Otis Olney Wright.

History of Swansea, Massachusetts, 1667-1917; online

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church was engaged in public worship, the Indians were pre-
paring to attack the people of this new and unprotected town
on their return home. They killed one and wounded others.
Here its effects fell with great severity, as it is said one-half of
Swansea was burned. The house of Mr. Myles was made into
a garrison. As to the state and progress of the church, we
have nothing to enlighten us. From the nature of the case all
must have been gloomy.

Mr. Myles preached much of three years in Boston,
previous to 1679, and whether this church was supplied during
his absence is doubtful. About this time the town voted to
remove the meeting-house to the lower end of New Meadow
Neck. It seems this idea was abandoned, and it was voted and
ordered, Sept. 30, 1679, "that a meeting-house of forty feet in
length and twenty-two in breadth and sixteen feet between
joints be forthwith built. " From the above and other records
it appears the place of meeting was changed, and that the
minister went there also.

Feb. 3, 1683, Mr. Myles closed his labors on earth, having



104 History of Swansea

been in the ministry about thirty-eight years. His age and
the place of his burial are unknown, but he left a character
behind that will be honored as long as Palmer's River shall run.
He was succeeded by Capt. Samuel Luther, who was ordained
July 22, 1685, by Elders Emblem and Hull, of Boston. He
was a man of character and talents, and discharged with ex-
emplary fidelity the duties of his ofiice for nearly thirty-two
years. He died Dec. 20, 1716, and was buried at Kickamuit.
During his ministry, probably about 1700, the meeting-house
was removed to near Myles' Bridge. Perhaps this might have
had some connection with the separation of Barrington from
Swansea, and its formation into a separate town. The church
seems to have prospered to a considerable extent during the
whole of Elder Luther's ministry. We cannot say how large
it was with certainty, probably about two hundred, scattered
in Rehoboth, Middleborough, BelHngham, Haverhill, Taunton
and what is now Warren and Somerset.

In 1704, Mr. Ephraim Wheaton became associate with
Elder Luther, and at his death sole pastor. In 1718 the church
records seem to begin. Mr. Wheaton appears to have been a
man who exerted a great and good influence on the church,
and on others also. His ministry was eminently successful,
and the church was highly prosperous. According to the
records we have, about one hundred were added to the church.
He died April 26, 1734, in the seventy-fifth year of his age, and
was buried in Rehoboth.

In 1733, April 18th, Mr. Samuel MaxweU was ordained
associate with Mr. Wheaton, and at his death became sole
pastor. He continued till April 15, 1739, when he was dis-
missed. About fifty were added to the church during his
ministry.

For two or three years the church was without a pastor,
after the dismissal of their former one, when the labors of
Elder Benjamin Harrington was obtained, and he was installed
pastor Aug. 15, 1742. He was dismissed May 3, 1750.

In 1748, Mr. Jabez Wood, of Middleborough, a member of
this church, was requested to supply the pulpit. Accordingly
he supplied three years and a half, and was ordained pastor
Sept. 5, 1751.

At the time Mr. Wood was ordained the church was
without deacons. Benjamin Cole died in 1748, and Jonathan
Kingsley in 1750. These men served in this office from 1725
till they died in old age, having executed important trusts for
the church in their day. The first notice we find of deacons
in the records is that John Thomas, Nathaniel Luther, and
Richard Harding were ordained deacons in 1718, that the two



Churches 105

first named died in the discharge of their holy trust, but when
they died we cannot say. To supply the deficiency of these
necessary officers, Robert Wheaton, and Thomas Peck were
chosen Aug. 6. 1752. Deacon Peck served about seven years
till the time of his death, in 1770. He was a useful man. His
place was supplied by Nicholas Thomas till 1771, when he
was removed from his sphere of usefulness on earth to rest
with God. At the death of Deacon Thomas, David Kingsley
was elected clerk, and served forty-five years. In 1776 he was
also chosen to the office of deacon, and served more than fifty
years. He died Oct. 25, 1830, aged ninety-two. Thomas
Kingsley was chosen deacon in 1771, and served till his death
in 1809, aged eighty-three. The two Deacons Kingsley, David
and Thomas, were men unusually free from fault, and good
men, but not very efficient. Deacon Wheaton lived to a
great age, and was highly esteemed. He was the son of Elder
Wheaton, and died Nov. 22, 1780, aged ninety-two years.

