Nathaniel Hall.

A sermon preached in the meeting-house of the First Church, Dorchester, on Sunday, June 19, 1870 : being the two hundred and fortieth anniversary of the first assembling of the Church for divine service after its landing in America (Volume 1) online

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Online LibraryNathaniel HallA sermon preached in the meeting-house of the First Church, Dorchester, on Sunday, June 19, 1870 : being the two hundred and fortieth anniversary of the first assembling of the Church for divine service after its landing in America (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 2)
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OIV SXJ]Vr>A.Y, JUNE 19, 1870,








Printed by David Clapp & Son.






ON SXJNOA.Y, jrUTVE lO, 1870,









Printed by David Clapp & Son.


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S»urce uu^Kowu


Boston, June 20, 1870.
Rev. Nathaniel Hall.

Dear Sir: —

Having listened witli great pleasure to your very interesting discourse of
yesterday morning, upon the history of the First Church and Parish of Dorchester,
may we ask of you the favor of a copy for publication ?

Daniel Denny,
and many other Parishioners,


My Dear Friends r—

In sending you my Sermon, as you request, for publication — which in
respect to your judgment I am happy to do-— it may be proper for me to say, that I
have retained some passages, which, to avoid a wearisome length, were omitted in
the preaching; and also that, for the sake of a greater completeness, some things
are added to the original manuscript.

Yours, with much regard,

Nathaniel Hall.
To Daniel Denny and others.




1 Kings, viii. 57 :
"God be avith us as he was with our fathers."

I .TAKE these words for a text this morning, not
alone for their sentiment, but also as being borne
upon the seal of the municipality of which our late
town is now a part : " Sicut Patrihus Sit Deus
Nobis." We reach, to-day, the two hundred and
fortieth anniversary of the first assembling for divine
service on these American shores of the founders
of our church. As being the first anniversary of
it occurring under this seal and the civic authority
it represents, it seems fitting and well to make it an
occasion for presenting some of the leading facts
in the church's history. Familiar enough to most
of you, those who are rising to take our places may
be profited by their rehearsal. Nor can any of us,
I think, fail of being so ; if it shall do no more
than make dearer to us this church of our inheritance
and our transmission, and truer our fidelity to it.
For, it is no mean inheritance that has thus descended


to us ; it is no ordinary history whose records we
unroll ; it is no ignoble root that bears us.

Looking back through two hundred and two score
years, we see, met together in the outer air,
evidently for some common and absorbing purpose,
a company of one hundred and forty persons,
men and women, and here and there children
among them — gleams of human sunshine, relieving
the solemn staidness that elsewhere rules. The
spot is near this we are now occupying, though it
cannot be precisely designated. It is a Sabbath
morning, answering in date to this ; and they are
gathered for worship. It is the beginning of the
second week since their landing from the old-world
shores. All is yet strange to them — save, may be,
the sky ; and that, in its blue and cloudless splendor,
seems another than they have known. Gloriously
it sweeps above them, its golden light sifting down
through the young Summer's swaying foliage upon
their reverently bared and bending heads. And hark !
how grandly through those forest arches echoes the
unwonted melody, following prayer and exhortation,
of their uplifted psalm. Religious services are their
delight. In no feeling of superstition, no mere con-
straint of obligation, do they resort to them, but be-
cause their hearts crave them, as refreshment and
food. They did not wait till God. should bring them
to the stable land ; but all across the Atlantic's

breadth, amidst tossing billows and raging winds,
they had stated services, and their floating craft be-
came a Bethel. " We came by the good hand of the
Lord through the deep comfortably," wrote Roger
Clap, " having preaching or expounding of the word
of God every day for ten weeks together, by our

They came a church ; formally organized, and its
officers installed, at Plymouth, England, on the eve
of their embarkation ; the only instance of the kind,
it is said, in the planting of North America. So
that, strictly, the earliest among the structures iii the
occupancy of our church was not that which has
been named as such, — that of logs and thatch, rising
in the wilderness, as it were its own spontaneous
product — but rather, the good craft " Mary and
John," that " great ship," as Roger Clap calls it, of
four hundred tons, wherein our fathers came hither.
That was the cradle of our church's infancy ; rocked
by mighty billows, fanned by stormy gales, but over-
watched by more than a maternal guardianship, until
it laid its precious charge within the rude lap of
these Western shores.

What contrasts to find with all that had been left ! —
the ceiled houses, the cultured fields, the securities
and comforts of a settled order, the countless mate-
rial and social advantages attaching to the highest
British civilization ; the grand and solemn churches.


dear to sentiment and heart by many a hallowed
association — tablet and monument and cenotaph and
tomb uttering within "them silent eulogy of a buried
Past, the garnered dust of saintly ancestors sleeping
beneath and around them.

It was my privilege, three years ago this summer,
to journey through a portion of their beautiful Dor-
setshire, and to spend a Sunday in its borough-town,
Dorchester, whence most of the founders of our
church and town emigrated, and from which — for
this and as being the home of Rev. John White, by
whose efforts mainly the church was gathered pre-
paratory to its embarkation — our town was named-
It was a pilgrimage of duty and of love, which I
went far out of my way, and gladly, to accomplish.
That Sunday in old Dorchester was indeed a memo-
rable one. There was a rare beauty in the day, and
a charm from nature and the season was spread over
everything ; but above all and leading all was the
charm and spell of an historic Past. Going abroad
in the early morning into the yet silent and empty
streets, and seeking first of all the churches, I was
soon standing before one whose signatures of age
left little need of the confirming word of a passer-by,
that it was the " St. Peter's " of my especial search.
I gazed upon it — its hoary walls, its buttressed tower,
its crumbling mouldings, its dilapidated images, the
nameless wastings and decays which time had made

upon its massive substance — with a peculiar and in-
expressible interest ; not merely for what these in
themselves suggested, but in the thought of its con-
nection with my OAvn dear church, three thousand
miles away ; in the thought that through those door-
ways and adown those foot-worn steps had passed
some at least of those brave and godly men and
women who constituted that transplanted vine. The
doors were open, and I entered. The interior bore
signs of a like ancientness, though less impressively
as a whole, by reason of the modernizing freedoms
which had here and there been taken — in no absence
of a reverent taste, but simply to secure a reasonable
comfort to its present occupants. Yet, impressively
the Past was there ; proclaiming itself in column and
arch and roof, in statue and monument, in tableted
wall and recumbent eiRgy., in pavement-floor inlaid
with memorial slabs, their inscriptions trod near to
illegibleness by over-passing generations, and in many
a detail more that met continually the eye. Under
the porch-way, interred in 1648, are the remains of
that Rev. John White, styled in his day the
" Patriarch of Dorchester," who — although he never
came to the New England town bearing, and greatly
for his sake, the name of that thus dignifying him —
was, in an important sense, as I have said, the
founder of the former, and the ejERcient agent in the
trans-atlantic gathering of our church. " St. Peter's "


was not, however, the church of which he was rector,
but " Trinity," on the same street, partially rebuilt
since his day. This also I visited, attending service
in it — as likewise in St. Peter's — and in whose pleas-
ant and quiet grave-yard close, with its green turf
and ivy-covered walls, I passed — not lonesomely,
though companioned by no visible presence — a mus-
ing half-hour. Let me say a word more, before pass-
ing on, of old Dorchester itself — a city in corporate
capacity, with a population of about ten thousand.
Its general aspect is pleasing and attractive ; it has an
air of thrift and comfort and refinement — as if the
new life of the age had not avoided it in its flow,
but had borne to it of its best ; while the country
close around — with its unbroken openness ; its pas-
toral loveliness ; its swelling downs of richest verdure,
flecked by feeding flocks ; its tokens and traces of
times far prior to the Puritan, even of those of a
Roman occupancy — commands a peculiar interest.

