Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Choosing My Ancestors

I take pride in being the descendent of the first settlers in New Hampshire. My direct ancestors were Thomas Roberts and Rebecca Hilton, both among the first boatload of English settlers to arrive at Dover, New Hampshire, in 1623. Thomas later served as the fourth governor of the Dover colony from 1640 until it was annexed by Massachusetts.

In researching their lives I found an interesting account of Thomas Roberts’ religious leanings. In the early 1660’s, after Dover had come under the rule of the Massachusetts Puritans, he protested the treatment of some Quaker missionaries who had arrived in Dover.

At the time his sons, John and Thomas Roberts, Jr., were constables in Dover. In accordance with Massachusetts laws against Quakers and other religious dissidents, they administered 10 stripes to three women Quakers for their religious activities and expelled them from their jurisdiction.

The missionaries, Anne Coleman, Mary Tomkins and Alice Ambrose, were led out of Dover on December 22, 1662, tied with ropes to an ox cart. According to the warrant, the women were stripped to their waists and whipped on their naked backs “not exceeding 10 stripes apiece” as they passed from one town’s jurisdiction to another. (A contemporary Quaker writer declared they had administered 11 stripes for good measure instead of 10.)

After recuperating from their ordeal, these missionary women returned to Dover and resumed their preaching. This time constable Roberts, with the help of some of members of the community, took the missionaries down river and out of Dover bound in an Indian dugout.

According to the Quaker narrative the women were taken from a house and dragged through the deep snow to the river. Alice Ambrose was plunged into the icy water and made to swim beside the boat to escape drowning.

Thomas Roberts publicly rebuked his two sons for their harsh treatment of the Quakers. He refused to attend the local Puritan church services. For his religious insubordination, the town records show he was fined one cow.

I pride myself on being of the noble heritage of Thomas Roberts, one of the early supporters of religious liberty. But I am sad to say that I am also the descendant of his eldest son, constable John Roberts, who treated the Quakers so badly.

There are two strains of Christians in America today, seen clearly in the recent controversies concerning Muslims – events like the recent arson at a Tennessee mosque, the threatened Quran-burning in Florida, and the controversy concerning the building of a mosque in Manhattan.

There are the haters who get all the attention and hide behind the law. Then there are the lovers - simple Christians like Pastor Steve Stone and his Heartsong Church in Cordova, Tennessee. Heartsong opened their church building to a Muslim group that had bought the land adjacent to their church property to build a mosque. Muslims now pray in a Christian church while their mosque is being completed. Instead of intolerance, these Christians showed love.

One side of America is like my ancestor John Roberts and the other like Thomas Roberts. The DNA of both men runs in my veins. But I choose to side with Thomas … and Pastor Stone. That is my heart’s song.

1 comment:

  1. I wish I had an interesting story like that to tell about my ancestors. I need to write a paper about my family for school.