Rev. Dr. John Clarke, of Newport

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John Clarke

Also Known As: "Dr.(Rev)"
Birthdate: (66)
Birthplace: Westhorpe, Suffolk, England
Death: April 20, 1676 (62-70)
Newport, Newport, Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations
Place of Burial: Newport, Newport County, Rhode Island, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Thomas Clarke, of Westhorpe; Thomas Clarke; Rose Clarke and Rose Clarke
Husband of Elizabeth Clarke; Jane Clarke and Sarah Clarke
Father of Daughter Clarke
Brother of Joseph Clarke, of Newport; Margeret Wyeth; Mary Peckham; Carew Clarke; William Clarke and 7 others

Occupation: Medical Doctor, Baptist Minister, Co-founder Colony of Rhode Island, Author of its Charter, Advocate of Religious Liberty
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Rev. Dr. John Clarke, of Newport

John Clarke (8 October 1609 – 20 April 1676) was a medical doctor, Baptist minister, co-founder of the colony of Rhode Island and author of its charter, and a leading advocate of religious freedom in the Americas. During the devastating events of King Phillips War (1675-1678), the Rhode Island General Assembly sought the counsel of 16 prominent citizens of the colony, one of whom was John Clarke.

Clarke was born at Westhorpe in the county of Suffolk, England on October 8, 1609, to Thomas and Rose (Kerrich) Clarke. He was one of eight children, six of whom moved to America and settled in New England.

According to the well known genealogical work One Hundred and Sixty Allied Families,by John Osborne Austin (Salem, Massachusetts 1893), Clarke's first wife was Elizabeth Harges, daughter of John Harges. John Clarke was married three times according to this source. His second wife was Jane Fletcher, a widow, and his third wife was Sarah Davis, widow of Nicholas Davis.

The source of Clarke's education remains unknown (though some say the University of Leiden), but before arriving in America he had studied theology, languages, and medicine.

He first immigrated to Massachusetts Bay in 1637 and then went south to Rhode Island. Clarke immediately sided with Anne Hutchinson and the Antinomians and was one of those forced into exile by Massachusetts Bay. Clarke learned from Roger Williams that Aquidneck Island (Rhode Island) was available, and he, Williams Coddington, and other settlers purchased it from the Narragansetts. They left Massachusetts and established Portsmouth in 1638. Clarke is one of the signers of the Portsmouth Compact.

In 1639 when William Coddington lost control of the Portsmouth settlement, he, Clarke and seven other major householders left to found Newport, Rhode Island. Clarke headed the church in Newport which was Puritan/Separatist congregation, but he had a religious and political falling out with Coddington. The church split with Clarke taking part and eventually [about 1644] emerging with a Baptist church, while most of the others eventually became Quakers when that movement arrived in Rhode Island in the 1650s.

Earlier in late 1638, Roger Williams, Clarke's compatriot in the cause of religious freedom in the New World, had established a Baptist church in Providence, Rhode Island, known as First Baptist Church in America. Suddenly in 1847, the First Baptist Church of Newport advanced the claim that it was founded first, and this led to a debate as to which church came first. The major historians have since concluded that the Providence church was first, particularly given the fact that Roger Williams had gathered his church and had resigned as its pastor before Newport was even founded.[1] Even Thomas Bicknell, who regarded Clarke to be far more important than Williams, conceded that the Providence church came first.[2]

Dr. Clarke's church in Newport is now known as the "United Baptist Church, John Clarke Memorial, of Newport." (the current church meeting house on Spring Street was constructed in 1846).[3] In 1651, John Clarke, John Crandall and Obadiah Holmes were arrested and imprisoned in Lynn, Massachusetts for conducting an illegal worship service. This event (and others like it) served as the basis for Clarke's Ill Newes from New England, or a Narrative of New England's Persecutions (1652). Ill Newes contained Clarke's argument for religious freedom. He wrote that "it is not the will of the Lord than any one should have dominion over another man's conscience....[Conscience] is such a sparkling beam from the Father of lights and spirits that it cannot be lorded over, commanded, or forced, either by men, devils, or angels."[4] One Baptist historian described Clarke as "the Baptist drum major for freedom in seventeenth century America." [5]

