New Hampshire

In 1662 Robert Pike Halts a Quaker Persecution in Massachusetts

In 1662 three English Quakers arrived in Dover, N.H. It didn’t take long before the Puritan townspeople spoke up about the newcomers. They petitioned Richard Waldron, the magistrate at Dover, “humbly craving relief against the spreading and the wicked errors of the Quakers among them.” Dover was frontier country and Waldron was the vice president of the New Hampshire colony and the representative to the Massachusetts General Court, where Quaker persecution was a hotly debated issue.

quaker persecution

Illustration of Mary Dyer

An ornery Puritan who came from England to New Hampshire in 1635, Waldron came from wealth and he expanded it greatly, acquiring lands in Dover where he constructed mills on the Cochecho River and ran an active trading post with the local Pennacook Indians, with whom he maintained largely friendly relations.

The Quakers, meanwhile, were proving themselves a thorn in the side of New England’s Puritans. They had begun arriving in the colonies in 1656, and agitated for religious freedom. The General Court in Massachusetts repeatedly voted to ban the Quakers and they were punished by an assortment of methods, including whipping and branding.

But the Quakers persisted in demanding their rights. Several chose to become martyrs rather than accept offers of leniency, unless the state authorities would rescind the bans on Quakerism. In 1660, Massachusetts had even executed four Quakers who refused to renounce their faith. This group included Mary Dyer, a martyr who knew her execution would prove controversial for the political leaders of Massachusetts.

In 1662, Waldron had the Dover Quakers – Ann Coleman, Mary Tompkins and Alice Ambrose – arrested as vagabonds. He ordered that they be tied to the back of a cart and walked the 60-plus miles to Boston. Waldron ordered that at each town along the way they were to be stripped and whipped by the local constable. After carrying out the sentence in Dover, the cart was dispatched to Hampton. There, the constable also carried out the punishment.

The next stop along the punishment trail was Salisbury, Mass. Here, the whippings stopped.

Robert Pike was a constable, militia leader and deputy to the Massachusetts General Court for Salisbury. Though the General Court had outlawed Quakerism, the decision was far from unanimous. Pike and others supported religious freedom, and he and others in Salisbury were outraged at the order to whip the women.

Pike and Walter Barefoot, a political rival to Waldron in New Hampshire, treated the three Quakers’ wounds and helped them escape to Maine. The Quakers correctly believed that the persecution was backfiring. Each incident brought greater attention to their struggle and fresh converts to their faith.

In 1661, the King of England had ordered the colonies to stop executing and imprisoning Quakers. Rather, they were to be sent to England. This was probably the fate Waldron had in mind for the three women he sent to Boston.

Instead, what happened was the three Quakers returned quietly to Dover and established a church there. Fully one third of Dover’s population would eventually convert to Quakerism. Active persecution of the Quakers died out around 1670.

Waldron, in New Hampshire, would meet a horrific fate. Following King Philip’s War in 1678, a group of Indian fighters had fled to New Hampshire. Waldron managed to trick the Indians into attending a “war game.” As soon as they had discharged their muskets, he seized the Indians and sent them to Boston. They were banished into slavery for their part in the war.

The result was that many New Hampshire Indians viewed Waldron with contempt. In 1689 a band of Indians killed him. Waldron was 80.

Robert Pike, meanwhile, had continued his protests for greater religious tolerance. In 1692, as the Salem witch hysteria was gaining momentum, Pike authored a letter to one of the judges in the witch trials. Pike criticized the way the trials were conducted. While he did not dispute whether witchcraft was real, he argued that the Salem trials were not sound.

Pike’s letter made him the first of many who began attacking the witch trials, eventually bringing them to an end. He died in 1706.

Pike’s actions in the Quaker incident were immortalized by John Greenleaf Whittier. In the poem, How the Women Went from Dover, the word of justice Pike are recorded:

Cut loose these poor ones and let them go;

Come what will of it, all men shall know

No warrant is good, though backed by the Crown,

For whipping women in Salisbury town!

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