William L. (William Ladd) Chaffin.

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

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admonishing both parties made another vigorous attempt to mix
oil and water, by appointing a day of solemn fasting and prayer.
It was a lively council, sitting for two days. Mr. Prentice, as
usual, got excited and used some very vigorous language, for
which " exasperating language before the church, towards any
person to ye just greife & offense of his Brethren, he was sorry
and asked their forgiveness." At the church meeting where he
thus apologized. Brother James Dean made an acknowledgment
also, which the church voted satisfactory, heartily forgiving him ;
whereupon, turning upon them, " Bro. Dean declared he was
disappointed, for he could not forgive the chh, & accordingly
withdrew from itt." At a later meeting of the church Esquire
Hayward made an acknowledgment, which " the chh could not
look upon to amount in any sort to Christian satisfaction for his
faults, but as inhaunsing rather than Diminishing his guilts in
the apprehension of the chh." ^

June 12, 1752, is appointed for the day of fasting and prayer,
but the ministers who come to attend it have some doubts of its
propriety, and turn the day into a "Lecture." June 17 is then
1 Old Church Records.



appointed for a meeting to precede "a Fast," but the ministers
invited fail to appear. Mr. Prentice and his church wait at his
house for them from one until three o'clock, and then go to the
meeting-house. There he finds "Edward Hay ward and his party,"
some outside, but most of them within. As soon as the minister
and his church members go into the meeting-house, the other
party go out. After awhile the moderator calls three times
for the meeting to come to order. None of the town party,
except Thomas Drake, come in. As the ministers do not arrive,
at half-past four " it was at length moved that prayer might be
attended in the chh, which according was ; when, to our sur-
prise, Esq. Hayward and his party still refusing to come in, but
satt in and about the door with their Hats on all prayer time,
except only bro. Dean came in,"^ — so Mr. Prentice makes record
in the church book.

This attempt at a day of fasting and prayer being a failure,
another is proposed ; but the town party refuse to join in it un-
less they can choose half the ministers who will officiate, " which
the chh looked upon as an Invasion of their ecclesiastical privi-
leges." The church would, however, allow their opponents to
nominate ministers to take part in the proposed solemn services,
provided they did not nominate four who were especially ob-
noxious to the church. But no ministers were willing to come.
They were disgusted with such continued fractiousness, and had
no faith in their power to reconcile such obstinate factions.

Despairing of help from any other quarter, the church, on
June 29, propose that both parties shall solemnly renew their
covenant, try and forget their differences, and meet in brotherly
union about the Lord's table. But it is too late. The town
party have made up their minds that they will not unite in
religious communion with any of their brethren who insist upon
forcing a pastor upon a society, half of which at least are
bitterly opposed to him. This last attempt at reconciliation
was made on July 5, 1752. Mr. Prentice records the state-
ment that the town party " both explicitly and implicitly de-
clare they will have nothing, further to do with us." Another
crisis is now reached, and this memorable controversy assumes
a different phase, which will be considered in the next chapter.

1 Old Church Records.




Mr. Prentice's Church adopt Presbyterianism. — Their State-
ment OF Reasons for doing so. — His Wife becomes hereti-
cal, AND JOINS the Baptists. — He allows the Baptists to have
a Prayer Meeting at his House. — Alarm of his Church
at such Latitudinarianism. — The Presbytery summoned to
Easton, and Mr. Prentice Suspended. — His subsequent Expe-
rience. — His Children.

IT began now to be plainly evident to all that the breach be-
tween the contending parties could not be repaired. All
attempts at reconciliation had failed. Church and State had
been appealed to in vain to settle the long-standing difficulties.
Mr. Prentice continued to hold services at the Centre meeting-
house until November 5. Two months before this his own
church, seeing that no union was possible with the other party,
began to talk of separating themselves and having a church and
society entirely independent of the rest of the town^ It will be
remembered that they were a majority of the church members,
were nearly equal in number to their opponents as voters in
town-meeting, and had tried in vain to be allowed to become a
distinct precinct. Had they been permitted to do this they could
have had a legal parish organization, and been relieved from the
necessity of paying to support the town church and its minister,
when one was settled. This would have been the most equita-
ble method of settlement. If the two parties could thus be sep-
arated, each supporting a minister and worship of its own, there
might be peace. When the old Scotch minister remonstrated
with a parishioner and his wife who were notoriously quarrel-
some, and said, pointing to the dog and cat dozing peaceably on
the hearth, " Ye might tak a lesson from the dog and cat, and
live in peace," the ready answer came, "Ah ! but ye ken they're
na tied the githery So our two factions might have lived peace-