In November 1651, Clarke traveled to London with Roger Williams to cancel William Coddington's special patent that made Coddington "Governor for Life" over Aquidneck and Conanicut Islands and to secure a new charter for the colony of Rhode Island. Having succeeded in getting Coddington's charter revoked, Williams returned to Rhode Island in 1654, but Clarke stayed in England as the colony's agent. When the monarchy was restored in 1660 and Rhode Island's charter of 1644 was voided, Clarke worked against great odds to obtain a new charter. On July 8, 1663 Charles II of England granted a Royal Charter to Rhode Island. Clarke wrote the charter, and it contained an explicit guarantee of religious freedom. Its words are carved on the frieze of the Rhode Island State House: " hold forth a lively experiment, that a most flourishing civil state may stand and best be maintained...with a full liberty in religious concernments." That charter remained the foundation of government in Rhode Island until 1842.

Clarke and Williams continued to labor together for the cause of religious liberty. While Williams was a Baptist only for a few months, Clarke remained faithful for nearly forty years. Williams concluded that no visible church was valid until Christ sent a new apostle to restore it; therefore, he never affiliated with any other church. Clarke continued as the pastor of his church in Newport until his death. He practiced medicine as a means of financial support. He also served on the General Assembly from 1664 to 1669, and three terms as deputy governor (1669-1672). Clarke died in Newport on April 20, 1676 and is buried in the cemetery on Dr. Marcus Wheatland Boulevard across the street from the rear of the Newport Police Station.. [6] His will set up a trust to be used "for the relief of the poor or bringing up of children unto learning from time to time forever." This trust is generally considered to be the oldest educational trust fund in the United States.[7]

Dr John Clarke b Westhorpe, Suffolk Co, Eng, Oct 8 1609 d Newport, RI, Apr 20 1676 Physician, minister, statesman & pioneer of religious liberty, he was 1 of cofounders who purchased this island from Indians Mar 241638. He signed agreement Apr 281639, thus marking establishment of Newport. As 1st Baptist minister, Dr John Clarke (not Roger Williams) is generally considered to be founder of Baptist faith in this country. Dr Clarke was responsible for 1st written constitution guaranteeing right to religious freedom. As author of Charter of RI 1663, he secured it w/signature & seal of King Charles II Jul 81663. It stipulated this colony would be known as "Colony of RI & Providence Plantations." As stated in words of Dr Clarke, inscribed on west facade of Capitol in Providence, "That it is much on their hearts (if they may be permitted) to hold forth a lively experiment, that a most flourishing civil state may stand and best be maintained, & that among our English subjects, with a full liberty in religious concern ments." According to Wilbur Nelson,'s Life of Dr John Clarke, which states "In it, absolute religious freedom was, for 1st time in history of world, secured & guaranteed. It was so democratic, both in letter & in spirit, that doubts were entertained in England whether the King had a right to grant it." During Dr Clarke's tenure in Eng as agent of colony, he supported himself by mortgaging his property here in order to maintain necessary funds to complete his endeavors. Apr 201676, day Dr John Clarke d, he wrote his will which, in part, asked trust be created for educational purposes. Document instructed income from trust be used "for the relief of the poor or bringing up of children unto learning from time to time forever." It further instructed admin body of 3 trustees & their successors "have a special regard and care to provide for those that fear the Lord." Currently, John Clarke Trust is oldest educational trust fund in US. Original document preserved by Newport Historical Soc. Redwood has in its possession portrait believed to be Dr Clarke, titled "Portrait of a Clergyman" done by Guilliam de Ville c1659. Church of Dr Clarke, in which he served until his death, is now known as United Baptist Church, John Clarke Memorial, of Newport. Current edifice dates to 1846 & is located on Spring St. Dr John Clarke is buried in cem on Dr Marcus Wheatland Boulevard across street from rear of Newport Police Station.


