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History of the town of Easton, Massachusetts (Volume 3) online

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and considerate man, was needed ; but Mr. Prentice was a
champion of the church militant, one-sided, positive, excitable,
and with sufficient ability to make these qualities productive of
serious trouble and mischief.



I06 HISTORY OF EASTON.

Mr. Prentice was installed minister in Easton, November i8,
1747, ten churches assisting at the installation. The Rev. Mr.
Balch, of Dedham, preached the sermon ; Leonard of Plymouth,
gave the charge, and Goddard of Leicester the right hand of
fellowship. Mr. Prentice began immediately to look after the
spiritual interests of the church, which seem to have been great-
ly neglected. He is surprised to find a church with no church
records and no covenant. There was not even a list of church
members. He proceeds at once to remedy these defects. A
meeting of the church is called, and a committee appointed to
wait upon Mr. Belcher the late pastor, who was still living here,
•' to know of him whither there were in his hands, or whither he
knew anything of a Covenant this chh had submitted unto ; and
to Intreat him if he had any, to deliver it up to said Com'tee, As
also any other Records he had in his hands that belonged or
Related to this chh."

The pastor, with " Dea. Edward Hay ward, Capt. Eliphalet
Leonard, and Bro. Jos. Grossman," waited upon Mr. Belcher and
got from him an answer which confirms the tradition of his de-
rangement. They reported, " That he had never seen or sign*^,
Neither did he know anything about, any Covenant the chh here
had. And as for Records, he said if there was no Covenant there
could be no chh, and if no chh no Records ; and further he saith
not." ^ This comprehensive answer was far from being satisfac-
tory, but it was conclusive. It was evident that the demented
ex-minister had either lost or destroyed both the records and
the covenant. Whereupon the church voted "that it is altogether
unfitt & Improper for a chh to be without a Covenant." ^ These
votes were passed January 28, 1748. Another covenant was pre-
pared and signed ; and so well satisfied were the church at what
they had done that they praised themselves thus : " Propos*? that
the Conduct of this chh is not only Justifiable but very Comend-
able, in that when they Discovr'd that there was no Covenant
to be found, that they took proper care to procure a Scriptual
Covenant, and have Solemnly and publickly Enterd there into
and subscribed the same. Voted afirmat."

This covenant (which is not to be confounded with a creed) is
printed in the Appendix, with the names of the signers thereto.
1 Oldest Easton Church Records, p. 16. 2 ibid.



A MEMORABLE CHURCH CONTROVERSY. 107

Mr. Prentice, having reorganized the church, having secured
the signing of a covenant and begun new church records,
endeavored to promote a real church life and enforce church
discipline. He was too much in earnest to permit careless man-
agement or to ignore any violation of ecclesiastical order. One
of the first things done is to call some of the brethren to account
for having abruptly left meeting contrary to rules. He tried
to enforce the Scriptural methods of deciding differences and
quarrels between the brethren by church exhortation, counsel,
and rebuke, reconciling contending brethren without appeal to
the courts. Thus when Samuel Drake complained to the church
that Nathaniel Perry had accused him of keeping false accounts,
the church appointed a committee to examine the case between
the two brethren. Several meetings are held about the affair.
The case is tried, and Mr. Perry, by evidence produced, sustains
his charge, and Mr. Drake is excluded from the privilege of
"coming to the Lord's table." It reflects credit upon Mr.
Prentice and the Easton church that they made honesty between
men a necessary condition of church fellowship.

A difficulty that caused the church serious trouble occurred
between Dea. Edward Hayward and Henry Howard. It was
after the bitter contention about the location of the meeting-
house, soon to be narrated, had begun. Deacon Hayward de-
clared that Mr. Howard had told him, " ten times within three
months, that ye meeting-house in Easton stood in the suitablest
place to keep the town together." Mr. Howard denied the
statement, and evidence taken sustained the denial. The church
then made a charge of misrepresentation against the Deacon ;
and when, after much debate, it was about to be put to vote, the
following interesting scene occurred, which is recorded by Mr.
Prentice in the church book : —

Upon beholding matters bro't to such a crisis, the Dea. Bow'd his
head, and with tears in his eyes utter'd and caused to be taken down
the following acknowledgement, viz : Wher'as in the Late day of tryal
& Temptation I have spoken very rashly & unadvisedly, and espe-
cially in saying that I could prove Bro'r Henry Howard had told me
Ten times within three months, and that within three Weeks he had
said, that the Meeting House (in Easton) stood in the most suitable
place to keep the Town together, as appears by plentiful! evidence I



I08 HISTORY OF EASTON.

did, — I do acknowledge it was very rashl)' said, and I am sorry I said

so ; and I ask forgiveness of God whom I have offended, as also of

this Chh, & of Bro! Henry Howard in special, & I promiss by Divine

help I will Carry my selfe more circumspectly towards God, this Chh,

and all men I may be Concern^ with, than of Late I have Done.

