Obadiah Holmes: Early Baptist Minister

When Faith and Religion Collide

Historic documents about my ancestors are rife with evidence of a strong spiritual faith. Often the faith and zeal with which my ancestors responded to that personal call put them at odds with local religious leaders.

In a previous post, I wrote about my paternal ancestor Cassandra Southwick and her persecution for Quaker beliefs in puritan Salem under Governor Endicott.

Another such spiritual ancestor was Reverend Obadiah Holmes, who helped establish the Baptist Church in America. Reverend Holmes likely knew the Southwick family of Salem, and like the Southwick family, he drew considerable ire from the puritan population of colonial Massachusetts and its vicious Governor Endicott.

So who was Reverend Obadiah Holmes?

Current research indicates that one of my ancestors was Reverend Obadiah Holmes. He was my 11th Great-Grandfather, through my maternal Grandmother’s line. Obadiah’s Great Granddaughter, Sarah Slade, was married to Silvanus Soule. Through their line my Great Great Grandmother, Sarah Sowle would be born. Silvanus Soule was the fourth Great Grandfather of Sarah Sowle.


Obadiah Holmes arrived in the New World colonies in 1638. He was one of the early glass makers of Salem. Within a decade of arriving in colonial America Holmes had established himself as a freeman and was living in the town of Rehoboth.

By 1649, Obadiah’s faith was starting to gain notice among the local religious leaders. Records show that Holmes won 100 pounds in damages against Reverend Samuel Newman for slander in that year. He was the leader of a group called the “Schismatists” and by 1650 his group separated from the church and he became their pastor. On October 2, 1650, Obadiah faced indictment by the court in Rehoboth for his religious activities. The group fled Rehoboth and settled Newport in the Rhode Island colony because of the court’s action.

Obadiah found himself once again within the reach and ire of the Massachusetts colony and its puritanical courts a year later. Obadiah Holmes, John Clarke, and John Crandall made a trip from Newport to Lynn, Massachusetts to visit a member of their Newport church who was unable to travel. While visiting Lynn the three men had gathered a small group and John Clarke was preaching to the gathered group when constables arrived and arrested the three men for their religious belief and activity.

Obadiah and his companions had a trial in Boston a week later. All three men received guilty verdicts from the court and exorbitant fines as punishment. Friends of the men worked to raise money to pay their fines and secure their release. Both Crandall and Clarke were released when their fines were paid but Holmes refused to allow his fine to be paid as a matter of principle.

“You have struck me as with roses.”

On 5 September 1651, Obadiah Holmes received 30 lashes with a three-cord whip as punishment in place of his fine. Obadiah was stripped to the waist, taken to the town’s whipping post and publicly flogged. When later writing about the experience he was claimed to have told the magistrates ‘You have struck me as with roses’ and claimed to have felt no pain during the experience. For all his bravado in the face of adversity, Obadiah’s suffered horrible injuries. Documents from the time indicate that for weeks he was unable to rest on his back after the beating and his back bore the scars until his death of old age decades later.


Obadiah Holmes being flogged in Boston Photo Credit: PD-US, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35757281

Obadiah Holmes again fled the Massachusetts colony to escape further persecution. He returned to Newport, Rhode Island and the First Baptist Church in Newport where he became the minister after John Clarke left for England in 1651. Obadiah would remain the minister of the church for the next thirty years until his death.

Obadiah Holmes died 15 October 1682 in Newport, Rhode Island. He is buried in the Holmes burial ground and a marker still stands on his grave.


Photo credit: Find A Grave James A Culipher






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