Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Davenport, John
DAVENPORT, JOHN (1597–1670), puritan divine, was born in 1597 at Coventry in Warwickshire, where his father, also John Davenport, had been mayor. He was educated first at Merton (1613–15), whither he went with his younger brother Christopher, afterwards the well-known Franciscan [q. v.], and afterwards at Magdalen College, Oxford. Having graduated Bachelor of Arts he left the university, to which he only returned for a short time in 1625 in order to take the M.A. and B.D. degrees, and acted as chaplain at Hilton Castle, near Durham. He afterwards went to London, where his courageous visitation of the sick, in spite of the prevailing plague, soon brought him into notice, and he became vicar of St. Stephen's Church, Coleman Street, soon afterwards.
Davenport took an active interest in the famous ‘feoffment scheme’ for the purchase of lay impropriations. He was one of the twelve feoffees into whose hands the sums raised for this purpose by voluntary contributions were placed. His share in this scheme and his efforts to raise money for distressed ministers in the palatinate awakened the resentment of Laud and the jealousy of the high commission. To escape prosecution he resigned his living (December 1633); retired to Holland, and was chosen co-pastor, with John Paget, of the English church at Amsterdam. Davenport objected to the baptism of children not proved to belong to christian parents. This gave rise to an unpleasant controversy with his colleague, and ultimately (1635) led him to resign his charge and return to England. He interested himself in the attempt to obtain a charter for Massachusetts. By the advice of John Cotton, and along with other distinguished refugees, Davenport sailed for New England, and landed at Boston in June 1637. He was very well received; and attended the synod of Cambridge in August. Rejecting favourable offers of land made by the government of Massachusetts, Davenport and his friends proceeded to Quinnipiac, and there founded the colony of New Haven in April 1638. By the constitution of the new colony, which was definitely settled on 4 June 1639, church membership was made a prerequisite to the enjoyment of civil office or the exercise of electoral rights, and ‘the support of the ordinance of civil government’ was delegated to a body of seven persons, called ‘The Seven Pillars of State,’ of whom Davenport was one. In 1642 Davenport received, and refused, an invitation to join the Westminster Assembly of Divines, and in 1660 concealed in his own house the fugitive regicides William Goffe and Edward Whalley.
Davenport took an active part in the great controversy respecting baptism, which led to the adoption by the Boston synod of 1662 of what was known as the ‘Half Way Covenant.’ This resolution provided that persons baptised in infancy and recognising their covenant obligations in mature years might have their children baptised. Davenport was one of the leaders against this doctrine. On 9 Dec. 1668 he was ordained over the first church at Boston. His opposition to the ‘Half Way Covenant’ led to the withdrawal of part of his congregation, who formed a new church—‘the old South Church.’ The old and new bodies waged incessant warfare, but in its midst Davenport died of apoplexy, on 13 March 1669–70. Davenport married a daughter of the Rev. Abraham Pierson in 1663, and had by her five children. A son, John (1635–1677), was a Boston merchant.
Davenport enjoyed, and seems to have deserved, a high reputation for industry and earnestness. The Indians of Quinnipiac called him ‘the big-study man,’ and Laud described him as ‘a most religious man who fled to New England for the sake of a good conscience.’
His chief works were: 1. ‘A Letter to the Dutch Classis containing a just complaint against an unjust doer,’ 1634. 2. ‘Certain Instructions delivered to the Elders of the English Church deputed, which are to be propounded to the Pastors of the Dutch Church in Amsterdam,’ 1634. 3. ‘A Report of some Passages or Proceedings about his calling to the English Church in Amsterdam, against John Paget,’ 1634. 4. ‘Allegations of Scripture against the Baptising of some kinds of Infants,’ 1634. 5. ‘Protestation about the publishing of his writings,’ 1634. 6. ‘An Apologeticall Reply to the Answer of W. B.,’ 1636. 7. ‘The Profession of the Faith of the Reverend and worthy Divine, Mr. John Davenport,’ 1642. 8. ‘A Catechism containing the chief Heads of the Christian Religion,’ 1659. 9. ‘The Saints' Anchor-hold in all Storms and Tempests,’ 1661. 10. ‘The Power of Congregational Churches asserted and vindicated,’ in answer to J. Paget, 1672. 11. ‘Another Essay for Investigation of the Truth in Answer to two questions concerning (1) The Subject of Baptism (2) The Consociation of Churches,’ Cambridge, 1663. 12. ‘A Discourse about Civil Government in a new Plantation,’ Cambridge, 1663. 13. ‘Sermons and other Articles.’[Brook's Lives of the Puritans, iii. 446–51; Neal's Puritans, ii. 229; Hook's Ecclesiastical Biog. vol. iv.; Sprague's Annals of the American Pulpit, i. 93; Morse and Parish's Compendious Hist. of New England, pp. 129–34; West's Hist. of New England, i. 386; Wood's Athenæ Oxon. (Bliss), iii. 889; Holmes's Annals of America, i. 244; Hutchinson's Hist. of Massachussetts Bay, i. 82, 115, 215; Trumbull's Complete Hist. of Connecticut, passim; Winthrop's Hist. of New England, passim; Mather's Magnalia Christi Americana, i. 321–31; Massachusetts Hist. Soc. (letter of Davenport to Winthrop); Dexter's Congregationalism, passim; Appleton's Dict. of American Biog. ii.]