The Missing Cross to Purity

A Memoir of William Leddra

Who Suffered Martyrdom in Boston, in 1661

William Leddra was one of four Quakers to die on the gallows, murdered by the Boston Puritans for being a Quaker. The Puritans were fundamentalist Christians, very rigid in their beliefs, depending on the Scriptures for rule and judgement, rather than the Holy Spirit. The Quakers had been very successful in England, often emptying entire churches of tithe-paying customers; so the Puritan priests of New England were very frightened of them. Since the Quakers told them that they must witness their salvation by seeing their savior within, the Puritans were incensed and outraged. They began banishing all Quakers. Then they began cruelly whipping all Quakers. Quakers still came, sent by God to save the people. So the Puritans next began to cut off the Quakers' ears, bore their tongues with a hot iron, and brand by hot iron them as heretics. The Quakers still came, sent by God to save the people. So the Puritans, without authority of the laws of England, made hanging till dead the next penalty for Quakers. Two other men, William Robinson and Marmaduke Stevenson had already been hung, and the courageous Mary Dyer was also murdered on the gallows by the Puritans, who considered themselves to be very refined Christian gentlemen. The complete story of the Quaker sufferings in New England is available on this site.

To his true followers, Jesus said:
.. whoever kills you will think and claim that he has offered service to God.

John 16:2

And so the Early Quakers similarly suffered,
the Whore of Babylon Continued to Drink the Blood of the Saints.

Of the history of William Leddra previous to his joining in religious fellowship of the Quakers, very little is known. His home was in Barbados, but he is said to have been by birth a Cornishman; and his occupation, it appears, was that of a clothier. We find him engaged very early in visiting the West Indies as a minister, and in 1657 he proceeded in that character to New England. Christian constancy, and patient endurance under extreme sufferings for the cause of his Lord, remarkably distinguished William Leddra. Addressing his friends of New England, from Boston prison, a few weeks before his death, he says—

" I testify in the fear of the Lord God, and witness with a pen of trembling, that the noise of the whip on my back, all the imprisonments, and banishing upon pain of death, and after returning, the loud threatening of a halter [hangman's noose] from their mouths, did no more affright me, through the strength of the power of God, than if they had threatened to have bound a spider's web to my finger; which makes me to say with unfeigned lips—"Wait upon the Lord, O my soul, forever. I do not seek to withdraw my cheek from the smiter, nor to turn aside my feet from the footsteps of the flock, as witness this chain and this log at my leg; but I desire, as far as the Lord draws me, to follow my forefathers and brethren, in suffering and in joy; wherefore my spirit waits and worships at the feet of Immanuel, unto whom I commit my cause."

About the Third Month of this year, William Leddra, who had lately arrived at Rhode Island from Barbados, in company with Thomas Harris, also felt drawn to visit the colony of Connecticut. After having had some religious service there, he was arrested and banished, and subsequently returned to Rhode Island. About the middle of the Fourth Month 1658, William Leddra and nine other early Quakers number met on Rhode Island, but they were not permitted long to enjoy this favored retreat. On the 15th, William Brend, Thomas Harris, and William Leddra, proceeded northward for Massachusetts. William Brend and William Leddra then passed onwards to Salem.

Reaching Salem, William Brend and William Leddra were warmly welcomed by the few faithful Friends of that place, with whom they were favored to hold several meetings to their mutual refreshment and comfort. On First-day, the 20th of Fourth Month, they attended one held at the house of Nicholas Phelps, in the woods, about five miles from Salem. A magistrate of the town hearing of the intended meeting, came with a constable, for the purpose of breaking it up, and securing the two strangers; but failing in his purpose, he left the company, with a threat that he would prosecute the Friends who were present. From Salem the two gospel messengers traveled to Newburyport, where also they had some religious service. Their passing thus from place to place, in the very heart of the Puritan population of New England, and by their powerful ministry making converts to the doctrines they professed, aroused the fears of the local magistracy to this new state of things. After leaving Newburyport, they were soon overtaken by a zealous ruler of the place, who arrested them and carried them to Salem. The court, which was then sitting in the town, had the Friends brought up for examination. Here they were interrogated respecting the doctrines they were promulgating, but their answers were so clear and convincing, and they appealed so effectually to the consciences of the magistrates, that the latter confessed they discovered nothing heretical or dangerous in their opinions. The court, however, told the prisoners that they had a law against Quakers, and that law must be obeyed. An order for their committal immediately followed, and in a few days they were removed to Boston prison. Six Friends of Salem were also committed for having attended the meeting at the house of Nicholas Phelps.

