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William L. (William Ladd) Chaffin.

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meeting-house of their own. He had offered a lot of land for this
purpose ; it was a part of what is called the Green, at South
Easton, and the building was to stand at the southeast part of
the Green. In January, 175 i, his friends were collecting materi-
als for erecting it, and work had already begun with great enthu-
siasm. But this order of the General Court, that all proceedings
as to building a new house be stayed, they interpreted as apply-
ing to themselves as well as to the town party. Nothing could
exceed the ire of Mr. Prentice and his friends at being obliged
to lay down their tools and stop work on the meeting-house they
had with such lively interest begun to build. Hard words were
uttered by both sides, and an especially Hvely colloquy occurred
between Nehemiah Randall and the minister at the house of
William Hayward, of which a sworn statement is as follows : —

Nehemiah Randal, of Easton, of Lawful age, testifith and saith, that
He being at the House of William Hayward at Easton, on the Later
end of febuarey or the begining of March, 175 1, and thare Discorsing
with Mr. Solomon prentis, Late or then Minister of Easton, consarning
the Genaral Corts Commitey that did Establish the Towns meeting
House; and then the Reverent Mr. prentis Said in Conversation with
said Nehemiah Randal, Discorsing consarning the meeting House that
Capt. Leonard and a number of the Inhabitance of Easton ware then
abuilding in Easton on Mr. prentises Land, and the said Nehemiah
Asced Mr. prentis whither they would go forward with building there
meeting House, and he said he se nothing to hender ; and then Nehe-
miah said it may be the Cort will send a Commetey to pul it down, and
Mr. prentis made this reply, Let them Come into my field, I will breake
theare Heads ; when it was answered to Him that the Genaral Cort's
Committey might Command Assistance, and he would not be abel to do

1 State Papers, vol. xiii. p. 224.



A MEMORABLE CHURCH CONTROVERSY. 117

it, and His reply was this : I do not fear it, I can have anofe to assist
me in that afare ; Let them Come in to my field if they Dare, I will
split theaire braines out.

Nehemiah Randall.
Sworn to before Edward Hayward, Justice of the peace.'

This violent language of Mr. Prentice proves him to have
been a man of passionate feeling and little discretion. Glad
enough was his principal opponent, Esquire Hayward, to get
sworn evidence of his uttering such language ; and he will use
it before the General Court and before church councils ere the
affair is over, much to the minister's disadvantage.

The committee of the General Court who came here "to view
the circumstances" presented their report on April 12, 1751.
They reported that the new meeting-house was in the best place
to accommodate the whole town, and recommended that unless
Mr. Prentice would preach therein the town be freed from pay-
ing his salary. In accordance with this recommendation the
Governor's Council and the House of Representatives concurred
in the following action : —

"Inasmuch as the said Town of Easton have, by a Major vote of
the Inhabitants thereof at a great expense erected a large meeting
house in a much more suitable Place, for the accommodation of the
whole town, than any other place proposed to the Committee by the
Parties, and have almost finished the outside of said house, therefore
ordered that the Inhabitants of sd Town proceed to finish said house ;
and that they be freed from paying anything towards the support of
Mr. Solomon Prentice, their minister, unless he complies with their
vote & Desire to preach in the new meeting-house." ^

These recommendations were adopted, and when the fact was
made known in Easton, it created consternation in the ranks of
the Prentice party. Mr. Prentice must now retreat from his
position and preach in the Centre meeting-house or forfeit all
claim upon the town for his salary. He broods over it a few
days, and then addresses the following communication to the
selectmen : —

To the Selectmen of the Town of Easton :

Gentlemen, — Having seen & perused the order of the Great &
General Court relating to Affairs of this Town : I do desire and insist
^ State Papers, vol. xiii. p. 760. "^ Ibid., p. 230



Il8 HISTORY OF EASTON.

upon it, that there be a meeting of the Inhabitants of Easton, qualified
to act in Town Affairs, forthwith called, to see if the Town will grant
me a Dismission from my Relation to them as a minister.

In doing of which, you will much oblige your now affectionate
Pastor,

Solomon Prentice.^

Easton, April 20, 1751.

