Welcome to the American Christian Heritage Group blog where we give you glimpses of our country's early Christian foundations. We hope you enjoy these, learn more about our Christian heritage and undertake reading of the many cited sources and end notes. Please feel free to register and leave comments.

FIRST NEW ENGLAND HISTORY

October 5th, 2011

We have read about the signing of the Mayflower Compact. One can imagine that it was crowded in that small ship when they gathered with wives and children to watch the 41 men sign the Mayflower Compact. It was a profound moment and a model of self-government and was the beginning of our country as a Christian nation. God and his law were guiding the basic and simple principles in the Compact.

The New England's Memorial_1669 Edition

To get a first-hand history, we are going to rely on a book written by Nathaniel Morton. The book, The New England’s Memorial, along with William Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation comprise of a comprehensive history of the Plymouth Colony.

From December 1645 until his death, Morton was annually elected Secretary of Plymouth Colony, and most of the colony records are in his handwriting. His careful maintenance of the records enabled him [to] compile New England’s Memorial, considered the first comprehensive history of the colony, published at Cambridge in 1669 – and widely considered the first book of history published in the United States. Much of Memorial was based on the history of the colony written by Morton’s uncle, Gov. Bradford, a manuscript that was lost for many years following the American Revolutionary War, when it was likely appropriated by an English soldier. It later turned up in the library of the Bishop of London in 1855, and was returned to Massachusetts.

Morton also wrote First Beginnings and After Progress of the Church of Christ at Plymouth, in New England. Annually since 1961, The Wall Street Journal publishes an excerpt from Morton’s history of Plymouth Colony as an op-ed the Wednesday before Thanksgiving Day.

Morton was also the first to record the list of signers of the Mayflower Compact in his work of 1669. The document itself was lost.

Nathaniel Morton was born in England in 1613 and immigrated to Plymouth with his father on the ship Ann in 1623. After his father’s premature death, Nathaniel was taken into the household of his Uncle William Bradford, then governor of Plymouth.

Morton married Lydia Cooper (1615-23 Sep 1673) on 25 Dec 1635. They had nine children: Remember, Mercy, Hannah, Eleazer, Lydia, Nathaniel, a stillborn daughter, Elizabeth and Joanna. After the death of Lydia, Nathaniel married Anne Pritchard (ca. 1624-26 Dec 1691). Remember Morton, daughter of Nathaniel Morton, married Abraham Jackson of Plymouth, another initial proprietor of the colony. Their descendant Lydia Jackson became the second wife of philosopher, poet and Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson.1

Many scholars consider the Bradford history the better-written volume of the two, and some even classify Morton’s book as an abridgment of his uncle’s work.2

For the early years he drew directly on his uncle’s book, transcribing large portions of it. Until the discovery of the Fulham manuscript, Morton’s book was the best source for Bradford’s text. The part which was concerned with the years following Bradford was written by Morton himself, and is meagre and disappointing, but Johnson and he were long the standard historians for the average New Englander. They may be considered the last of the early group, and in their manner and purposes they looked forward to the second group, men who were either born in America or who arrived after the American ideals were well enough formed to master the newcomers.3

Nathaniel Morton, in his Dedication to the Right Worshipful, Thomas Prince, Esq., Governor of the Jurisdiction of New Plymouth; with The Worshipful, The Magistrates, his assistants in the said government; wrote “N.M. wisheth Peace and Prosperity in this life, and Eternal Happiness in that which to come.” He stated the reason of writing was “…to commemorize to future generations the memorable passages of God’s providence to us and our predecessors in the beginning of this plantation …”4

Morton states the Plymouth colony came about by God’s will; “I have made bold to present your Worships with, and to publish to the world, something of the very first beginnings of the great actions of God in New England, begun at New Plimoth”5 He ties God’s will with the founding of Plymouth and New England; “I should gladly have spoken more particularly of the neighboring united colonies, whose ends and aims in their transplanting of themselves and families, were the same with ours, viz.., the glory of God, the propagation of the gospel, and enlargement of his Majesty’s dominions;” Morton closes his dedication statement by sealing that he not only sees God’s will directing them, but the foundation of Plymouth and other colonies is a ‘City on the Hill’, a divine manifest destiny of our new country; “Your good acceptance whereof, shall ever oblige me to answerable returning of gratitude, and administer to me further cause of thankfulness, that God hath given me an habitation under your just and prudent administrations; and wish for a succession of such as may be skillful to lead our Israel in this their peregrination; and when God shall take you hence, to receive the crown of your labors and travels.”5

