"A Devil to Tempt and a Corrupt Heart to Deceive," John Dane Battles Life's Temptations, ca. 1670s.
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“A Devil to Tempt and a Corrupt Heart to Deceive,” John Dane Battles Life’s Temptations, ca. 1670s.

John Dane, a tailor, was born in Berkhampstead, England, around 1612. In the late 1630s, which he recollects here as a period of “a great coming to New England,” he and his family emigrated to Ipswich, Massachusetts. He died in Ipswich in 1684. Dane’s parents, like many Puritan parents, raised their children to carry what historian Philip Greven calls an “inner disciplinarian” within their own consciences at all times. Dane’s mother reminded him: “Go where you will, God will find you out.” In this narrative, Dane, who always remembered her warning, related the temptations he faced over the course of his life—to steal, to accept the advances of women, to avoid church—and the prices he negotiated with an all-seeing God. (The spelling of this selection has been regularized to make it easier to read.)

And [I speak] first of a family providence. In my infancy, and yet I very well remember it, my father removed his habitation from Berkhampstead to Stortford. There he bought a house, and brought his family thither; and he went back again to finish matters with him [whom] he had sold his [house] to, and my mother and her children were at Stortford. Not being among any acquaintances, and my father staying longer than she thought he would, or himself either, my mother met with some wants and was troubled and wept. I doubt not but she laid open her wants to God, for she was a serious woman. And my sister How [Dane’s sister, Elizabeth, married James How], she was but a little girl, she went into the yard and sat down in the sun under the window; and laying her hand on the ground to rise up, there lay a shilling under her hand. She brought it in. I, being a little boy, asked her where she found it. She showed me. I went and scrabbled with my fingers in the place and found another. It being in the nick of time in her wants, she took great notice of it, and I doubt not but [she] made good improvement thereof, with great acknowledgment of God’s mercy at that time.

I shall mention one more [providence] concerning my mother. When she lived in Stortford, one night, in her sleep, she fell into a dream, and [upon] waking she was much taken with it. She told my father, and could not keep it out of her mind. And it was that such a minister (I have forgot his name) should preach [on] such a week and such a day at Elsenham, on such a text. The thoughts of it did so take with her that she inquired; and, as she dreamed, so it was; the same man, the same day, the same text. She and my brother How heard him. I, then being so young, cannot remember every thing; but I doubt not but that she made good improvement of that sermon.

Concerning myself; when I was but a little boy, being educated under godly parents, my conscience was very apt to tell me of evils that I should not do. Being now about eight years old, I was given much to play and to run out without my father’s consent and against his command. On[c]e [up]on a time, I having gone out [for] most part of the day, when my father saw me come home he took me and basted me. I then kept home and followed my business two or three days. My father and mother commended me, and told me that God would bless me if I obeyed my parents, and what the contrary would issue in. I then thought in my heart, oh, that my father would beat me more when I did amiss. I feared, if he did not, I should not be good.

Not long after I, being alone on the shopboard, ripping open a pair of britches of a gentleman who had had a hole in his pocket and sewed [it] up again, through which hole he had had lost or dropped into his knees of his linings a piece of gold, which, when I saw [it], I thought I might have it, for I thought nobody knew of it, nor could know of it. I took the gold and hid it, and sat upon the shopboard to work; but, thinking of it, I thought it is none of mine. I fetched it again, but upon more pondering I went and hid it again. When I had done so I could not be quiet in my mind, but fetched it again, and thought [that] though nobody could know of it, yet God, He knew of it. So I gave it to my father, who gave it to the gentleman. I can’t but take notice of God’s goodness in then giving me restraining grace to preserve [me] from such a temptation, though then I slightly passed over many such providences.

I did think myself in a good condition. I was convinced that I should pray and dared do no other, and read and hear sermons and dared do no other; yet I was given to pastime and to dancing, and that I thought lawful. Now [once] upon a time, when I was grown [to] eighteen years of age or thereabouts, I went to a dancing school to learn to dance. My father, hearing of it, when I came home told me, if I went again he would baste me. I told him if he did he should never baste me again. With that my father took a stick and basted me. I took it patiently and said nothing for a day or [two], but one morning betimes I rose and took two shirts on my back and the best suit I had and a Bible in my pocket, and set the doors open and went to my father’s chamber door and said, “good-bye father, good-bye mother.” "Why, whither are you going?“ "To seek my fortune,” I answered. Then said my mother, " go where you will, God he will find you out." This word, the point of it, stuck in my breast; and afterwards God struck it home to its head.

