The Reverend Stephen Bachiler - Saint or Sinner?

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An Examination and Appraisal of the Available Evidence

on the Subject of This Puritanical Colonial

Philip Mason Marston

Professor of History and Chairman of the Department, University of New Hampshire

Published Privately By The Society of Colonial Wars in the State of New Hampshire, 1961


The Society of Colonial Wars in the State of New Hampshire is indebted to its historian, Professor Marston, for the composition of this second essay on the subject of a colonial personage, which was delivered at the Society's Field Day Luncheon, at Exeter, August 19, 1961.

The favorable reception accorded our publication of Richard Upton's "Meshech Weare" in 1960 encouraged this continuation of an historical pattern.

Professor Marston's attraction to any feature of New Hampshire's history is indigenous. He was born in this state, educated here and has been a member of the University's Department of History since obtaining his baccalaureate in 1924 and more recently has served as its chairman. He graciously and alertly accepted the challenge of researching the alleged Bachiler peccadilloes against the man's conceded consequence as a colonialist.

Although he discovered no precise answer to the rhetorical question of his essay's title, he has competently marshalled the facts and produced an orderly and scholarly record of them. Each of us may reach his own conclusion anent the enigmatic and peripatetic Puritan pastor who was a founder of Hampton, one of New Hampshire's four original communities.

As one of the myriad descendents of the Reverend Stephen Bachiler and as a token of my appreciation for the honor of high office, it is my pleasure to contribute the cost of this -publication to the Society.

RALPH SANBORN, Governor, Hampton Falls, August, 1961

The first minister of Hampton, New Hampshire and one of its founders has rightly or wrongly been accused by some of his contemporaries, as well as by later writers, of certain lapses in moral behavior over and above the religious dissensions common to the first part of the seventeenth century in New England. His chief defender was a nineteenth century descendant, Victor C. Sanborn. Specifically, the charges against Stephen Bachiler involve the disruption of churches, an alleged proposal to commit adultery with the wife of a neighbor in Hampton and marrying a fourth wife while still legally married to his third. In all of these charges we have only what has survived of contemporary journals, histories and records on which to base a decision and it should be noted that seemingly more of these have been lost than have been preserved.

The origin of the Bachiler (or Batchelder or Bachellor) family in England is a matter of speculation which need not concern us in this paper. The date of the birth of Stephen Bachiler was probably 1560 or 1561 but the first definite record we have of him concerns his matriculation "in the University of Oxford from St. John's College about 1581."1 His B. A. degree was granted in 1586 following which he may have served briefly as chaplain to Lord de la Warr (Delaware) before becoming vicar of Wherwell in Hampshire, "on presentation of" his lordship, in 1587. All six of his children, by his first wife, were born during the eighteen years he was at Wherwell, three sons and three daughters.2

The death of Queen Elizabeth I in 1603 was followed by the accession to the English throne of James VI of Scotland who, as James I of England, called the famous Hampton Court Conference in 1604 at which the new monarch expressed his displeasure with the Puritans. In 1605 many Puritan inclined ministers were removed from their offices among whom was the Reverend Stephen Bachiler, the date of his removal being August of that year.3

From 1605 until 1632, when Bachiler arrived in Boston, the extant records give few clues to where he was or what he was doing. He seems to have moved from Wherwell to the nearby hamlet of Newton Stacy where he continued as a Puritan preacher and to have been the recipient of legacies in 1607 and 1616. In 1610 his son Stephen entered Magdalen College, Oxford.4 His son's college career was cut short by expulsion and in 1613 both Bachiler and his son Stephen were sued by a nearby clergyman for libel because it was alleged that father and son had written "some scandalous verse" about the clergyman and had been "singing them in divers places."5 On June 11, 1621 Adam Winthrop wrote in his diary that "Mr. Bachelour the preacher dined with us."6 There are records of the purchase and sale of property by Bachiler in Newton Stacy between 1622 and 1630.7 In 1631 Stephen Bachiler was in Holland8 where he was associated with two well-known dissenting clergymen, Hugh Peters and John Davenport.9

Prior to going to Holland he became involved with a plan to form a colony in Maine. In 1630 The Council for New England granted the Lygonia or Plough Patent of about sixteen hundred square miles, south of the Sagadahock or Kennebec river and including the site of the present city of Portland, to a group of London merchants.10 The organization is known both as the Company of Husbandmen and as the Plough Company and their proposed colony was to be called Lygonia. Bachiler was chosen as the pastor of the colony and invested some 60 pounds or more in the enterprise which may explain the sale of his properties in 1630 in Newton Stacy.11

