John Leverett Merrill.

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

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and to this duty, as well as pleasure, we most cordially welcome you.

A century has passed since the first settlers visited this town, and what a
change has taken place ! They saw before them only unbroken forests, and
innumerable hardships. Their only welcome was the howls of wild beasts.
While you who have come to day to visit the homes and friends of childhood,
or the places where you spent the earlier scenes of manhood, are surrounded
by the fruits of an hundred years of labor and civiUzation, and on all sides
the warm hand of friendship extends to you a joyous welcome. The citizens
have spared no labor or trouble to make this occasion one of j)leasure, as well
as profit to you.

A long order of exercises remind me that the mere formal words of wel-
come must be brief and quickly spoken. Accept, therefore, friends, each
and all of you, the kindly greetings and welcome of old Acworth, in the
same generous spirit in which she tenders them to you, and when this day's
work is completed, your pleasant visit ended, and you return to your homes,
let not the memory of early days be forgotten, nor the old or new friendship

Centennial Address.



Mr. President, and Felloiv - Citizens : — We meet to-day under
circumstances of peculiar interest. The year is the first Centen-
nial Anniversary of our dear old native town. From the East
^nd the West, the North and the South, we have come, to join
■with the residents in doing her honor. On the old Common we
grasp warm hands in friendly greeting. In these hospitable homes
we recount the varied experiences of our lives, and revive the
memories of long ago. In this sacred place, where most of us
first heard the public teachings of the gospel, we unite in prayers
and songs to the common Father, lifting our hearts in glad thanks-
giving, that He has permitted us to see this day, and granted this
raeetins: of old friends and fellow-townsmen.

A hundred years have passed since William Keyes, Samuel Har-
per and others, made their home in the unbroken forests which
then covered these hills and valleys. What momentous events
have crowned the century ! The thirteen colonies, stretched along
the Atlantic Coast, and on the eastern slope of the Alleghany
Ridge, have swelled to thirty-six "free and independent States,"
leaving inhabited and uninhabited territory enough to form twice
as many more. Our country's domain reaches from the Atlantic
to the Pacific, and, since the acquisition of Alaska, in a nearly
unbroken chain, from the peninsula of California to the Arctic
Ocean. Its population has increased from three millions to thirty-
five millions. From a state of poverty it has come to rival in
wealth the proudest of the nations of the Old World. Durino-
the period it has declared, and vindicated by force of arms, its
independence of the mother country. It has successfully fought
with the parent nation a second war, for the freedom of commerce


and the right to traverse unimpeded the highway of the seas. It
has waged a two years' conflict with the Mexican Republic, re-
sulting in the acquisition of the richest mineral lands on the North
American Continent. And it has just emerged from the most
gigantic civil war the world ever saw, freed from the evil which
precipitated the contest, purified of the stain which had made it a
reproach to the cause of freedom, its territory intact, its prosperity
unimpaired, and the power of its government vindicated and

Who shall rehearse the marvellous changes of these hundred
years, the progress of the arts, the discoveries in the physical
sciences, and the wonderful inventions, which have so quickened
human activity and revolutionized social life? We tire in the
vain attempt to recall them, and to comprehend the magnitude of
their results. A few among us to-day have lived to see nearly all
the changes which have transpired during the life of this town ;
but the most of those who enjoy the blessings of the hour, have
come upon the stage during the latter half of the century. Of
those who lived here fifty years ago, death has claimed the greater

The theme of the hour is predetermined. My remarks would
be regarded as irrelevant to the occasion, were I to speak other-
wise than of physical peculiarities of the town, its past history,
the character of the fathers, and its present condition.