Edw^ Havward.
Easton, April 26, 1751.

Upon which, Bror Henry Howard, of his own accord, voluntaryly De-
clare' as follows, Viz: I am sorry for any thing I have s? or acted
Rashly in this Late dae of tryal. Either against God, this Chh, or Dea.
Hayward in particular ; and do beg forgiveness of God, this Chh, &
Deaf Hayward in special. H. Howard.

Which the Chh beheld, with great joy and surprizing Delight, Chear-
fully Vot? their agreeable satisfaction with, Restor'' these their Breth" to
their Charaty & Usual standing again. With which hapyly Ended all
matters of Difificulty and Uneasyness, which were in or had been Laid
before the Chh.

Wher'upon with Thanksgiving, Prayr, & Praise the Meeting was
Dissmiss?

att" S. Prentice, V. D. M.

We shall now attend to the history of one of the most note-
worthy church contentions that ever occurred in New England,
but one which has never before been chronicled. It divided the
town, mainly on territorial lines, into two warring factions, mak-
ing in some cases "a man's foes those of his own household,"
and did a harm to religion that was felt for many years. Where
shall the meeting-hoiise stand? This was the rock on which the
church split. Shall the new building be erected on the site of
the old one, to suit the people in the east part of the town, or
shall it stand at or near the centre of the town, better to accom-
modate those in the west part .'' It will be noticed farther on
that those settlers who lived in the northeast part (now North
Easton) sided with the East-Enders. And the reason for this
was that they had not only become accustomed to the old lo-
cation, but the road thither was the old travelled way, there
being no road, but only a rough cart-path, to the Centre.

Curiously enough, even before the incorporation of the town
we can see the first rising of the cloud which was now to bring
such a tempest upon the people. About 171 8 what is now called



A MEMORABLE CHURCH CONTROVERSY. 109

the Furnace Village was just being settled, and it was giving
promise of considerable growth. The first Josiah Keith (who
had built a house, and was erecting a saw-mill) and some of his
neighbors foresaw the attempt that would be made, and soon
was successfully made, to build the new meeting-house near the
Bridgewater line ; for a precinct was petitioned for, and had just
been granted. Keith and others therefore, as early as June 5,
1 71 8, presented to the General Court the following petition : —

" A petition of several of the Inhabitants in the East Precinct in
Norton, Shewing that the Inhabitants of the Western Part of said East
Precinct, with many others that are beginning to settle upon their
Lands in the said Part, will be much discouraged from settling there
(which will be much to the Damage of the said new village) until the
publick Meeting House for Divine Worship be built in the Center
of the said Precinct ; and therefore Praying that a Committee may be
appointed by this Honourable Court to find out the said Center &
appoint the place where the said Meeting House shall be built.

"In Council. — Read & Ordered that the Hon''!'^ Nathaniel Payne,
Esq., with such as the Hon''!" House of Representatives shall join
with him, be a committee to go to Norton, & View & Report to this
Court the most proper & convenient Place for setting up the said
Meeting House." ^

These petitioners were the few families living in the west part
of what is now Easton. Their petition was unavailing : the
precinct will not build a meeting-house at the centre of the town.
The defeated party were very sore over the result, and lost no
opportunity to manifest their displeasure. In 1728 and 1729
we find them, as before narrated, opposing any expenditure of
money to repair and improve the meeting-house. They are out-
voted ; but they do not forget, and they will bide their time.
Their time is now at hand. In January, 1745, they are strong
enough, with the aid of some of the more generous of the east
part, to get a vote passed " to Buld a publick meeting House
for ye publick worship of god in this town, in ye senter or within
twenty Rods of ye senter. Voted to have it finished within six
years from ye date hereof." Nearly a year before, a committee
of out-of-town men, with Lieut. Morgan Cobb of Taunton for
1 Massachusetts General Court Records, vol. x. pp. 237, 238.



no HISTORY OF EASTON.

