By admin | July 20, 2009
English County histories are often interesting and entertaining. When written by someone sympathetic with Dissent, they frequently include vignettes about incidents during the 17th Century involving people we admire. I recently found this brief treatment of Benjamin Keach in Robert Gibbs’s 1888 book The Worthies of Buckinghamshire and Men of Note of that County. Here is the text:
KEACH, BENJAMIN.—Was a native of Stoke Hammond; born in 1640; married Jane Grove, of Winslow, and, in 1660, settled at that place as pastor of the Baptist Church. He was soon persecuted. Troopers, sent into Buckinghamshire to suppress Dissenting meeting-houses, having discovered the place where Keach was preaching, seized him with great rage and violence, and four of them prepared to trample him to death with their horses, but an officer, seeing their design, rode up and prevented them. He was then taken up and tied behind one of the troopers across his horse, and so carried to Aylesbury Gaol, whence, after some time suffering great hardships and trouble, he was released. He soon after published a little book entitled The Child’s Instructor, or a New and Easy Primer. In this book were several things inserted contrary to the doctrines and ceremonies of the Church of England; amongst others, that infants ought not to be baptized. This book was no sooner published than one Mr. Strafford, a justice of the peace, was informed thereof, who, taking Neal, the Winslow constable, with him, went to the house of Mr. Keach, seized all the books they found there, and bound Keach over to the assizes in a recognizance of £100 and two sureties with him in £50, to answer for his offence. At the Aylesbury Assizes, in October, 1664, Keach was tried before Chief Justice Robert Hyde. The case illustrates the religious rancour of the period. The indictment set forth, “That the said Keach, being a seditious, heretical, and schismatical person, did, on the 1st of May, in the sixteenth year of the King, write, print, and publish a seditious and venomous book, intitled, ‘The Child’s Instructor, or a New and Easy Primer;’ wherein are contained, by way of question and answer, several damnable positions, contrary to the Book of Common Prayer and the Liturgy of the Church of England, all which are laid to be seditiously, wickedly, and maliciously written, to the great displeasure of God, the scandal of the Liturgy, the King’s peace, &c.” The trial was carried on in a very arbitrary manner, and a verdict extorted against the prisoner. The Judge proceeded to pass sentence upon Keach as follows:—”Benjamin Keach, you are here convicted of writing and publishing a seditious and scandalous book, for which the court’s judgment is this, and the court doth award that you shall go to gaol for a fortnight without bail or mainprise; and the next Saturday to stand upon the pillory at Aylesbury for the space of two hours, from eleven of the clock to one, with a paper upon your head with this inscription, ‘For writing, printing, and publishing a schismatical book entitled ‘The Child’s Instructor, or a New and Easy Primer,’ and the next Thursday to stand in the same manner and for the same time in the market of Winslow, and there your book shall be openly burnt before your face by the common hangman, in disgrace of you and your doctrine, and you shall forfeit to the King’s Majesty the sum of £20 and shall remain in gaol until you find sureties for your good behaviour and appearance at the next assizes, there to renounce your doctrine and make such public submission as shall be enjoined you.” Keach—”I hope I shall never renounce those truths which I have written in that book.” The Judge, taking no notice, ordered the gaoler to take him away at once. No pardon could be obtained, or the least relaxation of the severe sentence; the Sheriff took care that it should be rigorously carried out. Accordingly, Keach was kept a close prisoner till the Saturday, when, following the sentence, he was put into the pillory at Aylesbury. His head and hands were no sooner fixed in the pillory than he began to address himself to the spectators to this effect—”Good people, I am not ashamed to stand here this day, with this paper on my head; my Lord Jesus was not ashamed to suffer on the cross for me; and it is for His cause that I am made a gazing stock. Take notice, it is not for any wickedness that I stand here, but for writing and publishing His truths, which the Spirit of the Lord hath revealed in the Holy Scriptures.” On the Thursday following, he stood in the same manner, and for the like time, at Winslow, and had his book burnt before him according to his sentence. Mr. Keach continued about four years in the country, preaching as opportunities presented, being continually harassed and followed by his persecutors. He found that he was not likely to enjoy any quiet settlement in Winslow. Accordingly he turned his effects into money, and in 1668 set out with his wife and three children for London, but in his journey the coach was beset with highwaymen, who compelled all the passengers to come out, and took from them all they could find of any value. Thus he entered London without money, but joined with the rest of the passengers in suing the county, and so recovered his loss. Keach after this printed another little book called “The Child’s Instructor,” similar to the one for which he was put in the pillory. This brought him into trouble again, for he was taken up, on a warrant, before Justice Glover, and in the end fined £20. Keach died in July, 1704, in the sixty-fourth year of his age, and was buried at the Baptist Burying-ground, in the Park, Southwark
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