  • Review of Report, Presented to Warren Baptist Assn, at Mtg 1849, of Subj of True Date of 1st Baptist Church in Newport, RI. Providence: Press of HH Brown, 1850.
  • Allison, William H "Clarke, John," Dictionary of Am Biography NY: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1930 Vol 4: 154-156.
  • Backus, Isaac, History of New Eng w/particular Ref to Denomination of Christians called Baptists 2nd ed Newton, MA: Backus Historical Soc, 1871.1:125-129, 277-281, 348,349.
  • Barrows, C Edwin. ed "Diary of John Comer," Collections of RI Historical Soc. Vol 8 (1893): 35, 36.
  • Charters & Legislative Docs, Illustrative of RI History. Providence: Knowles & Vose Printers, 1844. 8-18.
  • Early Religious Leaders of Newport. Newport: Newport Historical Soc, 1918. 5-20.
  • Franklin, Robert S "Newport Cems," Bulletin of Newport Historical Soc. Newport: Newport Historical Soc, No 10 (Dec 1913): 36, 37.
  • Gariepy, Tom. "Newport Founder's Spirit & Influence Still Felt in City," Providence Jrnl, 22 May 1976.
  • Gallagher, Joan. John Clarke Property, Newport, RI: Its History & Archaeology. Providence: Public Archaeology Laboratory, Dept of Anthropology, Brown Univ, 1981.
  • Nelson, Wilbur. Hero of Aquidneck. NY: Fleming H Revell Co, 1938.
  • Nelson, Wilbur. Life of Dr Clarke. 5th printing. Providence: Private Bank-Hospital Trust, 1983.
  • Peterson, Edward. History of RI. NY: John S Taylor, 1853. 68-80, 330-335.
  • Sherman, William S, Some Notes on Early Medicine & Surgery in Newport Co: Cradle of Am Medicine. Reprinted. RI Medical Jrnl. May, 1931. 5.

Dr John Clarke, From Wikipedia, free encyclopedia

John Clarke (8 Oct 1609– 20 Apr 1676) medical doctor, Baptist minister, co-founder colony of RI & author of its charter, & leading advocate of religious freedom in Ams. Clarke b at Westhorpe, Suffolk, Eng Oct 8 1609, to Thomas & Rose (Kerrich) Clarke. He was 1 of 8 children, 6 of whom moved to Am & settled in New Eng. According to well known genealogical work 160 Allied Families, John Osborne Austin (Salem, MA 1893), Clarke's 1st wife was Elizabeth Harges, dtr of John Harges. John Clarke m 3 times according to this source. 2nd wife was Jane Fletcher, widow, & 3rd wife was Sarah Davis, widow of Nicholas Davis. Source of Clarke's educ remains unk (though some say Univ of Leiden), but bef arriving in Am he had studied theology, languages, & medicine. 1st immigrated to MA Bay in 1637. Clarke & other settlers purchased land from Am Indians on island of Aquidneck, & established Portsmouth in 1638. Clarke is 1 of signers of Portsmouth Compact. 1639 he helped found city of Newport, RI, & established Baptist church there. At abt same time, Roger Williams, Clarke's compatriot in cause of religious freedom in New World, established Baptist Church in Providence, RI. "There is much debate over the centuries as to whether the Providence or Newport church deserved the place of '1st' Baptist congregation in America. Exact records for both congregations are lacking." Therefore, both Roger Williams & John Clarke are variously credited as founder of Baptist faith in Am. 1651, John Clarke, John Crandall & Obadiah Holmes arrested & imprisoned in Lynn, MA for conducting illegal worship svc. Event (& others like it) served as basis for Clarke's Ill Newes from New Eng, or Narrative of New Eng's Persecutions (1652). 1652, Clarke traveled to London w/Roger Williams to secure new charter for colony of RI. Williams returned to RI in 1654, but Clarke stayed in Eng until charter was granted. Jul 8 1663 Charles II of Eng granted John Clarke Royal Charter to RI. Charter remained foundation of govt in RI until 1842. Clarke & Williams continued to labor together for cause of religious liberty. Williams remains more well-known of 2, but Clarke was more important to history of Baptists in New Eng. Williams left Baptists to become Seeker. During his yrs in RI, John Clarke was pastor of church in Newport. He practiced medicine as means of financial support. He also served on Genl Assembly 1664-1669, & 3 terms as deputy gov (1669-1672). Clarke d Newport Apr 20 1676. His will set up trust to be used "for the relief of the poor or bringing up of children unto learning from time to time forever." This trust is generally considered oldest educational trust fund in US.