Mr, Prentice's request for a town-meeting to grant him a dis-
missal does not seem to have been acted upon. The annual
March meeting had been adjourned in disorder. The excite-
ment was so great that many of those chosen for office refused
to serve, and the meeting was adjourned for two months. In May
it met again, and with difficulty the vacancies in town offices
were filled. It is observable that those of Mr. Prentice's party
who are elected refuse to serve, and the town officers are nearly
all chosen from the new meeting-house party. Thus bitter was
the feeling generated by these church difficulties. At this ad-
journed meeting in May no allusion is made to Mr. Prentice's
request for a dismissal, nor is there any action upon it at the next
town-meeting, in July. Evidently, even the town party do not
wish to lose their minister ; and instead of entertaining his pro-
position for release, they adopt an entirely new plan for the
settlement of the prevailing difficulties. They propose to call a
council of churches. The State had interposed in vain ; it was
now hoped that the Church might succeed in promoting peace.

Accordingly Edward Hayward, James Dean, and others of the
town party, one week after his letter was sent to the selectmen,
addressed him and the church members adhering to him, ask-
ing that on account of the " Difficulties & Unhappy Sentements
subsisting among us," and because of the " frowns of God "
under which they rested, they would unite with them "in seting
apart a day of Solemn Fasting & Prayer, and Implore Heavens
Blessings on us, and call a Number of Neighbouring Ministers
to assist in the same, and Likewise to advise with," etc. This
proposal, however, was not supported by a single vote in the
church meeting of Mr. Prentice's party, held a few days after-
ward. They were too much excited and disappointed at their
defeat ; they distrusted the motives of the men making the pro-

1 State Papers, vol. xiii. p. 717.



A MEMORABLE CHURCH CONTROVERSY. 119

posal, and they doubtless anticipated that neighboring ministers
would not give the advice they cared for. This plan failing, the
town party, on May 18, requested the opposing brethren to
agree with them in calling an ecclesiastical council of a number
of neighboring ministers, to advise with them and endeavor to
heal the difficulties they labored under. This proposition was
debated by the church party, and its further consideration post-
poned for a month. Whereupon the town party called a council
of neighboring churches to sit at Joshua Howard's house on
June 4, at 9 a. m., and they, " with all due Reverence & Respect,
Do intreat our Rev. Pastor & chh to attend." The Prentice
party, however, refused to attend what they considered an ex-
parte council.

After duly considering the grave matters presented to them,
this council report that "the minor part of the church" have
just cause to be aggrieved that Mr. Prentice will not attend ser-
vice in the town meeting-house ; they advise him in obedience
to the authority of the land and for the good of religion to com-
ply with the request of the town ; they counsel charity for one
and all ; and if he will not comply, they would urge calling a
mutual council, etc. The words " minor part of the church "
refer to a portion of the town party ; for though this party was
in the majority as a parish and in town-meeting, it was a minority
of the " church members," so called. Mr. Prentice's party had
just about two thirds of the church members, and the other
party one third.

All prospect of settlement seemed now so faint, that the ad-
herents of the minister determined to proceed with the building
of their own church. The raising of the frame was completed
June 23, 1 75 1, and at a meeting held on the spot at the time
they voted, that, in case it was fair weather, they would worship
under that roof the next Sabbath, — "which accordingly they
did." It was certainly an interesting occasion. The building
was scarcely yet more than a frame, roofed and floored. Chairs
may have been brought from neighboring houses, and other seats
variously extemporized, while many of the worshippers were
probably standing. The novelty of the occasion no doubt gave
vigor and warmth to the preacher's utterance ; but the unfor-
tunate contention, which none could forget, makes it doubtful



I20 HISTORY OF EASTON.

whether the spirit of Christ or that of Adam most animated the
hearts of the assembled congregation.

At this stage of the controversy the town party, headed by
Edward Hayward, formulate eleven charges against Mr. Pren-
tice and his party. These are submitted in church meeting,
July I, both the minority and majority church-parties being pres-
ent. They are read in order, and the majority of the church
members vote that they " are fully satisfied & easy with their
Rev. Pastor, Notwithstanding what is alleged," etc.

