Friday, October 12, 2007

John Clarke (1609-1676)
For other people with the same name see John Clarke
John Clarke (8 October 160920 April 1676) was a medical doctor, Baptist minister, co-founder of the colony of Rhode Island and author of its charter, and a leading advocate of religious freedom in the Americas.
Clarke was born at Westhorpe in the county of Suffolk, England on October 8, 1609, to Thomas and Rose (Kerrich) Clarke. He was one of eight children, six of whom came to America and settled in New England.
According to the well known genealogical work "One Hundred and Sixty Allied Families," by John Osborne Austin (Salem, Massachusetts 1893), Clarke's first wife was Elizabeth Harges, daughter of John Harges. John Clarke was married three times according to this source. His second wife was Jane Fletcher, a widow, and his third wife was Sarah Davis, widow of Nicholas Davis.
The source of Clarke's education remains unknown (though some say the University of Leiden), but before arriving in America he had studied theology, languages, and medicine. He first immigrated to Massachusetts Bay in 1637. Clarke and other settlers purchased land from the American Indians on the island of Aquidneck, and established Portsmouth in 1638. Clarke is one of the signers of the Portsmouth Compact.
In 1639 he helped found the city of Newport, Rhode Island, and established a Baptist church there. At about the same time, Roger Williams, Clarke's compatriot in the cause of religious freedom in the New World, established a Baptist church in Providence, Rhode Island. "There is much debate over the centuries as to whether the Providence or Newport church deserved the place of 'first' Baptist congregation in America. Exact records for both congregations are lacking."
In 1651, John Clarke, John Crandall and Obadiah Holmes were arrested and imprisoned in Lynn, Massachusetts for conducting an illegal worship service. This event (and others like it) served as the basis for Clarke's Ill Newes from New England, or a Narrative of New England's Persecutions (1652).
In 1652, Clarke traveled to London with Roger Williams to secure a new charter for the colony of Rhode Island. Williams returned to Rhode Island in 1654, but Clarke stayed in England until the charter was granted. On July 8, 1663 Charles II of England granted John Clarke a Royal Charter to Rhode Island. That charter remained the foundation of government in Rhode Island until 1842.
Clarke and Williams continued to labor together for the cause of religious liberty. Williams remains the more well-known of the two, but Clarke was more important to the history of Baptists in New England. Williams left the Baptists to become a Seeker. During his years in Rhode Island, John Clarke was pastor of the church in Newport. He practiced medicine as a means of financial support. He also served on the General Assembly from 1664 to 1669, and three terms as deputy governor (1669-1672). Clarke died in Newport on April 20, 1676. His will set up a trust to be used "for the relief of the poor or bringing up of children unto learning from time to time forever." This trust is generally considered to be the oldest educational trust fund in the United States.