Otis Olney Wright.

History of Swansea, Massachusetts, 1667-1917; online

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two hundred and ninety-eight members connected with the
church.

Soon after the dismissal of Mr. Slade the church (with
the concurrence of the congregation) made choice of Mr.
Taylor as pastor. The position was a difficult one, and it was
with some reluctance that he accepted the call. But his
ministry was highly successful. He won the esteem of the
entire community, and often officiated in the pulpits of the
various denominations in the vicinity. He remained with the
parish ten years, in which time one hundred and thirty-three
persons were added to the church.

In his youth Mr. Taylor made several voyages at sea.
He always retained an interest in the welfare of seamen, and
some time after leaving Swansea he established the Mariners'
Bethel at Providence, R. I. Mr. Taylor was born at Beverly,
Mass., in 1786, and died in Michigan in 1848. He had three
brothers who were ministers, and a sister who was a minister's
wife.

Richard Davis became pastor in November, 1830, and
discharged the duties of that office two years and six months.
He died at Milwaukee, Wis., in 1868. A few years before his
death, and a third of a century after the dissolution of his
connection with the parish, the church sent a liberal sum of
money to assist him in his old age. The church edifice now in
use was built while Mr. Davis was pastor, although it was not
ready for occupancy until the beginning of the ministry of his
successor.

Mr. Davis was succeeded by James J. Thatcher. His
ordination as pastor was the first that had occurred since 1784.
He remained with the church nearly eight years. His ministry
here was very successful, as were his subsequent labors else-
where. Mr. Thatcher was born in Staffordshire, England, in
1811, and died in the town of Rehoboth, Mass., in 1874. The
later years of his ministry were spent with churches of the
Baptist denomination, and at one time he was pastor of the
Baptist Church in Swansea.

In October, 1842, Isaiah Haley was ordained pastor.
Although a worthy man, his ministry with this church con-
tinued only a few months. His death took place in 1869 in the
State of Maine.

The next pastor was Jonathan Thompson. He was born
in Vermont in 1794, and entered the ministry at an early age.
In New York State, in the course of nine years, he organized
several churches. After leaving New York he was pastor at
Fall River two years, and at Boston two. From Boston he



114 History of Swansea

removed to Swansea, in the year 1843, to take the pastoral care
of this church. At the end of five years he accepted a call to
Providence, where he remained until 1850, when he returned
to this place, and supplied the pulpit to the close of the year
1851. fee died in New York in 1866, at the age of seventy-two
years.

The Sunday-school was organized in the early part of Mr.
Thompson 's ministry, probably in the spring of 1844. In that
year, and for the gratification of the members of the infant
organization, who marched in procession from the church to
the grove, each wearing a red ribbon as a badge, was insti-
tuted the "clambake," still recurring annually on the last
Wednesday of August.

In former times this church was known as a mother of
churches; in later years a large proportion of its young
members have made their homes in neighboring cities, and in
this way it has helped to increase the strength of many con-
gregations. More than twenty of its members have been
ministers.

The first deacon of the church, as has been stated, was
Isaac Mason. Without recording the names of all who have
served in that position, it may be mentioned that within the
present century five have borne the name of Buffinton, — three
brothers, Gardner, John and Stephen, Martin, a son of John,
and Benjamin T., a son of Stephen. The last-mentioned
father and son still survive, although Gardner, the older of the
two brothers of Deacon Stephen Bufiinton, began to officiate
three-fourths of a century ago.

It is of interest to notice in the early records how fre-
quently occur the names of members which, though borne by
remote descendants, still occupy a place on the list.

The religious services on Sundays in the olden times
consisted of a meeting for preaching at eleven o'clock, and a
meeting for prayer and exhortation at four o'clock. The
fashion of preaching but one sermon on Sunday, so common
now but generally regarded as an innovation, has with
occasional exceptions long prevailed in this church, perhaps
from the time of the ordination of the first pastor. There is
a tradition, on which the church records throw no light, that
at first singing was excluded from the services. It is certain
that there was opposition to the use of musical notes at the
time they were introduced by singers. When the "service of
song in the house of the Lord" came to be regarded as an
important part of public worship, it was scarcely possible to
provide books for the congregation. From what was perhaps
the only hymn-book in the parish the minister read a hymn;




South Swansea Chapel




Old Book of Records



Churches 115

he then passed the book to one of the deacons (those officials
then occupying elevated seats near the pulpit,) and he read a
line or couplet; after that was sung he read as much more, and
thus the alternate reading and singing continued to the end of
the hymn.

