Obadiah Holmes


Obadiah Holmes was born in Lancashire, England about 1610 to Robert and Katherine (Johnson) Hulme. His father, Robert was a husbandman at Lancashire and inherited his land from his father, Obadiah’s grandfather. 


Obadiah in writing his testimony talked of his upbringing by his parents:

"Three sons they brought up aright to the university at Oxford but the most of their care was to inform and to instruct them in the fear of the Lord and to that end gave them much good counsel, bringing them often before the Lord by earnest prayer, but I the most rebellious of all did neither hearken to counsel nor any instruction, for from a child I minded nothing but folly, and vanity…I was not only rebellious against my parents but against the Lord…continuing in such a course for four or five years…my rebellion to my honored parents then looked me in open face, and my dear  mother being sick it struck me my disobedience caused her death, which forced me to confess the same to her, my evil ways and danger.”


Obadiah married Katherine Hyde in 1630. They came to New England a few years later (1638) and settled in Salem, Massachusetts. He and two others began a glass making business, making common window glass. He and his wife became members of the church at Salem, however the strict Puritan rules became intolerable for Holmes and he left for a new settlement at Rehoboth, selling his holdings in 1645 and moving the same year. He joined the church there in Rehoboth, however controversy over doctrine was soon causing a division between the pastor, Samuel Newman and Holmes and at one point, Holmes sued Newman for slander. In his study and searching of the scriptures Obadiah became more disillusioned with the established churches and a following of like-minded congregants began to line up with him and according to one biography, he began holding his own meetings. 


In his writings he discusses the difficult years of being brought into a relationship with the Lord Jesus, coming to New England and continued revelation of the word and the following is an excerpt: 

"There was in me a great love to the Lord…My selfish heart was willing to love him and to part with all for him, yea with my dear honored father, brethren, and friends, house and land and my own native country for a time to avoid the popish relics of bishops and all that filthy, hellish rabble and to separate from them and all those that mentioned them and were fully known in my own country…to adventure the danger of the seas to come to New England where I tried all things in several churches. For a time I thought I had made a good choice or change, but in truth it differed little from former times. My spirit was like a wave, tossed up and down—not yet come to dig so deep as I should or to consider the only ground of a well grounded hope God at last brought me to consider which was his own love to a poor lost man in his own secret counsel and purpose before man ever was and was revealed to man in his times that there is no preparation necessary to obtain Christ nor anything to deserve that love so as to merit the same…


…I labor by prayers both day and night that the elect might be called and that God would send laborers in the harvest. For the harvest is great but the laborers few that are bound diligent and careful and faithful in the work and service of the Lord...


There be many in New England that serve themselves and their own back and bellies but starve the people…”


It appears it was during this time at Rehoboth he became convinced of baptism by immersion “Not to baptize them before they believe…a visible believer with his own consent being baptized in common water (i.e. not holy water)…drowned to hold forth the death, burial and resurrection…” He had become friends with John Clarke[1] and John Crandall of Portsmouth/Newport and apparently Clarke baptized Holmes and eight others by immersion, which was highly offensive to those who believed in the tradition of infant baptism.

In 1649, Holmes and others were charged in court for holding meetings on the Lord’s Day separate from the organized church meetings and the courts charged the dissenters to cease from holding separate meetings on the first day of the week, not break bread together and to not baptize. Finding no peace, Holmes again sold all he had and in 1650, moved to the settlement at Newport. There he joined with the friends and colleagues, John Clarke, John Crandall and others in Rhode Island.

The following year Holmes, Clarke and Crandall were invited to visit and minister to William Witter, an elderly friend, who was blind, in Lynne, Massachusetts and a few neighbors joined them. The magistrates of Massachusetts colony, learning of the meeting, sent two constables who interrupted John Clarke while he was ministering, arrested the three, and took them to the local ordinary/tavern to await their scheduled appearance with the local magistrate. The constables suggested since they were free that they could attend the established church meeting and John Clarke informed them if they were really free they wouldn’t be in the position they were in. He went on to say that since they were in the hands of the constables and they wanted them to go to the church meeting they would go, but he informed them if they were forced to go to "your meeting, we shall declare our dissent from you both by word and gesture." When they arrived, they took their hats off and saluted and then promptly replaced their hats signifying they disapproved of what was spoken. Considered the height of rudeness and disrespect, the constables knocked their hats off their heads.

