Document of the month, June 2018: ‘war and confusions’ in Colchester

Archivist Lawrence Barker tells us about his choice for Document of the Month: a newly accessioned Church Book from Colchester dating from 1796-1816 (D/NC 42/1/1A).

A year of ‘war and confusions’: this is how the Reverend Joseph Herrick (1794-1865) described 1815-16 at the Church of Christ in Colchester.

Revd. Joseph Herrick, who was minister of Stockwell Congregational Church in Colchester for over 50 years, from 1814 until his death in 1865 (I/Pb 8/16/2)

Herrick had been elected as minister of the congregation in 1814. At the time, the Church of Christ met in a building on Bucklersbury Lane, which is now St Helen’s Lane. (The congregation was later to build what would become Stockwell Congregational Chapel.)

Several new (to us) documents relating to Herrick’s early years at the church were recently deposited at ERO. The two most significant items are a commonplace book, a kind of journal kept by Herrick himself recording his activities as a preacher from 1813 to 1819, and a church book, which is a record of church activities and members from 1796-1816, which Herrick must have kept in his personal possession. After his death, it must have passed down through his descendants and has thus survived. It is an important record relating to the early history of the Congregational Church in Colchester which has remained hidden for 200 years.

One function of the church book was to record the names of members of the church, noting when they joined and when they either left, died or were ‘excluded’ during disagreements (D/NC 42/1/1A)

The book begins by recording the ministries of Herrick’s predecessors Isaac Taylor and Joseph Drake. Drake’s ministry was plagued by a quarrel over a man named John Church, who had been invited to preach in the church by some members of the congregation. The majority of the members, however, disapproved of Church’s views: he was an antinomian, that is, he held the view that salvation could be achieved by faith alone, and people were not compelled to follow moral laws by any external influence.[1] Such a row followed that Drake resigned, having been in post less than a year. From March 1812 and throughout 1813 the church was without an appointed minister, and nothing was entered into the church book during this time. At the time of Herrick’s official election in April 1814, the book records that:

This Church was thrown into a great deal of confusion in the year 1813 by a Mr Church, an Antinomian Preacher, of very vile character, being forced into the pulpit contrary to the wish of the generality of the people.

In December 1813, Herrick came down from London and preached his first sermon at the Church of Christ on Christmas Day. After labouring amongst the church for 3 months ‘with a view to a settlement if things were mutually agreeable’, an invitation dated 16 January 1814 was sent to Herrick signed by the Deacon, James Mansfield Senior, and other members of the church.

Yet Herrick’s ministry does not seem to have restored harmony to the church, in the main because a conflict arose between him and the very Deacon responsible for his ordination, James Mansfield.  Things came to a head in June 1815.  Mansfield concocted a letter of dismissal (D/NC 42/6/6) dated 6 June to send to Herrick stating that ‘from and after the twenty fourth Day of June instant your services as Preacher at such Meetinghouse will be dispensed with.  And that from and after such time we shall Consider you entitled to no payment of a Minister for the performance of Divine Service in such Meetinghouse’.  The letter is signed by Mansfield and others of his cronies (some of which are thought to have been invented).

In the short term, Herrick seems not to have been affected by this:

June 14 1815

Our 15 Church meeting was held. – this was a special meeting called to consider the conduct of James Mansfield Senr Deacon, Mary Tillet and Mary Wright, when it was unanimously agreed that their conduct was highly inconsistent; and such as we could by no means tolerate. Mr M had abused his pastor, insulted the members, destroyed the harmony of the church, kept back part of the subscriptions etc etc – and the others had been concerned with him, and supported him in all his improper practices.  All suspended.

In August, an intermediary tried to help resolve the situation:

August 14, 1815

Our 16 Church meeting was held. This was a special meeting, to hear the report of the Rev W B Crathern, who had been requested to attempt an adjustment of the differences between the church and Mr Mansfield Senior etc. His interference had been, he stated, without effect, entirely owing to the obstinacy of Mr Mansfield. He advised the church not to consider him as suspended, but to try him a few months longer and if no alteration appeared, then, to cut him off. Agreed to etc. Joseph Herrick.

In September, having accepted (presumably) James Nash as his new Deacon, Herrick reported that Mansfield ‘refused to deliver to Mr James Nash, Deacon the sacramental cups which are the property of the church; awful sacrilege! We, however, bought one which we administered the Lord’s supper on the 10th’.

By February 1814, desperation seems to have begun to set in:

February 2, 1816

This day the following persons broke into our meeting. –

Quilter, carpenter, F Smythies, lawyer, J Mansfield Senior, J Mansfield Junior, S Mansfield, Isaac Brett, Chas Heath, John Hubbard, John Inman, Thos Podd, James Nevill. On hearing they were there I immediately went and took possession, and James Nash my Deacon went with me – after staying about 20 minutes they retired and left us in the possession of the place.