At one time there was dissatisfaction on the part of several
members because the majority "would not approbate women's
pubUc speaking in the church by way of exhortation." The
church censured those disaffected members, but subsequently
the censure was by unanimous vote expressly revoked.

As was the custom also in the Puritan meeting-houses in
the former days, the sexes occupied opposite sides of the
audience-room.

The congregation early built or otherwise obtained a house
of worship, for in 1719 a parish-meeting was held "in the
meeting-house near William Wood's," and before the end of
that year it was proposed to "make some addition to the
meeting-house. " This project was not carried into effect, but
"soon after" a new house was built. In the Puritan Churches
of New England there was (even within a time quite recent)
a strong prejudice against kindling fires in a house of worship.
But the builders of the meeting-house of 1720 did not share
that superstition. Two platforms of brick were constructed,
each surrounded by a row of bricks turned up edgewise (with
no outlet for smoke or gas), and in cold weather charcoal fires
were kept burning upon them. The house was built of oak and
chestnut, and stood until the church edifice now used was
occupied. In the " September gale " (1815) the roof was blown
off. The building was square in form, and when the roof was
replaced it was so turned that what had been the ends of the
house became the sides. At one extremity of the audience-room
there was a pulpit large and high, flanked by the "deacon's
seats. " These were not merely for ornament but use, for it
is recorded^that at a regular church-meeting for the transaction
of business two brethren were chosen deacons, but as some
members were absent, that action was submitted to an
adjourned meeting on the following Sunday, when unanimous
approval was expressed ; the deacons-elect (although t^ be
"ordained" on a subsequent occasion) "then took their seats. "
What better example can be found of a recognition of both the
rights of voters and the dignity of office? At the rear end of
the room and on both sides were galleries capacious enough to
accommodate a large part of the congregation.

The spacious and pleasant edifice now occupied was
dedicated April 10, 1833. The noted Luther Baker preached.
All the clergymen who participated in the services have passed



116 History of Swansea

away from this life. The house was entirely remodeled and
somewhat enlarged in 1873.

The land comprised in the churchyard of the former house
was given " for the accommodation of a meeting-house, " by Dr.
William Wood and Capt. John Brown. The portion given by
the latter is described in the deed as a triangular lot of one-half
acre. An adjoining lot was given for a parsonage in 1772 by
Deacon James Brown. The parsonage was bought for thirty
pounds, and moved to the place where it stood until torn down
in 1865. Previous to that purchase the church had received
bequests from Edward Luther, Jonathan Slade, and Anna
Monroe, and soon after one from Sybil Slade. Borrowers paid
interest in some cases by "sweeping the meeting-house" and
in "coals for the meeting-house." The depreciation of the
currency was such that only "nine dollars and one-eleventh in
silver" were reahzed from a debt of "fifty pounds, old tenor. "
One of the "communion cups of solid silver" was given by
Katherine Tilley, and the other by Elizabeth Slade.

In times more recent the church has been blessed with
benefactors. Tamar Luther, Candace Brightman, William
Mason, Joseph G. Luther, EKzabeth Bosworth, the sisters
Joanna, Lydia, and Hannah Mason, Mary Gardner, Phebe
Kingsley, Samuel and Patience Gardner, and Betsey Bushee
Pierce, by will or otherwise, have given money or pews, the
income of which assists in defraying the current expenses of the
parish. These generous persons are held in grateful recollection
by those who enjoy the benefit of their considerate kindness.

Possibly this is the oldest church in Massachusetts which
never had legal connection with a town. A brief outline of
events connected with its history has been given, but the real
history of a church (and especially of one including among its
members so many generations, with modes of thought and life
so divergent) can never be written. The effects of moral forces
no man can chronicle, for no man can comprehend.

Lester Howard May 12, 1889 to Aug. 20, 1893, resigned.
B. S. Batchelor of New Bedford suppfied during the interim.
Thomas S. Weeks Oct. 7, 1894 -May 1, 1899, resigned. The
Bicentennial anniversary of the Church was celebrated May
1895. He died at Bangor, Me. Feb. 15, 1912.

John MacCalman Sept. 1, 1899— May 1, 1900 resigned.

W. Parkinson Chase May 1, 1900— May 1, 1901 resigned.

WiUiam J. Reynolds Sept. 15, 1901— Apr. 30, 1906,
resigned.

