Obadiah Holmes was born in Northern England around the year 1607. His birthplace lay in the rural area of Reddish, five miles southeast of the center of Manchester. He was the second son of Robert Holmes and Catherine Johnson Holmes (the family name was at the time more commonly spelled Hulmes or Hullme.) Baptized in Didsbury Chapel on March 18, 1610, he grew up in a farm family of eight or nine children. Since Obadiah later became a glassmaker and a weaver, it may well be that "bookish" interest was minimal in his early years. He relates that he had been neglectful and strayed from his religious duties and responsibilities for a period of five years. If this was the case, he certainly atoned for it later in his life. His mother's illness and death proved a turning point. "It struck me that my disobedient acts caused her death, which forced me to confess the same to her - my evil ways." Two months after his mother's death, he took Catherine Hyde as his wife. They were married in Manchester's Collegiate College Church on 20 Nov 1630.
The decade of the 1630's so disheartened England's Puritans that they left their homeland in shipload after shipload to create a newer and purer England far away. These were the years of the Great Migration and Obadiah Holmes also "adventured the danger of the seas to come to New England." Holmes and his wife probably sailed from Preston (just north of Liverpool), down the River Ribble, across the Irish Sea, and into the open Atlantic. They had an extremely stormy voyage that prevented them from entering Boston harbor until six weeks had passed. Soon after landing at Boston in the summer or early fall of 1638, they made their way up the coast and settled at Salem, Massachusetts.
By January, 1639, they were in Salem; on the twenty-first of that month Holmes received one acre of land for a house and a promise of ten more acres "to be laid out by the town." The young Salem settlement encouraged Holmes and his co-workers in the development of what may have been the first glass factory in North America. They made the common window glass. Holmes performed other duties befitting a good citizen and often served on juries during his years of residence at Salem.
In March 1640, Obadiah and Catherine became members of the Salem church. Obadiah soon found himself disliking the rigidity of the established church. Nor was it his inclination to keep silent in the midst of religious discussions. He soon decided the church and civil laws could not be tolerated any longer. Obadiah's decision to move was probably more influenced by the fact that the church and civil authorities would not tolerate him. Before Oct of 1643, Obadiah had taken an option in the newly created community of Rehoboth 40 miles south of Boston. He sold his holdings in Salem by 1645, removing himself and his family to Rehoboth the same year. There he was elevated to the status of freeman in 1648. Both Obadiah and Catherine participated in this church's public worship, presided over by Samuel Newman. Obadiah soon found that he had not removed beyond religious and other controversies when making his second settlement in the new country. It took three years for the membership of the Rehoboth church to become divided on doctrinal and legal lines and become aligned behind the minister and Obadiah as the respective leaders. Obadiah's conversion to the distinctive views of the Baptists was developed here. Baptized with the "new baptism" along with 8 others, Obadiah took the irrevocable step toward separation from New England's official way and he became the leader of the Schismatists.
The climax must have come to a head in 1649 for that is the year on October 29 that Obadiah entered suit for slander against Samuel Newman, the minister. The slanderous suit stated that Obadiah had committed perjury in some court proceeding. On the 2nd day of Oct 1650, he, with others of Rehoboth, were indicted by the Grand Jury at New Plymouth for holding meetings on the Lord's day from house to house, "contrary to the order of the court". The burden of the petition was that the dissident group (Holmes and 8 others) had set up a separate and irregular church meeting in opposition to the orderly, approved, and established congregation led by Rev. Samuel Newman. All such schismatical activity, the petitioners urged, should cease forthwith. The court responded mildly enough, by ordering the group (in Holmes' words) "to desist, and neither to ordain officers, nor to baptize, nor to break bread together, nor yet to meet upon the first day of the week..." Holmes and his followers would not find peace in Plymouth nor in Massachusetts Bay, so once more he sold his house and lands and moved to Newport, Rhode Island, hoping that he had left behind for good the meddling civil magistrates, the condescending clergy, the intrusive and insolent laws.