The Company of Husbandmen sent out a ship, called the Plough, in 1630 with a small group of colonists who failed to establish the proposed colony and instead landed at Watertown, Massachusetts. John Winthrop wrote in his Journal that most of the passengers on the Plough were Familists,12 a sect that "professed the principle that religion lay in love irrespective of faith, a tenet no doubt harmless when intelligently held, but liable in rude minds to run into licentious extremes."13

In 1632 the company sent over two more ships in one of which, the William and Francis, Stephen Bachiler, now seventyone years of age, his second wife Helen and probably four of his grandsons, Nathaniel Bachiler, and John, William and Stephen Samborne, were passengers.14 They arrived in Boston on June 5, 1632.15 As the project for establishing the Lygonia Colony had failed, the backers of the company wrote to John Winthrop requesting him to dispose of the goods which had been sent over and use the proceeds to pay off some of the investors including Stephen Bachiler.16 As late as June 3, 1633, Bachiler was in communication with Winthrop regarding the disposal of part of the cargo.17

The Reverend Stephen Bachiler apparently had planned to live in Newtowne, now Cambridge, after his arrival but he was called to become pastor of the church in Saugus, now Lynn, where he began his duties, maybe as early as June 8, 1632, and where his son-in-law Christopher Hussey resided.18 Less than four months later he was in trouble for the General Court of the Colony of Massachusetts, on October 3, 1632, ordered that he could not continue publicly as a preacher or teacher in the colony, except to those who had come over with him, because of "his contempt of authority" and until certain alleged scandals were removed. The proscription was removed on March 4, 1633.19 Apparently he had attempted to organize a church without first securing permission from the proper authorities but as to where this was done is not clear from the records.20

For nearly three years Stephen Bachiler continued as the pastor of the Saugus church during which time he became a freeman of the Massachusetts Colony.21 These were not entirely peaceful years however and the dissension in his church finally reached the point where it became involved with the much larger religious issues centering around Roger Williams, Anne Hutchinson and John Wheelwright. In March, 1635, Winthrop noted in his Journal that there was trouble in the Saugus church but that the differences had been debated "and so all were reconciled."22 This reconciliation was short-lived, lasting only until January, 1636, when Bachiler was called before the magistrates because he and some of his congregation had asked to be dismissed from the Saugus church in order to form a new church presumably in another place. The dismissal was granted but he and his followers, instead of leaving, started a rival church in Saugus. The members of the first church thereupon complained and Bachiler was ordered to desist until the matter had been reviewed. He refused to be bound by the order so a marshal was sent to bring him in, whereupon he agreed to obey and promised to move out of Saugus within three months.23 Samuel Whiting replaced him in the Saugus or Lynn church.24

From Saugus Bachiler possibly went to Ipswich to live but the records at this point are not clear and it is more likely that, along with his son-in-law Christopher Hussey, he moved to Newbury.25 He was now without a position as pastor of a church a situation known to some in England for in a letter to the Reverend John Wilson of the Boston church, the Reverend Robert Stansby, then resident in Norfolk, England but himself without a pastorate because of his Puritan views, commented on the religious problems in New England. Stangby wrote "That many of the ministers are much sleighted with you, insomuch as although you want ministers (as some wright) yet some amongst you worke with ther hands being not called to any place. . . Others laye downe their ministery and become private members, as Mr. Bachelder .... [and] That you are so strict in admission of members to your church, that more than one halfe are out of your church in all your congregations. . ."26

Stephen Bachiler apparently was not content to remain a "private member" and continue to live as such in Newbury for in the winter of 1637-1638 he walked to the site of the present Yarmouth, on Cape Cod, with the idea in mind of establishing a settlement there. As John Winthrop wrote on March 30, 1638, "Another plantation was now in hand at Mattakeese, [Yarmouth] six miles beyond Sandwich. The undertaker of this was one Mr. Batchellor, late pastor at Sagus, (since called Lynn,) being about seventy-six years of age: yet he walked thither on foot in a very hard season. He and his company, being all poor men, finding the difficulty, gave it over, and others undertook it.27

