John Leverett Merrill.

History of Acworth, with the proceedings of the centennial anniversary, genealogical records, and register of farms online

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sembled. In case of trouble, the party aggrieved might choose
to make application either to a Presbytery, or to a council of Con-
gregational Churches. The only change that has been made in
the plan of government, of any consequence, was made in 1815,
to prevent the baptism of children under the "half-way covenant,"
as it was termed.

The title of the church was the "Eeformed Church of Ac-
worth," a title applicable to any Protestant Church, not Lutheran,
thus avoiding the decision of the question, to which denomination
the church belonged. Eev. Tilly Howe preached as a candidate
in 1787. Eev. Thomas Archibald, of Londonderry, N. H., who
graduated at Dartmouth College in 1783, was ordained to the
work of the gospel ministry on the secon'.^ Tuesday of Xovember,
1789; thus a minister and a meeting-house' vVere obtained the
same year. His call was signed by the selectmen for the town.
The town voted him " £50 settlement money, one-fourth in gold
or silver, the remainder equal to beef at 20s. per hundred, or wheat
at OS. per bushel, or rye at os. 6d. per bushel, flax 7d. per pound,
butter 7d. per pound ; the gold and silver to be paid immediately ;


the remainder in three months." The town also voted him <£50
in merchandize at the same rate, as a salary, and =£5 to be added
yearly until it should reach X60.

This ordination was a great event in Acworth. The town chose
Joseph Finlay, Daniel Grout, James Campbell, Eliphaz Silsby
and Joseph Chatterton, to attend upon and provide for the minis-
ters, and other gentlemen ; and also chose Thomas Slader, John
Duncan and Amos Ingalls, "to keep order and good regulation"
during the ordination.

The minister's salary was raised by a special tax upon the town,
from which all were exempted who furnished evidence that they
paid a minister's tax to another society. Several members of the
Baptist Society in Marlow were so relieved.

The relation, however, between Mr. Archibald and this church
continued only till June 14, 1794. Mr. Archibald, at a meeting
of the elders at his house, February 10, 1794, complained of him-
self as being guilty of a misdemeanor "in allowing his passion to
get above his reason, in attempting to strike James Wallace."
The elders thought "that as the offense had been public, his con-
fession ought* to be made before the church and congregation, but
to this Mr. Archibald demurred. Thereupon a joint committee of
the church and town brought charges against him before a mutual
council. As to the results of the council we only know that it is-
sued in the dissolution of the pastoral relation. Mr. Archibald
confessed the charges brought against him, and was received to
the fellowship and communion of the church, and was then dis-
missed to the church in Alstead. The ministry of Mr. Archibald
was not successful ; only ten united with the church while he was
here. He is remembered as a man of harsh and irascible temper.
The son of an eye-witness relates the following incident : " I recol-
lect to have heard my father say that Mr. Archibald engaged in
trade with Hugh Henry, furnishing goods, and acting as a silent
partner. Henry undertook to take advantage of the pastor,
locked up the store and closed the blinds, and commenced taking
an account of stock. T-^'^arning what was going on, Mr. Archibald
took an axe, wall^^ ,' deliberately down to the store, smashed the
door in pieces, rushed in, seized Henry by the throat and choked
him until he bellowed like a calf and begged for mercy. The
parson, having got satisfaction, and his temper having cooled off,
put on his black coat, for he had divested himself of his clerical
robes, and, as my father who saw the whole affair expressed it,


sneaked away to his home, and never entered the pulpit or
preached afterwards." Mr. Archibald died in 1812, aged fifty-
seven years.

For three years the church was without a settled pastor. But
on the 14th of June, 1797, Rev. John Kimball of Littleton, Mass.,
was ordained and installed pastor over the church. His call
promised XlOO settlement money, and <£102 salary for five
years, and then £80 as long as he should remain their pastor.
Having remained pastor for nearly sixteen years, he was dismissed,
at his own request, upon the plea of bodily indisposition. He
returned to his native town, Littleton, Mass., and spent the
remainder of his days. More than sixty were added to the
church during his ministry. He was a bachelor, with some
eccentricities. Tradition says it was sometimes diflScult for him
to keep the run of the days of the week. He appeared at
the store one Sabbath morning to purchase a darning-needle, and
when told it was Sunday was very nervous as to his pulpit
preparations. At another time he was surprised that the district
school-teacher, who boarded where he did, was not starting to
school as usual. Upon inquiry, he was amazed to find it was the
Sabbath. His naturally nervous disposition was greatly disturbed
by the fatal ravages of the "spotted fever" in the town during
the last year of his ministry, so that he hardly dared to attend
funerals, much less visit the sick. Tradition says this neglect of
duty led to a decrease of salary, Avhich, doubtless, increased the
" indisposition " that led him to ask a dismissal.