Carlyle Summerbell July 1, 1906— Feb. 29, 1908 resigned.

Frederick Lewis Brooks October 4, 1908— July 31, 1909
resigned.



Churches 117

Ernest R. Caswell Sept. 15, 1910— Sept. 27, 1914 resigned.
Weltie E. Baker Jan. 1, 1916—



The Six-Principle Baptist Church

In 1820, after the termination of Elder Philip Slade's
connection with the parish of which he had been pastor, he
conducted services at the residence of Deacon EUery Wood.
His adherents were recognized by the Six-Principle Baptist
Yearly Meeting as a church of that denomination. Deacon
Wood bequeathed his homestead for the maintenance of wor-
ship, and for several years after his decease meetings were
statedly held on Sundays in a room of the dweUing which
became the residence of the pastor. Elder Comstock. Occa-
sional services were held after the removal of Mr. Comstock for
some time, but not in the few years past. The farm is held by
a trustee for the benefit of the Six-Principle Baptist
denomination.



"SwANZEY Village Meeting House"

This Union Meeting House was built about 1830; and
was used for rehgious, and various other social interests, by
the people of the community, until it was no longer usable for
any purpose, when in 1890, the Town condemned the land and
made it the site of the first and only Town Hall, the gift of the
Hon. Frank Shaw Stevens.

The building committee of the Village Meeting House,
were: Richard Chace, John Mason, Artemas Stebbins, and
Ebenezer Cole, all of Swansea, as appears by a deed of a pew
given in 1831, to John Gray, "in consideration of forty and
nine dollars. " The number of the pew was twenty-two. The
witnesses to the deed were; George Austin and Venoni W.
Mason.

Jan. 8th, 1831.



Catholic Churches

There are two Catholic Churches in Swansea. St. Francis
at Barney ville; and St. Dominique's at Swansea Centre; both
having been established in 1910-11 under the care of Fr.
Bernard Percot of St. Anne's, Fall River; who ministers to
both, the French and the Portuguese.



118 History of Swansea

Christ Church

Bishop Eastbum, in his official report of 1846, says: "For
the establishment of the church in this place we are indebted
under God to the zealous labors of the Rev. Amos D. McCoy,
rector of the Ascension, Fall River. ' ' The church record states
that " Mr. McCoy officiated in this village on Sunday evenings
and other occasions from the second Sunday in May, 1845,
until November, 1847."

At that time no regular religious services were held in the
community, the "Union Meeting," which dedicated its house
of worship about 1830, having disintegrated. There were then
four communicants of the Protestant Episcopal church
resident in the town, and they were members of St. Mark's,
Warren, R. I., and probably it was at the suggestion of the
rector of that chm-ch (the Rev. George W. Hathaway) that
services were first held in Swansea. The Rev. Alva E.
Carpenter, rector of St. Mark's, Warren, says that, "when the
church here at first organized in the old Union Meeting House,
there were six members transferred from Warren to this
church. Their names were Mrs. Elizabeth Slade, Sarah Slade,
wife of the late Rev. Benjamin H. Chase, Susan Cole, William
Pearse and wife, and Mrs. Menage, wife of the late Daniel
Chase, of Somerset. These were the first communicants of the
church."

The Sunday school was organized and superintended by
Dr. George W. Chevers, (then a practicing physician in Fall
River, and afterwards a successful clergyman of the church),
"who with exemplary self-denial and untiring assiduity devoted
himself to this labor of love. This man, for nine months
previous to January, 1848, conducted lay-reading on Sunday
mornings and afternoons. He also engaged in soliciting funds
toward the erection of the church," and doubtless his labors
went very far toward making the enterprise successful.

Prominent among the first organizers of this parish were
Hon. John Mason, Capt. Preserved S. Gardner, John A. Wood,
John E. Gray, Hon. George Austin, WiUiam Pearse and
Benjamin H. Chase. Of these, only two (the last mentioned)
were ever communicants. Capt. Gardner was formerly a
Baptist. But they were all men of integrity, faithful support-
ers of the church, and regular attendants at its services.

William Pearse, John A. Wood and Capt. Gardner, each
at his decease left the parish five hundred dollars as a per-
manent fund for the support of the church.