William Brend and William Leddra, who were deemed special offenders, were separated from their companions. They were placed in a miserable cell, the window of which was so stopped, as not only to deprive them of light, but also of ventilation, while all conversation between them and the citizens was strictly forbidden. The jailer, following the cruel course which he had pursued towards Thomas Harris, refused to allow them an opportunity of purchasing food,  though they offered to pay for it. But he told them, it was not their money, but their labor he desired. Thus he kept them five days without food, and then with a three-corded whip gave them twenty blows. An hour after he told them, they might go out, if they would pay the marshal that was to lead them out of the country. They judging it very unreasonable to pay money for being banished, refused this, but yet said, that if the prison-door was set open, they would go away. The next day the jailer came to W. Brend, a man in years, and put him in irons, neck and heels so close together, that there was no more room left between each, than for the lock that fastened them. Thus he kept them from five in the morning, till after nine at night, being the space of sixteen hours. The next morning he brought him to the mill to work, but Brend refusing, the jailer took a pitched rope about an inch thick, and gave him twenty blows over his back and arms, with as much force as he could, so that the rope untwisted; and then, going away, he came again with another rope, that was thicker and stronger, and told Brend, that he would cause him to bow to the law of the country, and make him work. Brend judged this not only unreasonable in the highest degree, since he had committed no evil, but he was also altogether unable to work for he lacked strength for want of food, having been kept five days without eating, and whipped also, and now thus unmercifully beaten with a rope. But this inhuman jailer relented not, but began to beat anew with his pitched rope on this bruised body, and foaming at his mouth like a madman, with violence laid ninety-seven more blows on him, as other prisoners that beheld it with compassion, have told ; and if his strength, and his rope had not failed him, he would have laid on more; he threatened also to give him the next morning as many blows more. But a higher power, who sets limits even to the raging sea, and has said, "to here you shall come, but no further," also limited this butcherly fellow; who was yet impudently stout enough to say his morning prayer. To what a most terrible condition these blows brought the body of Brend, who because of the great heat of the weather, had nothing but a serge cassock upon his shirt, may easily be conceived. His back and arms were bruised and black, and the blood hanging as in bags under his arms; and so into one was his flesh beaten, that the sign of a particular blow could not be seen; for all was become as a jelly. His body being thus cruelly tortured, he lay down upon the boards, so extremely weakened, that the natural parts decaying, and strength quite failing, his body turned cold. There seemed as it were a struggle between life and death; his senses were stopped, and he had for some time neither seeing, feeling, nor hearing; till at length a divine power prevailing, life broke through death, and the breath of the Lord was breathed into his nostrils. Now, the noise of this cruelty spread among the people in the town, and caused such a cry, that the governor sent his surgeon to the prison to see what might be done; but the surgeon found the body of Brend in such a deplorable condition, that, as one without hopes, he said, his flesh would rot from off his bones, before the bruised parts could be brought to digest. This so exasperated the people, that the magistrates, to prevent a tumult, set up a paper on their meeting-house door, and up and down the streets, as it were to show their dislike of this abominable, and most barbarous cruelty; and said, the jailer should be dealt withal the next court. But this paper was soon taken down again upon the instigation of the high priest, John Norton, who, having from the beginning been a fierce promoter of the persecution, now did not hesitate to say, "W. Brend endeavored to beat our gospel ordinances black and blue, if he then be beaten black and blue, it is but just upon him; and I will appear in his behalf that did so." It is therefore not much to be wondered at, that these precise and bigoted magistrates, who would be looked upon to be eminent for piety, were so cruel in persecuting, since their chief teacher thus wickedly encouraged them to it.

It happened about this time, that some of the people called Quakers that lived there were brought before the magistrates. One of them challenged the magistrates, asking how they might know who was a Quaker; to which Simon Broadstreet, one of the magistrates, answered, '"You are one, for coming in with your hat on." Which made the other reply, it was a horrible thing to make such cruel laws, to whip and cut off ears, and bore through the tongue, for not putting off the hat. Then one of the bench said, that the Quakers held forth blasphemies at their meetings. To which one of the others asked him to prove the assertion, considering that it had pleased God to miraculously to heal W. Brend and to keep him alive. As though this hardened the hearts of these persecutors, to show themselves obedient followers of their teacher, they produced an order for the jailer; which was if the Quakers that were in his custody refused to work, he should whip them twice a week, the first time with ten lashes, the next time with fifteen, and so at each time with three more, till they would work. This was performed on four persons, one of which was William Leddra. To keep the passionate jailer within due bounds, it was ordered that each time he should warn two constables to see the execution. But how little moderation was truly meant, and that this was more like a jest, may appear in that the jailer the first time laid fifteen lashes each on the said persons, and so added five stripes to the first number of  lashings.

