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To those who sought to regulate the servant trade, the spirit was a devil. For example, Lionel Gatford believed many children and servants sent to the plantations were

cheatingly duckoyed without the consent or knowledge of their Parents or Masters…and…sold to be transported; and then resold…to be servants or slaves to those that will give most for them. A practice proper for Spirits, namely the Spirits of Devils, but to be abhorred and abominated of all men that know either what men are, or whose originally they are, or what their relatives are, either natural, civil, or Christian.[1]

Like the devil, the spirit cozened, enticed, or tempted his, or sometimes her, victims into base servitude by taking advantage of their idleness. With false demeanor and engaging words, he appealed to their lust for fleshly pleasures and convinced them that “they shall goe into a place where food shall drop into their mouthes: and being thus deluded, they take courage, and are transported.”[2] Spirits especially prized children, and, like the evil demons of folklore, stole them whenever they could.[3] Hence they could be said to copy their counterparts of the invisible world in studiously endeavoring “to deprave and corrupt Mankind, and to enlarge their own Empire by the Accession of frail man, whose weakness they abuse and triumph over.”[4]

In this view, the servant trade brought depravity and disorder with it and fed the worst in human nature. In consequence, “spirit” was “so infamous a name” that riotous mobs “wounded to death” many who had been tarred with it, and convicted spirits ranked among the most vilified of criminals.[5] According to the Bristol magistrates, spirits took advantage of the moral and intellectual shortcomings of their victims. Many of the servants who came to the city to sail to America, the Bristolians said,

prove to be husbands that upon discontents & humor haue forsaken their wiues & children & thereby exposed them to misery or Parish mercy; otherwhile wiues out of a peevish passion haue abandoned their husbands and houses; children & apprentices yt runaway from their parents & Masters & often times vnwary & credulous persons haue been tempted & betrayed on shipboard by Men-stealers comonly called Spirits & many also which haue been persued by Hue & Cries either for robberies Burglaries or breaking Prison doe thereby escape ye persecucon of Law & Justice.[6]

Among the traders the traffic in servants encouraged covetousness and pride in the form of a supervening desire to abandon their calling for undeserved gain. Moreover, by trading abroad from their shops and workbenches these dealers in servants shared one further trait with the inhabitants of the world of darkness: like witch’s familiars, they shifted their shapes “at their pleasures” by changing places in the natural order of the economy from retailer or artisan to long-distance merchant.[7]

Because it was laden with such heavy implications, the word “spirit” also provided a handy weapon with which to slander opponents. The cases of Edward Peade in London and Marlin Hiscox in Bristol were by no means the only ones in which the technique was employed. For example, in 1652 Hugh Peter was called the “chief Agent, Actor or Procurer” among “the Spirits that took Children in England, said to be set awork first by the Parliament.”[8] Similarly, Secretary Thurloe was smeared in 1659 with a charge of selling Rowland Thomas, a Royalist agent, into slavery in Barbados.[9] The tactic was employed yet again in the aftermath of the Exclusion crisis when John Wilmore, merchant of London, faced charges of spiriting. Wilmore suffered less as a merchant than as a figure with strong Whig connections. He not only had served on the Middlesex grand jury that indicted the duke of York for recusancy, but also was foreman of the London jury that disregarded the charges of treason against Stephen College, the arch anti-papist follower of Shaftesbury.[10] In Bristol, too, party politics in the 1680s were brought near to the boiling point by similar charges of spiriting leveled against some common councillors. When Chief Justice Jeffries came to Bristol in 1685 to mete out his punishments to Monmouth’s rebels, he opened the assizes with a biting attack on Sir William Hayman, then the mayor, and Sir Robert Cann, among others, not only for neglecting to punish dissenters but for kidnapping. The mayor was fined £1,000 “for suffering a boy committed to Bridewell to go beyond the sea,” and Cann and four others were required to find £5,000 surety each to answer similar charges.[11]

From the beginning the best targets for these charges were the sectaries, whose political principles and religious practices gave them a reputation, among their enemies, for demonic possession. In Richard Baxter’s view, Satan himself had “notoriously deluded” the Anabaptists, Ranters, Fifth Monarchists, and other “Enthusiasticks,” as he called them, and they in turn had deluded more foolish men and women by “their pretended Angelical Revelation.”[12] The Quakers often bore the brunt of such criticism. Orthodox Calvinists like William Grigg and Ralph Farmer of Bristol were convinced that the sect merely put into practice what other separatist doctrines already implied.[13] “When the Quakers first arose,” it was said,

their Societies began like witches with Quaking, and Vomiting; and Infecting others with breathing on them, and tying Ribbons on their Hands. And their Actions as well as their Doctrines shewed their Master. When some as profesying, walked through the Streets of Cities naked; and some vainly undertook to raise the Dead.[14]