" Wher'upon the Pastor turn^ to Dea. Hayward & the rest of the Sub-
scribing Breth", and Demanded satisfaction of them all for those
Scandlous & Sinfull Reflections they had cast upon him, in which they
had gone Contrary to y*" Word of God {vide Math, xviii. 15, i6 ; i Tim.
v. 19) and to the Solemn Covenant they have with us subscribf {Vide
Partic' 7th). Which being Refussf itt was with Regrett and Concern
proposs'' Whither Dea'' Hayward and all the rest of the Subscribing
Breth", — Viz., Israel Randall, Ephraim Randall, Benj-^ Drake, Tho'
Drake, Israel Randall, Ju', Joseph Randall, Nehemiah Randall, James
Dean, John Selle, George Keyzar, Benjr Pettingill, Jonathan Lothrop,
& Mathew Hayward, — ought not to be suspended from the commu-
nion of this chh in all Special Ordanances, untill they make christian
Satisfaction to the Pastor and chh, especially in those Particulars the
chh Voted they ought too. Vot^ affinnat." ^

Mr. Prentice's party again refuse to join in a mutual council,
which seems to indicate a want of confidence in their own posi-
tion. The town party therefore recall the council termed ex-
parte by the minister and his friends, which holds a second
meeting, July 9. The church party, as before, refuse to acknowl-
edge its authority, but this time vote to send a committee to it
" to save the council from being Imposed upon by false light."
The council meets at Joshua Howard's again. There is a very
exciting time. Mr Prentice is carried away by his feelings, and
uses language more forcible than elegant or just, in which, how-
ever, he is not alone. The charges preferred by the town party
against the minister are taken up one by one. It is not neces-
sary to speak of them all in detail. The fourth is to the effect
that at a military training of a year before he had taken more

^ Old Church Records.



A MEMORABLE CHURCH CONTROVERSY. 12I

Strong drink than was consistent with sobriety. So Lieut.
John Williams and his wife had alleged, though they would not
so testify to the council. The vote upon this charge was as
follows : —

"As to the fourth article, we think that though it be not sufficiently
proved, yet that Mr. Prentice has given his aggrieved brethren great
occasion to fear that he is too much given to wine and strong drink."

He is also judged as having in his conversation with Nehe-
miah Randall (already alluded to) "spoken unworthily, contemp-
tuously, & even audaciously of the Great & General Court."
The council concludes that both parties were hasty and blame-
worthy " in some respects." They advise the aggrieved brethren
(the town party) to humble themselves before God for not deal-
ing in a more brotherly way with Mr. Prentice, and for being
too ready to believe and spread false reports about him. On
the other hand they advise him to render Christian satisfaction
for the offences he had committed towards them. They also
recommend that if Mr. Prentice will not attend worship in the
town meeting-house, he shall be dismissed ; and they conclude
by advising a day of fasting and prayer for all.

Mr. Prentice's opinion of the decision of the council may be
gathered from his record of it. He says that his committee
" offered them light, but they refused to see or accept itt, and
show them also the Darkness and Mistakes they Were in
danger of, but they would not Regard, and so drew up a
Result founded upon falsehood and Lies, to the Damage and
Defameing both Pastor & chh. Lord forgive them, for they
knew not what they did." ^

On the next day after the adjournment of the council, Edward
Hayward and nine others of the suspended brethren requested
that a church meeting be appointed, in order that they might,
in accordance with the advice of the council, make Christian
satisfaction to the church. This they do in the following terms :

To the Rev, Mr. Solomo?i Prentice: to be communicated to the Brethren.

Brethren, we desire to be sorry for all that undue heat of temper we

have discovered, and for all those hard words we have spoken to or off

I Old Church Records.



122 HISTORY OF EASTON.

you or an)' of you in this time of differrence & temptation, and par-
ticularly for not following the Rules of the Gospel with you respecting
our greivances ; and earnestly ask God's forgiveness and yours for
christs sake.

Sighn'.' by all the Suspended Brethren.
Easton, July II, 1751.

The church, however, having read this " over & over," declared
that they could not look upon this as amounting to Christian
satisfaction. And as the signers " would neither add too nor
diminish from what they had subscribed, the chh could not
and did not restore, but continued their suspension of them.
And Edward Hayward, Esq., for his obstinancy and unworthy
& scandalous treatment of our Rev. Pastor at one time, place,
& another, the chh. Voted should be thrust out from all the
officies he did sustain or was chosen into in the chh, viz.,
Deacon and Ruleing Elder Elect."