On July 16, 1651, John Clarke, John Crandall and Obadiah Holmes journeyed from Newport into MA, coming to the town of Lynn on the 19th of that month. The purpose of the visit was to bring spiritual comfort and communion to one William Witter, a blind and aged fellow Baptist who had invited the three to come to his house. The broader purpose was, of course, an evangelical one: to tell of the new baptism and its import to all who would hear. And indeed the word was proclaimed, converts were baptized, the elements of the Lord's Supper were served - all of this done privately in William Witter's home.
On Sunday, July 20, two constables entered the house. "With their clamorous tongues" they interrupted Clarke's discourse, "telling us that they were come with authority from the Magistrates to apprehend us." Clarke asked to see the authority for so rude an intrusion, "whereupon they plucked forth their warrant, and one of them with a trembling hand read it to us." The three Rhode Islanders were placed under arrest and taken to the local "Ale-house or Ordinary", Anchor Tavern, to be fed and to await their scheduled appearance before the local magistrate, Robert Bridges, early the next morning.
One of the constables suggested to the 3 prisoners that if they were free, then all might go together to the Lynn church for evening services. Clarke replied (humor presumably intended) that if they were free, none of this awkwardness would have happened. Yet, he said, we are at your disposal and if you want us to go to church we will go to church. Off they went, but on the way Clarke informed the constable that if forced to attend "your meeting, we shall declare our dissent from you both by word and gesture." Believing this to be a problem for sacred officers, not civil ones, the constable held his peace. Upon entering the church, where services were already underway, the three visitors took off their hats, "civilly saluted", sat down, and put their hats back on again. This action was more than rude; the replacing of hats was an open declaration of disapproval of whatever was being said or done. The constable quickly snatched three hats from three irreverent heads and afterwards, the three were returned to the tavern where they were "watched over that night as thieves and robbers." In the morning, after a brief appearance before Robert Bridges in Lynn, the itinerant evangelists were sent to Boston for trial.
They were committed to the common jail. The mittimus, or court order for commitment to prison, indicated essentially four complaints against the "strangers". They had offended by (a) conducting a private worship service at the same time as the town's public worship; (b) "offensively disturbing" the public meeting in Lynn; (c) more seriously, "seducing and drawing aside others after their erroneous judgment and practices"; and (d) "neglecting or refusing to give in sufficient security for their appearance" at the next meeting of the county court.
The trial before the General Court began one week later. The trial itself was so swiftly consummated that the accused hardly knew it was done. We were examined in the morning, wrote Clarke, and sentenced in the afternoon - sentenced "without producing either accuser, witness, jury, law of God or man..." It was the assumption of Governor Endicott and his assistants of the guilt of the accused and cut off any defense when Holmes and Clarke tried to speak. The members of the court shot questions at them, or made statements to them, which showed their guilt prejudged. The violence of some of the bystanders, in the presence of the court, and without its rebuke, went so far that Holmes was assaulted, struck, and cursed by Rev. John Wilson. This happened while Holmes was in the custody of an officer, in the presence of the court, and within the protection of the law.
The penalty which the law provided was banishment. But what sort of punishment is it to "banish" persons who already live in another jurisdiction? Obviously, some other manner of rebuke had to be meted out, whether the law made provision for it or not. Clarke, clearly the spokesman and leader of the group, was fined £20; Crandall, as a tag-along and largely silent companion, was fined only £5. But Obadiah Holmes, already under the cloud of excommunication from the church in Rehoboth, received the largest fine of £30. All the fines provided for a hard alternative: to be paid in full or else the culprit was to be "well whipped". Until the fines were paid or satisfaction otherwise received, all three were to remain in jail.
They were not without friends and sympathizers, however. The friends of Clarke and Crandall speedily raised the amounts of their fines and paid them. The fine of Holmes was higher and required a little more time to raise the amount, but his friends were ready to pay it. When he learned what they were proposing to do, he promptly forbade the payment of the fine, making it a matter of his conscience and scruples.
