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Christopher Holder (c. 1631—post-1676) was an English Quaker minister who immigrated to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, where he was persecuted for his beliefs. He was prohibited from preaching, imprisoned, and whipped before migrating to Rhode Island in 1660, which had more religious freedom and tolerated Quakers.
At some point he became a member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) and began to spread their message. It is reported that "Christopher Holder in ye year 1665 was sent to ye gayle at Ilchester for speaking to ye priest at Kleinsham Steeplehouse [church] and from them after a while to ye next sessions and so discharged."
Journey to North America
Holder went to Boston, Massachusetts Bay Colony, aboard the Speedwell, landing on July 27, 1656. He and seven other passengers were listed with a “Q” (for Quaker) beside their names. At that time, the Puritans in England and in the English colonies were persecuting Quakers, members of the Religious Society of Friends. The port authorities were alerted to the presence of the Quakers and searched the ship before anyone disembarked. Governor John Endicott ordered that they be brought directly to court. Holder and John Copeland, another Quaker, were questioned by the court and demonstrated their thorough knowledge of the Bible and the law in their testimony.
Holder and Copeland were detained in jail to be deported on the next ship departing for England. While they were still in the jail, Mary Dyer and Anne Burden, two other Friends, arrived in another ship and were arrested on the spot. The authorities in the Massachusetts Bay Colony considered the teachings of the Quakers both heretical and blasphemous. Eventually they deported Holder and the seven who had come with him to England.
Return to Massachusetts
Holder was determined to return to New England and went to George Fox, one of the leaders of the Friends, for help in securing passage on another ship. Holder and Copeland returned to Massachusetts together.
Holder preached to people, and many responded favorably. In the town of Sandwich, several people adopted Quaker beliefs and practices. A small band of Friends had already been meeting for a few months when Holder arrived, under the ministry of Nicholas Upsall, a new Friend in exile from Boston. After Holder and Copeland were jailed for their activities in Sandwich, the Friends began meeting secretly in a place called "Christopher’s Hollow" in Holder’s honor. The hollow is still known by that name.
Holder and Copeland preached in several towns, always reaching some people. Holder went to Salem Congregational Church, where Governor Endicott worshiped. His men seized Holder and a physical struggle started; Samuel Shattuck, another church member, rescued Holder. They became friends and he was imprisoned with Holder and Copeland. Shattuck was released on bond. The two visitors were given thirty lashes and released after several months in prison.
Holder’s hosts, Lawrence and Cassandra Burnell Southwick, were jailed for associating with him. A church member, Southwick was soon released. His wife Cassandra Southwick was held for a few weeks and fined for holding a paper written by the Friends..
On April 16, 1658 Holder and Copeland returned to Sandwich, where they were arrested by men sent by Endicott. They were given 33 lashes as punishment and to discourage their preaching. On June 3, the two Friends went to Boston, where they were immediately arrested. Copeland's right ear was cut off to punish what the Puritans described as his heretical preaching. Katherine Scott, the sister of Anne Hutchinson and future mother-in-law of Holder, protested. She was jailed for two months and given 10 lashes.
In June 1659, William Robinson and Marmaduke Stephenson felt called to emigrate to Massachusetts, although a new law there imposed the death penalty on Friends. Mary Patience Scott accompanied them and another friend, Nicholas Davis. When they arrived, they were imprisoned immediately. Mary Dyer returned to protest their treatment and was also jailed. She was released after her husband wrote to Endicott.
On September 12 of that year, all of the Quakers were released from prison and banished, under pain of death. Robinson and Stephenson stayed and continued to preach. When they and Holder were jailed again, Mary Dyer, Hope Clifton, and Mary Scott visited and pleaded with officials for their release. Dyer was jailed for having spoken to Holder in his cell.
Settlement in Rhode Island
Holder eventually moved to Providence, Rhode Island, which had more religious freedom. He lived there until his death some time in 1676. During the devastating events of King Phillips War, the Rhode Island General Assembly sought the counsel of 16 prominent citizens, one of whom was Holder.
He married Mary Patience Scott on August 12, 1660. She was the daughter of Richard and Katherine (Marbury) Scott, who also settled in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. She was the niece of Anne Hutchinson, who had been run out of Massachusetts by Puritan leaders. They had two surviving daughters, Mary and Elizabeth.
After Mary Scott Holder died, Christopher married Hope Clifton. They had seven more children, including Christopher, Jr.
Holder is mentioned in Chapter 18 of George Fox's journal.
In 1909, Holder descendant Olivia Slocum Sage (the widow of Russell Sage) donated a dormitory at Princeton University, which was named in honor of Christopher Holder. The building is a Gothic-style quadrangle located on Nassau Street at the extreme northwest corner of the campus. A tablet notes the memorial to Holder; it is embedded in the building's facade.
- History of the Cape Cod Friends
- Speech on Early Cape Cod Friends
- "Mary Dyer"
- "Mary Dyer" bio that mentions Holder, HyperHistory
- James Savage, "Christopher Holder", US GenNetBiography
- Scott Family History
- Article on Lawrence and Cassandra Southwick
- Chapter 18 of Fox’s journal
- Biography by James Savage. A privately printed family history — Charles Frederick Holder LL. D.: The Holders of Holderness (Pasadena, CA? 1903), p. 18 — gives his place of birth as "Winterbourne, Alverton County [sic], Gloucestershire, England", but mentions no source for the information.
- Charles Frederick Holder..., p. 21. The source is given as a transcript of official records in Sufferings, Vol. 1, which may be a reference to the 3-volume Abstract of the Sufferings... (London, 1733-38) ascribed to Joseph Besse. "Kleinsham" has yet to be identified.