“The Notorious George Barlow” – Part 1

I’m thankful for a sprinkling of heretics (or as they are politely called today, – Protestants) that add color to an otherwise monotonous Roman Catholic background. I owe the debt to my paternal grandfather, James Patrick Henry Roane, Senior who, in 1921, married a devout Baptist, Edna Mae Keirstead.

Nana’s line includes clergymen, even saintly men, who suffered for their faith, among them, the Reverend Obadiah Holmes, an ancestor of Abraham Lincoln. At the other end of the spectrum, is my ninth great-grandfather, George Barlow. His claim to fame is that he made people suffer for their beliefs, and worse, – he enjoyed it.

An illustration of the public whipping of Obadiah Holmes, a baptist preacher by Puritan authorities of Massachusetts.

Barlow made his mark decades after the Mayflower Pilgrims established their little commonwealth in Plymouth. As that colony’s population multiplied, the founders’ ideals gave way to a new generation’s lust, — the lust for land. Families spread out and new settlements sprang up. By 1640, another 20,000 English settlers had come to New England.

The most notable arrivals disembarked further up the coast in 1630. They were another group of reformers, the Puritans. While the Pilgrims were religious refugees, chased from England to the Netherlands, the Puritans voluntarily left an England they found too tolerant.

Backed by investors expecting a good return from Massachusetts Bay, the industrious Puritans did not disappoint. The industrious newcomers rapidly established Boston as the political, commercial, financial, educational and religious center of New England. Granted authority they were denied in England (and blind to historical irony), the Puritans introduced religious persecution to the New World.

They mounted a particularly vicious campaign against the Quakers, which always struck me as odd, as I suspect it does most of us. If we modern folks know anything about this small Protestant denomination, also known as the Religious Society of Friends it’s the following:

– Quakers hold silent devotional meetings;

– Quakers organize to relieve human suffering worldwide;

– Quakers go to jail rather than kill for warring nations;

– Quakers engage in nonviolent protests against militarism and environmental destruction.

So how could the Puritans, fellow Christians, treat these peaceful souls so barbarously? Well, it turns out that present day Quakers have changed considerably since the 17th century. Shiny new Quakers were fervent believers, like new converts in any century. Among the early leaders were zealous evangelicals determined to sow god’s latest message in New World soil. But it wasn’t simple religious heresy that enraged the Puritans, – Quaker ideas threatened the social order.

Quakers believe that each human being is born with “inner light,” and therefore, all men and women are created equal. At meetings, anyone might be moved to share a divine insight, and they did not have a paid clergy class. Quakers addressed others as “friend,” – whether rich or poor, black or white, titled or commoner. Furthermore, owing allegiance only to god, Quakers refused to swear oaths to civil authorities.

To Puritans who saw wealth and position as signs of god’s favor and expected have-nots and other moral inferiors to show deference to those god had placed above them, Quakers were more than disobedient, they made themselves downright obnoxious. Consider that –

– Quaker men did not remove their hats to their ‘betters’ (for in god’s sight, no man was better than any other);

– Quakers lined the streets of Boston to hoot and heckle the governor as he passed by;

– Quakers burst into churches, interrupting Sunday worship, and provoking arguments with clergymen in front of their congregations.

So while these offenses will never justify the atrocities the Puritans committed against Quakers (and other dissenters), they add a dimension that helps us understand (a little) how it happened. And it was under these circumstances, in 1658, that the General Court of Massachusetts awarded drunkard and bully, George Barlow, his dream job.

In Part 2 in which I’ll fill you in on my ignoble ancestor’s reign of terror on colonial Cape Cod!

SELECTED SOURCES:

The title quote comes from The American Genealogist; Vol. XXVI, No. 4; October, 1950; Barclay, Mrs. John E.; Ann (Besse) Hallet, Step-Mother of Abigail (Hallet) Alden.

Obadiah Holmes at Wikipedia; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Obadiah_Holmes

Quakers: Persecution in colonial Massachusetts;
http://www.publicbookshelf.com/public_html/The_Great_Republic_By_the_Master_Historians_Vol_I/quakershi_dg.html

Persecution of Quakers in Colonial New England, Excerpt from The Beginnings of New England by John Fiske, 1892; edited by Dainial MacAdhaimh, 2005.

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Treason!

With the current events focus on the US government charging whistleblowers, journalists and other leakers of embarrassing information with “aiding the enemy,” and threatening dire consequences, I thought it timely to mention my family tie to a man who was executed for treason.

I had a cousin in colonial New York named Elsje Tymens. She was a wealthy widow in 1663 when she married a German bachelor and son of a clergyman, Jacob Leisler. Over the next thirteen years, Jacob and Elsje built connections in business and government, accrued wealth, and added seven little Leislers to the household.  Jacob was a merchant, captain of the militia, and appointed by the courts to administer estates and other property matters.  A devout follower of John Calvin’s brand of religious reform, he identified with the (French Protestant) Huguenot community.

Image 

Statue of Jacob Leisler in New Rochelle, New York,

courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In 1685, England’s Charles II passed into history and his brother, James II (also James VII of Scotland and James II of Ireland), a Roman Catholic, succeeded him to the throne. To govern the Dominion of New England, James appointed Edmund Andros to sit in Boston, and Francis Nicholson,  lieutenant governor, was assigned to administer the province of New York. Their authoritarian style of rule made both men intensely disliked by the colonists.  Nicholson proclaimed the inhabitants of the former New Netherland (taken by England in 1664),  “a conquered people” who could not “claim rights and privileges as Englishmen.

Across the Atlantic, political factions were so alarmed by King  James’s policy of religious tolerance and his ties to France, that they invited William III, the Dutch Prince of Orange, to invade with his fleet (and his English wife, Mary). James was deposed in a coup known as the Glorious Revolution.

When the news reached American shores, it sparked  a popular uprising against Governor Andros in Massachusetts, and New York’s militia rebelled and forced Nicholson to yield Fort James, which controlled New York Harbor.  The next day,  a council of militia officers asked Jacob Leisler to take command. A few weeks later, a delegation from Lower New York and East Jersey chose Leisler as the province’s commander-in-chief, to act on behalf of England’s new monarchs, William and Mary, until a new governor was legitimately appointed.

Not all New Yorkers were pleased. In his rise to prominence, Jacob Leisler had made enemies that included his in-laws, the powerful Bayards and Van Cortlandts.  Diplomacy was not his strong suit. An anti-Leisler faction coalesced in Albany, and grew dangerously.

In late 1690, William III commissioned Colonel Henry Sloughter as his new governor, but Sloughter’s ship was delayed and his lieutenant governor, Ingoldesby, arrived first.  Ingoldesby demanded Leisler turn over the fort and governmental reins  to him, but, because he lacked the proper papers, Leisler refused.  Even when Sloughter made it to New York, Leisler remained suspicious, and took his sweet time before he surrendered and to his cost. Leisler’s reward for accepting the management and  defense of New York in the name of King William III, – was his arrest on charges of treason.

Jacob Leisler, his right hand man and son-in-law, Jacob Milbourne, and eight other men were tortured, tried, convicted, and condemned to be “hanged, drawn and quartered, and their estates confiscated.[1]” The panel of judges was stacked with a significant number of anti-Leislerians.

Governor Sloughter seems to have had some misgivings about the result, as he wrote a letter to King William about the matter. However, in it, he trashed Leisler, did not include trial transcripts, and failed to mention the death sentence. Also, the court refused the request to send the condemned to England for an appeal.

It’s been written that Governor Sloughter was bribed, that he was drunk, – perhaps, he was both when, at the instigation of Leisler’s enemies, he signed the death warrants. Leisler’s only ‘luck’ is that he avoided being drawn and quartered, was “merely hanged til ‘halfe dead’ then beheaded[2]” as was his son-in-law, Jacob Milbourne, on May 16, 1691.  None of the others convicted were executed.

Petitioners to London who included  the younger Jacob Leisler, won a hearing before the king. Within a year of their execution,  Leisler, Milbourne, and the remaining  prisoners were pardoned.  Parliament later passed a bill that would return the property stripped from Leisler’s heirs, and which was approved by the king in 1695. But it was 1698 before the family estate was restored, and the bodies of Leisler and Milbourne were moved from the dirt beneath the gallows and laid to rest in the yard of the Dutch Reform Church.

Scholars today recognize  Leisler’s Rebellion as a precursor to the American Revolution. It was a power struggle of middling folks against an entrenched elite, – not treason. That’s something to think about as we Americans celebrate the 237 anniversary of  our national ‘treason,’ – independence from England.

Wishing all my readers a wonderful Fourth of July!


[1] McCormick, Charles H (1989). Leisler’s Rebellion. Outstanding Studies in Early American History. New York: Garland. ISBN 0-8240-6190-X.p.357.

[2]  Voorhees,  David William, Remembering Jacob Leisler, The New York Genealogical and Biographical Newsletter, (New York: The New York Genealogical and Biographical Society, Spring/Summer 2002), p. 29.