In October 1647, the House of Lords received a petition from Henry Forstall, Mayor of Sandwich – East Kent, and John Elgate, churchwarden of St Clement’s Church there. They were objecting to the installation of a Minister, one Hope Sherrard, at St Clement’s Church, Sandwich.
The two worthies complained that on account of his ‘inability to preach and his ill affections knew that he would never gain consent of any considerable part of the parishioners.‘ However, a testimonial from the parishioners of St Clement’s stated, amongst other things, that Hope was ‘pious peaceable in conversation and a great blessing to the town.’ Adding that ‘if Henry Forstall had not incensed rude seamen and others against him there would be no opposition.’
Hope Sherrard was no stranger to trouble, as a bright young man from a poor family, he was admitted to Emmanuel College, Cambridge, as a sizar – a student who ‘worked their passage’ on 10 February 1621. It appears that he may have graduated BA in 1631 (Speranntus Sherrard) and shortly after was elected as Minister to a group of settlers going to the Caribbean. They were sponsored by a group of wealthy and politically minded Puritans who had set up a company to finance a colony on San Andrés and Providencia islands, now part of the Columbian Islands, off the Nicaraguan coast (co-ordinates: 12º35’N 81º42’W). The colony was to survive on subsistence farming and Puritan ideals.
Discovered by Christopher Columbus during his 4th voyage (1502-1504), by 1527, the Spanish acknowledged possession of the islands. It is not known whether the islands were inhabited when the Spanish discovered them. By the end of the 16th century, the Dutch had a settlement there following which the Dutch and French used them as a base for privateering (legalised piracy). In 1628 Robert Rich, 2nd Earl of Warwick (1587–1658), who was very much involved in England’s overseas empire building, sent three ships to the Caribbean on a privateering mission. A Puritan, the Earl of Warwick, was later actively involved in the Civil Wars and the Interregnum (1642–1660) on the side of Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658).
Following a report from the captain of one of the ships, the Earl of Warwick and nineteen other Chartered Members, set up the Providencia Island Company, in order create the Puritan colony that Hope Sherrard was appointed to Minister. The colonists left England on the Seaflower in February 1631, under the charge of Captain William Rudyerd making landfall on San Andrés. The settlers then moved to Providencia, where the land was fertile and the mountainous terrain provided fresh water. Within a year, some eighty men arrived from Bermuda to join them and in 1632, a further contingent of around 150 came from England. The men, by the religious inclinations of the Company, were forbidden to play cards or other forms of gaming, whoring, drunkenness and profanity. All of which Hope advocated.
Supported by armed men, the new settlers quickly repelled the Dutch from the islands. However, within a year, the Company brought in enslaved people of West African birth or descent, from Jamaica. Over this, Hope objected saying that ‘Christians should not hold slaves.’ This fell on deaf ears as the Company wanted the colonists to grow cotton along with sugar cane. Both of these gave way to tobacco. Albeit, in 1634 there was a glut in the market for tobacco and the economy of the colony was hit hard that lead to hostilities within Hope’s flock.
Besides very little thought being given to religious convictions, there was even less given to the skills of the settlers. Although there was plenty of wood on the islands, there were no sawyers or craftsmen to create adequate shelters. Both the governor and Hope had a sort of brick house but the rest of the colonists lived in poorly built timber constructions that provided inadequate protection from the elements. The rain spoiled food, ropes and other necessities along with guns and powder. In 1634 Hope wrote to the Company in England, expressing his fears over an attack, finishing by saying that, ‘…we need to have prayers and faith now if ever, considering our imminent danger, having not shot for above a day’s fight in case all the enemy should assault us, and besides, 50 of our ablest and skillfullest men have gone from us of late … and we do not have the power to repel the enemy from landing.’
At the time, the Spanish did not know of the existence of the colony so Captain Rudyerd, in answer to Hope’s fears, told the Company that if the Island was properly fortified, it could be held against any force by 600 men. The Company acted swiftly and by December, the fortifications were reported as being more than adequate. A survey, undertaken the following year, 1635, showed that the colony composed of 500 ‘English’, 40 women, 90 people of African origin and a few children. Before the year was out the Spanish, having become aware of the colony’s existence, attacked.
