St. Boltoph’s Church And The Radical Preacher John Cotton

During 17th century St. Boltoph’s Church in Boston, Linclonshire, was home to the radical preacher John Cotton (1585 – 1652).

About The Church

St. Boltoph’s Church has a tower 266 feet 9 inches (81.31 m) tall and has been nicknamed the ‘Boston Stump’ ever since construction began in 1309. During the early 14th-century the port at Boston had made the town become one of both the busiest and wealthiest towns in England. It’s estimated that annually wool from over 3 million sheep passed through the port and into continental Europe.

Therefore, the parish decided that it needed a new church to honour the town’s status. An existing Norman church was already on the the site chosen for St. Boltoph’s, but this was deemed too small for Boston’s growing population. It took over 200 years for the building to be completed in around 1515 with the tower (or ‘stump’) being the last feature added.

By the time it was finished, the ‘Stump’, was the tallest tower of a parish church in the country. That the church was finally completed in just two centuries, and not several, is also a sign of Boston’s wealth. The tower was used as a marker for travellers on The Fens and in The Wash. It is commonly believed that a lantern was lit from inside the tower to serve as a beacon, day and night, to those both on land and at sea.

The church had such an impact on the locals that the name ‘Boston’ evolved as a corruption of the name St. Boltoph’s and thus the town gained it’s current name.

Influence Of Puritanism

As the high-profile position of Boston’s Puritans brought the community into some peril, its leaders took an interest in the fledgling Massachusetts Bay Company, being promoted by the family of the Earl of Lincoln. In 1629 the church became the focus of plans to settle a colony in the New World. Leading Boston laymen Thomas Dudley, Simon Bradstreet, and William Coddington became active in the plans.

With the financial support of the Earl of Lincoln and wealthy families of St. Botolph’s parish, in the spring of 1630, a flotilla of seven ships was ready to take the first wave of 1,000 emigrants to a new colony in the new world.

Members of St. Botolph’s church were prominent among those who set sail for Massachusetts Bay in April 1630, under their chosen leader John Winthrop on the Arbella, named for the daughter of Earl of Lincoln, who was aboard with her husband.

Winthrop’s address to the colonists on Arbella has become famous: “We shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us.” Their pastor, John Cotton, preached a farewell sermon just a few days before the small convoy sailed from Yarmouth.

John Cotton

The Reverend John Cotton, considered as one of the most important Pilgrim Fathers in America, was the Vicar of St. Botolph’s Church for many years. The pulpit from which he preached his sermons is the one that is still used in St Botolph’s today.

However, he made many enemies by preaching his non-conformist views and regularly found himself prosecuted at Lincoln’s Law Courts.

Fed up with constant persecution, in 1633 he sailed across the Atlantic to the New World and settled in Boston, Massachusetts, where there was already a large contingent of settlers from Lincolnshire.

Reverend John Cotton soon became spiritual leader of this church-dominated state. His influence increased further when he helped to draft the fundamental laws for the colony that are still applicable today.

The biographer Larzer Ziff writes:

“Of all of the American ministers, he had been the one to supply England not only with descriptions of his practice, but with the theoretical base for it. John Cotton, the majority of the English Puritans concluded, was the prime mover in New England’s ecclesiastical polity.”

Larzer Ziff

John Cotton’s Plaquein Boston, Massachusetts

Images from and and

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *