Printed on the Puritan Separatist Press at Amsterdam

Clifton, Richard (ca. 1553-1616)

The Plea for Infants and Elder People, concerning their Baptisme. Or a processe of the passages between M. John Smyth and Richard Clyfton: wherein, first is proved, that the baptising of Infants of beleevers, is an ordinance of God. Secondly, that the rebaptising of such, as have been formerly baptised in the Apostate Churches of Christians, is utterly unlawful

Amsterdam: Gyles Thorp, 1610


Quarto: 18.5 x 14.5 cm. [20], 226 [2] p. Collation: *-**4, ***2, A-Z4, Aa-Ee4, Ff2


Bound in 17th c. stiff vellum, somewhat soiled. A nice copy of this very rare Continental Puritan imprint. With skillful, discreet paper repairs to outer blank margins of some leaves, no loss to text, some other marks and minor marginal soiling, very small worm trail in blank lower margin of some signatures. Rare. Only 4 copies in North America. ESTC locates only 4 other copies (all in the U.K.).

Provenance: Richard Clifton (1642-1664), son of Zachary Clifton (born 1589), and grandson of Richard Clifton, the author of the present work, with ownership inscriptions to front and rear of the volume. Zachary Clifton returned with his family to England in 1651 during the Commonwealth era, and died in 1671. According to information received from Sue Allan, historian at Scrooby Manor, Richard Clifton's books may have found their way to Warwickshire, and into the ownership of his clergyman brother Zachary Clifton Jr. (born Amsterdam 1633, died Wasperton 1715).

The Puritan radical Richard Clifton (ca. 1553-1616) was the guiding light of the separatist church established at Scrooby Manor House in Nottinghamshire, now recognized as the congregation from which emerged the first Pilgrim Fathers. In 1586, Clifton became rector of All Saints Church, Badsworth, and continued in this role until 1605, during which time he provided spiritual guidance to William Brewster and William Bradford, both passengers on board The Mayflower in 1620, as well as John Robinson. Following an edict by King James I, in 1605, Clifton was declared non-conformist and expelled from the parsonage at Badsworth, and given refuge at William Brewster's home, the Manor House at Scrooby in Yorkshire. When the Authorities caught up with him, Clifton was ex-communicated, and he escaped persecution by emigrating, along with many of his followers, to Amsterdam in August 1608.

The “Plea for Infants”

In 1609, the Puritan John Smyth had become convinced of the error of infant baptism. Clifton was approached by two members of Smyth’s congregation and tried to get him to adopt the same views. Clifton refused but agreed to hear Smyth’s arguments. Smyth wrote to Clifton personally and made two propositions: 1. that infants are not to be baptized, and 2. that non-Christian converts are to be baptized into the Church. In Aril 1609 Clifton responded in a letter to Smyth arguing against those views. In turn, Smyth wrote responses to Clifton’s stated views and published them as “The Character of the Beast”. 

Clifton was unhappy that Smith had published their private correspondence and resolved to respond in print. As he writes in the preface to the “Plea for Infants”, seeing that Smyth’s book is “spread abroad in the hands of many, I have thought good also to give warning to all that love the Lord Jesus and are careful of their own salvation, to take heed thereof.” Clifton says that Smyth began to stray when he sought to remove the translated Scripture from worship. Smyth’s error has now become more severe since he now sought to “destroy the covenant of Grace.” Clifton’s book marked the end of their debate. 

Giles Thorp, Puritan Printer

When the Separatists first arrived at Amsterdam, they entrusted the printing of their works to Dutch presses. But around 1604, they established their own press, headed by Giles Thorp, a dedicated Puritan and a “worthy governor” of the Separatist congregation. While Thorp printed a considerable number of works before his death in 1622 or 1623, the “Plea for Infants” was one of only ten books to appear under his name. For more, see Sprunger, “Giles Thorp: English Separatist Printer” in “Trumpets from the Tower: English Puritan Printing in the Netherlands, 1600-1640” p. 84-89)

STC 5450; ESTC online locates 8 copies: British Library, Cambridge University Trinity College, Lambeth Palace, Bodleian; Yale, Harvard, Union Theological Seminary (NY), American Baptist Samuel Colgate Historical Library (GA.)