After another week, Clarke was released when friends paid his fine. John Crandall put up bail and went home. So only Holmes remained in prison, adamantly refusing to pay his fine or to let others pay it for him. The court's explicit alternative awaited him - to be "well-whipped". The 5th day of Sep 1651 came and he was taken from the jail, stripped naked down to the waist - he refused to aid by touching even a button of his clothing - tied to the post and publicly whipped.
There were thirty strokes, with a three-cord whip, held by the executioner, not in one hand, but in both hands. The strokes did not follow each other quickly or lightly. They were laid on slowly and with all the strength of the officer wielding the instrument of torture. Throughout, there was not a groan or murmur from the victim. The first sound from his lips were the words to the magistrates, who stood about as witnesses, "You have struck me as with roses."
After his release from jail, Holmes returned to Newport and in 1652 succeeded Dr. John Clarke. He became the second minister of the first Baptist Church in America. The church at Newport was his permanent charge for more than thirty years until his death on October 15, 1682.
Reference to his will is found in a list of seventeen wills (between 1676 and 1695) that were presented to the court in 1700, by parties interested, the law requiring three witnesses, and these wills having but two. He was buried in his own field, where a tomb was erected to his memory (in what is now the town of Middletown). His wife did not long survive him.
These are to signify that I, Obadiah Holmes of Newport on Rhode Island, being at present through the goodness and mercy of my God of sound memory; and, being by daily intimations put in mind of the frailty and uncertainty of this present life, do therefore - for settling my estate in this world which it has pleased the Lord to bestow upon me - make and ordain this my Last Will and Testament in manner following, committing my spirit unto the Lord that gave it to me and my body to the earth from whence it was taken, in hope and expectation that it shall thence be raised at the resurrection of the just.
Imprimis, I will that all my just debts which I owe unto any person be paid by my Executor, hereafter named, in convenient time after my decease.
Item. I give and bequeath unto my daughter, Mary Brown, five pounds in money or equivalent to money.
Item. I give and bequeath unto my daughter, Martha Odlin, ten pounds in the like pay.
Item. I give and bequeath unto my daughter, Lydia Bowne, ten pounds.
Item. I give and bequeath unto my two grandchildren, the children of my daughter, Hopestill Taylor, five pounds each; and if either of them decease, the survivor to have ten pounds.
Item. I give and bequeath unto my son, John Holmes, ten pounds.
Item. I give and bequeath unto my son, Obadiah Holmes, ten pounds.
Item. I give and bequeath unto my grandchildren, the children of my son Samuel Holmes, ten pounds to be paid unto them in equal portions.
All these portions by me bequeathed, my will is, shall be paid by my Executor in money or equivalent to money.
Item. I give and bequeath unto all my grandchildren now living ten pounds; and ten shillings in the like pay to be laid out to each of them - a bible.
Item. I give and bequeath unto my grandchild, Martha Brown, ten pounds in the like pay.
All [of] which aforesaid legacies are to be paid by my Executor, hereafter named in manner here expressed: that is to say, the first payment to [be] paid within one year after the decease of my wife, Catherine Holmes, and twenty pounds a year until all the legacies be paid, and each to be paid according to the degree of age.
My will is and I do hereby appoint my son Jonathan Holmes my sole Executor, unto whom I have sold my land, housing, and stock for the performance of the same legacies above. And my will is that my Executor shall pay unto his mother, Catherine Holmes, if she survives and lives, the sum of twenty pounds in money or money pay for her to dispose of as she shall see cause.
Lastly, I do desire my loving friends, Mr. James Barker, Sr., Mr. Joseph Clarke, and Mr. Philip Smith, all of Newport, to be my overseers to see this my will truly performed. In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and seal, this ninth day of April, 1681.
Obadiah Hullme [Holmes][Seal]
Signed, sealed and delivered in the presence of
(Edward Thurston, Sr., and Weston Clark appeared before the Council [of Newport], December 4, 1682, and did upon their engagements [pledges] declare and own that they saw Obadiah Holmes, deceased, sign seal and deliver the above written will as his act and deed; and, at the time of his sealing hereof, he was in his perfect memory, according to the best of our understandings. Taken before the Council, as attested. Weston Clarke, Town Clerk.)
I'd be happy to exchange family information.
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