WILLIAM TURNER came from Dartmouth in South Devonshire to Dorchester, Massachusetts; admitted to the church in 1642; freeman May 10th, 1643. Is in list of owners of certain pasture lands there in 1646. Was chosen bailiff of the town in 1661; signed a petition of the inhabitants of Dorchester in 1664. He probably moved to Boston in the latter part of 1664, as he was one of the original members of the First Baptist Church gathered in Boston May 28th, 1665.
The earlier members of this church, with Capt. Turner, were, Thomas Gould, elder and preacher, Thomas Osborne and his wife Mary, Edward Drinker, John George, Robert Lambert, Richard Goodall and Mary his wife, Mary Newell, John Farnham, Isaac Hull, Jacob Barney, John Russell, Jr., John Johnson, George Farlow, Seth Sweetsir, Benjamin Sweetsir and his wife.
During the next few years the pressure of religious intolerance began to be exercised against the Baptists, and the General Court took action against the leaders, as "turbulent Anabaptists," disfranchised such as were freemen, and expelled Gould, Turner and Farnham from the colony, on pain of imprisonment, charging that they had "combined themselves with others in a pretended church estate, without the knowledge or approbation of the authority here established, to the great grief and offence of the godly orthodox," etc. The men, failing to leave the colony, were duly imprisoned. A petition for release, from these three, to the Court, dated Oct. 14, 1668, states that it is the twelfth week of their imprisonment. Popular feeling, the majority of the deputies, and influential friends of the colonies in England, favored the Baptists, but the magistrates were inflexible, and when a great number of influential citizens signed a popular petition in their behalf, the Council summoned many to appear and answer for "contempt of authority," in signing the petition. I think the prisoners were liberated during the winter, probably on condition of "good behavior." Capt. Turner was imprisoned again, evidently under the old sentence, and it is likely for breaking the conditions of his release. Several complaints were brought up against him, the chief of which seems to have been, in this last case, that he would not present his child at church for baptism. The following letter gives some idea of the man and his condition:
To the honored General Court now sitting at boston the humble address of Will: Turner now prisoner at boston humbly sheweth
That whereas it hath pleased some of the honored maistrates to issue out A warrant for the apprehending of my body and Committing mee to prison, and there to remayne according to A sentence of A general Court the 29th of April 1668 your poore prisoner doth therefore humbly beseech you to consider that by vertue of that sentence I have already suffered Above thirty weekes imprisonment and that A whole winter season which was a greate prejudice to my health and distraction to my poore family & which I hope this honored [Court] will consider with the weaknes of my body and the extremity of lying in prison in A cold winter whitch may be to the utter ruine of my headles family: And withal to consider my readines to serve this Country to the uttermost of my ability in all civil things: The maine difference being only in faith and order of which God only can satisfie A poore soul: Thus hoping this honored Court will take it unto their serious Consideration and extend their mercy as becomes the servants of Christ I shal leave both my state and condition and honored Court to the wise disposing of the Almighty, remaining yours to serve you in all faithfulness to my power.
The deputies submitted this to the magistrates, who were unyielding.
It is not known whether any action resulted from this letter, but at a Court held at Boston, March 2d, 1669, a petition was presented from Gould and Turner, then in prison, for release, and they were allowed "three days" to visit their families, and then to be returned to prison. Soon after this many and very earnest letters were received from prominent orthodox ministers in England, deprecating these rigorous measures of the magistrates, as against the scriptures and directly prejudicial to the interests of the church in America, and to dissenting churches everywhere. The prisoners were probably released some time in the summer of 1669, and soon after Mr. Gould took up his residence permanently at "Noddle's Island," and there the Baptists thereafter held their meetings. On November 30th, 1670, Mr. Edward Drinker, in a letter to Mr. Clarke and his church at Newport, says: "At this present our dear brother William Turner, prisoner for the Lord's cause in Boston has some good experience; both he and brother Gould were to be taken up but only brother Turner is yet taken and has been about a month in prison."
