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Cobbett, Samuel (1645-1713)
Manuscript Sermons by Rev. Samuel Cobbett, Harvard College graduate, of Ipswich and Lynn, Massachusetts; Bristol, Massachusetts (now Rhode Island); and later, Fairfield, Connecticut, dated 1684-1692. One Sermon Delivered in August 1692 References the Witchcraft Troubles in Salem, and Ipswich

small octavo, 229 manuscript pages, bound in contemporary calf, ruled in blind, spine tips worn, as well as corners, and edges, otherwise good. Sermons written in ink, in a very small, close, but legible 17th century hand, dated 11 April 1684 to 14 August 1692; includes 15 sermons, 207 manuscript pp., plus 1 extra medical item at rear, written in Latin, 22 manuscript pp., sermons appear to have been given in Bristol, Massachusetts, (now Rhode Island); Cambridge, Massachusetts; and Haverhill, Massachusetts. First text leaf in volume has the lower right corner missing, some loss of text, the next couple of pages have slight chipping at lower right corner. Most of the leaves are numbered; pages 99 through 134 have been excised, unknown if loss of text, there is one leaf (2 pages) left for these pages and it has names and figures listed on it and a date from the year 1800. Two earlier leaves were also excised, unknown if there was text on them, or not, no interruption of text in either case. Samuel Cobbett’s sermons were never printed, per the standard bibliographical references, Evans, Bristol, OCLC, etc.

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Description of Sermon Volume

While the volume is not signed, the identity of the author can be found in a volume titled “Publications of the Ipswich Historical Society, Vol. 5,” published by The Salem Press Co., Salem, Massachusetts, in 1898, on page 101 it states that “Hamden Fall,” loaned the “MSS. Sermons of Rev. Samuel Cobbett” to the Museum of the Ipswich Historical Society in 1897.1

    There is a paper label pasted on the rear outside cover of this volume, which has the following inscription: “Mr. Hamden Falls. Loan to Historical Society Ipswich, Mass.” There is also laid into this volume a piece of paper inscribed in a 19th century hand: “Mss Sermons of the Rev. Samuel Cobbett. Preached in Bristol and Canterbury, England in 1691. Lent to the Historical Society by Hamden Fall.”

     While the information on this slip of paper provides a clue to the identity of the author of this manuscript volume, it mistakes the location of where these sermons were delivered. By reading Sibley’s work on Harvard graduates, we find no evidence that the Rev. Samuel Cobbett ever preached in England, or ever visited England for that matter, indeed during the years 1684-1692 he was a schoolmaster in Bristol, Massachusetts, now Bristol Rhode Island.2 It would appear then that Cobbett was preaching in Bristol where he lived from at least 1685 to 1695 and is recorded as being a schoolmaster at this town. Many of the sermons were delivered in a place denoted as “Cantabr.” Mr. Falls, the onetime owner of the volume, likely interpreted this as being Canterbury, England. We believe that “Cantabr.” is actually an abbreviation of Cantabrigia, Latin for Cambridge. Cobbett attended Harvard and learned, read and spoke Latin. Besides Bristol and Cambridge (Canatbrigia), another town mentioned is “Haverh.,” which is undoubtedly Haverhill, Massachusetts, which is about 100 miles north of Bristol, Rhode Island.

    The one-time owner of this volume, Hamden Fall, did not know Rev. Cobbett’s biographical background, nor that he lived and worked during the time period in question at Bristol, Massachusetts, currently Bristol, Rhode Island. This volume was subsequently de-accessioned by the Ipswich Historical Society.

     There are 15 sermons in the volume, totaling 207 manuscript pages; written in a very small late 17th Century English, in ink, in a legible hand, with place names and dates. The sermons, their dates and places preached are as follows:

1.   Ecclesiastes 12.3; 4.11.1684 [no place], 31 pp.,

 “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them.”

2.   Acts 17.30; [no place, no date], 6 pp.,

“And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent.”

3.   Acts 17.30; N. Bristoll, July 19 1691, P.M., 12 pp., [variant sermon on same Biblical verse]

4.   Acts 17.30; N. Bristoll, July 26. 91, A.M., 12 pp., [variant sermon on same Biblical verse]

5.   Acts 17.30; N. Bristoll, July 26. 91, P.M., 12 pp., [variant sermon on same Biblical verse]

6.   Timothy 1.15; [No place, No date], 12 pp.,

“This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.”

7.   Timothy 1.15; [No place, No date], 8 pp., [variant sermon on same Biblical verse]

8.   Genesis 1.27; Bristol, August 7 1692, 14 pp.

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”

9.   Isaiah 38.16; Cantabr., June 1690, P.M., 14 pp.,

“O Lord, by these things men live, and in all these things is the life of my spirit: so wilt thou recover me, and make me to live.”

