June 21, 1677: Samuel Sewall Approves the Persecution of Quakers

Samuel Sewall feared and disliked the Quakers who zealously challenged the Puritan regime in Massachusetts. Sewall, who sat in judgment during the Salem witch trials, had no problem with the persecution of Quakers.

Samuel Sewall

Samuel Sewall

The Puritans had struggled and sacrificed to protect their independence and their state religion. Then the Quakers attacked both. They loudly ‘trespassed’ in Boston and other towns. Quakers burst into church services, disrupted baptisms, shouted in the streets, sent letters to ministers questioning their religion and  predicted great calamities that would fall on New England.

Persecution of Quakers

The Puritans responded harshly to the Quaker troublemakers, imposing severe punishments. They cut off Quaker ears, bored through Quaker tongues and hanged Quaker bodies. From 1659 to 1661, four Quakers, including Mary Dyer, were hanged as Quakers in Boston.


Quaker Mary Dyer headed to the gallows.

When King Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660, he  sent a letter to the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, John Endecott. In the letter he ordered an end to the persecution of Quakers.

The Puritans didn’t want to invite a crackdown by the English government. But slowly and grudgingly they began to tolerate Quakers. And Quakers eventually stopped confronting Puritans, evolving into mainstream New Englanders.

That process, though, took a long time. Samuel Sewall, for example, described a Quaker disturbance during a sermon on July 8, 1677. “[T]here came in a female Quaker, in a Canvas Frock, her hair disheveled and loose like a Periwigg, her face as black as ink, led by two other Quakers, and two others followed. It occasioned the greatest and most amazing uproar that I ever saw.”

Tis to be feared

Not until 1685 did the Massachusetts General Court annul a law sentencing Quakers to death for returning from banishment.

On June 21, 1677, Samuel Sewall wrote in his diary:

June 21, 1677. Just at the end of the Sermon (it made Mr. Allen break off the more abruptly) one Torrey, of Roxbury, gave a suddain and amazing cry which disturbed the whole Assembly. It seems he had the falling sickness. Tis to be feared the Quaker disturbance and this are ominous.

For a good explanation of why the Puritans persecuted Quakers, check out The Historic Present.


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