Despairing of inducing Mr. Prentice to preach in the meeting-
house at the Centre, the town party voted in town-meeting, July
15., to raise money for the supply of the pulpit. Some of the
town party, as we have said, were church members ; but the ma-
jority of the original members, apparently about two-thirds, be-
longed to the North and East End party. The church members
of the town party now formed a separate church organization
of their own, and voted without reference to the church of the
Prentice party. Edward Hayward was its clerk; but no records
of this minority church have been preserved, and it is only by
inference that we know of its action. But the town records
prove that prior to July 3 1 this minority church had voted to
dismiss Mr. Prentice ; for on that date the town voted " to con-
cur in the church's vote dismissing the Rev. Mr. Solomon Pren-
tice from his pastoral ofifice in this town." Mr. Prentice and his
party could venture to laugh at that vote, for it was a vote of
the minority of the " Church of Christ in Easton," who were in
fact suspended members, and had no right by ecclesiastical usage
to vote at all. Their action, therefore, in dismissing Mr. Pren-
tice was entirely invalid, and none knew it better than he.

It was, indeed, a novel and embarrassing situation. The par-
ish had the meeting-house ; the church had the minister. The
church would not consent to his preaching in the meeting-house;



A MEMORABLE CHURCH CONTROVERSY. 123

the parish could not shake him off, for he could not be dismissed
without the concurrent vote of both church and parish, and the
church stood by him. In April he had asked the town to dis-
miss him. Now, in July, he held his grip firmly upon the town,
and would not accept what, shortly before, he had implored them
to bestow. The town had one consolation : with the sanction of
the General Court it refused him any salary. Things were thus
at a dead-lock, and there seemed no prospect of improvement.
The Prentice party, however, attempted a flank movement. They
voted that those in the westerly part of the town, who chose to
do so, might worship with them without expense either for build-
ing a meeting-house or for supporting the minister. But this
offer was more politic than successful. The bait was not taken.
In this perplexing situation the Prentice party thought that
they in their turn would try the effect of an ecclesiastical council.
On August 27, therefore, at the pastor's house, they voted to
call a council to consider the result of the last town party's
council, " and to see if the scandalous aspersions there in cast
upon our Rev. Pastor may not be wiped off, and to give us
advice with Respect to ye conduct of ye suspended Brethren of
this church in consequence of said Result." Thirteen churches
were invited to this council. Nine churches responded to the
summons, and their delegates met on September 24 at Capt.
Eliphalet Leonard's, — his house being where F. L. Ames's
farm-house now stands in North Easton Village. This council
seems to have been thoroughly impartial, as we may judge by
the following interesting report of their action : —

'* A Council of Nine Churches Convened at the house of Capt.
Eliphalet Leonard in Easton, ye 24"' of September, 1751, at the Re-
quest of the Revi Mr. Solomon Prentice & that Part of the Church
adhereing to his Ministry. After Seeking to God for Direction in the
Case Depending, we found that a Principle Cause of their troubles was
the sd. Mr. Prentice's refusing to attend publick worship in the Towns
Meeting House Established by the Hon^I^ the great & General Court
persuant to a vote of y^^ Major part of y^ Chh., and more particularly
of some misconduct that attended his Refusing to meet for publick
worship in sd. House ; and the Council first laboured to shew Mr.
Prentice and the Breth" Adherein to him itt would be Dutifull for
them to attend there. Proposed, that Suitable Confession of the sins



124 HISTORY OF EASTON.

they were guilty of might heal all Breachs that were among them, and
bring all persons to a Comfortable Reunion ; we Labour*? to Convince
Each party of their duty with respect of the same with Desirable Suc-
cess. And brought them to make Such Concesions as were Accepted
by the ofended, so far as to unite both Chh and Town to meet together
at the Meeting house Established by Law, and to forgive all former
offences, and also to Retract all Votes pass'.' by the Jarring parties
which they took offence att, and to Nullify and make Void the same.

And the Council finding it Needless to look into any of the Articles
touching his Moral Character, saveing the fourth, which was That
he on Publick days, especially on Training days, spends so much of
his time as we apprehend in Tipling and Vain Conversation ; in this
we have a more Especial Refference to a Training Day at the house
of Lieut. Williams, last fall was Twelve month. We particularly En-
quired into that, and as to the Lnplication in it of His being guilty of
Intemperance, We find from the persons advancing itt, as well as
others, that he is clear of guilt therein. And in as much as it is the
Request of Chh & Town that we should adjourn and not Dissolve,
that if there should be any Erruption that we may look into itt and
give farther advice upon the same. We do therfore adjourn Unto the
3*? Tuesday of April next, to meet at this place if need Require and
we be desired.