Moreover, by attacking the ordained ministry, permitting women to speak at Meeting, refusing to uncover before superiors or magistrates, and denying titles of honor, the Quakers seemed to stand for all that threatened the prevailing social order.[15] Their enemies therefore singled them out as men and women “big with swollen pride…as if neither God nor Nature nor State hath made any difference of persons.”[16] Worse yet, in Ralph Farmer’s words, they were high-minded lovers of their own “fancy”; they threatened “breaking the bonds of duty in all relations…Husband and Wife, Parents and Children, Masters and Servants, Magistrates and Subjects, Ministers and People.”[17] As the authorities in Virginia said, the Quakers were, therefore,

an vnreasonable and turbulent sort of people…teaching and publishing lies, miracles, false visions, prophecies and doctrines, which have influence vpon the comunities of men both ecclesiasticall and civil endeavouring and attempting thereby to destroy religion, lawes, communities and all bonds of civil societie, leaving arbitrarie to everie vaine and vitious person whether men shall be safe, lawes established, offenders punished, and Governours rule.[18]

In the aftermath of Bristol’s troubles in 1654 and of James Naylor’s infamous ride in 1656, the sober-minded magistrates and ministers of that stronghold of the sects could only concur with this trans-Atlantic view. “The damnable and blasphemous Doctrines of the Quakers,” William Grigg argued, “tend in their own nature, to the utter ruine of the true Christian Religion, and Civil Government; both in Cities, Families and all Relations, as would soon appear, had they power in their hands.”[19] To the city’s governors, then, the religion of the Spirit represented in the extreme many of the dangers inherent in the capitalism of the servant trade, and they readily identified the two. In this they did no more than recapture the logic of an earlier persecution. In the fourth century, Julian the Apostate himself identified the agape of the early Christians with

those who entice children with a cake, and by throwing it to them two or three times induce them to follow them, and then, when they are far away from their friends cast them on board a ship and sell them as slaves, and that which for the moment seemed sweet, proves to be bitter for all the rest of their lives.[20]

Among the city’s sectaries a very different view prevailed. For many of them the religion of the Spirit was a religion of liberation.[21] It freed them not only from doubts about their personal salvation but also from unwanted restrictions imposed on them by worldly institutions. Nearly all of them resisted the notion that their practices in any way undermined legitimate authority. “As to Government,” the Quakers told Sir John Knight in 1664, “they were not against it, but did own the Second Table as well as the First, Masters, Parents, and Magistrates &c., but all in the Lord; and…where they could and not sin against the Lord they were obedient; and where they could not, they did quietly suffer.” “What they did,” they insisted, “was not in obstinacy and contempt…but in Conscience to the Lord, whose worship was in the Spirit.” This test of conscience came first, and they would accept no authority of whose righteousness they were not personally convinced. What would “thou…have them do,” they asked, “seeing their Conscience was not satisfied? Suppose…that we are mistaken…wouldst thou have us do that which our conscience is against, because of what may be done to our bodies, before we are convinced of the contrary?”[22] Not even the devil could force them from their spiritual freedom; for, as George Bishop argued, “if he could compel, what man should be free? and in what condition were man, if he could be compell’d? and how could man be charged with evil, if he could not do otherwise?”[23]

Bristol’s Baptists, however, shied away from such forthright challenges to the established political order. Many of those who remained in the Broadmead congregation after the coming of the Quakers adhered to a version of election theology and would have agreed with Robert Purnell, their ruling Elder, “that nothing in the world…renders a man…more like Sathan then to argue from mercy, to sinfull liberty; [and] from Divine goodnesse, to licentiousnesse, which is the Devill’s Logick.”[24] Nevertheless, they maintained an open communion and shared many sympathies with their former brethren among the Quakers. Like them, they believed in a way of life guided by religious conviction, in which each person took absolute responsibility for his own actions. If man could not by himself achieve salvation, he still remained free to resist evil and was obliged to seek righteousness.[25] “Our omissions and commissions be charged upon ourselves,” Robert Purnell said, for the sin “lodging in our hearts…doth mischief us more then Satan, for he can but tempt, but our deceitful hearts do yield.”[26] Moreover, the soul was no passive thing, but reached out to fulfill God’s commandments. “Hath the Lord…made man an empty creature and void of reason?” Purnell asked.

