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Defining the Puritans? The Baptism Debate in Cromwellian Ireland, 1654–56

  • Crawford Gribben (a1)


In May 1653, John Murcot, a well-connected Merton College Oxford graduate, travelled to Cork to preach at the request of local Puritans. As a minister adhering to the Independent system of church order, he had already faced a series of challenges to the fulfilment of his clerical calling. In the 1640s, his studies had been interrupted when Royalist troops occupied his university; on his first journey to Dublin, in 1651, he had narrowly escaped capture at the hands of pirates in the Irish Sea. In Cork, Murcot's ministry met with much success until he became entangled in a controversy that threatened to tear apart the local Puritan administration and, more widely, the Irish Puritan consensus.



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1. Barnard, T. C., Cromwellian Ireland: English Government and Reform in Ireland, 1649–1660 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1975; 2000), 140. For an overview of religious developments among Puritans in Ireland, see Kilroy, Phil, “Radical Religion in Ireland, 1641–1660,” in Ireland from Independence to Occupation, 1641–1660, ed. Ohlmeyer, Jane (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 201–17. For a contemporary account of Murcot's ministry, see Moses in the Mount. Or, The Beloved Disciple Leaning on Jesus's Bosom. Being a Narrative of the Life and Death of Mr. John Murcot, Minister of the Gospel, and Teacher of the Church at Dublin. Written by a Friend (London: Francis Tyton, 1657). I would like to thank Jane Ohlmeyer for her comments on an earlier draft of this article.

2. For a discussion of Irish privateers, see Loeber, Rolf and Parker, Geoffrey, “The Military Revolution in Seventeenth-century Ireland,” in Ohlmeyer, ed., Ireland from Independence to Occupation, 86.

3. Harding and Worth would later serve together on the committee for the second college in Dublin. Barnard, , Cromwellian Ireland, 210.

4. Moses in the Mount, 17.

5. Seymour, J. D., The Puritans in Ireland, 1647–1661 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1921), 6470, 217. For an overview of the background to and contents of the Cromwellian Irish program, see Canny, Nicholas, Making Ireland British, 1580–1650 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 551–78; Stevenson, David, “Cromwell, Scotland and Ireland,” in Oliver Cromwell and the English Revolution, ed. Morrill, John (London: Longman, 1990), 149–80; Bennet, Martyn, The Civil Wars in Britain and Ireland, 1638–1651 (Oxford: Blackwell, 1997), 345–50; and Wheeler, James Scott, Cromwell in Ireland (Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1999), 224–39.

6. Newsletter, from G. Mabbott to W. Clarke, 3 October 1654, Worcester College, Oxford, Clarke MS 26, fol. 140; cited in Barnard, Cromwellian Ireland, xxi. For an overview of various Puritan attitudes towards Ireland, see Adamson, John, “Strafford's Ghost: The British Context of Viscount Lisle's Lieutenancy of Ireland,” in Ohlmeyer, , ed., Ireland from Independence to Occupation, 128–59.

7. For a discussion of the millennial environment of Cromwellian Ireland, see Gribben, Crawford, The Puritan Millennium: Literature and Theology, 1550–1682 (Dublin: Four Courts, 2000), 149–71. For a recent helpful discussion of Puritan millennialism, see Cogley, Richard, “The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Restoration of Israel in the ‘Judeo-centric’ Strand of Puritan Millenarianism,” Church History: Studies in Christianity and Culture 72:2 (2003): 304–32.

8. For a theoretical exploration of Irish Catholicisms, see Carroll, Michael P., Irish Pilgrimage: Holy Wells and Popular Catholic Devotion (London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999).

9. Edwards, Thomas, Gangræna (London: Ralph Smith, 1646), 3:227.

10. Wheeler, James Scott, “Sense of Identity in the Army of the English Republic, 1645–51,” in The Stuart Kingdoms in the Seventeenth Century: Awkward Neighbours, eds. Macinnes, Allan I. and Ohlmeyer, Jane (Dublin: Four Courts, 2002), 151–68; Barnard, T. C., “Crises of Identity Among Irish Protestants, 1641–1685,” Past and Present 27 (1990): 3983.

11. Tolmie, Murray, The Triumph of the Saints: The Separate Churches of London, 1616–1649 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977), 50.

