June 20

On this day in 1768, a Baptist church was formed at Gorham, Massachusetts. Joseph Moody was called as pastor, but soon after his installment the tax assessors visited him, demanding that he pay the parish tax for the support of the Congregational state church. The tax was $6.00. Not only was Brother Moody unable to pay such a sum, he was also unwilling. So the assessors confiscated his horse. He petitioned the Assembly in Boston for the return of the animal, but his request was refused.

A few years later, eighteen members of the nearby Baptist church in Warwick were seized for failure to pay their parish tax. In the dead of winter, these men were transported forty miles and cast into jail. On February 15, 1775, Isaac Backus presented their case before the Legislature in Boston, but his request for relief was ignored. When the Baptists began writing letters to the Boston newspapers, the assessors answered by publishing a vindication of their actions. It read, “We apprehend that every body politic have a right to choose their religion, and to enact laws for its support, and that they ought so to do; and since Congregationalism is the choice of the people of this province, the religion which our forefathers had in view to establish in coming over to this country, we think there is good reason why dissenters from should pay to the support of it; especially since it is one condition upon which they receive and hold their lands.” The last statement was totally untrue.

These, and many similar events up and down the coast, took place just before the Revolutionary War, which ostensibly was fought to protect the citizens of the American colonies from “taxation without representation.” No wonder so many Baptists joined the fight. Their understanding of the principles of freedom extended beyond those of many of their neighbors.