The church, after the dismissal of Mr. Kimball, was in a critical
position. Mr. Kimball knew nothing experimentally of a change
of heart, and his predecessor, to say the least, was not a spiritually-
minded man. A lady who came here to reside from a neighboring
town, remarked afterwards that she could not find a single person
to sympathize with her in her religious experience. Persons who
came to Mr. Kimball to know what they should do to be saved,
were advised to lay aside their fears, and give themselves no
trouble. All the forms of religion, hoivever, were greatly re-
spected, and generally observed. This state of things was not
peculiar to Acworth. Mr. Cooke writes : " From my infimcy to
manhood, I never heard of a person professing to have met with
a change of heart, although additions were frequently made to the

Mr. Cooke's religious experience was entirely different from


that of his predecessors. * Born in Hadley, Mass., October 9, 1781,
he felt from infancy the influence of pious parents. By this influ-
ence, under God, he was shiekled from the licentious infidelity of
the times while in college. He graduated from Williams College
in 1803, in a class of twenty-eight, with only one professor of
religion. His parents desired him to enter the ministry; but
though it was the custom of the times, and even advised by good
men, he could not think of entering upon that sacred office
Avitiiout knowing the power of religion in his own heart. He,
therefore, entered a law office in Keene in 1804. He was not,
however, satisfied with the practice of laAv. After a very marked
and thorough religious experience, he united with the church in
Keene in 1811, and soon began to pursue the study of theology
without a teacher or an adequate library. But his early training
in the Westminster Catechism and his religious experience assisted
him o-reatly. In October, 1812, he was licensed by the Monad-
nock Association. In July, 1813, he was invited to preach in
Acworth. His very first sermon discovered a marked peculiarity
of his — the exact adaptation of his text and discourse to the
occasion. It also showed great courage on the part of a candi-
date. The text was Mark x. 21: "One thing thou lackest;" and
he proceeded to dislodge the prevailing Arminian sentiments from
the minds of his hearers. Even one of the officers of the church
shook his head, and remarked, " We never heard such doctrine
as that before." But the people were in affliction. ^There was
hardly a house where there was not one dead. ]\Ir. Cooke
administered religious consolation, as he went from house to
house, as only one with a warm heart and deep piety could.
This turned the hearts of the people toward him, and he soon
received a call, with but one dissenting vote on the part of the
church, and thirty-three on the part of the town. Thus the town
of Acworth probably owes it to that fatal scourge, the " spotted
fever," that she has had, for nearly half a century, a succession
of pious men to break tlie bread of life to her children. The
opposition to Mr. Coo^:e was partly on account of a political
speech which hr^rmade while a lawyer in Keene, but mostly
on account of a growing feeling that it was not right to tax
the town to support preaching. Mr. Cooke declined the call at
first — not on account of the opposition in town meeting, but
because of trouble in the church. One Monday morning he rode
away from Acworth, as he supposed, not to return, having


preached the Sabbath before from IT. Cor. xili. 11 : " Finally,
brethren, farewell." Col. Duncan had spent a sleepless night,
feeling that he could not have it thus. In the morning he fol-
lowed Mr. Cooke, and brought him back. On the next Sabbath,
his text was Acts x. 29 : " Therefore, came I unto you without
gainsaying as soon as I was sent for. I ask, therefore, for what
intent ye have sent for me." Difficulties were adjusted, and Mr.
Cooke was ordained September 7, 1814. More than 2,500 per-
sons were present at the ordination services. Dr. Seth Payson of
Eindge, doubtless referring to the opposition, preached from the
words. Gal. iv. 16 : " Am I therefore become your enemy, because
I tell you the truth." Eev. Mr. Lanktou of East Alstead made the
ordaining prayer, of which Mr. Cooke remarked, " If the place
was not shaken on which we stood, I shook.'''' It may be a matter
of interest to know that upon such occasions, in those days,
clergymen wore gown and bands. In order to provide Mr.
Cooke with a gown, the ladies bought nineteen yards of heavy
black silk, which Miss Sally Nesmith, now Mrs. Wilson, fashioned
into a clerical gown, and Mr. Cooke was obliged to send for her to
help him to put it on.