Dr John Clarke (Thomas3, John2, John1) chr 8 Oct 1609 Westhorpe, Suffolk, Eng. He d 20 Apr 1676 Newport, Newport, RI. Res: Newport, RI, & London, Eng. Dr John Clarke emigrated to Boston, & 20 Nov 1637 disarmed w/followers of Anne Hutchinson. He banished to Exeter, NH, that winter, but returned to Boston & joined w/Coddington Party Mar 1638, & 7 Mar 1638 was 1 of 18 signers resolving to found new colony. 13 May 1638, they founded town of Pocasset (Portsmouth) on island of Acquidneck. 2 Jan 1638/9, helped survey & map island. He was amg those who proposed to found town of Newport 28 Apr 1639, w/8 other mbrs of faction who disagreed w/governing of Portsmouth. 5 Jun 1639, w/others, appted to proportion land at Newport. Nov 1639, & again 19 Sep 1642, asked w/others to inquire abt obtaining royal charter for island. 10 Mar 1640, John Clark's land (148 acres) recorded at Newport &, bet Mar 1643 & 15 Mar 1644, had his lands re-recorded, by which time he possessed 158 acres, 15 acres of which had been granted to him by town for great travails upon island upon town's behalf. John Clark appears at Genl Crt of Election as freeman 16 Mar 1641. Some of his lands lay near lands of bros Jos & Thos, as evidenced in acct of hwys laid out by Nicholas Easton, John Clarke, & William Dyer dated 15 Feb 1654. Became pastor of 1st Baptist Church at Newport in 1644. Mbr of Genl Crt of Trials in 1648. Asst in 1649 & 1650, & genl treas of colony 1649-1651. By deed dated 27 Feb 1650/1, John Clarke of Newport sold land at Newport to Richard Tew. Jul 1651, imprisoned at Boston for preaching, but released shortly aft. Nov 1651, accepted commission from towns of Portsmouth & Newport to go to Eng w/Roger Williams for Providence & Warwick, to have Wm Coddington removed as gov-for-life, & secure charter for Colony. He published 2 bks while in Eng, "Ill News from New Eng" & concordance of Scriptures. Name also appears on list of freeman of Colony, of Newport, in 1655. Mar 10, 1656/7, John Clarke granted 1/54th share of purchase of Conanicut & Dutch Islands, it being ordered "that Joseph Clarke shall subscribe hereto in the behalf of his Brother Mr. John Clarke in England." 1656, John Clarke, Physician, of London, signed power of atty to receive legacy left him by f-in-law out of Manor of Wrestlingworth, Bedfordshire. Maintained himself in Eng on his own funds, w/grants of land from Portsmouth. He presented 2 addresses to Crown on behalf of Colony in 1662, in attempt to thwart designs of CT. 9 Jul 1663, Charles II affixed royal seal to new & liberal charter for Colony of RI & Providence Plantations designed by John Clarke. While in Eng, bro Thos Clarke & William Vaughan were his agents in Newport, as was attested to by Vaughan 4 Oct 1671. 24 Nov 1664, Colony voted to pay his expenses in procuring Charter, & he returned Jun 1664. Deputy to Genl Assembly 1664-1668, & again 1670-1671, & Deputy Gov 1669-1672. From 1664 until death, was periodically called upon to negotiate secure borders w/CT & MA, draft laws, & settle quarrels on behalf of Colony. By deed dated 27 Apr 1674, John Clarke of Newport sold land in Newport to Richard Smith. He left will, dated 20 Apr 1676, & proved 17 May 1676, in which he mentions his wives, Elizabeth & Jane, already deceased, w Sarah, bro Jos Clarke, cousin --- ffisk, w of Saml [sic: prob John] ffisk, cousin Mary Saunders, cousin John Clarke (son of bro Jos by his 1st wife), bro Carew Clarke, & many others. He bur in orchard near his dwelling & his church in Newport.