The cradle in which we were rocked was not one of luxury.
The soil and climate of this region are not adapted to nurture
an effeminate race. These hills are not fitted for the raising of
those, whose distinguishing qualities are gentleness of manners
and softness of character. The rough surface of the town could
not be cultivated by gentlemen in kids; nor were the boys who
grew up on these farms, likely to be noted for the whiteness of
their hands. To fell the forests, and subdue the land in its primi-
tive state, required a hardy energy, which would mark their
general demeanor. Those who were accustomed to break the
snow-drifts, on these highways, in the depths of New Hampshire
winters, would not be likely to shrink before any conflict life might
impose. An author, writing in 1821, said : " Few towns, if any,
discover more marks of laborious industry." It was an industry,
severe and constantly laborious, which could change the wilder-
ness of a century ago, into the fruitful fields of the days of my
boyhood. Nature was not lavish in her gifts of fertility to these


granite hills ; but the energy of our fathers evoked from them
enouo;h to meet the demands of life. Though their toil was se-
vere, the returns for their industry, if not greatly abundant, were
yet sufficient to fill their homes with cheerfulness, and their hearts
with gratitude to the Giver. The remark was often made in my
younger days, that, though Acworth could not boast of her wealth,
but few towns were so exempt from cases of abject poverty. The
prayer of Agur seems to have been answered in behalf of this
people : " Give me neither poverty nor riches ; feed me with food
convenient for me ; lest I be full and deny thee, and say. Who is
the Lord? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my
God in vain."

With feelings of honest pride, we speak of such surroundings
as those amid which we were reared, remembering that similar
were the circumstances attending the early life of some of the
foremost men of the age and nation. Very pertinent was the re-
ply to the sneering inquiry, " What can you raise in New En-
gland ? " " We raise men, sir ! "

There is a remarkable tendency in this country, to the decay of
old families and the disintegration of old estates. The constant
transferrence of the hardy men of the country to the city, to fill
the places of those who rot in its hot-beds, is required, to keep
the currents of business from stagnating. The names once con-
spicuous in the afflxirs of state and nation, are not the prominent
ones of to-day. These hills and valleys are the nurseries, whence
are transplanted the fresh young trees that flourish in the richer
soil of more active business communities. Amid the rugged
scenes of country life were reared the Websters, Casses, Wood-
burys and Jacksons, of a former period, and the Douglasses, Lin-
colns. Chases and Grants, of the present hour. Daniel Webster
is reported to have said, that New Hampshire was " a good State
to emigrate from." With greater reverence for the place of our
birth, we should say, that it is a good State in which to be born
and reared.

The influences of the scenes of our early lives, live in our hearts
to-day. W idely separated as our present residences may be ;
whether living amid the rushing tides of a giant empire at the
West, under the sunny skies of a reconstructed South, in the
ruo-o-ed climate of "the New Dominion" of the British Provinces,
or on the isle-studded shores of the Pine Tree State; we have
been moulded in our characters by impressions received amid the


hills and valleys of our native town. They have entered into the
textures of our minds, and become a part of ourselves. AVe carry
with us the events which occurred, and the scenes in which we
took an active part, in our younger days. Something; of " Old
Acworth " lives and breathes in us, wherever we are, and what-
ever our characters in other respects.

The present contains the past. We of to-day are but the prod-
uct of the centuries. All ages of men have conspired to mould
and train us. They have united to give direction to our thoughts,
and to shape our destinies. Especially is it true of the age and
people who have just preceded us. They have left their impress
on our minds and hearts. Something of those sturdy old men,
whose shadows move before us as we look into the mirror of the
past history, breathes within us. Their thoughts and words and
deeds have contributed to make their descendants what they are ;
and we of the present, in a certain measure, revive the thoughts
and re-enact the deeds of our fathers. Eightly to interpret the
■present, we must know something of the past. Eightly to know
ourselves, we must be able to decipher the hieroglyphics, written
by those who preceded us, on the stage of active life. As he who
would perceive the full meaning of the Christian religion must be-
come familiar with that of Moses and the Jews, of which it is the
outgrowth ; so also must he who would see the full significance of
the time in which he lives, become acquainted with the spirit of
the ages that preceded it.

I shall not attempt to give a detailed history of the town. That
labor is to be performed by abler hands, and by those having bet-
ter facilities for learning the facts. I shall only advert to some
portions of that history, as serving to elucidate my theme.

