Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Bailey, John (1643-1697)

BAILEY, or BAILY, JOHN (1643–1697), protestant dissenting minister, was, according to Cotton Mather, who preached his funeral sermon, born 'near Blackburn on 24 Feb. 1643-4.' He was son of Thomas Bailey, member of the congregation of the Rev. Thomas Jolly at Altham, and later at Wymond House. Probably the former was the birthplace. Both are near Blackburn (Lancashire). His father was for long a 'notorious evil liver,' but his wife was a woman of remarkable piety as well as strength of character. So early as his twelfth year John conducted family worship; and Mather tells that when the drunken and profligate father heard of this he was greatly impressed, and became a wholly changed man. Curiously enough, an entry which the preacher could not have known of in the church-book of Mr. Jolly, not only records that John at the age of twelve was a 'wonderful child' for religion, but had been 'the occasion of good to his father and a schoolfellow.' He attended at first the Queen Elizabeth grammar school of Blackburn. The master was then Charles Sagar. Later he was placed under the theological tuition of the Rev. Dr. Thomas Harrison, nonconformist minister at Chester. He began to preach in his twenty-second year, but was not ordained until 1670. Being an independent or congregationalist, he was soon exposed to the malicious reports that long after the ejection of 1660-2 of the 'two thousand' pursued nonconformists. He was arrested and imprisoned in Lancaster gaol for nonconformity alone. By some influence he was released 'after a while.' He removed to Ireland, remaining in Dublin temporarily, and proceeding later to Limerick. His earnest ministry and pastorate proved a great success in this great town, where he had as a regular hearer a member of the ducal family of Ormond. This coming to the ears of the protestant Bishop of Limerick, he lodged a complaint with the Duke of Ormond, lord-lieutenant. The duke's friend did not abandon Bailey, but so represented his case and worth that Ormond made offer first of a deanery, and then of the first bishopric that fell vacant, if Mr. Bailey would conform. But the bribe was declined without a moment's hesitation. He was again imprisoned in the public gaol. Petitions were presented to the judges at the court of assize in his behalf, but in vain. When arraigned, he dared to address the bench thus: 'If I had been drinking, gaming and carousing at a tavern, with company, my lords, I presume that I would not have procured my being thus treated as an offender. Must prayers to God and preaching Christ with a company of christians who are peaceable, inoffensive, and serviceable to his majesty and the government, as any of his subjects—must this be considered a greater crime?' The recorder answered, 'We will have you know that it is a greater crime.' At length intimation was secretly sent him that he would be allowed out on condition that within a limited specified time he left the country. To this he reluctantly and sorrowfully agreed. He was not allowed to meet his flock or preach a farewell sermon. In the place of the sermon Bailey printed a letter-address.

He emigrated to New England in 1683; and his name occurs in church matters there in 1684. He arrived first of all in Boston, and in 1684 was appointed assistant to the celebrated Rev. Samuel Willard, M.A., of the old South church. Early in 1685 correspondence was entered into with the independent congregation at Watertown, Connecticut, with the result that on 6 Oct. 1686 he succeeded the Rev. John Sherman at Watertown. It is chronicled in Judge Sewall's 'Diary' and elsewhere, that Mr. Bailey, holding to the validity of his original ordination, refused to be inducted with the laying on of hands—an innovation in Independent church ways that was somewhat of a scandal for the moment. Letters to his former pastor and friend, Mr. Jolly, communicated tidings of how things ecclesiastical moved in New England. When he was translated from Boston to Watertown, his health must have been failing; for within a month or so a younger brother, Thomas, was appointed his assistant. Unfortunately the assistant died 21 Jan. 1689. In the same year another 'assistant' was appointed. In 1692, he resigned his charge at Watertown, and, after a quaintly recorded farewell to persons and places, returned once more to Boston. He must in some measure have recovered his health; for in 1693 he accepted the post of assistant-pastor to the Rev. Mr. Allen, of the First Church, Boston.

He had married in England a lady whose christian name was Lydia. She died at Watertown, 12 April 1690. She bore him no children. His second wife was named Susannah, by whom he had female issue—still represented in New England. His widow married after his death the Rev. Peter Thatcher. He died on Sunday, 12 Dec. 1697, and Cotton Mather preached his funeral sermon, which was published. He chose for its text the words 'Into Thy hands I commit my spirit,' on which Mr. Bailey had prepared a sermon—never delivered—under a presentiment that it would be his last.

Bailey was markedly modest, and could not be persuaded to print any of his sermons. One extremely rare little book by him is extant, however, which was published by his friends. The volume is entitled 'Man's Chief End to Glorify God, or Some Brief Sermon-notes on 1 Corinthians x. 31,' to which is added his letter-address to his 'dearly beloved christian friends in and about Limerick,' 1689 (12mo). A lifelike portrait of him (in oils), which represents him with 'a pensive and somewhat feminine face and long flowing hair,' is in the possession of the Massachusetts Historical Society, in whose archives are also some manuscripts of his brother Thomas. He had another brother named Henry living at Manchester in 1688, where his mother was also still living.

[Sprague's Annals of the American Pulpit, i. 201–4; Abram's History of Blackburn, pp. 358-9; Mather's Magnalia, iii.; Mather's Funeral Serm.; Nonconf. Mem. i.; Emerson's History of First Church, Boston; Francis's History of Watertown.]

A. B. G.