Nathaniel Morton addresses the readers as “Christian Reader” and states “Grace and Peace be multiplied; with profit by this following narration.”  The spirit of this world absolutely rejects God. To say that we are a Christian nation nearly stirs up hatred. Yet, we see Nathaniel Morton clearly declaring in his history [for future generations] it was God’s Will.  His letter to the Christian Reader clarifies the godly foundation of our country. This is from the original 1669 book:

Gentle Reader,

I have for some length of time looked upon it as a duty incumbent, especially on the immediate successors of those that have had so large experience of those many memorable and signal demonstrations of God’s goodness, viz. The first beginners of this plantation in New-England, to commit to writing his gracious dispensations on that behalf; having so many inducements thereunto, not only otherwise, but so plentifully in the sacred Scriptures, that so, what we have seen, and what our fathers have told us, we may not hide from our children, shewing to the generations to come the praises of the Lord. Psal. 78. 3, 4. That especially the seed of Abraham his servant, and the children of Jacob his chosen, may remember his marvellous works (Psal. 105. 5, 6.) in the beginning and progress of the planting of New-England, his wonders, and the judgments of his mouth; how that God brought a vine into this w^ilderness; that he cast out the heathen and planted it; and he also made room for it, and he caused it to take deep root, and it filled the land; so that it hath sent forth it’s boughs to the sea, and it’s branches to the river. Psal. 80. 8, 9. And not only 30, but also that He hath guided his people by his strength to his holy habitation, and planted them in the mountain of his inheritance, (Exod. 15. 13.) in respect of precious gospel-enjoyments. So that we may not only look back to former experiences of God’s goodness to our predecessors,”* (though many years before) and so have our faith strengthened in the mercies of God for our times; that so the Church being one numerical body, might not only even for the time he spake with us in our forefathers, (Hos. 12. 4.) by many gracious manifestations of his glorious attributes, Wisdom, Goodness, and Truth, improved for their good, but also rejoyce in present enjoyments of both outward and spirituall mercies, as fruits of their prayers, tears, travels and labours; that as especially God may have the glory of all, unto whom it is most due; so also some rays of glory may reach the names of those blessed saints that were the main instruments of the beginning of this happy enterprize.

So then, gentle Reader, thou mayest take notice, that the main ends of publishing this small history, IS, that God may have his due praise, his servants the mstrumcnts have their names embalmed, and the present and future ages may have the fruit and benefit of God’s great work in the relation of the first planting of New-England. Which ends, if attained, will be great cause of rcjoycing to the publisher thereof, if Psal. G6. C. God give him life and opportunity to take notice thereof.

The method I have observed, is (as I could) in some measure answerable to the ends aforenamed, in inserting some acknowledgement of God’s goodness, faithfulness, and truth upon special occasions, with allusion to the Scriptures; and also taking notice of some special instruments, and such main and special particulars as were pej’spicuouslj remarkable, in way of commendation in them, so far as my intelligence would reach; and especially in a faithful commemorizing, and declaration of God’s wonderful works for, by, and to his people, in preparing a place for them by driving out the heathen before them; bringing them through a sea of troubles; preserving and protecting them from, and in those dangers that attended them in their low estate, when they were strangers in the land; and making this howling wilderness a chamber of rest, safety, and pleasantness, whiles the storms of his displeasure have not only tossed, but endangered the overwhelming of great states and kingdoms, and hath now made it to us a fruitful land, sowed it with the seed of man and beast; but especially in giving us so long a peace, together with the Gospel of peace, and so great a freedom in our civil and religious enjoyments; and also in giving us hopes that we may be instruments in his hands, not only of enlarging of our prince’s dominions, but to enlarge the kingdom of the Lord Jesus, in the conversion of the poor blind natives.