12. The problem of defining “Puritan” has provided consistent difficulty for scholars of English religion. A number of historians, including Kenneth Fincham, Nicholas Tyacke, and Peter Lake, have embraced the term, discussing a distinctively “Puritan” style of divinity, while problematizing some of the term's uses; some have also spoken of a fully-fledged “Puritan movement.” Others, such as J. C. Davies and (occasionally) Patrick Collinson, have rejected the utility of the term. Representative positions in this debate can be found in Hall, Basil, “Puritanism: The Problem of Definition,” Studies in Church History 2 (1965): 283–96; Lake, Peter, “Puritan Identities,” Journal of Ecclesiastical History 35 (1984): 112–23; Lamont, William M., Puritanism and Historical Controversy (London: University College London Press, 1996); and Lake, Peter, The Boxmaker's Revenge: “Orthodoxy,” “Heterodoxy” and the Politics of the Parish in Early Stuart London (Manchester, U.K.: Manchester University Press, 2001), 1116. The term has recently been exported to describe other advanced protestant cultures. Mullan's, David George fine study, Scottish Puritanism, 1590–1638 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), embraces the terms without providing any discussion of its utility within a Scottish context; see Coffey, John, “Scottish Puritanism, 1590–1638: Reflections on a New Subject,” in Enforcing Reformation: Ireland and Scotland, 1560–1690, eds. Elizabethanne Boran and Crawford Gribben (forthcoming). Alan Ford has also discussed the term within an Irish context: “The Church of Ireland, 1558–1641: A Puritan Church?” in As by Law Established: The Church of Ireland since the Reformation, eds. Ford, Alan and others (Dublin: Lillipput, 1995), 5268.

13. For a useful critique of Greenblatt's method, see Stevens, Paul, “Pretending to Be Real: Stephen Greenblatt and the Legacy of Popular Existentialism,” New Literary History 33:3 (2002): 491519.

14. For a study of primitivism, see Bozeman, Theodore Dwight, To Live Ancient Lives: The Primitivist Dimension in Puritanism (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988), and Underwood, T. L., Primitivism, Radicalism, and the Lamb's War: The Baptist-Quaker Conflict in Seventeenth-Century England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997).

15. The general history of seventeenth-century Baptist polemic is usefully surveyed in Tolmie, The Triumph of the Saints; White, B. R., The English Baptists of the Seventeenth Century (Didcot: Baptist Historical Society, 1996); and Underwood, Primitivism, Radicalism, and the Lamb's War.

16. Ford, , “The Church of Ireland, 1558–1634: A Puritan Church?” 52–68; and “James Ussher and the Creation of an Irish Protestant Identity,” in British Consciousness and Identity: The Making of Britain, 1533–1707, eds. Bradshaw, Brendan and Roberts, Peter (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 185212.

17. Kearney, Hugh F., Strafford in Ireland, 1633–41: A Study in Absolutism (Manchester, U.K.: Manchester University Press, 1959), throughout; Ford, Alan, The Protestant Reformation in Ireland, 1590–1641 (Dublin: Four Courts, 1997), 7576.

18. Barnard, , Cromwellian Ireland, xxvii.

19. Coffey, John, Politics, Religion and the British Revolutions: The Mind of Samuel Rutherford (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 167–68, 205–6, 210, 219–24.

20. Coffey, , Politics, Religion and the British Revolutions, 206.

21. See Underwood, , Primitivism, Radicalism, and the Lamb's War, 6881; Tolmie, , Triumph of the Saints, 5084.

22. Herlihy, Kevin, “‘The Faithful Remnant’: Irish Baptists, 1650–1750,” in Irish Dissenting Tradition, ed. Herlihy, Kevin (Dublin: Four Courts, 1995), 6667; Tolmie, , Triumph of the Saints, chapter 2; White, , The English Baptists of the Seventeenth Century, 60; Baillie, Robert, Anabaptism (London: Samuel Gillibrand, 1647), 49.

23. Tolmie, , Triumph of the Saints, 60; Edwards, Thomas, Gangræna, 1:98.

24. Tolmie, , Triumph of the Saints, 5561. The text of the 1644 confession can be found in Lumpkin, William L., Baptist Confessions of Faith (Valley Forge, Penn.: The Judson, 1959; revised 1969), 143–71.