In the Fourth Month, 1659, William Leddra, and Peter Pearson, while traveling in gospel labors in that colony, were arrested, and imprisoned for ten months at Plymouth. The following extract from a letter written by Peter Pearson during his imprisonment, gives a few particulars of the movements of himself and some of his friends prior to his arrest.

Upon the Ninth-day of the Fourth Month, 1659, the Fourth- day of the week, all of us English Friends that were abroad in this country, had a meeting upon Rhode Island. The Sixth-day following, at a Ferry side, upon Rhode Island, one Friend, William Leddra, and I, parted with Christopher Holder, Marmaduke Stevenson, and William Robinson. We were about to pass over the ferry to travel into this part of the country called Plymouth colony At the end of two days' journey we came to a town therein called Sandwich, and the day following had a pretty peaceable meeting. We planned that if we escaped apprehension in this colony, we were going to travel into Boston's jurisdiction; but in the second meeting that we had at Sandwich, we were apprehended, and had before the governor and magistrates, and by them committed to this prison, where we have remained five months and upward."-

Peter Pearson

Written in Plymouth prison, in New England, the 6th of the Tenth Month, 1659.

The rulers of the colony of Plymouth, though not so severe in their measures for oppressing Friends, as their neighbors of Boston, continued, nevertheless, to harass them by heavy fines, for the non-attendance of meetings. Thomas Ewer of Sandwich, in addition to severe distraints, was laid neck and heels together, for reproving his persecutors, for these unjust proceedings. Peter Pearson and William Leddra, who were committed to Plymouth jail, in the Fourth Month of 1659, did not obtain their liberty until the early part of the following year; the period of their imprisonment, being more prolonged than that of any Friend who suffered in New England.

Among those imprisoned at Boston in the Tenth Month, 1660, was William Leddra, who had returned to the city, after having been exiled on pain of death. This faithful man appears to have been in no ordinary degree the object of Puritan displeasure. During his former imprisonment at Boston, the sufferings to which he was subjected had been so extreme that his life was endangered. On the present occasion, he was fettered to a log of wood, being chained night and day in an open prison; and that, also, during the severities of a New England winter. His persecutors would probably have been glad, had these inhumanities put an end to his existence; but it pleased Divine Providence to support him through them.

On the 9th of the First Month, 1661, he was again brought before the Court of Assistants. Thus arraigned, with the chains about him, and still bound to the log, he was told that having returned after sentence of banishment, he had incurred the penalty of death. On hearing this, the sufferer asked what evil he had done? The Court replied, he had owned those that were put to death; had refused to put off his hat in court, and said thee and thou. He then asked them if they would put him to death for speaking English, and for not putting off his clothes? To this, one of the magistrates made the absurd reply, "A man may speak treason in English."William Leddra then inquired if "it was treason to say thee and thou to a single person." Broadstreet, a violent persecuting magistrate, now undertook to question the prisoner, and asked him "If he would go to England." He replied that he had no business in England. Then, said Broadstreet, significantly pointing to Boston Common, "You shall go that way." "What," replied William Leddra, "will you put me to death for breathing in the air of your jurisdiction? What have you against me? I appeal to the laws of England for my trial. If by them I am found guilty, I refuse not to die." The arbitrary Court, however, overruled his appeal; and then, like some other persecutors of old, endeavored to persuade him to recant, and conform to their own religion. The wretched attempt was at once rejected, and rejected, too, with magnanimity and disdain. "What! Join with such murderers as you are," said William Leddra; "then let every man that meets me say, 'Lo, this is the man that has  forsaken the God of his salvation.'"

The Court, finding their victim unshaken in his religious convictions, passed the sentence of death upon him, and appointed the 14th of the month for its execution. On this day it was also arranged that a morning lecture should be given; and now, as on the former occasions, the officiating minister exerted his eloquence, to urge the magistracy onward in their dreadful work. "Priests," writes a contemporary, "served to whet them on." The lecture, or, as a modern writer terms it, "this shocking preamble to the execution,"being concluded, the governor, with a guard of soldiers, proceeded to the prison. Here the irons that had long hung on William Leddra were knocked off, and, taking a solemn farewell of his imprisoned companions, he "went forth to the slaughter in the meekness of the spirit of Jesus." On leaving the prison walls, he was immediately surrounded by the soldiery, with a view to prevent him from speaking to his friends. Edward Wharton, observing the maneuver, exclaimed that it was worse than the conduct of Bonnets men. "What," said he, "will you not let me come near my suffering friend before you kill him." One of the company replied that "it would be his turn next;" and an officer threatened to stop his mouth, if he spoke another word.

