John Clarke (1609-1676)

From Academic Kids

For other people with the same name see John Clarke (disambiguation)

John Clarke (16091676) was a medical doctor, Baptist minister, co-founder of the colony of Rhode Island, and a leading advocate of religious freedom in the Americas.

Clarke was born at Westhorpe, Suffolk County, England on October 8, 1609, to Thomas and Rose (Kerrich) Clarke. He was one of eight children, six of whom came to America and settled in New England. He married Elizabeth  ? . The source of Clarke's education remains unknown (though some say the University of Leiden), but before arriving in America he had studied theology, languages, and medicine. He first emigrated to Massachusetts Bay in 1637. Clarke and other settlers purchased land from the American Indians on the island of Aquidneck, and established Portsmouth in 1638. Clarke is one of the signers of the Portsmouth Compact. In 1639 he helped found the city of Newport and the local church there.

In 1651, John Clarke, John Crandall and Obadiah Holmes were arrested and imprisoned in Lynn, Massachusetts for conducting an illegal worship service. This event (and others like it) served as the basis for Clarke's Ill Newes from New England, or a Narrative of New England's Persecutions (1652).

In 1652 Clarke traveled to London with Roger Williams to secure a new charter for the colony of Rhode Island. Williams returned to Rhode Island in 1654, but Clarke stayed in England until the charter was granted. On July 8, 1663 Charles II of England granted John Clarke a Royal Charter to Rhode Island. That charter remained the foundation of government in Rhode Island until 1842.

Clarke and Williams labored together for the cause of religious liberty. Williams remains the more well-known of the two, but Clarke was more important to the history of Baptists in New England. Williams left the Baptists to become a Seeker. During his years in Rhode Island, John Clarke was pastor of the church in Newport. He practiced medicine as a means of financial support. He also served on the General Assembly from 1664 to 1669, and three terms as deputy governor (1669-1672). Clarke died in Newport on April 20, 1676. His will set up a trust to be used "for the relief of the poor or bringing up of children unto learning from time to time forever." This trust is generally considered to be the oldest educational trust fund in the United States.

External links


  • Dictionary of Baptists in America, Bill J. Leonard, editor ISBN 0830814477
  • John Clarke and His Legacies: Religion and Law in Colonial Rhode Island, 1638-1750, by Sydney V. James ISBN 0271018496
  • John Clarke (1609-1676): Pioneer in American Medicine, Democratic Ideals, and Champion of Religious Liberty, by Louis Franklin Asher ISBN 0805940405
  • The Life of Dr. John Clarke, by Wilbur Nelson

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