Our 22 Church meeting was held this evening, no particular business was attended to, excepting the above, which we shall refer to the Protestant Society for the defence of Religious liberty.

Joseph Herrick

Entry in the church book from 2 February 1816 when the church meeting was disrupted by several members of the congregation (D/NC 42/1/1A)

Eventually, so determined it seems was Mansfield to dispense with Herrick as Pastor that he went to the extraordinary expedient of organising the de-roofing the chapel so that it could no longer be used as a meeting place, a development laconically reported by Herrick as the last entry in the church book:

June 3 – 1816 –

Mansfield and his party, without any previous notice, sent a bricklayer to unroof the meeting which is now exposed to the weather etc.

Entry from the church book for 2 June 1816, when the roof was removed from the church by a disgruntled member of the congregation (D/NC 42/1/1A)

But that wasn’t going stop Herrick pursuing his mission.  He simply built a new chapel 50 yards further along St Helen’s Lane, on the corner with East Stockwell Street, which was to eventually become Stockwell Congregational Church. This new chapel was enlarged in 1824 and 1836 to accommodate a growing congregation.

This 1870s map of Colchester shows that by this time the chapel had seating for 750 people and an attached Sunday School (Ordnance Survey first edition map 27.12.3, 120”: 1 mile)

Herrick remained its minister until his death in 1865; he is buried in Colchester Cemetery, where a large obelisk dedicated to his memory stands. On his death it was estimated that he had conducted over 10,900 services in his 51 year career in Colchester. While he was never universally approved of, he clearly had a large band of very dedicated followers. An obituary for him in the Essex Standard of 8 February 1865 describes a man ‘Firm in purpose’, with ‘gravity and sobriety’, who was deeply knowledgeable not only on Christian theology but on a whole range of other subjects as well, who practiced what he preached and unaffectedly sympathised with ‘those in sorrow’. For his congregation, his loss after so many years must have been felt deeply indeed.

The church book will be on display in the ERO Searchroom throughout June 2018.


[1] Antinomianism is one of many debates within Christianity. The word itself literally means rejection of laws (from the Greek ‘anti’ meaning against, and ‘nomos’ meaning laws). In Christianity, antinomianism is part of the debate about whether salvation is achieved through faith in God alone, or through good works. An Antinomian in Christianity is someone who takes the view that salvation is achieved by faith and divine grace, and those who are saved in this way are not bound to follow the laws set out in the Bible. However, this is not to say that someone with antinomian views believes that it is acceptable to act immorally, rather, that the motivation for following moral laws should flow from belief rather than external compulsion. In this view, good works are considered to be the results of faith, but good works above and beyond what is required through faith were viewed as signs of arrogance and impiety.

Essex-American connections: Thomas Hooker (1586-1647)

In the run up to ERO’s trip to Boston, we take a look at the life of Thomas Hooker, Chelmsford’s town lecturer who went on to become one of America’s founding fathers.

Thomas Hooker (1586-1647) spent the years c.1625-1631 in Chelmsford as the town’s lecturer, drawing large crowds to his sermons. In 1633, along with his wife and children, he made the perilous voyage from England to New England. He went on to become one of the most important men in the new world and is well known in America today, as a co-founder of the state of Connecticut, and the ‘Father of American democracy’, yet he is little known in the country of his birth.

Hooker was born in Leicestershire and studied at Cambridge, as part of a circle including several future Puritans. Puritans were extreme Protestants who were unhappy with what they saw as Catholic elements in the structure and style of worship in the Church of England.

Chelmsford

In about 1625 Hooker and his wife Susannah moved with their young family (at least one daughter, Joanna, and possibly their second daughter Mary) to Chelmsford, where Hooker had been appointed as town lecturer. The couple had four more children while living in Chelmsford, two of whom died in infancy and whose baptisms and burials are recorded in the local parish registers. The family lived at Cuckoos in Little Baddow just outside Chelmsford, a farmhouse which is still standing today.

Ann Hooker baptism Great Baddow 1626

‘Ann the daughter of Thomas Hooker and Susan his wyff was baptised’, January 1626, Great Baddow (D/P 65/1/1, image 28)

Ann Hooker burial Chelmsford 1626

Burial record for ‘Ann the daughter of Mr Thomas Hooker of Baddow Minister and of Susan his wife’ from the Chelmsford parish register, 23 May 1626 (D/P 94/1/2, image 90). She would have been about 5 months old.

Sarah Hooker baptism Chelmsford 1628

Baptism of Sarah Hooker, 9 April 1628, Chelmsford (D/P 94/1/2, image 95)

Burial of Sarah Hooker, 26 August 1629, Chelmsford (D/P 94/1/2, image 99). She would have been about 16 months old.

Burial of Sarah Hooker, 26 August 1629, Chelmsford (D/P 94/1/2, image 99). She would have been about 16 months old.