Gould was not yet taken because the magistrates waited to take him in Boston, "and he came not over." He speaks bitterly of Gov. Bellingham and the magistrates, but in terms of gratitude of Messrs. Oxenbridge and Allen of the First Church in Boston, for their earnest endeavors to help the Baptists in their troubles, and says that all the deputies voted to release the prisoners, but that the magistrates "carry all before them." He says in the closing part of his letter, "Brother Turner's family is very weakly and himself too. I fear he will not trouble them long; only this is our comfort, we hear if he dies in prison, they say they will bury him," etc. The reply to this letter was addressed "Unto the Church of Jesus Christ, meeting on Noddle's Island in New England." In December, 1671, Benjamin Sweetser, of Charlestown, writes to Newport that "brother Turner has been near to death but through mercy is revived, and so is our pastor Gould." The letter indicates that they are now at liberty, but that the persecution is being stirred up again, etc.
Upon the death of Gov. Bellingham, December 7, 1672, active hostilities ceased, and the election of John Leverett as governor in May, 1673, secured them from public persecution so long as he remained in office.
This digression may be justified by Capt. Turner's connection with it, and by its evidence of the relations of magistrates, deputies and people in the times just preceding the Indian war. Capt. Turner was a tailor by trade, and he plied that vocation in Boston during these years, 1664-'75.
Mr. Backus, in the first volume of his history of the Baptists, page 335, has a note, of which he says: "The copy of Mr. Russell's Narrative that I am favored with came out of his (i.e. Mr. Callender's) family, and in it is a manuscript note in the margin, against Mr. Russell's account of Mr. Turner, which says:"
In the beginning of the war, William Turner gathered a company of volunteers, but was denied a commission and discouraged, because the chief of the company were anabaptists. Afterwards, when the war grew more general and destructive, and the country in very great distress, having divers towns burnt, and many men slain, then he was desired to accept a commission. He complained it was too late, his men on whom he could confide being scattered; however, was moved to accept.
I have found no official record or notice of the organization of Capt. Turner's company, but below are his own official lists, the first taken at Medfield on February 22d (the next day after the partial destruction of that town), and he reports this list of the company, "as they came out of Boston," showing February 21st as the most probable date of his marching. It is evident that his men were not all volunteers, as many were "cleared" upon their arrival at Marlborough, and some were on the list of "impressed" men.
From Medfield his company marched to Marlborough, whither all the English troops were now ordered for the organization of the army about to take the field. The lists of the company are below and explain themselves, and also show that the army marched from Marlborough, February 29th, to Quabaog (Brookfield), and thence, on March 4th. The movements of the army under Major Savage are related above. Capt. Turner received at Marlborough, from the companies of Capts. Wadsworth and Reynolds, thirty-five men, giving him about eighty in his company. March 4th, Capt. Turner marched from Quabaog with a company of seventy men, as he left ten men at that garrison on that day.
