On the 8th of July, 1677, Margaret Brewster with four other Friends went into the South Church in time of meeting, “in sack-cloth, with ashes upon her head, barefoot, and her face blackened,” and delivered “a warning from the great God of Heaven and Earth to the Rulers and Magistrates of Boston.” For the offence she was sentenced to be “whipped at a cart’s tail up and down the Town, with twenty lashes.”
SHE came and stood in the Old South Church,
A wonder and a sign,
With a look the old-time sibyls wore,
Half-crazed and half-divine.
Save the mournful sackcloth about her wound,
Unclothed as the primal mother,
With limbs that trembled and eyes that blazed
With a fire she dare not smother.
Loose on her shoulders fell her hair,
With sprinkled ashes gray;
She stood in the broad aisle strange and weird
As a soul at the judgment day.
And the minister paused in his sermon’s midst,
And the people held their breath,
For these were the words the maiden spoke
Through lips as the lips of death:
“Thus saith the Lord, with equal feet
All men my courts shall tread,
And priest and ruler no more shall eat
My people up like bread!
“Repent! repent! ere the Lord shall speak
In thunder and breaking seals
Let all souls worship Him in the way
His light within reveals.”
She shook the dust from her naked feet,
And her sackcloth closer drew,
And into the porch of the awe-hushed church
She passed like a ghost from view.
They whipped her away at the tail o’ the cart
Through half the streets of the town,
But the words she uttered that day nor fire
Could burn nor water drown.
And now the aisles of the ancient church
By equal feet are trod,
And the bell that swings in its belfry rings
Freedom to worship God!
And now whenever a wrong is done
It thrills the conscious walls;
The stone from the basement cries aloud
And the beam from the timber calls.
There are steeple-houses on every hand,
And pulpits that bless and ban,
And the Lord will not grudge the single church
That is set apart for man.
For in two commandments are all the law
And the prophets under the sun,
And the first is last and the last is first,
And the twain are verily one.
So, long as Boston shall Boston be,
And her bay-tides rise and fall,
Shall freedom stand in the Old South Church
And plead for the rights of all!