Ill Newes from Twenty-First Century America: Most of the Readers of This Journal Are Well Acquainted with John Clarke and His 1651 Ill Newes from New England

Article excerpt

Ill Newes, a seventeenth-century religious literary classic that screamed for religious freedom, is important for those of us in contemporary America for many reasons. Read Ill Newes carefully. Then read some of the legislation proposed in Washington, D.C. today, and you may want to write a sequel: Ill Newes from Twenty First Century America. But before contemporizing Ill Newes, let's be sure that we understand John Clarke and his masterpiece.

No historian can ever minimize the importance of Roger Williams. However, John Clarke, not Roger Williams, was the most important and influential Baptist of seventeenth-century Colonial America. Such an appraisal

is not a novel interpretation. In making that claim, I join William Cathcart, A. H. Newman, W. R. Estep, William Brackney, and other historians who affirm that John Clarke deserves to be called the "Father of American Baptists."

Clarke founded the second Baptist church in America, the First Baptist Church in Newport (1644), Rhode Island. One of the most passionate advocates of liberty of conscience in America's history, Clarke stands out as one of the mountain peaks of Baptist history in America. No spiritual isolationist who kept his distance from messy politics, Clarke secured from King Charles II of England a new charter for Rhode Island Colony. The charter guaranteed full religious liberty for the little colony. Later elected to the General Assembly of Rhode Island, Clarke served three terms as deputy governor of the colony.

We primarily remember Clarke, however, for Ill Newes. Read carefully only a small part of Clarke's long title: Ill Newes from New-England: or A Narrative of New-Englands Persecution. Wherein Is Declared That While old England is becoming new, New-England is become Old. He meant, of course, that at the time that Old England valiantly struggled to awake to the joyous sunshine of freedom of conscience, New England sadly wielded the "sword of steel" to repress conscience. …