Legal Papers of John Adams, volume 2

Editorial Note

Editorial Note

Adams’ Minutes of the Trial<a xmlns="" href="#LJA02d015n1" class="note" id="LJA02d015n1a">1</a>: Worcester Inferior Court, Worcester, May 1769 JA Adams’ Minutes of the Trial: Worcester Inferior Court, Worcester, May 1769 Adams, John
Adams' Minutes of the Trial1
Worcester Inferior Court, Worcester, May 1769

Prov. Law. 16.2 33.3 386.4 Temporary Laws. About Certificates for Anabaptist Ministers and People,5 to be used in the Case following of

43 Green vs. Washburn et als.

Worth ington .6 All wise States have seen the Necessity of some Religion for the Support of Society.


The Happiness of British dominions that an order of Men. The Romans and Grecians would have thought themselves happy if they had had such an order of Men.

All Ministers are exempted. By the annual Tax Act.7

Mr. Locks Definition of a Church. Ecclesia. A Number of Persons met to worship God.8 And that Man they choose for their Head shall be their Minister. He thinks him self as orthodox as any.

A Number of People, whether they disliked their former Ministers. About 50 Men and Women agreed to meet. An Anabaptist Church and an Anabaptist Minister.


Mr. Streeter. About 50 when called. 100 now. 7 male members. About as many females. In Octr. the ordination 1763. The Church unanimous. Not certain whether the Congregation voted. They belonged to Leicester, Spencer and Charlton.9 Green was a Mason by Trade.


Mr. Alden. 10 Mr. Green came to a general Meeting of the united Churches of the Anabaptist order. Mr. Stillman's Church was not then one. Mr. Mannings of Providence was not then.11 We examined him, found him Sound in Principle, and of regular Conduct. We went and read certain Rules.

We were sent to afterwards, and after being formed into a Council, and Enquiry after their Covenant &c., We ordaind him.12


Mr. Jacob. Of Killingsley. The Elder 18 Years.13

Hall. Dont work much, reads Bible and Annotations &c. 2 exempted.

Mr. Alden and Mr. Jacobs broke fellowship with the Church I belonged to, and were formerly dealt with for so doing. Mr. Green, I understand, preaches in Charlton.

Dr. Greens Society and Mr. Southgates, are in Leicester. Strict Communion, and Strict Principles.14 Mr. Alden said He thought he missed it in giving the Charge he did to Mr. Green.

Mr. Putnam. 15 Some Learning is necessary. Learning comes not by Inspiration, great Labour and study is necessary. The Law could not intend that every Man who shall start up, should be a Minister. He is learned in his Trade no doubt, and may understand his Bible, well eno' to secure his own Salvation. But he is wrong in leading People 47off from their legal Pastors, and forming Seperations. He seperates for trifles, I cant think 'em essential. He cant communicate with them, because they dont insist on the Formality of laying on Hands.16 One Motive why he became a Preacher, might be, because he did not love to work.


In JA's hand. Adams Papers, Microfilms, Reel No. 185. For the dating, see note 22 above.


The Act of 4 Nov. 1692, Acts and Laws, Of His Majesty's Province of the Massachusetts Bay in New-England 16 (Boston, 1759); c. 26, §1, 1 A&R 62, provided

“That the inhabitants of each town within this province, shall take due care, from time to time, to be constantly provided of an able, learned orthodox minister or ministers, of good conversation, to dispense the Word of God to them; which minister or ministers shall be suitably encouraged and sufficiently supported and maintained by the inhabitants of such town.”

The remainder of this section dealt with contracts for the “settlement or maintenance” of ministers and schoolmasters, giving the court of quarter sessions power to oversee such contracts. Under §2, if “any town shall be destitute of a minister qualified as aforesaid, and shall so continue by the space of six months, not having taken due care for the procuring, setling and encouragement of such minister,” the Court of Sessions was to order the town to take the necessary steps, or in default, the court was to “take effectual care to procure and settle a minister qualified as aforesaid.” §4 provided

“That every minister, being a person of good conversation, able, learned and orthodox, that shall be chosen by the major part of the inhabitants in any town, at a town meeting duly warned for that purpose . . . shall be the minister of such town; and the whole town shall be obliged to pay towards his settlement and maintenance, each man his several proportion thereof.”

§5 required the “settlement and maintenance” of schoolmasters. See, generally, text at note 2 above.


