William Witter allowed John Clarke, John Crandall, and Obadiah Holmes to come into his house and conduct a Baptist meeting. It was on the night of July 19, 1651. This was more than the authorities could handle, and, while these men were expounding the Scriptures, two constables broke in and arrested them.
They were confined in the ordinary that night and were considered as “thieves and robbers” by the officers. Then they were placed in the Boston jail.
John Clarke, John Crandall, and Obadiah Holmes were brought to a public trial on July 31, 1651. This was executed without a jury and entirely at the mercy of the magistrates. Governor John Endicott charged all three men for being “Anabaptists”. Then, the governor replied,
“…we denied infant baptism, and being somewhat transported, told me I had deserved death, and said he would not have such trash brought into his jurisdiction. Moreover, he said, You go up and down and secretly insinuate into those that are weak, but you cannot maintain it before our ministers. You may try and dispute with them.”
Clarke was about to speak but was suddenly stopped and brought back to prison. That was when Obadiah Holmes stepped forward and said, “I bless God, I am counted worthy to suffer for the name of Jesus.” The Puritan pastor John Wilson cursed and hit Holmes for making this statement and said, “The curse of God or Jesus go with thee.”
The defense attorney appointed to defend these Baptist “dissenters” was John Cotton. Instead of supporting the preachers, he called for their death sentence stating that they were “soul murderers”.
Clarke was fined twenty pounds or to be “well whipped”. Crandall was charged five pounds or to be “well whipped”. Holmes was penalized thirty pounds or to be “well whipped”. Clarke and Crandall were soon released “upon the payment of their fines by some tenderhearted friends”. Holmes refused for his fine to be paid because he felt that he was guilty of nothing but preaching the gospel of the Son of God.
John T. Christian, A History of the Baptists
Holmes would remain in jail from July to September of 1651. This was a time of separation from his wife Catherine (whom he was married to for over 50 years) and nine children: Joseph, John, Hope, Obadiah, Samuel, Martha, Mary, Jonathan, and Lydia.
On September 5, 1651 Obadiah Holmes was brought before the old State house to be whipped. Although he could have accepted deliverance, he denied it. Gaustad wrote,
“As the strokes began to fall, Holmes prayed once more and in truth, he later wrote, I never ‘had such a spiritual manifestation of God’s presence.’ And though the executioner spat upon his hands, and laid the three-corded whip ‘with all his strength’ thirty times across the prisoner’s bare back, yet ‘in a manner [I] felt it not.’ When the whipping was finished and Holmes was untied from the post, he turned to the magistrates and said, ‘You have struck me as with roses’.”
Holmes certainly paid a price for his faith as a Baptist and his desire for soul liberty. He was beaten in such an unmerciful manner that Governor Jenckes wrote,
“Mr. Holmes was whipt thirty stripes, and in such an unmerciful manner, that in many days, if not some weeks, he could take no rest but as he lay on his knees and elbows, not being able to suffer any part of his body to touch the bed whereon he lay.”
Because of this account John Clarke wrote a book titled Ill Newes from New England. In this publication Clarke stated, “That while old England is becoming new, New England is become old.” He further wrote,
“This tragedy being thus acted in the face of the Country, must needs awaken and rouse up the minds, and spirits of many, cause sad thoughts to arise in their hearts, and to flow forth at their mouths as men offended…”
The beating of Obadiah Holmes led to two major events. First, it prompted John Clarke to leave the colonies to sail to England. In doing so, he was able to attain the Royal Charter of 1663. Second, the First Baptist Church of Boston was established because of the sermons of Henry Dunster (the first president of Harvard University). Dunster was motivated to oppose infant baptism publicly because of the beating of Holmes.
John T. Christian, A History of the Baptists
Shubal Stearns was born in Boston, Massachusetts, January 28, 1706. He was the son of Shubal Stearns and Rebecca Larriford. About 1745, Stearns joined the New Lights, as the converted Congregational communities that originated from, the ministry of George Whitefield in New England were designated. Called of God to proclaim the unsearchable of Christ, he speedily became a minister among the pious New Lights, and exercised his gifts among them until 1751. At this time, like many of his brethren, he was constrained by reading the Scriptures to accept believer’s immersion as the baptism of the New Testament; and after receiving this conviction, as the Saviour alone was his Master, he came out boldly as a Baptist. He was immersed on a profession of his faith, in Tolland, Connecticut, by Wait Palmer, in 1751, and on May 20th of that year he was ordained to the Baptist ministry by Wait Palmer and Joshua Morse.