Meanwhile the Massachusetts Bay Colony was interpreting its 1629 charter to claim that the northern boundary of the colony was three miles north of the source of the Merrimack river rather than three miles north of the outlet at Newburyport. This claim, which Massachusetts was eventually unable to sustain, would have made the northern boundary an EastWest line three miles above The Weirs in New Hampshire. In 1636 the General Court of the Bay Colony ordered that a house, subsequently known as the Bound House, be built at what was then called Winnacunnet. While the exact location of this building is uncertain, it seems to have been in what is now the town of Seabrook.28 In 1638 Stephen Bachiler and others petitioned to settle at Winnacunnet and on October 14 of that year they began the actual settlement which was given town privileges on May 22, 1639 and the name was changed to Hampton on September 4 of the same year.29

In the spring of 1639 the first settlers of Hampton were joined by others from Norfolk and Suffolk, England including the Reverend Timothy Dalton, who became the teacher of the church of which Bachiler was the pastor. Dalton's wife Ruth was a relation of Bachiler30 while Dalton was a relation of John Winthrop.31 Soon after the arrival of Dalton the differences between the two clergymen came to an open break and there occurred the incident which has most frequently been used to defame Bachiler's character. The alleged proposal to commit adultery was noted in his Journal by Winthrop under date of November 12, 1641. He wrote that Bachiler was about eighty years old at the time and was then married to a "lusty comely woman", that he denied the charges at first and "complained to the magistrates" concerning the slander against him but that he later confessed his guilt and was excommunicated from the church for a period of two years before being received back in again but without being restored to the office of pastor.32 The Reverend William Hubbard of Ipswich, Massachusetts, writing probably before 1682 and possibly having consulted the manuscript of Winthrop's Journal gives a similar but shorter account and describes Bachiler's second wife as "grave" rather than "lusty".33 Edward Johnson of Woburn, Massachusetts wrote about 1650 of Bachiler as follows:

"Through Ocean large Christ brought thee for to feede,
His wandering flock with's word thou hast oft taught,
Then teach thy selfe with others thou hast need
Thy flowing fame unto low ebbe is brought"34

These contemporary or near contemporary accounts constitute the chief evidence against the accused and unfortunately documentary evidence in Bachiler's favor is about nonexistent. During the controversy his house was burned and he lost all of his books and papers. In the latter part of 1644 he wrote a long letter to John Winthrop in which he accused the Reverend Timothy Dalton of having "don all and ben the cause of all the dishonour" that had befallen him and Bachiler went on to state that he had not had a fair trial. He implied also that Dalton's actions were motivated by a desire for revenge.35 In 1650 Stephen Bachiler sued the town of Hampton for wages due him and won the case.36

Most historians of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries make no reference to the alleged attempt at adultery. Jeremy Belknap for example in his The History of New-Hampshire, even though he consulted the manuscripts which were later printed, ignores the charges.37 Such was not the case with J. A. Doyle, the nineteenth century English historian, who, depending chiefly on Winthrop's accounts, condemns Stephen Bachiler along with John Underhill, Hanserd Knollys and Thomas Larkham, the last three being involved in troubles in Dover. Doyle wrote that, "It would be unfair to take such men as [the four mentioned] for representatives of anything but an exceptional and morbid type of Puritanism. Yet the proximity of the four offenders in time and place almost forces one to believe that the disease was far more widely spread than would be supposed from the uniform and indiscriminating eulogies of New England writers."38 The most thorough defense of Stephen Bachiler is the paper written by Victor C. Sanborn39 and read by his father, Frank B. Sanborn, author of New Hampshire An Epitome of Popular Government in the American Commonwealths series, before the April 19, 1909 meeting of the New Hampshire Historical Society. In the light of the available material we are faced with the question of whether or not Bachiler was guilty of the accusation made against him. His age, for he was about eighty years old, the fact that he won his case for unpaid wages against the town of Hampton and his letter to John Winthrop are in his favor but he did make a confession before the church and that weighs against him, that is if we can believe John Winthrop. Perhaps the best that we can do is give Bachiler the benefit of the doubt and say that the accusation was made but not completely proven and unfortunately not disproven.

By the beginning of the year 1644 Stephen Bachiler had come to the conclusion that he should leave Hampton. He was offered the opportunity to become the pastor of the church in either Exeter, New Hampshire or Casco, Maine and decided upon the Exeter call only to have this position taken from him by the action of the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony which on May 29, 1644 forbade the inhabitants of Exeter from organizing a church at that time.40 John Winthrop referred to this action in his Journal and raised again the issue of disruption of churches when he wrote, "Mr. Batchellor had been in three places before, and through his means, as was supposed, the churches fell to such divisions, as no peace could be till he was removed."41

