The Price of Freedom
John Comer, a Baptist historian (1704-1734), had purposed to write a history of Baptists in America, but his early death made that an impossibility. In his diary dated March 3, 1729, he wrote about an incident in which a number of Baptists along with some Churchmen and Quakers, 30 in all, were committed to the Bristol jail for refusing to pay the ministers’ rate. On March 10 and 11, 1729 he said that he and Mr. Stephen Gorton went to visit the prisoners at the Bristol jail and he preached to them from Psalm 86:11, and “Sundry of ye town attended ye meeting.” In his History of New England Baptists, Isaac Backus provides more details of that occasion when he says that the two State Church (Congregational) pastors who were to be supported by general tax revenue, were John Greenwood and David Turner. There were twenty-eight Baptists, two Quakers and two Episcopalians who were “…seized and imprisoned at Bristol, by Jonathan Bosworth and Jacob Ormsbee, constables of Rehoboth. The jail was a nauseous place which had injured their health, but friends paid their taxes and costs, and allowed them to leave the jail. In the course of time the state church finally allowed the Baptists and others to obtain a certificate granting them tax exemption from the state church taxation. However there were many abuses. Often the authorities would refuse to accept the certificates. Then the Baptists would be jailed, or their cows, horses, or household goods would be sold at auction to pay the tax. During this time many Baptists refused to pay the tax, others refused to file for the exemption and hundreds were either jailed or had their property confiscated. What freedom we have today is because of the price that these stalwarts were willing to pay.
Dr. Greg J. Dixon, adapted from: This Day in Baptist History III (David L. Cummins), pp, 145 – 146.