Jane Grove was born in 1639 in Winslow, England. In 1660, she married Benjamin Keach, who was one year younger. Keach had become convinced of the Baptist position while in his teens and around the time of his marriage to Jane was the pastor of the Baptist church in Winslow. This church was a General Baptist church, and Benjamin Keach at this time held to General Baptist theology. It is unclear what Jane’s thoughts were on the subject of Calvinism, but since she willingly married a Baptist, we can at least conclude that she was no paedobaptist sympathizer.
Whether General Baptist or Particular Baptist, both were illegal in England at that time, and Benjamin Keach had his share of persecution. In 1644, Keach was arrested for preaching. Also that year he was convicted for writing a children’s book, A New and Easie Primer, that was said to promote heresy. He was pilloried and his books were burned in front of him. While he was in the stocks, Jane visited and encouraged him, and Benjamin was able to preach to passers-by during this confinement.
The persecution intensified to the point that in 1668 the Keach family made the decision to move to London. During the journey, highwaymen set upon the coach in which the family was riding and stole all the passengers’ money. Benjamin was penniless when they arrived in the city. Yet the family along with the other passengers of the coach sued the county and was eventually able to restore the monies they had lost.
Jane bore Benjamin five children. Three of those survived to adulthood, two daughters and a son. One daughter, Hannah, later in life became a Quaker. The son, Elias, planted Baptist churches in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Jane did not see these children grow up, however. After ten years of marriage, Jane died in 1670 at the age of thirty-one. Benjamin wrote a poem in memoriam entitled A Pillar Set Up. Howard Malcom, in his memoir of Benjamin Keach, describes Keach’s recollections of Jane:
…she was a very tender and loving wife, and had been his companion in sufferings ten years….The extraordinary affection which he bare to her memory, was manifested by his writing a poem on the occasion of her death, which he entitled, A Pillar set up, assigning as his reason, the example of Jacob, And Rachel died and was buried, and Jacob set up a pillar on her grave; that is the pillar of Rachel’s grave unto this day. In this he gave her a very high character, commending her zeal for the truth, sincerity in religion, uncommon love to the saints, and her great contentment in whatsoever condition of life God was pleased to place her. He particularly mentions how great an help and comfort she was to him in his suffering for the cause of Christ, visiting him while in prison, and taking all possible care of him, and encouraging him to go on, counting it an honor done them both, in that they were called to suffer for the sake of Christ. She was of a heavenly conversation: her discourse was savory, and for the most part, about spiritual things, seeking the good of those she talked with; and in this she was so successful, that many have acknowledged that they were indebted to her conversation for their conversion to God.
What a wonderful piece of writing for Reformed Baptist history! What a touching and (dare I say) romantic gesture to write a poem for the wife of your youth! But at this point I must admit my lack of scholarly credentials, for my search for this poem came up empty. Benjamin Keach is one of the more famous and prolific Particular Baptists, and many of his works are easily found online. Yet this poem is not one of them. According to this thesis paper by James Barry Vaughn, it was LOST!!!!!!!!! Surely with the Reformed Baptist renaissance underway, there is someone who can unearth a copy of this work. Until then, we can be thankful that we have this glimpse into the life of another Baptist (whether Particular or no) sister in Christ.