The interests of the body seemed to droop and decline
for a length of time, when Elder Wood vacated his office in
1778 or 1779, the precise date not being on record. The state
of the church was now depressed and low. The number of
members when he left is not known, as no list of members had
ever been kept, and the alterations, except by baptism, were
not kept with accuracy. The whole country was now in
perilous circumstances, being involved in the Revolutionary
war. Those nearest the seashore suffered the most, and this
people was not exempt. On the 25th of May, 1778, the
Baptist meeting-house and parsonage in Warren were burned
by British troops, and Mr. Thompson, the pastor, taken
prisoner. In this affficted, depressed, and scattered state, the
church was unable to sustain public worship. It was proposed
to return to the maternal bosom, till they might be able to
return to Warren as before. This proposal was accepted, and
the brethren in that manner joined this church. Mr. Thompson
became the pastor, and settled with the people Oct. 7, 1779.

The settlement of a minister so deservedly eminent, and
the accession of help from Warren, seemed to put new life into
this body. The Lord evidently came with the new pastor, as
he baptized one only three days after his election, and two
more before the 1st of January, 1780. During that winter
following there was a great revival of religion, not only in this
church but throughout the country. This has been called the
year of the great revival. The number baptized here was
sixty-seven, in 1781 five more, making seventy-five since Mr.
Thompson became pastor. About this time the remains of
the Oak Swamp Church joined here in the same manner the



106 History of Swansea

Warren brethren had done. These accessions rendered this
church large, and in some respects strong, though there is no
means of knowing the exact number. There is probabihty
that it was nearly or quite two hundred.

In 1786 the Warren brethren went back, were reorgan-
ized, built a house of worship, and again had the institutions
of the gospel at home. The number who returned was twenty-
eight.

In 1789 the Lord was pleased to appear again to build up
Zion, and fifty-four were baptized, which greatly encouraged
the hearts of both pastor and people. This was a very inter-
esting revival, and greatly added to the strength of the church.

In 1801 the Lord again visited his people, and twenty-six
were baptized. The last baptism in this place by Mr. Thompson
occurred Sept. 5, 1802: with the year he closed his
pastoral relation, after having served with ability, fidelity, and
success, a little more than twenty-three years. During his
ministry one hundred and seventy-six were baptized by him
and added to the church. The first seven pastors occupied a
term of one hundred and forty years, averaging twenty years
to each. Perhaps this period of the existence of the church is
by far the most important, not only for its general historical
interest, but for the influence of the church upon all the
surrounding community.

Mr. Thompson was succeeded by Rev. William Northrup,
probably in the spring of 1804. He continued four years, and
baptized twenty-nine and received eight others, in all thirty-
seven.

He was followed by Rev. William Barton, who preached
two years but without success. He was dismissed at his own
request in the spring of 1810.

In 1811, Rev. Abner Lewis became a member and the
pastor of this church, and preached here till April, 1819, when
he was dismissed. He departed this Hfe July 7, 1826, aged
eighty-one, and is interred in the burial ground connected
with this house.

After his dismissal the church was supplied by Elder
Benjamin Taylor, a preacher of the Christian Connection,
who continued for a part of two years, when he closed in the
spring of 1821.

The next minister was Rev. B. Pease, until 1823; Rev.
Luther Baker, from 1824 to 1832; Jessie Briggs, two and a
half years; 0. J. Fisk, from Oct. 1, 1835, to April 1, 1836;
Abiel lisher, from 1836 to 1846; J. J. Thacher, 1846 to 1854;
Silas Hall, 1854 to 1857; J. W. Horton, 1857 to 1864; Rev.
A. W. Ashley settled as pastor July, 1864, closed his labors



Churches 107

October 1867; Rev. J. A. Baskwell, settled May, 1868;
closed his pastorate September 1870; January, 1871, called
Rev. C. Bray to the pastorate, he closed his labors May, 1874;
the church was supplied by R. E. Barrows and others until
April 1876 when Rev. J. W. Horton was settled for the
second time; he closed his labors about the 1st of January,
1882.

The present pastor, Rev. G. W. Bixby, commenced his
labors in February, 1882.

