Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
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CLARKE, John, physician, and one of the founders of Rhode Island, born in Suffolk, England, October, 1909; died in Newport, Rhode Island,20 April, 1676. He was well educated, but it is not known where and how he obtained his intellectua1 training.Deeply sympathizing with the Puritans in their struggles, he immigrated to the New World, arriving at Boston in November, 1637. Finding the government at Boston intolerant and oppressive, and the community rent with controversies, he resolved to plant a new colony. In company with Coddington and others, and with the encouragement of Roger Williams, he selected an island in Narragansett bay, known as Aquidneck, afterward called Rhode Ishmd, as his retreat from intolerance. The lands were purchased from the Indians, the deed bearing date 24 March, 1638. From the north end of the island, where the first settlement was made, the government was soon transferred to a place at the south end, which received the name of Newport. When in 1647 Aquidneck was united with the other settlements, which afterward became the state of Rhode Island, a code of laws was framed for the confederacy, closing with these memorable words: "And otherwise than thus what is here in forbidden, all men may walk as their consciences persuade them, every one in the name of his God. And let the saints of the Most High walk in this colony without molestation, in the name of Jehovah, their God, for ever and ever." It is supposed that John Clarke was the author of this code. In 1638 a church was gathered, to which he ministered as teacher, and the second Baptist church established in America. While on a visit to one of the members of his church, William Witter, who lived in.Lynn, Mr. Clarke, with his two companions, Obadiah Hohnes and John Crandall, was arrested and sentenced to pay a fine of £20, "or else to be well whipped." Some person unknown to him paid the fine, much to his regret. Troubles having arisen in his infant colony, and its existence being threatened, he was induced in 1651 to go to England, with the hope of obtaining relief from the court. In the next year, 1652, his famous work in defense of liberty of conscience was published in London. It was entitled "Ill News from New England ; or, a Narrative of New England's Persecution." Clarke remained abroad for some time, laboring for the welfare of his colony. In 1663 he obtained from King Charles a charter whose provisions were of unparalleled liberality, guaranteeing that "no person within the said colony, at any time hereafter, shall be in anywise molested, punished, disquieted, or called in question for any differences of opinion on matters of religion." In one of his addresses to the king he said of his colony : "It desires to be permitted to hold forth in a lively experiment that a flourishing civil state may stand, yea., and best be maintained, and that among English spirits, with a. full liberty of religious concernments." After an absence of more than twelve years, Clarke returned home in 1664. He was immediately elected to the general assembly, and continued to be reelected until 1669, when he was made deputy governor, an honor repeated in 1671. Besides other important services for his colony, he was appointed to "compose all the laws into a good method and order, leaving out what may be superfluous, and adding what may appear unto him necessary." He left most of his property in the hands of trustees, for religious and educationa1 purposes. He has been called the "Father of Rhode Island" and the "Father of American Baptists." His doctrinal views have been pronounced "so clear and scriptu-ra.1 that they might stand as the confession of faith of Baptists to-day, after more than two centuries of experience and investigation." It is claimed for him that he was the first to show "in an actua1 government that the best safeguard of persona.1 rights is Christian law." There" is no full memoir of Clarke's life and times. Besides general histories, see Isaac Backus's "History of New England, with Special Reference to the Baptists" (3 vols., 1777-'96; new ed., 2 vols., 1871), and articles on Clarke's place in history, in the "Baptist Quarterly" for 1876, by Prof. John C. C. Clarke, under the title of " The Pioneer Statesman."
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