My genealogical researches have uncovered dozens of devout ancestors. This is the second installment of a series of posts titled “Doing God’s Work: Our Families’ Faithful”, documenting the lives of those who served God.
In the previous post of this series, I discussed the life of Begga (my 40th great-grandmother), who was named a saint by the Roman Catholic Church. Now I will focus on Stephen Bachiler (my spouse’s 11th great-grandfather), a rip-roaring, rabble-rousing reverend.
Rev. Stephen Bachiler was my spouse’s 11th great-grandfather. Unlike many of our family’s faithful, this man of the cloth was no stranger to scandal.
Born in 1561 in England, nothing is known of Stephen Bachiler’s childhood, including the names of his parents. What is known is that on 17 November 1581, he enrolled at Oxford University. He graduated from Oxford University’s St. John’s College five years later in 1586. He then entered the clergy, becoming the vicar of Wherwell, Hampshire in 1587.
Three years later, circa 1590, Rev. Stephen Bachiler married Ann Bates (my spouse’s 11th great-grandmother). Together, the couple had six children: Nathaniel, Deborah, Stephen, Samuel, Ann, and Theodate (my spouse’s 10th great-grandmother).
In 1605, Rev. Stephen Bachiler was ousted from his parsonage because of his Puritanical leanings. His brother-in-law, Rev. John Bates, succeeded him as vicar of Wherwell.
Sometime before 1623, Ann (Bates) Bachiler passed away. We know this because Rev. Stephen Bachiler married a widow by the name of Christian Weare in 1623. However, this marriage was not a long one, as Christian died. Again, this is evident because Rev. Stephen Bachiler married a third time in 1627, this time to Helena Mason, the widow of Thomas Mason, a clergyman and writer from Odiham, Hampshire.
In 1630, Rev. Stephen Bachiler was a member of the Company of Husbandmen in London. Through them, he acquired from the Plymouth Council for New England a land grant for 1,600 miles in modern-day Maine (then part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony). The colony was named Lygonia after Cecily Lygon, mother of Sir Ferdinando Gorges New England Council president. Bachiler was to be Lygonia’s minister. Although some settlers sailed to America in 1630-1631, the colony was never established.
On 23 June 1631, Rev. Stephen Bachiler visited family who lived in Flushing, a port town in the Dutch province of Zeeland.
On 5 June 1632, Rev. Stephen Bachiler and his family immigrated to the American Colonies, arriving in Boston aboard the ship, William & Francis. During that 88-day trip, it was recorded that Rev. Stephen Bachiler “found it necessary to have a spiritual understanding with almost every woman on board.” (What an interesting insinuation, especially considering that he was nearly 71 years old at the time.)
Even Gov. John Winthrop made note of Rev. Stephen Bachiler’s supposed shenanigans:
“Mr. Bachiler, the pastor of the church at Hampton, who had suffered much at the hands of the bishops in England, being about eighty years of age and having a lusty, comely woman to his wife, did sollicit the chastity of his neighbours wife, who acquainted her husband therewith; Whereupon he was dealt with, but denied it, as he had told the woman he would do, and complained to the magistrate against the woman and her husband for slandering him.”
Rev. Stephen Bachiler suffered at the hands of the English bishops (and American clergy/politicians too), because for nearly three decades, he had advocated for a “Holy House without ceremonies,” a church free from the state’s oversight. This progressive type of talk was a no-no at the time, as the church and state were considered one and the same by many. Rev. Stephen Bachiler was one of the earliest proponents of the separation of church and state in America.
Upon arriving in the Colonies, Rev. Stephen Bachiler established his first church, the First Church of Lynn, in Saugus, Massachusetts. Unfortunately, Gov. John Winthrop and Boston’s Puritan theocracy were determined to silence him because of his stance on church and state. In October 1632, Rev. Stephen Bachiler was arraigned in the Boston court. The verdict read:
“Mr. Bachiler is required to forebeare exercising his gifts as a pastor…until some scandles be removed.”
In October 1635, Rev. Stephen Bachiler is believed to have cast the only dissenting vote among ministers against the expulsion of Roger Williams, a theologian who was found guilty of sedition and heresy and was expelled by the Puritan leaders from the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
In February 1636, Rev. Stephen Bachiler moved to Ipswich, Massachusetts with his family, but trouble found him there as well. (He really felt strongly about the separation of church and state.) Consequently, he was forced to move again.
By 1636, Rev. Stephen Bachiler had settled in Hampton, New Hampshire with his daughter and son-in-law, Theodate and Christopher Hussey. It was here that he gathered a devoted following. He was such a popular parson that a few nearby towns tried to lure him to establish his parish with them. Despite their persuasive offers, he remained in Hampton, living on 300 acres with his family.
However, as was wont to happen, discord struck again. In 1641, New Hampshire was absorbed by the Massachusetts Bay Colony and its long-reaching Puritanical arm. That same year, the powers-that-be charged Rev. Stephen Bachiler with being unchaste, and he was excommunicated. He disputed the charges as slanderous, protesting to Gov. John Winthrop. All charges were dropped. Meanwhile, Rev. Stephen Bachiler’s parishioners petitioned for his full restoration to the church; he was reinstated later that year.
In 1642, Rev. Stephen Bachiler was asked by Thomas Gorges, deputy governor of the Province of Maine, to arbitrate in a land dispute between George Cleeve and John Winter. He must have found in favor of Cleeve, because by 1644, George Cleeve, who had become deputy governor of Lygonia, asked Rev. Stephen Bachiler to be its minister.
Rev. Stephen Bachiler deferred, having already accepted a position in Exeter. Soon after, Puritan leadership put a kibosh on his plans; the General Court ordered deferral of any church at Exeter. Frustrated, Rev. Stephen Bachiler left Hampton and went as a missionary to Strawberry Banke (now modern-day Portsmouth, New Hampshire) that same year.
Circa 1647, Rev. Stephen Bachiler’s third wife, Helena, passed away. However, he did not remain a widower for long. In 1648, he married a fourth time, this time to Mary Beedle, a young widow from Kittery, Maine. Unfortunately, his fourth wife was not as pious as his first three. Bachiler petitioned the court for a divorce on the grounds of adultery, but the Court adamantly refused:
“It is ordered by this Court that Mr. Bachiler and his wife shall lyve together as man and wife as in this Court they have publicly professed to doe; and if either desert one another then hereby the court doth order that the marshal shall apprehend both the said Mr. B. and Mary, his wife, and bring them forthwith to Boston.”
However, Rev. Stephen Bachiler determined that he could not remain wed to such a wife, so he left, eventually boarding a ship bound for England.
Circa 1651, his fourth wife, Mary (Beedle) Bachiler, who had become pregnant from an adulterous relationship with a neighbor, was indicted for adultery. She was sentenced to “receive forty stripes save one, at the first town meeting held at Kittery six weeks after her delivery, and be branded with the letter A (for adultery).” (Some scholars believe that she might have been the inspiration for the character of Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter.)
Meanwhile, back in England, Rev. Stephen Bachiler made the best of his remaining years. His children who had remained in England were well off and were able to care for him. In October 1656, at the ripe old age of 101, Rev. Stephen Bachiler died in London and was buried at All Hallows Staining on 31 October 1656.