Although I thought my father was too strict, I thought Solomon said, “be not holy over much,” and David was a man after God’s own heart, and he was a dancer: but yet I went [on] my journey, and was [away] from him half a year before he heard where I was. I first settled in Berkhampstead, and there wrought on a shopboard that had been improved that way. On a night when most folks was abed, a maid came into the shopboard and sat with me, and we jested together; but at the last she carried it so, and put herself in such a posture, as that I made as if I had some special occasion abroad and went out; for I feared [that] if I had not, I should have committed folly with her. But I often thought that it was the prayers of my parents that prevailed with God to keep me. I then gave myself much to dancing and staying out and heating myself and lying in haymows, the people being abed where I abode, [with the result] that I lost my color and never recovered it again.

I then went and wrought at Hertford, and went to an inn for my lodging. The next day I went and got work in the town. It was near the time of the assizes at Hertford, and my master had many sergeants ‘coats to make; and I sat up three nights to work, and then I went to my inn to lodge. The door was locked, and I knocked hard. I heard one of the maids say, “there is one at the door.” I heard one say, “’tis no matter, it is none but the tailor.” So they opened the door, and the hostess sat in a chair by the fire in her naked shift, holding her breasts open. She said to me, a chair being by her, she holding out her hand [said], “come, let us drink a pot,” and several times reiterated her words. I said I was so sleepy that I could not stay with her now, but I would drink a cup with her in the morning; and so I hastened away to my chamber. Here I took no notice of the goodness of God in restraining me, but rather ascribed it to myself; although I had as wretched a nature as I have been since more sensible on than before.

Awhile after, there was a cockpit built to fight cocks in, and many knights and lords met there; and there followed to the town many brave lasses. And [once] upon a day, as I remember, there came one from Stortford that I was wonderful glad to see, that I might inquire of my friends there. I invited him to this inn to drink; and there was one of these brave lasses there which dined at the table I dined at, and it is likely that I might [have offered] drink to her and she to me; but this I know, I never touched her. The night after, I came to go to bed and asked for a light. My hostess said, “we are busy, you may go up without [one, for] the moon shines.” And so I did. And when I came in the chamber I went to my bedside and pulled off all my clothes and went in, and there was this fine lass in the bed. I slipped on my clothes again and went down and asked my hostess why she would serve me so. “Oh,” said she, “there’s nobody would hurt you.” I told her [that] if I hired a room I would have it to myself, and showed myself much angry. So she gave me a light into another chamber, and there I lay; but, in the morning, I went to that chamber I used to lie in, for I had left a little bundle of things on the bed’s tester. I came to the door and gave the door a shove, and this fine mistress reached out her hand out of the bed and opened the door. So I went in. “I doubt, miss, I am troublesome to you.” "No,“ said she, ”you are welcome to me." I told her [that] I had left a small trifle on the tester of the bed, and I took it and went my way. For all this and many other of the like, I thank God I never yet knew any but those two wives that God gave me. But when I consider my wretched heart and what I might with shame and blushing speak that way, I cannot but say, oh, wonderful, unspeakable, unsearchable mercies of a God that taketh care of us when we take no care of ourselves.

I now being at Hertford, Mr. Goodwin preached there, and he preached concerning prayer. But on Sabbath day, not being in that trim that I would have [liked to have] been in (I had a great band that came over my shoulders that was not clean, and [lacked] some other things that I would have had), I would not go to meeting but walked in the fields close by a meadow side. There was, whether fly, wasp, or hornet I cannot tell, but it struck my finger, and water and blood came out of it and pained me much. I went up to a house and showed it [to the people there], but they knew not what a sting I had at my heart. Now I thought of my mother’s words, that God would find me out. I hastened home to the chamber I lay in, at my master’s house; and when I came there I took my Bible and looked over some instructions my father had written, and I wept sorely. The pain and swelling increased and swelled up to my shoulder. I prayed earnestly to God that He would pardon my sin and heal my arm. I went to a surgeon and asked him what it was. He said it was the take. I asked him what he meant. He said it was taken by the providence of God. This knocked home on my heart what my mother said, God will find you out. Now I made great promises that if God would hear me this time I would reform.