Cuckoos Farm Little Baddow home of Thomas Hooker

Cuckoos farm house, Little Baddow, home to the Hooker family during their time in Chelmsford (Photo: Peter Kirk)

Hooker’s duties in Chelmsford included two lectures a week, which people came from miles around to hear, including from the great families of Essex such as the Earl of Warwick who had a house in Great Waltham, near Chelmsford. Many of the people who came to listen to Hooker also made the journey to New England themselves, meeting him there again, becoming known as ‘Mr Hooker’s Company’.

Hooker spoke against some of the doctrines of the Church of England and the way it was organised, believing it was too close to Roman Catholicism.

Puritans did not seek just reform within the church, but also moral reform within society. The Chelmsford in which Hooker lived had a population of about 1,000, and more than its fair share of ale houses. Drunkenness was a particular focus of the Puritans. According to Magnalia Christi Americana: or, the Ecclesiastical History of New England (published in 1820 in Hartford, Connecticut):

‘there was more profaneness than devotion in the town and the multitude of inns and shops… produced one particular disorder, of people filling the streets with unseasonable behaviour after the public services of the Lord’s Day were over. But by the power of his [Hooker’s] ministry in public, and by the prudence of his carriage in private, he quickly cleared the streets of this disorder, and the Sabbath came to be very visibly sanctified among the people.’

Since this was written some 200 years later in the state where Hooker became a hero this needs to be treated with some caution, but gives an insight into views on Hooker over the centuries.

Bishop Laud and Hooker’s flight to Holland

William Laud

William Laud, Bishop of London from 1628 and Archbishop of Canterbury from 1633

During Hooker’s time in Chelmsford, in July 1628 William Laud was appointed Bishop of London (he would go on to become Archbishop of Canterbury in 1633). Essex was still part of the Diocese of London, and Laud set about weeding out Puritan clergy.

Hooker’s reputation was spread and he was widely known to attract large crowds to his Puritan sermons. Hooker was called before the Court of High Commission in London and dismissed from his Chelmsford job. Withdrew to Little Baddow and set up a school in his house, but did still preach at St Mary’s in Chelmsford, despite the ban.

He was called before the Court of High Commission again, but fled to Holland in spring 1631. Susannah and the children were taken in by the Earl of Warwick in Great Waltham.

Before he left he preached a farewell sermon to the congregation at Chelmsford, which was printed in 1641 as The Danger of Desertion: Or A Farewell Sermon of Mr Thomas Hooker, Sometimes Minister of Gods Word at Chainsford in Essex; but now of New England. Preached immediately before his departure out of Old England. He had a warning for his listeners: “Shall I tell you what God told me? Nay, I must tell you on pain of my life. God has told me this night that he will destroy England.”

New England

After two years of separation, Thomas Susannah and their four surviving children set sail for New England on 10 July 1633 on the Griffin.

About 200 passengers were on board, including other influential men who would play their part in shaping the new world. The voyage was part of what became known as the Great Migration of 1629-40, during which about 20,000 people left England for America, mostly to seek freedom to practice their religion.

The Hookers first went to Newtown (now Cambridge) just outside Boston, where they were joined by several people described as ‘Mr Hooker’s Company’, whom they had known in Essex. Hooker was ordained as the pastor of the congregation on 11 October 1633. In 1636 the decision was made to move again and establish another Newtown (which was to become Hartford) in the Connecticut river valley.

As the English colonies proliferated (despite the presence of Native Americans and Dutch and French settlers) questions of government were under constant discussion, and Thomas Hooker played an active part.

A sermon by Hooker in which he declared that “The foundation of authority is laid in the free consent of the people” is widely credited as the inspiration behind the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut of January 1639, which in turn is seen as an important precursor to the current US Constitution.

Thomas Hooker died on 7 July 1647, 14 years after his arrival in New England. John Winthrop, Governor of Massachusetts and leader of the Winthrop Fleet which had sailed over in 1630, wrote after Hooker’s death that:

‘Mr Hooker who for piety, prudence, wisdom, zeal, learning, and what else might make him serviceable – might be compared with men of the greatest note – and he shall need no other praise.’

Thomas Hooker plaque Chelmsford

Plaque commemorating Thomas Hooker’s life in Chelmsford, on entrance alleyway to Chelmsford Cathedral

If you would like to know more about Thomas Hooker, Deryck Collingwood’s very detailed study Father of American Democracy: Thomas Hooker, 1586-1647 is available in the ERO library. You could also see Hubert Ray Pellman’s thesis Thomas Hooker: A Study in Puritan Ideals, which is catalogued as T/Z 561/35/1.

For an introduction to the Essex contribution to the early days of America, try John Smith’s Pilgrims and Adventurers: Essex (England) and the making of the United States of America, which is available in the ERO library, and also available to purchase from the Searchroom or by calling 033301 32500.