10.  Psalm 19.11; Cantabr., Feb 15 1690/1, P.M., Haverh., March 22, 90/1, Bristoll, Sept 6, 1691, 16 pp.,

“Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward.”

11.  Psalm 19.11; Cantabr., June 7, 1691, Bristoll, Sept 6, 1691, P.M., 14 pp., [variant sermon on same Biblical verse]

12.  Psalm 19.11; Cantabr., Octob. 25, 1691, Bristoll, Nov 29, 1691, 18 pp. [one leaf has 1/3 of page missing, loss of text; variant on same Biblical verse]

13.  Psalm 19.11; Cantabr., Dec 13, 1691, Bristol, A.M., Apr 17 1692, 15 pp., [variant on same Biblical verse]

14.  Psalm 19.11; Cantabr., Mar 27 1692, P.M., Bristol, Apr 17 92, P.M., 15 pp. [variant on same Biblical verse]

15.  Psalm 19.11; Cantabr., Aug 14, 1692, P.M., 8 pp., [variant on same Biblical verse]

The last item in the volume is written in Latin and actually starts in the rear, written upside down, and adds an additional 22 pages of manuscript to the volume:

16.  [No place, No date], 22 pp., written in Latin entitled: “Lazari Riverii Doctor Medic. Consiliarii, ac Professoris Regis Monspel Institutionum Medicarum Compendium.” 

This item in Latin appears to be either a lecture on physiology, based on the work of Lazari Rivera (c1589-1644), a 17th Century physician, or possibly copied out text from Rivera’s work, it’s unclear, needs further research comparing the text of Rivera with that of Cobbett.

       Rev. Thomas Cobbett (1608-1685) and his son Rev. Samuel Cobbett (1645-1713)


Rev. Thomas Cobbett was born about 1608, the son of Thomas of Newbury, Berkshire, England. The surname is seen spelled as Cobbett, Cobbet, and Cobbit. Rev. Thomas Cobbett matriculated as a commoner’s son in the University of Oxford from Trinity College on 12 October 1627, at the age of 19. One of the same name and college took his B.A. on 11 February 1627-28. A Thomas Cobbett took his M.A. from St. Mary Hall on 26 June 1632; but this may not be the same man, since Mather says that Cobbett removed from Oxford ‘in the time of a plague raging there,’ and continued his studies with Dr. Twisse at Newbury. Rev. Cobbett preached ‘at a small place in Lincolnshire,’ before he emigrated to America, where he arrived on 26 June 1637. He was admitted a freeman on 2 May 1638 and served as teacher of the church at Lynn, Massachusetts, as colleague to an old friend, Samuel Whiting, from about 1637 to 1655. Upon the death of Nathaniel Rogers in 1655, Cobbett became minister of Ipswich, Massachusetts and there continued until his death on 5 November 1685, at Ipswich. He was a man “mighty in prayer”, according to Cotton Mather, and was the author of a treatise on church and state titled, “The Civil Magistrates Power in matters of Religion Modestly Debated” (London, 1653). This work was considered a controversial work on the halfway covenant and included other tracts.3 According to Perry Miller in his book “The Puritans: A Sourcebook of Their Writings,” he states that the Rev. Thomas Cobbett’s book is “one of the best statements of the Puritan theory of Church and State.”4

 

          Together the Rev. Cobbett and his wife Elizabeth had at least six children: Samuel Cobbett (more below); Mary Cobbett, married about 1668 to the Rev. Samuel Belcher; John Cobbett; Thomas Cobbett, captured by Indians and ransomed for a coat; Elizabeth Cobbett, died 23 August 1661 in Ipswich; and Eliezer Cobbett, who died 27 November 1657, in Ipswich.5

 

     Samuel Cobbett, B.A., of Ipswich and Lynn, Massachusetts, of Bristol, Massachusetts, now Rhode Island, and later, of Fairfield, Connecticut, was the eldest son of the Reverend Thomas and Elizabeth Cobbett. He was born about 1645, while his father was preaching at Lynn, though he removed to Ipswich three years before Samuel entered college, for which he was fitted at the Ipswich grammar school, taught by the famous Ezekiel Cheever. Samuel was admitted a freeman 11 March, 1673-4; joined the church in Ipswich in 1674; removed to Lynn and by Sarah, his wife, there had a daughter, Margaret, born 17 August, 1676, who died the following month.

