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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

A Homely Plea for Toleration

By Peter Folger (1617?–1690)

[Born in Norwich, England. Died at Nantucket, Mass., 1690. A Looking-Glass for the Times. 1677.]

LET all that read these verses know,

That I intend something to show

About our war, how it hath been

And also what is the chief sin,

That God doth so with us contend

And when these wars are like to end.

Read them in love; do not despise

What here is set before thine eyes.

New England for these many years

hath had both rest and peace,

But now the case is otherwise;

our troubles doth increase.

The plague of war is now begun

in some great colonies,

And many towns are desolate

we may see with our eyes.

The loss of many goodly men

we may lament also,

Who in the war have lost their lives,

and fallen by our foe.

Our women also they have took

and children very small,

Great cruelty they have used

to some, though not to all.

The enemy that hath done this,

are very foolish men,

Yet God doth take of them a rod

to punish us for sin.

If we then truly turn to God,

He will remove his ire,

And will forthwith take this his rod,

and cast it into fire.

Let us then search, what is the sin

that God doth punish for;

And when found out, cast it away

and ever it abhor.

Sure ’t is not chiefly for those sins,

that magistrates do name,

And make good laws for to suppress,

and execute the same.

But ’t is for that same crying sin,

that rulers will not own,

And that whereby much cruelty

to brethren hath been shown.

The sin of persecution

such laws established,

By which laws they have gone so far

as blood hath touched blood.

It is now forty years ago,

since some of them were made,

Which was the ground and rise of all

the persecuting trade.

Then many worthy persons were

banished to the woods,

Where they among the natives did,

lose their most precious bloods.

And since that, many godly men,

have been to prison sent,

They have been fined, and whipped also,

and suffered banishment.

The cause of this their suffering

was not for any sin,

But for the witness that they bare

against babe sprinkling.

Of later time there hath been some

men come into this land,

To warn the rulers of their sins

as I do understand.

They call on all, both great and small,

to fear God and repent;

And for their testimonies thus

they suffer a punishment.

Yea some of them they did affirm,

that they were sent of God,

To testify to great and small

that God would send his rod

Against those colonies, because

they did make laws not good;

And if those laws were not repeal’d

the end would be in blood.

And though that these were harmless men,

and did no hurt to any,

But lived well like honest men,

as testified by many;

Yet did these laws entrap them so,

that they were put to death,—

And could not have the liberty

to speak near their last breath.

But these men were, as I have heard,

against our College men;

And this was, out of doubt to me,

that which was most their sin.

They did reprove all hirelings,

with a most sharp reproof,

Because they knew not how to preach

till sure of means enough.

Now to the sufferings of these men

I have but gave a hint;

Because that in George Bishop’s book

you may see all in print.


Let Magistrates and ministers

consider what they do:

Let them repeal those evil laws

and break those bands in two

Which have been made as traps and snares

to catch the innocents,

And whereby it has gone so far

to acts of violence.

I see you write yourselves in print,

the Balm of Gilead;

Then do not act as if you were

like men that are half mad.

If you can heal the land, what is

the cause things are so bad?

I think instead of that, you make

the hearts of people sad.

Is this a time for you to press,

to draw the blood of those

That are your neighbors and your friends?

as if you had no foes.


I would not have you for to think,

tho’ I have wrote so much,

That I hereby do throw a stone

at magistrates, as such.

The rulers in the country, I

do own them in the Lord;

And such as are for government,

with them I do accord.

But that which I intend hereby,

is, that they would keep bounds,

And meddle not with God’s worship,

for which they have no ground.

And I am not alone herein,

there ’s many hundreds more,

That have for many years ago

spake much upon that score.

Indeed I really believe,

it ’s not your business

To meddle with the Church of Christ

in matters more or less.

There ’s work enough to do besides,

to judge in mine and thine:

To succor poor and fatherless,

that is the work in fine.

And I do think that now you find

enough of that to do;

Much more at such a time as this,

as there is war also.

Indeed I count it very low,

for people in these days,

To ask the rulers for their leave

to serve God in his ways.

I count it worse in magistrates

to use the iron sword,

To do that work which Christ alone

will do by his own word.

The Church may now go stay at home,

there ’s nothing for to do;

Their work is all cut out by law,

and almost made up too.

Now, reader, least you should mistake,

in what I said before

Concerning ministers, I think

to write a few words more.

I would not have you for to think

that I am such a fool,

To write against learning, as such,

or to cry down a school.

But ’tis that Popish college way,

that I intend hereby,

Where men are mew’d up in a cage;

fit for all villainy.


Now for the length of time, how long

these wars are like to be,

I may speak something unto that,

if men will reason see.

The Scripture doth point out the time,

and ’t is as we do choose,

For to obey the voice of God,

or else for to refuse.

The prophet Jeremy doth say,

when war was threat’ned sore,

That if men do repent and turn

God will afflict no more.

But such a turning unto God,

as is but verbally,

When men refuse for to reform,

it is not worth a fly.

’T is hard for you, as I do hear,

though you be under rod,

To say to Israel, Go, you,

and serve the Lord your God.

Though you do many prayers make,

and add fasting thereto,

Yet if your hands be full of blood,

all this will never do.

The end that God doth send his sword,

is that we might amend,

Then, if that we reform aright,

the war will shortly end.

New England they are like the Jews,

as like as like can be;

They made large promises to God,

at home and at the sea.

They did proclaim free Liberty,

they cut the calf in twain,

They part between the part thereof,

O this was all in vain.

For since they came into this land,

they floated to and fro,

Sometimes, then, brethren may be free,

while hence to prison go.

According as the times to go,

and weather is abroad,

So we can serve ourselves sometimes

and sometimes serve the Lord.


If that the peace of God did rule,

with power in our heart,

Then outward war would flee away,

and rest would be our part.

If we do love our brethren,

and do to them, I say,

As we would they should do to us,

we should be quiet straightway.

But if that we a smiting go,

of fellow-servants so,

No marvel if our wars increase

and things so heavy go.

’T is like that some may think and say

our war would not remain,

If so be that a thousand more

of natives were but slain.

Alas! these are but foolish thoughts,

God can make more arise,

And if that there were none at all,

he can make war with flies.

It is the presence of the Lord,

must make our foes to shake,

Or else it ’s like he will e’er long

know how to make us quake.

Let us lie low before the Lord,

in all humility,

And then we shall with Asa see

our enemies to fly.

But if that we do leave the Lord,

and trust in fleshly arm,

Then ’t is no wonder if that we

do hear more news of harm.

Let ’s have our faith and hope in God,

and trust in him alone,

And then no doubt this storm of war

it quickly will be gone.

Thus, reader, I, in love to all,

leave these few lines with thee,

Hoping that in the substance we

shall very well agree.

If that you do mistake the verse

for its uncomely dress,

I tell thee true, I never thought

that it would pass the press.

If any at the matter kick,

it ’s like he ’s galled at heart,

And that ’s the reason why he kicks,

because he finds it smart.

I am for peace, and not for war,

and that ’s the reason why

I write more plain than some men do,

that use to daub and lie.

But I shall cease and set my name

to what I here insert,

Because to be a libeller,

I hate it with my heart.

From Sherbon town, where now I dwell,

my name I do put here,

Without offence your real friend,