Home  »  A Library of American Literature  »  Divers Recollections of Puritan Strictness

Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

Divers Recollections of Puritan Strictness

By William Bradford (1590–1657)

[Governor Bradford’s Dialogue. Written 1648.]

MR. JOHNSON, of whom something was spoken before, was pastor of the church of God at Amsterdam. A very grave man he was, and an able teacher, and was the most solemn in all his administrations that we have seen any, and especially in dispensing the seals of the covenant, both baptism and the Lord’s supper. And a good disputant he was. We heard Mr. Smith upon occasion say, that he was persuaded no men living were able to maintain a cause against those two men, meaning Mr. Johnson and Mr. Ainsworth, if they had not the truth on their side. He, by reason of many dissensions that fell out in the church, and the subtilty of one of the elders of the same, came after many years to alter his judgment about the government of the church, and his practice thereupon, which caused a division amongst them….

In our time his wife was a grave matron, and very modest both in her apparel and all her demeanor, ready to any good works in her place, and helpful to many, especially the poor, and an ornament to his calling. She was a young widow when he married her, and had been a merchant’s wife, by whom he had a good estate, and was a godly woman; and because she wore such apparel as she had been formerly used to, which were neither excessive nor immodest, for their chiefest exceptions were against her wearing of some whalebone in the bodice and sleeves of her gown, corked shoes, and other such like things as the citizens of her rank then used to wear. And although, for offense sake, she and he were willing to reform the fashions of them so far as might be without spoiling of their garments, yet it would not content them except they came full up to their size. Such was the strictness or rigidness (as now the term goes) of some in those times, as we can by experience and of our own knowledge show in other instances. We shall for brevity sake only show one.

We were in the company of a godly man that had been a long time prisoner at Norwich for this cause, and was by Judge Cooke set at liberty. After going into the country he visited his friends, and returning that way again to go into the Low Countries by ship at Yarmouth, and so desired some of us to turn in with him to the house of an ancient woman in the city, who had been very kind and helpful to him in his sufferings. She knowing his voice made him very welcome, and those with him. But after some time of their entertainment, being ready to depart, she came up to him and felt of his band, (for her eyes were dim with age,) and perceiving it was something stiffened with starch, she was much displeased, and reproved him very sharply, fearing God would not prosper his journey. Yet the man was a plain countryman, clad in gray russet, without either welt or guard, (as the proverb is,) and the band he wore scarce worth threepence, made of their own homespinning; and he was godly and humble as he was plain. What would such professors, if they were now living, say to the excess of our times?…

At Amsterdam, before their division and breach, they were about three hundred communicants, and they had for their pastor and teacher those two eminent men before named, and in our time four grave men for ruling elders, and three able and godly men for deacons, one ancient widow for a deaconess, who did them service many years, though she was sixty years of age when she was chosen. She honored her place and was an ornament to the congregation. She usually sat in a convenient place in the congregation, with a little birchen rod in her hand, and kept little children in great awe from disturbing the congregation. She did frequently visit the sick and weak, especially women, and, as there was need, calling out maids and young women to watch and do them other helps as their necessity did require; and if they were poor, she would gather relief for them of those that were able, or acquaint the deacons; and she was obeyed as a mother in Israel and an officer of Christ.