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Mayflower, Day by Day - Thursday, 21 October 1621

21 Oct 2021 3:07 AM | Soule (Administrator)

Establishment (part two)

Perhaps because Plymouth never progressed beyond being a poor, agrarian outpost, its religious institutions proved unable to maintain themselves without the aid of the state. The inhabitants of Rehoboth, for example, found it necessary to petition the General Court “to assist them in a way according to the orders of other colonies about them” in raising money for a minister. The signers of the petition alleged that the nonsigners contributed nothing to the church. Initially, the matter was resolved on a voluntaristic basis, when the town's magistrate promised that, if petitioners would pay their share of the church's cost on the basis of value of their estates, the nonsigners would pay theirs or he would personally make up the difference.  But elsewhere, the magistrates had to turn to more coercive approaches. When the town of Marshfield petitioned for help in supporting the ministry, the General Court sent Miles Standish and John Alden to call a town meeting and “signify unto them the Court's desire is, that the inhabitants of the said town would take notice of their duties so as to contribute according to their abilities freely to the maintenance of the minister.” Two years later, in 1657, the General Court by statute declared that every town was “engaged” to “the public worship and service of God” and authorized the levy of taxes for that purpose. And, two years after that, outright coercion was applied to the town of Yarmouth, when the General Court directed the calling of a town meeting so that “each particular man will freely engage towards” support of the minister. This time, however, the court was explicit when it provided that, if everyone did not “freely engage,” four men would be chosen to levy on those who refused to contribute, and the constable directed to distrain their goods. With this 1657 act and its subsequent enforcement, Plymouth was well on the path toward a religious polity nearly identical to that of its neighbour, Massachusetts Bay.

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