock, and the Recorder proceeded to give the jury their charge, as follows:

Reed. You have heard what the indictment is; it is for preaching to the people, and drawing a tumultuous company after them; and Mr. Penn was speaking. If they should not be disturbed, you see they will go on; there are three or four witnesses that have proved this, that he did preach there, that Mr. Mead did allow of it; after this you have heard, by substantial witnesses, what is said against them. Now we are upon the matter of fact, which you are to keep to and observe as what hath been fully sworn, at your peril.

Observer. The prisoners were put out of the court into the Bale-dock, and the charge given to the jury in their absence, at which Wm. Penn, with a very raised voice, it being a considerable distance from the bench, spake,

Penn. I appeal to the jury, who are my judges, and this great assembly, whether the proceedings of the court are not most arbitrary, and void of all law, in offering to give the jury their charge in the absence of the prisoners; I say it is directly opposite to, and destructive of the undoubted right of every English prisoner, as Cook in the 2 Inst. 29, on the chapter of Magna Charter, speaks.

Observer. The Recorder being thus unexpectedly lashed for his extrajudicial procedure, said, with an enraged smile.

Reed. Why ye are present, you do hear: do you not?

Penn. No thanks to the court, that commanded me into the Bale- dock; and you of the jury take notice, that I have not been heard, neither can you legally depart the court, before I have been fully heard, having at least ten or twelve material points to offer, in order to invalidate their indictment.

Reed. Pull that fellow down; pull him down.

Mead. Are these according to the rights and privileges of Englishmen, that we should not be heard, but turned into the Bale-dock for making our defence, and the jury to have their charge given them in our absence? I say these are barbarous and unjust proceedings.

Reed. Take them away into the hole; to hear them talk all night, as they would, I think doth not become the honor of the court; and I think you, (i. e. the jury,) yourselves, would be tired out, and not have patience to hear them.

Observer. The jury were commanded up to agree upon their verdict, the prisoners remaining in the stinking hole; after an hour and half’s time, eight came down agreed, but four remained above; the court sent an officer for them, and they accordingly came down. The bench used many unworthy threats to the four that dissented; and the Recorder, addressing himself to Bushell, said,“Sir, you are the cause of this disturbance, and manifestly shew yourself an abettor of faction. I shall set a mark upon you, sir”

J. Robinson. Mr. Bushell, I have known you near this fourteen years; you have thrust yourself upon this jury, because you think there is some service for you; I tell you, you deserve to be indicted more than any man that hath been brought to the bar this day.

Bushell. No, Sir John, there were threescore before me, and I would willingly have got off, but could not.

Bludworth. I said, when I saw Mr. Bushell, what I see is come to pass; for I knew he would never yield. Mr. Bushell, we know what you are.

Mayor. Sirrah, you are an impudent fellow, I will put a mark upon you.

Observer. They used much menacing language, and behaved themselves very imperiously to the jury, as persons not more void of justice, than sober education. After this barbarous usage, they sent them to consider of bringing in their verdict, and after some considerable time, they returned to the court. Silence was called for, and the jury called by their names.

Clerk. Are you agreed upon your verdict?

Jury. Yes.

Clerk. Who shall speak for you?

Jury. Our foreman.

Clerk. Look upon the prisoners at the bar. How say you? Is Wm. Ponn guilty of the matter whereof he stands indicted, in manner and form, or not guilty?

Foreman. Guilty of speaking in Gracious street.

Court. Is that all?

Foreman. That is all I have in commission.

Reed. You had as good say nothing.

Mayor. Was it not an unlawful assembly? You mean, he was speaking to a tumult of people there?

Foreman. My Lord, this was all I had in commission.

Observer. Here some of the jury seemed to buckle to the question of the court, upon which Bushell, Hammond, and some others, opposed themselves, and said, they allowed of no such word as an unlawful assembly, in their verdict, at which the Recorder, Mayor, Robinson, and Bludworth, took great occasion to vilify them, with most opprobrious language; and this verdict not serving their turns, the Recorder expressed himself thus:

Reed. The law of England will not allow you to depart, till you have given in your verdict.

Jury. We have given in our verdict, and we can give in no other.

Reed. Gentlemen, you have not given your verdict, and you had as good say nothing; therefore go and consider it once more, that we may make an end of this troublesome business.

Jury. We desire we may have pen, ink, and paper.

Observer. The court adjourns for half an hour; which, being expired, the court returns, and the jury not long after. The prisoners were brought to the bar, and the jurors’ names called over.

Clerk. Are you agreed of your verdict?

Jury. Yes.

Clerk. Who shall speak for you?

Jury. Our foreman.