The procession was similar in character to those before-mentioned; and having reached the place of execution, William Leddra exhorted his friend, Edward Wharton, to faithfulness, and told him a final farewell, saying, "All that will be Christ's disciples must take up his cross." While standing on the ladder, some one having called out, "William, have you anything to say to the people?" he replied, "For bearing my testimony for the Lord against the deceivers and deceived, am I brought here to suffer." These expressions, together with the heavenly mindedness which he manifested at this awful period, awakened the tender feelings of many of the spectators, in a manner that conveyed keen reproof to the instigators of the revolting scene. The ministers observed the manifestation of this feeling with uneasiness; and Allen, who was one of them, with a view to check the current of sympathy, said, loudly, "People, I would not have you think it strange to see a man so willing to die, for it is no new thing; you may read how the apostle said, that some shall be given up to many delusions, and even dare to die for it." Truly, the apostle said that many should be given up to delusions; but the persecuting priest committed a great error, when he quoted the apostle as saying that such should dare to die for them.

The executioner now proceeded to complete his work. While the hangman's noose was being adjusted, the martyr meekly and resignedly said, "I commend my righteous cause unto you, O God." As the ladder was turning, his last expressions was, "Lord, Jesus! Receive my spirit." The body, on being cut down, was allowed to be removed by his friends for interment; this, however, would not have been granted, but for the outcry of the people against the barbarous indecencies exhibited to the remains of the former victims.

Before the execution, it was currently reported that William Leddra had liberty to leave the prison, and to save his life. This was a gross falsehood, propagated, doubtless, with a view to lessen the odiousness of the wicked proceedings. There was a stranger present, who was much affected on witnessing the scene. A letter addressed by him to a friend at Barbados, alluding to this report, and describing the execution, has been preserved, and will be read with interest.

Boston, March 26,1661.

On the 14th of this instant, one William Leddra was put to death here. The people of the town told me, he might go away if he would; but when I made further inquiry, I heard the marshal say that he was chained in prison, from the time he was condemned, to the day of his execution. I am not of his opinion; but yet, truly, I thought the Lord did mightily appear in the man. I went to one of the magistrates of Cambridge, who had been of the jury that condemned him, as he told me himself; and I asked him by what rule he did it ? He answered me, that he was a rogue, a very rogue. But what is this to the question, I said, where is your rule? He said, he had abused authority. Then I went after the man, and asked him, whether he did not look on it as a breach of rule to slight and undervalue authority? And I said that Paul gave Festus the title of honor, though he was a heathen. (I do not mean to say these magistrates are heathens). When the man was on the ladder, he looked on me and called me friend, and said, “know that this day I am willing to offer up my life for the witness of Jesus.” Then I desired leave of the officers to speak, and said, “gentlemen, I am a stranger both to your persons and country, yet a friend of both:” and I cried aloud, for the Lord's sake, take not away the man's life; but remember Gamaliel's counsel to the Jews—“If it is of man, it will come to nothing; but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it: but be careful you are not found fighters against God.” And the captain said, why had you not come to the prison? The reason was, because I heard the man might go if he would; and therefore I called him down from the tree, and said, come down, William, you may go away if you will. Then Captain Oliver said it was no such matter; and asked me what I had to do with it; and told me to be gone. I told them I was willing, for I could not endure to see this. When I was in the town, some did seem to sympathize with me in my grief. I told them, they had no warrant from the Bible, nor precedent from our country, nor power from his Majesty, to hang the man. I rest your friend,

Thomas Wilkie

To Mr. George Lad, master of the America, of Dartmouth, now at Barbados.

The state of William Leddra's mind, in anticipation of his death, may be truly called a triumphant one. The heavenly enjoyments which he was permitted to experience, and the foretaste he had of a glorious immortality, were such as are rarely vouchsafed to humanity. On the day preceding his execution, he wrote the following :—


Grace and Peace be multiplied.


The sweet influences of the morning star, like a flood, distilling into my habitation, have so filled me with the joy of the Lord in the beauty of holiness, that my spirit is as if it did not inhabit a tabernacle of clay, but is wholly swallowed up in the bosom of eternity, from where it had its being.