Mr. William Pearse, though residing three miles from the
village, and perhaps more naturally connected with St. Mark's,



Churches 119

Warren, always made it a point of honor to support and attend
with his family this less flourishing church; and this high
principle of devotion, characteristic of that old church family
was faithfully exemplified in Mr. William H. Pearse, who came
in time to take the place of his uncle.

Mr. John A. Wood, though never a communicant, was
devotedly attached to the services of the church, and for many
years voluntarily assumed the care of the Lord's house with-
out compensation, and was always particular that it should
be comfortable and in order. And, after his decease, his son,
Henry 0. Wood, immediately succeeded him as a vestryman,
and has ever since served the parish, as warden, 1870-1877;
treasurer and clerk, 50 years; with a faithfulness worthy of his
father's example. His son, Mr. John R. Wood, is the third
generation representing the family in the parish; and his son
Otis A. Wood is of the fourth generation.

Mr. William Henry Pearse, at the time of his decease, had
been "identified with this parish as vestryman 35 years, as
junior warden for 11 years, as senior warden 22 years. He was
a devout and regular communicant, a cheerful and consistent
Christian, fond of society, 'given to hospitality.'

Mr. Benjamin H. Chase, when about 40 years of age,
prepared for the ministry and work of the church, to which he
was ordained by Bishop Eastburn in 1854. The parish record
under date of June 20, 1897, has the following testimonial:
*' Mr. Chase was identified with this parish from the time of its
very beginning until the day of his death, a period of over 50
years. He was, while still a layman, one of the most zealous
promoters of the organization of the parish and active in the
erection of the present church edifice. He was elected clerk of
the parish in 1848, and served until 1851, when he left the
town to pursue his studies for the ministry. His devoted life
as a clergyman in the church took him to other fields, but his
interest in the parish, which he had helped to found, never
abated, and when, after more than 30 years of self-sacrificing
work, he retired from the active ministry and returned to
Swansea, his one great enthusiasm was for the welfare of this
church. He was elected a vestryman in 1886, junior warden
in 1888, and in 1890 was elected senior warden, which position
he held at the time of his death. This church is largely
a monument of his life."

Christ Church, Swansea, was duly organized as a parish
under the statutes of this Commonwealth on the 7th of
January, 1846. The first officers of the corporation were
as follows: William Pearse and John Mason, Esq., war-
dens: John A.Wood, Joseph D. Nichols, Preserved S. Gardner



120 History of Swansea

Benjamin H. Chase and John E. Gray, vestrymen.

The building committee charged with the erection of the
first church were John E. Gray, John A. Wood and Wm.
Pearse. The Ladies Society was organized July 8, 1846.

The services of the church were held at first in the Union
meeting house.

The church edifice was built largely by subscriptions
taken outside of the community, and was consecrated the 2d
day of December, 1847, at 10 o'clock a. m., by the Rt. Rev.
Man ton Eastburn of Massachusetts. There were present of
the clergy Rev. T. W. Snow, of Taunton ; James Henry Eames
and John B. Richmond, of Providence; Jas. Mulcahey, of
Portsmouth; Benjamin Watson, of Newport; and George W.
Hathaway, of Warren.

The building was a neat, wooden structure, of simple
Romanesque architecture, finished to the roof inside, had
about 200 sittings, and cost about $2,000.

The bell, which cost $163. was placed in the new sanc-
tuary. The old pipe organ, which was built to order, in 1867,
at a cost of $1,000 was given to St. Luke's mission. Fall River.
The font, of "Pictou stone," which was presented by the
ladies of St. Michael's church, Bristol, R. I., was presented to
St. John the Evangelist, a mission at Mansfield. The chancel
rail and the altar, which were a gift of the Rev. B. H. Chase,
were donated to St. Luke's mission, North Swansea.

"Five infants and two adults received baptism, and five
persons were confirmed during the time Mr. McCoy officiated
in this parish."