Up to 1846 this church occupied, probably, the oldest
church building in this county, and the oldest Baptist house
in America. Tradition says it was built the year after Elder
Luther's death, — that is, in 1717, and in 1723 an order was
passed by the church for raising money to complete the pay-
ment for building the meeting-house. It was forty-one and a
half feet long and thirty-three feet wide, about twenty-two
feet between joints, unplastered, and open to the roof till
1802. It will thus be seen that this church, the first Baptist
Church in Massachusetts and the fourth in America, has
maintained its visibiUty over two hundred and fifty years.
Four churches have been formed from this.

The church is now (1883) in a low state, having been
reduced by deaths, removals, and exclusions, numbering now
about fifty. Most of these are elderly persons, invalids, or on
the retired list, unable to do much for the church or cause of
Christ. The senior deacon, who for many years had been the
leading spirit in the church, died Nov. 29, 1882, at the age of
ninety-two.

The Rev. George W. Bixby ended his pastorate in 1891;
and the Rev. Fred E. Bixby became the pastor in 1892; and
was in charge until 1898, when the Rev. Lucian Drury took
up the work and continued until 1904. From that date to
1907, there was no settled minister. The Rev. Reuben J.
Davis began his pastorate in 1907 and remained but one year.
From 1908 to 1913 there was another vacancy. In 1913 the
Rev. Frederick J. Dark, the present pastor, began his labors;
and in October of that year, the Two Hundred Fiftieth
Anniversary of the Founding of the Church, the First Baptist
Church in Massachusetts, was commemorated, in Swansea;
at Warren, R. I., in the Town Hall, Swansea; and in Tremont
Temple, Boston.

The programmes, addresses, with much valuable histor-
ical matter was published in book form by the Backus Histor-
ical Society of Boston, 1913, under the title of Elements in
Baptist Development,



108 History of Swansea

The Non-Sectarian Christian Church

Swansea was settled by men who believed in liberty of
conscience. Probably it was the only town within the territorial
jurisdiction of the Pilgrims, which recognized the right of free
thought. While all desired freedom for themselves, nearly all
in that age would "use the sword of the civil magistrate to
open the understandings of heretics, or cut them off from the
State, that they might not infect the church or injure the
public peace. "

John Myles, the first minister of the town, while exposed
to persecution in his native land, had learned the lesson of
tolerance. Not only did the town in its organic capacity
concede freedom of rehgious opinion, but the church of which
he was pastor, although composed of Baptists, admitted to
communion all persons who (the original covenant declared),
"by a judgment of charity, we conceive to be fellow-members
with us in our head, Christ Jesus, although differing from us
in such controversial points as are not absolutely and essen-
tially necessary to salvation. " The successors of Mr. Myles
were Calvinistic Baptists, and the church covenant was
changed to harmonize with their views. That church is the
oldest congregation of the Baptist denomination in the State
of M assachusetts.

Perhaps the erection by the town of the "new meeting-
house on the lower end of New Meadow Neck" (in what is now
Barrington, R. I), in 1680, may have been one reason why the
inhabitants of the "easternmost part of the town upheld a
religious meeting" at a more accessible place. Although
services were maintained from "about the year 1680," there
was no formal church organization until 1693. In the original
record book (very plainly written and still in excellent con-
dition) the church is styled simply a "Church of Christ in
Swansea." No doctrinal tests were made conditions of
admission, but all Christians were recognized as possessing
equal rights in the "household of faith." Perhaps there was
then no other church in all the eaith which received as mem-
bers all Christians irrespective of divergent opinions con-
cerning the various points of speculative theology. In 1725,
nearly half a century after the "meeting" was established and
a third of a century after the church was organized, it was
decided to receive members only by the "laying on of hands."
The church was then ecclesiastically independent. From the
year 1803 to 1819 it was represented by "messengers" in the
"Yearly Meeting of the Six- Principle Baptists." After a
connection of sixteen years with that body the church with-



Churches 109

drew, declaring "the Lord Jesus Christ the great head of the
Church to be their leader, and the Scriptures a rule to govern
their faith and practice by, and receive their principles and
doctrine from. " This action was taken Feb. 10, 1820. The
church thereby regained the freedom, says the record, "which
it enjoyed under the pastoral care of Job and Russell Mason
before it was considered a branch of the yearly meeting."
From that time to the present all persons giving satisfactory
evidence of Christian character have been welcomed to the
communion, and also to membership in the church. A few
years ago the church united with the "Rhode Island and
Massachusetts Christian Conference," but this relation
does not restrict fellowship, as the Conference discards doc-
trinal tests in regard to subjects concerning which Christians
differ in opinion.

