Obadiah Holmes was born in northern England around the year 1607. He was the second son of Robert and Catherine Holmes, and was raised in a family of eight or nine children. He was baptized in March 1610. He became a glassmaker and a weaver, and ended up straying from the faith for a period of about five years. His mother’s death forced him to get right with God. “It struck me that my disobedient acts caused her death, which forced me to confess the same to her – my evil ways.” He married Catherine Hyde, and migrated to New England. They settled in Salem, Massachusetts and joined the established (standing order) church. Holmes soon became disenchanted with the church and the town, as the laws were very strict and rigid. He moved to the new community of Rehoboth, located 40 miles south of Boston, and joined it’s church, pastored by Samuel Newman. However, religious controversy followed him, and three years later, the church of Rehoboth had become divided between Holmes and Newman. Holmes became a Baptist, and received believer’s baptism with eight others. He became a leader of the “Schismatists.”
On Oct 2, 1650, he was indicted for holding meetings on the Lord’s Day contrary to court order. He was ordered to Holmes decided to leave Massachusetts for good, and moved with his followers to Newport, Rhode Island.
On July 16, 1651, Holmes, along with John Clarke and John Crandall traveled back into Massachusetts, to visit the aged and blind William Witter. They preached, baptized and administered the Lord’s communion within Witter’s home. The local officials were soon on their case. On July 20, the day after their arrival, all three were arrested and held in the tavern awaiting trial. After a brief hearing, they were sent to Boston for trial, and placed in the local jail. The charges against them included conducting a private worship service during the town’s public worship, disturbing the public worship service, and drawing others into “their erroneous judgment and practices.”
The trial proceeded rapidly. Holmes, Clarke and Crandall were denied all notion of a defense, and were quickly declared guilty. During the trial, Holmes was beaten and cursed by Rev. John Wilson, a supposed man of God. The prescribed penalty was banishment, which had been inflicted upon many a Baptist in Massachusetts. Since none of them lived in Massachusetts, they were fined instead. Clarke was fined 20 pounds, Crandall 5 pounds, and Holmes 30 pounds. Holmes excessive fine was due to his excommunication from the church at Rehoboth. The fines had to be paid in full, or the culprit must be “well whipped.” They remained in jail until their fines were paid. Friends of the three quickly raised funds and paid the fined of Crandall and Clarke. Holmes, however, refused to let his friends pay his fine. With his friends released and gone, Holmes awaited his beating. On Sept 1651, he was stripped bare to the waist, tied to a post He attempted to address the onlookers, but was refused. The thirty strokes were executed with a three cord whip and with full force. The Lord strengthened him to endure the pain. Holmes remarked “You have struck me as with roses.” However, he did feel the effects of the beating later, not being able to sleep except on his knees and elbows. Two sympathizers, John Hazel and John Spur, shook hands with him after the beating, and for this gesture were sentenced to “pay forty shillings or be whipt.”
Holmes returned to Newport, and succeeded John Clarke as the pastor of Newport’s Baptist church. He stayed there until his death in 1682.
Cramp, J. M. The Persecution of Obadiah Holmes in America. Online: http://www.baptistpillar.com/bd0593.htm
“Obadiah Holmes.” Online: http://homepages.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~sam/obadiah.html