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Browsing: Legal Papers of John Adams, Volume 2

This note contained in document ADMS-05-02-02-0003-0002-0001
8. For a discussion of many of the cases from the viewpoint of an active Baptist participant in the struggle, see Isaac Backus, A Church History of New England, 2:239–265, 277–282 (Providence, R.I., 1784), a continuation of Backus' A History of New England, With particular Reference to the Denomination of Christians called Baptists (Boston, 1777). Volume 3 of this work, also entitled A Church History of New England, was published at Boston in 1796. See also Meyer, Church and State in Mass. 51–68. JA was a participant in one of the best known of these suits, White v. Bartlett. John White, “shopkeeper” of Haverhill, sued Enoch Bartlett and Jonathan Webster, the town assessors, in trespass for £30 damages, alleging that they had taken from him goods and chattels valued at £16 12s. 8d. White won on demurrer in the Inferior Court, Ipswich, in March 1767, and on appeal to the Superior Court under an agreement stipulating “The trial of this appeal to be final,” won a verdict of £30 and costs at the Salem Nov. 1767 term. Min. Bk. 85, SCJ Essex, June 1767, N–11; Nov. 1767, C–19. White remitted £12 to the defendants, but they moved for a new trial on the grounds that the verdict was against law and the damages excessive. The new trial was granted, although the court, apparently paraphrasing English authority, noted that there were “Few new Tryals after a Tryal at Bar. Not to be taken out of the course of the Law.” SF 131793. Min. Bk. 85, SCJ Essex, Nov. 1767, C–19; Nov. 1768, C–7. See No. 12. On the new trial at Ipswich in June 1769 it was stipulated by the parties that the issues were limited to the legality of the town's actions, “The sufficiency and legallity of the appellees Certificate in the case (it being agreed that the Certificate was given in to the assessors before the first assessment was voted) and whether the appellee was Conscientiously of the Anabaptist persuasion.” SF 131793. With JA now appearing for White, the jury reversed the former judgment, awarding costs to the assessors. Min. Bk. 85, SCJ Essex, June 1769, C–3. Backus was incensed by this result, both on account of the technicality which was used to avoid the agreement that the first appeal would be final and by the fact that Baptists were not allowed to testify on grounds of interest. He reported that the ground for the decision was a ruling by the court that the law exempted only “a steady worshipper,” not “a baptized church member,” and that White's certificate did not state that he was the former. 2 Backus, Church History 241–242. Ezra Stiles, in a diary entry of 11 Jan. 1773, reported that in conversation Justice Peter Oliver of the Superior Court gave a slightly different reason: “By the old Law [i.e. pre-1770] the Baptists were to certifie themselves as to three things—that they were conscientiously Baptists—usual Attendants—and Members i.e. baptized by immersion and Communicants. Mr. Whites Certificate showed the two first, not the last; and for this Defect Judgment was given against him.” 1 Stiles, Literary Diary 333. Oliver's version is borne out by the certificate of the pastor and elders of the Haverhill church that White and fourteen others “are conscientiously of our Persuasion and that they do frequently and usually attend the Publick Worship with us on the Lord's Day.” SF 131793. That the content of the certificate was the issue, rather than the actual facts as to White's persuasion, is also suggested by the statutory language (text at note 7 above), which would seem to make the certificate conclusive. If the court found that it could look only to the certificate, despite the stipulation of the parties, then its ruling excluding the Baptists as witnesses may have been based merely on a finding that their evidence as to White's beliefs was immaterial. JA was of counsel in at least one other similar case, this time arguing for the successful assessors. See Taft v. Cragin, Min. Bk. 101, SCJ Worcester, April 1774, C–3. SF 152818. He appeared for the assessors also in Follansbee v. Pearson, a case in which a Newburyport Presbyterian was successful in claiming an exemption under an order of the General Court dating from 1752 which expressly exempted members of his society from tax, there being no general statute covering Presbyterians. Min. Bk. 85, SCJ Essex, Nov. 1767, N–11; June 1768, C–12; June 1769, N–8; Nov. 1769, C–11. SF 131661, 131867. In at least two cases involving the tax on members of the Church of England (note 4 above), JA appeared for the church. Richmond v. Walker, Min. Bk. 84, SCJ Taunton, Oct. 1770, N–4. SF 145564 (plaintiff discontinued after jury impaneled); Bass v. Knight, Min. Bk. 93, SCJ Essex, June 1773, N–9; Min. Bk. 102, SCJ Essex, June 1774, C–21; Min. Bk. 108, SCJ Essex, June 1780, C–3. SF 92148, 132321, 132714 (verdict for assessors; on review continued after special verdict until neither party appears).
Cite web page as: Founding Families: Digital Editions of the Papers of the Winthrops and the Adamses, ed.C. James Taylor. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 2018.