Clerk. What say you? Look upon the prisoners. Is Wm. Penn guilty in manner and form, as he stands indicted, or not guilty?

Foreman. Here is our verdict; holding forth a piece of paper to the clerk of the peace, which follows:

We, the jurors, hereafter named, do find Wm. Penn to be guilty of speaking or preaching to an assembly, met together in Gracious street, the 14th of August last, 1070, and that Mr. Mead is not guilty of the said indictment.

Foreman, Thomas Veer, Henry Michel, John Bailey, Edw. Bushell, John Brightman, Wm. Lever,
John Hammond, Chas. Milson, Jas. Damask, Henry Uenly, Gregory Walklet, Wm. Plumstcad.

Observer. This both Mayor and Recorder resented at so high a rate, that they exceeded the bounds of all reason and civility.

Mayor. What, will you be led by such a silly fellow as Bushell, an impudent, canting fellow? I warrant you, you shall come no more upon juries in haste. You are a foreman indeed, (addressing himself to the foreman), I thought you had understood your place better.

Reed. Gentlemen, you shall not be dismissed till we have a verdict the court will accept; and you shall be locked up without meat, drink, fire, and tobacco. You shall not think thus to abuse the court; we will have a verdict, by the help of God, or you shall starve for it.

Penn. My jury, who are my judges, ought not to be thus menaced; their verdict should be free, and not compelled; the bench ought to wait upon them, but not forestall them; I do desire that justice may be done me, and that the arbitrary resolves of the bench may not be made the measure of my jury’s verdict.

Reed. Stop that prating fellow’s mouth, or put him out of the court.

Mayor. You have heard that he preached; that he gathered a company of tumultuous people; and that they do not only disobey the martial power, but the civil also.

Penn. It is a great mistake, we did not make the tumult, but they that interrupted us. The jury cannot be so ignorant as to think that we met there with a design to disturb the civil peace, since (1st) we were by force of arms kept out of our lawful house, and met as near it in the street as the soldiers would give us leave; and (2nd) because it was no new thing, (nor with the circumstances expressed in the indictment, but what was usual and customary with us,) ’tis very well known that we are a peaceable people, and cannot offer violence to any man.

Observer. The court being ready to break up, and willing to hustle the prisoners to their jail, and the jury to their chamber, Penn spake as follows:

Penn. The agreement of twelve men is a verdict in law, and such a one being given by the jury, I require the clerk of the peace to record it, as he will answer at his peril. And if the jury bring in another verdict contrary to this, I affirm they are perjured men in law; (and looking upon the jury, said): You are Englishmen, mind your privilege; give not away your right.

Bushell, etc. Nor will we ever do it.

Observer. One of the jurymen pleaded indisposition of body, and therefore desired to be dismissed.

Mayor. You are as strong as any of them; starve, then, and hold your principles.

Reed. Gentlemen, you must be content with your hard fate; let your patience overcome it; for the court is resolved to have a verdict, and that before you can be dismissed.

Jury. We are agreed, we are agreed, we are agreed.

Observer. The court swore several persons to keep the jury all night, without meat, drink, fire, or any other accommodation [i.e., restrooms].

Crier. Oyez, etc.

Observer. The court adjourned till seven of the clock next morning (being the 4th inst., vulgarly called Sunday), at which time the prisoners were brought to the bar, the court sat, and the jury called in to bring in their verdict.

Crier. Oyez, etc. Silence in the court, upon pain of imprisonment.

The jury’s names called over.

Clerk. Are you agreed upon your verdict?

Jury. Yes.

Clerk. Who shall speak for you?

Jury. Our foreman.

Clerk. What say you? Look upon the prisoners at the bar. Is William Penn guilty of the matter whereof he stands indicted, in manner and form as aforesaid, or not guilty?

Foreman. William Penn is guilty of speaking in Gracious street.

Mayor. To an unlawful assembly?

Bushell. No, my lord, we give no other verdict than what we gave last night; we have no other verdict to give.

Mayor. You are a factious fellow; I’ll take a course with you.

Bludworth. I knew Mr. Bushell would not yield.

Bushell. Sir Thomas, I have done according to my conscience.

Mayor. That conscience of yours would cut my throat.

Bushell. No, my lord, it never shall.

Mayor. But I will cut yours as soon as I can.

Reed. He has inspired the jury; he has the spirit of divination; methinks I feel him ; I will have a positive verdict, or you shall starve for it.

Penn. I desire to ask the Recorder one question: Do you allow of the verdict given of William Mead?

Reed. It cannot be a verdict, because you are indicted for a conspiracy; and one being found not guilty, and not the other, it could not be a verdict.

