Samuel Gibbs, Elizabeth Langton and Persecution 1660-1688

The Langton family of Newbury descend from the marriage of William Langton and Elizabeth Gibbs in 1679. Elizabeth Gibbs was born in Newbury in 1656, her father being Samuel Gibbs and her brother Nathaniel Gibbs. Samuel Gibbs was a Baptist and endured persecution for his dissenting views at least over the period 1670-1684 and probably longer. We do not know if William and Elizabeth Langton were members of the Baptist congregation. Their marriage was in the Church of England and their children were christened there.

However it was not uncommon for dissenters to have their children christened to avoid later difficulties in property inheritance where potentially they would need to prove their age. Oliver Cromwell's government had produced religious toleration for the first time in England. After the Civil War the Presbyterian parliament had wished to introduce a compulsory Presbyterian state church and further they ordered the army to disband. The army realising that there was going to be no toleration of their views which were predominantly Congregationalist and Baptist came up with an alternative strategy which was to dissolve parliament.

Cromwell's state church embraced all and included Presbyterian, Congregationalist and a few Baptist clergy. An example of this was John Gibbs appointed vicar of Newport Pagnall in 1652. That he held Baptist views is known from the fact that he held a public disputation with the Congregationalist Richard Carpenter. Carpenter published an account of this in 1653 entitled the 'Anabaptist Washt and Washt and Shrunk in the Washing.' After Cromwell's death in 1658, John Gibbs managed to get himself expelled from the parish church in 1659. He had refused to give communion to everybody in the parish on the grounds that they were not all Christians. Gibbs a friend of John Bunyan then started a Baptist church. There is nothing to link John Gibbs with Samuel Gibbs but it is an interesting coincidence in names.

Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660 and despite promises of toleration a new era of persecution was soon under way. A vengeful new parliament termed the Cavalier Parliament passed a series of laws. The Corporation Act 1661 effectively barred all dissenters and Catholics from public offices such as mayor or alderman. The Act of Uniformity 1662 threw out two thousand ministers most of them Presbyterian from the Church of England threatening them with 3 months imprisonment if they preached again. By the end of 1662 there were 289 Baptists in Newgate prison and 18 in the Tower of London. In 1663 twelve men from a congregation of Baptists in Buckinghamshire were condemned to death and only saved by a pardon from the king.

The Conventicles Act 1664 punished dissenters if they dared to meet with fines and imprisonment for first and second offences and transportation for seven years or a fine of £100 for subsequent offences. The Five Mile Act forbade ejected ministers from coming within 5 miles of their previous church. The first we hear of Samuel Gibbs is an entry from the churchwardens in 1670. 'We present that William Harrison, John Rance, Thomas Hill, Samuel Gibs, and William Avelin being anabaptically inclined and reputed Anabaptists….. do refuse to come to ye publik assembly prayers and services of the church.' The phrase reputed Anabaptists implies that they were actually meeting as a baptist church.

The persecution was lifted in 1672 when Charles suspended all penal laws against catholics and dissenters and preachers and premises could be licenced. It was widely believed that Charles' intention was to bring back Catholicism. Parliament renewed the persecution in 1673 and Samuel was soon in trouble again. In 1675 the wardens reported, 'We present the persons….for not receiving the sacrament at Easter last…Samuel Gibbs tobacco pipe maker. Nine years later in 1684 Constable Francis Cox was once more presenting, this time Samuel Gibbs and his wife 'for not repairing to the parish church at Newbury to hear divine service and sermon upon the last two lord's dayes commonly called Sunday vizt 5th and 12th dayes of this instant October.

James II came to the throne in 1685. In 1687 James put out a declaration of indulgence in April suspending all penal laws on matters ecclesiastical he added however that he wanted all his subjects to be catholic. He sent this declaration of indulgence otherwise known as the 'Stinking Ordinance' throughout the country addressed to towns and others. The one sent to Calne in Wiltshire is addressed to our beloved William Langton an alderman and local tanner. James was deposed in the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and parliament gave the throne to William of Orange. In 1689 the Toleration Act was passed giving toleration to dissenters who registered their meeting houses.