NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

March 27, 2014

Powow preacher spats with Puritans

As I See It
Melissa Berry

---- — During preparations for a visit to the Macy-Colby house in Amesbury next month, research led to some intriguing court documents that divulge the spiritual squabbles surrounding Thomas Macy, the first to occupy the dwelling in 1649.

Although listed in early deeds as a “merchant” and “Clothier,” Macy’s “great energy and determined will” earned him multiple positions of rank including that of town clerk, deputy to the General Court, and overseer of highways and schools. Macy also received a grant for a sawmill on “the west side of the Powow, with the privilege of using all the timber on the common.”

By all accounts, Macy appeared to be a golden boy with the Puritan power heads, except on matters of prayer. In fact, he openly defied them by preaching with Joseph Peaslee in separate assembly from the authorized Sabbath. This did not go over well with Puritan officials, who deemed it “unfit preaching” and charged the two provocateurs with “exhorting the people on the Sabbath in the absence of an ordained minister.” The General Court had passed a law in prohibiting preaching “except by leave of the authorities.”

Since Master Macy was not the sort of fellow to be trifled with, he made it very clear that his faith would not be dictated to him and “Brother Peaslee, brave confessor” was not about to rob followers of “gifted” sermons. This surge of passion animated another pet of the Puritan fold, Robert Pike, who held high public offices.

Pike spoke out against “restraining unfit persons from constant preaching” and engaged on a crusade against the civil tribunal, asserting they “had violated their oaths as freeman; that their act was against the liberty of the country, both civil and ecclesiastical, and that he stood ready to make his declaration good.”

The provoked court arraigned the “culprit who thus dared to insult their majesty.” A series of petitions were filed to release Pike from his charges. Notables from several towns signed, and the court ordered commissioners to gather “incorrigibles” to give reason on why they were “induced to subscribe” to such a defiance. Pike waged on, accusing the leaders of “assailing magisterial authority and dignity.”

Certain commissioners who sided with Pike, such as Thomas Bradbury and William Gerrish, retracted to avoid trouble with the boss-men magistrates. Most became “refractory spirits” and were fined for turning on God’s chosen officials, but 15 men stood their ground after the officials finished their hunt.

Here are a few of the loyal souls who held up their conviction to the court: John Bishop “desired to go to the meeting house and turned his back and went away” (QC 1:367). John Emery and John Bond refusing to comply and did so in “a bold, flouting manner.” Benjamin Swett replied, “Every free subject hath liberty to petition for any that had been in esteem, without offence to any; and the petition itself hath answer in itself sufficient.” John Wolott agreed if he “be called to [a higher] power to answer, he will then answer and so went away very highly” (368).

In 1657, Macy found himself in further turmoil for sheltering traveling Quakers in his barn during a fierce rain storm. For this brief hour of gracious harbor he was ordered to appear in court, but he sent the officials a letter instead.

In 1658, “certain inhabitants” (Macy and Peaslee) filed a petition to break off from the official church of Reverend Worcester, but it was denied. The court demanded attendance to the true fellowship, and fines were issued to the flock of dissenters for “slighting and neglecting the order” and “disorderly practices.” However, Peaslee preached on as the “Come-outer,” and Pike, “the moral and fearless hero of New England,” fought injustice against Quakers and accused witches.

Macy sought religious refuge on a voyage recalled in Whittier’s poem, “The Exiles.” Macy legend states that his wife, Sarah, pleaded with him above the cries of their five tots to curtail his warrior spirit and sail away from an evil storm brewing, but he just replied, “Woman, go below and seek thy God. I fear not the witches on earth, nor the devils in hell.”

The crew made it to safety to Nantucket, where Macy took an active role in negotiating the purchase of the island.

Thomas Mayhew sold it for 30 pounds sterling and two beaver hats.

Although Macy was accused of skirting the Mass Bay despots, this sturdy pioneer preacher consciously chose not to accept laws that openly engaged in religious persecution.

With that said, no one could accuse this pulpiteer of missing his true calling where “charity and freedom dwell,” so “Let the dim shadows of the past” be a reminder for today.

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More next month from the Macy-Colby Home — taproom tiffs and courtroom clashes. Visit Melissa Berry’s blog, http://ancestoryarchives.blogspot.com.