It pleased God in a short time to ease me, and I did reform and stood in awe of God’s judgments, though I had a lingering mind after former pastime. I then wrought with Mr. Tead, that lives at Charleston. He was a young man then. He and I were going to a dancing one night and it began to thunder, and I told him I doubted we were not in our way; and he and I went back again. But about a month or six weeks after, I had a mind to visit a friend of a Sabbath day, four miles out of Hertford; but I took a good while pondering whether I might [do so] or not. I knew Mr. Goodwin was a good man, and that the other was naught; but, to quiet my mind, I thought [what] Christ said concerning the Pharisees, they sat in Moses 'chair, hear them. I thought he might preach good matter. And thus I blinded my eyes and went. And when I came there, they were gone to meeting; and I flattered myself, it may be I shall meet them coming home. And so I went into an orchard, and sat down in an arbor; and, as before, on the same finger and on the same place, I was stricken as before. And as it struck my hand, so it struck my heart; for I suddenly rose up and went into a wood; and there I cried bitterly, and now concluded that God, God had found me out. I was now utterly forlorn in my spirit, and knew not what to do, thinking that God now had utterly forsaken me and that he would hear me more. And when I had cried so long that I could cry no longer, I rose up in a forlorn condition and went home to Hertford. I then, in a restless condition, knew not what to do. I was thinking what to do to throw off this trouble; and at this time, awhile after, there was one Master [Scofield], who was a minister and my godfather, that had a son that was bound to Saint Christopher’s, and he was at me to go with him. I readily agreed. And when the time was come that we should go, there came news that Saint Christopher’s was taken by the Spaniards. [This occurred in October, 1629]

Then was I at a sore loss, and considered what I should do. I drew up this conclusion, that I would go and work journey-work through all the counties in England, and so walk as a pilgrim up and down on the earth. But at last I had some thoughts to go first home to my father’s house; but I thought he would not entertain me. But I went; and when I came home my father and mother entertained me very lovingly, and all the neighbors. Yet my mind was still troubled, though I had some secret thoughts that God might still do me good. Mr. [Harris] [,] preaching at Stortford on that text, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” declared that we ought to be one another’s keepers. Upon which I spoke to one that I was acquainted with, [saying] that if he saw me either do or say that that was not meet, that he would tell me of it. At that time when I heard any[one] read a chapter that there was any of the promises in, my tears would run down my cheeks. I saw a young man coming in the street, and I feared that he would call me out. I left the shopboard and went into a backhouse, and prayed to God to keep me that I might not be overcome.

After a while that I had abode with my father, Mr. Norton, coming to my father’s, wished him to put me [out] to Mr. Barenton’s. That was a very religious family as ever I came in. And I went thither and was butler; there I kept company with the choicest Christians. I went to hear Mr. Farecloth, three or four miles [away] I have forgot[ten] the town’s name. The words of Mr. Farecloth’s text were these: “Ye that were aliens and strangers from the commonwealth of Israel hath he reconciled to himself.” In this sermon he did so set forth the love of Christ, his readiness and willingness to entertain poor sinners, as that I believe there were very few dry eyes in the meeting house, nor without doors [outdoors] [,] for many could not come in. It was great encouragement to me.

