Traske, John. This name is variously spelled, Trask, Trasque and Thraske. Mr. Traske was probably born about the year I583 ; but we know nothing of his early life. He became a school teacher, and must have enjoyed something of a liberal education; although he is said not to have been a university man. He is accredited with being a Latin scholar, and as having studied Hebrew and Greek while in prison for his religious beliefs.
We first know of him as a schoolmaster in Somersetshire, where he seems to have sought ministerial orders, which were refused him by the Establishment. He then removed to Salisbury, where he became a Puritan, and obtained the "orders" which he desired. After this he came to London, in just what year is uncertain: Rev. George B. Utter puts it in 16I8, about the time that the Book of Sports for Sunday was published under the direction of the Archbishop of Canterbury and King James I; Rev. Dr. William M. Jones says that Mr. John Trask came to London in I617; however, there is reason to believe that his pioneer work was begun in the metropolis as early at least as 1616.
As to his religious views and teachings, we have already noted that at first he was in the fellowship of the Established Church, and that subsequently he adopted the views of the Puritans; such were his convictions on coming to London.
Being a man of strong personality, and most zealous as a revival preacher (preaching much upon the streets and in public Places), he soon had a large number of followers, who were called "Traskites." Among these was one Hamlet Jackson (whom he afterward ordained as an evangelist), who, through searching of the Scriptures, was led to embrace the Bible Sabbath, and through whose influence it is said that Mr. Traske and others were brought to like views. Traske began at once with all earnestness to propagate the Sabbath doctrine; and from among the many who were won by him, no doubt sprang the nucleus of the Mill Yard Seventh-day Baptist church.
As a result of his advocacy of the Scriptures as sufficient to direct in all religious services, and the duty of the State not to impose anything contrary to the Word of God, great opposition was awakened and his enemies became very bitter against him; he was denounced as "a wolf in sheep's clothing, a seducing imposter, and cunning deceiver."
Failing to silence him in any other way, he was arrested by the authorities and brought before the infamous Star Chamber presided over by Bishop Andrews, who made a long speech against his views: The indictment against him was that of Judaizing; seeking to make "Christian men, the people of God, his majesty's subjects, little better than Jews, both in the matter of abstaining from eating meats which the Jews were forbidden in Leviticus, and that they were bound to observe the Jewish Sabbath." Writing and preaching in defence of the Sabbath was his "crime." Paggitt's Heresiography says he was "sentenced, on account of his being a Sabbatarian, to be set upon the pillory at Westminster, and from thence to be whipped to the Fleet prison, there to remain a prisoner for three years." Another account says he was "tied to the cart's tail and whipped all the way to Fleet prison, probably about two miles, there to remain a prisoner." Still another account adds that his sentence included the branding of the letter "I" upon, his forehead. The sentence against him was executed in full.
For some reason, not now known he made a recantation December 1, I619, and ceased to keep and defend the Bible Sabbath; but the seed of Sabbath truth which he had sown never ceased to bear fruit. It may be noted incidentally if he remained in prison the full three years, and was released in December, 1619 his evangelistic work in London must have been as early at least as 1616.
Among his published works were; Sermon on Mark I6:16 published in 1615; A Treatise of Liberty from Judaism, etc., in 1620 when leaving the Sabbath; The Power of Preaching, in 1623; A letter to Mistress Traske, who lay prisoner in the Gatehouse many years for keeping the Jewish Sabbath, for working on our Lord's Day, and signed T. S., December 26, 1634; The True Gospel, etc., in I636.
Various works were published against him at different times. Among these were the Speech by Bishop Andrews in the Star Chamber, against the Judaical opinions of Traske; A Treatise maintaining that Temporal Blessings are to be sought and asked with submission to the will of God - also a discovery of the late dangerous errors of Mr. John Traske and most of his strange assertions, by Edward Norrice, 1636; The New Gospel not the True Gospel, or a discovery of the life and death, doctrines and doings of Mr. John Traske, and the effects of all in his followers, Wherein a mysterie of iniquity is briefly disclosed, a Seducer unmasked, and all warned to beware of imposters, by Edward Norrice, 1638.
