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SERMONS IN A TIME OF OPPRESSION: MINISTERS’ MESSAGES DURING THE
BRITISH OCCUPATION OF THE MASSACHUSETTS-BAY COLONY, 1774-1776
History 4452-01: The American Revolution, 1763-1783
23 November 2014
“The passage before us […] is well suited to confirm our faith, to excite our trust, and
encourage our hope, under such awful dispensations, as it points out the method of God’s
government and the course of His providence towards the enemies and oppressors of His people,
and the fate of those that shed innocent blood.”1 This quote from Jonas Clark’s sermon, “The
Fate of Blood-thirsty Oppressors, and GOD’s tender Care of His distressed People,” epitomizes
the religious messages articulated during the British occupation of the Massachusetts-Bay
Colony during the American Revolution. Throughout the years 1773 to 1776, various religious
officials preached a clear message: the British are instruments of punishment allowed to act by
God, and although the colonists might have provoked retribution, the actions of the British are
unrighteous and unjust, resulting in a logical call to arms to eradicate the evils of Britain.
In order to understand why religious officials believed that the British were tools for
God’s punishment unto the colonists, what must first be discussed is what the ministers believed
the British were doing wrong. In his 1774 sermon, “The MISERY and DUTY of an Oppress’d
and Enslav’d People,” Samuel Webster details the politically perverse tactics the British have
employed against the colonists of Boston. He begins by stating, “if any people on earth […] have
a right to call the land they live in their own, and to say God gave it to our fathers—we may say
it.” He describes “our fathers” as desiring to escape to “the new world” from persecution, and
with God’s aid, the fathers were able to purchase the land from the “original inhabitants,”
establishing America as theirs rightfully. Webster contends, “Surely then the land is ours. The
Lord our God gave it unto our fathers: And we have it by inheritance from them.” Therefore,
“the king had no right to give it, nor the people of England, for it was not their’s to give. All
1 Jonas Clark, "The Fate of Blood-Thirsty Oppressors, and GOD's Tender Care of His Oppressed
People," Mercy Seat Christian Church, 1, accessed October 06, 2014,
pretenses to the contrary are vain and frivolous to the last degree.”2 The colonists gained rightful
ownership of the new land by purchasing it from the Native Americans and establishing it as
their own; they did not gain ownership of the land by benevolence of the king. For legality’s sake
Webster adds, “if a title could be given by the king, we have that also, in our charter; which was
a solemn covenant between him and our fathers.”3
According to Webster, the British begin to commit their heinous crimes when the king
assumed to take Boston’s charter away, “the only one lost in the general wreck of charters, which
was not restored, at the revolution.”4 Following this abomination, the British commit more
atrocities, namely unfairly taxing the colonists: “Because they have squandered away the
nation’s money […] they threaten to take away all of our liberty and property, and to reduce us
to slavery and beggary.”5 England is in immense debt due to their involvement in multiple wars,
and their solution is to tax the colonists, since, they argued, part of the expenses were attributed
to protecting the colonists from other European nations. However, Webster argues that the taxes
gathered from the colonists are not used to offset England’s war debt; instead the money
“extorted from us is given to placemen and pensioners here, who are to be our task-masters to
afflict us [… the British] expect letters from them like those from the enemies of Judah in the
days of Ezra.”6
Webster’s grievances do not stop there, however, and it is by page twenty-six that he
expressly discusses the British occupation of Boston. The British have “fram’d laws to extort our
2 Samuel Webster, "The Misery and Duty of an Oppressed and Enslaved People, Represented in
a Sermon Delivered at Salisbury, July 14, 1774 On a Day Set Apart for Fasting and Prayer, On
Account of Approaching Public Calamities," America's Historical Imprints, 2002, 21-22,
accessed November 18, 2014, Galileo.
3 Ibid., 22.
4 Ibid., 23.
5 Ibid., 23-24.
6 Ibid., 24.
money from us without our consent; to raise a revenue, and so to make, at our expense, a swarm
of officers […] would no doubt alone eventually destroy all our liberties.” Because they refused
to pay the taxes, the British “shut up [Boston], surrounded it with ships, and filled it with
soldiers.” All trade was put to a halt, leaving the people “to starve without remedy, except from
the charity of their more humane brethren!”7 Also in Webster’s sermon is the belief that “many
think there is a design, and will be an attempt, to seize our best friends, and carry them home for
trial! For trial did I say? No! For execution!”8
Although delivered two years after Webster’s, Jonas Clark’s sermon supports many of
Webster’s themes of British wrongdoings. Clark writes that through “false representations and
diabolical counsels […] we are not represented, which deeply affect our most valuable
privileges.” Clark also speaks of “various threats of coercive measures,” and “a military force
[that is] sent to enforce them,” supporting Webster’s complaints of lack of representation and the
presence of the British military.9 Clark specifically mentions General Gage and the Port Bill, and
again supports Webster’s claims of oppression when he states that the arrival of Gage and the
implementation of the bill calls for “[subversion] of the constitution, [vacation] of our charter,
[abridging] us of the right of trial by juries of the vicinity […] and exposes us to be seized,
contrary to the laws of the land, and carried to England to be tried for our lives!” Clark depicts
the lives of the captured Bostonians, writing that they were arrested and threatened by Gage’s
order, making the town of Boston a “garrison, and the inhabitants [of the town being] prisoners,