  • J O Austin, "Genealogical Dict of RI" NY, 1887 [1982], p 45-46, 64, 446
  • G A Moriarty, "Clarke-Cooke (alias Carewe)-Kerrich" NEHGR, Vol 75 (1921), p 273-301
  • G A Morrison, "'Clarke' Families of RI" Evening Post Printing House, NY, 1902, p 15-23
  • "Records of Island of RI, 1638-1644" RI Archives, Providence (FHL Film #0954960), p 22-23, 65
  • "RI Land Evidences, 1648-1696" RI Hist Soc, Providence, p 17, 25-26, 44, 54-56, 56-57, 126-127, 127-128, 180-181, 270
  • J J Smith, "Civil & Military List of RI, 1647-1800" Providence, 1900, p 1-2, 5, 7
  • "Town of Jamestown, Land Evidence, Vol 1 (1680-1739)" Typed transcript, FHL Film #0946901, p 6-10

He m1 Elizabeth Harris, bef 1656, prob in Eng,

  • dtr of John Harris, Lord of Wrestlingworth Manor, Co Bedford, Eng.
  • She d bef 1671 Newport, Newport, RI, & bur Newport, Newport, RI.
  • They had no known children.


  • J O Austin, "Genealogical Dict of RI" NY, 1887 [1982], p 446

He m2 Jane Fletcher, wid, 1 Feb 1671 Newport, Newport, RI.

  • She d 19 Apr 1672 in Newport, Newport, RI, &
  • bur Newport, Newport, RI.
  • She & John Clarke had no known children.


  • J O Austin, "Genealogical Dict of RI" NY, 1887 [1982], p 45-46
  • G A Moriarty, "Clarke-Cooke (alias Carewe)-Kerrich" NEHGR, Vol 75 (1921), p 273-301

He m3 Sarah Davis, c1673 Newport, Newport, RI.

  • She d bef 9 Mar 1692 Newport, Newport, RI.
  • Res: Newport, RI.
  • Sarah was wid of Nicholas Davis. 9 Mar 1692, receipts for legacies from will of Dr John Clarke were given to Philip Smith, sole surviving executor, by John & Sarah Miles, Jeremiah & Mercy Osborne, & Hannah Brenton (children of Nicholas Davis), legacies being pd following death of their mother, Sarah Clarke, widow of John Clarke.
  • Sarah & John Clarke had no known children together.


  • J O Austin, "Genealogical Dict of RI" NY, 1887 [1982], p 63-64
  • G A Moriarty, "Clarke-Cooke (alias Carewe)-Kerrich" NEHGR, Vol 75 (1921), p 273-301