surveyor, had been appointed by the town to find out where the
centre was. It was found to be on Benjamin Pettengill's land,
near the present residence of L. K. Wilbur. Nothing is done
about carrying out this vote to build a meeting-house for four
years. On Christmas day, 1749 (no regard being paid to Christ-
mas in those days), the subject was revived. The people of the
west part of the town are now willing to make a concession (are
perhaps forced to do it in order to carry their point), and no
longer demand that it shall be built at the exact centre, near Ben-
jamin Pettengill's. Several votes are passed and reconsidered,
and the town votes finally to build the meeting-house "on ye half-
acre of Land that Capt. John Phillips had laid out for yt Use,
which is near one half a mile east from ye center of said town ;
and it was voted to raise Fifteen Hundred Pounds in bills of
credit of ye old tenor towards Building sd Meeting House."
Let it be remembered that this vote passed by a large majority ;
that many voted for it who after the work was partially done
fought against it ; and that even Mr. Prentice indorsed it and
co-operated with the proposed plan. Mr. Prentice is especially
enthusiastic, and makes a generous offer of assistance, as we
see by the following vote of the town on this Christmas day : —

" Voted cherfully and thankfully to Accept of ye Rev. Mr Solomons
prentice Kind offer, and to comply with ye conditions annex? viz : for
ye Encorragement of ye town Chearfully & Loveingly to go forward
in Building their New meeting House, mr prentice offers & hereby En-
gages to stand in ye place & pay ye tax of ye fifth Highest payer in
town, towards building & finishing said meeting House (not to Ex-
empt ye said fifth man from paying, but to help ye whole town), on con-
dision said prentice may Have ye Liberty of ye fifth choice of pews in
s? meeting House, He paying what ye same shall be set att by ye towns
com'"" " ^

Mr. Prentice's action here recorded must be taken into ac-
count in our judgment of the strenuous opposition which he
soon so inconsistently made against the completion of the new
meeting-house, and against worshipping in it when it was ready.
At first the people went busily to work. Timber was cut
and hewn, and drawn to the spot where the building was to be

1 Original Town Records, vol. i. p. 65.



A MEMORABLE CHURCH CONTROVERSY. m

raised. But an undercurrent of opposition set in, and increased
in force. On February 26, 1750, two months after the work
was determined upon, twenty persons entered their protest
against the continuance of the work on the building. It is in-
teresting to note that nearly all of these persons were from the
northeast part of the town, among them being Eliphalet Leon-
ard, John Randall, and George Ferguson. The dissatisfaction
increased. April 9, 1750, a town-meeting was called, at which
the malcontents were present in force. It was "Voted for to
build ye Meeting House in some other place than where ye
timber Now lies ; " and it was then voted to build it four rods
northward of the spot where it was formerly voted. This lot
was bought of Benjamin Drake. The concession of four rods
did not please the dissatisfied. They then asked that the north
part of the town might be set apart as a separate precinct; but
this was denied them.

Everything was now in readiness for raising the frame, and
the committee who had thus far attended to the work appointed
a day for this to be done. At this there was an outcry of oppo-
sition ; so much so that three of the committee wavered, and
postponed the day. They reported : " We see the contenshon
was grate about the Place Perfixed for said hous, ... so we
thot it our Dutey to for bid the Rasing said fraim till the town
could be coled together," etc. So the frame lay untouched upon
the ground. It was no time for such indecision. The town
had sufficiently declared its purpose, and there was no prospect
of better agreement in another town-meeting. Fortunately the
town party had a leader who was not afraid to take responsi-
bility, and " Esquire " Edward Hayward (who was also captain
and deacon) with others raised the frame in spite of the com-
mittee's attempt at delay. Two of the committee who advised
delay were dismissed from their duties ; they were John Dailey,
Sr., and Henry Howard. The house was raised in four days,
beginning Monday, April 23, 1750; and unless our fathers de-
parted from the usual custom of the time, there was plenty of
good drink to enliven the occasion.

Some of the opposing party, when they saw matters proceed-
ing thus far and their defeat a certainty, began to yield. Capt.
Eliphalet Leonard, for instance, had vowed he would never con-



112 HISTORY OF EASTON.

sent to a church being built upon that spot ; but taking his
short-stemmed pipe from his mouth, he told the leading men
that if they would save his vow inviolate by moving the sills
the length of his pipe-stem, he would go with them. They how-
ever would not yield even so small a point as that ; and he
went away in wrath, and, next to Mr. Prentice, became the lead-
ing opponent of the town party. The raising was completed
on Thursday, April 26, at which time the assembled people,
full of enthusiasm, sang the one hundredth Psalm. This was
doubtless Watts's versification. Its appropriateness is apparent
from the fifth stanza, which is as follows : —

" We '11 crowd thy gates with thankful songs,
High as the heavens our voices raise ;
And earth, with her ten thousand tongues,
Shall fill thy courts with sounding praise."

