Henry Dunster and Freedom of Conscience

In 1899, the then pastor of the First Baptist Church of Boston, Nathan E. Wood, wrote the following words about Henry Dunster:

Fortunately for New England and the world, Henry Dunster was no coward, and was endowed with the spiritual sagacity which foresees the triumph of the truth, and is ready to suffer in its behalf. He was, indeed, one of the early New England martyrs."*

Applying the description "martyr" to Dunster is far too strong a word in a day and age when more believers in Jesus Christ are actually being martyred now than at any time since Biblical times. If Henry Dunster were alive now, he would be the first to say so. Nevertheless, Dunster was one of the very first persons in America to give up a position of high honor for the sake of conscience and to suffer for his beliefs in the New World - a land where freedom of conscience and the right to believe as one wishes were held to be sacrosanct. But that was to come later in America... It was a hard-fought freedom, and Henry Dunster was one of the early, and largely unsung, pioneers in charting the path to make it possible.

He was also someone we might call "Harvard's first dissenter."

* from Nathan E. Wood and Constance C. Hanson, Editor, The History of the First Baptist Church of Boston (1665-1899). Second edition. Salem, NH: Ayer Company Publishers, Inc., 1990, p. 29. Adapted from A.J. Melnick's, Henry Dunster, First President of Harvard College: Unsung Hero of American Education and Freedom of Conscience (forthcoming, 2010)

Copyright 2009-2010 by A.J. Melnick. All Rights Reserved. May be freely reproduced for educational purposes.

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This page was last updated in January 2010