Mr. Cooke preached the doctrines of grace with the fervor
of one who had recently experienced them in his own heart, to a
people who had never heard them from the lips of a pastor before.
Of the effect produced. Dr. E. S. Wright remarks, " The people
were at first astonished, then excited, then alarmed, then rebellious,
then subdued." A revival ensued, which reached its height in
1817. In the -vvinte? of that year, there was a great work of
grace in the public schools. In the " Finlay district," the
scholars Irad 'gathered for a spelling school. As the custom was,
the exercises were opened by reciting a lesson in Wilbur's Cate-
chism. While this was progressing, great emotion pervaded the
assembly, until one of the scholars, overcome by his feelings, broke
down in his recitation, whereupon a young man who had recently
experienced religion arose and led in prayer, at the close of which
the whole school was bathed in tears. Nearly all the older scholars
were that winter hopefully converted. Sria,ilar scenes were
witnessed in the Lynn and McClure districts. Mr. Cooke, in his
farewell discourse, says, " The cloud of Divine mercy came over
us, and rested, not as did the sun in Gibeon and the moon in the
valley of Ajalon, for a lengthened day, but for three whole years!
Oh ! those years of the right hand of the Most High ! My soul


hath them still in remembrance." During this time, the church
increased from seventy members to two hundred and twelve, and
a large portion of the old members were awakened to a higher life.

When Mr. Cooke was settled in 1814, the old meeting-house
was reported as greatly in need of repairs ; but it was impossible
to get a vote of the town to repair it, except upon condition that
the other denominations represented by the legal voters should
have the privilege of using the house a portion of the time, in
proportion to their number. This the Congregationalists were
unwilling to agree to, and the house continued to decay, until it
leaked so badly that it was impossible to hold meetings in rainy
weather. A terrible thunder shower during Sabbath service one
day completely flooded it ; and measures were immediately taken
to build a new one. The pew-holders relinquished their rights,
on condition that the materials of the old house should be used in
constructino: a town-house, which was done in 1821. The new
barn belonging to Capt. Ithiel Silsby was fitted up for holding
religious services. This barn is now owned by Col. C. K. Brooks,
and stands a little north of the church on the east side of the road.

The present church was built in 1821, at a cost of about |6,000.
At the time of its erection, it was one of the largest and best
churches in the State outside of the large towns. The frame of the
pulpit cushion w^as made by David Montgomery, and was covered
with rich crimson velvet by Miss Sally Nesmith, and trimmed with
heavy cord and tassels. Many a person will carry to his dying
day the impression made upon his youthful mind by the inscription
over the pulpit, " Holiness becometh thy house forever, O Lord
of Hosts ! " The interior has been completely remodeled — the
galleries and the pulpit taken out and ceiling lowered — but the ar-
chitecture of the outside remains in its original beauty and elabo-
rate finish, and its graceful steeple will, we hope, be admii'ed by
generations yet to come. The elevated site of this church and its
lofty steeple, together with his own stature and prominence in the
State, gave j\Ir. Cooke the title of " High Priest of New Hamp-
shire." At the dedication of the house, Mr. Cooke preached from
I. Chron. xxix. 1,.,-jd the next Sabbath from Ezek. xliii. 12.