     On September 7, 1682, the town of Bristol, then part of Massachusetts, part of the County of Plymouth, instructed the Selectmen to “look out a Grammar School Master and use their endeavor to attain 5 pd of the Cape Money granted for such end.” Each person having children “ready to go to school” was to pay the schoolmaster 3d. per week for each child, and the town to add enough to make the annual salary amount to £24. On March 25, 1685, Samuel Cobbett’s name first appears in the records of Bristol; when “It is agreed that the town procure of purchasers a House Lot, Ten Acre Lot, & Commonage, the same to be given to Mr. Cobbit if he come up to Bristol this Spring & undertake the charge of a Schoolmaster for the town, provided, if he move again or leave of said employment, he to pay the town the sum of ten pounds in money, & that he have the use of the House Lot, Ten Acres Lot, & Commonage that belongeth to the Schoolmaster for the time being during his continuing said employment. In addition to the before named lots and the weekly pay for each child, they offered a fixed annual salary of £12.

      On September 22, 1685, and August 6, 1686, there were votes for raising money for Samuel. He held this position ten years. On August 29, 1695, he “appeared at the town meeting & then & there before the town did renounce his keeping school, & also did acknowledge that the school lot which hath been a considerable time in his possession is the town’s land & should be delivered up for the town’s use on demand.  In Thomas Cobbett’s will, proved 23 Nov 1685 (Essex Co. Probate Records, ii. 79), it mentions that his son Samuel was devoted to the ministry and was to be fitted for the ministry. While he served as schoolmaster, and subsequently, Samuel Cobbett was entrusted with responsible positions by his townsmen. Several times he was juryman, for many years he signed deeds as Town Clerk, and 8 December 1690, he was one of three Raters chosen by special warrant. On March 22, 1693-4, it was voted to choose three Selectmen and a Commissioner, and Samuel was chosen Commissioner.

     On May 3, 1687, the Congregational Church (Bristol) was organized under the Rev. Samuel Lee. Samuel Cobbett, with Nathaniel Byfield, Major John Walley, and Captain Benjamin Church, of King Philips War fame, were among the eight original members. On February 11, 1689, his own name and his wife’s without any children or servant, appear on the pastor’s list. A son, Samuel, was baptized 25 August 1693, listed as the son of Deacon Cobbett. Thomas, another son, was born 18 August 1695 and died 2 December 1695. A third son, John, was born 9 August 1696. Deacon Samuel Cobbett received dismission from the church in Bristol on 7 May 1707, being removed from the church in Bristol to Fairfield (CT) to the church of Christ there. Deacon Samuel Cobbett probably died in 1713, as his widow, Sarah Cobbett, on 6 May 1713, as administrator of his estate, made oath to the inventory taken 3 March; his house and land was valued at one hundred and thirty-four pounds.6

Salem Witchcraft Trials – February 1692 to March 1693

     Rev. Cobbett’s sermons were written in the period just before the Salem witchcraft trials and into the early months of the trials; and just over 14 years after the end of King Philips War, which took place in the area. The sermons were written against the historical backdrop of two pivotal events in New England history, both of which took place in and around Cobbett’s home.

      Hunted by a group of rangers led by Rev. Samuel Cobbett’s colleague, Captain Benjamin Church, King Philip (Metacomet, 1638–1676), was fatally shot by a praying Indian named John Alderman, on August 12, 1676, in the Miery Swamp near Mount Hope in Bristol, Rhode Island, a place where Rev. Cobbett, Capt. Church (and others) would found the Congregational Church in 1687. After his death, King Philip’s wife and nine-year-old son were captured and sold as slaves in Bermuda. Philip's head was mounted on a pike at the entrance to Plymouth, Massachusetts, where it remained for more than two decades. His body was cut into quarters and hung in trees. Alderman was given Metacomet's right hand as a reward.

     The last dated sermon in this volume is dated 14 August 1692. The witchcraft trials began in February of 1692. The web of suspicion began to push outward beyond the boundaries of Salem toward neighboring communities; “witches” were accused in Salem Town, in Ipswich, in Malden, and in Topsfield. Samuel Cobbett himself was living in Bristol, Massachusetts (now Rhode Island) at this period, but his father, the Rev. Thomas Cobbett was undoubtedly minister to many of the families in Ipswich that were accused of witchcraft. Samuel Cobbett likely knew many of them as well.

