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Notes and Documents QUAKER VERSUS BAPTIST: A RELIGIOUS AND POLITICAL SQUABBLE IN RHODE ISLAND THREE HUNDRED YEARS AGO By J. William Frost* The visit of George Fox to Rhode Island from May 30 until July 26, 1672, came just three weeks after a major upheaval in colony politics, which spotlighted the rise to power of Friends. In the election of May, 1672, the freemen elected seventeen new deputies (out of twenty), six new assistants, a new governor, and deputy governor. Nicholas Easton, the new governor, was a Quaker and his Quaker sons served respectively as attorney and treasurer for the colony. The deputy governor, Captain John Cranston, was not a Friend, but Fox's Journal testifies to his sympathy with Friends. AU the deputies from Newport and at least half of the Portsmouth delegates were Quakers.1 The reason for these successes lay in a series of unpopular laws passed by the previous assembly which met in March and April. That assembly, beset with a claim against a sizable amount of land in Narragansett coveted by Connecticut speculators who were aided by some inhabitants of Rhode Island, passed a series of strong acts. John Clarke, who had obtained the charter in 1663, was authorized to return to London in order to appeal to the Crown to stop Connecticut's encroachments. Sending Clarke required a stiff new tax of £200, and the colony at that time was still painfully aware of the £600 required to pay Clarke's original expenses in *Associate Professor of Religion and Director of the Friends Historical Library, Swarthmore College. 1. Records of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, ed. John R. Bartlett (Providence, 1856), II, 434, 449-450; Journal of George Fox, ed. John Nickalls (Cambridge, England, 1952), 621, 624. In the seventeenth century membership lists of Rhode Island Quakers are not complete . There are individuals known to be Quakers whom one can not find mentioned in the available official records. After Fox came in 1672, meetings began listing the birth and death dates of individuals, but diere is often no precise indication when the person became a Friend. I have relied on James Arnold, Vital Records of Rhode Island (Providence, 1891), vol. VII for information on Quakers in the assembly. 39 40QUAKER HISTORY obtaining the charter. (One town was still in arrears in 1670 for that bill. ) In order to impress people with the power of the colony, the assembly passed a sedition law making it a crime to speak or act against any tax or rate levied by the colony. Any citizen who supported an alien intrusion and attempt to exercise jurisdiction over lands of the colony could have his estates confiscated. To insure regular attendance at its sessions, the assembly raised the per diem allowance for the governor, deputy governor, and assistants. While the deputies' pay remained unchanged, they voted themselves a free dinner after each day's session in order to keep "love" and "for ripeninge" of "consultation" between deputies and assistants.2 One issue the April, 1672 assembly had sidestepped was what to do about William Harris. Harris, one of the original settlers of Providence, was at various times a Baptist, an anarchist, a pacifist, a member of the town council at Providence, a deputy, and an assistant. His one constant pole was antipathy to Roger Williams. Harris had recently become a Quaker, at least partially (so Roger Williams charged) because he wanted Friends' support for a large tract of land at Pawtucket. As early as 1640 Harris claimed that the Pawtucket lands had been bought from the Narragansett Indians as a part of the original Providence purchase, but Williams insisted that Harris purposely misinterpreted the deeds of sale in order to defraud the Indians.3 Since Harris' land speculation would have been profitable only if the grant were divided among the first settlers rather than the whole population of Providence , Williams mobilized the later and poorer arrivals—the socalled twenty-five acre men-—in order to stop Harris. Frustrated by his long struggle to persuade the freemen of Providence or the colony to endorse his land claims, Harris turned to Connecticut. Outraged, the assembly in February, 1671/72...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1934-1504
Print ISSN
0033-5053
Pages
pp. 39-52
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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