Soon after this I married, and went and dwelt at a place called Woodrow, in Hatfield. Soon after I had the palsy taking me, which did much weaken my brain and spoil my memory. And just it was with God that it should be so, for I cannot but acknowledge of what God had then bestowed on me. I went to a physician, and he told me that it was too late to do me any good. I was so [sick] as that I could scarce go to bed or from bed without help. And my mother having been servant to the Lady Denny, she speaking of it to the Lady, she told her of a medicine, that had cured an old woman of three score years old. My mother, diligently attending to the method of the business, came to me and applied the same to me, and it cured me; though I have the marks of it on my face to this day. Then I lived on Woodrow Green, on Hatfield forest. No sooner one trouble was at an end, but another ensued. There was one Muschen [who] lived under the same roof that I lived in, only he lived at one end and I at the other. There were farmers 'and yeomen’s sons [who] met there; and I was among them, thinking no harm. But they were contriving to have a merry meeting at that Muschen’s house, and invited me to be one of them. And being among them, they would contrive their business with me, and told me that they would have four bushels of barley out of a barn (the owner of which, one of these was his son); and this Muschen was to turn it into malt, and brew it, and drink it there. I dared not cross them, [for] they were such blustering lads; but I was in a sad tune, and knew not what to do. But I went to my brother How’s father and advised with him. He was a very honest man, and he told me I should by no means be among them when they did act that business, but [that I should] make some journey some way or other, and he would do the business for me. So I did. And he acquainted the woman of the house, a prudent woman. And at the time appointed they went to the barn. The woman, having had foreknowledge of it, stood after supper at her hall window listening, the barn not being far distant from the house; and she heard a noise at the barn, and sent suddenly to the barn and took them with four bushels of barley, carried out of the barn in a sack. The thing being discovered, the men were in a bad toss, but they suspected me; and the yeoman’s son came flattering to me, to know if I did not tell of it; and [he] said it is well that it was found out, but needs he would know if I did not tell some of the family. I told him I had not spoke[n] with any of the family since we were together. Many words passed, but nothing did appear, but suspicion. But one of the company (as afterwards I was informed, and I myself suspected him and escaped his hands) came with a sword to my shop to kill me.

This was no sooner over but [there] comes a new trouble. I then wen to live in the chief place in Hatfield town, and took an apprentice and kept a journeyman. And the tailors were so disgusted at it that they made [complaints] earnestly to the old Lady Barenton, Sir Francis Barenton’s widow, and to Mr. Sir Thomas Barenton, to get me out of the town; for said they, he takes up all our work, and we know not how to live. This was so eagerly prosecuted as that Mr. Robert Barenton told me that he would give me his ears, if he did not send me out of town. And after [being] three times sent for before Sir Thomas Barenton, by warrant, and pleaded against, (and [they] could not prevail), they summoned me to the quarter sessions; but god of his goodness stood by me, and afterwards I found great friendship from those that was my professed adversaries.

When these storms were a little over, there was a great coming to New England; and I thought that the temptations there were too great for me. I then bent myself to come to New England, thinking that I should be more free here than there from temptations; but I find here a devil to tempt, and a corrupt heart to deceive. But to return to the way and manner of my coming. When I was much bent to come I went to Stortford to my father to tell him. My brother How was there then. My father and mother showed themselves unwilling. I sat close by a table where there lay a Bible. I hastily took up the Bible, and told my father if where I opened the Bible there I met with anything either to encourage or discourage that should settle me. I opening of it, not knowing no more than the child in the womb, the first I cast my eyes on was: “Come out from among them, touch no unclean thing, and I will be your God and you shall be my people.” My father and mother never more opposed me, but furthered me in the thing, and hastened after me as soon as they could.

My first coming was to Roxbury. There I took a piece of ground to plant of a friend. And I went to plant; and having kept long in the ship, [and] the weather being hot, I spent myself and was very weary and thirsty. I came by a spring in Roxbury street, and went to it, and drank, and drank again and again many times; and I never drank wine in my life that more refreshed me, nor was [anything] more pleasant to me in my life, as then I absolutely thought. But Mr. Norton being at Ipswich, I had a mind to live under him. And one time I came to Ipswich alone when there was no path but what the Indians had made; sometimes I was in it, sometimes out of it, but God directed my way. By the way I met in one place with forty or fifty Indians, all of a row. The foremost of them had a long staff that he held on his forehead like a unicorn’s horn. Many of them were powwows; and as I passed by them I said, “what cheer.” They all, with a loud voice, laughing, cried out, “what cheer, what cheer,” [so] that they made the woods ring with the noise. After I parted with them about a mile, I met with two Indians, one of them a very lusty sannup. I had a packet under my arm, and he took hold of it and peeked into it. I snatched it away, with an angry countenance, and he made no more of it. So I came to Ipswich, and agreed with Goodman Metcalf’s vessel to bring me from Boston, where I had brought my goods. I brought a year’s provision with me, but I soon parted with it. My meal I parted with for Indian [corn] the next year. I thought if one had it, another should not want. There came a neighbor to me and said he had no corn. He made great complaints. I told him I had one bushel and I had no more, but he should have half of it. And he had; and after[ward]

I heard of certain [people] that at the same time he had a bushel in his house. It troubled me to see his dealings and the dealings of other men.