In at least his eighty-fourth year, when most men of today would have long since been retired if they had managed to live that long, Bachiler, in 1644, sold his farm in Hampton and went to live in the Portsmouth area, possibly on the Kittery side of the Piscataqua although this is not certain.42 With him was his grandson Stephen Samborne and maybe other members of his family. His second wife Helen died before he left Hampton and so Bachiler was faced with the problem of finding someone to do his housework in an age when a housekeeper was regarded with more disapproval than in a later time. In a letter to John Winthrop, dated May 3, 1647, Bachiler wrote that he had found a widow to have "some eye and care towards my family" and that this arrangement had met with the '"approbation of the whole planta[tion] of Strabury Banke." However there were rumors that he was already married to her "or certainly shalbe", and that there were "cast on her such aspertions without ground or proufe" that he did not see how he could possibly continue to live in the place.43

Seemingly the eighty-seven year old man was unaware of the true nature of his housekeeper for sometime before 1650 he did marry her only to be fined on the same day and by the same court in which he won his case for back wages against the town of Hampton, "for not publishing his marriage according to law." But that was not all for on that same April 9, 1650 the same court "ordered that Mr. Bachelor and Mary his wife shall live together, as they publicly agreed to do, and if either desert the other, the Marshal to take them to Boston to be kept until next quarter Court of Assistants, to consider a divorce. Bail to be granted if satisfactory security could be obtained. In case Mary Bacheller live out of this jurisdiction without mutual consent for a time, notice of her absence to be given to the Magistrates at Boston."44

Failing to obtain a divorce from his third wife Mary, Stephen Bachiler apparently lived apart from her until about 1654 when he returned to England. Meanwhile she seems to have been residing in Kittery and leading a "more than normally venturesome" life.45 The York County Court Records beginning with an entry for October 15, 1650 contain several indictments for adultery or for other offenses.46 In 1656 she applied for a divorce and claimed that her husband had married a fourth time after returning to England, a claim without any substantiation in fact,47 but a claim that at least one usually careful modern writer has accepted.48 Apparently Mary Bachiler went to Boston to continue with her suit for a divorce or maybe was taken there because of other reasons for Henry Wright, a constable, was paid twenty shillings for bringing "Goody Batcheler" in a cart in 1658.49 That she was there for other reasons is suggested by an entry in shorthand in the diary of John Hull but with a marginal note in longhand identifying the person concerned as "Goodwife Batchelor". The editor's translation of the shorthand states that "Another woman of that time, about 1658, that took such . . . . to the husband of another woman, did. leave her, and would not .... still go to the meeting-house in the . . . . Magistrate was forced to condemn her to prison. She would strip herself almost to the skin, and get out, if possible. . ."50 Whether or not John Hull was writing about Mary Bachiler there is still enough evidence from the records of her behavior to indicate that she was not a very reliable witness concerning the alleged fourth marriage of Stephen Bachiler. In 1674 she married Thomas Turner51 who "succeed George Rogers in the grass widow Bachiler's affections."52

Little is known concerning Stephen Bachiler after he left about 1654 for England. He seems to have spent the few remaining years of his life living near London, undoubtedly with members of his family and to have died in 1660 having reached or nearly reached the age of one hundred years.53 [Later research proved this statement to be incorrect. The Rev. Bachiler was buried on 31 October 1656 in the Allhallows Staining Church cemetery, in London, England. -- N.H. Genealogical Record, 8:1, (1991)] Was he a saint or a sinner or more of the first and a bit of the last and therefore essentially human? Of the charges against him we may look upon the disruption of churches as of little consequence in this day of religious liberty. The alleged proposal of adultery in Hampton is certainly not proven even if not completely disproven and as for his third wife's claim that he married a fourth time that, in the light of Mary Bachiler's recorded behavior, is absurd. Perhaps the best estimate of him is that by Frank B. Sanborn who wrote that Stephen Bachiler "had the merits and defects of his time and his class."54


1. Samuel E. Morison, The Founding of Harvard College, (Cambridge, 1935), p. 365.

2. V. C. Sanborn, Genealogy of the Family of Samborne or Sanborn in England and America, 1194-1898. (privately printed, 1899), pp. 59-60.

3. Victor C. Sanborn, "Stephen Bachiler: An Unforgiven Puritan". Proceedings of the New Hampshire Historical Society. Vol. V. Part II, 1907-1912. (Concord, 1916), p. 178.

