Saturday, June 26, 2010

Patriarch of Dorchester, Father of Massachusetts

The man who is singly most responsible for the Puritan settlement of Massachusetts is John White, Patriarch of Dorchester (1575-1678). One of many John Whites in his era, and possibly related to John White, Artist and Governor of the Lost Colony of Roanoke (c. 1540-c. 1593), our "Patriarch," who was also the great-grandfather of John and Charles Wesley, was a leading Puritan of his day, and influential on both sides of the Atlantic.

John White was a Puritan whose ties to Dorchester, England, began with his appointment as rector there in 1606. He spent the rest of his life ministering to that community, and his importance as a leader in the town after a calamitous fire in 1613, after which, under his preaching, the town was greatly rebuilt, with a view towards employing and helping the poor, and reformed in its spiritual character. The town prospered in the ensuing years, and White, having noted the Pilgrim expedition to Plymouth upon the publication in 1622 of Mourt's Relation, helped to establish the Dorchester Company, which in 1623 founded a trading settlement at Cape Ann, near what is now Gloucester, Massachusetts, overseen by Thomas Gardner, said by some to be the first governor of Massachusetts, which in 1626 was moved further south, under the leadership of Roger Conant, and would become the town of Salem. White recruited emigrants and helped to raise funds for the work of the Dorchester Company, to help build Massachusetts as both a refuge for nonconforming Puritans as a profitable trading colony, though he himself conformed to the Church of England.

Daniel Neal, The History of New-England, Vol. 1, p. 122:

...the Reverend Mr. White, Minister of Dorchester, encourag'd by the Success of the Plimouth Colony, projected a new Settlement in the Massacuset Bay as an Asylum for the silenced Ministers;...

His trips to London, networking and earnest appeals led to the granting of a patent by the Plymouth Council for New England in 1628 to the successor of the Dorchester Company, the New England Company for the Plantation in Massachusetts Bay, which established the Massachusetts Company. It was under the auspices of this company that the Great Puritan Migration to New England commenced in 1630 with the sailing of the Winthrop Fleet. The Humble Request of His Majesties Loyall Subjects, the Governour and the Company late gone for New England; to the rest of their Brethren in and of the Church of England (1630) was published by John Winthrop and his group is thought to have been been drafted by John White of Dorchester. It sets forth their formal farewell to England, yet affirming their unbroken communion with the Church of England. John Cotton preached a farewell sermon at the departure of the Winthrop Fleet, God's Promise to His Plantation (1630), in which he promised a fuller accounting of the reasons for the Puritan migration, a promise which was fulfilled by the publication later that year of The Planters Plea, Or the Grounds of Plantations Examined, and usual Objections answered. Together with a manifestation of the causes moving such as have lately undertaken a Plantation in NEW ENGLAND: For the satisfaction of those that question the lawfulness of the Action. 2 Thess. v. 21. Prove all things, and hold fast that which is good. by John White. This important document constitutes a full treatise on the history of the settling of Massachusetts to date, and setting forth the Biblical reasons for the planting of this particular settlement, its relation to the Church of England, and the establishment of colonial endeavors generally (including arguments "from Gods gift of the earth to men," "from the Law of marriage" and "from the benefit that comes to mens outward estates"), as well as answering concerns by friends and foes of the Puritans' enterprise. He continued to correspond with John Winthrop, and to labor for the benefit of the colonial settlement. Thus, though White himself never sailed to Massachusetts, his efforts to establish the Puritan colony there have led many to refer to him as the "Father of Massachusetts," even more so than the Pilgrim Fathers.

In 1643, White was chosen to serve among the Westminster Assembly of Divines. When the Assembly swore to uphold the Solemn League and Covenant on September 25, 1643, John Lightfoot recorded in his Journal that "Mr. White prayed near upon an hour." White attended faithfully and contributed diligently to the work of the Assembly, and was in fact married to the sister of Cornelius Burgess, his co-assessor at the Assembly. While the Assembly was engaged in a battle over whose metrical Psalter would be chosen to serve as the instrument of uniformity and "get the civil sanction," the leading candidates being Francis Rous and William Barton, White, who had prepared his own version of the metrical Psalms, preferred not to publish it while the debate was going on, in the interests of harmony. It was published posthumously with the permission of his son under the title David's Psalms in Metre, agreeable to the Hebrew. To be sung in usuall Tunes To the benefit of the Churches of Christ (1655) and shows his poetic skills. He also wrote a catechism. A.F. Mitchell writes, The Catechisms of the Second Reformation, p. xlvii:

His catechism, entitled A Plaine and Familiar Exposition upon the Creed, X. Commandments, Lord's Prayer, and Sacraments, etc., passed through several editions, and, save in the introduction, is identical with that of Josias White, his elder brother, though probably this last was the copyist.

He retired to the country after the end of the English Civil War, and wrote A Way to the Tree of Life: Sundry Directions for the Profitable Reading of the Scriptures: wherein is described occasionally the nature of a spirituall man, and, in A digression, the morality and perpetuity of the Fourth Commandment in every circumstance thereof, is discovered and cleared (1647). He also wrote A Commentary upon the Three First Chapters of the First Book of Moses called Genesis (1656), which contains prefaces by Stephen Marshall and Thomas Manton, commending the work. Charles Spurgeon said of White's commentary, "A folio upon three chapters! There were giants in those days." Manton himself said:

...That praise which was reserved for our Author, was, besides a solid Exposition of the Text, The deducing of Apt and pertinent Observations, together with fit and proper Reasons to each Point, which with what Judgment and Acutenesse it is performed, I leave to the Reader to judge.
To speak of the Worth of the Authour is needlesse, his praise being already in all the Churches:...

He died in 1648, having poured his life into a ministry which served the cause of Christ's kingdom on both sides of the Atlantic, and the name of this good man, as common as it is, is uncommonly worthy of remembrance.

1 comment:

  1. Though myself a Cathiolic, I feel there is much to learn from the Puritan movement, so absent today, alas.

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