Many troubles I passed through, and I found in my heart that I could not serve God as I should. What they were, were too tedious to mention. But [once] upon a time, walking with my gun on my shoulder charged, in the mile brook path, beyond Deacon Goodhewe’s, I had several thoughts [which] came flocking into my mind that I had better make away [with] myself than to live longer. I walked discoursing with such thoughts [for] the best part of an hour, as I judged it. At length I thought [that] I ought of two evils to choose the least; and that it was a greater evil to live and to sin against God than to kill myself, with many other satanical thoughts. I cock[ed] my gun, and set it on the ground, and put the muzzle under my throat, and took up my foot to let it off. And then there came many things into my head; one [was] that I should not do evil that good might come of it. And at that time I no more scrupled to kill myself than to go home to my own house. Though this place is now a road, then it was a place that was not much walked in. I was then much lost in my spirit, and, as I remember, the next day Mr. Rogers preached, expressing himself that those were blessed that feared God and hoped in His mercy. I thought that I feared God and hoped in his mercy. Then I thought that that blessedness might belong to me, and it much supported my spirit.

[Once] upon a time we were in some present want in the family, and my wife told me she had nothing for the children. She desired me to take my gun and see if I could get nothing. And I did go; and I had one pig then that was highly esteemed on, and that followed me a great way into the marshes. I thought the providence of God seemed to tell me that I should not go out today. So I returned back again with my pig; and when I came within less than forty rods of my house a company of great gray geese came over me, and I shot and brought down a gallant goose in the very nick of time.

In [sixteen] sixty-one, my house was burnt, as near as I can remember; and it was a most violent fire. At that time I could not but take notice of several providences concurring with [it]. I do not know that I did murmur at it, but was silent looking up to God to sanctify it to me. It pleased God to stir up the hearts of my loving friends to help me to the carrying on of another. I had been ill before, and [was] not well fitting to go abroad, and could not endure wet on my feet. When the carts went into the woods, I went with them, and many times in the swamps [I] broke in up to the knees, in cold water, in the winter. And it pleased God [that] I grew better than before, which I looked on as a special hand of God. A second providence was this: that, though my provisions were all burnt, I had a stock of fine swine, and the corn that was burnt, when the flowers fell down and the fire [was] out, these swine fell to eating the burnt corne, and fatted to admiration, and that in a small time, so that I had good pork for the workmen to carry on the work.

Thus God hath all along preserved and kept me all my days. Although I have many times lost His special presence, yet he hath returned to me in mercy again. Once in England at Mr. Barenton’s house in Christmas time, the company in the hall was showing tricks in the night, and Mrs. Barenton came and stood by. I being there, I took notice that my mistress changed her countenance, and the tears ran down her cheeks and she turned away. I presently thought that her thoughts were better improved than mine. It put me upon a serious meditation of the joys of heaven and of the vanities of this world. It took such an impression of my heart as that, though it was a time of jollity, I could scarce hear music nor see wantonness, that I was able to show my face without shedding of tears.

The like impression had my thoughts brought to me upon a question in our private meetings, upon a question of that text; God’s love constrains us to love him that has loved us first. Beating my thoughts on God’s infinite love took such an impression of my heart as that I thought I could do anything for God or suffer anything for God. Oh, loving relations, have a care of quenching such notions of God’s spirit, lest you bring sorrow and affliction onto your heads and hearts, as many others have done, to their great grief and sorrow; and I can speak it, to the grief of my soul, by woeful experience.

Source: John Dane, “A Declaration of Remarkable Providences in the Course of My Life,” The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, 8 (April, 1854), pp. 149–156.