Although no law had yet been passed in Massachusetts prohibiting the arrival of Quakers, the two women were immediately imprisoned and searched carefully for "witch-marks." Deputy Governor Richard Bellingham sent officers to the ship, searched the ladies' baggage, seized their stock of Quaker literature, and had it summarily burned. The women were imprisoned for five weeks, during which time no one was allowed to visit or speak to them. No light or writing material was allowed in their cell, and the prisoners were almost starved to death. At the end of this ordeal, they were shipped back to Barbados.
Bellingham denounced the two Quakers as heretics, transgressors with "very dangerous, heretical, and blasphemous opinions" and "corrupt, heretical, and blasphemous doctrines." Bellingham's litmus test for deciding if the ladies were Quakers was brusque indeed; one of them happened to say "thee," whereupon Bellingham declared that "he needed no more; now he knew they were Quakers."
Governor Endecott's only criticism of Bellingham's treatment of the two Quaker ladies was to say that if he had been present, the prisoners also would have been "well whipped."
A few days after the Austin-Fisher "threat" had been disposed of, nine more Quakers arrived in Boston. They were summarily arrested, imprisoned for eight weeks, and then shipped back; the master of the ship that brought them was also jailed, no doubt as an instructive moral lesson to future ship captains. If the existence of the two ladies had driven the Massachusetts authorities to fury, this was nothing compared to the effects of the new goad.
Governor Endecott, repeatedly haranguing the hapless prisoners, kept threatening to hang them; for example: "Take heed ye break not our ecclesiastical laws for then ye are sure to stretch by a halter." Since it was very difficult for a Puritan in good standing, let alone a Quaker, not to break some ecclesiastical law, the halter was close indeed. It is no wonder that Mary Prince, one of the prisoners, was impelled to denounce Endecott as a "vile oppressor" and "tyrant," and the Massachusetts ministers as "hirelings" and "Baal's priests."
At their trial the Quakers had the impudence to ask for a copy of the laws against them, which request Endecott angrily refused — causing a murmur of sympathy in the audience for the prisoners. For, it was openly asked, "How shall they know when they transgress?"
From this point on, the persecution of Quakers was savage and fanatical, but the determination of the Quakers to keep coming and spreading their Gospel remained remarkably steadfast. In October the General Court passed a law providing for the fining of any shipmaster bringing a known Quaker to Massachusetts; the Quaker was to be imprisoned, severely whipped, "kept consistently to work" and not permitted to speak to anyone. Any existing resident of Massachusetts who dared defend any Quaker opinion was to be fined and banished on the third offense; any criticism of a magistrate or minister was to be met with a whipping and a heavy fine.
Thus, not only the Quakers but anyone presuming to defend their rights or to criticize the brutally repressive acts of the authorities was to be dealt with as a criminal. An early example was Nicholas Upshall, a weak old man who had bribed the jailer to give Ann Austin and Mary Fisher some food while they were starving in prison. Upshall protested against the oppressive anti-Quaker law, and for this offense he was fined, imprisoned, and banished from the colony. From Plymouth, old Upshall was forced to walk to Rhode Island in the winter snows. The old man was given shelter by an Indian who exclaimed: "What a God have the English who deal so with one another about the worship of their God!" Upshall finally found sanctuary in Warwick.
In succeeding years, Quakers were repeatedly stripped (to be searched for witch marks) and whipped, the ears of the men were cut off, and mere attendance at a Quaker meeting was deemed by the authorities as automatic proof of Quaker belief. In 1661 the Cart and Whip Act decreed that all Quakers, men and especially women, were to be stripped, tied to a cart's tail, branded on the left shoulder, and then whipped through every town until they had reached the borders of the colony.
Later apologists for Massachusetts Bay have maintained that all this was nothing more than a perhaps overzealous means of enforcing immigration restrictions. Among other things, this overlooks the fact that the persecutions were conducted as much against "native" converts to Quakerism as against new arrivals. Thus the Southwick family in Salem, converts to Quakerism, were repeatedly persecuted. Edward Batter, the treasurer of Salem and indefatigable Quaker hunter, had two children of Lawrence Southwick sold into servitude to Virginia and Barbados, in order to satisfy fines levied for aiding the Quakers.
Read more>> The First Execution for Religion on American Soil - Murray N. Rothbard - Mises Daily