Obadiah Holmes was born about 1607 near Reddish, England, to Robert and Catherine Johnson Holmes. He was one of eight or nine children, and he grew up as a farm boy. He became a glassmaker and a weaver. He confessed "his evil ways" to his mother on her death bed, and somehow felt responsible for her death. This led to a greater spirituality on his part. He married Catherine Hyde in Manchester's Collegiate College Church on November, 16, 1630.
It's not clear whether his parents were Puritans, but Obadiah did join the Puritan movement and he and his family came to New England in 1638, It is noted that their voyage was extremely stormy, and took 6 weeks for them to reach Boston. The family soon settled in Salem, Massachusetts. Here he plied his trade as glassmaker, making common window glass. Obadiah was not happy with the rigidity of the established church there, and had moved to Rehoboth by 1645. He was made a freeman there.
As so many times happens, Obadiah soon discovered that moving to another town did not mean moving away from the central problem, in this case, doctrinal differences. Obadiah apparently participated in and perhaps founded a house church movement, which met after the regular Sunday services and was considered schismatic. He was hauled up before church authorities, and ordered to cease and desist his religious activities with the house church. Not content with that, his Puritan pastor charged him with perjury, and Obadiah in turn filed slander charges. Obviously he would need to move on, despite having many friends in Rehoboth.
He had basically been "forced out" to Newport, Rhode Island, where religious freedom was practiced. In 1651, he, Pastor John Clarke, and John Crandall, all Baptists, traveled to Lynn, Massachusetts to bring comfort and communion to an aged parishioner who had been ministered to by Holmes. They were there by invitation, but they were apprehended by two constables who arrested them on the authority of the magistrates, and detained them at a local tavern. The three were more or less forced to attend Sunday night church services, where they indicated their disrespect for the situation by putting their hats back on after having removed them. (This was considered rude in Puritan society.)
The next day the three men were sent to Boston where the trial was fixed and all three men were found guilty "without producing either accuser, witness, jury, law of God or man." In addition, Holmes was assaulted, struck, and cursed by Rev. John Wilson, while he was in the custody of an officer in the presence of the court, and within the protection of the law. Can we say "kangaroo court?"
The three men were fined, Obadiah the most heavily, and banished. Fine monies were raised among the Baptists for all three men, but Obadiah refused to accept the monies. Instead, he chose to accept the alternative punishment, which was to be well whipped. The day of the punishment was cold, but he was stripped to his waist, tied to a post, and whipped 30 strokes (double strokes, actually, which was basically within an inch of his life. He stated after the whipping that "You have struck me as with roses", and was able to give a bit of a sermon.
He healed at a supporter's house but had to basically escape from that when still recovering, because he was on the verge of being arrested again for not having left according to the terms of the banishment. He travelled through the woods and was met 4 miles outside of town by his wife and 8 children.
I've found differing information as to when Obadiah actually became pastor of the Baptist church in Newport. It may have been 1652 or it may have been 1676, or perhaps he became some sort of associate in 1652. Also I've found differing opinions on whether Obadiah attended or graduated from Oxford University, although Obadiah did state that his parents were able to send three sons there.
Finally, we don't know for sure when Obadiah died, although his will was proved December 4, 1682. He was buried in his own field, in what is now the town of Middletown, and there a tomb was erected to him.
The questions is: Was he a hero, or was he merely a stubborn man who brought out the worst in his associates? There is quite a bit of controversy even yet surrounding this man, but the Baptist church honors his memory. I have no wish to stir up religious controversies, so I'll simply say that he lived by his beliefs and seems to have been a very good man. I feel privileged to have him in our family tree.
Here's our line of descent:
Obadiah Holmes-Katherine Hyde
Mary Holmes-John Brown
Sarah Brown-John Pray
Mary Pray-Richard Brown
Othniel Brown-Deborah Brown
Sarah Brown-Enos Eddy
Enos Eddy-Deborah Paine
Joseph Eddy-Susan Lamphire
Susan Eddy-Hiram Stanard
Louis Stanard-Mary Alice Hetrick
Etta Stanard-Loren Holbrook