Penn. If “not guilty” be not a verdict, then you make of the jury and Magna Charta but a mere nose of wax.

Mead. How? Is not guilty no verdict?

Reed. No, ’tis no verdict.

Penn. I affirm that the consent of a jury is a verdict in law; and if William Mead be not guilty, it consequently follows that I am clear, since you have indicted us of a conspiracy, and I could not possibly conspire alone.

Observer. There were many passages which could not be taken which passed between the jury and the court. The jury went up again, having received a fresh charge from the bench, if possible to extort an unjust verdict.

Crier. Oyez, etc. Silence in the court.

Court. Call over the jury: which was done.

Clerk. What say you? Is William Penn guilty of the matter whereof he stands indicted, in manner and form aforesaid, or not guilty?

Foreman. Guilty of speaking in Gracious street.

Reed. What is this to the purpose? I say I will have a verdict. And (speaking to E. Bushell), said, you are a factious fellow; I will set a mark upon you; and whilst I have anything to do in the city, I will have an eye upon you.

Mayor. Have you no more wit than to be led by such a pitiful fellow? I will cut his nose.

Penn. It is intolerable that my jury should be thus menaced; is this according to the fundamental law? Are not they my proper judges by the Great Charter of England? What hope is there of ever having justice done when juries are threatened and their verdict rejected? I am concerned to speak, and grieved to see such arbitrary proceedings. Did not the Lieutenant of the Tower render one of them worse than a felon? And do you not plainly seem to condemn such for factious fellows who answer not your ends? Unhappy are those juries, who are threatened to be fined, and starved, and ruined, if they give not in their verdict contrary to their consciences.

Reed. My Lord, you must take a course with that same fellow.

Mayor. Stop his mouth; jailor, bring fetters, and stake him to the ground.

Penn. Do your pleasure; I matter not your fetters.

Reed. Till now I never understood the reason of the policy and prudence of the Spaniards, in suffering the Inquisition among them; and certainly it will never be well with us till something like the Spanish Inquisition be in England.

Observer. The jury being required to go together to find another verdict, and steadfastly refusing it, (saying they could give no other verdict than what was already given,) the Recorder, in great passion, was running off the bench, with these words in his mouth: I protest I will sit here no longer to hear these things. At which the Mayor calling, “Stay, stay,” he returned, and directed himself unto the jury, and spake as followeth:

Reed. Gentlemen, we shall not be at this pass always with you. You will find the next session of Parliament there will be a law made that those that will not conform shall not have the protection of the law. Mr. Lee, draw up another verdict that they may bring it in special.

Lee. I cannot tell how to do it.

Jury. We ought not to be returned, having all agreed, and set our hands to the verdict.

Reed. Your verdict is nothing: you play upon the court; I say you shall go together and bring in another verdict, or you shall starve; and I will have you carted about the city, as in Edward the Third’s time.

Foreman. We have given in our verdict and all agree to it, and if we give in another, it will be a force upon us to save our lives.

Mayor. Take them up.

Officer. My Lord, they will not go up.

Observer. The Mayor spoke to the sheriff, and he came off his seat, and said:

Sheriff. Come, gentlemen, you must go up; you see I am commanded to make you go.

Observer. Upon which the jury went up, and several were sworn to keep them without any accommodation, as aforesaid, till they brought in their verdict.

Crier. Oyez, etc. The court adjourns till to-morrow morning at seven of the clock.

Observer. The prisoners were remanded to Newgate, where they remained till next morning, and then were brought into court, which being sat, they proceeded as followeth:

Crier. Oyez, etc. Silence in court upon pain of imprisonment.

Clerk. Set William Penn and William Mead to the bar. Gentlemen of the jury answer to your names: Thos. Veer, Edw. Bushell, John Hammond, Henry Henly, Henry Michel, John Brightman, Chas. Milson, Gregory Walklet, John Baily, Wm. Lever, James Damask, Wm. Plum stead, are you all agreed of your verdict?

Jury. Yes.

Clerk. Who shall speak for you?

Jury. Our foreman.

Clerk. Look upon the prisoners: What say you, is William Penn guilty of the matter whereof he stands indicted, in manner and form, etc, or not guilty?

Foreman. You have there read in writing already our verdict, and our hands subscribed.

Observer. The clerk had the paper, but was stopped by the Recorder from reading it; and he commanded to ask for a positive verdict.

Foreman. If you will not accept of it, I desire to have it back again.

Court. That paper was no verdict, and there shall be no advantage taken against you by it.

Clerk. How say you? Is William Penn guilty, etc, or not guilty?

Foreman. Not guilty.

Clerk. How say you? Is William Mead guilty, etc, or not guilty?