It is interesting to imagine that throng of our Easton fathers
and mothers with their families grouped about this solid frame
of the new meeting-house, and lifting up their voices in thanks-
giving to God. We cannot help thinking, however, that mingled
with all this sacred joy the West End people must have felt a
little human exultation at their victory, and that those opposed
to them, such as were present, must have found their cup mixed
with gall.

John Dailey, Sr., and Henry Howard having been dropped
from the committee appointed to build the meeting-house, Lieut.
John Williams, George Keyzer, and Esquire Hayward were
chosen, but not without protest. Benjamin Williams and Thomas
Manley were already on the committee. The work now rapidly
progresses during the summer of 1750, but the disaffection in-
creases. It is even proposed in town-meeting, September 24, to
divide the town by a north and south line, so as to make two
towns of Easton, The proposition fails of sufficient support.
In November the new meeting-house, though not finished, is
ready for occupancy. On November 5 the town votes that the
committee may pull down the old building when they think
proper. Two of the committee went to Mr. Prentice on Satur-
day evening, told him they meant to pull the old house down on
Monday, and asked him to give notice that services would hence-



A MEMORABLE CHURCH CONTROVERSY.



113



forth be held at the new meeting-house. We have this account
in Mr. Prentice's own words. Writing of the new house, he
states as follows : —

"By Novf (it) is so far Inclos^ that 2 of the Selectmen on Nov. 10,
Saturday night, came to my house Informing me the Town desigher? to
pull down the Old Meeting house the next Week, and they would have
me to Morrow after exercise enform the congregation ther'of, that ye
town might meet in the New Meeting house the Sabbath after. I In-
timate to ye gentlemen I thought itt did not pertain to me to do that
Business. Accordingly I did itt not. On Nov' 12 the Old Meeting
house was pulL' Down." ^

The crisis had now come. The new meeting-house was
ready, and, to allow no excuse for not worshipping in it, the old
house was pulled down. What was to be done .-' Shall the dis-
affected minority yield } A meeting of the church (that is, the
church members) is called. Surely the assembly of the saints
will counsel peace and the surrender of personal preferences for
the general good. On Friday, November 16, at one p. m.,
thirty-six members were present, and they voted, twenty-three
to thirteen, that they would not worship in the new meeting-
house, and that they would meet for public worship at " Mr W"
Hayward's New House." This refusal to worship at the meet-
ing-house at the Centre, which had been built by vote of the
town, made an open breach between the two parties. On the
next Sunday probably no service was held in the church, and on
Tuesday the 20th Mr. Prentice received the following letter : —

M"^ Prentice. Rev. Si^ — We the Subscribers desire that you would
attend the publick Worship of God On y^ Sabbath Days for y^ time to
come att Our New Meeting House in Easton.

Sighn? Joshua Howard, ] Selectmen for y'

Nov' 20"' 1750. John Williams, j Town of Easton.

Mr. Prentice's party consult the Hon. George Leonard, of Nor-
ton, and other legal authority, the result of which is not reported.
They however are determined not to yield, and a petition headed
by Dea. Robert Randall, with fifty signatures, is presented to
the pastor asking him to preach in private houses, until a meet-
ing-house is erected near Israel Randall's corner, — that is, at

1 Mr. Prentice's letter to the General Court. State Papers, vol. xiii. pp. 222-24.

8



114 HISTORY OF EASTON.

the Green. The majority of the church members, at least of
those attending the meetings that are called, vote to the same
effect, and December 7 they decided to hold services by turns, —
four Sundays at William Hayward's, which was near Simpson's
Spring, and four Sundays at James Pratt, Jr's., his house being a
little south of the South Easton Cemetery. Mr. Prentice hesi-
tated at first in his decision, as well he might ; for he had acqui-
esced in the town's vote to build where the meeting-house now
stood. " I was frequently with them, and encouraged them what-
ever I could," he had written. The only reason he gives for re-
fusing to preach in the new meeting-house is that the church
has voted to hold services elsewhere, and that he considers
it his duty to obey the church.

