The limits of religious dissent in seventeenth-century Connecticut: The Rogerene heresy

Date of Completion

January 1999


Religion, History of|History, Church|History, United States




On November 16, 1711, John Rogers, having been in the New London jail since September when denied a jury trial, suffered dreadfully from the weather. That night John Rogers, Jr. climbed the prison house fence and went to the window to speak to his father. Rogers, Sr., unconscious from the cold, did not respond. Rogers, Jr. scrambled back over the fence and ran into town, shouting that the authorities had murdered his father. His cries awakened the town. The elder Rogers' friends demanded that he be taken to a warm house. This being done, Rogers eventually revived. For his rapid exercise of filial duty, the authorities rewarded John Rogers, Jr. with a jail cell for causing a riot. ^ The events of November 16, 1711 typified the treatment regularly accorded Rogers by the Puritan authorities. Although his heretical doctrine was not unique, Rogers' public denouncements of the orthodox ministry and refusal to abandon provocative means of witnessing focused attention on him and outraged the authorities. They determined to subdue him, but their campaign against Rogers did not work. From the mid-1670s, when he reported a profound religious conversion, until his death in 1721, Rogers remained defiant. ^ My study explores the town, colony, and trans-Atlantic political dimensions of Rogers' struggles with the authorities in order to illuminate the connections between religious dissent and the development of colonial institutions and official policies. It also examines the dynamics between gender and heresy that produced both the patriarchal character of Rogers' religious sentiments and, ironically, his critique of chattel slavery. ^ Rogers was an example of the vitality of religious dissent in seventeenth-century Connecticut. His refusal to accept the domination of the government over religion kept the question of separation of church and state and doctrinal issues in the public debate between 1674 and 1721. The inability of the authorities to quiet him demonstrate that the hegemony of the Puritan elite was incomplete. And his confrontations with Connecticut's leaders were preludes to the challenges the New Lights would pose during the first Great Awakening. ^