Foreman. Not guilty.

Clerk. Then harken to your verdict: you say that William Penn is not guilty in manner and form as he stands indicted; you say that William Mead is not guilty in manner and form as he stands indicted, and so you say all.

Jury. Yes, we do so.

Observer. The bench being unsatisfied with the verdict, commanded that every person should distinctly answer to their names, and give in their verdict, which they unanimously did, in saying,“Not guilty,” to the great satisfaction of the assembly.

Reed. I am sorry, gentlemen, you have followed your own judgments and opinions rather than the good and wholesome advice which was given you. God keep my life out of your hands; but for this the court fines you forty marks a man, and imprisonment till paid; at which Penn stepped forward towards the bench, and said:

Penn. I demand my liberty, being freed by the jury.

Mayor. No you are in for your fines.

Penn. Fines for what?

Mayor. For contempt of the court.

Penn. I ask if it he according to the fundament laws of England, that any Englishman should be fined or amerced but by the judgment of his peers or jury? since it expressly contradicts the fourteenth and twenty-ninth chapter of the Great Charter of England which says, No freeman ought to be amerced, but by the oath of good and lawful men of the vicinage.

Reed. Take him away, take him away, take him out the court.

Penn. I can never urge the fundamental laws of England but yon cry, Take him away, take him away; but ’tis no wonder, since the Spanish Inquisition hath so great a place in the Recorder’s heart. God Almighty, who is just, will judge you all for these things.

Observer. They haled the prisoners to the Bale-dock, and from thence sent them to Newgate for the non-payment of their fines: and so were their jury.

While in Newgate prison William wrote affectionate letters to his father, who was then in a declining state of health. We include two which reveal more information about the accusers and the jury.


“Newgate, 6, 7th, 1670.

“Dear Father: I desire thee not to be troubled at my present confinement, I could scarce suffer on a better account, nor by a worse hand, and the will of God be done. It is more grievous and uneasy to me that thou shouldst be so heavily exercised, God Almighty knows, than any living worldly concernment. I am clear by the jury, and they in my place they are resolved to lay until they get out by law; and they, every six hours, demand their freedom by advice of counsel.

“They [the court] have so overshot themselves, that the generality of people much detest them. I intreat thee not to purchase my liberty. They will repent them of their proceedings. I am now a prisoner notoriously against law. I desire the Lord God, in fervent prayer, to strengthen and support thee, and anchor thy mind in the thoughts of the immutable blessed state, which is over all perishing concerns.

“I am, dear father, thy obedient son,



“Newgate, 7th Sept., 1670.

“Dear Father:

To say I am truly grieved to hear of thy present illness, are words that might be spared, because I am confident they are better believed.

“If God in his holy will did see it meet that I should be freed, I could heartily embrace it; yet considering I cannot be free, but upon such terms as strengthening their arbitrary and base proceedings, I shall rather choose to suffer any hardship.

“I am persuaded some clearer way will suddenly be found out to obtain my liberty, which is no way so desirable to me, as on the account of being with thee. I am not without hopes that the Lord will sanctify the endeavors of thy physician unto a cure, and then much of my worldly solicitude will be at an end. My present restraint is so far from being humor, that I would rather perish than release myself by so indirect a course as to satiate their revengeful, avaricious appetites. The advantage of such a freedom would fall very short of the trouble of accepting it.

“Solace thy mind in the thoughts of better things, dear father. Let not this wicked world disturb thy mind, and whatever shall come to pass, I hope in all conditions to approve myself thy obedient son,


Joseph Alleine (1634–1668) Encourages Feeble Christians from Prison

Detail of Joseph Alleine memorial plaque on the wall of the arch of the south chantry chapel, at St Mary Magdalene, where he pastored [via]

Joseph Alleine was the devoted pastor of Taunton. A non-conformist (that is one who rejected the practices of England’s state church) he was driven from his pulpit when a restictive law was enacted. Because he refused to be muzzled, traveling about preaching, he was thrown into prison. When released, he resumed preaching and went back to prison. This happened again and again. Finally he died, worn out, at the young age of 34. Friends buried him in Taunton.

Not one-sided, he was a loving husband to Theodosia Alleine, and a scientific thinker who associated with the founders of the Royal Society. He preached, prayed, wrote and pleaded with his contemporaries to follow Christ. His most famous work, An Alarm to the Unconverted, also known as The Sure Guide to Heaven, is still in print.

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While in prison, Alleine penned a number of letters, exhorting his followers to a deeper walk with Christ. We present one of these below, with minor edits to make the language more contemporary.

Alleine’s letter from prison to believers in Luppit.

To my dear Friends, the Servants of Christ in Luppit, Salvation.

