Norwich Castle Prison - George Whitehead (1654)

'A few days later, it being near the end of the tenth month, 1654, there was a lecture at place called Peter's church in Norwich. I believed the Lord required me to go there to bear such testimony as he would be pleased to give me. I was endued with a holy zeal against iniquity and the pride and covetousness that even of the high priests showed in those days; as well, I had compassion for the ignorance and blindness of the people being misled by the priests.

When the priest, named Boatman, had ended his sermon, I was allowed to say only a few words against iniquity, etc., when some of the priest's audience, came violently upon me to hale me out, some pulling by one arm, and some by the other, contrariwise; some striving to hale me out at the north door, and some out at the south porch. By their violence I was injured with inward pain in one side of my breast from being overstrained by their pulling and haling me contrarywise; but in a few days it pleased the Lord to heal the hurt and pain I received from their cruel treatment. From the steeple-house I was taken to Guild-hall; before Thomas Toft, the mayor, who after examination about water baptism, and some other things, committed me to the city jail.

The mayor seemed to seek some case against me because he had none. He questioned me about water baptism, asking me: "if the baptism of John was from heaven, or of men?" To which I answered him: "if they, who now pleaded for water baptism could prove, or make it appear that they had commission from heaven to baptize, as John had, I would acknowledge it." But I supposed he did not intend to do so, but he was for sprinkling infants. However, though he could get no advantage against me, he would send me to prison.

In the prison at Norwich, we were badly treated by Hunt, the keeper, who demanded four pence per night from all three of us to share one bed; we thought it was a hard measure to demand twelve pence a night from prisoners for one poor bed. He forced three men to be crowded together in a cold room, where another prisoner had a bed to himself. Not having the freedom to gratify the jailor in his oppression and covetousness, and being afraid to ask any of our Friends to procure us better accommodation in prison, we thought it necessary to sleep on the bare boards on the floor, while wearing our clothes with little other covering. In this manner we lodged for eight weeks together in the cold winter; and though we endured much cold, we were generally preserved in health through the Lord's mercy. I would have thought a hardship like that was more than I could bear, having been tenderly brought up by my parents; and I was very young then, only about eighteen years old that winter.

While we were prisoners, our dear friend Thomas Symonds was imprisoned with us for only asking a priest a question in the steeple-house after the sermon.

At the next sessions for the city, James Lancaster and I were brought into court before judge Charles George Cock. He took great offence against us for not removing off our hats in court, which we could not for conscience sake submit to, nor do such homage to mortal man.* He seemed to greatly resent this as a contempt to the court and to their authority, pleading for respect to superiors as the duty of servants to masters. I signified that servants ought to perform their duties, and to serve their own masters, not with eye-service as men pleasers, but in singleness of heart; whereas putting off the hat, and bowing to men, and thereby respecting their persons, is only an eye-service, and men pleasing, and no real service or duty to superiors or government. I further said we knew of no law broken by wearing our hats, any more than by wearing the rest of our garments, and we did not intend any contempt against authority. After a few words on this subject, I bore the judge's threats and insults patiently, standing still in silence. In the court John Bolton suddenly plucked off my hat and the other Friend's hats, intending to pacify the judge to prevent our further suffering. He had come from London with a few Friends to visit us. However, we were sent back to prison, that cold place of confinement. On the same day, our friend John Bolton was suddenly and sorely troubled in his conscience for having plucked off our hats; and he could not rest quiet in himself until he returned into court again and made open confession against himself, condemning what he had done in taking off our hats. As I heard, when he returned to court, the judge stated that he thought what John had done would not hold with the Quakers' principle. Note how the greater injury then it was in him, to urge or impose that practice on us, when he was sensible that it was contrary to our principle, and consequently against our consciences. John Bolton was sincere and conscientious in his public acknowledgment against himself for what he so suddenly did to pacify the judge; though John had not been long a professed Quaker; yet he continued in zeal and truth unto his end.

It may be observed that the judge of the court of sessions in Norwich, was tenderly cautioned beforehand by letter from us, who were prisoners, against that very course which he took against us in session. However, I was discharged by the judge; yet for some time after, I was detained in prison by Hunt the jailer, pretending he had laid actions upon us for what he claimed as a debt owed by us to him for lodging. So we were confined in prison, under the same hardships in the cold winter for eight weeks or more until the same jailer died; and then we were actually freed out of prison, so that the Lord delivered us by removing our unmerciful oppressor.'

From George Whitehead's journal, 'The Christian progress of George Whitehead', published in 1725.

Additional Information

George Whitehead was again in prison here in 1680.