They were repelled but the Company successfully applied to Charles I for ‘Letters of Marque’, enabling them to set up force of privateers to repel any further attacks – and legally commit piracy against Spanish Main ships carrying gold, silver etc. This had a positive effect on the economy of the settlement for although they refused to pay for defences, the Company agreed that settlers engaged in privateering retaining four-fifths of the value of the plunder. The inhabitants built defences and it would appear that Hope married about this time. His wife Mary gave birth to two children on the Island, one of whom was John, born in 1639.
On his return to England, Hope was given the Ministry of St Peter’s Sandwich. This was just before the outbreak of the Civil Wars in 1642. There had been riots in Sandwich led by Royalist sympathisers, including Robert Lovell, Hope’s predecessor. When Hope arrived in the town, Robert was in Dover Castle prison but his wife still lived in the parsonage. Hope had with him his wife Mary and the two children but until Mrs Lovell moved out, they were homeless. In May 1643, Mary gave birth to a boy named after his father, but it is recorded that he was buried the following March.
In the meantime, Mrs Lovell refused to move from the parsonage, saying that her husband had been appointed by Charles I whereas Hope’s appointment was by Parliament. On 6 September 1643 an order was issued for her removal and the Mayor of Sandwich, Jurats, a constable, sundry townsfolk and Hope went to the parsonage and demanded admission. Mrs Lovell, although within, did not answer. A month later the same group tried again but Mrs Lovell still refused to open the door. On 14 November Mrs Lovell, when told that unless she surrendered the parsonage, there would be forced entry, ‘seemingly somewhat distracted’ promised to leave by Friday 20 November. However, on that day the contingent found the parsonage barred against them and they were forced to make break down the doors. Mrs Lovell was forcibly ejected and Hope and his family moved in. Eventually the Rev Lovell was released from the Castle and in 1653 and was awarded £7 out of the arrears of tithe due to him.
Towards the end of 1643, the town of Sandwich was devastated by plague with over 1,000 inhabitants dying. Mrs Lovell’s supporters said that this was a curse from God for removing her husband from the incumbency. Crosses and even crucifixes were erected to try to combat the pestilence. On 6 September 1645, Widow Drew was hung in Sandwich Market as a witch after being swum in the Delf stream. The accounts at the time include ‘wine and beer for seamen, hot water for her; and 2s for swimming.’ The widow’s goods were sold by auction.
In the meantime, Hope was admitted as a Freeman of Sandwich – the usual procedure for a parson. He was also asked to serve St Mary’s Church, there, as the incumbent had died of the plague. In November 1644, Mary gave birth to a son, again named Hope, but on 25 April 1646, he was buried. In July that year they had another boy, Joseph and on 16 February 1648 their daughter Martha was baptised and later that year another son, Ralph. In the meantime, their son John was growing up fast.
However, when Hope was offered the third ministry in the town, St Clement’s, the churchwarden objected and the Mayor refused to support the appointment. At the time, the numbers of Non-conformists to Anglicanism in Sandwich were rapidly increasing and in the summer that year, the Mayor ordered the arrest of two. Separately, the town had received the order that fasting was to be strictly observed by all, even in unseasonable weather. Hope petitioned for the St Clement’s living, enclosing the testimonial cited in the opening paragraph, however, Mayor Henry Forstall, along with the Corporation presented the counter petition. The authorities sided with Hope, giving him an increase in his stipend at the same time as sending the Mayor to prison!
The previous incumbent at St Clement’s, Benjamin Harrison, was still in post and was kneeling in prayer in the pulpit of the Church when a Parliamentarian contingent arrived and ordered him out. Harrison ignored the officer in charge who then ordered his men to drag Harrison from the pulpit. This they did. Suffering head injuries during his arrest, Harrison was taken to the Castle prison but that afternoon an accident occurred and the soldier who had caused the injuries was killed. Following the Restoration, in 1660, Harrison returned to St Clement’s.
In the meantime, the Mayor and Jurats amalgamated the three churches at Sandwich and Hope was appointed in overall charge. He was also given the incumbency of St Margaret’s. Dissent, though, was growing against the Parliamentarians and Hope was relieved of his posts. For this he was given £60 compensation by the Court for Plundered Ministers together with the incumbency of Melcombe Bingham, Dorset. He stayed there until 1658 and then my researchers on Hope Sherrard come to a dead-end. However, Hope’s son John, born in Providencia in 1639, entered Trinity College, Dublin in 1658 and his brother Ralph in 1664. It does not appear that John graduated but Ralph did with a BA in 1674.
- Dover Mercury: 23 March 2006