Baptists, Puritans, and the Witch Hunt!

-By Don Boys, Ph.D.

Hatred of Baptists was not limited to the Old World. The New World had its haters also and Baptists had to suffer the whip, the club, and prison to gain their religious liberty.

Boston authorities imprisoned three Baptists and whipped one of them grievously. This whipping of Obadiah Holmes was witnessed by Henry Dunster, president of Harvard College, and it made a life-changing impression on him. Dunster looked closer at the question of infant baptism and concluded that the Baptist position was the Bible position. When he made that announcement, it produced heartburn in every Puritan in New England.

Dunster was a scholar of Hebrew, Greek, Latin, and the Oriental languages. He was also an able preacher, and his conversion to Baptist principles was one of the most sensational events that occurred during that period. He refused to permit his own child to be “baptized” in the Congregational Church where he was a member! He felt strongly impressed (by the Puritans) to resign his position at Harvard. (Hey, what happened to academic freedom?)

All this sensational news didn’t hurt the growth of Baptists in New England, and they continued to erect buildings (illegally) while the Puritans turned up the heat. The Baptists built a church building in 1679, but the Puritan officials passed a law that required a “license from the authorities.” The Puritan authorities thought they could control the Baptists if they required a license to meet. That is what a license is for today—control.

Even the King of England chided the Puritans by reminding them that, “liberty of conscience was made a principal motive for your transportation into these parts.” But to no avail. When the Baptists arrived for a service, they found the church door nailed shut. They had to have a license to meet. Just two problems: It was contrary to their convictions to ask for permission to do what God had commanded them to do and they could not get a license even if they applied for one! Those laws were rescinded in later years and even Cotton Mather preached an ordination sermon for a Baptist preacher in Boston and apologized for the persecution of Baptists!

While the Puritan clergy were demanding the execution of “witches” the Baptists were calling for toleration and caution. Rev. Cotton Mather and twelve other pastors issued a statement concerning a large number of accused “witches” in their jails. They called for “speedy and vigorous punishment” of the “witches.” Build the scaffold, get the rope, hang them high, and let them swing. All in the name of religion!

Baptist William Milburne was arrested for circulating a petition for signatures of those who objected to further persecution of suspected “witches.” “The innocent will be condemned,” the Baptist said, and “a woeful chain of consequences will follow, inextricable damage will be done this province.” (It wasn’t going to help the “witches” much either.)

Robert Calef of the Baptist Church in Boston, wrote More Wonders from the Invisible World that was published in 1700. It was a criticism of the witchcraft hysteria and the part played by Cotton Mather’s book on witchcraft. But no printer in New England would print it. They wouldn’t touch it with a ten-foot broomstick, so it had to be published in England.

While Puritans (many of them dedicated, decent but deceived men) yelled for the death of “witches,” Baptists were calling for a return to common sense and liberty for all.
Dr. Don Boys is a former member of the Indiana House of Representatives, author of 13 books, frequent guest on television and radio talk shows, and wrote columns for USA Today for 8 years His most recent book is ISLAM: America’s Trojan Horse! His websites are and

Boys’ columns are copyrighted and may be republished, reposted, or emailed providing the person or organization doing so does not charge for subscriptions or advertising and the column is copied intact and the tag at the end in parentheses is included intact.

One thought on “Baptists, Puritans, and the Witch Hunt!”

  1. Dr. Boys,

    Thank you for your articles on Baptist History. If you are not familiar with it, I would like to invite you to visit our web site at This is a ministry dedicated to teaching our true Baptist history through visual media. Our first full-lenght film is the telling of the account of the whipping of Obadiah Holmes. If you get the opportunity to see it, I would welcome your comments.

    Thans again,
    Brother Avery L. Smith

    Shiloh Films is a ministry of
    Shiloh Baptist Church
    Pastor Mac G. Woody
    Gwinn, MI

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