From Biographies of Baptized Believers--John Clark

  • John Clarke, 1 of most eminent men of his time, & leading spirit among founders of RI, was, according to best authorities, b Suffolk, Eng, Oct 8 1609. His father's name was Thomas, to whom belonged family Bible which is still in existence & contains a family record. His mother, Rose Herrige, was of ancient Suffolk family. Tradition that he was native of Bedfordshire may have had its rise from fact there he m his 1st wife, Elizabeth, dtr of John Harges, Esq. To receive legacy given her by her father out of manor of Wreslingworth, Bedfordshire, he signed power of atty, Mar 12 1656, styling himself John Clarke, physician, of London. During his youth he recd careful training, & shared in intellectual quickening of the period, though at what univ he graduated is not known. Religious & political convictions closely identified him w/large & growing body of men who bravely sought to limit kingly prerogative, & to throw around personal liberty of subjects protection of constitutional safeguards. He was indeed Puritan of Puritans. All efforts to reform abuses in either church or state proving abortive, he directed his footsteps toward New World, arriving at Boston Nov 1637. Bitter disappointment, however, awaited him. Antinomian controversy had just culminated, & 1 of parties was being proscribed. Differences of opinion he expected to find on these Western shores, but he was surprised to find, as he tells us, men "were not able to bear each with other in their different understandings & consciences as in these utmost parts of the world to live peaceably together." Since govt at Boston was as repressive & intolerant as that from which he had just fled, he proposed to number of citizens, for sake of peace, to withdraw & establish themselves elsewhere, & consented to seek out place. He had boldly resolved to plant new colony, & upon new basis; to incorporate into its foundation principles hitherto deemed impracticable, & even subversive of government, & indeed of all order. Choice company he had gathered signed, Mar 7 1638, following compact: "We, whose names are underwritten, do here solemnly, in the presence of Jehovah, incorporate ourselves into a Body Politic, & as he shall help, will submit our persons, lives, & estates unto our Lord Jesus Christ, the King of Kings & Lord of Lords, & to all those perfect & most absolute laws of his given us in his Holy Word of truth, to be guided & judged thereby." They found in Word of God warrant for their civil government, & claimed for it divine authority. It was, nevertheless, "democracy or popular government," & no one was "to be accounted a delinquent for doctrine." Liberty of conscience was most sacredly guarded. Magistrate was to punish only "breaches of the law of God that tend to civil disturbance." Largest personal freedom consistent w/stability of govt was provided for. There are good reasons for believing to hand of Mr Clarke this initial form of govt must be traced. Place selected for colony was island in Narragansett Bay, known by Indians as Aquidneck, but subsequently named RI, which, Neal says, "is deservedly called the paradise of New Eng." Lands were obtained by purchase of aborigines, deed bearing date 24 Mar 1638, settlers "having bought them off to their full satisfaction." At 1st established at north end of island, govt was, following Apr, trfed to south end, which recd name of Newport. 1647 island was united, under charter of 1643, in confederacy w/other towns included in what afterwards became State of RI, govt of united towns was framed by someone on island. It is genlly supposed, & for good reasons, Mr Clarke was author of govt framed, both of code of laws & of means of enforcing it. "From the islanders," says Gov Arnold in his history, "had emanated the code of law, & to them it was entrusted to perfect the means of enforcing the code." Code, which has recd from most competent judges highest praise, concludes with these words: "And otherwise than thus what is herein forbidden, all men may walk as their consciences persuade them, every one in the name of his God. And let the saints of the Most High walk in this colony without molestation, in the name of Jehovah, their God, for ever & ever." While constantly busy w/affairs of state, Mr Clarke did not neglect higher claims of religion. He is spoken of by early writers as religious teacher of people, & as such from beginning. Church was gathered in 1638, prob early in yr, of which Mr Clarke became pastor of tchg elder. He is mentioned (1638) as "preacher to those of the island," as "their minister," as "elder of the church there." Mr Lechford writes in 1640, aft having made tour thru New Eng, that "at the island ...there is a church where one Master Clarke is pastor." On his return to Eng, he adds, when revising his manuscript for press, he heard this church is dissolved. Report had doubtless reached him on controversy which had arisen on island respecting authority of Bible & existence upon earth of visible church, when some became Seekers & afterwards Quakers. Missionary tours were made in various directions, & numbers were added to church from sections quite remote, as from Rehoboth, Hingham, Weymouth. Some of them continued to live at distance. One of these was William Witter, whose home was in Lynn. Becoming infirm he was visited by his pastor, Mr Clarke, in 1651, who reached his house 19 Jul, accompanied by Obadiah Holmes & John Crandall, elders in church. 