Rev. John Wilson
d.7 Aug 1667 Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts, United States
Facts and Events
John Wilson (c.1591–1667), was a Puritan clergyman in Boston in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and the minister of the First Church of Boston from its beginnings in Charlestown in 1630 until his death in 1667. He is most noted for being a minister at odds with Anne Hutchinson during the Antinomian Controversy from 1636 to 1638, and for being an attending minister during the execution of Mary Dyer in 1660.
Born into a prominent English family from Sudbury in Suffolk, his father was the chaplain to the Archbishop of Canterbury, and thus held a high position in the Anglican Church. Young Wilson was sent to school at Eton for four years, and then attended the university at King's College, Cambridge, where he received his B.A. in 1610. From there he studied law briefly, and then studied at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, where he received an M.A. in 1613. Following his ordination, he was the chaplain for some prominent families for a few years, before being installed as pastor in his home town of Sudbury. Over the next ten years he was dismissed and then reinstated on several occasions, because of his strong Puritan sentiments which contradicted the practices of the established church.
As with many other Puritan divines, Wilson came to New England, and sailed with his friend John Winthrop and the Winthrop Fleet in 1630. He was the first minister of the settlers, who established themselves in Charlestown, but soon crossed the Charles River into Boston. Wilson was an encouragement to the early settlers during the very trying initial years of colonization. He made two return trips to England during his early days in Boston, the first time to persuade his wife to come, after she initially refused to make the trip, and the second time to transact some business. Upon his second return to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1635, Anne Hutchinson was first exposed to his preaching, and found an unhappy difference between his theology and that of her mentor, John Cotton, who was the other Boston minister. The theologically astute, sharp-minded, and outspoken Hutchinson, who had been hosting large groups of followers in her home, began to criticize Wilson, and the divide erupted into the Antinomian Controversy. Hutchinson was eventually tried and banished from the colony, as was her brother-in-law, Reverend John Wheelwright.
Following the controversy, Wilson and Cotton were able to work together to heal the divisions within the Boston church, but after Cotton's death more controversy befell Boston as the Quakers began to infiltrate the orthodox colony with their evangelists. Greatly opposed to their theology, Wilson supported the actions taken against them, and supervised the execution of his former parishioner, Mary Dyer in 1660. He died in 1667, the longest-lived of the early ministers in the Boston area, and his passing was lamented by those who knew him and worked with him, but he is also remembered for the roles he played in the persecution of those who did not embrace the Puritan orthodoxy.