Three waves of immigrants appear to have met in this town,
and aided in its early settlement. The first was from Connecticut ;
and probably, though of this I am not certain, it was composed of
the descendants of those hardy pioneers, who at an earlier period,
went from the vicinity of Boston, through the then unbroken
wilderness, to plant that colony. The Harpers, the Silsb3's, the
Keyeses, the Chattertons and others, were of this class. On the
earliest records of the town their names constantly occur, together
with those of others, who came from the nearer settlements of the
Massachusetts Bay Province. A tradition, years ago often re-
peated, relates that the flourishing willows, near the brook that
runs through the old Silsby farm, sprang from a rod, used as a


staff and for the driving of cattle, by one of the family, on the
journey from Windham, Connecticut. It may be so ; though it
mars the story somewhat, to have so many willows through the
country claiming a similar origin.

These Connecticut people brought with them the peculiarities
of the colony whence they came — the industrious habits and strong
religious convictions, which gave character to the town. Its good
name among the surrounding settlements is mainly to be ascribed
to the strict morality and ardent piety of its first settlers. In
1771, the little community held its first town meeting at the house
of Capt. Henry Silsby, and laid the foundation for that orderly
management of town affairs, for which the place was long noted.
With but two or three exceptions, the meetings were held at Capt.
Silsby's house, till the first meeting-house was sufficiently com-
pleted to be used for that purpose.

The next wave came from Londonderry, and was composed of
the descendents of the old Scotch Presbyterians, who had left their
native soil in Argyleshire, and settled in Ulster County, Ireland, •
in the early part of the seventeenth century. Their ancestors had
not felt at home in Ireland. Rigidly adhering to the Reformed re-
ligion, and intensely in earnest in their devotion to the teachings
of their faith, they had little community of interest with the peo-
ple of the island. The latter, though subject to the Protestant
power, were yet as bitterly opposed to the Reformed faith, as the
Protestants were to Catholicism. The two races could not unite.
They were opposed to each other, not only in religion, but in their
habits and modes of thought and feeling. They had different ori-
gins. They nursed in their hearts the recollection of centuries of
enmity and strife. It is not strange that a portion of these people,
thus surrounded by Catholics, and hemmed in by a ruder civiliza-
tion than their own, should turn their thoughts to the New World,
and seek a more congenial home, in its less genial climate, and
on its less fertile soil. Providence led a large company of them,
after spending an uncommonly inclement winter on the coast of
Maine, to the town of Plaverhill, on the Merrimack River. They
heard of an unoccupied but excellent tract of land, fifteen miles
distant, to which they directed their way. It was in the spring of
1719. Under the shade of an oak, they organized a church ac-
cording to the prescribed forms, and elected their pastor. And
there they laid the foundations of a community, which was des-
tined to act an important part in the early history of the State?


and to furnish some of its most prominent statesmen. The butter-
nut, chestnut and walnut abounded, and the place had been called
Nutfield. Very properly it took the name of Londonderry, from
the place in Ulster County, Ireland, whence the settlers had come.

Some of the people of Londonderry came to Ac worth, as early
as 1772, and united with those who had already come from Con-
necticut, in laying the foundations of the civil and religious privi-
leges, with which the town has been for a century signally blest.
Your Finlays, Dickeys, McLures, McKeens, Andersons, Gilmores
and others, are descendants of settlers from Londonderry. The
immigrants from Ireland had brought the seed of the flax to their
new home in America ; and the towns where they settled became
noted for its culture, and the manufacture of linen fabrics. The
spinning-wheel, turned by the foot, became an indispensable article
of furniture in every family ; and there are not many of the older
houses of Acworth, in which specimens of this antiquated imple-
ment of home industry may not be found, stowed away in the
garrets. To the Scotch-Irish settlers of New Hampshire, the
country is also indebted for the potato, now so generally used in
the homes of the rich and the poor alike.