4. Ibid., pp. 178-179.

5. Morison, op. cit., p. 365.

6. Winthrop Papers, Vol. I. (Massachusetts Historical Society, 1929), p.258.

7. Victor C. Sanborn, op. cit., p. 179.

8. Morison, op. cit., p. 365.

9. Perry Miller, Orthodoxy in Massachusetts, 1630-1650. (Cambridge, 1933), pp. 114-115.

10. John G. Palfrey: History of New England, Vol. I. (Boston, 1858), p. 397.

11. Winthrop Papers, Vol. III, (Massachusetts Historical Society, 1943). pp. 102-103.

12. John Winthrop, Winthrop's Journal, Vol. I, ed. James K. Hosmer, (New York, 1908), p. 65.

13. Ibid., footnote 2.

14. V. C. Sanborn, op. cit., p. 62.

15. John Winthrop, op. cit., Vol. I, p. 81.

16. Winthrop Papers, Vol. III, pp. 102-103.

17. Ibid., pp. 122-124.

18. V. C. Sanborn, op. cit., p. 62.

19. Nathaniel B. Shurtleff, ed., Records of the Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay in New England, Vol. I, 1628-1641. (Boston, 1853), pp. 100, 103.

20. Victor C. Sanborn, op. cit., pp. 184-185.

21. Nathaniel B. Shurtleff, ed., op. cit., Vol. I, p. 143.

22. John Winthrop, op. cit., Vol. I. p. 148.

23. Ibid., Vol. 1. p. 169.

24. Morison, op. cit., pp. 406-407.

25. Victor C. Sanborn, op. cit., pp. 188-189.

26. Winthrop Papers, Vol. III, pp. 389-390.

27. John Winthrop, op. cit., Vol. I, p. 266.

28. Joseph Dow, History of the Town of Hampton, New Hampshire. Vol. I, (Salem, Mass., 1893), pp. 6-7.

29. Albert S. Batchellor, ed., New Hampshire State Papers, Vol. XXIV, (Concord, 1894). pp. 134-136.

30. Morison, op. cit., p. 374.

31. Victor C. Sanborn, op. cit., p. 194.

32. John Winthrop, op. cit., Vol. II, pp. 45-46. Frederick C. Pierce, Batchelder, Batcheller Genealogy, (Chicago, 1898). pp. 32-34.

33. The Rev. William Hubbard, A General History of New England From the Discovery to 1680, (Cambridge, 1815), pp. 420-421.

34. J. Franklin Jameson, ed., Johnson's Wonder-Working Providence. 1628-1651, (New York, 1910). p. 73.

35. Winthrop Papers, Vol. IV, pp. 446-449.

36. Records and Files of the Quarterly Courts of Essex County, Massachusetts, Vol. I. (Salem, Mass., 1911), pp. 189-190.

37. Jeremy Belknap, The History of New-Hampshire, Vol. I, (Dover, N. H., 1812), pp. 36, 37, 52.

38. J. A. Doyle, English Colonies in Anterica, The Puritan Colonies, Vol. 1, (New York, 1887), p. 215.

39. Victor C. Sanborn, op. cit.

40. Nathaniel B. Shurtleff, ed., op. cit., Vol. II, pp. 67-68.

41. John Winthrop, op. cit., Vol. II, p. 179.

42. Everett S. Stackpole, Old Kittery and Her Families. (Lewiston, Maine, 1903), pp. 95, 96.

43. Winthrop Papers, Vol. V, p. 153.

44. Records and Files of the Quarterly Courts of Essex County Massachusetts, Vol. I, p. 191.

45. Province and Court Records of Maine, Vol. II. (Portland, 1931), p. 8, footnote.

46. Ibid., Vol. 1. (Portland, 1928), pp. 146, 164, 170, 176, 180. Vol. II, pp. 31, 201.

47. Victor C. Sanborn, op. cit., p. 203. Nathaniel B. Shurtleff, ed., op. cit., Vol. III, p. 418. Vol. IV, Part 1. p. 282.

48. Ola E. Winslow, Meetinghouse Hill: 1630-1783, (New York, 1952), p. 75.

49. Nathaniel B. Shurtleff, ed., op. cit., Vol. IV, Part I. p. 354.

50. "The Diaries of John Hull, Mint-Master and Treasurer of the Colony of Massachusetts Bay". Transactions and Collections of the American Antiquarian Society. Vol. III. p. 192.

51. Everett S. Stackpole, op. cit., p. 96.

52. Province and Court Records of Maine, Vol. II, p. 201.

53. Victor C. Sanborn, op. cit., p. 204.

54. Frank B. Sanborn, New Hampshire An Epitome of Popular Government (New York, 1904). p. 284, footnote.

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