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West Country Poets

ABRAHAM CHEARE (died 1668)

Abraham CHEARE was born at Plymouth, of humble but believing parents, and was brought up by them to the 'poor, yet honest trade of a Fuller.'  In the year 1648 he was baptized and admitted a member of the Nonconformist Church at Plymouth, and was soon afterwards invited to become its pastor, a position which he accepted in the following year.  This church seems at the time to have been in a flourishing condition, as the invitation to Cheare is said to have been signed by 150 members.

Plymouth at this period was, as regards its size, a very insignificant town.  It appears, however, that some value must have been attached to the possession of it, as a very protracted struggle took place in the attempt which the Royalist party made to subdue it in 1643.  At the outset of the Civil War the town of Plymouth espoused the cause of the Parliament; and it is remarkable that it was the only town in the West that did not fall into the hands of the Royalists.  Cheare served in the trainband of the town during this memorable siege.  Two years after he had undertaken the oversight of the church, a piece of land in the Pig Market (now Bedford Street) was purchased by his people, and a house appropriated to Divine worship.  For some years things appear to have gone on in peace and security, the magistrates offering no opposition to the new church.  In 1656, Cheare, with other of his brethren, published an address to the churches, entitled 'Sights for Sion, or Faith and Love,' etc.  This was addressed 'To the several congregations respectively, to which we stand especially related, viz. Plymouth, Abingdon, Totness, Bovhey Tracy , and Dartmouth."  This pamphlet, consisting of 22 pages quarto, is said to have been written chiefly by Cheare.  Some original letters of Cheare's, of which the MS. is still extant, throw considerable light upon the difficulties he and his church had to contend with at the time.  In 1658 Cheare was one of those who attended the meeting of the Baptists Western Association, which in that year was held at Dorchester.

In 1660 Charles II, came to the throne, and the old opposition against  Dissenters was revived, those of Plymouth and its neighbourhood not escaping the general persecution.  In the following year Cheare was committed to Exeter gaol on the charge of encouraging religious assemblies, but was liberated at the end of three months.  In 1662 (the year of the ejection of 2,000 nonconforming ministers from their livings), on St. Bartholomew's Day, Cheare was again sent to Exeter gaol, this time the charge laid against him being - 'That he held unlawful assemblies, and refused to conform to the law of the Established Church.'  Many an affecting farewell discourse was preached on August 17, 1662, by faithful ministers of the Gospel, who would be before the following Lord's Day 'silenced' or 'ejected'.  From his prison, Cheare wrote a pastoral letter to his people and many private letters to members of his congregation and friends.  Some idea may be formed of the treatment Cheare experiences whilst in prison from the following allusions in one of his letters.  'I must confess', he says, 'this prison hath produced a fresh trial of spirit to me of late, beyond that hitherto  I have ordinarily observed and experienced it, to see the abounding increasing filthiness of this prophane family, the governors and governed in it, being set upon the impudence of abomination, not only slighting and hating reproof, but daring us and heaven with their oaths, curses, singing, roaring, raging, etc., insomuch as were not the goodness of God and of His cause, a relieving support, the place would become a prison indeed.'  Cheare wrote many poetical pieces whilst in prison.  By incidental allusions in his writings, some idea may be formed as to the companions of Cheare in his imprisonment in Exeter gaol.  One of these he speaks of as 'that faithful servant of Christ, John EDWARDS, junior, who died in the prison at Exon, the 27th year of his age.'  Cheare preserved the memory of his friend in some affecting lines.'  Another of his fellow-prisoners was a Captain Sampson LARK.  Many other of his pieces date from the same period of his incarceration at Exeter.

After Cheare had been cruelly and mercilessly treated in Exeter prison for a period of three years (1662-1665), he obtained, through the efforts made by his sister, liberty to visit his native place, and accordingly came to Plymouth.  But as soon as his persecutors, ever on the alert, found that he was again at liberty, they arrested him and got him confined in the Guildhall in that town for a month.  Whilst in that place he wrote the following lines, which are thus headed:

VERSES

AFFIXED TO THE WALL OF THE PRISON AT THE GUILDHALL PLIMOUTH; WHERE A.C. WAS DETAINED A MONTH, AND THENCE SENT TO THE ISLAND, THE 17TH SEPTEMBER, 1665.

'Nigh four years since sent out from hence,
  To Exon goal was I,
But special grace, in three months' space,
  Wrought out my liberty.
Till Bartholomew in sixty-two,
  That freedom did remain;
Then without bail to Exon goal,
  I hurried was again.

Where having layn, as doe the slain,
  'Mong dead men wholly free;
Full three years' space, my native place,
  By leave I came to see.
And thought not then, I here again,
  A month's restraint should find,
Since to my den, cast out from men,
 I'm during life design'd.

But since my lines the Lord assigns
  In such a lot to be,
I kiss the rod, confess my God
  Deals faithfully with me.
My charged crime, in His due time,
  He fully will decide;
And until then, forgiving men,
  In peace with him I bide.

In this same year Cheare's enemies obtained an order for his perpetual banishment to the Island of St. Nicholas (now Drake's Island), which had been converted into a State prison in 1643.  To this place he was conveyed from the Plymouth Guildhall on September 17, 1665.  A few days after his banishment, Cheare was seized with a violent sickness, which lasted for about three-quarters of a year.  He partially recovered, and wrote a grateful acknowledgment 'On the beginning of his recovering from a great sickness on the Island of Plymouth.'  Amongst Cheare's writings is a piece to the memory 'of that servant of Christ, Edward COCK of Plymouth, who rested from his labours the 23rd of the fifth month, 1666.'  He suffered and died on that 'Rock' in the Plymouth Sound, which has become another Patmos.   Nothing more can be gathered concerning him than that he was, like Antipas, one of Christ's 'faithful witnesses.'  In 1667, the hears of Cheare and his fellow-sufferers were not a little cheered by a practical demonstration of sympathy for them in their distress, a 'small' present of provisions being conveyed to them by their friends.  On the receipt of it Cheare wrote a grateful letter to the donors which manifests his appreciation of the smallest kindness shown to himself and his fellow-prisoners.  This latter is dated 22nd of ninth month (November), 1667.  Early in January (eleventh month) of that same year he was again laid aside by a severe illness and died in his place of banishment on the 5th of the first month (March), 1668.  The above is abridged from an account of Abraham Cheare to be found in a little work by Mr. H.M. NICHOLSON, of Plymouth, entitled 'Authentic Records relating to the Christian Church now meeting in George Street and Mutley Chapels, Plymouth, 1640-1870'.

Transcribed by Sandra Windeatt from: Wright, W.H.K., (1896) West-Country Poets:  Their Lives and Works. London: Elliot Stock, pp. 88-90.

Last updated 22 Jul 2011 - Brian Randell.

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