What contrasts, I was saying, these comers found
with all they left! Amidst their local surroundings,
the fact was more forcibly suggested and gained
more adequate apprehension. For though, in many
and important respects, these surroundings are other
than they were, something can be judged from the
present even of that distant past ; and whatever else
is changed, the natural pleasantness and charm are
the same. Tlicv knew beforehand what those con-


trasts must be. They knew, at least, that they were
coming to a wilderness. They knew that they were
turning their backs, and forever, not only on many
an outward advantage, but — far more to them — upon
what sentiment and heart held dear ; — the homes and
haunts of childhood ; scenes associated with the
most sacred and tender of life's experiences ; the
graves of ancestor and cotemporary, above which
they had kneeled in reverence or bent in tears ; the
institutions, which, however disposed to deprecate
some of their practical bearings, they regarded, and
justly, with patriotic pride. But they had counted the
cost and were prepared to meet it. Had it not been so ,
had they been disappointed in what they found here,
had the contrast shocked them by its unanticipated
greatness, they would have returned — as they could
have done. But they were not children ; they were

not fortune-seekers ; they were not of those who


think the end of existence is to escape as far as pos-
sible its roughnesses and ills, to eliminate its hard-
ships and infelicities, and to have a good time of it
generally ; or, otherwise, to sweat one's life into an
estate, for the benefit of unthankful heirs. They
had an end in view which dwarfed ordinary ones into
insignificance. They had deliberately fronted its
conditions, and had those conditions been tenfold
harder than they were, there had been no drawing
back from it.


What was their end ? What sent them here ?
Why did they leave their pleasant homes, their cul-
tured fields, their noble churches, their hallowed
graves, their famed institutions of civility, learning,
philanthropy, piety? So far as appears from original
writings which have come down from them, it was
to secure for themselves and theirs an unmolested
freedom from the exactions of the established church,
with regard to certain ceremonies pertaining to its
worship, against which conscience uttered its protest ;
it was to secure a greater freedom from ecclesiastical
exactions and dictations generally ; and, with the more
intelligent among them, if not in a measure with all
— as the grand, all-comprehensive purpose — it was to
found a State wherein God should be the recognized
and supreme Sovereign, and His Word — the Bible —
its one authoritative Statute-Book ; to found, in other
words, a Church which should not only dominate
the State, but he the State — a Theocracy — a new
Israel, whose God should be the Lord. They be-
lieved, and it was with them the profoundest of con-
victions, that they M^ere putting thus into practical
experiment the loftiest of human aims ; and they
were willing to subject themselves for the sake of it
to whatever sacrifices it involved. Doubtless there
were motives working together with the highest —
less spiritual, less worthy. Strange had there not
been. Impossible there should not have been.


Enough to know the shaping and controlling one-
enough, at least, for our honoring regard. Their
end in coming is stated, specifically enough for all but
the exact historian, in the Preamble of the confederacy
of the several colonies, held at Cambridge in 1643,
and which runs thus : — " Whereas, we all came into
these parts of America with one and the same end
and aim, namely, to advance the Kingdome of our
Lord Jesus Christ, and to enjoy the liberties of the
Gospell in puritie, with peace," &c. It was a religious
end they sought ; it was a religious conviction that
impelled them ; it was a religious fealty that bound
them ; it Avas faith in the unseen, the spiritual, the
immortal — in interests transcending the measure-
ments of earth and time.

My remarks may seem to be taking a wider range
than is called for in a sketch — which is all that was
proposed — of our particular church. And yet, all
that has been said of the purpose of the founders of
New England generally, appertains especially to
those among them, gathered into a church by the
" Patriarch of Dorchester," and floated hither in the
Mary and John. " There came many godly famihes
in that ship," wrote Capt. Eoger Clap : — " sound
and learned men " — '• men leaving gallant situations "
— "men of rank and influence" — "very precious
men and women."

I proceed with the narrative of the leading historic


incidents in the external fortunes of our church, from
that 17th day of June, 1630, when, as ah'eady relatec(,
it came together, roofed only by the sky, for its first
Sabbath worship after its landing. Its first Meeting-
House — located near the corner of Cottage and Pleas-
ant Streets — was not built until the autumn of the
following year. What accommodations it had for its
meetings until that time does not appear. The tes-
timony is — and it accounts sufficiently for the delay
in providing a House of Worship — that it was a year
of great destitution wdth them ; that even the last
loaf failed, and their sole dependence was upon the
casual and chance supplies of sea-shore and forest.
And yet, it was with the pressure of want still upon
them that that first House arose. It was a very rude
structure, of logs and thatch, surrounded with palli-
sadoes for defence from the Indians. Very rude
and lowly ; but — there needs no record to assure
us — very dear to those who gathered in it ; symbol
to them, as it was, of that Presence that had attend-
ed them over the waste of waters, and was with them
still. There was no beauty in the structure, but the
" Beauty of Holiness " God saw within it.