The Act of 17 Feb. 1693, Acts and Laws 33 (1759); c. 46, §8, 1 A&R 102–103, repealed §4 of the Act of 1692, note 2 above, providing instead [§9],

“that each respective gathered church in any town or place within this province, that at any time shall be in want of a minister, such church shall have power, according to the directions given in the word of God, to choose their own minister. And the major part of such inhabitants [i.e. of the town or place] as do there usually attend on the publick worship of God, and are by law duly qualified for voting in town affairs, concurring with the churche's act, the person thus elected and approved, accepting thereof and settling with them, shall be the minister; toward whose settlement and maintenance all the inhabitants, and rateable estates lying within such town, or part of a town, or place limited by law for upholding the publick worship of God, shall be obliged to pay in proportion.”

Under §10 the inhabitants of a place where there was no church might by majority vote at a town meeting,

“with the advice of three neighbouring ordained ministers . . . choose and call an orthodox, learned and pious person to dispense the word of God unto them, to the settlement and maintenance of which minister all rateable estates and inhabitants within such town or place shall be assessed and pay proportionably.”

See, generally, text at note 2 above.


Act of 13 Feb. 1760, Acts and Laws 386 (1759); c. 24, 4 A&R 288:

“[I]t shall not be lawful for any town, district, precinct or parish to assess the inhabitants thereof for or towards the support or maintenance of any person who shall be hereafter called to or settled in the work of the gospel ministry in such town, district, precinct or parish, unless such person shall have been educated at some university, college, or publick academy for the instruction of youth in the learned languages, and in the arts and sciences; or shall have received a degree from some university, college, or such publick academy; or shall have obtained testimonials under the hands of the major part of the settled ministers of the gospel in the county where such town, district, precinct or parish shall lie, that they apprehend him, the said person being a candidate for the gospel ministry, to be of sufficient learning to qualify him for the work of such ministry.”

See, generally, text at note 15 above.


JA probably cites the Act of 5 Jan. 1753, c. 15, § 1, 3 A&R 644, relieving such Anabaptists of taxes for the support of the ministry as should be either upon the assessors' lists, “or such as shall produce a certificate, under the hands of the minister and of two principal members of such church, setting forth that they conscienciously believe such person or persons to be of their perwasion and that he or they usually and frequently attend the publick worship in such church on Lord's days.” In §2 it was provided

“That no minister, nor the members of any Annabaptist church as aforesaid, shall be esteemed qualified to give such certificate as aforesaid other than such as shall have obtained from three other churches commonly called Annabaptists, in this or the neighbouring provinces, a certificate from each respectively, that they esteem such church to be one of their denomination, and that they conscientiously believe them to be Annabaptists.”

This act expired of its own force in 1758 (id. §3), and was not renewed, although its provisions were apparently still observed. See text and notes 6 and 7 above.


John Worthington, counsel for Green.


The statute under which the tax in suit was levied was the Act of 23 June 1767, c. 8, §2, 4 A&R 971, which provided that the Province Treasurer should require the selectmen and assessors of each town

“To assess all rateable polls above the age of sixteen years . . . (excepting the governor, lieutenant-governor and their families, the president, fellows, professors, Hebrew instructor and students of Harvard College, settled ministers and grammar-school masters, who are hereby exempted as well from being taxed for their polls, as their estates being in their own hands, and under their actual management and improvement; as also the estate pertaining to Harvard College).”


Probably a reference to this well-known passage in John Locke's first “Letter Concerning Toleration” (1689):

“Let us now consider what a church is. 'A church then, I take to be a voluntary society of men, joining themselves together of their own accord, in order to the publick worshipping of God, in such a manner as they judge acceptable to him, and effectual to the salvation of their souls. . . . A church, then, is a society of members, voluntarily uniting.'” John Locke, Works, 2:253–254 (London, 4th edn., 1740).

See Anson Phelps Stokes, Church and State in the United States, 1:143 (N.Y., 1950).


See the account of the church's founding given by John Davis in his Journal:

“Their Constitut[ion] was in [the] year 1762. 13th of July: when a Number of persons, having upon Conversat[ion], found they were of the same opinion in matters of Religion: and agreed to incorporate into a Church.

“In the year 1749 a Number of persons separated from the Standing Church, for 3 Reasons: 1. a Dislike to the Church Constitution. 2. The Manner of Supporting the gospel. 3 Manner of preaching. After they separated they continued in what is called the Separate Order for sometime, but in the same year gathered into a Church, upon what they Call Large Communion: that is mixt Communion.

“In 1762 Nathl. Green, and others separated from the Separates, having been baptized some time before; Green was baptized in Sturbridge by Blunt. Blunt recanted his own Baptism. And the same year, 1762, Mr. Green and others, from Leicester, Spencer, and Charlton became a baptist Church as aforesaid.

“Their Number in Ch[ristiani]ty was 6: who were Joined in a short time by 8 or 10 more. The names of the 6 were, Nathl. Green, Jno. Hill, and Jno. Hill Junr., Dorothy Shaw, Mary Hill, the wife of John Hill Junr. and Dorothy Shaw, Daughter of Dorothy Shaw. In Decem. 10th 1762 the Church called Nathl. Green to the Exercise of his ministerial gifts. He accepted the call, and continued the preacher alone in this Church—on tryal, till 13 of July 1763, when He gave the answer to the call—And was ordain'd their Pastor on the 12 of October 1763.

“Mr. Green had great Difficulties in the Separate Church, [in ?] endeavouring to suppress the Strange Spirit of the Separates: and this determined his Leaving the Separates.” Journal of John Davis, 27 April 1771, Backus Papers.

See also 3 Backus, Church History 176. Rev. John Blunt, pastor at Sturbridge from 1749 to 1752, renounced his Baptism and became a Separate in the latter year. See Goen, Revivalism and Separatism 103, 224–225. It has been said that Nathaniel Green's church was formed “by the dismission of several members” from Thomas Green's Leicester church (note 14 37 below). See Estes, “Historical Discourse” 55–56. There is no evidence of this, but it is possible that some members of Thomas Green's congregation did join Nathaniel at some point, since there seem to have been doctrinal differences between the two churches. See note 16 39 below.


The witness was probably Rev. Noah Alden, pastor of the Separate Baptist Church at Stafford, Conn., from 1754 until 1766, when he was called to the First Baptist Church of Bellingham, Mass. In 1767 Alden's Bellingham church became one of the initial members of the Warren Association. See Benedict, General History 416–417, 469; Goen, Revivalism and Separatism 228, 308; George F. Partridge, History of the Town of Bellingham, Massachusetts, 1719–1919 107–113, 132–136 (Bellingham, 1919). According to a contemporary record, Alden and Nathaniel Green were both pallbearers at the funeral of Rev. Thomas Green of the First Baptist Church of Leicester (note 14 37 below) in 1773. Estes, “Historical Discourse” 37 note.


Samuel Stillman (1738–1807) accepted the pastorate of the First Baptist Church of Boston in Nov. 1764. James Manning (1738–1791), first president of Rhode Island College (now Brown University) and a leader in the Baptists' struggles, took a church at Warren, R.I., in the same year, moving to Providence only in 1770. DAB ; Burrage, History of the Baptists 75–76, 98. Probably the witness' placing Manning in Providence in 1769 is a mere slip. For JA's contact with Manning, see note 14 above. The organization to which Stillman and Manning are characterized as not belonging is presumably an association of about eight Baptist churches, formed in 1763, which included Alden's Stafford, Conn., church (note 10 33 above) and Wightman Jacobs' Thompson, Conn., church (note 13 36 below). See 3 Backus, Church History 261; Elder Charles Train, Sermon, 31 Dec. 1826, in 7 American Baptist Magazine (n.s.) 153–154 (1827), a reference supplied by Professor McLoughlin. This group seems to have expired in 1767 with the founding of the Warren Association, in which Manning was instrumental, and which Stillman's church had joined in 1768. See note 18 above; note 16 39 below.


Ordinarily when a church wished to have a minister ordained, it called a council of ministers to carry out the task. The ministers would first examine the candidate as to his beliefs and then perform the actual service of ordination. Goen, Revivalism and Separatism 168. The council called in Green's case seems to have already examined him informally on his appearance at the association meeting, although a formal examination may also have been held at the time of the ordination. The council apparently had the further duty of approving the organization of Green's church, which was newly formed. See note 9 32 above.