" And now Breth", Rejoyceing in the happy Restoration of peace and
unity among you, and Earnestly praying for the Continuance of y"
Same, We Commend you to God and the Word of his grace, whch is
able to build you up and give you an Inheritance among them that
are Sanctified thro' faith, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen." ^

In justice to Mr. Prentice it should be distinctly noted here
that he is cleared of all charges against his character. He had
spoken rashly and passionately, he had been headstrong, he had
been rather convivial on training day ; but in neither case w^ere
his offences such as to deserve that charge of serious misconduct
which his opponents, also headstrong and passionate, had made
against him. It should also be noted that this council, called
by Mr. Prentice's own party, advised the very course which this
party had opposed and which the town party had demanded ;
namely, that he should preach at the town meeting-house at
the Centre. The church voted that "they would accept the
Result of their Council, and abide by it as God should enable
^ State Papers, vol. xiii. pp 720, 721.



A MEMORABLE CHURCH CONTROVERSY. 1 25

them ;" and Mr. Prentice began at once to preach in the Centre
church. Once more, therefore, after about eleven months' sep-
aration, the two parties came together for common worship, and
met in the town meeting-house in a service that was, as Mr.
Prentice records, " lovingly attended."

And now at last is not the bitter contention over, and will
not peace come after the storm .-' We shall see. It looks omi-
nous to find Mr. Prentice, when he writes that this service was
" lovingly attended," adding thereto, " until the latter end of No-
vember." But how could it be otherwise than that fire should be
smouldering beneath the ashes, — fire that any ill-fated breeze
might kindle anew .-' A two-years' quarrel will not be settled by
the recommendation of a council ; and we find therefore that
fresh trouble began at a church meeting, November 15, called
" that ye chh might converse & Pray together in order to their
attending the Sact. of the Lord's Supper together, which had
been long omitted." Do not these words, " which had been long
omitted," tell the sad story of the decline of religious interest
consequent upon these obstinate quarrellings ?

The church members belonging to the town party do not at-
tend this meeting ; and at another church meeting of November
22 those of this party who do attend claim that they come as
members of another church, assuming that their minority church-
organization is as truly a church as that of the Prentice party.
They are evidently wrong in this, but they will not yield the
point, and so there is no real agreement after all. The winter
drags along in this way, with ill-suppressed bad feelings and
sour looks, and no real harmony. The town-party people openly
hinted that Mr. Prentice was not their minister ; they had dis-
missed him. They would not attend the ordinances when he
administered them, and seldom went to meeting at all.

To such a pass have things now come that the East End party
determine to shake off the dust of their feet against the town
of Easton. They will try to form a distinct precinct, with a
view of becoming a separate town. To accomiDlish this, Elipha-
let Leonard and eleven others request the selectmen, in Febru-
ary, 1752, to appoint a town-meeting to see if the town will vote
off "the Easterly half of said Easton from the Centre thereof,"
to join with the westerly part of Bridge water to form a distinct



126



HISTORY OF EASTON.



precinct. The selectmen arbitrarily refuse to call such a meet-
ing, upon which the petitioners appeal to Justice George Leonard,
of Norton, who not only calls it, but, to the mortification of the
town party, calls it to be held in the "Easterly meeting house,"
that is, the unfinished building where the Prentice party had the
summer before been holding services. Both parties scoured the
town for voters. The vote for moderator foreshadows the re-
sult. Edward Hayward is chosen, and the town refuses to vote
off the east part as a precinct.

What shall be done now ? Almost in despair, the Prentice
party summon their council to assemble again, which it accord-
ingly does. This was April 21, 1752. Mr. Prentice's party make
a statement to this council, reciting their grievances, expressing
the belief that "the breach is Irrepareable & ye Wound incure-
able," and therefore praying that a permanent division between
the two parties might be sought and obtained of the General
Court, and that henceforth they might separately "enjoy ye
word of God & ordinances of ye Gospel."

The council, however, chose to pass this request by, and after



Online LibraryWilliam L. (William Ladd) ChaffinHistory of the town of Easton, Massachusetts (Volume 3) → online text (page 12 of 78)