The church soon began to receive accessions by
arrivals from England. But in 1635 it sufi'ered im-
portant reduction — about sixty of its members, main-
ly induced thereto by the great influx of immigration,
removing to Windsor, Conn., and taking with them


one of its pastors, Mr. Warham. This has been
sometimes spoken of as a removal of the church. I
know not with what justification, unless the fact that
the leaving-portion took with them the records be re-
garded as such. But its records are not the church.
The branches are not the root. The church remain-
ed, and renewed itself — and is here.

In 1646, after fifteen years of occupancy, the first
Meeting-House gave place to a larger ; built in the
same locality, but afterwards removed to the hill —
thence called, as since and still, " Meeting-House
Hill," This was in 1670 ; so that for just two hun-
dred years our church has had its worshipping home
on this hill. The House removed hither — posited a
little west of this — was succeeded, seven years after,
by another ; which, though larger and better than its
predecessor, has its dimensions and finish indicated
in the fact that its cost was but £200. It had, how-
ever, the unprecedented ornament, terminating its
pyramidal roof, of a cupola ; in which swung the un-
wonted luxury of a bell — the latter an importation,
of course, from " home," and imparting to imagina-
tion, as the once familiar sounds first broke the still-
ness of the Sabbath morning, how much of home
itself! In 1743, a new House, of far exceeding size
and cost, arose, near the same spot ; and this — re-
membered by some of you — gave place, in 1816, to
the one we now occupy : — this House of our love,


beariug so well its more tlmn half-century age that
the time seems very far when need, or — may I not
add 1 — desire, shall call for its successor ; holding a
place, as it does — with the improvements it has from
time to time undergone — among the most desirable
of the church-edifices of our vicmity ; combining a
Puritanic simplicity with a chastened ornamentation ;
representing — as rightly it should — the " Meeting-
Ilouse " of the Fathers, rather than the " Churches "
from which they fled, the Protestantism they were
faithful to, rather than the Mediae valism they repudi-
ated ; standing apart — none too widely — from those
architectural anachronisms — out of place alike in New
England and the century — whose pretentiousness, in
view of the old-world structures of which they are
the incongruous diminutives, is even more endurable
than the discordancy of their aspects with the bright
and cheering Faith which Christianity is to us.

Of those who have ministered in these successive
structures I would briefly speak. The earlier of
them, especially — as reliable records witness — were
men of more than ordinary gifts and learning,
measured by the clerical standard of their day — a
standard much higher, we have reason to believe,
than that of later times and of our own ; while the
term " godly," applied to them, though having pri-
mary reference to the nature of their function, found
highest justification in the devoutness that exercised


it. The line begins with Maverick and Warhani.
They had dared, in a loyalty to conscience, to break
from the established church, and had formed and min-
istered to a non-conforming congregation in Plymouth,
before being ordained over the hither-coming church.
Warham followed the portion of the church that re-
moved to Connecticut : Maverick soon ended his then
lengthened days here. Then came Eichard Mather.
Suspended from the exercise of his ministerial func-
tions for his Puritanical principles, he sought field for
their renewal here ; bearing hither a high repute for
learning and ability. He was at once solicited by
several churches to settle with them, and decided, by
advice of Mr. Cotton and other leading ministers of
the Colony, for this ; continuing its minister thii'ty-
three years, until his death. His ministry is described
as eminently successful ; his influence was great and
wdde ; his fame and praise in all the churches. For
a time associated with him was Jonathan Burr ; also
silenced for non-conformity, and bearing with him a
repute for learning and piety. He died, after a min-
istry of less than three years, in the thirty-seventh
year of his age. Testimonies have reached us to
the remarkable loveliness of his character and the
pathetic eloquence of his speech ; and the picture
which through these 1 bear of him has always drawn
me to him, as to no other of my predecessors. In
1649, John Wilson, Jr., was ordained as " coadjutor "