7 Ibid., 26.
8 Ibid., 27.
9 Jonas Clark, "The Fate of Blood-Thirsty Oppressors, and GOD's Tender Care of His Oppressed
People," Mercy Seat Christian Church, 9, accessed October 06, 2014,
at the pleasure of the troops,” where they are “daily and abused and insulted.”10 Fitch’s sermon
from 1776 is in conjunction with Webster’s and Clark’s respective sermons, as it also discusses
the unjust politics of the British. Fitch condemns the British in their “endeavors to rob,
impoverish and starve us into a base submission,” at the hands of bayonets, and professes that the
violence “is couched under Acts of the British Senate: The revenue Acts, the Quebec Bill, the
Boston Port Bill, and the fishery Bill.”11
In addition to naming the many injustices of the British and castigating their savage
behavior, these various religious officials assert that the British are acting as tools of punishment
by God, as the colonists have not been as devout in their beliefs and practices as they should
have been. Clark alleges that “a just God may permit powerful enemies, or oppressors, to injure,
do violence unto and distress His people,” as the powerful enemies “are no other than
instruments in providence and the rod in the hand of the great Governor of the world, for the
reproof and correction of his people.”12 That is, God does not allow the British to act as tools of
holiness, but rather He allows them to act so that stronger faith may be born in the hearts of His
worshippers. Elijah Fitch seconds this idea when he proclaims that “the wicked plotteth against
the just […] for wise reasons and holy ends they are permitted to do so, by the wise and
righteous Governor of the world.”13 Here, Fitch suggests that there is a holy purpose to the
torment brought upon the colonists. Fitch likens the British to foes of the Bible, such as the
Pharaohs of Egypt: “Our unnatural enemies have made use of, to bring and keep us under their
10 Ibid., 10.
11 Ibid., 9-10.
12 Clark, 2-3.
13 Fitch, 6.
power and control, are much the same which Pharaoh, Egypt’s haughty Monarch used, and they
have as yet had the same effect.”14
Fitch continues on to deem the British as children of the devil, articulating that there is an
ungodly aspect to them “which is contrary to holiness, righteousness and purity; for this reason
they are said to be of their father the devil, whose works they do.” Such behavior is abhorrent, he
argues, as these devil children are enacting “ruin and destruction upon the righteous people of
God, who never meant them any harm, nor ever did them any wrong.”15 Since these various
religious officials contend that the British are acting as a tool for punishment by God, what could
be the divine reason behind all of this? Fitch answers for this, contending that God allows for the
wicked to proceed “to make the righteous fear.”16 Webster also believes that the colonists of
Boston must have asked for punishment, when he beseeches his congregation to “seriously
consider, that it is our sins that God suffers all the evils to come upon us: He would never have
thus forsaken us if we had not forsaken him first.”17 According to Webster, the sins the colonists
have committed are “filthiness & uncleanness among our youth […] injustice & oppression […]
lying & backbiting […] strife & contention in towns and churches […] thefts and burglaries
[and] murders!”18 To remedy the situation, Webster claims, “We must covenant or solemnly
14 Elijah Fitch, "A Discourse, the Substance of Which Was Delivered at Hopkinton, on the
Lord's-Day, March 24th, 1776, Being the next Sabbath following the Precipitate Flight of the
British Troops from Boston. By Elijah Fitch, A.M. Published at the Request of the Hearers. [Two
Lines from Solomon]," America's Historical Imprints, 2002, 18, accessed November 18, 2014,
15 Ibid., 6-7.
16 Ibid., 11.
17 Webster, 27.
18 Ibid., 29.
engage this day to reform our crying sins, and to become an obedient and holy people,” for only
God can save them.19
It must be noted, however, that few of these ministers actually suggest forgiving the
actions of the British, nor are they advocating that the colonists should humbly suffer the
consequences. Rather, many speak of a call to arms. Clark asserts that although God may be just
in choosing to correct his people with whatever right is ascribed to him, “this alters not the nature
of [the British’s] oppressive designs, neither does it abate their guilt, or alleviate their crime, in
these measures of injustice, violence or cruelty, by which the people of God are distressed.”20
Expressly, God’s allowance of the British actions does not relieve them of their evilness. Fitch
contends, “although we have been a wicked people, and have deserved more than this from the
hands of a righteous God; yet from [the Britons] we have deserved better treatment.”21 Here,
Clark and Fitch argue that the British are evil because of their treatment of the colonists. Despite
the fact that God has allowed these people to attack the Bostonians for the reclamation of the
colonists’ faith, the attempts to strip them of their liberties and similar actions paint the British in
the light of devils meant to be pushed back, if not annihilated, by the force of God. Nathan
Perkins delineates the heinous crimes of the British, stating “to plunder under sanction of law
[…] to raise a revenue out of the fruits of their honest industry […] to reduce them to the hard
necessity of either giving up their liberty […] is a crime of which words cannot describe the
blackness.”22 Webster writes that although the colonists might have committed crimes against
