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Posts Tagged ‘Gurdon Saltonstall’

Last November, when my sister Sue and I were doing genealogical research in New London, Connecticut, we stumbled across a curious religious group known as the Rogerenes. John Rogers, son of Connecticut founder James Rogers, organized the Seventh Day Baptist Church of New London in 1674. The sect survived into the early twentieth century.

The Rogerenes were sometimes referred to as Singing Quakers, Rogerene Baptists, and Quaker Baptists, although they were neither Quakers nor Baptists. Like Quakers, they believed in peaceful non-resistance. Like Seventh Day Adventists, they observed the Sabbath on the seventh, not the first, day of the week. Much like Christian Scientists, they believed in healing by prayer.

Sue and I were trying to track down our great-great-great-great grandfather, David Rogers who was born around the time of the Revolutionary War. All we knew about him was that his wife was named Mary and they had four children die in March of 1823. We don’t know why they died. In those days, diseases such as Yellow Fever would periodically ravage communities and take out families, but we haven’t found any evidence of an epidemic that year. The children ranged in age from eight to fifteen. Son David G., from whom we’re descended, was six at the time and, of course, survived.

Rogers Cemetery #5

The children were buried in Rogers Cemetery #5 near Montville, Connecticut. We knew that because their graves were recorded on Find a Grave. Finding the cemetery would have been nearly impossible without the help of the local historian, Jon Chase, because there are a good half-dozen Rogers Cemeteries in the county.

Children’s Graves

Other than approximate birth and death dates, we knew little else about David and nothing about Mary. Family lore held that David had been an English captain on a whaling ship and had sailed around the world three times, but family lore can be more fictional than factual. My great-great Uncle Will had our family history traced to the Mayflower, but that document has been lost. Neither Sue nor I have found a connection between the Mayflower Rogers and ours. We spent four days combing through records in Connecticut libraries and city halls. At one time, Connecticut must have had more Rogers than roaches, and many were named David. We kept finding references to the Rogerenes.

Many colorful stories surround the Rogerenes. John Rogers married Elizabeth Griswold four years before he started his church. She not only failed to join his congregation, she felt humiliated by his conduct and sought to divorce him. She described him as a “queer creature who behaved not as other men.” He “entertained strange religious beliefs.” He worked on the Sabbath, refused to pray aloud, and “would not take the noxious medicines prescribed for the ills of Puritan flesh.” The divorce was granted.

The Rogerenes were devoutly Christian but rabidly anti-clerical. The Congregational Church was tax supported. John believed that ministers should not be paid—and certainly not supported by taxes. When they refused to pay taxes, the Rogerenes were heavily fined, and thus had to pay twice.

John Rogers’ House

John Rogers believed one should worship God in a scriptural manner, not by ecclesiastical dictum. “All unscriptural parts of worship are idols and all good Christians should exert themselves against idols.” The Rogerenes didn’t believe in the sanctity of the Puritan Sabbath, holding that since the death of Christ, all days were holy. After church services, they would go about their day like any other. On Sundays, they’d intentionally work where church-goers would see them. If that didn’t get enough attention, they’d march through New London, noisily proclaiming that they were working on the Sabbath.

They’d enter churches of other denominations with their hats on. Sometimes they’d burst in, shouting and disrupting the proceedings, and argue theology with the minister. The women would bring their sewing and knitting to church. Their peculiarities of belief and conduct provoked persecution which “left them neither liberty or property or a whole skin,” according to one chronicler. They were frequently fined, imprisoned, tarred, whipped, and thrown into the icy river for their impudence, but that didn’t change their ways.

The Rogerenes never violated civil laws, only ecclesiastical laws that they believed infringed on their rights of conscience. They fought for religious liberty, against the tyranny and bigotry of the Congregational Church.

John Rogers clashed for years with Reverend (later Governor) Gurdon Saltonstall, who was intolerant of divergent Christian sects. One time, John placed his hand on his heart and stated, “This is the humane body of Christ.” Blasphemy! His sentence was to stand on a gallows with a noose around his neck for 15 minutes and pay a 5 pound fine. Further, he had to post bond of 50 pounds to guarantee his future good behavior. It did no good. John spent nearly four years in prison.

Governor Saltonstall

After Saltonstall was elevated to governor, he had John declared insane. As a result, the windows of his jail cell were blacked out (common treatment for insanity at the time). But John’s friends rioted and had the boards removed. In another incident, John was punished for helping a young man escape from prison. When another Rogerene was imprisoned for failing to keep the Sabbath, her supporters removed the doors from the New London jail.

There are several versions of a story about a Rogerene couple who paid a visit to Rev. (or Governor) Saltonstall. He was either dining or relaxing with his cigar when they arrived. They boasted that they were married in the Rogerene tradition, outside the church and the control of civil authorities. They demanded to know what he was going to do about it.

The good Reverend (or Governor) said to the man, “You mean you are cohabiting with this woman?”

“That’s right,” the man said.

“Madam, you are living with this man as his wife?”

“Yes,” she said, just as proudly.

“Then, by the powers vested in me by the Colony of Connecticut, I pronounce you man and wife.” Then he went back to eating (or smoking his cigar).

Rogerenes wouldn’t say grace at meals. They believed all prayers should be said mentally unless the “spirit of prayer” compelled the use of voice. They believed infant baptism was wrong and practiced adult baptism by immersion. Many of their beliefs sprang from a literal interpretation of Bible passages. The Rogerenes believed that Communion, or the Lord’s Supper, should be celebrated only in the evening.

A few years after Governor Saltonstall departed Connecticut to join his Maker, Reverend Mather Byles, being only in his twenties and no match for the Rogerenes, became their target. It got to the point that if he saw them, he wouldn’t leave home to walk to church. If they came to his services with their hats on or asked him questions, he’d discontinue the service. As soon as he could, he left for a church in Boston where he enjoyed an illustrious career.

Rev. Mather Byles

Our ancestor David continued to elude us, but hardly a source we looked at failed to mention the Rogerenes and their antics.

At one point, Sue said, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we found out we’re descended from them?”

Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, check out my book Trials by Fire, available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle.

 

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