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An essay by John Greenleaf Whittier

Governor Endicott

Title:     Governor Endicott
Author: John Greenleaf Whittier [More Titles by Whittier]

I am sorry that I cannot respond in person to the invitation of the Essex Institute to its commemorative festival on the 18th. I especially regret it, because, though a member of the Society of Friends, and, as such, regarding with abhorrence the severe persecution of the sect under the administration of Governor Endicott, I am not unmindful of the otherwise noble qualities and worthy record of the great Puritan, whose misfortune it was to live in an age which regarded religious toleration as a crime. He was the victim of the merciless logic of his creed. He honestly thought that every convert to Quakerism became by virtue of that conversion a child of perdition; and, as the head of the Commonwealth, responsible for the spiritual as well as temporal welfare of its inhabitants, he felt it his duty to whip, banish, and hang heretics to save his people from perilous heresy.

The extravagance of some of the early Quakers has been grossly exaggerated. Their conduct will compare in this respect favorably with that of the first Anabaptists and Independents; but it must be admitted that many of them manifested a good deal of that wild enthusiasm which has always been the result of persecution and the denial of the rights of conscience and worship. Their pertinacious defiance of laws enacted against them, and their fierce denunciations of priests and magistrates, must have been particularly aggravating to a man as proud and high tempered as John Endicott. He had that free-tongued neighbor of his, Edward Wharton, smartly whipped at the cart-tail about once a month, but it may be questioned whether the governor's ears did not suffer as much under Wharton's biting sarcasm and "free speech" as the latter's back did from the magisterial whip.

Time has proved that the Quakers had the best of the controversy; and their descendants can well afford to forget and forgive an error which the Puritan governor shared with the generation in which he lived.

WEST OSSIPEE, N. H., 14th 9th Month, 1878.

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John Greenleaf Whittier's essay: Governor Endicott