And now, courteous Reader, that I may not hold thee too long in the porch, I only crave of thee to read this following discourse with a single eye, and with the same ends as I had in penning it. Let not the smallness of our beginnings, nor weakness of instruments, make the thing seem little, or the work despicable, but on the contrary, let the greater praise be rendered unto God, who hath effected great things by small means. Let not the harshness of my style, prejudice thy taste or appetite to the dish I present thee with. Accept it as freely as I give it. Carp not at what thou dost not approve, but use it as a remembrance of the Lord’s goodness, to engage to true thankfulness and obedience; so it may be a help to thee in thy journey through the wilderness of this world, to that eternal rest which is only to be found in the heavenly Canaan, which is the earnest desire of

Thy Christian friend,

Nathaniel Morton.6

1  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nathaniel_Morton

2 IBID, footnote

3 The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XV. Colonial and Revolutionary Literature; Early National Literature, Part I; II. The Historians, 1607-1783, 9. Nathaniel Morton; http://www.bartleby.com/225/0209.html

4 Nathaniel Morton, Epistle Dedicatory, The New England’s Memorial, p1 (Cambridge: Printed by S.G. and M.J. for John Usher of Boston, 1669)

5 IBID, p2, 3

6 Nathaniel Morton, Christian Reader, The New England’s Memorial, p1 (Cambridge: Printed by S.G. and M.J. for John Usher of Boston, 1669)

THE MAYFLOWER FAREWELL LETTER

September 8th, 2011

A pastoral farewell letter to those sailing on the first Mayflower trip to America reveals how God’s Sovereignty directed the founding of America, its government and social order.

Stone carving of the Mayflower, Elizabethan Garden, Kenilworth Castle, England

The reason for the Mayflower voyage and its small band of Pilgrims is so profound in its meaning that most of us are unaware of how the decisions that were made and the actions taken have chartered a course making the United States of America a Christian nation. Although our economy is in economic distress (as of this writing) and the secularization of our nation is increasing, it is the very founding principles of our country and dependence on God that may keep and deliver us.

Knowing our American Christian heritage is more critical today than ever before. This history reveals God’s Sovereignty and how He guides His people. Charles B. Galloway (1898) points out, as quoted in Christianity and the American Commonwealth, that God’s plan is the salvation of individuals  and to determine the character of our civil institutions and the course of our social progress.1

England was a country of religious intolerance in the early 17th century. Ministers of the gospel were silenced, imprisoned, or exiled2. The Pilgrims were reformers and made efforts to reform the Church of practices that did not conform to the scriptures. They were tolerated at first, but later, and under King James, they were persecuted. This led to separating themselves from the Church and organizing their own congregations. One group, led by Richard Clyfton, John Robinson, and William Brewster, made a decision to flee England and go to Holland, where religious freedom was permitted. Soon after the congregation settled in Leyden, John Robinson was publicly ordained as their new minister. Other English Separatists had already settled in Holland.3 The decision to relocate was made early in 1619, when Deacon John Carver and Robert Cushman, who had business experience, were sent to London to negotiate with the London Company. They carried with them articles of belief, written by Robinson and Brewster, as evidence of their loyalty and orthodoxy.

Only a minority of the congregation (thirty-five members), under William Bradford, sailed on the Mayflower from England to America. They were joined by sixty-six people from Southampton and London who had little or no religious motivation. The majority of the congregation remained in Leyden, and planned to make the voyage at a later date. John Robinson agreed in advance to go with the group that was in the majority, but did not make the great historic trip. Before Brewster and his group left Holland, a solemn service was held, at which Robinson chose Ezra 8:21 as his text:

“Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river of Ahava, that we might afflict ourselves before our God, to seek of him a right way for us, and for our little ones, and for all our substance.”4

Pastor John Robinson wrote a farewell letter to the passengers of the Mayflower. It was read before departure. This letter set the tone of godly character and addressed the establishment of government. Here is his letter:

“Loving Christian friends, I do heartily and in the Lord salute you all, as being they with whom I am present in my best affection, and most earnest longings after you, though I be constrained for a while to be bodily absent from you. I say constrained, God knowing how willingly, and much rather than otherwise, I would have born my part with you in this first brunt, were I not by strong necessity held back for the present. Make account of me in the mean while, as of a man divided in myself with great pain, and as (natural bonds set aside) having my better part with you. And though I doubt not but in your godly wisdoms, you both foresee and resolve upon that which concerns your present state and condition, both severally and jointly, yet have I thought it but my duty to add some further spur of provocation unto them, who run already, if not because you need it, yet because I owe it in love and duty. And first, as we are daily to renew our repentance with our God, especially for our sins known, and generally for our unknown trespasses, so doth the Lord call us in a singular manner upon occasions of such difficulty and danger as lies upon you, to a both more narrow search and careful reformation of your ways in his sight; least he, calling to remembrance our sins forgotten by us or unrepented of, take advantage against us, and in judgment leave us for the same to be swallowed up in one danger or other; whereas, on the contrary, sin being taken away by earnest repentance and the pardon thereof from the Lord sealed up unto a mans conscience by his spirit, great shall be his security and peace in all dangers, sweet his comforts in all distresses, with happy deliverance from all evil, whether in life or in death.

Now next after this heavenly peace with God and our own consciences, we are carefully to provide for peace with all men what in us lies, especially with our associates, and for that watchfulness must be had, that we neither at all in our selves do give, no nor easily take offense being given by others. Woe be unto the world for offenses, for though it be necessary (considering the malice of Satan and man’s corruption) that offenses come, yet woe unto the man or woman either by whom the offense cometh, says Christ (Matt. 18:7). And if offenses in the unseasonable use of things in themselves indifferent, be more to be feared than death itself, as the Apostle teaches (1 Cor. 9:15), how much more in things simply evil, in which neither honor of God nor love of man is thought worthy to be regarded. Neither yet is it sufficient that we keep ourselves by the grace of God from giving offense, except with all we be armed against the taking of them when they be given by others. For how imperfect and lame is the work of grace in that person, who wants charity to cover a multitude of offenses, as the scriptures speak. Neither are you to be exhorted to this grace only upon the common grounds of Christianity, which are, that persons ready to take offense, either want charity, to cover offenses, or wisdom duly to weigh humane frailty; or lastly, are gross, though close hypocrites, as Christ our Lord teaches (Matt. 7:1-3), as indeed in my own experience, few or none have been found which sooner give offense, then such as easily take it; neither have they ever proved sound and profitable members in societies, which have nourished this touchy humor. But besides these, there are diverse motives provoking you above others to great care and conscience this way: As first, you are many of you strangers, as to the persons, so to the infirmities one of another, and so stand in need of more watchfulness this way, least when such things fall out in men and women as you suspected not, you be inordinately affected with them; which does require at your hands much wisdom and charity for the covering and preventing of incident offenses that way. And lastly, your intended course of civil community will minister continual occasion of offense, and will be as fuel for that fire, except you diligently quench it with brotherly forbearance. And if taking of offense causelessly or easily at men’s doings be so carefully to be avoided, how much more heed is to be taken that we take not offense at God himself, which yet we certainly do so often as we do murmur at his providence in our crosses, or bear impatiently such afflictions as wherewith he pleases to visit us. Store up therefore patience against the evil day, without which we take offense at the Lord himself in his holy and just works.

Another thing there is carefully to be provided for, to wit, that with your common employments you join common affections truly bent upon the general good, avoiding as a deadly plague of your both common and special comfort all retiredness of mind for proper advantage, and all singularly affected any manner of way; let every man repress in himself and the whole body in each person, as so many rebels against the common good, all private respects of men’s selves, not sorting with the general convenience. And as men are careful not to have a new house shaken with any violence before it be well settled and the parts firmly knit, so be you, I beseech you, brethren, much more careful, that the house of God which you are, and are to be, be not shaken with unnecessary novelties or other oppositions at the first settling thereof.