The three were returned to the tavern for the night, met briefly with the local magistrate the next morning and were taken to Boston for trial. The trial before the general court was held the next week and they were found guilty and in Clarke’s words “…without producing either accuser, witness, jury, law of God or man…” Holmes and Clarke were not allowed to speak in their own defense and later Clarke published a booklet titled Ill Newes from New England and he wrote:


"None were able to turn the law of God or man by which we were condemned. At length the Governor stepped up, and told us we had denied infant's baptism, and, being somewhat transported, told me I had deserved death, and said he would not have such trash brought into their jurisdiction."


They were charged, imprisoned and fined and if the fines weren’t paid they were sentenced to a public whipping. It is thought that friends raised the money to pay the fines before Clarke and Crandall realized what was done and they were released (Others have written that Clarke was released shortly before his own beating because the magistrates did not want a public debate about believer’s baptism and baptism by immersion.) but Holmes, in learning of the plan, forbid them to pay his fine which would be accepting his guilt when he did not believe he was guilty of anything.

The sentence of Obadiah is as follows:


The Sentence of Obediah Holmes of Seacuck, the 31 of the 5th M. 1651.


"Forasmuch as you Obediah Holmes, being come into this Jurisdiction about the 21 of the 5th M. did meet at one William Witters house at Lin, and did hear privately (and at other times being an Excommunicate person did take upon you to Preach and to Baptize) upon the Lords day, or other dayes, and being taken then by the Constable, and coming afterward to the Assembly at Lin, did in disrespect of the Ordinance of God and his Worship, keep on your hat, the Pastor being in Prayer, insomuch that you would not give reverence in veiling your hat, till it was forced off your head to the disturbance of the Congregation, and professing against the Institution of the Church, as not being according to the Gospell of Iesus Christ, and that you the said Obediah Holmes did upon that day following meet again at the said William Witters, in contempt to Authority, you being then in the custody of the Law, and did there receive the Sacrament, being Excommunicate, and you did Baptize such as were Baptized before, and thereby did necessarily deny the Baptism that was before administered to be Baptism, the Churches no Churches, and also other Ordinances, and Ministers, as if all were a Nullity; And also did deny the lawfullness of Baptizing of Infants, and all this tends to the dishonour of God, the despising the ordinances of God among us, the peace of the Churches, and seducing the Subjects of this Commonwealth from the truth of the Gospel of Iesus Christ, and perverting the strait waies of the Lord, the Court doth fine you 30 pounds to be paid, or sufficient sureties that the said sum shall be paid by the first day of the next Court of the Assistants, or else to be well whipt, and that you shall remain in Prison till it be paid, or security given in for it.




The magistrates refused to allow Holmes to speak yet he preached to the crowd as they brought him forward to execute the punishment. As they removed his clothing before the whipping, he made no effort to assist them un-buttoning and removing his shirt, gaining precious time to continue to speak to all that were gathered. Many in the crowd scoffed and railed on him, others even struck at him and still others were sorrowful to see him being punished. He was lashed 30 times with a three-cord whip—each lash laid on with all the strength the executor could exercise,  and not a moan or word passed from Holmes until it was over at which time he said they had struck him “as with roses,” and he prayed that God not lay this sin to their charge. He later told of how he felt no pain during the flogging, that God had strengthened him to endure it but in the weeks following he could find no way to rest except on his knees and elbows for the flesh had been laid open not only on his back but around his entire midsection.

In a letter to ministers of the same mind in London he later wrote that he declined the offer of friends who had come to visit him while he was imprisoned, “desiring him to take the refreshment of wine and other comforts” and he was determined “not to drink wine nor strong drink that day, until his punishment was over,” not wanting people to say “that the strength and comfort of the creature had carried him through.”


Holmes went on in his writing:


"I betook myself to my chamber, where I might communicate with my God, commit myself to Him, and beg strength from Him. I was caused to pray earnestly unto the Lord, that He would be pleased to give me a spirit of courage and boldness, a tongue to speak for Him, and strength of body to suffer for His sake, and not to shrink or yield to the strokes, or shed tears, lest the adversaries of the truth should thereupon blaspheme and be hardened, and the weak and feeble-hearted discouraged; and for this I besought the Lord earnestly. At length He satisfied my spirit to give up, as my soul so my body to Him, and quietly leave the whole disposing of the matter to Him. And when I heard the voice of my keeper come for me, and, taking my Testament in hand, I went along with him to the place of execution."  


He went on to tell how he was prevented by the magistrates from speaking and how God had strengthened him to endure the pain and said, “in a manner I felt it not.”


