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The First Church in Exeter,


1 638-1 888 1698-1898.




2nd CC

/ JAN 1899

The First Church in Exeter,


1 638-1 888 1 698- 1 898.

%Jo^Jt^r \fks^

Christmas, 1898.



Copyright, 1898.

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The News-Letter Press.
Exeter, N. H.

v . - ii. eta


OX the 13th and 14th of November, tSoS, the First Church and
Parish in Exeter celebrated the two hundredth anniversary of
the reorganization of the church, and the one hundredth of the
house of worship still in use. The true bicentennial dates, and the
ones originally designed for observance, were October 2nd and 3rd,
nearly or quite corresponding with the old style reckoning of the
proceedings in September, 1698. A delay of about six weeks was
rendered necessary by extensive repairs and improvements on the
church building.

The present volume includes, besides a brief account of the
general exercises, first a sermon delivered June 3, 1888, by the late
Rev. Swift Byington, then pastor, as the church's contribution to
the quadro-millennial celebration of the town, held on June 7th.
The discourse was much appreciated at the time of its delivery, and
as it dwells almost exclusively on the first organized church and its
founder, John Wheelwright, may be regarded as a suitable introduc-
tion to the demonstrations ten years later. Mr. Byington, it will
be observed, merely repeats the ancient historical statements, without
submitting them to a critical analysis. He denies, however, that
there is satisfactory evidence of the claim that the church of 1638
died, saying the evidence for that assertion is too negative. His
discourse is in itself an assertion of 250 years of existence for our

Secondly, the sermon, delivered November 13 th last by the present
pastor, the Rev. Wilbert L. Anderson, in its subject, "New England
Theology as Related to Life and Character," gives to the local ob-
servances a more general bearing, and will enable persons, not
familiar with the past, better to appreciate the spiritual conflicts of
our ancestors.

Thirdly, the address by the Rev. Burton W. Lockhart, D. D., of
Manchester, with which the celebration closed, in its eloquent


portrayal of the "Relations of the Church to the Modern World,"
supplies practical enforcements to the lessons made prominent in a
backward look over more than two centuries of conflict and con-

Fourthly, the historical paper, while tracing the general progress
of the church during 260 years, has for its most important features,
first the continuity and virtual identity of the first organized church
with its successor. Secondly, a detailed history of the great White-
fieldian secession of 1743, an event, which, although neither side
was faultless, was really a heavy blow struck at the union of church
and state.

In conclusion it is hoped that the present publication may in-
duce other churches not only to study their past, but to keep their
records with systematic care. Through neglect, many important
events, when not totally forgotten, are only matters of confused
tradition. Through carelessness many church and parish books
have fallen into private hands, only to be lost. Such things were
perhaps unavoidable a hundred years ago, but it will be unpardon-
able if they are repeated in the twentieth century.

W. L. Anderson,
J. T. Perry,
G. A. Wentworth,
C. H. Knight,
Sperry French,

Publication Committee.


Delivered June 3, 1888.
By the Rev. Swift Byixgton.

"Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations; ask
thy father, and he will show thee, thy elders, and they will tell thee, for the
Lord's portion is this people. He found them in a desert land, in a waste
howling wilderness; He led them about, and He instructed them. He kept
them as the apple of his eye." — Deuteronomy, 32nd Chapter, yth, gth and
loth Verses.

THE celebration of the 250th anniversary of the planting of the
town of Exeter, in which the planting of the Congregational
church was neglected, would be like a play of Hamlet with Hamlet
left out ; it would be a neglecting of the prominent reason for which
New England was settled. Exeter was a religious settlement as
truly as Plymouth was. If the Pilgrims were forced by their stead-
fast religious convictions to find a new home at Plymouth, so was
John Wheelwright forced by his steadfast convictions to plant the
town of Exeter, and at the same time, the Eirst church, of which
you are the representatives.

And, first, of some of the circumstances which led to the founding
of this town and church, I wish to speak. Eight or ten years after
the landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth, who were persons of
humble position and small possessions, a new colony of Puritans
landed at Salem and established themselves, more ambitious than
the Pilgrims at Plymouth, many of them persons of education and
wealth, bent on founding a commonwealth in the wilderness in
which Puritan conceptions of religion should be all controlling.

