Tuesday, July 7, 2020

We consider the year 1647 and the death of the “father of Connecticut,” Thomas Hooker. The reading is from "Tomb thou shalt not hold Him longer" by Phillips Brooks.

It is the 7th of July 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.

The year was 1647.

In the colonies, the first settlements were beginning to establish themselves with charters and set boundaries. There were essentially two colonial “regions” at this point. The southern area spanned from Jamestown in Southern Virginia up through Maryland, just south of modern-day Philadelphia. The northern colonies ranged from Southern New York up the Atlantic coast into what is now Maine.

In 1647 Peter Stuyvesant came to New Amsterdam. This generally cranky so-and-so was nicknamed Peg Leg Pete for his wooden right leg. He was the last general director of New Amsterdam. It was under Pete that the English took the Dutch holdings and renamed them, New York.

Speaking of cranky so and so’s, 1647 saw the preaching and publication of Nathaniel Ward’s sermon against religious toleration. He believed that suffering “false religions” to worship freely was worse than the persecution of true religion.

In more fun colonial news, the Massachusetts Bay Colony passed a law in 1647 that forbade any Jesuit priests from settling in their territory. In the spirit of Christian charity, the Puritans would only banish Jesuits for their first offense. On committing a second offense, the penalty was death.

In 1647, John Winthrop’s Journal noted the first execution of a witch in the colonies. Alice Young was hanged. Two notes on that: first, fun fact: while hung is almost always the proper word for the past tense of hang, unless you’re referring to a person who has been sentenced to die by hanging. Then, “they were hung”

Also, hanging was seen as an enlightened and civilized alternative to burning. Burning witches had been standard to protect the people from posthumous sorcery or, instead, the fear of posthumous sorcery, because witches aren’t real. Nevertheless, Alice Young was married to a man who owned land, and she had not given birth to a son. The fact that she would inherit the property after her husband’s death may have been a factor in the accusations against her. Furthermore, an outbreak of influenza in 1646 and 1647 led many to look for scapegoats. Alice’s daughter, Alice Young Beaton, was charged with witchcraft 30 years later. She escaped conviction and the fate of her mother.

In 1647 Nathaniel Bacon was born. He would immigrate from England to Virginia, where he led the first popular revolt in the British colonies. The progenitor of Bacon’s rebellion, he was generally a scoundrel. The rebellion was a bust. He died of dysentery shortly after. And the aftermath of the rebellion is cited by many as the beginning of racial tensions between European and Afro-Caribbean peoples in America.

And it was on this day, the 7th of July, in 1647 that Thomas Hooker died. Considered the “father of Connecticut,” the clergyman was born in 1586 in Leicestershire, England. Hooker was a fervent preacher against practices in the Church of England and was called before the high commission in 1630. He fled the country to Holland and then left for the New World in 1633.

Hooker because a pastor in what is now Cambridge, and he attracted a following due to his preaching and the contrast between himself and the famed Puritan and hardliner John Cotton. Hooker had advocated for democratic reforms in the church and soon took his followers to settle what is today, Hartford, Connecticut.

Amongst his reforms was a call for universal suffrage divorced from church membership. While this “universal” suffrage excluded women and non-land owners, it was a step in the direction of religious freedom. Usually, one had to be a member of the church in good standing to be allowed to vote in colonial elections. Furthermore, Hooker called for congregationalism instead of Presbyterianism as the church polity that best reflected democratic impulses. Rather than a body of churches governed by outside entities or “presbyteries,” the congregational model gave autonomy to the individual congregation. This model would become the favorite for the later founding generation.

Hooker famously preached a sermon in which he said, “the foundation of authority is laid firstly in the consent of the free people.” It is this line of thought things that made him an icon for the budding concept of democratic principles both within the church and in society. Hooker spent his life preaching Hartford, dying there on this day in 1647. Born in 1586, Thomas Hooker was 61 years old.

The reading for today is a quatrain from Phillips Brooks, from a hymn that bears the title of the first line of this reading.

Tomb thou shalt not hold Him longer

Death is strong but life is stronger

Stronger than the dark, the light,

Stronger than the wrong, the right.

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 7th of July 2020, presented by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by a man who, in the past tense, is Christopher Gillespied. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day, and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true; everything is going to be ok.

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