3 visitors were summarily arrested, & w/out there being produced "either accuser, witness, jury, law of God, or man," were sentenced. They were each to pay fine, "or else to be well whipped." Someone unk to him paid, it is said, Mr Clarke's fine of 20 pounds. At any rate he was, aft detention reaching into mid-Aug, set free as summarily as he had been apprehended. He had hoped for sake of truth there might be public disputation, his last communication on subj to gov & his advisers being dated from prison, 14 Aug. Though disappointed in this hope, results of visit were far-reaching & most gratifying. Many eyes were opened to truth, & "divers were put upon a way of inquiry." Meanwhile colony was in peril, its govt in jeopardy, & its very life threatened. On his return from Lynn he was importuned to go to Eng & represent infant colony at English court, &, complying w/request, set said Nov 1651. Following yr, 1652, his famous word in defense of liberty of conscience, entitle "Ill News from New Eng," etc, was published in London. Immediate object of his visit-revocation of Gov Coddington's commission-having been attained, he continued to reside abroad to watch over imperiled interests of unique State, & succeeded not only in parrying attacks of enemies, but in gaining substantial advantage over its older & more powerful rivals. Boundaries of State were even enlarged. Charter obtained in 1663 guaranteed to people privileges unparalleled in history of world. It is evidence of his skill in diplomacy that he could obtain from King Charles, against earnest prayers of older colonies, charter that declared "no person within the said colony, at any time hereafter, shall be anywise molested, punished, disquieted, or called in question for any differences of opinion or matters of religion." In 2nd of 2 addresses presented to king he said respecting his colony, it desires "to be permitted to hold forth in a lively experiment that a flourishing civil state may stand, yea, & best be maintained, & that among English spirits, with a full liberty of religious concernments." To these labors in Eng his colony was deeply indebted, owed indeed its existence. Yet they have never been duly appreciated, nor have difficulties environing his way been sufficiently considered. Consummate fruit of his toils-securing of great charter-has even been ascribed to another, as indeed have also results of other of his labors. Charter was recd by colony w/public demonstrations of great joy. His return home Jul 1664, aft absence of more than 12 yrs, was hailed w/delight. He was immediately elected to Genl Assembly, & re-elected yr by yr until 1669, when he became deputy-gov, & again in 1671. During these yrs he performed much important public svc; was in 1664 chief commissioner for determining western boundary of State, & same yr chairman of committee to codify laws; 2 yrs later he was appointed along "to compose all the laws into a good method & order, leaving out what may be superfluous, & adding what may appear unto him necessary." Altho retired from public life in 1672, his counsels were still sought in emergencies. Only 6 days bef his death he was summoned to attend mtg of Genl Assembly, which desired "to have the advice & concurrence of the most judicious inhabitants in the troublous times & straits into which the colony has been brought." He d suddenly, Apr 20 1676, leaving most of his property in hands of trustees for religious & educational purposes. His last act was in harmony w/1 of 1st on colony's records, which was to establish free school, said to be 1st in Am, if not world. He was man of commanding ability, & from 1st to last planned wisely & well for his colony. His endowments of both mind & heart were of very high order. He was "advanced student of Hebrew & Greek." Arnold says, "He was a ripe scholar, learned in the practice of 2 professions, besides having had large experience in diplomatic & political life...With all his public pursuits, he continued the practice of his original profession as physician, & also retained the pastoral charge of his church." He left confession of his faith, from which it appears he was strongly Calvinistic in doctrine. His views of Christian doctrine have been pronounced "so clear & Scriptural that they might stand as the confession of faith of Baptists today, after more than 2 centuries of experience & investigation." He has, & perhaps not inaptly, been called "Father of Am Baptists." And his, it has been claimed, "is the glory of 1st showing in an actual government that the best safeguards of personal rights is Christian law." Allen (Bio. Dict.) says, "He possessed the singular honor of contributing much towards establishing the 1st govt upon the earth which gave equal liberty, civil & religious, to all men living under it." Backus: "He was a principal procurer of RI for sufferers & exiles." Bancroft: "Never did a young commonwealth possess a more faithful friend." Palfrey, although ungenerous unjust in his judgments upon RI affairs & RI men, & especially toward Mr Clarke, is constrained to admit he "had some claim to be called father of RI;" & "for many yrs before his death he had been the most important citizen of his colony." Arnold says he was "1 of the ablest men of the 17th century." "His character & talents appear more exalted the more closely they are examined."