This colony soon came to include Charlestown and Boston and the
regions adjacent, under the name of Massachusetts Bay. They re-
ceived constant accessions from the Mother Country, grew and
prospered. After John Endicott, the first governor of the Salem
Colony, came Gov. John Winthrop, of the Boston Colony. John


Cotton, of the church in Boston, was then a prominent minister in
the colony. It is said that the town is the social and political
unit in New England, upon which our commonwealth rests ;
but at the beginning, the congregation, not the town, was the
basis upon which the fabric rested. No one could vote unless he
was a communicant, so that the town meeting was nothing but a
church meeting and the deference to the clergy was unbounded,
and not only the religious but the social and political authority was
in the hands of the clergy. It seems as if the Puritans had certainly
attained their object, a religious commonwealth. The clergy were
consulted by the governor on every important question which arose,
and their counsel was greatly heeded. Every inhabitant was
obliged to attend the services of the Lord's day, under penalty of
fine or imprisonment. The church and state were one ; the gov-
ernment subservient to the clergy, who were a power behind the
throne ; there were several sermons on Sunday and several often
during the week, that the masses of the people might be kept in a
submissive spirit, that there might be no departure in thought or
opinion from Puritan authority, and that any deviation from or
opposition to their standards, might be at once frowned upon and

In 1636, among other Puritans, came another John, John Wheel-
wright, to enjoy the privileges and liberties of Massachusetts Bay.
He was about 44 years of age and had been in the ministry eight or
ten years, in England. In Gov. Bell's memoirs of Wheelwright, I
read that he was a fellow collegian in England with Oliver Crom-
well at the University of Cambridge, which he entered at 18 years
of age, graduating in 16 14. "I remember," says the Lord Protector
Cromwell, "when I was more afraid of meeting Wheelwright at foot-
ball than I have since been of meeting an army in the field, for I
was infallibly sure of being tripped by him." Cotton Mather said
he had heard that "when Wheelwright was a young spark at the Uni-
versity he was noted for a more than ordinary stroke at wrestling."
From this it may be gathered, adds Gov. Bell, "that young Wheel-
wright was of vigorous bodily constitution, addicted to athletic
exercises, and not lacking in spirit or resolution." He was a lead-
ing man in the Puritan party in England. He was instrumental


in the conversion of many souls and was highly esteemed ; but
perhaps owing to his Puritan views, which were strongly opposed to
the Church of England, he lost his parish, and in April, 1636, sailed
for New England. He came not wholly a stranger, for he was ac-
quainted with Rev. John Cotton, the minister of the Puritan church
in Boston, and a man of leading influence there.

Some of the members of the Boston church wished Wheelwright
to be settled as a second teacher over that church, but this was op-
posed by ex-Gov. Winthrop, on the ground that Wheelwright was not
sound in doctrine. Although Sir Henry Vane (now governor), Win-
throp's rival, defended him, it was useless, and the friends of Wheel-
wright formed a church at what is now Quincy, Mass., and in Oc-
tober, 1636, settled Wheelwright as their pastor at the age of 44.
The next January he preached a sermon in Boston on Fast day
which gave great offence to ex-Gov. Winthrop and his friends and
at length after a long controversy and many trials in civil and eccle-
siastical courts, at which Wheelwright took the ground that he had
preached nothing but the truth, and that he was not responsible for
the application which they chose to make of it, he was sentenced to
be disfranchised and banished. This was in November, 1637. He
was given fourteen days to leave. Then they turned to his advocates
and followers, and served many of them in like manner. Wheel-
wright left Boston, probably in a coasting vessel of John Clark's,
(a sympathizer) for the region of Piscataqua river, perhaps Dover
Point, or Strawberry Point, where were already settlements of fish-
ermen, and as soon as the deep snow permitted, came to Squam-
scot in the spring of 1638, the site of what is now Exeter. In
April, 1638, he secured by purchase, or otherwise, an extensive tract
of land at Squamscot Falls, embracing what is now Exeter and
several adjacent towns, and was now ready to be followed by his
friends and followers, who were eager to share his fortunes and plant
a new colony in the wilderness. He was soon surrounded by a
company of followers large enough to insure the success of his
project. The names of more than thirty men appear in the first
assignment of land. As soon as some rude sort of shelter had been
provided, their families followed, and at once measures were taken
to organize a church. A place of worship forty feet square was built


of logs on what was called Meeting-house hill in the northern part
of this village, and Wheelwright and eight others applied to the
Boston church for dismission to the church at Exeter, which was
granted, according to the records of the First church, Boston, on the
6th of the nth month, 1638, so that, as we see, this town and this
First church of Exeter were planted at about the same time in 1638,
250 years ago.

Gov. Bell, in his memoir of Wheelwright, speaks of him as a
minister of remarkable learning, power and piety. Mr. Adams, of
Quincy, says he was a personal friend of Cromwell and Sir Henry
Vane, with a mind vigorous and masculine, and a courage stern and
determined even above the Puritan standard of resolution and
daring. He spoke the truth that was in him, and could be neither
intimidated nor cajoled. In his Fast day sermon, which was
preached in Boston, he probably charged upon the Puritan authori-
ties selfrighteousness or Pharisaism, or they took it so, which
brought on the trouble which resulted in his banishment, though
Rev. John Cotton, the minister of the Boston church, declared that
"Brother Wheelwright's doctrine was according to God, wholly and
altogether." Winthrop advanced the theory that, "The Corpora-
tion of Massachusetts, having bought its land, held it as though it
were a private estate, and might exclude whom they pleased there-
from." Gov. Vane left for England, Winthrop was re-elected
governor in Vane's place, and Wheelwright was left to the vengeance
of Winthrop and the others whom he had offended. So the party
of Wheelwright was crushed, the bold were exiled, the timid were
terrified, and the power of the Puritan majority was absolute in the
land for forty years.

The Rev. Thomas Robbins, who has written a valuable history
of the first planters of New England, says, "The people who made
the settlement in Exeter, in 1638, were mostly from Boston.
Having been regularly dismissed from the church in that town,
they immediately united in a church relation on the principles of
their mother church in Boston. As they judged themselves to be
without the jurisdiction of Massachusetts, they formed themselves
into a body politic, chose rulers and assistants, who were sworn to
the proper execution of their respective offices, and a correspond-


ing oath of obedience was taken by the people. In this political
compact, is seen an instance of civil government in its simplest.
purest form. These settlements for many years lived peaceably
with the natives, and from the great advantages for fishery were not
exposed to the evils of famine. : '

Gov. Bell, in his memoir of Wheelwright, says, "Under this
voluntary system of government the settlement of Exeter flourished
ami took permanent root. Its members increased; the land was
subject to the plow ; grist-mills were set in motion by the waters of
the falls ; and good order seems to have prevailed in a degree un-
usual in a frontier hamlet." In regard to Wheelwright and his
church all I can find is this, "Wheelwright pursued the even tenor
of his ways, as pastor of the little church, making his presence felt
in every matter of interest to his people and winning each succes-
sive year, a greater share of their confidence and attachment. The
cause of his leaving Exeter, after about four years of ministry, was
the extension of the jurisdiction of Massachusetts to include
Hampton, Dover, Portsmouth and Exeter. Massachusetts had not
hesitated to annoy him by manifestations of hostility. These little
colonies felt their weakness in case of an attack by enemies, and, in
1641, applied to Massachusetts to be under her jurisdiction and
protection." Mr. Nathaniel Shute has said they were moved to
this by the hostile action of the Indians. Mr. Thomas Robbins
says, "They were exposed to the intrusion of vagrants and outlaws
from the Massachusetts Colonies, to a constant influx of immigrants
and of demagogues invited by their weakness," difficulties from
which they were not strong enough to rid themselves. It was in
1642 or 3 that they were received and became a part of the
Colony of Massachusetts Bay. Wheelwright left for Wells, Me.,
early in 1643, taking the best part of his church with him. After
about four years, having made peace with Massachusetts, he preached
in Hampton, N. H., and was afterwards on his return from a long
visit to England, settled at Salisbury, Mass., at the age of 70, and
died there at the age of 87, of apoplexy, still vigorous in body and
mind until the fatal stroke. There his remains are buried, and in
the words of another : "No chiselled monument marks the spot,
nor is any needed to perpetuate the memory of the man."


