Francis Makemie and Freedom of Speech

By Dr. David W. Hall - Posted at This Day in Presbyterian History:

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One illustration of how religion and politics were interwoven, especially the religion and politics of strongly Scottish Calvinist sentiment, can be seen from the experience of Ulster Presbyterian missionary Francis Makemie (b. 1658). Makemie had been reared on tales of the Scottish rebellion that adopted the Solemn League and Covenant, and he was educated at the University of Glasgow one generation after Samuel Rutherford. Commissioned by the Presbytery of Laggan, a fiercely Calvinistic stronghold, the first Presbyterian minister on the North American continent landed on the eastern shore of Chesapeake Bay in 1683. Over time, he earned a reputation as a threat to the Anglicans in the area, and he was reported to the Bishop of London (who never had authority over Makemie) to be a pillar of the Presbyterian sect. His work was commended by Puritan giant Cotton Mather, and his correspondence with Increase Mather indicates considerable commonality of purpose among early American Calvinists. Cotton Mather would later recommend a Catechism composed by Makemie for his New England churches.

Makemie organized at least seven Presbyterian churches committed to the Westminster Confession of Faith and Scottish ecclesiastical order between 1683-1705. In between the organizing of churches along Scottish models—the Scottish League and Covenant seemed to be blossoming in America, perhaps more than in its native Scotland—Makemie served as a pastor in Barbados from 1696 to 1698. He also sheltered persecuted Irish Calvinist ministers from 1683-1688. Following the Glorious Revolution in 1688 the need for shelter in America diminished, and some of these religious refugees returned to Ireland and Scotland. Makemie, however, remained in America, found a wife, and continued organizing Presbyterian congregations throughout Maryland, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. In a 1699 letter, Makemie still spoke reverentially of Geneva as a Calvinist center.

Ministers from the Church of England protested Makemie’s church planting, caricaturing his ministry as subversive and nonconformist. Eventually the Sheriff of Long Island at the behest of the British Governor of New York, Lord Cornbury arrested Makemie and another Presbyterian colleague, John Hampton, for preaching without a license by. On January 21, 1707, the warrant for their arrest charged them with spreading “their Pernicious Doctrine and Principles” in Long Island without “having obtained My License for so doing, which is directly contrary to the known laws of England.”

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