The Whipping Boy of Baptists

November 21, 2012

Obadiah Holmes:                                                                                                   The “Whipping Boy” of Baptists in Early America

by Ron F. Hale

Ron serves on staff of a church in his hometown of Jackson, Tenn. During the last 35 years, he has served as church planter, pastor, director of missions, and evangelism director for a state convention.


Whipping boys grew up with sons of kings in England during the 15th and 16th centuries. The notion was that kings were appointed by God; therefore, it seemed only wise that a King should whip his own son. Yet the king was very busy and gone from the castle for days at a time. Tutors of the prince dealt out punishment on the “whipping boy” instead of the prince. Since the “whipping boy” was a lifelong friend and playmate of the prince, the sight of a close friend being beaten was to ensure that the prince would behave and conduct himself according to the rules and wishes of the powers that be.

Baptists were looked down on in early America. Obadiah Holmes became the Baptist “whipping boy” on September 5, 1651 as the Puritan leaders in Boston, Massachusetts arrested him and publicly whipped him within an inch of his life. A bull whip cut through the bare back of Holmes as he took thirty vicious lashes for his Baptist convictions.

Why was Obadiah Holmes arrested and whipped? He went into Massachusetts from neighboring Rhode Island and participated in a worship service in the private home of an aged Baptist man who was blind and known for his strong convictions against state-church rule and infant baptism.

The Rev. John Clarke and another man were arrested along with Holmes. However, they were released after acquaintances paid their fines. Believing in religious liberty, Obadiah Holmes would not allow anyone to pay his fine because he believed himself innocent of all charges.

On the morning of the arrest, constables burst into the private dwelling, breaking up the Baptist meeting. They were there to mete out justice from the Puritan-run, state-church of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. How quickly those who escaped religious persecution in the Old World became persecutors of Baptists in the New World.

Puritan preacher John Cotton denounced Holmes in the gathering of local ministers. Not being able to control his rage, the Rev. John Wilson (pastor of the First Church of Boston) slapped and cursed Holmes, while he was under the protection of the court. Pastor Wilson was also an attending minister during the execution of Mary Dyer in 1660; she was one of the four executed Quakers known as the Boston martyrs. She was hanged for teaching Quakerism in Massachusetts.

Back to the public whipping — Obadiah Holmes preached a sermon to the gawkers and onlookers as he was flogged. Witnesses of this cruelty cried out for mercy in fear of the killing of Holmes; they were fined by the magistrates.

With unbroken spirit, Holmes told the magistrates upon his release from the whipping post, “Ye have beaten me as with roses.” It took weeks for him to heal. Soon, a new warrant for re-arrest was made for Holmes and he escaped a sure death by the covertness of friends sneaking him out of Massachusetts.

Today, Baptists worship freely in America and preach without fear of being lashed and thrashed by government goons or state-run-church enforcers! Few remember Obadiah Holmes and his defiant refusal to plead guilty to the indictment that being a Bible-believing Baptist is a sin.

This brutal whipping disturbed and helped transformed the mind and heart of the founding president of America’s oldest institution of higher learning; more about that in my next article.

History’s mysteries divulge the good, the bad and the ugly.

©Ron F. Hale, Nov. 2, 2012

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John Wylie

This is at the heart of what we believe about the separation of church and state. We are against a state sponsored church. We are for absolute freedom of religion expression for everyone, not just Baptists.

David R. Brumbelow

Very good article.
Something we too easily forget.
Thank God for Religious Liberty in America.
I pray our country will emphasize that liberty more in other countries.
David R. Brumbelow

    Ron Hale

    Thanks John and David … Yes, we need to re-visit these lessons from our past — learn from them, for we do not know that lies ahead down the road.


David R. Brumbelow

By the way, I’ve just read that President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton have been speaking up for religious liberty in Myanmar (Burma). Good for them.
David R. Brumbelow

Leslie Puryear

The persecution of Baptists in New England was led by the Puritans. Interesting how our Reformed brethren venerate Puritans. Also, the Reformers severely persecuted Baptists as well. This is one reason neither me nor my church celebrate Reformation Day. Perhaps we should keep in mind the behavior of historical figures toward Baptists before we hold them and their theology in high esteem.

    Ron Hale

    History does “cough up” some ugly stories! It seems like I enjoy history more and more …as I get older.

    Thanksgiving Blessings,

    Norm Miller

    Les, you make a good point. On Reformation Day, I recall and honor those who preceded the Reformers and those who were persecuted by them — our Anabaptist forebears. These heroes were breaking the ice from frozen rivers to be immersed in obedience to the Scriptures, and were later drowned in some of the same rivers by magisterial reformers. — Norm


      If it wasn’t for the Reformers, Norm and the rest of you guys would be monks in some Roman Catholic monastery, with little to no understanding of Scripture, and with a false gospel heaped in worthless Romanist traditions.


        “If it wasn’t for the Reformers, Norm and the rest of you guys would be monks in some Roman Catholic monastery, with little to no understanding of Scripture, and with a false gospel heaped in worthless Romanist traditions.”

        I don’t know, Mary. The Reformers swapped one state church for another where they would have the power. The Step Children of the Reformation gave their lives in many ways (banishment, torture, drowing) to hold up the truths of scripture against the Reformers who were basically just trying to “Reform” the Catholic church. They kept a lot of the bad stuff, Mary.

        I tend to see the Step Children of the Reformation as more in line with who we are today as Baptists.

        And remember, had the Reformers not had the backing of the princes and electors, there would have been no Reformation. It was very much a political movement away from Rome.

        For the step children it was not so much political. They found one royal sympathizer who tried to give one of the fleeing groups sanctuary from the magistrate of the Reformers. And even that did not last long.

        When we read of the Reformered magistrates strapping tombstones to the backs of believers to drown them because they did not want their infant baptized, I think we should pause in giving them too much adoration or even credit for the things of Christ.

Rick Patrick


Excellent article highlighting one more reason we should be thankful–the religious liberty we too often take for granted. It’s a shame very few Americans could identify Obadiah Holmes. Thanks for the excellent reminder of the high price Baptists paid in the New World to secure our religious freedom.


    Ron Hale

    It has been a while since I’ve written an article … so thanks for your kind words! I am beginning to think these historical lessons will be important as we journey into the future … with government mandated laws that go against the grain of the conscience of Christian buisness owners and congregations.

    Thanksgiving Blessings, Ron

Ben Simpson

After I reading the title, I was almost certain to find an article talking about the Calvinist, who is currently The Whipping Boy of Southern Baptists, but was delighted to find otherwise. Excellent article, Ron!

    Ron Hale

    Thanks Ben!
    I’m happy that you were surprised :)

    Thanksgiving Blessings,

Mary Phillips

Wow! That is a very enlightening article. I had never heard of Obadiah Holmes. It is difficult to undertand how christians could be so cruel. Thanks for sharing.


The current love affair with Puritans in certain segments of Christendom surely comes from a lack of awareness? It is astonishing to me how far some go to try and separate their behavior from doctrine as of one does not affect the other.

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