After the removal of Wheelwright to Wells, Me., in 1643, rne
church of Exeter was probably broken up and prostrate as a regular,
formal organization. This irregular state of things continued for
seven years. Several ministers were called, but declined. At last,
in May, 1650, it was unanimously agreed that Rev. Samuel Dudley
(a son of Gov. Thomas Dudley, says Rev. John Smith, the eighth
minister of this church,) "is forthwith, as soon as comfortable sub-
sistence can be made by the town for him and his family, in a
house purchased of Mr. Wheelwright, the said Dudley is to come
and inhabit Exeter and to' be a minister of God's word unto us,
until such time as God shall be pleased to make a way for the
gathering of a church, and then to be ordained our pastor or
teacher, according to the ordinance of God." It is on the basis of
those words wholly, that it is supposed there was a break in the
continuity of this church from 1638, and so it is said that the
present First church of Exeter properly dates from its organization
in 1698, sixty years after Wheelwright planted it. (I think the
evidence is too negative to prove this conclusively.) Mr. Dudley
entered at once upon the pastorate, with a salary of forty pounds
English money, together with the Wheelwright house and a yard
and garden fenced in. A new meeting-house was built in 1652,
about the size of the former one and not far from it. This took
the place of Wheelwright's primitive log meeting-house and was
used as a place of public worship for more than forty years. In
1656, Mr. Dudley was called to Portsmouth, which strained his
people up to raise his salary to fifty pounds. The Wheelwright
property was fully confirmed to Mr. Dudley, and it was provided
that the selectmen of the town should yearly gather up the said sum
of fifty pounds, as his salary, and in case they should fail to do so
they should be answerable to the town for their default, and should
make up what they failed to collect out of their own pockets. At
this time every inhabitant was compelled by law to pay the
minister's tax as much as any other.

In March, 1668, at a town meeting, it was ordered that Lieuten-
ant Hall be empowered to arrest and sue any that belong to the
town that refuse to pay the rate of the minister, and in 1671 it was
voted that Mr. Dudley was to gather up his rate himself and to re-


ceive sixty pounds instead of fifty as heretofore, and that the select-
men were to lay the tax, and if any should refuse to pay, Mr.
Dudley should get it by the constable. This was soon followed by
his withdrawing from his charge, (though he occasionally held
religious services in his own house) and in five years, in 1676, the
following order was passed the court, sitting at Hampton : "The
town of Exeter being presented for letting their meeting-house lie
open and common for cattle to go into, this court doth order that
the selectmen of Exeter do take effectual care that the said house
be cleaned, be made clean enough for Christians to meet in, and
the doors hung and kept shut, under penalty of five pounds, and
that for the time to come they keep the said house right and
suitable for such a place, upon a like penalty." Mr. Dudley died
in Kxeter in 1683, at the age of 77 years. He seems to have been
as lacking in force as Mr. Wheelwright was full of it, and the church
can not be said to have prospered under his ministry. Yet he was
an honest and good man, connected by blood and by marriage
with some of the principal men in Massachusetts, and was a busy
and faithful man according to his ability. (But he had fearfully
poor material to work on.)

From this time for fifteen years, Exeter had no settled ministry.
A Mr. Cotton and a Mr. Wentworth preached as temporary supplies,
during this period, and some others whose names are not preserved.
Probably the church as a body, and the meeting house, were badly
dilapidated. Finally, in 1697, a new meeting-house was built "of
no mean proportions" near where this house now stands, with doors
at the East and West ends, the pulpit on the North side, pews
around the sides, and in the center the space doubtless occupied by
benches. The church was reorganized in September, 1698, with
Rev. John Clark pastor, installed with a confession of faith and
covenant which we now have, and with 26 members. This organi-
zation has been maintained unbroken to the present day.

