Religious persecution is not a cross I have to bear. Although at times I feel like a stranger in a foreign land when it comes to the beliefs and convictions that separate me from the general populous, I have only to glance backward at history to know that I have been born in an age when I ought to feel gratitude with every waking breath for those who have fought this battle before me.
I brought my two primary-age daughters to an activity at the temple this weekend. They were asked to bring a story of an ancestor to share. We tossed a few ideas around and decided en route to call Mimi—the family’s history enthusiast. Thank goodness for cell phones! And for living in an area rich with history vital to who we are; oral tradition is alive and well. She vivaciously told us the story* of 11-year-old Patience; niece to the well-known Anne Hutchinson, friend and peer to Roger Williams and our great-grandmother, several generations removed.
Patience’s older sister Mary was engaged to be married to a young man named Christopher Holder, who, as a defender of religious freedom was expelled from Boston for being “a common opposer of all authority.” When he came to Boston again in 1657, he and two other young men had their right ears cut off in prison for not listening.
My modern-day church leaders often counsel me with words of wisdom that I have been guilty of not listening to… [and I continue to treat myself to jumbo bags of m&m’s and redbox movies].
Christopher’s future mother-in-law (Patience’s mother) Katherine Scott traveled to Boston to encourage him in his suffering. For her kindness she was publicly whipped with “ten cruel stripes with a threefold corded knotted whip” and thrown into prison. Patience’s father was also outspoken regarding religious matters and had been placed on house arrest by his local government. Because he was home with his children, he taught them from the scriptures, and they were well-educated in an era when girls and women were encouraged to be silent and unquestioning.
With her mother in prison and her father on house arrest; what was a girl to do? At the tender age of eleven, Patience Scott walked the 40 miles to Boston to stand before the governor and challenge government officials “to bear witness against their persecuting Spirit.”
Eleven! And I groan and mumble when I have to make two trips to church in the same day. In an air conditioned vehicle. I want to shrink when I sense that another opportunity has presented itself for me to stand out from the crowd—to explain why I won’t be attending the town fair on Sunday, or to decline an offer to have drinks with the ladies. Young Patience, after journeying to gain an audience with city officials, “spoke with the Spirit of Truth and confounded them” leaving grown men to record that although they had many children who had been well educated, it would have been well if they could have said half as much for God as Patience Scott, who “was moved of the Lord to go to Boston to bear witness against the rulers.” She was imprisoned for about three months, and then released to her Uncle. Patience and her family eventually left the Massachusetts Bay Colony for Rhode Island, where they continually endured many more hardships.
The energy of young Patience’s story filled the car. When we hung up the phone, there wasn’t a lot to say. There was much more to think about. My eleven year old daughter looked at me. We understood, with a shared glance, that we could and should be so much more that is good without having to sacrifice so much.
How much easier, today, to bear witness for what we know to be truth. To stand up and testify of Christ and have no need to fear what others might think. (Or to fear having body parts lopped off.) God bless Patience and the numberless others like her, whose stories have laid the foundation for the lifestyles that we so thoughtlessly take for granted. May these experiences not have been in vain; and may they give me the backbone to be the emissary I know I can be.
*Bellingham, MA town history, pp.61-67.