Lastly, whereas you are become a body politic, using amongst yourselves civil government, and are not furnished with any persons of special eminence above the rest, to be chosen by you into office of government, let your wisdom and godliness appear, not only in choosing such persons as do entirely love and will promote the common good, but also in yielding unto them all due honor and obedience in their lawful administrations; not beholding in them the ordinariness of their persons, but God’s ordinance for your good, not being like the foolish multitude who more honor the gay coat, than either the virtuous mind of the man, or glorious ordinance of the Lord. But you know better things, and that the image of the Lord’s power and authority which the magistrate bears, is honorable, in howsoever mean persons. And this duty you both may the more willingly and ought the more conscionably to perform, because you are at least for the present to have only them for your ordinary governors, which yourselves shall make choice of for that work.

Sundry other things of importance I could put you in mind of, and of those before mentioned, in more words, but I will not so far wrong your godly minds as to think you heedless of these things, there being also diverse among you so well able to admonish both themselves and others of what concerns them. These few things therefore, and the same in few words, I do earnestly commend unto your care and conscience, joining therewith my daily incessant prayers unto the Lord, that he who hath made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all rivers of waters, and whose providence is over all his works, especially over all his dear children for good, would so guide and guard you in your ways, as inwardly by his Spirit, so outwardly by the hand of his power, as that both you and we also, for and with you, may have after matter of praising his name all the days of your and our lives. Fare you well in him in whom you trust, and in whom I rest.

An unfeigned well-willer of your happy success in this hopeful voyage,

JOHN ROBINSON.”5

Pastor Robinson emphasizes that they must live in godliness. He concludes the letter (second to last paragraph) by clearly giving instruction to forming a political body.  Again, he encourages the character of the government must also be based on godliness.

In the next blog we will re-visit the Mayflower trip and how God’s providence freed the passengers from their original charter.

1 Charles B. Galloway, Christianity and the American Commonwealth, p3 (American Vision, Inc., Powder Springs, Georgia, © 2005, All rights reserved)

2 Gary DeMar, America’s Christian History: The Untold Story, p53 (2nd ed. American Vision, Inc., Powder Springs, GA 30127, © 1993,1995, All rights reserved)

3 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Robinson_%28pastor%29#Leaving_the_established_church

4 Ibid.

5 http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-religion/1526201/posts

ENDNOTE:

Reread the original blog on the Mayflower Compact here:

http://acheritagegroup.org/blog/?p=91

MEETING HOUSES

February 10th, 2010

View from the pulpit; Paul Wainwright Photographer

Meeting Houses played an important part of our country’s early history. There was little distinction between the settler’s Christian faith and the community-at-large. Seeking religious liberty, the settlers were primarily English Protestants and came to America as Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Quakers and Baptists. Dedicated and serious about their faith, the very earliest Christian worship and meetings were held outdoors.

Beginning in 1648, the central focus of every New England town was the meetinghouse. These structures were usually the largest building in the town. These were always very simple buildings, with no statues, decorations, or stained glass. Not even a cross hung on the wall. The meetinghhouses were used for both religious worship and town business and were the central focus of the community, and were an important point of contact for all. The origin of the “town meeting” form of government, can be traced to meeting houses of the colonies [1]

When the Pilgrim Fathers landed at Plymouth they at once assigned a Lord’s

Olde Meeting House, Sandown, NH; Paul Wainwright Photographer

Day meeting-place for the Separatist church, —” a timber fort both strong and comely, with flat roof and battlements;” and to this fort, every Sunday, the men and women walked reverently, three in a row, and in it they worshipped until they built for themselves a meeting-house in 1648.

As soon as each successive outlying settlement was located and established, the new community built a house for the purpose of assembling therein for the public worship of God ; this house was called a meeting-house. Cotton Mather said distinctly that he ” found no just ground in Scripture to apply such a trope as church to a house for public assembly.” The church, in the Puritan’s way of thinking, worshipped in the meeting-house, and he was as bitterly opposed to calling this edifice a church as he was to calling the Sabbath Sunday. His favorite term for that day was the Lord’s Day.

