John Comer was born in 1704 and died just thirty years later. He had every intention of writing a Baptist history, but his early death rendered that impossible. He did however, keep a journal which was published by the Rhode Island Historical Society and called “The Diary of John Comer.” In it he describes the religious atmosphere of his day, including the Puritan’s persecution of people outside their religion. A part of that was the requirement by law that all residents of Massachusetts pay a yearly tax for the support of the State-sanctioned Protestant minister. Those who refused to pay were arrested and/or had their property sold at auction. Sometimes the non-conformists had their cattle, tools and properties purchased at rock bottom prices by the same ministers who the tax was designed to support – a double blessing, or curse, depending on your position in society.
Isaac Backus used Comer’s diary and additional information, putting in his Baptist history that 28 Baptists, 2 Quakers and 2 Episcopalians were “seized and imprisoned at Bristol by Jonathan Bosworth and Jacob Ormsbee, constables of Rehoboth… Following Mr. Comer’s visit there, inasmuch as no other way appeared of deliverance from a nauseous place which had injured their health, but paying said taxes and costs, this was soon after done by their friends.”
Comer’s diary dated March 3, 1729 notes, “A number of Baptists, Churchmen, and Quakers, in all 30 persons, belonging to ye township of Rehoboth, were committed to Bristol jail, by reason of their refusing to pay ye minister’s rate.” Then a week later, on this day, Comer added, “I went to visit ye prisoners at Bristol with Mr. Stephen Gorton. Upon ye request of ye prisoners I preached this day in ye old prison at Bristol from Psalm 86:11. (‘Teach me thy way, O LORD; I will walk in thy truth: unite my heart to fear thy name’). Sundry of ye town attended ye meeting.”