25. Carruthers, S. W., The Everyday Work of the Westminster Assembly (Philadelphia, Penn.: Presbyterian Historical Society, 1943), 103.

26. Edwards, , Gangræna, 1:1.

27. Rutherford, Samuel, A Free Disputation against Pretended Liberty of Conscience (London: A. Crook, 1649), 254.

28. Tolmie, , The Triumph of the Saints, 63.

29. Cohn, Norman, The Pursuit of the Millennium (1957; reprint, London: Mercury Books, 1962), 278306.

30. Baillie, Robert, A Dissuasive from the Errors of the Time (London: Samuel Gellibrand, 1645), 224.

31. Baillie, , Anabaptism, 18.

32. Ibid., 48.

33. Ibid., 18.

34. Ibid., 49.

35. Ibid., 48.

36. Hill, Christopher, Milton and the English Revolution (London: Faber and Faber, 1977), 94; Edwards, , Gangræna, sig. A4v.

37. Edwards, , Gangræna, 3:17.

38. Rutherford, , Free Disputation, 80.

39. Patient, Thomas, The Doctrine of Baptism, and the Distinction of the Covenants (London: Henry Hills, 1654), n.p. [sig. Cv].

40. Lumpkin notes suggestions that the 1644 confession also alluded to the Aberdeen Confession (1616); Baptist Confessions of Faith, 145.

41. Quoted in Corish, Patrick J., “The Cromwellian Regime, 1650–60,” in A New History of Ireland, eds. Moody, T. W. and others (Oxford: Clarendon, 1976), 3:375.

42. Dunlop, Robert, ed., Ireland under the Commonwealth: Being a Selection of Documents Relating to the Government of Ireland from 1651 to 1659 (London: Manchester University Press, 1913), 1:5455.

43. Dunlop, Robert, “Dublin Baptists from 1650 Onwards,” Journal of the Irish Baptist Historical Society 21 (19881989): 516. For a general survey of the history of Baptists in Ireland, see Herlihy, Kevin, “The Irish Baptists, 1650–1780” (Ph.D. thesis, Trinity College Dublin, 1992).

44. ffeary-Smyrl, Steven, “Theatres of Worship: Dissenting Meeting Houses in Dublin, 1650–1750,” in The Irish Dissenting Tradition, 1650–1750, ed. Herlihy, Kevin (Dublin: Four Courts, 1995), 53.

45. Ohlmeyer, Jane, “Ireland Independent: Confederate Foreign Policy and International Relations During the Mid-seventeenth Century,” in Ireland from Independence to Occupation, ed. Ohlmeyer, , 96, notes that it could take four months for news from England to reach Ireland.

46. Greaves, Richard, God's Other Children: Protestant Nonconformists and the Emergence of Denominational Churches in Ireland, 1660–1700 (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1997), 26; White, , English Baptists of the Seventeenth Century, 81.

47. Ibid., 85.

48. Quoted in Herlihy, Kevin, “A Gay and Flattering World: Irish Baptist Piety and Perspective, 1650–1780,” in The Religion of Irish Dissent, 1650–1800, ed. Herlihy, Kevin (Dublin: Four Courts, 1996), 5354.

49. Seymour, , Puritans in Ireland, 206–24.

50. Herlihy, , “A Gay and Flattering World,” 53.

51. Rawlinson Ms A13, f. 25; Thurloe, John, A Collection of the State Papers of John Thurloe, ed. Birch, Thomas (London: F. Gyles, 1742), 3:445; Dunlop, , ed., Ireland under the Commonwealth, 1:324; Herlihy, , “A Gay and Flattering World,” 53.

52. Braithewaite, Willaim C., The Beginnings of Quakerism (London: Macmillan, 1912), 213.

53. Ivimey, Joseph, A History of the English Baptists (London: n.p., 1814), 1:240.

54. Herlihy, , “The Irish Baptists,” 4041.

55. Ibid., 67; Gillespie, Raymond, “Dissenters and Nonconformists, 1661–1700,” in Irish Dissenting Tradition, 22; Barnard, , Cromwellian Ireland, 210, 231; White, B. R., “Thomas Patient in England and Ireland,” Journal of the Irish Baptist Historical Society 2 (19691970): 40; Greaves, , God's Other Children, 25. For the Hartlib circle, see Greengrass, Mark and others, Samuel Hartlib and Universal Reformation: Studies in Intellectual Communication (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994).

