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“Roaring John Rogers” and the Shermans in Dedham

Roaring John Rogers

Possibly the biggest catalyst that caused our Sherman ancestors to board ships to America in 1634 was the Puritan lecturer “Roaring” John Rogers. Without any of today’s media distractions, there was a public demand for preaching. Communities like Dedham employed a lecturer as well as a vicar. Paid by the wealthy clothiers of Dedham like our grandfather Henry Sherman (12x), John Rogers' duty was to give a lecture on Sunday afternoons from the turret of the north porch of the Dedham Church, and a one hour lecture Tuesday mornings, preceding the opening of the Market in the town center. His theatrical and dramatic style, which included imitating the screams of those damned in Hell, was so popular that it drew enormous crowds, often exceeding 1200 people. There were unintended consequences, as market prices for homemade woven goods and produce were inflated to meet the demand.

15th Century Bible--First Page of the Gospel of Matthew

Here’s a little sample of John Rogers’ preaching style that would cause someone from Cambridge to ride his horse sixty miles to Dedham for the pleasure of hearing him. The subject of this sermon was chastising his audience on the neglect of the Bible.

He represented himself as God in addressing them:

“I have trusted you so long with my Bible; yet you have slighted it; my Bible lies in your houses covered with dust and cobwebs; you have not taken care of it, you have not to look into it. Do you misuse my Bible so? Well, you shall have my Bible no longer.”

He then took up the Bible from the cushion, and seemed as if he were going away with it, and carrying it from them, but immediately turned again and, impersonating the people answering God, fell down on his knees, wept, and pleaded most earnestly:

“O Lord, do whatever You wish to do to us, but take not Your Bible away from us! –Kill our children –Burn our houses –Destroy our goods –Only spare us Your Bible!”

Then he addressed the people as from God:

"Say you so? Well, I will try you a little longer; here is My Bible for you. I will yet see how you will use it –Whether you will love it more, whether you will observe it more, whether you will practice it more, and live more according to it.”

Rogers would often bring his audience to tears. One visitor who had arrived on horseback gives this account after the sermon,“I was fain to hang a quarter of an hour upon the neck of my horse before I had the power to mount, so strange an impression was there upon me and generally upon having been thus expostulated with to the neglect of the Bible.”

Henry Sherman owned a Bible, and it was greatly prized, though it was not recorded in his last will and testament. Henry and the entire Sherman family were faithful puritans and greatly influenced by John Rogers as attested to by their wills, which included fulfilling many of John Rogers’s concerns, like providing for the poor and the education of the Dedham children.

When John Rogers died in 1636, hundreds flocked to the funeral service. The upper gallery of the church was so jam-packed with people that supporting timbers began to creak and give way, nearly collapsing. According to one eye-witness, “It pleased God to honour that good man with a miracle at his death, because no one was injured.”

John Rogers' thirty year lecture-ship in Dedham was not all smooth sailing. The infamous Bishop William Laud tried to suppress him and the non-conforming Puritans in every way possible, and he succeeded in silencing John Rogers for several years beginning in 1629.

Laud was not only disliked by Puritans, but also by the followers of the Church of England, who thought he followed too closely to the beliefs of Catholicism. The royal jester punned about Laud “give great praise to the Lord, and little Laud to the Devil.” Bishop Laud was known to be sensitive about his diminutive stature. In 1640, Laud was accused of treason, specifically “endeavouring to overthrow the protestant religion.” He was imprisoned in the Tower of London, where he was eventually beheaded in 1645, even though he had been granted a royal pardon.

Vagrant being led by a rope. Poverty in 15th Century Dedham, England led to increase in crime.

There were other reasons that may have prompted some of Henry’s offspring to depart this storied village of Dedham. Some seem similar to our problems today.

First, there was a widening gap between the rich and the poor. Around the time our ancestors boarded a ship to America in 1634, it is estimated there were several thousand people in and around Dedham employed in the cloth trade. “The said place (Dedham) consisteth of a small number of clotheyeres, and a great company of poore people which are by them sett on worke.” A list found in Blackwell Hall in 1622 gives the names of perhaps 23 clothiers then resident in Dedham. With so many poor, there were growing problems with theft and burglary. John Rogers addresses the problem with his “Treatise of Love’. He mentions rogues who “swarmed like a plague of locusts,” and makes suggestions on how to treat the poor. “The provision of poor relief might discourage the poor from committing crimes against property since it would establish bonds of obligation between them and their richer neighbors and also reduce the incentive to steal provided by the pinch of want.” The will of Henry Sherman suggests that John Rogers had a profound effect on him:

“I bequeathe my soule into the handes of Almighty God my maker acknowledging Jesus the sonne of the Lyvinge God my only Savyoure and Redeemer by whose pretious bloodletting all my synnes ar washed awaye which hath satisfied the wrathe of God the father and I by his meritts and noe other means shall enherite the Kingdome prepared for the faithefull.”

“I will to the poore of Dedham twenty poundes to be a contynewall (continual) stocke for the poore to the worldes ende and the use and benefit of it to goe to the poore.” Henry wills an additional “twentie pounds for the poore” and sets up a continuous fund to support the free grammar school for the poor children in Dedham.

Edmund’s older brother Henry received the bulk of the elder Henry’s estate and the family clothier business. Edmund inherited ten poundes, and his son, also named Edmund, inherits 13 poundes when he came of age. It is the younger Edmund, my 11th great grandfather, who is the immigrant from which most American Sherman’s have descended from. His 14 year old son Samuel accompanied him and it is Samuel who is my 10th great grandfather.

I find it interesting in the will that Henry left 40 shillings to the vicar Parker who was defrocked 9 years later for attempting to seduce two married women of the Parish.

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