Beloved Christians,

Having taken up a resolution to write to, and to endeavor to confirm, all the places where I have gone up and down preaching the kingdom of God, you were by no means to be omitted. You were the people that were last upon my heart before my taking up; and had I not been made a prisoner, I think I had in a few hours after the time of my apprehension been with you. Now I can no way, but by prayers, letters, and counsels, visit you, and so have sent these to let you know that you are upon my heart, and that your welfare is dear unto me. I bless the Lord to hear that His work does not cease among you. It is the joy of our bonds, beloved, to hear that the Word is not bound, and that Satan has not [success in] his design upon the people of God, who doubtless intended, by these sufferings, to have struck terror into them, and to have made their hands weak.

Know, dear Christians, that the bonds of the gospel are not tedious through grace unto us ; that Christ is a master worth suffering for; that there is really enough in religion to defray all our charges, and to quit all the cost and expense you can be at in or upon it; that you may build upon it, that you can never be losers by Jesus Christ; that Christ’s prison is better than the world’s paradise; that the Divine attributes are alone an all-sufficient livelihood; that the influences of heaven, and shines of God’s countenance, are sufficient to lighten the darkest dungeon, and to perfume and sweeten the stinkiest prison to a poor believer; that if you can bring faith and patience, and the assurance of the Divine favor with you to a prison, you will live comfortably, in spite of earth and hell. These are truths that the prisoners of Christ can in a measure seal unto, and I would have you to be more soundly assured of and established in them.

Brethren, we are of the same mind in a prison that we were of in the pulpit; that there is no life equal to a life of holiness; that Christ, and His yoke, and His cross, are worthy of all acceptation; that it is the best, and wisest, and safest, and most gainful course in the world, to stick close to Christ and His ways, and to adhere to them in all hazards. Come on, beloved Christians, come on ; slack not your pace, but give diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end, and be followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises. Strengthen the hands that hang down, and the feeble knees. If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small.

Cheer up, my brethren; look what a crown, what a kingdom here is! What say you? Is not here a worthy portion, a goodly heritage? Were it not pity to lose all this for want of diligence and patience? Come, dear Christians and fellow-travellers, I pray you, let us put on. Pluck up the weary limbs; our home is within sight. Lift up your eyes from the Pisgah of the promises. You may see the land of rest. Will any of you think of returning into Egypt? God forbid. A little patience, and Christ will come. Behold, the husbandman waits for the precious fruits of the earth, and has long patience till he receive the early and latter rain. Be also patient, establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord draws near. He is not a Christian indeed who cannot be content to wait for his preferment in another world. Cast upon it, my brethren, that your kingdom is not of this world; that here you must have tribulations; and that all is well as long as we are secured for eternity. Exhort one another daily; strive together in prayer, unite your strength therein, and pull amain. Mercy will come sooner or later; however, we will be content to wait till the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Ah, how surely will He come! He will render tribulation to them that trouble us; and to us that are troubled, rest with Him. Only believe and wait.

What! not watch with him one hour? Why the Judge is even at the door ! And how blessed will you be if you do but continue and hold fast till He come! Watch therefore, and stand fast, acquit yourselves like men: Be zealous, and let your hearts be strong: God is your friend, and you may trust Him. He is able to bear you out and bear you up. Faint not therefore, but be steadfast, unmoveable, abounding in the work of the Lord. Speak often one to another. Provoke to love, and to good works. Let the bay of opposition against godliness make the torrent of your zeal break over with the more violence. But it is time to end. I have been bold to call upon you, you see, and to stir you up by way of remembrance. May the Spirit of the Most High God excite you, encourage you, inflame you! May these poor lines be some quickening to you! May the goodwill of Him who dwelt in the bush dwell with you! My dear loves to you all. Pray for the prisoners. Farewell, dear brethren, farewell in the Lord.

I am, yours in the bonds of the Lord Jesus,

Joseph Alleine.

John Bunyan (1628–1688) Pens His Second Best Book While a Prisoner

John Bunyan writing in prison, Bedford Free Church stained glass window, photo courtesy of Tony Lane.

Some prison writings are clearly inspired by the experience of prison. Such are Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy and Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago. Other books so little suggest prison that they could seemingly have been written anywhere. Such are Grotius’ Commentary on St. Matthew or Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.

It seems that everyone knows Bunyan wrote his allegory Pilgrim’s Progress in prison. There he also wrote the Holy War and Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, an autobiographical account of his conversion, first steps as a preacher, and incarceration for preaching. It is Grace Abounding that we excerpt, rather than the more famous Pilgrim’s Progress, as we show the spirtual battles he fought during his imprisonemnt, and his resultant growth in faith and character. This excerpt has been slightly modified to make it more understandable to modern readers.