As to his death - he was living December 26, I634, when he wrote to his wife in prison, and he was probably alive when he wrote and published "The True Gospel" in I636; and yet he must have been dead when Edward Norrice wrote of his "late dangerous errors" in I636. Hence he must have died sometime within the year 1636; not later, certainly, than I638, when Norrice wrote of the "Life and Death, doctrines and doings of Mr John Traske."
He died in the house of one of his followers in Lambeth, and was buried in Lambeth Churchyard.
Traske, Mrs. John. The wife of John Traske well deserves a mention in any list of ancient English Seventh-day Baptists. It is easy to believe that she was indeed a woman "endowed with many and particular virtues." As to her birth, parentage, and many other matters of interest, we are in ignorance; but what is known renders her memory fragrant.
She must have been a person of considerable learning, since she successfully conducted a private preparatory classical school. She would teach for no less per pupil than fourteen pence per week, but she would sometimes return a part of the tuition to poor parents, or in the case of a student from whom she thought she deserved not so much ; all this, it is said she did "out of conscience and as believing that she must one day be judged for all the things done in the flesh." Her estimate of punctuality was shown in that she would not receive any child whose parents would not send him (or her) promptly at seven in the morning, and send the child's breakfast at nine o'clock. Testimony as to her skill as a teacher is given by Ephraim Pagitt in the following words :- "There was found hardly any one that could equal her for so speedy beginning children to read. She taught a son of mine who had only learned his letters in another place, at the age of four years, in the space of nine months, so that he was fit for the Latin into which he was then entered." That she was very popular as a teacher, is clear from the fact that parents were so eager to send their children to her school that she was obliged to make a rule to receive only so many as she could properly teach, and yet many were "waiting their turn for admittance for a very long time ahead."
But that which has preserved her memory until this time was her Christian spirit, her love of truth and her long and fatal sufferings for the truth she held dear. She was one of the most noted and faithful of her husband's converts to the Sabbath, never forsaking it as did he; but for this devotion she was called to suffer. When it was discovered that she did not honor Sunday, and would not teach in her school on Saturday, she was arrested and cast into prison - first, Maiden Lane, and then Gatehouse - where, for Sabbath- keeping, she suffered "fifteen or sixteen years," until released by death.
Some of the characteristics of her faith and her independent spirit are shown in an account by a contemporary (Ephraim Pagitt), who was not friendly to the Sabbath:-
"Mistress Trask lay for fifteen or sixteen years a prisoner for her opinions about the Saturday- Sabbath; in all which time she would receive no relief from anybody, notwithstanding she wanted much, alleging that it is written, 'It is a more blessed thing to give than to receive.' Neither would she borrow. She deemed it a dishonor to her head, Christ, either to beg or borrow. Her diet for the most part of her imprisonment, that is till a little before her death, was bread and water, roots and herbs. No flesh, nor wine, nor brewed drink. She charged the keeper of the prison not to bury her in church nor churchyard, but in the fields only; which accordingly was done. All her means was an annuity of forty shillings a year; what she lacked more to live upon, she had of such prisoners as did employ her sometimes to do business for them. But this was only within the prison, for out of the prison she did not go; so she sickened and died."
Confined in the same prison was a Mr. Richard Lovelace, Who was there because of his royalist sympathies: while there he wrote the poem, " To Althea from Prison." In the following lines he is supposed to refer to Mrs. Traske:
"Stone walls do not a prison make.
Nor iron bars a cage;
Minds innocent and quiet take
That for a heritage."
The date of Mrs. Trask's imprisonment is not certain; but if Lovelace was imprisoned from 1643 to 1654 (as it is said), it seems probable that her term may have overlapped that in part.
Reprinted from "Seventh Day Baptists in Europe and America" Vol. 1 (pp. 107-111.) Published by the American Sabbath Tract Society, Plainfield, New Jersey 1910.