Presumably Rev. Wightman (or Whitman) Jacobs, Pastor of the Baptist Church in Thompson, Conn. (once part of Killingly) from 1750 to 1769, when he followed many members of his congregation to Royalston, Mass., after a doctrinal split in Thompson. See 3 Backus, Church History 178, 261; Lilley B. Caswell, History of the Town of Royalston, Massachusetts 65–68, 324–325 (Royalston, 1917). The Thompson church was one of those belonging to the association by which Green was examined. See notes 11 34 above, 16 39 below.


“Dr. Green” is not the plaintiff here, but Rev. Thomas Green (1699–1773), pastor of the First Baptist Church in Leicester, who was actually a medical doctor. See Estes, “Historical Discourse” 31–38. “Mr. Southgate” is undoubtedly Elder Richard Southgate (1714–1798), who preached to a Baptist society in Leicester which “was never organized as a corporate religious society; and, after the death of Elder Southgate, seems to have been merged in other societies.” Washburn, Historical Sketches of Leicester 115. “Strict Communion,” apparently the doctrine of these two societies, was the principle that no one should be admitted to communion who had not been baptized as an adult by total immersion. Opposed to it was “mixed communion,” under which those baptized by sprinkling in infancy were also admitted. The difference was a major cause of dissension among Separates and Baptists. See Goen, Revivalism and Separatism 229–232, 258–264. Compare note 9 32 above. “Strict Principles” perhaps means strict adherence to Calvinism. Thomas Green's church, of which he had been pastor since its founding in 1738, was strongly Calvinistic. He was apparently on good terms with the Leicester Congregationalists; the town had remitted his taxes in 1741. See Estes, “Historical Discourse” 22, 36; Goen, Revivalism and Separatism 237. The evidence thus seems calculated to cast doubt on Nathaniel Green's bona fides as a minister.


James Putnam, counsel for Washburn. For views similar to those here expressed by Putnam, see Petition of the Ashfield Proprietors, 27 March 1771, 4 A&R 1039–1043.


The doctrine that laying on of hands was a condition precedent to communion was adhered to by most of the General Baptist churches, which were strongest in Rhode Island and Connecticut and were known as “Six Principle” churches, this being in effect the sixth principle. The Calvinistic Particular Baptists of the Middle Atlantic states and most of the Separate Baptists of New England, including James Manning (originally a Philadelphian) and Isaac Backus, leaders of the Warren Association, rejected the doctrine. See Goen, Revivalism and Separatism 272 note; Burrage, History of the Baptists 27–30, 80–81; 3 Backus, Church History 59; Isaac Backus, A History of the Warren Association in New England, from its first formation to the present time (MS) 108, Backus Papers; Benedict, General History 453–454; Richard C. Knight, History of the General or Six Principle Baptists 100 and throughout (Providence, 1826) (the editors are indebted to Professor McLoughlin for the last three references). According to Backus, the association of Rhode Island and Connecticut churches which Green joined in 1763 (note 11 34 above), although presumably Calvinistic, was founded upon the principle of “the laying on of hands upon every member as a term of communion . . . but in two years after the most of them gave up that bar of communion, of whom Mr. Jacobs [Wightman Jacobs, note 13 36 above] was one.” 3 Backus, Church History 261. The association seems to have broken up thereafter over this issue. Both Jacobs and Noah Alden moved to Massachusetts at this point and took churches which joined the Warren Association (note 18 above). Since Green also joined the Warren Association in 1768, it seems probable that all three had been among those members of the earlier association who “gave up that bar” of laying on of hands. If this is so, Putnam's statement is inaccurate as of the time of the trial, but probably it correctly describes the circumstances which led to the foundation of Green's church. Holding this belief, Green could not “communicate” (i.e. be in fellowship) with either the Standing Church or the Separate Church, from both of which he had separated (note 9 32 above). In all probability, his position would also have prevented him from “communicating” with Thomas Green's Leicester Baptist church as well. If Thomas Green were a Calvinist of “Strict Principles” (note 14 37 above) it is unlikely that he accepted what was essentially an Arminian doctrine. Moreover, in the church at Sutton, of which Thomas had been co-pastor before the foundation of his Leicester church, “Laying on of hands was left indifferent. Some were and some were not under h[an]ds.” Journal of John Davis, 27 April 1771, Backus Papers. See also Estes, “Historical Discourse” 17–19. Thus, Putnam's point seems to be that, if it were not for this doctrinal “trifle,” Nathaniel Green need never have formed his own church at all.