The settlers were eager and glad to build their meeting-houses; for these houses of God were to them the visible sign of the establishment of that theocracy which they had left their fair homes and had come to New England to create and perpetuate. But lest some future settlements should be slow or indifferent about doing their duty promptly, it was enacted in 1675 that a meeting-house should be erected in every town in the colony; and if the people failed to do so at once, the magistrates were empowered to build it, and to charge the cost of its erection to the town. [2]

There were also ‘churches’ that were built. It appears that these were not community established, but were Anglican and Lutheran houses of worship and, in mostly Maryland, Roman Catholic churches, all founded by their respective denominations.

What make the meetinghouses so important are the beginnings of American democracy. A distinctive political format began in these meetinghouses called town meetings. These town meetings were an outgrowth out of the church meetings of elders. It is interesting to see that our Christian roots are deeply based in the faith of the settlers and the government of the church. These town meetings provided the citizens a place to gather to discuss issues of the day. Only men of property could vote. Nonetheless, town meetings afforded New Englanders an unusually high level of participation in government. Such meetings still function in many New England communities today

Old South Meeting House

In Boston, Massachusetts the Old South Meeting House still stands today as a testimony to the power and influence of these town meetings. The Old South Meeting House was Colonial Boston’s largest building. In New England, meetinghouses were often used for public gatherings as well as for worship. In Boston, meetings too large for Boston’s town hall, Faneuil Hall, were often held at the Old South Meeting House because of its great size and central location. The steeple of Old South Meeting House also served a community purpose, housing an enormous clock, installed by the town in 1770, which is still in place today. The congregation that built the Old South Meeting House in 1729 was descended from the Puritans who founded Massachusetts Bay Colony in the early 17th century.

In the years leading to the American Revolution, colonists gathered at the Meeting House to challenge British rule. In the late 1760’s and early 1770’s, many Bostonians became increasingly outraged at the way they were treated by the British government. Boston’s anger at British taxes and policies exploded during town meetings. As the largest building in town, the Old South Meeting House became a favorite stage in Boston’s drama of revolution. Here are a few events that came out of these meetings;

THE BOSTON MASSACRE

Boston’s patriots were outraged by the arrival of British troops sent to keep order in 1768. They considered the redcoats quartered in Boston a blatant challenge to their liberty. On March 5, 1770, tensions erupted when British soldiers fired into a menacing crowd, killing 5 men. The next day a mass meeting of several thousand people gathered at Old South. Led by Samuel Adams, the angry assembly forced Acting Royal Governor Hutchinson to remove the British troops to a fort in the harbor. The patriots’ victory demonstrated Adams’s genius for organizing political dissent and getting results. Each year from 1771 to 1775, large meetings were held at Old South to commemorate the anniversary of the Boston Massacre, with rousing speeches by patriots such as John Hancock and Dr. Joseph Warren.

THE BOSTON TEA PARTY

Yet it was the meeting that took place on December 16, 1773 that sealed Old South’s fate as one of this country’s most significant buildings. On that day, over 5, 000 men crowded into Old South and joined in a fiery debate on the controversial tea tax. When the final attempt at compromise failed, Samuel Adams gave the signal that started the Boston Tea Party. The Sons of Liberty led the way dumping 342 chests of tea into the harbor at Griffin’s Wharf. [3]

[1] New England, InfoPlease.com
[2] The Sabbath in Puritan New England, Alice Morse Earle, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1891
[3] Old South Meeting House, History and Mission, www.oldsouthmeetinghouse.org

Endnote: A Space for Faith, The Colonial Meeting Houses of New England, a book of photographs by large-format photographer Paul Wainwright available this spring. Visit his web site to view photos and selections from the book and place an order at www.colonialmeetinghouses.com

Bibliography:
• The New England Meeting Houses of the Seventeenth Century, Marian Card Donnelly
Meetinghouse & Church in Early New England, Edmund W. Sinnott
Houses of Worship: An Identification Guide to the History and Styles of American Religious Architecture, Jeffrey Howe
Early Connecticut Meeting Houses, J. Frederick Kelly (1947)
Colonial Meetinghouses of New Hampshire, Eva Speare (1955)
Some Old-Time Meeting Houses of the Connecticut Valley, Charles A. Wright (1911)
An Inventory of Nonconformist Chapels and Meeting Houses, Christopher Stell (Four Volumes)