16 February 2010

John Lathrop: ancestor of the Fullers - selections from a paper written for a class in Baptist History

John Lathrop (Lothrop) was born in 1584 in Etton, Yorkshire, England, and he was baptized on December 20, 1584 into the Church of England. His parents were Thomas and Mary (Salte) Lathrop, and his family had lived in Yorkshire for generations.  Nothing is really known about his childhood. When he was twenty-two, his father died in Etton (Price 2). This occurred while he was enrolled as a student at Cambridge. He enrolled in Queen’s College in 1601, receiving a BA in 1605, and his MA in 1609 (Rev. John 1). On Dec. 20, 1607, he was “ordained a deacon by the Bishop of Lincoln”, and he began to minister as the curate in Bennington, Hertfordshire (Price 2). After receiving his M. A. in 1609, Lathrop was appointed the curate of Egerton, Kent, about 50 miles from London. While serving in this position, he married the Hannah Howse on Oct. 10, 1610. She was the rector’s daughter from the neighboring parish (Price 2).

For about fourteen years, Rev. Lathrop served faithfully in this post. However, for several years, the English monarchs had been trying to bring all of England into religious conformity. Finally in 1623, the requirements set up by the king became too much for Rev. Lathrop, and he left the Church of England. The following year, he accepted the call to become the pastor of the First Independent (Congregational) Church in London. The founder and former pastor of this church was Henry Jacobs who had spent several years in Holland with John Robinson and had been influenced by Robinson concerning separation from the state church (Torbet 41). When Jacobs had returned to England from Holland, he had founded the First Independent Church in Southwark, London, in 1616. However, in 1622, he resigned his position and sailed to Virginia (Torbet 41).

For eight years, Rev. Lathrop and the congregation at Southwark held services. However, they constantly had to watch out for the men of Archbishop William Laud for what they were doing was theoretically illegal. Eventually, the archbishop sent spies to search out where Lathrop and his church were worshipping. Thus, on April 29, 1632, as the First Independent Church met in the house of Humphrey Barnet, the hirelings of Laud set upon them (McBeth 23). Laud’s men arrested the Reverend John Lathrop along with forty-one members of his congregation. For almost two years, these people were kept in Newgate Prison (“Rev. John” 1). By the spring of 1634, the congregation had all been released, but Lathrop was kept imprisoned. During this time in prison, Lathrop came to the conclusion that the ceremonialism that was so widely practiced by the Anglican Church was idolatry (Tribulations 4). On Sept. 12, 1633, during Lathrop’s time in prison, the church underwent a split (McBeth 24). This was an amiable split caused by a division over whether or not the parish churches were real churches and whether or not to baptize infants (Vedder 206; Tribulations 4). This split-off church was composed of about seventeen members and was led by Samuel Eaton and John Spilsbury. This church was the “first Particular Baptist church in England” (Vedder 206).

In the spring of 1634, Hannah Lathrop died, leaving John with the care of seven children, ages five to eighteen (Price 3). On April 24, 1634, Rev. Lathrop was given permission to go into foreign exile. He and thirty-two members of his congregation sailed for the New World in the Griffin. The Griffin reached Boston on Sept. 18, 1634. A point of minor interest is that the famed Anne Hutchinson made her voyage across the Atlantic with Lathrop (Tribulations 4). On the 27th of September, the little congregation made its way to the village of Scituate, MA, and there they setup their abode. In this new country, Rev. Lathrop was well received; and at least twice, Governor Winthrop recorded favorable notes about him in his journal (Price 4).

It appears that those who were already in Scituate knew of Rev. Lathrop and that some of them may have previously been members of his congregation in Kent (“Rev. John” 2). It seems that on January 19, 1635, John Lathrop was chosen as the pastor of the church at Scituate. The reason for the confusion of when this occurred is that the primary source for this dating is a journal entry of Rev. Lathrop’s. This entry is confusing because of the fact that he gives the year as 1634; however, as he was in England at that time, this is clearly impossible (“Rev. John” 2). During his time in Scituate, Rev. Lathrop remarried; his wife’s name was Ann, and they were married by June 14, 1635. His children grew up and began to spread out considerably. His daughter Jane married Samuel Fuller, a young man who had come over on the Mayflower. (They were married by Captain Miles Standish.)

For five years, Rev. Lathrop ministered at Scituate, and then, divisions began arising about baptism and its forms. Thus, in 1639, Lathrop (and those of his congregation who, like him, believed in sprinkling instead of immersion) moved to Barnstable, MA (Christian 364). It appears that Lathrop never wavered on this point for in 1644, Christian records that Lathrop wrote “A Short Form of Catechisme of the Doctrine of Baptisme. In use in these Times that are so full of Questions” (364). Evidently, this document did not receive wide circulation, for there do not appear to be any surviving copies of the manuscript.

About twenty-two members of Lathrop’s congregation followed him to Barnstable, MA (Price 5). These were people who were much like the Pilgrims were in search of a Promised Land. They brought their goods and settled on tracts of lands that they could pass on to their children. They arrived in their settlement on October 11, 1639; and ten days later they celebrated God’s goodness to them by declaring a day of public “fasting, humiliation, and prayer” (“Rev. John” 6). On December 11, they held another day of religious activity, this time the emphasis was on worshipping and thanking God for that which He had done for them. This small band of pioneers were simple men and women who lived joyfully raising their children peaceably; these were not malicious fanatics intent on breaking tradition and forming new sects. They had two primary guides; the one was their conscience and the other, their pastor. It is quite remarkable that Rev. Lathrop inspired such trust and devotion in his people that many of those who were in his final congregation at Barnstable had come over from Southwark with him. This is a great tribute to a man who lived a life of intense purity and who was willing to change his views on various subjects when he saw from the Scripture that he was in error.

John Lathrop lived out his days in the town that he was so vital in starting. On November 8, 1653, the Reverend John Lathrop died (Tribulation 4). He had ministered to the very end. In his will, he left provision for each of his family and also for his library to be divided up among a number of people (“Rev. John” 8). His house still stands today and is part of the Sturgis Library in Barnstable, MA; this library also houses his Bible that he brought over from England. However, perhaps the greatest testimony to his life are those who descended from him, some were great men of character, while others were charlatans; some earned great honor, and a couple great disgrace. These included Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Benedict Arnold, Adlai Stevenson, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Ulysses S. Grant, Joseph Smith, Eli Whitney, George H. W. Bush, J. P. Morgan, Henry W. Longfellow, Ruth Fuller Grings, and her daughter Louise Grings Champlin. Yes, it is in the lives of these descendants, and in the ways that he helped shape a nation that John Lathrop left his stamp upon the land.