     Ipswich, Massachusetts played a key role in the Salem Witchcraft trials. Many of the accused were kept in the Ipswich gaol, which was erected near the Meeting House in 1652. Among the inmates was Mary Easty, the wife of Isaac Easty, of Topsfield, and sister of Rebecca Nurse, who was executed for witchcraft on 19 July 1692. Mary Easty was executed on 22 September 1692.Sarah Good, one of the first three women to be accused, had been confined in the Ipswich jail. She was executed by hanging on 29 July 1692 for witchcraft, Joseph Herrick, the constable of Salem, testified that she had been committed to his charge to carry to Ipswich. Elizabeth Howe of Linebrook Road in Ipswich was charged for bewitching her neighbor’s child, was arrested on 28 May 1692 and was hung in Salem on 19 July 1692. In 1692 both Joan Braybrook and her 40-year-old stepdaughter Mehitable were accused of witchcraft and landed in the Ipswich jail. Giles Corey was taken from the Ipswich prison and pressed to death by heavy weights upon his chest for refusing to plead.

     At least five Ipswich residents were caught up in the witchcraft trials. John Proctor and Elizabeth Howe of Ipswich were executed, but other Ipswich folk, Elizabeth Proctor, Rachel Clinton and Sarah Buckley were not.

 

    Robert Lord, a blacksmith of Ipswich, made the heavy leg-irons which secured the victims of the witch hysteria who were sent to Ipswich to await trail and execution.  John Harris was deputy sheriff of Ipswich and had the duty of transporting accused witches to Salem for trial from the Ipswich jail. Major Samuel Appleton, of Ipswich, served as a justice of the Quarterly and General Sessions Court in Ipswich, and was a judge on the Court of Oyer and Terminer which was held in Ipswich on April 16, 1693 as the last of the witchcraft trials. At this court, unlike that of Salem, all were acquitted.

 

       Quotations:

 

Rev. Cobbett wrote the following in the last sermon on Psalm 19.11, given in Cambridge, on August 14, 1692, P.M, (p. 296):

 

“Now these virtues wch are thus ordained in ye Divine Laws, they do very directly bond to secure the safety of our p’sons and ye longing our lives. For as to the formr of this, viz. loyalty & obedience in subjects towards their governours, it engages that shield ye earth (so Kings & Governours are called Psal. 47.9) to preserve, p’tect, defend and secure their Ofense whilst disloyalty, treason, rebellions, & sedition do unsheathe the sword of justice, wch the Civil Ministries of god bear not in vain, to cut the thread of their lives, wch are guilty of such crimes. How many poor writchs [sic] have been made shorter by their heads for their [brazsons]? [sic] & how many more yet have had their lives short’ned by ye stretching of their necks. A more ignoble & ignominious punishmt for the same sins?”

 

    Cobbett, referencing multiple executions, must be referring to the witchcraft trials that were taking place, as several victims of the witchcraft hysteria had been hung the month before. The Biblical verse Cobbett was preaching concerns staying on the right path of the word of God and not deviating.  According to Mathew Henry and Thomas Scott’s Commentaries, Acts 19:11-14, is interpreted as: “God's word warns the wicked not to go on in his wicked way, and warns the righteous not to turn from his good way. There is a reward, not only after keeping, but in keeping God's commandments. Religion makes our comforts sweet, and our crosses easy, life truly valuable, and death itself truly desirable.”7

 

   The word ‘writchs’ would seem to be Cobbett’s 17th Century spelling of wretches, but even so, it would appear to be referring to the executions (“shortening of the neck” -ie. Hangings) that were took place just weeks before he wrote and delivered this sermon. This sermon was the last one given, in this volume, dated 14 August 1692. Cobbett had a habit of substituting “i” for “e” in many words, i.e. yit, for yet. Of the 15 sermons, only three were delivered during the Salem Witchcraft trials, which took place from February 1692 to May 1693, this one here (#15) and the one before it (#14) that is dated 27 March 1692; and number #8 dated 7 August 1692.

 

References:

1. Publications of the Ipswich Historical Society, Vol. 5, published by The Salem Press Co., Salem, MA, in 1898, pp. 101.

2. Sibley, John Langdon. Biographical Sketches of Graduated of Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Volume II, 1659-1677. Cambridge: Charles William Sever, 1881, pp. 135-138.

3.Morison, Samuel Eliot, The Founding of Harvard College. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995; Pp. 372.

4. Miller, Perry, and Johnson, Thomas H., editors.  The Puritans: A Sourcebook of Their Writings. Courier Corporation, 2014, Pp. xl

5. Nutfield Genealogy, “An Interesting bit of family serendipity about Cobbett’s Pond, Windham, New Hampshire,” as viewed on 6 March 2018.https://nutfieldgenealogy.blogspot.com/2015/03/an-interesting-bit-of-family.html

6. Sibley, John Langdon. Biographical Sketches of Graduated of Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Volume II, 1659-1677. Cambridge: Charles William Sever, 1881, pp. 135-138.

7. A Commentary Upon The Holy Bible, from Henry and Scott; With Numerous Observations and Notes… London: The Religious Tract Society, 1835; Pp. 145-146.