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The year 1654 brought many of these issues of economics, politics, and religion to a head. According to James Powell, Bristol’s chamberlain at the time, there were two causes for the “distempers” of that year: the dispute over the parliamentary election, and “the comeinge of the quakers.” The election, he said, “bred an extreame feud” between the magistracy and the two defeated candidates, Colonel Haggatt and his cousin Captain George Bishop. These men looked upon their opponents as Cavaliers; they accused Alderman Miles Jackson, one of the newly elected members of Parliament, of royalism, made similar charges against those electors who voted for Jackson, and accused the sheriffs and their fellow common councillors of complicity in a plot to defeat “the godly party” in the town. Afterward, Powell continues, “they waited occasions to blast the cittie by all possible meanes.”[69]

Although Powell does not tie the arrival of the Quakers explicitly to the election, in truth they were closely connected. The Quakers first came to Bristol in the spring of 1654; by June they already had won some important converts. Moreover, John Audland and John Camm made one of their initial visits to the city at the time of the poll itself, although for what reason we cannot tell. Many of their early converts appear as parties to the election squabble. George Bishop soon became one of Bristol’s most outspoken Quakers, his tireless pen turning out pamphlet after pamphlet for the cause from 1655 on. Haggatt never went so far, but he was allied through his family with many of Bristol’s first Friends, his wife among them. Their supporters too appear connected to the Quaker movement. A third of them became Friends in the waves of conversion following the visits of Audland, Camm, and other first publishers of Truth.[70] In Powell’s view, the “franticke doctrines” of these Quakers had not only “made…an impression on the minds of the people of this cittie” but also “made such a rent in all societies and relations which, with the publique afront offered to ministers and magistrates, hath caused a devision, I may say a mere antipathy amongst the people, and consequently many broyles.”[71]

As a result, these events ushered in a period of nearly unprecedented dissension within the city. Haggatt and Bishop, using their allies among the Bristol garrison, mounted a concerted attack on the loyalty of the Bristol Common Council. A broad body of their supporters petitioned the Lord Protector to quash the election results, and George Bishop filed information accusing the magistrates of complicity in Royalist plots. By the end of 1654 the effects of the Quaker conversions had become all too apparent to the civic authorities. Individual Quakers began disrupting religious services in the city’s churches and resisting the authority of the aldermen to punish them for their breaches of the peace. At the same time, large public meetings were held, some drawing over one thousand participants. As the movement grew, fear of Quakerism also grew in many quarters. Riots ensued in which bands of apprentices assaulted Quakers on the streets and threatened their public meetings. Moreover, George Cowlishay confirmed the worst suspicions of many Bristolians by spreading a rumor that he had picked up from an Irishman. The Quakers, he charged, really were Franciscan and Jesuit subversives, in England to undermine Protestantism. Many Baptists, their ranks severely depleted by losses to the Quakers, accepted the story as gospel.[72] These developments certainly did not grow only from seeds planted by the expansion of Bristol’s trans-Atlantic trade, nor were they mere reflections of economic divisions within the city. The election and its aftermath hardly reveal the conflict as one simply between the mere merchants and their rivals. Differing views on the constitution and on religious settlement lay at the bottom of the troubles. Nevertheless, the two political factions do show some interesting socioeconomic differences. Although many of Aldworth’s and Jackson’s supporters had interests in the American trade, just like Haggatt’s supporters, the latter consisted much more heavily than the former of men in the lesser crafts and in the shipping industry. Only seven of Haggatt’s votes came from men identified in any way as merchants, and only five from Merchant Venturers. Although both factions in the election found considerable support among soapmakers, grocers, and other major retailers and entrepreneurs, a higher percentage of Aldworth’s and Jackson’s votes came from this quarter. In addition, twenty-six of their backers identified themselves as merchants and the same number were Merchant Venturers, most of them older members of the Society (Table 28).[73] Jackson himself had been a member since at least 1618, and Aldworth, a lawyer by profession, was the son of a Merchant Venturer of the 1620s and 1630s.[74] The impression is strong, therefore, that Aldworth’s and Jack-son’s supporters on the whole came from the richer segments of Bristol’s population and were closely tied to the Merchant Venturers.

28. Occupational Background of the Disputants in the Parliamentary Election of 1654
  Haggatt Aldworth and Jackson
Occupations No. % No. %
Source: The names of those who supported Aldworth and Jackson are known from H. E. Nott and Elizabeth Ralph, eds., The Deposition Books of Bristol. Vol. 2: 1650–1654 (Bristol Record Society 13, 1948), pp. 181–83. The names of those who supported Haggatt have been established by collating ibid., pp. 180–81, and Public Record Office, SP 18/75/14vi (two slightly different copies of the list drawn by Haggatt’s teller at the 12 July poll) with Public Record Office, SP 18/75/14ii (the petition made to the Protector on Haggatt’s behalf protesting the election). The petition contains ninety-five names, thirty-eight of which do not appear on either of the teller’s tallies. Thirteen of the ninety-five later swore they never signed the petition, but eight of those appear on one or both of the tellers’ lists. A further two are known to have been early Quakers and Baptists. I have counted all thirty-eight among Haggatt’s supporters. It appears likely that they were not counted because they were deemed ineligible. Bishop’s supporters walked out without voting, after protesting against the eligibility of many of their opponents’ supporters.
Merchants 7 5.83[a] 26 15.76[a]
Major retailers and other leading entrepreneurs 38 31.67 76 40.06
Lesser crafts and trades 49 40.83 39 23.64
Shipping 23 19.17 18 10.91
Gentlemen, professionals 3 2.50 6 3.64
   Total known 120   165  
   Total unknown 8   17  
     Total 128   182  
Members of the Society
of Merchant Venturers
5 4.17 26 15.76

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