These people agreed with the families from Connecticut, in ac-
cepting the doctrines of the Westminster Catechism ; but they
differed in their views of ecclesiastical government. Naturally
there were some jealousies between them. There were prejudices
to be overcome, and conflicting interests to be harmonized. But
the difficulties were not insurmountable ; they were gradually re-
moved ; and the two races united in their social and religious in-
terests. It was a sturdy element that was thus introduced, and
to it the town is greatly indebted for the development of its re-
sources. It gave to the place a character somewhat marked and

In 1635, some sixty families had come over from Yorkshire,
England, and settled in Rowley, on the Merrimack. They had
been manufacturers of woolen cloth in the old country, and they
erected in Rowley the first woolen mill in America. Their de-
scendants had spread over many towns in the vicinity. Many of
them had made themselves homes in Francestown, Weare, Deering,
New Boston, and Mount Vernon. Tradition tells us, that some
of the Londonderry people, going to and returning from Acworth,
gave so favorable a report of the facilities it aflPorded for making
good farms, that many were induced to remove thither. This


gave rise to the third wave, which came from Weare and vicinity^
composed mostly of the descendants of the Yorkshire settlers, on
the Merrimack, in Massachusetts. The Goves, the Baileys, one
branch of the Carltons, the Dodges, Sargents, Atwoods, and
Crams Avere among these settlers. This classification of the early
inhabitants, of course, is not perfect. As the town increased in
population, families came from many places far apart, influenced,
it Avould seem, by that love of change and the hope of bettering
their condition, inherent in our national character. These different
peoples lived, for the most part, in harmony, side by side ; during
the war of Independence, they were united in their feelings for the
cause of liberty ; they worshiped at the same altar ; they inter-
married and became a homogeneous people.

Our fathers were a God-fearing people ; and in this, as in other
respects, they were worthy descendants of their Puritan and Pres-
byterian ancestors. One of the first objects of their solicitude
was, to obtain the stated ministry of the gospel for themselves and
children. Having held their first annual town-meeting, within
three years of the coming of the first settlers, they called a special
meeting in August, in the language of the warrant, " to fix and
lay out a place for a meeting-house, if they shall think proper ;
also, a convenient common thereto, and a burying-yard for said
town." At the meeting, it was voted "that the meeting-house be
set on ten acres of land," the boundaries of which were specified,
" to be laid out in a square form ; and that the remaining part of
the ten acres be appropriated for a burying-lot and commonage."
Though so few in numbers and so feeble in means, yet they voted
in 1774, "to send for Rev. George Gilmore, to come and preach
with us one month or more, in order to settle with us in the work
of the ministry." A church of eight persons had been formed,
in March, 1773.

With feelings of deep sympathy we follow them in their efforts
to secure a place of worship, where the incense of their hearts,
united in the fear of God, and the love of Christ, should be offered ;
and a pastor, who should teach them the truths of religion, and
win them, by the example of his life, into the path of heaven. It
was a time of peril and gloom. The troubles which resulted in
the war of the llevolution were gathering, and the conflict soon
burst upon the land, with all its horrors. The call for men soon
reached the infimt settlement, and taxes were laid which they
found it difficult to meet. But while loyal to their country, they


did not forget their allegiance to heaven. Liberty, Avithout the
blessings of the gospel, would be for them of little value ; and
they counted all material interests, as not worthy to be compared
with the riches of the Christian life and the hope of eternity.
How to obtain the means to build a sanctuary to the Lord, and
how secure the benefits of the preached word, were objects they
ever kept in view. For twenty-one years, they prayed and en-
deavored, before their first pastor, Rev. Thomas Archibald, was
ordained and installed. During the period they had had preach-
ing, some part of the time, nearly, if not quite, every year ; and
the number of their church-members had increased to fifty-eifht.
The records of the town tell us with what solemnity they pro-
ceeded in the matter of settling a minister. Every thin o- was done
decently and in order. May 18, 1779, they instructed a commit-
tee to invite the candidate to preach on probation. July 25th,
they voted to give him a call, and charged the committee to inform
him of the proceedings. September 3d, as if to proceed in accord-
ance with established usage, they voted "to unite with the church"
in a form of call Which is recorded at length. " In the most solemn
manner, as in the presence of God, they invited, entreated and
called upon him to take the pastoral care and charge over them,
promising him due submission and love in the Lord, and also a
comfortable support and maintenance." A committee of twelve
was raised " to confer with the candidate and desire him to deliver
his principles in writing." It was voted " to raise fifty pounds as
a settlement, one-fourth part to be paid in gold or silver, and the
remainder, equal to beef at twenty shillings per hundred weight,
wheat at five shillings per bushel, rye at three shillings and six-
pence, and flax and butter at seven pence ; " also, " to raise fifty
pounds as salary," to be paid in the same way ; and " to add five
pounds a year, till it amounts to seventy-five pounds, there to re-
main during his ministerial relation."

