John Clarke (Baptist minister)

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John Clarke
John Clarke picture.jpg
3rd and 5th Deputy Governor of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations
In office
1669–1670
Governor Benedict Arnold
Preceded by Nicholas Easton
Succeeded by Nicholas Easton
In office
1671–1672
Governor Benedict Arnold
Preceded by Nicholas Easton
Succeeded by John Cranston
Personal details
Born 3 October 1609
Westhorpe, Suffolk, England
Died 20 April 1676
Newport, Rhode Island
Resting place Dr. Wheatland Blvd., Newport
Occupation Baptist Minister, Deputy Governor
Religion Baptist

John Clarke (3 October 1609 – 20 April 1676) was a medical doctor, Baptist minister, co-founder of the colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, author of its influential charter, and a leading advocate of religious freedom in the Americas.

Early life[edit]

Clarke was born at Westhorpe in the county of Suffolk, England on October 3, 1609, to Thomas and Rose (Kerrich) Clarke. He was one of eight children, six of whom moved to America and settled in New England.

According to the well known genealogical work One Hundred and Sixty Allied Families,by John Osborne Austin (Salem, Massachusetts 1893), Clarke's first wife was Elizabeth Harges, daughter of John Harges. John Clarke was married three times according to this source. His second wife was Jane Fletcher, a widow, and his third wife was Sarah Davis, by whom he left a long line of American descendants.

The source of Clarke's education remains unknown (though some say the University of Leiden), but before arriving in America he had studied theology, languages, and medicine.

Immigration to New England[edit]

He first immigrated to Massachusetts Bay in 1637 and then went south to Rhode Island. Clarke immediately sided with Anne Hutchinson and the Antinomians and was one of those forced into exile by Massachusetts Bay. Clarke learned from Roger Williams that Aquidneck Island (Rhode Island) was available, and he, William Coddington, and other settlers purchased it from the Narragansetts. They left Massachusetts and established Portsmouth in 1638. Clarke is one of the signers of the Portsmouth Compact.

In 1639 when William Coddington lost control of the Portsmouth settlement, he, Clarke and seven others left to found Newport, Rhode Island. Clarke headed the church in Newport which was Puritan/Separatist congregation, but he had a religious and political falling out with Coddington. The church split with Clarke taking part and eventually [about 1644] emerging with a Baptist church, while most of the others eventually became Quakers when that movement arrived in Rhode Island in the 1650s.

Establishment of the American Baptist Denomination[edit]

Earlier in late 1638, Roger Williams, Clarke's compatriot in the cause of religious freedom in the New World, had established a Baptist church in Providence, Rhode Island, known as First Baptist Church in America. Suddenly in 1847, the First Baptist Church of Newport advanced the claim that it was founded first, and this led to a debate as to which church came first. The major historians have since concluded that the Providence church was first, particularly given the fact that Roger Williams had gathered his church and had resigned as its pastor before Newport was even founded.[1] Even Thomas Bicknell, who regarded Clarke to be far more important than Williams, conceded that the Providence church came first.[2]

Thomas W. Bicknell and others in front of Dr. John Clarke's grave in Newport

Dr. Clarke's church in Newport is now known as the "United Baptist Church, John Clarke Memorial, of Newport." (the current church meeting house on Spring Street was constructed in 1846).[3] In 1651, John Clarke, John Crandall and Obadiah Holmes were arrested and imprisoned in Lynn, Massachusetts for conducting an illegal worship service. This event (and others like it) served as the basis for Clarke's Ill Newes from New England, or a Narrative of New England's Persecutions (1652). Ill Newes contained Clarke's argument for religious freedom. He wrote that "it is not the will of the Lord than any one should have dominion over another man's conscience....[Conscience] is such a sparkling beam from the Father of lights and spirits that it cannot be lorded over, commanded, or forced, either by men, devils, or angels."[4] One Baptist historian described Clarke as "the Baptist drum major for freedom in seventeenth century America." [5]

King Charles II Charter for Rhode Island and Providence Plantations[edit]

Charles wearing a crown and ermine-lined cape
Charles in his Coronation robes.
Painted by John Michael Wright, circa 1661