Alas! Alas! what can the wrath and spirit of man that lusts to envy, aggravated by the heat and strength of the king of the locusts which came out of the pit, do to one that is hidden in the secrets of the Almighty, or to them that are gathered under the healing wings of the Prince of Peace? Under whose armor of light they shall be able to stand in the day of trial; having on the breastplate of righteousness and the sword of the Spirit, which is their weapon of war against spiritual wickedness, principalities and powers, and the rulers of the darkness of this world, both within and without.

Oh, my beloved! I have waited like a dove at the windows of the ark; and have stood still in that watch, which the Master, without whom I could do nothing, did at his coming reward with the fullness of his love; wherein my heart did rejoice, that I might, in the love and life of God, speak a few words to you, sealed with the spirit of promise; that the taste of it might be a savor of life to your life, and a testimony in you of my innocent death. And if I had been altogether silent, and the Lord had not opened my mouth to you, yet he would have opened your hearts, and there have sealed my innocence with the streams of life, by which we are all baptized into that body which is of God, with whom and in whose presence there is life; in which as you abide, you stand upon the pillar and ground of truth. For the life being the truth and the way, go not one step without it, lest you should compass a mountain in the wilderness; for to everything there is a season.

As the flowing of the ocean fills every creek and branch thereof, and [as it] then retires again towards its own being and fullness, and leaves a savor behind it; so does the life and virtue of God flow into every one of your hearts, whom He has made partakers of his Divine nature; and when it withdraws but a little, it leaves a sweet savor behind it, that many can say they are made clean through the word that He has  spoken to them; in which innocent condition you may see what you are in the presence of God, and what you are without Him.

That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the wordEph 5:26
(This speaks of the word within, “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart."Rom 10:8.
As you hear, listen, and obey the words - you are made clean )

Therefore, my dear hearts, let the enjoyment of life alone be your hope, you joy and consolation; and let the man of God flee those things that would lead the mind out of the cross, for then the savor of life will be buried. And although some may speak of things they received in the life, as experiences, yet the life being veiled, and the savor that is left being washed away by the fresh floods of temptation, the condition that they enjoyed in the life, though boasted of by the airy spirit, will be like the manna that was gathered yesterday, without any good scent or savor. For, it is well with the man only while he is in the life of innocence; but being driven from the presence* of the Lord into the earth, what can he boast of?

*{Leddra is saying, that unless we are in the presence of God, we without redemption. Seek His face and to be in His presence continually. 1 Chr 16:11. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Mat 5:8}

And though you know these things, and many of you, much more than I can say; yet for the love and zeal I bear to the truth and honor of God, and the tender desire of my soul to those that are young, that they may read me in that from which I write,* to strengthen them against the wiles of the subtle serpent that beguiled Eve. I say, stand and watch within, in the fear of the Lord, which is the very entrance of wisdom, and the state where you are ready to receive the secrets of the Lord. Hunger and thirst patiently, be not weary, neither doubt. Stand still, and cease from your own works, and in due time you shall enter the rest, and your eyes shall behold his salvation, whose testimonies are sure and righteous altogether. Let them be as a seal upon your arm, and as jewels around your neck, that others may see what the Lord has done for your souls. Confess him before men, yes, before his greatest enemies; fear not what they can do to you; greater is he that is within you, than he that is in the world. He will clothe you with humility, and in the power of his meekness you shall reign over all the rage of your enemies, in the favor of God; in which, as you stand in the faith, you are the salt of the earth; for many, seeing your good works, may glorify God in the day of their visitation.

*in that from which I write - is the presence of God, in the Kingdom.

Take heed of receiving that which you have not seen in the light, for fear you listen to the enemy. Bring all things to the light, that they may be proved, whether they are wrought in God; the love of the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eye, are outside the light, in the world; therefore possess your vessels in all sanctification and honor, and let your eyes look at the mark, [goal]. He that has called you is holy; and if there is an eye that offends, pluck it out and cast it from you. Let not a temptation take hold, for if you do, it will keep you from the favor of God, and will be a sad state. For, without grace possessed there is no assurance of salvation. By grace your are saved; and the witnessing of it is sufficient for you; to which I commend you all, my dear friends, and in it remain, your brother,

William Leddra

Boston Jail, the 13th  of the First Month, 1661

Just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do.
1 Pet 1:15

Without holiness no one will see the Lord.
Heb 12:14

Thus died this devoted Christian, {who had already experienced the first death of baptism, burial, and subsequent resurrection; he was plainly living in the Kingdom, paradise, in the presence of God; to such, the second death has no power.}

This web site's purpose is to show how to become
free from sin
by benefiting from the changing power of God through the cross,
which leads to union with God in his Kingdom.