[H]ath not man many members in his body and faculties in his soul?…for…is there not an understanding to understand? is there not a mind or memory to minde or remember? is there not a judgement to judge and determine of things? is there not a will to will the things that the Judgment doth judge as good? Are there not Affections to affect that, which the Judgment presents as good? Or else doth God speak to man as a stock or a stone?[27]

For these reasons, Purnell believed that God approached man by appealing to his rational judgment and his interest, as well as his conscience. “He doth not only offer mercy,” he told his brethren, “but doth labour with strong reasons, and arguments, and motives to draw the soul to himself” and “to out bid all other comforts we have in sin.” To counter the persuasions of the devil, the world, and our own corruption, he offers “honey, milk, rayment” and “such things as do most take with our hearts.” It is “as if the Lord hath said, well, though thou hast been a great sinner…yet if thou wilt but turn at my reproof…I will pour out my Spirit upon thee, I will give grace and glory, a House, a City, a Kingdome, Life, and all things.” In this way the Lord, appealing to our rational instincts, “doth…out bid them all, and so win our soul to himself.”[28]

With many of the Baptists, the test of “experience” had much the same force as Quaker “conscience.” Important truths came “experimentally,” either through “immediate inspiration” in which God “darted” his teachings directly into the heart, or through painstaking study and lengthy discourse with fellow Christians.[29] For this reason, the life of the Broadmead church centered upon its weekly conference, in which the experiences of individual members were employed to interpret Scripture “that so there was liberty for any brother (and for any Sister by a brother) to propose his doubt of, or their desire of, understanding any Portion of Scripture,” which the others sought to answer as the Lord moved them. In this way, Baptists came to understand the truth, not by authority, but as a thing living in their own souls.[30] They also knew they could not always confine their confessions of faith to these meetings. As one of them said in the face of Sir John Knight’s persecutions, “there is a time to speak, that we may not be dumb.”[31] Like the Quakers, they found it necessary to bear witness to their faith by the testimony of civil disobedience, following the rule that “every man look to his own heart” and that “no man can be forced beyond his freedom.” To honor Christ’s “prerogative,” they offered up their liberty “upon the service and sacrifice of the faith” and “in opposition to the inventions and usurpations of men therein.”[32]

Among the Quakers and the Baptists there was also a strong leveling impulse. George Bishop declared that in this earthly world “all are in the like state…and all have the same dependency…on the Lord,” whether “Rich or Poor, High or Low, Governours or governed, King or people, Master or Servant, Bond or Free.”[33] Robert Purnell also argued for the equality of men before God. “Justice hath no respect of persons,” he stated, and God brings “down the mighty from their seat…exalting them of low degree.”[34] Under heaven, he said, we should distinguish only saints and sinners, and accept the truth wherever it is to be found, “either in noble or ignoble, old or young, weak or strong, learned or unlearned.”[35] As is well known, the Quakers and the Baptists put these principles into practice in the organization of their own meetings. The Quakers, of course, had no professional pastor to head their community, but waited in silence upon the Lord. “We know his voice from a Strangers,” Bishop said, “and can try the spirits: and even those who oppose themselves have and may come to our Assemblies freely, and speak, whom we judge in the spirit of Jesus Christ.”[36] The Baptists, for their part, chose their teachers and pastors from among religious men, many of whom lacked formal education in theology and Scripture.[37] Among these early sectaries, we find servants as well as masters, youths as well as elders, and women as well as men taking on the obligations of religious leadership in their communities. The first Quaker sufferers in Bristol were Elizabeth Marshall, widow, and John Warren, an adolescent servant, both jailed in 1654 for their outcries against the “priests” in the “steeplehouses.”[38] Later, in 1682, when first the Quaker men and then the Quaker women were seized and imprisoned, their children, according to William Sewel, “now performed what their Parents were hindred from” and “kept up their religious Meetings as much as was in their Power.”[39] Among the Baptists, Mrs. Nethway, “a woman very eminent in her godlinesse,” played the leading role in selecting the Broadmead church’s teacher in 1651.[40] In other words, both groups lived by the doctrine that “God is no respecter of faces; but among all nations he that feareth him and worketh righteousness is acceptable to him.”[41]

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