The first rector was Rev. John B. Richmond, of Provi-
dence, R. I., who served from Jan, 1, 1848, till the 1st of
January, 1852. He was succeeded by Rev. Benjamin Austin,
who, at his request, was released from his engagement after
the 1st of November of the same year. About the beginning
of the year, 1853, Rev. Wm. Withington, of Boston, took
charge of the parish and remained until the first of January,
1856. He was succeeded by Rev. Wm. B. Colburn, of whose
term of service the records are not clear. Rev. N. Watson
Munroe was duly elected rector, March, 1859, and closed his
official relations with the parish, February, 1864. The church
was next served by Rev. A. F. Wylie, rector of the Church of
the Ascension, Fall River, and by his assistant. Rev. A. E.
Tortat, until April, 1868, when Rev. George Heaton, M. A.,
of Cambridge, England, became the resident minister, and
remained until August, 1869, when he resigned. In June,
1871, Rev. N. Watson Munroe resumed the care of the
parish, and remained rector until Easter Monday, 1877, when



Churches 121

he resigned. Rev. Wm. T. Fitch, rector of the Ascension,
Fall River, soon assumed the charge, and officiated most of the
time, holding an afternoon service, until about the first of
July, 1881, when Rev. Otis O. Wright, of Providence, was
elected to the rectorship, and began his labors, residing in the
parish until Feb. 15th, 1888, when he became rector of St.
Mark's, Riverside, R. I. Rev. Ernest Marriett, rector of St.
James, Fall River, was in charge from April 2d, 1888, until
December 12th, 1889, when he resigned to become rector of
St. John's, Stockport, N. Y. Rev. Percy S. Grant, rector of
St. Mark's, Fall River, officiated from about the time that
Mr. Marriett left until he became rector of the Ascension, New
York City, 1893. Rev. Herman Page, rector of St. John's,
Fall River, succeeded Mr. Grant, and continued in charge of
the parish until about 1900. He was consecrated missionary
Bishop of Spokane, Jan. 28, 1915.

The membership of the church, which has always been
small, at present numbers 132, and the Sunday school has 108
scholars.

This parish received financial aid from the Diocesan
Board of Missions during a long period of its history, and for
many years its various interests have been largely sustained
by the liberality of the Hon. Frank Shaw Stevens, whose
generous fortune and good will made the erection of the new
church possible.

The parish records show that at a special meeting, held
March 3d, 1899, it was "Voted to accept the provisions of the
will of the late Frank S. Stevens, relating to the construction
of a church building for the Society, " and also the following
testimonial: "The acceptance of such a gift as the $20,000
church provided for in the will of the late Frank Shaw Stevens
to which Mrs. Stevens added $15,000 more, demands more
than a formal vote of acknowledgment from the parish of
Christ church. As it is otherwise impossible to show our
appreciation, it is but fitting that our gratitude should at
least be expressed upon the records of our parish life.

The new church will stand as a permanent memorial to
the life and character of him who gave it. Mr. Stevens was not
a member of the church, but his interest, and his faith in its
value, were evinced by his unfailing support of this church
both in fife and death. He was a faithful vestryman of the
parish for many years, and in spite of his many business cares
always found time to attend our parish meetings. In all
financial matters he was our invaluable adviser and friend.
In fact, it is impossible to see how services could have been
maintained but for his generosity. The new edifice will stand



122 History of Swansea

as an evidence of his faith in the church and of his generosity
towards it.

This generosity of Mr. Stevens toward this church, how-
ever, was but a single instance of that largeness of spirit for
which his life was conspicuous; so this building will stand as
a monument to that kindliness of heart in all the work of life,
which it is one great aim of the Christian Church to pro-
mulgate.

To this and to future generations the church, together
with the public library and the town hall, will be pointed out
as the chief buildings of the town of Swansea ; and the story
will be told how once there lived here a man of high position,
and busied with many affairs, who still found time faithfully to
perform his duties as a citizen of this town, and who gave these
three buildings, which bear their constant testimony to the
truth that no man may rightfully live to himself alone.

Christ church will indeed be fortunate to come into
possession of so beautiful and dignified a house of worship ; but
it is more fortunate in having it given by a man of such
honesty, such generosity, and such public spirit. "

The last service in the old church was held on the third
Sunday after Trinity, June 18th, 1899. The building was sold
by public auction, June 21st, 1899, for the sum of $57, and was
speedily taken down and removed. Meanwhile the congre-
gation met for worship in the Town Hall, awaiting the comple-
tion of the new church.

The Cornerstone of the New Christ Church was laid
August 27, 1899, at 3:30 P. M., by the Rev. Henry M. Stone,
Rector of Trinity Church, Newport.

The Consecration of the New Church took place, June 6,
1900, by the Rt. Rev. William Lawrence.

The Rev. Edward Benedict of Princess Anne, Md., was
called Dec. 26, 1900; and the Records show that he presided
as Rector at the Annual Parish Meeting, April 8, 1901. He
died in the Parish March 8, 1907; and was buried in the
Church grounds.


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