As there was for thirteen years a congregation without a
church, so there was a religious service without a clergyman.
The record book says, "We upheld a religious meeting partly
by some improving their gifts among us and partly by helps
from other places. " In 1693, Thomas Barnes was ordained
pastor. It has been represented that he was a man of some
note in Plymouth Colony. He was one of the original pro-
prietors of the town, although a very young man when the
first settlement occurred. According to the system of "rank-
ing" adopted soon after the charter of Swansea was obtained,
Mr. Barnes belonged to the "second class" of the landed
aristocracy, as did also Samuel Luther, who succeeded John
Myles as pastor of the Baptist Church. The Colonial Records
afford incidental but positive proof that the "court" acknowl-
edged the vahdity of his claim to be recognized as a clergyman,
notwithstanding he was a "Separatist." The church record
says, "Our beloved elder, Thomas Barnes, continued with us
till June 8, 1706, and then it pleased God to remove him by
death." When he assumed the duties of pastor the church
consisted of only seventeen members. There is no statement
on record of the number received in the thirteen years of his
ministry, but nine years after his decease the church had one
hundred and twenty-nine members. Making due allowance
for losses by death and from other causes, it will be perceived
that the increase was remarkable. This growth affords
evidence of the efficiency of both Mr. Barnes and his immediate
successor.

Among the former soldiers of Cromwell who came to this
country was one Samson Mason. From him are descended
most of the rather numerous families of that name now resid-
ing in this vicinity. Six of his sons were Hving in or near



110 History of Swansea

Swansea when the youngest was seventy years old. One of
the sons, Isaac, was the first deacon of this church; another
son, Joseph, succeeded Mr. Barnes as pastor; a third son of
Samson Mason, Peletiah, was the father of three ministers, —
Job, Russell, and John, — two of them serving as pastors of
this church, as also did their cousin Benjamin, son of Samson
Mason, Jr., these prophets not being without honor in their
own country and among their own kin.

There is evidence that a considerable part of the increase
in the numerical strength of the church, already mentioned,
occurred in the early part of the ministry of Joseph Mason.
It is assigned as a reason for the ordination of his colleague,
John Pierce, in 1715, that it "had pleased God to increase our
numbers. '*

The first meeting of the voters of the parish of which there
is a record took place in 1719, the congregation concurring
with the church in the election of Joseph Mason as pastor.
He had long served in that capacity, and this action was
taken to avoid legal difficulties. The town of Barrington had
not long before been set off from Swansea, that a Puritan
minister might be supported therein by taxation, repeated
efforts, beginning about the time of the ordination of Mr.
Barnes, having failed to induce or compel the undivided
township to conform to the custom which prevailed elsewhere
throughout the colony. The inhabitants of the remaining
portion of the town disHked both the exclusive spirit of
Puritanism and the system of taxation for the support of
religious institutions. When Mr. Mason was in due form
pronounced the lawful pastor, he publicly declared himself
satisfied with the voluntary contributions of the congregation
for his subsistence, and expressly waived all claim to support
by taxation, while recognizing the duty of all "to uphold and
maintain ye ministry and worship of God in ye severall
churches or congregations where they respectively belong or
assemble," "and not in any other church or congregation."
It was while Joseph Mason was pastor and John Pierce his
assistant that the meeting-house was built (to be described in
a subsequent paragraph), which for more than a century was
occupied for public worship.

Joseph Mason died in 1748, John Pierce in 1750, each
attaining "the great age of about ninety years." They had
"in January, 1737-38" (in January, 1738, "new style"),
requested the church to provide them a colleague, and Job
Mason, a nephew of the senior pastor, was selected. Four
months after the choice was made, in May, 1738, he was
ordained. A few months after the death of Joseph Mason the



Churches 111

legal voters of the parish ratified the action of the church, and
Job Mason declared that he was satisfied with such support
as his hearers should "freely and willingly" afford him, "also
denying any support by way of a tax," regarding the volun-
tary system "to be most agreeable to the mind of God, con-
tained in the Scriptures."