On December 24, 1750, the town voted to choose a committee
of five men to treat with Mr. Prentice, and " to see if he will
atend and preach to us in our Meeting House in Easton, & to
know of a Sertainty whether he will or will not." On the 26th
the committee delivered him a letter, which he answered immedi-
ately, and in which he writes : "Upon mature consideration, I find
myself able to give no other answer there unto att present than
this, — viz., I must scrupel your authority by proper Deligation
from ye town determining to atend public worship of god in ye
new meeting house," etc. Until this scruple is removed, he
declares that he will obey the requirement of the church. He
subscribes himself their " most humble ser't & most affection-
ate pastor, most willing to serve both town & church wherin I
may." What can the town do ? Mr. Prentice prefers to obey
the church rather than the parish. The first thing that is done
after this is that on January 15, 175 1, the town refuses to vote
him his yearly salary. At the same meeting they choose a com-
mittee " to Lay our Difficultys before ye General Court, Relating
to a number of ye inhabitance of ye town in there absenting
themselves from us & going about to build another meeting-
House in ye easterly part of Easton ; entreating sd Court to en-
terpose by a [all] There autority, & to prevent our Runing further
into confusion & Dificulties." ^

Mr. Prentice's shrewdness and ability are proved by the fact
that as soon as this vote is passed, indeed on the very day of its

1 Old Town Records, p. 69. The date of 1750 is Old Style; it is really 1751.



A MEMORABLE CHURCH CONTROVERSY. 115

passage, he drew up a petition to the General Court himself, got
it headed by Eliphalet Leonard and signed by sixty other per-
sons, and forwarded it to Boston before the town's committee
presented their own message. The petition is in his own hand-
writing, and merely asks that the petitioners shall be served
with a copy of the petition about to be presented by the town's
committee, of which Esquire Hayward is the chairman. This
committee prepared a statement of the main facts relating to the
building of the meeting-house, such as have been already nar-
rated, and then added : " Ye Inhabitants In general went chear-
fully on with ye work, until lately there is a seperation of a
considerable number of ye Inhabitants yt voted to have ye meet-
ing House where it now stands, which seperatists live in ye east
part of ye town, and argot to such a head yt our minister hath
joined them and Refuseth to preach to ye Inhabitants of ye town
in ye meeting House, But preaches to sd. Seperate party in a
Private house ; and sd party ace about building a meeting house
between ye new meeting House & Bridgewater line, on ye east
side of sd town, tho ye meeting House now built stands not a
mile & f from Bridgewater line and more than three miles from
Norton line and ye west of said Easton, and was placed further
east to accommodate sd Party. Wherefore as two separate Par-
ishes is more than sd. town can maintain, they humbly pray ye
Interposition of the Great & Gen. Court to prevent ye proceed-
ings of sd. party, or otherwise to Relieve sd town as shall seem
meet." ^ A copy of this petition is sent to Eliphalet Leonard,
who with others merely answer that the Centre of the town is
very unsuitable for the meeting-house, which they say should " be
set in the center of the Travial of the present Inhabitants." Mr.
Prentice adds to this a long paper of his own, already alluded
to. He does not present the matter in any new light ; but he
is especially indignant over the charge that his party are " Sep-
aratists," for he writes : " And now asking yr Hon'rs Pardon
for my Prolixity, I Humbly Beg the faviour of this Hon'ble
Court, that the chh & Pastor may be acquitted from that Infa-
mous term of Seperatists fixed upon us by the Town's Com'tee
in their Petition. Because it is an epithett we renounce with
abhorrence and Detestation." ^

1 State Papers, vol. xiii. pp. 219, 220. ^ Ibid., p. 224.



Il6 HISTORY OF EASTON.

In the General Court the whole subject was referred to a com-
mittee, who, hearing the parties interested, proposed that three
persons should be sent to Easton " to view their circumstances "
etc., and report to the General Court; and that meantime all pro-
ceedings as to "building a meeting house in the town be stayed."
A committee was accordingly appointed, consisting of James Mi-
not, Esq., Captain White, and Captain Clapp.^ This was on Feb-
ruary 12, 175 1, the dates in the original papers being Old Style.

Mr. Prentice's party, however, had already decided to build a



Online LibraryWilliam L. (William Ladd) ChaffinHistory of the town of Easton, Massachusetts (Volume 3) → online text (page 11 of 78)