The Portsmouth Compact

The following is quoted from the book Story of Dr. John Clarke; The Founder of The First Free Commonwealth of the World; on the Basis of "Full Liberty in Religious Concernments" by Thomas W. Bickness, published by the Author, Providence, R. I., 1915; third edition. Note: In the book is a picture of the compact which has been scanned in color for these pages. The transciption has been corrected to spell Phillip Shearman's name with two "L"s and to add the words "his mark" as they appear next to Henry Bull's name and under his mark "+".


Prior to leaving Boston, a compact was drawn up, under date of March 7, 1638, by which a number of the leading men of the proposed Colony incorporated themselves into "A Bodie Politik" to the end that they might go to their new Plantation in a formal organization, under a chosen leader or Governor.

The compact is as follows:
 

The 7th Day of the First Month, 1638. 145 kb full image
We whose names are underwritten do hereby solemnly
in the presence of Jehovah incorporate ourselves
into a Bodie Politick and as He shall help, will sub-
mit our persons, lives and estates unto our Lord
Jesus Christ, the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords,
and to all those perfect and most absolute laws
of His given in His Holy Word of truth, to be 
guided and judged thereby. 
[150% image of above sections]
William Coddington [150% image of first 12 names]
John Clarke
William Hutchinson, Jr.
John Coggeshall
William Aspinwall
Samuel Wilbore
John Porter
John Sanford
Edward Hutchinson, Jr. Esq.
Thomas Savage
William Dyre
William Freeborne
Phillip Shearman [150% image of last 11 names]
John Walker
Richard Carder
William Baulston
Edward Hutchinson, Sr.
      +
Henry Bull ["his mark" written next to name]
Randall Holden
[150% image of lower right corner]
Exodus, 24c., 3:4.
II Cron., 11c., 3.

II Kings, 11:17.
This compact was signed originally by twenty-three persons. The original paper is in the keeping of the Secretary of State, at the State House, Providence, a photograph of which appears on the opposite page. Four names, Thomas Clarke, brother of John, John Johnson, William Hall and John Bright-man, Esq., follow the nineteen that appear above. Erasure marks have been made over these names, the reason for which it is not easy to understand as the first three were among the first recorded settlers of Newport, and Mr. Brightman may have been.

Neither was a Constitution nor a Bill of Rights for a Colony. Boston called the compact an act of incorporation. Plymouth called theirs a covenant, Boston did the act in "the presence of Jehovah," Plymouth wrote "in the presence of God." Boston formed a "Bodie Politick," Plymouth called theirs a "Civill Bodie Politick." Boston submitted their "persons, lives and estates unto our Lord Jesus Christ." * * * ** "And to all those perfect and most absolute lawes of His given us in His Holy word of truth, to be guided and judged thereby." Plymouth promised submission and obedience to such "just and equal lawes, ordinances, acts, constitutions and offices" as might be enacted, constituted and framed. Each compact had for its purpose the formation of a civil state under an orderly government. The Boston paper was probably written by Dr. John Clarke, whose piety and purpose lent a strongly religious sentiment to the document, so much so that some historians have called it theocratic. But Dr. Clarke did not classify The Christ as a theocrat, for all his writings make the great Teacher the interpreter of a new Democracy in which soul-liberty is established and enforced.

Samuel G. Arnold, our Rhode Island historian, has given a very clear and just interpretation of the Portsmouth Compact. He says, "So prominent indeed is the religious character of this instrument, that it has by some been considered, although erroneously, as being itself 'a church covenant, which also embodied a civil compact.' Their plans were more matured than those of the Providence settlers. To establish a Colony independent of every other was their avowed intention, and the organization of a regular government was their initial step. That their object was to lay the foundation of a Christian state, where all who bore the name might worship God according to the dictates of conscience, untrammelled by written articles of faith, and unawed by the civil power, is proved by their declarations and by their subsequent conduct." * * * *


  Picture of the plaque of the 1638 Portsmouth Compact Memorial
        in Founders Park, Portsmouth taken in May of 1997 by
        Elliot J. Wilcox (98 kb)