Favored with the ministry of this judicious pastor and
able preacher, the church attained a great degree of prosperity.
In later times many of the older members recalled the "days
of Job Mason" as the "golden age" in the history of the
church. "She sent forth her boughs unto the sea and
branches unto the river." In 1753 thirty-three members
residing in or near Rehoboth were dismissed at their own
request to constitute a church to meet in that town. Daniel
Martin, a member of this church, was ordained pastor. It is
worthy of mention that the gentleman who now — one hundred
and thirty years after — supplies so acceptably the pulpit of
that parish is likewise a native of Swansea and a son of this
church. In 1763 several members, with others from Rehoboth
and some from Providence, R. I., emigrated to "Sackville, a
township in the government of Nova Scotia" (now New
Brunswick). Before removing to their new home the adven-
turers met at Swansea to be organized as a church, and Nathan
Mason, of this place, a son of the second Samson Mason, was
ordained pastor.

After a useful ministry of many years, Job Mason died
at the age of fourscore, one month after the battle of Bunker
Hill, July 17, 1775. Seven of his descendants are members of
the church at this time. (1916)

Russell Mason was chosen colleague with his brother Job
in 1752, and was pastor (and also much of the time clerk of
the church) until his death in 1799, at the age of eighty-five
years. The period of his ministry comprehended the stirring
scenes of the Revolutionary war and all those important
events connected with the transformation of the American
colonies into a nation. Undoubtedly the church was some-
what depleted, perhaps depressed, in "the time that tried
men's souls," and between July 17, 1775, and Dec. 28, 1780,
there is not a single entry in the book of records; but the
record last referred to implies that public worship had been
regularly maintained. In 1788 members living in Dartmouth
were organized "for reHgious worship," and John Mason
(a brother of Job and Russell) was ordained pastor. He died
in 1801, aged eighty-five years. The church speedily recovered
much of its former strength, for within the year 1789 there
were, it is recorded, "eighty-six persons baptized and added to



112 History of Swansea

the church. " The widow of Russell Mason long survived him,
and (in accordance with a vote of the church after her hus-
band's decease) continued to occupy the parsonage until her
death.

Benjamin, grandson of deacon Isaac, like his brother
Nathan, already mentioned, became a minister. In 1784 he
was ordained to assist his cousin Russell, and at his senior's
death succeeded him. He died in 1813, at the age of eighty-
three years. It wiU be noticed that the posterity of the sturdy
soldier evinced by their longevity the possession of some of his
characteristics. For more than a century the successive
pastors bore his name, and the one who died youngest attained
the age of eighty years.

Increasing infirmities prevented Mr. Mason from preaching
statedly for several years, although he frequently participated
in the services when his colleague preached. An aged member
of the chvuch, deceased, (1883) could recall but one, and that
the last occasion on which he addressed the people of his charge.
The venerable man, after alluding to that feeling of loneliness
which sometimes oppresses the aged pastor when he realizes
the changes wrought by death, as he misses so many of the
attendants on his early ministry, and to his consciousness of
the decay of his own powers, preached on "The Perpetuity of
Faith, Hope, and Love" from the text, "Now abideth faith,
hope, charity, these three."

In 1801, Phihp Slade (ordained as an evangelist fourteen
years before) became assistant minister; after Mr. Mason's
death he sustained the relation of pastor until the close of 1819.
He had been unable, however, to perform all the duties of that
position for several years, even the Sunday service being
frequently omitted. For some time the church obtained
transient "supplies" for the pulpit. Afterward, with Mr.
Blade's approbation, Benjamin Taylor, then pastor of the
North Christian Church in New Bedford, was engaged to
preach at a special service on Sunday afternoons, the pastor
continuing the stated meeting in the morning. But the great
congregations which assembled to hear Mr. Taylor so con-
trasted with the meagre attendance at the forenoon service
that Mr. Slade, who was not aware of the failure of his own
mental faculties, became much dissatisfied. Eventually the
church, by vote, decided to dissolve the pastoral relation, as
the "beloved elder is out of health both in body and mind. "

Although this action was taken with much unanimity, at
least two members, both deacons, sympathized so much with
Mr. Slade that they withdrew from the church. Some others
followed their example, but the strength of the parish was not



Churches 113

sensibly impaired, for in less than a year afterwards there were


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Online LibraryOtis Olney WrightHistory of Swansea, Massachusetts, 1667-1917; → online text (page 10 of 27)