Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Higginson, Francis
HIGGINSON, FRANCIS (1587–1630), puritan divine, born in 1587, son of the Rev. John Higginson, was educated at Jesus College, Cambridge, and subsequently became a member of St. John's College, Cambridge. He graduated B.A. in 1609, and M.A. in 1613, and about 1615 obtained the living of Claybrooke in Leicestershire. At this time he appears to have been a strict conformist, but falling under the influence of the Rev. Arthur Hildersam [q. v.], he became a conscientious nonconformist. He obtained the preachership of St. Nicholas in Leicester, but was deprived about 1627 for his nonconformity. The Bishop of Lincoln (Williams), however, permitted him to lecture during one part of the Sunday, and to assist an aged parson during the other, his late parishioners agreeing to maintain him by voluntary contributions. He also preached at Belgrave, a neighbouring village, until Archbishop Laud insisted on the withdrawal of his license, when Higginson became a leader among the Leicester puritans, and devoted much time to the preparation of young men for the university. Notwithstanding his nonconformity, he was offered the preachership to the mayor, but this, as well as several livings in the neighbourhood, he declined, on account of the degree of conformity required. He appears to have given a number of books to the town library, and to have been active in promoting measures for the relief of the protestant exiles from Bohemia and the Palatinate.
Higginson was strongly impressed with the advantages New England offered to persecuted nonconformists, and, on learning that proceedings were commenced against him in the court of high commission, offered himself as a minister to the Massachusetts Bay Company in March 1628 (Young, p. 65). In 1629 the governors of the company appointed him minister to one of their settlements in New England at a liberal salary, with a promise of sufficient provision for his family in case of his death; he was also appointed one of the council (ib. pp. 194, 1209–12). With his family he sailed from Gravesend on 25 April 1629 in the Talbot, and arrived in Salem harbour on the 29th of the following June. On the voyage, in conjunction with another minister, Samuel Skelton, he drew up a confession of faith, which, as some of the passengers were episcopalians and some congregationalists, took a middle course regarding differences in creed, and caused the framers to be accused of anabaptism. Soon after their landing a church was formed at Salem or Naumkeag, when Skelton was chosen minister, and Higginson his assistant. On account of their ignoring the Book of Common Prayer, and their strictness in discipline, troubles arose, and complaints were made to the governors. Higginson was required to answer the charges against him, which he appears to have been successful in doing. The unhealthy atmosphere of the place and the fatigues consequent on the formation of the settlement caused Higginson to contract a hectic fever, from the effects of which he died on 6 Aug. 1630, leaving a widow and eight children. Higginson was a puritan of the most severe type, but upright, conscientious, and unselfish, an able scholar, and an excellent preacher.
He published, besides the confession before mentioned, ‘New England's Plantation. Or a Short and Trve Description of the Commodities and Discommodities of that Countrey. Written in the year 1629 by Mr. Higgeson, a reuerend Diuine, now there resident,’ 3rd edition, London, 1630, 4to, 25 pp.; the first edition had appeared in the same year without the author's name; it is reprinted as chap. xii. of Young's ‘Chronicles of the First Planters.’ This tract was a continuation of ‘A True Relation of the last Voyage to New England, declaring all circumstances, with the manner of the Passage we had by Sea … and what is the present State and Condition of the English people that are there already. Written from New England, July 21, 1629.’ This latter was printed for the first time in Young's ‘Chronicles,’ chap. xi., where another letter by Higginson is also printed (pp. 260–4).
Higginson, John (1616–1708), eldest son of the above, was born at Claybrooke 6 Aug. 1616, and went to New England with his father. On his father's death he maintained his mother by teaching at Hartford; afterwards he was chaplain successively at Saybrook and Guilford, where he married a daughter of the Rev. Henry Whitfield. In 1659 he sailed for England, but putting in at Salem he accepted an invitation to preach there for a year, and eventually became regular pastor of the church which his father had planted. He published various sermons, and was author of an attestation prefixed to Cotton Mather's ‘Magnalia.’ John Higginson died at Salem 9 Dec. 1708; he had several children, a notice of whom will be found in the collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society (3rd ser. vii. 196–222), where a number of letters written by him and his sons are printed.
Francis Higginson's second son, Francis (1617–1670), returned to England, and after studying at Leyden entered the church of England, and became vicar of Kirkby Stephen, Westmoreland. He published in 1653 ‘A Brief Relation of the Irreligion of the Northern Quakers,’ 4to, to which ‘A Reply,’ &c., appeared next year.
[J. B. Felt's Life of F. Higginson; Morse and Parish's Hist. of New England, i. 52; Mather's Hist. of New England, i. 18, 19, iii. 71, 75; Young's Chronicles of the First Planters; Massachusetts Hist. Soc. Collections, 1st ser. vol. i., 3rd ser. vol. vii.; Massachusetts Papers, pp. 32, 46; Morton's New England Mem. pp. 76, 77; Brook's Hist. of the Puritans, ii. 369; Palmer's Nonconf. Mem. i. 336; Neal's Hist. of the Puritans, ii. 205; Nichols's Leicestershire, vol. i. pt. ii. p. 426.]