It will be remembered that on the retreat of the Narragansets in January, many of them were scattered among the Nipmucks in various places, and two large bodies of these, mingled with local tribes, were gathered, one at Meminimisset (the chief town and stronghold of the Nipmucks) and another near "Wachuset Hill." At Quabaog the army was reinforced by the Connecticut companies under Major Treat, and, after several days spent in vain search for the Indians, at last struck the trail of a large body of the enemy, but too late to prevent their escape beyond the Paquayag River, to which our cavalry pursued them. Thus the army was led to pass by undisturbed, and leave behind it a great body of the enemy at Wachuset. This was contrary to their purpose and against the urgent advice of their friendly Indian scouts, but it seemed best to their commanders (after they had been led so far from Quabaog, and with such large numbers of the Indians driven before them, who might form a junction with the western Indians and fall upon the valley plantations at once) to march forward to the towns upon the River, where they arrived on March 8th. Major Savage found that there were indications of large numbers of Indians in the vicinity, and immediately disposed his forces for the defence of the several towns. Capt. Turner was sent across the river to Northampton for the defence of that town. The inhabitants had placed "palisadoes" about their village "for their better security," and two companies of Connecticut men under Major Treat joined Capt. Turner's company probably on the 13th, as the Indians were amazed to find the town full of English soldiers, when, early in the morning of March 14th, they made a vigorous and combined assault. Gathering about the town in the darkness undiscovered, and breaking through the palisades in three places, they crept in and close about the houses; and there seem to have been no guards or night-watch, and the first intimation of the enemies' presence was their furious attack upon several houses. They succeeded in setting fire to ten before the sleeping garrison could be roused; but when the Indians realized their situation, and found themselves confronted with three strong companies instead of a defenceless hamlet, they turned and rushed headlong to the breaches they had made in the palisades, panic-stricken to find themselves in a trap, and in their frantic crowding to get out were confronted with the troops, and many were shot down by ours, at the gaps, inside. Eleven of their dead were left. Five of the English known to have been killed were Robert Bartlett, Thomas Holton, and Mary Earle of Northampton, James McRenell (or Macranell) and Increas Whetstone of Capt. Turner's company. The following extract from a letter of Rev. John Russell, of Hadley, is of interest here. It is dated at Hadley, March 16th, 1675-6:
Although the Lord hath granted us an intervall of quiet this winter yet since ye coming on of ye Spring the warr here is renewed with more strength and violence here than in any other part while we remaine for as we had intellegence by the captain who is returned (commonly called "Speckled Tom"), Philip intended with his whole power to come upon these Towns and taking them to make his planting place a fort this year at Deerfield so on ye 14th instant the enemy to the number of a 1000d as judged made a sudden and violent iruption upon Northampton brake through their works in three places & had in reason taken the whole Town had not Providence so ordered it yt Majr Treate was come in with his men within ye night ye same evening yet they burned five houses and five barns, one within the fortification, slew five persons wounded five. There are sd to be found about a dozen of the enemy slain. Here allso above Deerfield a few miles is the great place of their fishing wch must be expected to afford them their provisions for the yere, So that the swarme of them being here and like to continue here we must look to feele their utmost rage except the Lord be pleased to breake their power. My desire is we may be willing to do or suffer live or dy; remaine in or be driven out from or habitations as the Lord or God would have us and as may be Conducible to ye glory of his name and ye publike weale of his people, etc. etc.
The Indians, meeting this unexpected repulse at Northampton, hastened away for an assault upon Hatfield, but finding it also defended by Capt. Mosely and his men, they hastily withdrew and again attempted to surprise Northampton, hoping, it is likely, that the vigilance of the English was relaxed, or a part of the troops were drawn off, but finding a ready reception awaiting, they retired completely foiled of what was expected to be an easy prey. With the exception of an attack upon Westfield a short time after, the killing of Moses Cook and Clement Bates, and the assault of a small party upon the people of Longmeadow going to Springfield to attend church, there was no further demonstration in force while the army remained. In the mean time these disasters and their extreme want of food began to cause disaffection among the local tribes who had no immediate quarrel against the English, and to this was added the discouraging fact of the capture and death of Canonchet, chief of the Narragansets, and the real leader, now, of the confederated tribes. The English took advantage of this discouragement and opened negotiations looking to a peace, while a price was offered for the head of Philip, who promptly retired out of harm's way.
Capt. Turner and his company were engaged at Northampton and the neighboring towns in guarding and fortifying against the expected attack of the great body of Indians gathered in the vicinity, our troops as well as those of Connecticut being under the general command of Major Savage, for an account of whose operations and the condition of affairs at this time, see Chap. IV. of this volume, a very interesting letter of the Council to Mr. Savage, dated April 1st. In accordance with these instructions Major Savage marched home with most of the soldiers that came with him, leaving Capt. Turner in charge of the defence of these towns in Captain Poole's place, and leaving him one hundred and fifty-one men in regular service. These were mostly single men, and very largely boys and servants, or apprentices.
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