56. Greaves, , God's Other Children, 26; White, B. R., “The Organisation of the Particular Baptists, 1644–1660,” Journal of Ecclesiastical History 17:2 (1966): 209.

57. Although an edition of the confession was published in Leith, Scotland, in 1653, there is no evidence that any editions were ever published in Ireland; Lumpkin, , Baptist Confessions of Faith, 151.

58. The text of this correspondence and related correspondence is found in Ivimey, History of the English Baptists, 1:220–71.

59. Ibid., 243.

60. Ibid., 249.

61. Ibid., 245.

62. Ibid.

63. White, , English Baptists of the Seventeenth Century, 81; White, , “Organisation of the Particular Baptists,” 213, n. 6; Ivimey, , History of the English Baptists, 1:248.

64. Ibid., 247.

65. Ibid., 250.

66. White, , English Baptists of the Seventeenth Century, 8586.

67. White, , “Organisation of the Particular Baptists,” 222; Nuttall, Geoffrey F., “The Baptist Western Association, 1653–1658,” Journal of Ecclesiastical History 11 (1960): 214–15.

68. Baillie, , Anabaptism, 53.

69. Vernon changed his mind in the later 1650s and worked for a paramilitary alliance between Baptists and Fifth Monarchists; White, , English Baptists of the Seventeenth Century, 88.

70. For Blackwood and Patient, see Greaves, Richard L. and Zaller, Robert, eds., Biographical Dictionary of British Radicals in the Seventeenth Century (Brighton, U.K.: Harvester, 19821984), s.v.

71. Warren, Edward, Caleb's Inheritance in Canaan: By Grace, Not Works. An Answer to a Book Entitled The Doctrine of Baptism, and Distinction of the Covenants, Lately Published, by Tho. Patient (London: George Sawbridge, 1656), 9.Ball, Bryan W. similarly notes “the significance of the Fifth Monarchy influence in the Baptist churches in Ireland” in the 1650s; The Seventh-Day Men: Sabbatarians and Sabbatarianism in England and Wales, 1600–1800 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1994), 332, n. 18.

72. Edwards, , Gangræna, 1:67.

73. Patient, Doctrine of Baptism, n.p. [sig. B3v].

74. Patient, Doctrine of Baptism, n.p. [sig. B4r].

75. White, , English Baptists of the Seventeenth Century, 71.

76. Edwards, , Gangræna, 1:56 (irregular pagination).

77. DNB, s.v.; Patient later abandoned his state salary: Seymour, Puritans in Ireland, 59.

78. Seymour, , Puritans in Ireland, 60.

79. Jones, John, Letters (18601861), 216.

80. Barnard, , Cromwellian Ireland, 146.

81. Dunlop, , “Dublin Baptists from 1650 Onwards,” 6.

82. The social composition of this church is described in Gillespie, Raymond, “The Crisis of Reform, 1625–60,” in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin: A History, ed. Milne, Kenneth (Dublin: Four Courts, 2000), 210–15.

83. Rogers, John, Ohel or Beth-shemesh (London: R. I. and G. and H. Eversden, 1653), 396.

84. For an analysis of the church's conversion narratives, see Gribben, , Puritan Millennium, 149–71, and Gribben, Crawford, “Lay Conversion and Calvinist Doctrine During the English Commonwealth,” in The Rise of the Laity in Evangelical Protestantism, ed. Lovegrove, D. W. (London: Routledge, 2002), 3646.