19 Ibid., 27.
20 Clark, 4.
21 Fitch, 3.
22 Nathan Perkins, "A Sermon, Preached to the Soldiers, Who Went from West-Hartford, in
Defence of Their Country. Delivered the 2d of June, 1775. Being the Day before They Marched
from That Place. Published at the Desire of the Hearers. By Nathan Perkins, A.M. Pastor of the
God, they have done nothing against the British “to bring all this evil upon us, but what was
judged absolutely necessary to preserve our liberty.”23
Thus, after detailing the crimes, condemning the behavior, and asserting the injustice of it
all, these religious officials implore a call to arms, claiming that the colonists’ decision to
retaliate against the British is not only necessary, but rightful in the eyes of God. For He is
allowing the British onslaught only so that the faith of the colonists in God will not only enable
them to drive this evil away, but to also bring back their faith and dutiful worship of Him. As
such, these ministers preach of the unrighteousness of the British’s decision to attack the
colonists, and they acknowledge that to not fight back for justice would be inequitable. To make
his point, Clark compares the original founders of America to the children of Israel, stating: “The
children of Israel would not have been, so early, persuaded to have left the gardens of Egypt […]
had not their burdens been increased to an unreasonable degree.” Compare this statement to “our
fathers would never have forsook their native land, delightsome habitations and fair possessions
[…] had they not been drove from thence, by the violence and cruelty of persecutors and
oppressors, in church and state,” and it is easy to see Clark’s argument that the Israelites and our
fathers did not endure what they did for the Bostonians to stand aside and let the British commit
their atrocious crimes.24 Fitch argues that the colonists asked for fairness, and instead they
received violence when they “humbly petitioned for redress of grievances […] but were
answered with the bayonet pointed at our breasts.” He also argues that their violence is wrong,
because all that the colonists have done “hath been only to defend ourselves from their unjust
Fourth Church in Hartford.," America's Historical Imprints, 2002, 8, accessed October 6, 2014,
23 Webster, 28.
24 Clark, 8.
encroachments.”25 Clark’s sermon seconds this sentiment of the colonists’ violence being
appropriate when he writes that “the sword is an appeal to heaven, when therefore, the arms of a
people are eventually successful, or by the immediate interpositions of providence, their enemies
and oppressors are subdued or destroyed.”26 In the end, it is Perkins who drives home the point
of standing up and fighting back in the name of God: “We are warranted by all laws human and
divine, to defend ourselves by the hardest, & appeal to heaven for the justice of our cause […] to
give up the liberties, with which God and nature have blessed us […] must be a crime in us.” He
argues by the law of God, the colonists must fight back, for “should a ruffian meet me on the
road, demand my purse with a dagger at my throat, or pistol at my breast, if by any means I
could strike him dead, I should think myself warranted to do it, by the laws of God and man.”27
As such, this is a challenge to the faithful to take up arms in the name of God. He continues on to
say, “The obstinacy and cruelty of our foes have obliged us to appeal from reason to arms. There
is no choice left us but slavery or civil war […] Let us then begin, let us persevere in calling
upon the Lord for deliverance in this dark and alarming day.”28 So, not only is this a call to arms
in God’s name, but also a paramount event in which faith in God is reestablished and re-
By examining multiple sermons from the years 1774 to 1776, it is clear that religious
officials used their power of the pulpit to justify the Boston colonists’ suffering at the hands of
the British, and to provide them with the necessary call to arms to stand no longer for the
injustice and unrighteousness. Through Biblical parallels and psalms these ministers denounced
the British’s shedding of innocent blood and encouraged rightful retaliation from the colonists.
25 Fitch, 25.
26 Clark, 6.
27 Perkins, 9.
28 Ibid., 12; 11.
Clark, Jonas. "The Fate of Blood-Thirsty Oppressors, and GOD's Tender Care of His Oppressed
People." Mercy Seat Christian Church. Accessed October 06, 2014.
Fitch, Elijah. "A Discourse, the Substance of Which Was Delivered at Hopkinton, on the Lord's-
Day, March 24th, 1776, Being the next Sabbath following the Precipitate Flight of the
British Troops from Boston. By Elijah Fitch, A.M. Published at the Request of the
Hearers. [Two Lines from Solomon]." America's Historical Imprints, 2002. Accessed
November 18, 2014. Galileo.
Perkins, Nathan. "A Sermon, Preached to the Soldiers, Who Went from West-Hartford, in
Defence of Their Country. Delivered the 2d of June, 1775. Being the Day before They
Marched from That Place. Published at the Desire of the Hearers. By Nathan Perkins,
A.M. Pastor of the Fourth Church in Hartford." America's Historical Imprints, 2002.
Accessed October 6, 2014. Galileo.
Webster, Samuel. "The Misery and Duty of an Oppressed and Enslaved People, Represented in a
Sermon Delivered at Salisbury, July 14, 1774 On a Day Set Apart for Fasting and Prayer,
On Account of Approaching Public Calamities." America's Historical Imprints, 2002.
Accessed November 18, 2014. Galileo.