October 7th, at another legal meeting, a day was appointed for ■
the ordination, the council was agreed upon, and the requisite com-
mittees chosen. At the next annual meeting, the expenses in-
curred preliminary to the settlement and at the ordination, were
provided for. These proceedings were in marked contrast with
the levity, with which pastor and people now often come together.
They looked upon the minister as the servant of Christ. ' They
revered him for his high office ; and they felt that in listening to

his teachings, and observing them, they would be blest.


They were nearly as long in obtainino; a place of worship. The
frame of the first meeting-house was raised and probably covered,
in 1784 ; but it was not completed, and the pews assigned, till
1787. By votes passed at several regular and special town-meet-
ings, it appears that the glazing, plastering and joinering were
done at different periods, as the people were able to pay for the
work. No record shows it to have been formally dedicated. Its
only consecration was in the hearts of those who met within its
homely walls, for the v/orship of the Everlasting Father. I well
remember the plain old structure ; its box pews, with high banis-
ters, over which I used to look in childish wonder, at the minister
in the pulpit, and the singers in the galleries ; the seats, hung with
hinges and turned up during prayer, and whose clatter at the close
was the only audible response to the minister's amen; and the
sounding-board, which I used to watch in constant terror, lest it
should fall and crush the good man who stood beneath it ! Without
form or comeliness, and all destitute of beauty or grace of propor-
tions, it was yet to many souls " none other but the house of God
and the very gate of heaven." The worship within was quite as
sincere, and quite as acceptable in the sight of God, as that which
is offered in the costlier shrines of more modern times. Though
the edifice was mean, yet many souls which bowed at its altar,
M'ere adorned with all the beauty and grace of the Redeemer's

The Lord's Day was kept with great strictness by these people.
Whether beginning on Saturday night at sunset, or as now at mid-
night, it was a season of profound solemnity. How still everything
was ! No sound of labor or of mirth was heard ; only the going
to and returning from public worship, or the voice of prayer and
praise. It was a day of rest for the body, and of refreshment for
the soul. Many a person, whose residence has since been in
crowded cities, where the Sabbath has become, in a great meas-
ure, a day of physical and social relaxation, has longed for the
delicious stillness, and devout musing on heavenly themes, which
marked the Sabbaths of his childhood and youth.

Family worship was generally observed by the people of those
early days. Even those who were not members of the church,
and who had made no public profession of religion, Avere accus-
tomed to meet around the family altar, and lift their hearts in sup-
plication and thanksgiving. Their religion was one for the home
as well as for the church, and all their labors were sanctified by


prayer. It Avas sincere and heartfelt, pervading tlieir thouo-hts,
and giving!: color to their lives. No })ainful doubts or cavilin<T
questions disturbed their faith. They believed the Bible and the
creed of their church, and only sought to live so that they mi'rht
hear at last the welcome benediction, " Well done, good and faith-
ful servants."

The people of this town very early saw the necessity of provid-
ing schools for the young. Next to religion, they felt the worth
of good learning. Training their children " in the nurture and
admonition of the Lord," they also trained them for lives of use-
fulness. If any people could be justified in neglecting to make
provision for public schools, it would seem that such justification
might have been theirs. They were few in numbers. They were
subject to the deprivations incident to the subjugation of the hard

Online LibraryJohn Leverett MerrillHistory of Acworth, with the proceedings of the centennial anniversary, genealogical records, and register of farms → online text (page 2 of 33)