with Mr. Mather ; but after two years withdrew, and
exercised a long ministry in Medfield. The next in
the line of ministers was Josiah Flint, a graduate of
our own Harvard. He was ordained in 1671, and
had a ministry of nine years, ended by his death.
His life and labors have scant, but honoring, memo-
rials ; and his epitaph, in the old burial-ground,
speaks of him as " the good scholar and earnest
preacher and devoted pastor." He was succeeded,
in 1682, by John Danforth, whose ministry, of forty-
eight years — the testimony is — " was in great fidelity,
and in the exercise of superior talents and graces."
Jonathan Bowman followed ; ordained as colleague
of Mr. Danforth, and continuing his pastoral relations
for forty years ; when, unpleasant differences arising
between him and some of his parishioners, an eccle-
siastical council advised a separation. " He was a
man," says a cotemporary, " of austere deportment,
but of inflexible integrity, and was venerated by the
most eminent of his cotemporaries for his talents and
piety." In 1 774 Moses Everett was ordained, preach-
ing with great acceptance, until 1793, " when," says
an obituary notice of him, " the declining state of
his health compelled him to relinquish an office he
was too feeble to fulfil and too conscientious to neg-
lect." He was an active and interested member of
the church after he ceased to be its minister, and did
honorable and honored service in several distinguish-


ed civil capacities. Directly following the ministry
of Mr. Everett was that of Thaddeus Mason Harris,
continuing forty-three years. Many among you were
the personal witnesses of his ministry and sharers of
its blessings. Theij, surely, need no reminding from
me of what he was. But there are others of you —
too young, or too late in joining us, to have known
him — for whose sakes I am glad to speak of him,
though it must be so inadequately : — of his purity
and refinement of mind ; his scholarly acquisitions,
gained by a life of reading and research ; his humble
conscientiousness ; his gentle and guileless and child-
like spirit ; his quick and flowing sympathies, giving
tear for tear ; his exquisite sensibilities, not seldom
overmastering him — responsive to each passing ap-
peal, as to straying breezes an ^olian harp — shrink-
ing from the slightest look of unkindliness, and
brightening in the tokens of an appreciative friendli-
ness, as blossoms in the sun. May Heaven have
given thee, my father, as I doubt not it has, a min-
istry more congenial than earth's ! I was ordained,
as colleague with Dr. Harris, in 1835. But his offi-
cial connection with the parish was soon, at his re-
quest — hastened by failing health and removal from
the town — entirely severed ; leaving unsevered, to the
last, the tie of a mutual and affectionate regard.

For two centuries, lacking a score, the First Parish
was the sole one of the town, and the town territo-


rially far larger than we have known it — no less
than five towns being now embraced in its original
limits. Most of the parishes that have grown up
around it were formed by outflowings from its fulness,
and demand, therefore, a passing notice in this his-
toric sketch. The Second Church was organized in
1808. Its original members were almost wholly, I
believe, from this ; and went from it simply because
the old home had no room for them — in a spirit of
fellowship and good-will. And although that spirit —
at least of fellowship — did not continue, good-will,
I trust, did and does. I am sure I represent justly
the older church in saying, that it cherishes none
but the kindest feelings — shame to it if it did not ! —
towards the younger, and bids it, in the fellowship of a
common Gospel, " God-speed." In 1813, the Third
Congregational Society was organized. Though di-
rectly an offset from the Second Church — owing to
dissatisfaction connected with its administration —
yet, composed, as it was, from among those who had
so recently gone from the First, it was more strictly
an offset from that. In 1819, the Hawes Place
Church, located on territory afterwards taken into
Boston, was organized ; having for its leading mem-
bers those who had been connected with the First
Church. In 1848, the church at Harrison Square,
bearing the corporate name of the " Third Unitarian
Society," was gathered, in some part from this ; and


lastly, in 1859, the " Church of the Unity," at Ne-


Online LibraryNathaniel HallA sermon preached in the meeting-house of the First Church, Dorchester, on Sunday, June 19, 1870 : being the two hundred and fortieth anniversary of the first assembling of the Church for divine service after its landing in America (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 2)