Shubal Stearns received an impression, as he thought from God, that there was a great work for him to do outside of New England, and he obeyed what was undoubtedly a divine call, and started in 1754 for his expected field of labor. He had no definite section to which he directed his steps, but expecting divine guidance, he was constantly looking out for providential openings. He stopped for a time at Opeckon Creek, Virginia, where there was a church under the pastoral care of Elder Heton. Stearns rested for a short time at Cacapon, near Winchester, but anticipating greater success in his ministry than he enjoyed in that place, he removed, with his relatives, to Sandy Creek, North Carolina. There, as soon as he arrived, he constituted a Baptist church of sixteen persons. Shubal Stearns was elected pastor of the infant church. These devoted servants of God immediately built a meeting-house for public worship. Daniel Marshall and Joseph Breed were appointed to assist the pastor in his ministerial duties.
In the region around Sandy Creek the people knew nothing of the Christian religion except what they had learned from Episcopal clergymen, who in that section, at that time, were unconverted men, and their irreligious darkness was dense. The new heart to them was an unknown mystery, and paltry and commonly unpractised duties, instead of the Saviour’s sufferings, were the only known means of salvation. The instructions of Mr. Stearns and the godly lives of the church members were an astonishing revelation to their neighbors. Soon some of them were called by the Spirit into the liberty of the gospel, and their experience filled their acquaintances with even greater wonder.
A mighty outpouring of the Holy Spirit fell upon the truth proclaimed by the pastor and the licensed preachers of Sandy Creek church, and as a result throngs of converts surrounded the gospel banner, and mission communities were organized far and near. The parent body in a few years had 606 members, and in seventeen years from its origin it had branches southward as far as Georgia, eastward to the sea and the Chesapeake Bay, and northward to the waters of the Potomac. It had become the mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother of forty-two churches, from which 125 ministers were sent out as licentiates or ordained clergymen. And in after years the power that God gave Shubal Stearns and his Sandy Creek church in its early years swept over Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, and South Carolina with resistless force, and brought immense throngs to Christ, and established multitudes of Baptist churches. There are today probably thousands of churches that arose from the efforts of Shubal Stearns and the church of Sandy Creek.
Elder Stearns traveled extensively in his own region, preaching Jesus, organizing churches, and giving counsel to the new communities which were formed. And his labors in every department of his work were remarkably blessed. Shubal Stearns,
“…was of small stature, had a very expressive and penetrating eye, and a voice singularly harmonious; his enemies, it is said, were sometimes captivated by his musical voice. Many things are related of the enchanting sound of his voice, and the glance of his eyes, which had a meaning in every movement.”
Shubal Stearns was undoubtedly one of the greatest ministers that ever presented Jesus to perishing multitudes, and one of the most successful soul-winners that ever unfurled the banner of Calvary. He died in November or 1771 and is buried at the Sandy Creek Baptist Church in Liberty, North Carolina.
William Cathcart, The Baptist Encyclopedia
The Separate Baptist revival, in which Shubal Stearns and Daniel Marshall served so faithfully, had as one of its consequences the winning of many converts in Virginia and the establishment of many Baptist churches. Without it those relatives of Jefferson who were Baptist, and taught him the purest form of democracy he had ever seen, might not have inspired him, James Madison would not have been affected by hearing the unjustly imprisoned Elijah Craig preach out the windows of the Orange County jail, and John Leland might not have been able to exert such an important influence on the Bill of Rights.
May God grant that our independent Baptist churches, which are slowly forgetting their heritage and getting away from old time religion, going after strange new contemporary ways, dropping the name Baptist for community church or even calling themselves worship centers, will think on these things and honour the landmarks their Separate Baptist fathers have set.
James H. Sightler, The Separate Baptist Revival and its Influence in the South
Shubal Stearns was born in Boston, Massachusetts on January 28, 1706. He was the son of Shubal Stearns and Rebecca Larriford. About 1745, Stearns joined the New Lights, as the converted Congregational communities that originated from, the ministry of George Whitefield in New England were designated. Called of God to proclaim the unsearchable of Christ, he speedily became a minister among the pious New Lights, and exercised his gifts among them until 1751. At this time, like many of his brethren, he was constrained by reading the Scriptures to accept believer’s immersion as the baptism of the New Testament, and after receiving this conviction, as the Saviour alone was his Master, he came out boldly as a Baptist. He was immersed on a profession of his faith, in Tolland, Connecticut by Wait Palmer, in 1751, and on May 20 of that year he was ordained to the Baptist ministry by Elder Palmer and Joshua Morse.
He was undoubtedly one of the greatest ministers that ever presented Jesus to perishing multitudes, and one of the most successful soul-winners that ever unfurled the banner of Calvary. He had a remarkable voice, he was eloquent, wise, humble, pathetic, full of faith, and wholly consecrated to God, and few men ever enjoyed more of the Spirit’s presence in the closet and in preaching the gospel.
William Cathcart, The Baptist Encyclopedia