Mr. Cooke was settled by the town, and until 1820 his salary
w^as collected by tax, those being exempted who were regular
supporters of other religious societies. The law, however, was
changed in 1819, and it became necessary to vote an appropriation
every year. This occasioned a great deal of excitement and dis-


cussion. The town was nearly evenly divided on the point. Col.
Duncan was the leading champion of the "standing order." Upon
one occasion, as the house was about to be divided upon the ques-
tion, seeing that his side would be defeated, he obtained the iloor,
and detained the meeting by reading to them the constitution of
New Hampshire, until other voters arrived, or as some say until
the lateness of the hour compelled adjournment. Upon another
occasion when a division was made a satisfactory count could not
be made and the parties filed out of the house, and arranged them-
selves in two lines, extending down towards the tavern. While
they were being counted, one man changed his vote, thus giving
a majority of one in favor of raising the salary. The man who
changed his vote, afterwards said he seemed to hear a voice say-
ing, " Come ye out from among them and be ye separate." After
voting for three years to raise the salary, in 1823 it seeming in-
expedient to attempt to obtain such a vote, the tax Avas laid by
a committee of the society, in the same way as before. The
tax was voluntarily paid, so that practically it made no differ-
ence that the town did not vote the appropriation. A change,
however, gradually came about, until the tax was laid upon church-
members only, which practice has continued until this day. After
all others have had the privilege of subscribing what they feel
willing to pay, a tax is assessed upon the church-members, which
has generally been cheerfully paid.

In the winter of 1826-7 a revival of considerable power was
again enjoyed.

Mr. Cooke was dismissed in March, 1829. The cause of his
asking for a dismissal, was the disturbance created by the temper-
ance movement. With all their virtues it must be confessed that
the early inhabitants of Acworth were far from being total absti-
nence men. It seems strange to us that these good men could not
see the evils of a practice which often brought into disgrace men
otherwise respectable, but custom blinded their eyes. Mr. Cooke
himself, like nearly all his brethren in the ministry at that period,
had been accustomed, at weddings, funerals and other gatherings,
to take a social glass, but he entered upon the temperance reform
with his usual earnestness and vehemence. His elders and other
prominent supporters not being able to change with the same ra-
pidity became almost unanimously opposed to his measures. Mr.
Cooke could not brook opposition from those who had always acted
with him, therefore he asked for a dismission. On the last Sab-


bath he ministered to them his text in the morning was from Acts
XX. 32 : " And now brethren, I commend you to God, and to the
word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you
an inheritance among them which are sanctified." In the afternoon
from Luke xvi. 2 : " Give an account of thy stewardship for thou
mayest be no longer steward." Mr. Cooke removed to Lebanon,
N. PL, where he labored nineteen years. He. was dismissed in
1848, and removed to Amherst, Mass., where he preached almost
constantly to the surrounding churches, until his death, which oc-
curred April 28, 1853. The people of Acworth never lost their
attachment to Mr. Cooke, and he fully reciprocated their affec-
tion. He was accustomed, after he left Acworth, to tell the fol-
lowing story of


In the early part of his ministry in one of bis pastoral visits, be came to a
farm-house among the hills, where he was received as New Englanders wel-
comed their minister in the " olden days." The visit over, the good old
horse and chaise waiting at the door, the lady of the house gave him a hag
containing samples of her beef or pork, fowls, butter or cheese, or some arti-
cles for the comfort of bis household. On subsequent visits he sought to re-
turn the bag. but invariably failed — the bag, somehow, being always found
well filled in his chaise on his arrival home.

The warp of this magic bag was spun from — "The laborer is
worthy of his hire," "Let him that is taught in the word commu-
nicate unto him that teacheth in all good things." The woof from
the native generosity of the Scotch-Irish heart. This was not an
isolated case ; there were many such hearts in the homes among
the hills of Acworth. In this respect the children have not for-
gotten the habits of the fathers.

On the morning of the installation of his successor, Mr. Cooke
was seen walking in great agitation to and fro near the church.
On being approached by a friend, he said, " This ought never to
have been. A little yielding on my part, and a little on theirs, and
all might have been well." He was buried at his own request
among the people of his first love, and an appropriate monument
marks his resting-place, the gift of a loving people.

Soon after Mr. Cooke left, stoves Avere for the first time intro-
duced into the church. " The old meeting-house was especially
cold in the winter, and those who came from distant parts of the
town, on the coldest days, sat during the long sermons of Mr.

'ti-^^izfk^^A^ ^^^:-'-^^^^-


Kimball almost perishing with the cold, while he preached in
woolen mittens." The women nearly all carried foot-stoves, and
multitudes of them were replenished at noon at the house of James
Wallace. Serious objection was made by many to the introduc-
tion of stoves. Great fears were entertained of burning down the
meeting-house. They were, however, introduced, notwithstanding
the fainting of a few nervous people, and the house has stood to
the present day unharmed by fire.