A Brief Account of the Author’s Imprisonment.

Having made profession of the glorious Gospel of Christ a long time, and preached the same about five years, I was apprehended at a meeting of good people in the country, among whom, had they let me alone, I should have preached that day, but they took me away from among them, and had me before a justice; who, after I had offered security for my appearing the next sessions, yet committed me, because my sureties would not consent to be bound that I should preach no more to the people.

John Bunyan, Journey of a Pilgrim, is a look at the prisoner who wrote The Pilgrim’s Progress, the most circulated book of all time, next to the Bible.

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At the sessions, after I was indicted as an upholder and maintainer of unlawful assemblies and secret religious meetings, and for not conforming to the national worship of the Church of England, after some conference there with the justices, they, taking my plain dealing with them for a confession, as they termed it, of the indictment, did sentence me to a perpetual banishment, because I refused to conform. So being again delivered up to the jailer’s hands, I was taken back to prison, and there have lain now a full twelve years, waiting to see what God would allow those men to do with me.

In this condition I have continued with much contentment, through grace, but have met with many turnings and goings upon my heart, both from the Lord, Satan, and my own corruption; by all which, glory be to Jesus Christ! I have also received, among many things, much conviction, instruction, and understanding, which I shall not here discuss at length, but only give you a hint or two, a word that may stir up the godly to bless God, and to pray for me; and also to take encouragement, should the case be their own, not to fear what man can do to them.

I never had in all my life so great an insight into the Word of God as now: Those scriptures that I saw nothing in before, were made in this place and condition to shine upon me; Jesus Christ also was never more real and apparent than now; here I have seen and felt him indeed. Oh! that word: “We have not preached unto you cunningly devised fables” (2 Peter 1:16), and this: “God raised Christ from the dead, and gave him glory, that your faith and hope might be in God,” were blessed words unto me in my imprisonment.

These three or four scriptures also have been great refreshments to me in this condition: John 14:1-4; John 16:33; Colossians 3:3,4; and Hebrews 12:22- 24. So that sometimes when I have been in the enjoyment of them I have been able to laugh at destruction, and to fear neither “the horse nor his rider” (Exodus 15). I have had sweet sights of the forgiveness of my sins in this place, and of my being with Jesus in another world. Oh! the Mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, the innumerable company of angels, and God the judge of all, “and the spirits of just men made perfect,” and Jesus (Hebrews 12:22-24), have been sweet to me in this place. I have seen such things here, which I am persuaded I shall never, while in this world, be able to express: I have seen a truth in this scripture, “Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8).

I never knew what it was for God to stand by me at all turns, and at every offer of Satan to afflict me, etc., as I have found him since I came in here: For look, if fears have presented themselves, so have supports and encouragements; yes, when I have started up, even as it were at nothing but my own shadow, yet God, as being very tender to me, has not allowed me to be bothered, but would, with one scripture or another, strengthen me against everything; insomuch that I have often said, “Were it lawful, I could pray for greater trouble, for the greater comfort’s sake” (Ecclesiastes 7:14; 2 Corinthians 1:5).

Before I came to prison I saw what was coming, and had especially two considerations warm upon my heart; the first was, how to be able to encounter death, should that be here my portion. For the first of these, that scripture, Colossians 1:11, was great information to me, namely, to pray to God “to be strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and long-suffering with joyfulness.” I could seldom go to prayer during the whole year before I was imprisoned, but this sentence or sweet petition would, as it were, thrust itself into my mind, and persuade me, that if ever I would get through a lengthy suffering, I must have patience, especially if I would endure it joyfully.

As to the second consideration, that saying was of great use to me, “But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead,” 2 Corinthians 1:9. By this scripture I was made to see, that if ever I would suffer in the right spirit I must first pass a sentence of death upon everything that can properly be called a thing of this life, even to consider myself, my wife, my children, my health, my enjoyments, and all, as dead to me and myself, as dead to them.

The second was to live upon God that is invisible, as Paul said in another place; the way not to faint is to “Look not on the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal” 2 Corinthians 4:18. And thus I reasoned with myself, If I provide only for a prison, then the whip comes at me unawares, and so does the pillory. Again, if I only provide for these, then I am not prepared for banishment: Farther, if I conclude that banishment is the worst, then if death comes I am surprised: So that I see, the best way to go through sufferings is to trust in God through Christ, as touching the world to come; and as touching this world, to count the grave my house, to make my bed in darkness; to say to corruption, “You are my father, and to the worm, You art my mother and sister:’that is, to familiarize these things to me.

