Dr. John Clarke was a well-regarded humanitarian who was loved by most and driven by his non-conformist views and heart-felt belief that all should be free to follow their conscience in religious beliefs without government interference or fear of persecution. “Soul Liberty”
Through-out banishment and persecution, John Clarke was steady, well spoken and purposeful in his actions that gained him respect even among his enemies.
-Born 10/3/1609 in Westhorpe, Suffolk, England, the sixth child of Thomas and Rose Kerrich Clarke, a well-to-do family.
-Died 04/20/1676 at home in Newport Rhode Island
-His siblings Thomas, Carew and Mary sailed to America with John. Joseph would follow later.
-Elizabeth Hargis 1st wife – married in England. She sailed to America with John in 1637
-Jane Fletcher 2nd wife, passed way 2 months after childbirth. Baby girl, passed away 15 months old, unknown name.
-Sarah Davis 3rd wife – lived 16 more years in Newport RI after his death
-Knew he was dying, “was of sound mind, but body was failing.” It was sudden, we do not know cause of death. He wrote his Last Will and Testament, 10 pages double spaced, on his deathbed.
–Dr. John Clarke is buried between his 1st and 2nd wives in what was the north-east corner of his orchard, near his house and his church. The cemetery is on Dr. Marcus Wheatland Boulevard across the street from the rear of the Newport Police Station. The gate to his grave is locked, tours can be arranged through the United Baptist Church of Newport.
-Left no direct descendants. His youngest brother Joseph had 12 children which left a Clarke family legacy.
Physician in Rhode Island and England
-Physician to Ann Hutchinson – 1638
-Medical Contributions Honored by New England Journal of Medicine.
Baptist Minister Founded one of two First Baptist Churches in America – 1638
-As the first Baptist minister, Dr. John Clarke is generally considered to be the founder of the Baptist faith in the United States.
-The church of Dr. Clarke, in which he served until his death, is now known as the United Baptist Church, John Clarke Memorial, of Newport. The current edifice dates to 1846 and is located on Spring Street.
-Shortly after arriving in America, Dr. John Clarke left Boston and spent the winter in New Hampshire before seeking out land in what is now Rhode Island. While there are differing reports claiming he was forcefully banished, his book states he left voluntarily. He was not disarmed at this point. He told the Plymouth Settlers that his group wanted “to get cleer of all, and be of ourselves.”
Pioneer and Colonizer
-Appointed to lead expedition to search out land for new settlement
-In first Rhode Island group to procure land; drew up land sale contract, with the help of Roger Williams and William Coddington, purchased Aquidneck Island from the Narragansett Indians on March 24, 1638. John Clarke and others signed the agreement on April 28, 1639, thus marking the establishment of Newport
-Helped colonize towns of Portsmouth and Newport, RI
-On committee to obtain patent from England in 1639 and 1642
-Framed Portsmouth Compact of 1638 – biblical guidelines from his bible
-Unification of towns in early Rhode Island
-Rhode Island Commissioner in 1648
-Rhode Island Colonial Agent in London 1651- 1664
-Wrote and Obtained Royal Charter of 1663 on July 8, 1663 securing Religious Freedom and Civil Liberties for the Colony of Rhode Island
“Of paramount importance to Dr. John Clarke was the Charter of 1663‘s explicit guarantee of religious freedom. It excused Rhode Islanders from conformity with the Anglican Church “because some of the people…cannot, in their private Opinions, conform to the publique exercise of religion…” It also took some of the language from the Declaration of Breda:”
“that no person within the said colony, at any time hereafter shall be any wise molested [harassed], punished, disquieted, or called in question, for any differences in opinion in matters of religion, and do not actually disturb the civil peace of our said colony; but that all and every person and persons may, from time to time, and at all times hereafter, freely and fully have and enjoy his and their own judgments and consciences, in matters of religious concernments, throughout the tract of land hereafter mentioned, they behaving themselves peaceable and quietly…”
-Representative in England on Boundary disputes with Connecticut
-Deputy Governor of Rhode Island three times
-Drew up numerous contracts
-Codified laws of Rhode Island
-Court Counselor in early Rhode Island Colony
-Lobbyist for Rhode Island Colony in British Parliament
-Legal Counselor (Barrister) out of Gray’s Inn London
-Defense against Puritan Elders of Massachusetts in 1651
-Attorney for Rhode Island boundary disputes
-Spent 12 years in London to represent the interests of Rhode Island. His first wife Elizabeth joined him.
-During his time in England as the agent of the colony, he supported himself in part as a Physician with an apothecary shop in London.
-He mortgaged his property in Rhode Island in order to maintain the necessary funds to complete his endeavors to secure the Charter of 1663 which took 10 attempts before passing.
-Before his death in 1676, he was sought after for counsel in Indian Relations during King Phillip’s War.
-Ill News From New England
-Bible Concordance, was left to Richard Baily in his will
-Principle Tenants of Democratic Charter Provisions
-Ten page type written Will and Testament
-Spoke 4 languages: English, Greek, Hebrew and Latin
-Attended Cambridge University in England and University of Leiden in Holland
-Studied Law, Theology, Medicine, Languages and Political Science
-Government Democratic process
-Called Philosopher and Statesman by King Charles II of England
on political, religion, social principles and rights
-Supported fellow Minister Robert Lenthal to start the first free public school with Mr. Lenthal becoming the first public school teacher in America.
-In his will set up an educational trust “for the relief of the poor and the bringing up of children unto learning from time to time forever.” Oldest trust in America administered by Bank of America.
-Gave money and time to Rhode Island for Charter of Freedom
-Bequeathed land for Newport Baptist Church Property
Wilbur Nelson, previous Baptist Minister of United Baptist Church of Newport, wrote in his book The Hero of Aquidneck, a Life of Dr. John Clarke “In it, absolute religious freedom was, for the first time in the history of the world, secured and guaranteed. It was so democratic, both in letter and in spirit, that doubts were entertained in England whether the King had a right to grant it.”
Historian Edward Peterson wrote that Dr. John Clarke was a man “whose moral character has never been surpassed, and his piety never been questioned.”
Historian Thomas Bicknell, one of Dr. John Clarke’s most ardent supporters, wrote that at the time of the Puritan settlement of New England that “nowhere on the face of the earth and among civilized men, did civil and soul-liberty exist. Its first clear, full, deliberate, organized and permanent establishment in the world can now be distinctly traced to the Colony of Rhode Island, on the island of Aquidneck, in the Narragansett Bay, under the leadership and inspiration of Dr.[b] John Clarke, the true Founder”.
Bicknell also asserted that Dr. John Clarke was the “recognized founder and father of the Aquidneck Plantations, the author of the Compact of Portsmouth and leading spirit in the organization and administration of the island towns.[15
The First Baptist Church of Newport, a grammar school, a Retirement Home,and a merchant Liberty ship, the SS John Clarke, are named for Clarke. The science building at the University of Rhode Island was dedicated in his honor in 1963. A plaque on the wall of the Newport Historical Society reads:
Erected by the Newport Medical Society
John Clarke, Physician
Founder of Newport
And of the Civil Polity of Rhode Island
The Dr. John Clarke Award of the Rhode Island Medical Society was established in 2014 and is given to individuals who have made exceptional contributions to public life through outstanding civic leadership and service.
Meet John Clarke – Complete References & Resources Pending:
Stinson, Brian. (2004). Newport Notables. Retrieved December 7, 2017 from http://www.redwoodlibrary.org/research-projects/newport-notables