85. Rogers, , Ohel or Beth-shemesh, 301.

86. Ibid., 307.

87. Ibid., 370.

88. Barnard, , Cromwellian Ireland, 103, n. 66.

89. Rogers, , Ohel or Beth-shemesh, 453.

90. Ibid., 93; cf. Gillespie, , “The Crisis of Reform, 1625–60,” 212; British Library, Egerton MS 1762, ff. 54v–55.

91. Dunlop, , “Dublin Baptists from 1650 Onwards,” 7.

92. Thurloe, , State Papers, 2:213.

93. Patient, Doctrine of Baptism, n.p. (sig. A2v).

94. Ibid., 23.

95. Warren, Caleb's Inheritance in Canaan, n.p. (sig. A3r).

96. Brook, Benjamin, Lives of the Puritans (London: J. Black, 1813), 3:425.

97. Calendar of State Papers, Domestic series [of the Commonwealth] … Preserved in the State Paper Department of Her Majesty's Public Record Office, ed. Green, Mary Anne Everett (London: Longman and Trübner, 18751986), 13:16591660, 13.

98. Patient, , Doctrine of Baptism, 23.

99. Miller, Perry, Errand into the Wilderness (1956; Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1981); Møller, Jens G., “The Beginnings of Puritan Covenant Theology,” Journal of Ecclesiastical History 14 (1963): 4667; von Rohr, John, “Covenant and Assurance in Early English Puritanism,” Church History: Studies in Christianity and Culture 34 (1965): 195203; Stout, Harry S., “Word and Order in Colonial New England,” in Reckoning with the Past: Historical Essays on American Evangelicalism from the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals, ed. Hart, D. G. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 1995), 3957; Coffey, , Politics, Religion and the British Revolutions, 130–38; Mullan, David George, Scottish Puritanism, 1590–1638 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 171207; Muller, Richard A., The Unaccomodated Calvin: Studies in the Foundation of a Theological Tradition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000).

100. Kilroy, , “Radical Religion in Ireland,” 212.

101. Patient, , Doctrine of Baptism, 145–46.

102. Ibid., 54.

103. Ibid., 27.

104. Ibid., 7.

105. Ibid., 93.

106. Ibid., 24.

107. Ibid., 149.

108. Ibid., 48.

109. Ibid., 115.

110. Ibid., 41.

111. Ibid., 81–82. Contra Samuel Rutherford: Coffey, , Politics, Religion and the British Revolutions, 206.

112. Rutherford, Samuel, The Covenant of Life Opened: Or, A Treatise of the Covenant of Grace (Edinburgh: Robert Brown, 1655), 91.

113. Warren, , Caleb's Inheritance in Canaan, title page.

114. Ibid., 3.

115. Greaves, and Zaller, , eds., Biographical Dictionary of British Radicals in the Seventeenth Century (19821984), s.v.

116. Ford, , Protestant Reformation in Ireland, 182; Ussher, James, The Whole Works of James Ussher, eds. Elrington, C. R. and Todd, J. R. (Dublin: Hodges and Smith, 18471864), 16:342–43.

117. Prendergast, John P., The Cromwellian Settlement of Ireland (1865; reprint, London: Constable, 1996), 131, n.; Warren's final speech is recorded in the Bodleian Library, Carte Mss, vol. vii, Ireland, 248–49.

118. Short-Title Catalogue of Books Printed in England, Scotland and Ireland and of English Books Printed Abroad 1475–1640, eds. Pollard, A. W. and Redgrave, G. R.; revised Jackson, W. A. and others (London: The Bibliographical Society, 19761991), and Short-Title Catalogue of Books Printed in England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales and British America and of English Books Printed in Other Countries 1641–1700, ed. Wing, Donald; revised Morrison, John J. and others (New York: Modern Language Association of America, 19941998).

119. Warren, , Caleb's Inheritance in Canaan, 5.

120. Ibid., A2.

121. Ibid

122. Ibid., n.p. (sig. A3v).

123. Ibid., n.p. (sig. A3v–A4r).

124. Ibid., 38.

125. Ibid., 9.

126. Ibid., 11.

127. Ibid., 23.

128. Ibid., 26.

129. Ibid., 16.

130. Ibid., 49.

131. Haykin, Michael A. G., Kiffin, Knollys and Keach: Rediscovering our English Baptist Heritage (Leeds, U.K.: Carey, 1996), 40.

132. Barnard, , Cromzvellian Ireland, 26.

133. Herlihy, , “A Gay and Flattering World,” 54.

134. Gillespie, , “The Crisis of Reform, 1625–60,” 213.

135. Kilroy, , “Radical Religion,” 212.

136. Moses in the Mount, 17.

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