But notwithstanding these helps, I found myself a man encompassed with infirmities; the parting with my wife and poor children has often been to me in this place as the pulling of the flesh from my bones, and that not only because I am somewhat too fond of these great mercies, but also because I should have often brought to my mind the many hardships, miseries, and wants that my poor family were like to meet with should I be taken from them, especially my poor blind child, who lay nearer my heart than anyone else.

Oh! the thoughts of the hardship I thought my poor blind one might go under, would break my heart to pieces. Poor child! thought I, what sorrow you are likely to have for your portion in this world! You must be beaten, must beg, suffer hunger, cold, nakedness, and a thousand calamities, though I cannot now endure the wind should blow upon you. But yet recalling myself, I thought, “I must risk all of you with God, though it goes to the most painful senses to leave you.” Oh! I saw in this condition I was as a man who was pulling down his house upon the head of his wife and children; yet thought I, I must do it, I must do it. And now I thought on those two milch cows that were to carry the ark of God into another country, and to leave their calves behind them (1 Samuel 6:10).

But what which helped me in this temptation were various considerations, of which three in special here I will name: The first was the consideration of these two scriptures, “Leave thy fatherless children, I will preserve them alive, and let thy widows trust in me.” And again, “The Lord said, ‘Verily it shall be well with thy remnant, verily I will cause the enemy to entreat thee well in the time of evil,’” (Jeremiah 49:11; 15:11).

I had also this consideration, that if I should risk all for God, I engaged God to take care of my concerns: but if I forsook him in his ways, for fear of any trouble that should come to me or mine, then I should not only falsify my profession, but should count also that my concerns were not so sure if left at God’s feet, while I stood to and for his name, as they would be if they were under my own care, though with the denial of the way of God. This was a smarting consideration, and as spurs into my flanks. That scripture also greatly helped it to fasten the more on me where Christ prays against Judas, that God would disappoint him in his selfish thoughts, which moved him to sell his master. Pray read it soberly (Psalm 109:6-20. 33). I had also another consideration, and that was the dread of the torments of hell, which I was sure they must partake of that for fear of the cross do shrink from their profession of Christ, his words and laws, before the sons of men; I thought also of the glory that he had prepared for those that in faith, and love, and patience, stood to his ways before them. These things, I say, have helped me, when the thoughts of the misery that both myself and mine might, for the sake of my profession, be exposed to, have lain pinching on my mind.

When I have indeed imagined that I might be banished for my profession, then I have thought of that scripture, “They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (of whom the world was not worthy)” Hebrews 11: 37, 38; for all they thought they were too bad to dwell and abide amongst them. I have also thought of that saying, “The Holy Ghost witnesses in every city…that bonds and afflictions await me” (Acts 20:23). I have truly thought that my soul and it have sometimes reasoned about the sore and sad estate of a banished and exiled condition, how they were exposed to hunger, to cold, to perils, to nakedness, to enemies, and a thousand calamities; and at last, it may be, to die in a ditch like a poor and desolate sheep. But I thank God that so far I have not been moved by these most delicate reasonings, but have rather, by them, more approved my heart to God.

I will tell you a pretty business: I was once more than at any other time in a very sad and low condition for many weeks; at which time also, I being but a young prisoner, and not acquainted with the laws, I had this lying much upon my spirits, that my imprisonment might end at the gallows for ought that I could tell. Now therefore Satan laid hard at me, to despirit me, by suggesting thus unto me: “But how if, when you come indeed to die, you should be in this condition; that is, as not to delight in the things of God, nor to have any evidence upon your soul for a better state hereafter?” For indeed, at this time all the things of God were hidden from my soul.

Wherefore when I at first began to think of this, it was a great trouble to me; for I thought with myself, that in the condition I now was in, I was not fit to die, neither indeed did I think I could if I should be called to it; besides I thought with myself, if I should make a scrambling shift to clamber up the ladder [of the scaffold], yet I should, either with quaking or other symptoms of fainting, give occasion to the enemy to reproach the way of God and his people for their timidity. This, therefore, lay with great trouble upon me, for I was ashamed to die with a pale face, and tottering knees, in such a case as this.

So I prayed to God that he would comfort me, and give me strength to do and suffer what he should call me to; yet no comfort appeared, but all continued hidden; I was also at this time so really possessed with the thought of death, that often I was as if I was on the ladder with a rope around my neck; only this was some encouragement to me, I thought I might now have an opportunity to speak my last words to a crowd, which I thought would come to see me die; and, I thought, if it must be so, if God will but convert one soul by my last words, I shall not count my life thrown away nor lost.

