Abiezer Coppe was born in 1619 to an artisan working in Warwick. At the age of thirteen Coppe began to show signs of religious zealotry “much abasement before God,” “most secret” fasting, and keeping a daily register of his sins. In 1634 Thomas Dugard, master of the Warwick grammar school, noted Coppe had progressed favorably in the Greek New Testament and Homer. At an unknown date Coppe was admitted to All Souls College, Oxford. Coppe was tutored by a “rigid Presbyterian” Ralph Button. Coppe was identified as a postmaster (a poor scholar) but never obtained a degree, which inhibited him from becoming a licensed preacher. In 1645 he joined the parliamentary forces under the command of Colonel William Purefoy. Coppe was appointed chaplain of the garrison but was criticized by his a local preacher for re-baptizing men. Coppe claimed that he baptized ‘seven thousand people’ and became ‘a leading man’ in the Baptist movement. It is at this time, which Coppe alludes to in A Second Fiery Roll, that the whore of Babylon chased him “from street to street, from corner to corner, from grosse Protestantisme to Puritanisme, & c. at length from crosse in baptisme, and Common-Prayer-Book to Presbyterianisme” (Coppe, A Second Fiery Flying Roll, 19–21). In 1646 Coppe was imprisoned for fourteen weeks for re-baptizing, an event that no doubt led to his subsequent conversion experience.
When Coppe was twenty-eight he underwent a spiritual transformation in which his “old name was rotted, perished; and I was utterly plagued, consumed, damned, rammed, and sunke into nothing, into the bowels of the still Eternity” (Coppe, A Fiery Flying Roll, preface). In a 1648 letter to an acquaintance, Coppe refers to himself as “A late converted JEW” and he endeavored to offer wisdom “from spirituall Canaan” (Coppe, Some Sweet Sips, 45). It is in this period that Coppe transformed from strident Baptist to ranting sectarian. In late 1648 Coppe received the spiritual vision that led to the writing of A Flying Fiery Roll. The bitter roll was thrust into his mouth, like the prophet Ezekiel, and Coppe subsequently took to the streets preaching of an impending apocalypse and the need for Englanders to kiss the feet of beggars and give up their goods to the Lord.
By this time Coppe put into practice the antinomian belief that “to the pure all things are pure” and began the illustrious Ranter custom of preaching naked and engaging in drink, revelry, and fornication (Titus 1:15). Richard Baxter, a Baptist minister and diarist charged Coppe with‘filthy lascivious practices’ and ‘roaring, drinking, whoring, open full-mouthed swearing ordinarily by the Wounds and Bloud of God, and the fearfullest Cursing that hath been heard, as if they were all possessed with Divels’ (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography). In 1649, shortly before the publication of A Roll, Coppe preached a heretical sermon at St. Helens, Bishopsgate, saying “a pox of God take al your prayers hearing, reading, fasting” (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography). Coppe’s Roll was partly motivated by the execution of a group of Levellers in Burford Churchyard on May 17, 1649. Coppe, taking on the guise of a prophet, asserts that the Lord will avenge the “Martyrs for God and their Countrey” (A Flying Fiery Roll 4). In 1650 Coppe was arrested and copies of Flying Roll were burned. Coppe was charged with blasphemy but he petitioned Parliament after seventeen months in Newgate Gaol.
After preaching several sermons in an attempt to reconcile with the state and recant his previous polemical treatises, Coppe changed his name to Abiezer Hiam (or Higham) and became a physician. Coppe was reconciled with the Baptists. He preached at several Baptist churches and two prominent Baptists testified for Coppe when he obtained license to practice medicine. There is debate concerning a claim by Quaker preacher George Fox that Coppe and “a great company of ranters, who having ordered drink and tobacco bowed & scraped on to another” (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography). These claims cannot be substantiated but Fox claims that Coppe was accompanied by the prominent Baptist preacher William Packer. After this Coppe disappears from historical record, but on August 23, 1672 a Hiam Coppe was buried at St. Mary’s. There was no Hiam living in the neighborhood so there is little reason to doubt the veracity of this connection. Coppe is remembered as one of the most prominent Ranters, a group that would not be noteworthy if it were not for the remarkable number of schisms and sects in this period. The political revolution is undoubtedly connected with the explosion in number of denominations. Coppe is renowned as one of the more fanatical of the group and he is paradigmatic of the culture that fostered this revolutionary period (religiously, politically, and intellectually).
Hessayon, Ariel. “Coppe, Abiezer (1619–1672?).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography,
Oxford University Press, 2004. Web. Jan 2008 http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/6275, accessed 20 Sept 2014