Revolutionary Pastors

In commemoration of the Boston Massacre John Lathrop of Old North Church preached on the subject Innocent Blood Crying to God from the streets of Boston. In the same year the Rev. Samuel Cooke, with Governor Hutchinson present as well as the Massachusetts House of Representatives preached on the text, “He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God.”  Alice Baldwin in her book, The N. E. Clergy and the American Revolution, said of the pastors, “With a vocabulary enriched by the Bible, …(they) made resistance and at last independence and war a holy cause,” and through their influence, gave the Revolution support.

On April 18, 1775 the new governor of Boston sent detachment of soldiers first to secure the arms of the patriots at concord and second to capture three rebel leaders who were stirring up most of the trouble. On the morning of April 19, 1775 Jonas Clark, a preacher, John Hancock, his cousin, and Sam Adams, his distributor of sermons were awakened to escape the British. Adams and Hancock were visiting for the night, unaware that the British were sending troops to Lexington. Clark was asked by one of his guest if his congregation would fight if necessary. Clark, who had preached the duty of self-defense of inalienable rights for years through his sermons, responded confidently, “I have trained them for this very hour!” The shot heard round the world providentially occurred on the lawn of his church.

“Throw down your arms, you damn rebels and disperse,” was the command of the British officer.  Some started to disperse, but Captain John Parker, a deacon in Clark’s church yelled, “Don’t fire unless fired upon, but if they want war, let it begin here.” The British fired first and 8 men fell and died on the spot. The Americans fired back, and you know the rest of the story. Or do you? One bystander writes about Jonas Clark who was watching from the church steps. He walked up and took in his arms the head of one of the young men who had been killed. The man’s wife walked up and said, “Jonas, Jonas, look what you have done.” His reply, “Ma’am, I have no regrets, for from today the death knell of tyranny shall be heard throughout the world and the bell of liberty shall ring into eternity.”

At the Galloping Hill Bridge, during the Battle of Springfield, American artillery ran low on wadding to feed their cannons. Rev. James Caldwell, an Army chaplain who had lost his wife during the Battle of Connecticut Farms, carried a load of hymn books published by English clergyman, Issac Watts. Caldwell was heard yelling to the artillery men, “Give ‘em Watts, boys! Give ‘em Watts.”

When General George Washington asked Lutheran pastor John Peter Muhlenberg to raise a regiment of volunteers, Muhlenberg did more than agreed. After he delivered a powerful sermon from Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 that concluded with these words: “The Bible tells us there is a time for all things and there is a time to preach and a time to pray, but the time for me to preach has passed away, and there is a time to fight, and that time has come now. Now is the time to fight! Call for recruits! Sound the drums!” Muhlenberg then stripped off his clerical robe, revealing the uniform of a Virginia colonel. Grabbing his musket from behind the pulpit, he donned his colonel’s hat and marched off to war. And as he did, more than 300 of his male congregants followed him.

When the war began many ministers became known as “fighting parsons.” Ministers also exerted influence in raising volunteers to join the cause. At Windsor, VT, David Avery, on hearing the news of Lexington, preached a farewell sermon, then called the people to arms and marched away with 20 men, recruiting others as they went. John Cleaveland of Ipswich is said to have preached his whole parish into the army and then to have gone himself. These preachers were known as the Black Regiment—a term describing the color of their clerical robes. Besides acting as recruiting agents, chaplains, officers and fighters, many ministers supported the war with their pens, and gave of their meager salaries to support the cause. This took character – “O where, O where have the clergy gone.”