But yet all the things of God were kept out of my sight, and still the tempter followed me with, “But where must you go when you die? what will become of you? where will you be found in another world? what evidence have you for heaven and glory, and an inheritance among those that are sanctified?” Thus was I tossed about for many weeks, and knew not what to do; at last this consideration fell with weight upon me, that it was for the word and way of God that I was in this situation; and so I was engaged not to flinch an hair’s breadth from it.

I thought also that while God might choose whether he would give me comfort now or at the hour of death, I might not for my part choose whether I would stick to my profession of faith or not; I was bound, but he was free; yes, it was my duty to stand to his word, whether or not he would ever look upon me or save me at the last: “And so,” thought I, “save the point being thus, I am for going on, and trusting my eternal state with Christ, whether I have comfort here or not. If God does not come in,” thought I, “I will leap off the scaffold even blindfold into eternity, sink or swim, come heaven, come hell, Lord Jesus, if you will catch me, do; if not, I will still risk everything for your name…”

Richard Baxter (1615–1691) and His Wife Set up House in Prison

Richard Baxter, after a painting by Robert Walker in Frederick J. Powicke’s A Life of the Reverend Richard Baxter 1615–1691 Houghton Mifflin, 1924.

Many a prisoner could envy Richard Baxter. He was given far more than conjugal visits—his wife was allowed to live with him in prison.

Baxter was imprisoned for refusing to cease preaching. Living in Acton at that time, he would preach to his family at home, and if anyone cared to drop by at preaching hour, they were welcome to stay and listen. This was during the reign of Charles II in the plague year which ended with the Great Fire of London. Many state-appointed vicars abandoned their people to seek less infected regions, leaving independent and non-conformist churchmen to fill the vaccum they created by their cowardice. People were desperate for spiritual counsel and consolation. Baxter, with many other non-conformists, felt he would be remiss not to give it. The numbers meeting in his home soon rivaled those attending the parish church. Under his solid gospel teaching lives changed. The local vicar, a godless, cursing man, grew jealous.

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Laws were at hand to incarcerate Baxter. At that time Charles was trying to force all non-conformists to take an oath. Most refused. Many went to prison for their defiance.
And so did Baxter. He had already shown himself to be one of the ablest ministers of the day. When he became vicar at Kidderminster, for example, he found a people who were ignorant and profane. Almost none attended church. Baxter preached justification by faith, and insisted on the importance of godly living. He opened God’s word to his hearers and practiced what he preached. “At the beginning of my ministry, I was wont to number them [the godly] as jewels…” he wrote. Later, he could not count them. Five galleries had to be added to the church. “On the Lord’s Day there was no disorder to be seen in the streets; but you might hear a hundred families singing psalms and repeating sermons as you passed through them.”

Over the years, Baxter wrote many godly books. The most famous was his Saints’ Everlasting Rest. However, there were many others, all of them powerful appeals for true godliness. He also wrote an autobiography. Here is his account of prison, in which his chief complaints were the noise, the interruptions, and the lack of religious services.

Richard Baxter’s Account of His Imprisonment

My greatest doubt was, whether the king would not take it ill, that I rather sought to the law than unto him [i.e.: seek a pardon]; or if I sought any release rather than continue in prison. My imprisonment was at present no great suffering to me, for I had an honest jailor, who showed me all the kindness he could. I had a large room, and the liberty of walking in a fair garden. My wife was never so cheerful a companion to me as in prison, and was very much against my seeking to be released. She had brought so many necessaries, that we kept house as contentedly and comfortably as at home, though in a narrower room, and had the sight of more of my friends in a day, than I had at home in half a year. I knew also that if I got out against [my enemies’] will, my sufferings would be never the nearer to an end. But yet, on the other side, it was in the extreme heat of summer, when London was wont to have epidemical diseases. The hope of my dying in prison, I have reason to think, was one great inducement to some of the instruments to move to what they did. My chamber being over the gate, which was knocked and opened with noise of prisoners, just under me almost every night, I had little hope of sleeping but by day, which would have been likely to have quickly broken my strength, which was so little that I did but live [i.e.: was barely breathing]. The number of visitors daily put me out of hope of studying, or of doing anything but entertain them. I had neither leave at any time to go out of doors, much less to church on the Lord’s days, nor on that day to have any come to me, or to preach to any but my family.

Upon all these considerations the advice of some was, that I should petition the king. To this I was averse; and my counsellor, Serjeant Fountain, advised me not to seek to it, nor yet to refuse their favor if they offered it, but to be wholly passive as to the court, and to seek my freedom by law, because of my great weakness and the probability of future peril to my life: and this counsel I followed.

[Instead of seeking a pardon, he appealed with a writ of Habeas Corpus and was eventually released.]