Historians write that the severity of his punishment was unusual—the normal lashes for other crimes was ten and some speculate that the intent was to maim or kill the Elder Holmes. His persecution and his strength of character in the face of his punishment became well known and the church at Newport gained many followers because of Obadiah Holmes’ testimony. The severe persecution of him and others like him contributed to the decline of the Puritan religion in the colonies.

Though the public whipping may have been as a warning to others by the Puritans in an attempt to end the spread of the doctrine of grace and believer’s baptism, it did nothing of the sort. Obadiah Holmes continued to minister, even in Massachusetts and was arrested, but was never fined or punished again. He served as the interim pastor at Newport for twelve years with Elder Mark Lucar assisting him, while John Clarke was in England with Roger Williams and also Samuel Gorton, procuring a charter for the plantations in Rhode Island. Later after Clarke and Lucar had both died, Holmes led the church at Newport until his death. The words he preached before his whipping gives evidence that he followed the foundation teaching in Hebrews 6:1-2 which is the doctrine of the Six Principles Churches established in Rhode Island. 


"The Lord, having manifested his love towards me, in giving me repentance towards God and faith in Christ, and so to be baptized in water by a messenger of Jesus, into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, wherein I have fellowship with him in his death, burial, and resurrection, I am now come to be baptized in afflictions by your hands, that so I may have further fellowship with my Lord, and am not ashamed of his sufferings, for by his stripes am I healed." –Obadiah Holmes


Historians have called the church at Newport a Baptist Church, however research does not give evidence those that began those early meetings called themselves Baptists. They were considered heretics and labeled Anabaptists, because they rejected infant baptism, believing one must believe on the Lord Jesus to be baptized.


Holmes owned and lived on a farm in Rhode Island. He was involved in civil affairs in the communities along with serving as the pastor at Newport. It is apparent he was well respected, for during the King Phillips War the commissioners sought the advice and counsel of a group of men and voted to have them present at their next meeting:


“Voted, that in these troublesome times and straites in this Collony, this Assembly desiring to have the advice and concurrence of the most juditious inhabitants, if it may be had for the good of the whole, doe desire at their next sittinge the Company and Councill of Mr. Benedict Arnold, Mr. John Clarke, Mr. James Barker, Mr. Obadiah Holmes, Mr. William Vaughan, Mr. William Hiscocks, Mr. Christopher Holder, Mr. Phillip Shearman, Robert Hodgson, Mr. William Carpenter, Mr. Gregory Dexter, Capt. Randall Houldon and Capt. John Green: and the Generall Sargeant to infor the serverall persons the Assembly’s desire here.”


Obadiah and Katherine Holmes had nine known children; one son John, died as an infant in England. Obadiah died October 15, 1682 in Newport, Rhode Island. President Abraham Lincoln is a descendant of Obadiah Holmes. Doyle Davidson's and David Kaspareit’s lineage to Obadiah Holmes is through his daughter Mary Holmes, who married John Brown, son of Chad Brown.


God in His own time chose a people to Himself and gave them His laws and statutes in a special manner, though He had always His chosen ones in every generation." –Obadiah Holmes 


[1] John Clarke, minister and physician, came to New England in November 1637 and it is believed he may have already held anti-pedobaptist beliefs. When he arrived in Boston he saw divisions and later wrote of them: "I was no sooner on shore but there appeared to me to be differences among them touching the Covenants; and in point of evidencing a man's good estate, some pressed hard for the Covenant of works, others pressed as hard for the Covenant of grace that was established upon better promises, and for the evidence of the Spirit, as that which is a more certain, constant, and satisfactory witness. He also wrote about seeing there was land before them mentioning Abraham and Lot and writing of the hot summers inspired them to head further north to New Hampshire but after the extreme cold, returned and stayed at Providence and with the help of Roger Williams, acquired land on the island of Aquidneck establishing Portsmouth and later Newport. Winthrop writes of Clarke, in 1638, as "a physician and preacher to those of the island." John Clark was also one of those sent to England from Rhode Island to obtain a charter for the Rhode Island Colonies.


Compiled by Kathryn Currier
July 25, 2012


Sources: Baptist Piety: The Last Will and Testament of Obadiah Holmes by Obadiah Holmes and Edwin Scott Gaustad; The American Family of Rev. Obadiah Holmes, by Col. J.T. Holmes (1915)Wikipedia;  The Reformed Reader(www.reformedreader.org/) 





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