Kev. Moses Grosvenor was settled over this church, October 14,
1829. He was a sound and earnest preacher, but not being suited
to the character of the people, his ministry was short. He was
dismissed, April 25, 1832. His wife taught a school for young
ladies while here, and it is believed through her efforts every one
of her pupils not previously converted, was brought to Jesus.
This revival also included many others, some heads of families.

Rev. Joseph Merrill was settled, October 16, 1833. He was
born in 1778, and graduated at Dartmouth College in 1806. He
was settled in Dracut, Mass., where he had a long and useful min-
istry. During a pastorate in Acworth of nearly five years, "he
was favored witlf the confidence and affection of the people." Mr.
Merrill was erect and dignified in person, genial and affable in his
manners, and sound and interesting as a preacher. He was blessed
with an interesting work of grace in this parish. This work be-
gan with a church visitation, such as has often been made in this
church. The plan has usually been for the brethren to go two by
two into every family represented in the church, for the purpose
of religious conversation. Good results have usually followed.
At this time also, a four days' meeting was held, at which neigh-
boring ministers were invited to preach. On the closing day
of the meeting, forty or fifty persons assembled in the town-house
at an inquiry meeting. At this time Rev. Mr. Burchard, then
attracting much attention, was preaching in Springfield, Vt. A
majority of the church were eager to have him come to Ac-
worth, while some very substantial members stood aloof. He
came and the work went on. January 11, 1835, ninety-three
were received into the church. A mistake was made in receivino-
these into communion, in the midst of the intense excitement, yet
too much prejudice has existed in reference to those professing con-
version in connection with Mr. Burchard's labors. Of those who
had previously been regular attendants upon public worship here,

and those that remained in town long afterwards, few compara-



tlvcly fell away. Mr. Merrill was dismissed, July, 1838. He
died in 1848, aged seventy years. For three years the church
was without a pastor. Rev. Thomas Edwards was settled in 1841,
and dismissed in 1843. During his ministry the parsonage was
built. Rev. R. W. Fuller succeeded Mr. Edwards, and was for
two years stated supply.

Rev. Edwin S. Wright, a graduate of Union College, was or-
dained and installed pastor of the church, January 7, 1846. To
him the people became warmly attached. He was a good preacher,
an excellent pastor, and was the instrument of great good in the
parish. In 1847 a revival was enjoyed, and in 1852-3 the spirit
of God visited the people with still greater power. He was dis-
missed in 1856 on account of his wife's health, and was settled over
the Presbyterian Church in Fredonia, N. Y., where he still labors.
He has received the degree of D. D. since he left Acworth.

On the 18th of February, 1857, Rev. Amos Foster was in-
stalled pastor of the church. He was not a stranger to Acworth.
The "Ladies Charitable Society" had lent him a helping hand,
while obtaining his education. He had supplied the pulpit during
a temporary absence of Mr. Cooke, and the people felt that in
some sense they had a share in him. It seemed eminently appro-
priate therefore, that after a ministry of thirty years elsewhere,
he should return and finish his work here. He was dismissed,
June 13, 1866, on account of infirm health and advancing years,
greatly to the regret of all his people, for he was much beloved,
not only in this, but in the adjoining towns. He retired to a home
he had provided for himself in Putney, Vt., where he now resides,
preaching as his health permits.

The same council that dismissed Mr. Foster installed his suc-
cessor, Rev. .[. L. Merrill, a graduate of Dartmouth College, and
of Princeton Theological Seminary, and the present pastor of the

The whole membership from the beginning has been about 800.
Present membership, 142, which is about the average proportion
that the members of the Congregational Church have borne to the
population of the town since the settlement of Mr. Cooke. For
many years a large proportion of the young people who have
united with the church have emigrated. Taking at random a sin-
gle page of the church records, it was found that two-thirds of
those whose membership had ceased, had been dismissed to other
churches. On the hills of Acworth, this church has been doing a

(L, cCp, vA -e^i^^i-^^ J


great missionary work in raising up ministers, ministers' wives,
officers and la^'-members forother churches. Eev. Messrs. Charles

Online LibraryJohn Leverett MerrillHistory of Acworth, with the proceedings of the centennial anniversary, genealogical records, and register of farms → online text (page 15 of 33)