Add'l sources:

  • Backus's "History of Baptists," 2nd ed; Sketch of his life & character by Rev C E Barrows, Baptist Qrtrly for 1872 (Vol vi pp 481-502); Discussion of place in hist, articles in same periodical for 1876 (Vol x pp 181-204, 257-281), Prof J C C Clarke, "Pioneer Baptist Statesman"; for thorough review of visit to Lynn & adverse criticisms thereon, pamphlet of 39 pp, H M King, DD, pub 1880.

Source: Cathcart's Baptist Encyclopedia


  • John Clarke (1609-1676), Am clergyman, 1 of founders of RI, b Westhorpe, Eng. 1637 he moved to Boston in MA Bay Colony, but following yr he, William Coddington, later colonial gov, & several other sympathizers of exiled Am religious reformer Anne Hutchinson were driven from colony. They consulted w/Roger Williams, Eng clergyman & founder of colony of RI at Providence, bef establishing their settlement of Pocasset (now Portsmouth). Following yr Clarke & Coddington settled in Newport, where Clarke founded 2nd oldest Baptist church in Am. 1651 he & Williams went to Eng as agents for colony; Williams soon returned, but Clarke remained for 12 yrs. He secured 2nd charter, which until 1842 was fundamental law of RI. On his return he resumed care of Newport church, remaining as minister until his death. He was mbr of Genl Assembly 1664-1669, deputy gov 1669 & 1671, & afterward codified RI laws.


  • Clarke, John, 1609–76, 1 of founders of RI, b Westhorpe, Suffolk, Eng. Emigrated to Boston in 1637 & shortly thereafter joined Anne Hutchinson (w/whom he sided in antinomian controversy) & William Coddington in founding (1638) Portsmouth on Aquidneck (RI). Next yr, he & Coddington w/drew to found Newport, where he was both physician & Baptist pastor. Clarke favored 1647 union of Aquidneck settlements w/Providence & Warwick & in 1651 went w/Roger Williams to Eng to defend union against Coddington's attacks. They were successful, & Williams soon returned. Clarke remained in Eng & was influential in securing liberal charter of 1663. On return to RI he served (1664–69) in genl assembly & thrice elected deputy gov. His Ill Newes from New Eng (1652) was arraignment of MA authorities for their hostility to religious liberty.


  • Birth: Oct 3 1609, Westhorpe, Suffolk, Eng
  • Death: Apr 20 1676, Newport, Newport Co, RI, USA
  • Am Colonial Leader. He rec'd extensive education including study at Univ of Leyden while living in Leyden, Holland, where Separatists resided aft leaving Eng, & became qualified as physician & ordained clergyman. In 1637 he traveled to N Am & was 1st Baptist minister in Eng colonies. He intended to settle in Boston, but was identified as supporter of Anne Hutchinson & decided because of religious differences w/local leaders to travel further south, where he purchased land from Native Ams, founding what is now city of Newport, RI. As more white settlers populated area, Newport & other towns organized as colony, & Clarke was responsible for its constitution, 1st in colonies to guarantee religious freedom. In partnership w/Roger Williams, in 1663 Clarke traveled to Eng as colony's agent & was responsible for obtaining from King Charles II royal charter, document which named colony RI & Providence Plantations. He served in RI Assembly 1664-1669, & as Deputy Gov 1669-1672. Clarke's will created trust for education & relief of poor, & John Clarke Trust, currently admin'ed by Bk of Am, is oldest educational trust fund in country. Several places in RI are named for him, including Newport's John Clarke Elem School & its Baptist house of worship, United Baptist Church, John Clarke Mem'l. (bio by: Bill McKern)
  • Spouses: Jane Clarke & Elizabeth Clarke
  • Burial: John Clarke Cem, Newport, Newport Co, RI, USA

"It hardly seems arguable that Dr. Clarke was the first one to bring democracy to the New World by means of Rhode Island."[106] Bicknell also asserted that Clarke was the "recognized founder and father of the Aquidneck Plantations, the author of the Compact of Portsmouth and leading spirit in the organization and administration of the island towns.[15] Historian Edward Peterson wrote that Clarke was a man "whose moral character has never been surpassed, and his piety never been questioned."[107] Asher made this final assessment of Clarke: "As a man, Clarke lived for others. Like many men of the past, he was selfless and uncomplaining. Despite his sectarian religious views, he gave more for his fellow man than he received."[108]

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Rev. Dr. John Clarke, of Newport's Timeline

October 8, 1609
Westhorpe, Suffolk, England
October 8, 1609
Westhorpe, Suffolk, England
October 8, 1609
Westerly, Washington, Rhode Island, United States
October 8, 1609
West Thorpe, Lincolnshire, England, United Kingdom
October 8, 1609
Westhorpe, Suffolk, England
October 8, 1609
Westhorp, Suffolk, England
October 8, 1609
Westhorp, Suffolk, England
July 10, 1612
Age 2
Ipswich, Suffolk, England, United Kingdom