Henry and Rev. Higginson

Newsletter article for HFA, 12/4/16

As descendants of Henry Herrick of Salem, we must wonder where we would be without Francis Higginson. Francis Higginson was a preacher in Leicestershire during the time that Henry Herrick lived in Leicester. Although it is not clear exactly how Henry and Francis met and became friends, but it is clear that our Henry Herrick was very much influenced by the preaching of Rev. Higginson.

Francis Higginson, also the son of minister, received his BA degree from Jesus College in Cambridge and about 1615 became minister at Claybrooke, one of the parishes of Leicester. He soon became disenchanted with the Church of England and began to associate himself with Puritan congregations. Some of those congregations were those attended by Henry Herrick.

As Higginson gained great influence as a preacher in Leicestershire, he was increasingly persecuted by the Church of England for his dissenting views. These persecutions were for such offences as refusing to wear a surplice, which was a white linen vestment; or conform to the Book of Common Prayer. Then in 1619 Higginson was accused by the church of not using the sign of the cross when baptizing children, and again he was criticized for celebrating marriages without rings. All of these seemly petty offices were in strict violation of the Book of Common Prayer. In 1613, several of Higginson’s parishioners were excommunicated by the Church of England for refusing to kneel for communion. Higginson continued to preach but refused well paying jobs within the church due to his beliefs.

As his friendship with Francis Higginson deepened, Henry Herrick’s thinking surely became more radical. About this time Henry met Alice Mobbes, whose father was a one time mayor of Leicester. Then in 1622, Henry and Alice married at All Saints Church, an old Norman (Viking) church, by Henry’s good friend and fellow Puritan, Francis Higginson.

Since Higginson served All Saints at the same time he served St. Nicholas, both churches were suspect by the Church of England. Alice and Henry started a family. Samuel was born one year after they were married in 1623 and was baptized by Rev. Higginson at St. Nicholas Church, the Herrick family church.



The plaque above lists all the Vicars serving St. Nicholas Church and is currently on the wall at St. Nicholas. Francis Higginson is listed at the top in the right hand column, and is noted as the Vicar of St. Nicholas in 1618.

Three years after the birth of Samuel, Alice and Henry moved to Belgrave, a small residential village just outside the Leicester walls. Here a second son was born. Thomas was born in 1626 and baptized by Higginson at St. Peter’s church in Belgrave. Only one year later in 1627 Francis Higginson was fired by the Church of England or as the church proclaimed it, “deprived of curacy”. Despite his release, Higginson continued to preach at various churches in Leicester and Belgrave, and Henry continued his friendship with him. 

Henry developed a reputation of dissent and non-conformity, not to mention guilt by association with the “outlaw” Francis Higginson. The records are not clear on exactly when or why, but it appears that both Alice and their son, Samuel, died around 1627 or 1628. Then in March,1628, almost within a year of the death of his wife and son, Henry Herrick was excommunicated by the church.

In the same month that the church left Henry, Higginson embraced him. Rev. Higginson himself was bitterly involved at this time in proceedings against him in the church’s Court of High Commission. Then in the same month that Henry was excommunicated, Francis Higginson offered Henry and 350 other Puritans the opportunity to join him in a new life with the Massachusetts Bay Colony - a new life in America, where they could start life over, free to worship as they wished. One year later, on May 18th, 1629 Henry Herrick set sail for America with his son Thomas. There was a small fleet of six ships with Henry and Thomas on the Lion’s Whelp and Francis Higginson, his wife Ann and their 8 children sailing on the Talbot.

Upon their arrival in Salem, Francis Higginson was quickly recognized for his ministry and was given the position of Teaching Minister at the First Church of Salem, founded in 1929. Below is a plaque currently on the wall of the First Church of Salem. Francis Higginson is noted on top the list of ministers. Today the church is a Unitarian Universalist church.