Thus I have set down concisely and with many necessary omis-
sions for your patience sake, so far as I could find material, the
history of the first sixty years of this old church. Very few records
of this period have been preserved. The history of the nearly two
hundred subsequent years from 1698 can be more readily traced,


though for much of the time the records of this church were poorly
kept, and some small part of them have been burned.

As we look back upon the trials and sufferings of our fathers, we
are sensibly evident of the gratitude we owe to the goodness of God
in keeping us as a church, and in giving us the measure of strength
and prosperity which we now enjoy. The Lord's portion to his
people. We have all the religious liberty that we deserve. May
God keep as the apple of his eye these churches and this town of
Exeter, making them more than ever before the glory of our com-
monwealth, laborers together with Him in all that constitutes the
true welfare of man.


TI I E figure 8 holds an important place in the annals of the
First Church and Parish. Organized in 163S, the church
was reorganized in 1698. In 17S8 those who had seceded from it
to form the Second Church, for the first time since 1743 communed
with their former brethen at the invitation of Deacon Brooks of the
First Church. In 179S the present house of worship was built and
occupied. In 183S its interior was remodelled. In 188S the
quarter-millennial of church and parish, as well as that of the town,
was celebrated, and in 1898 two days were devoted to the com-
memoration of events whose interest cannot be overrated.

The first step toward this latest — it is to be trusted not last cele-
bration, was taken at the annual meeting of the church, December
31, 1897. The church committee was there instructed to devise a
plan of commemoration and report the same for the approval of
the church.

At the annual meeting of the parish, April 4, 1898, a committee
was appointed to cooperate with the church committee in arranging
a programme.

Little was done unless in the way of informal conference and
suggestion until May, when meetings were held and committees
were appointed to provide for the various features of the occasion.
The reorganization of 1698 was effected late in September, but the
change of styles adopted in 1752 threw the dates ten days forward.
Hence Sunday, October 2, and Monday, October 3, were the dates
selected as near equivalents of the events commemorated. It now
became very apparent to all that the interior condition of the
church building was not such as ought to exist during festivities of
unusual importance, at which many strangers were to be present.
Accordingly a building committee, consisting of Messrs. W. Bur-
lingame, W. H. C. Follansby and A. T. Dudley, was appointed.
This committee, ably seconded by the pastor, speedily raised the


funds required, approximately $2,500, and repairs and improve-
ments were begun, which were not completed until very near
November 13 and 14, the days to which the anniversary had neces-
sarily been postponed. The principal changes were the substitution
of new furnaces for the old, and placing them in the cellar instead
of on the first floor. This insured the perfect warming of the lower
story as well as of the auditorium on the second floor. It also gave
space for a toilet room for women and for the enlargement of the
kitchen. The vestibule at the front entrance received a floor of
hard pine, and was much improved by the removal of an unsightly
staircase leading to the upper tower. The two lecture rooms were
provided with new and handsome gas fixtures, and by cutting
double doors can be made virtually one apartment. The staircases
have substituted graceful balusters for their old time board sides
and have been made lighter by the removal of headers that obscur-
ed part of the windows. New and wider doors were placed at the
entrances to the auditorium, which has also received new windows,
a new carpet and new pew cushions, and which has been improved
by the removal of the back pews to provide a transverse aisle. The
wood work and lecture room ceilings have been tastefully painted
in soft colors, and noise on the stairs prevented by rubber matting.
All that was desirable in the church of 1838 has been preserved,
while modern improvements have replaced clumsy and obsolete
features. The result has pleased and surprised all, and those who
gave so readily and generously have the satisfaction of knowing that
their money was wisely used.


The services on Sunday morning, November 13, were very largely
attended, many members of other churches being present. The
building had been tastefully decorated — outside, over the doors,
with a shield inscribed "First Church, 1638, 1798, 1898." The
auditorium was profusely adorned with the national colors, with
another dated shield over the pulpit, with streamers and great pro-

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Online LibraryJohn Taylor] [PerryThe First church in Exeter, New Hampshire → online text (page 1 of 12)