In November 1651, Clarke traveled to London with Roger Williams to cancel William Coddington's special patent that made Coddington "Governor for Life" over Aquidneck and Conanicut Islands and to secure a new charter for the colony of Rhode Island. Having succeeded in getting Coddington's charter revoked, Williams returned to Rhode Island in 1654, but Clarke stayed in England as the colony's agent. When the monarchy was restored in 1660 and Rhode Island's charter of 1644 was voided, Clarke worked against great odds to obtain a new charter. On July 8, 1663, Charles II of England granted a Royal Charter to Rhode Island.[6][7] Clarke wrote the charter, and it contained an explicit guarantee of religious freedom: "that no person within the said colony, at any time hereafter shall be any wise molested [harassed], punished, disquieted, or called in question, for any differences in opinion in matters of religion, and do not actually disturb the civil peace of our said colony; but that all and every person and persons may, from time to time, and at all times hereafter, freely and fully have and enjoy his and their own judgments and consciences, in matters of religious concernments, throughout the tract of land hereafter mentioned, they behaving themselves peaceable and quietly..."

The royal charter's words are carved on the frieze of the Rhode Island State House: "...to hold forth a lively experiment, that a most flourishing civil state may stand and best be maintained...with a full liberty in religious concernments." That charter remained the foundation of government in Rhode Island until 1842.

Clarke and Williams continued to labor together for the cause of religious liberty. While Williams was a Baptist only for a few months, Clarke remained faithful for nearly forty years. Williams concluded that no visible church was valid until Christ sent a new apostle to restore it; therefore, he never affiliated with any other church. Clarke continued as the pastor of his church in Newport until his death. He practiced medicine as a means of financial support. He also served on the General Assembly from 1664 to 1669, and three terms as deputy governor (1669–1672). Clarke died in Newport on April 20, 1676, and is buried in the cemetery on Dr. Marcus Wheatland Boulevard across the street from the rear of the Newport Police Station.[8]

Philanthropy[edit]

His will set up a trust to be used "for the relief of the poor or bringing up of children unto learning from time to time forever." This trust is generally considered to be the oldest educational trust fund in the United States.[9]

See also[edit]


Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Leon McBeth, The Baptist Heritage (Broadman Press, 1987) p. 136; Bill J. Leonard, Baptist Ways: A History,(Judson Press, 2003), p. 74; Sydney James, John Clark and His Legacies, (Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999), pp. 15, 26; J. Brent Walker, Religious Liberty and Church-State Separation, (Baptist History and Heritage Society, 2003), 10.
  2. ^ Thomas Bicknell, The History of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, (American Historical Society, 1920), vol. 2. pp. 204–205, 576.
  3. ^ http://www.redwoodlibrary.org/notables/clarke.htm
  4. ^ John Clarke, Ill Newes from New England, in Colonial Baptists: Massachusetts and Rhode Island, in The Baptist Tradition. Edited by Edwin Gaustad (Arno Press, 1980), p. 6.
  5. ^ Walter B. Shurden, "Baptist Freedom and the Turn toward a Free Conscience: 1612–1652", in Turning Points in Baptist History, (Mercer University Press, 2008), p. 26.
  6. ^ [1]
  7. ^ [2]
  8. ^ http://www.redwoodlibrary.org/notables/clarke.htm
  9. ^ James, John Clarke and His Legacies

References[edit]

  • Dictionary of Baptists in America, Bill J. Leonard, editor ISBN 0-8308-1447-7
  • John Clarke and His Legacies: Religion and Law in Colonial Rhode Island, 1638–1750, by Sydney V. James ISBN 0-271-01849-6
  • John Clarke (1609–1676): Pioneer in American Medicine, Democratic Ideals, and Champion of Religious Liberty, by Louis Franklin Asher ISBN 0-8059-4040-5
  • The Life of Dr. John Clarke, by Wilbur Nelson
  • "Clarke, John." The Century Cyclopedia of Names: A Pronouncing and Etymological Dictionary of Names in Geography, Biography, Mythology, History, Ethnology, Art, Archæology, Fiction, Etc. New York: Century Co, 1904.

External links[edit]

  • Newport Notables
  • Pastor John Clarke, M. D.
  • Thomas Williams Bicknell, Story of Dr. John Clarke: the founder of the first free commonwealth of the world on the basis of "full liberty in religious concernments," (Providence, RI: Self Published, 1915), pg. 198 [3] (accessible on Google Book Search)
  • "The forgotten patriot: One man’s actions forever married religious freedom with democracy" (Boston Globe, 04/28/11) [4]