ably as independent churches ; but they were thus far tied to-
gether, — held by the bonds of State and ecclesiastical regula-
tions now happily outgrown. Mr. Prentice's party proposed a
divorce ; but the town, as we have seen, would not grant it,
claiming that they were not strong enough to support two
churches, and insisting that the minority party should come
into the support of the town church. We shall see in the next
chapter the trouble this legalized injustice leads to. Meantime,
and notwithstanding the majority's attempts at coercion, the
minority take steps for permanent separation. They begin to
revive a question once entertained as to the relative merits of
the Presbyterian and Congregational systems. Mr. Prentice, in
September, makes this record : —

** Now the Chh being tyred out & quit Discouraged from making
any further attempts for accommodation & Reunion In yf way and
method of Disapline we are in, Esq. Hayward and his party being
Deafe to all Reasonable and Scriptural Methods of accommodation
as it appears to the Chh, the Chh Reasume their former Motions
Relating to Pressbyterian Disapline."

October 17, the church adhering to Mr. Prentice votes "to
Renounce and come off from ye broken Congregational Consti-
tution, and Declare for and come in with the Disapline and
order of the Ancient and Renowned chh of Scotland." It is
also voted to " set apart a Day for solemn Fasting, with Prayer,
in their own Meeting House," and to invite ministers from the
Presbytery to assist them. Captain Leonard and Henry How-
ard are despatched to the Presbytery at Londonderry, New
Hampshire, meet with a kind reception, and bring back a fa-
vorable answer. November 2, the Prentice church-party decide
that since " the chh have Voted a Change of their Ecclesiasti-
cal Government, and no hope Remains of glorifying God, serv-
ing Relidgion, or advancing the Weal of this place, but the
Reverse, by Our attending the Publick worship & Ordinances
in the Towne Meeting house any Longer, — This Chh look
upon itt Duty, and accordingly agree that the Next Sabath
shall be the last Day We will attend the Publick worship in
said House ; and publick Mention to be made thereof in the
close y*^ Exercise of s*? Sab^!", and that thence forward we will



attend the Publick Worship & Ordinances in the Pressbyterian
Meeting House in Easton."

They also voted that a statement of reasons for their action
should be prepared and read to the congregation on the follow-
ing Sabbath, November 5, 1752, the last Sabbath on which
Mr. Prentice would preach at the Centre. This was a deeply
interesting occasion. The final step was to be taken, fraught,
as all could see, with very important consequences to all con-
cerned. The statement was read at the close of the afternoon
services, and is as follows : —

" Brethren of y^ Chh, & Inhabitants of the Town of Easton : God
that Rules in heaven & Earth, & orders Every man's Lott, Bro't about
the settlement of yf Gospel, Minister, and Ordanances in this place
about Five Years Since, and Care was taken in & by this Chh that
Religion, good Order, & government might be promoted and main-
taini* here ; that the Gospel Basis on which this Chh was then setled
might be made strong & sound. And the chh had Rest, and we Re-
joyced in the hapy prospect of y.* Increase of Godliness, peace, &
truth, with holiness, among us.

" But the same spirit that Envy^ the hapyness of our first Parents in
Paradice, Seeing, also Envyed our Comfortable state, and Rallying his
artillery against us Left not off plying the same 'till he was suffer^
awfully to succeed, to the sore disappointing our growing Expecta-
tions, the sad distruction of peace & truth and Brotherly love, and the
Blasting the Religious CEconemy, growing happyness, and tranquillity
of the Place.

"That We who had even but one heart and one Interest are
now Necessitated to become Two bands. Things being Reduced
to such a sad & Lamatable state among us, the Chh here Reas-
sumed their former inclinations of Compareing & Weighing Con-
gregational and Presbyterian Ecclessiastical government, and upon
mature Delibaration & repeated Supplycations to the God of Wis-
dom for direction in this matter, and much loveing Conversation
had together there upon, Came into the following Votes & unanimos
conclusions, viz : —

" I. To Come off from the broken Congregational Ecclesiastical
Constitution, and declare for and Come in with the Disapline and
order of the Ancient & Renown'.' Chh of Scoiiiand.

" 2. That the next Sabath, which will be the Fifth Day of Novem-
ber — famous in the annals of time for the Whole Nations Delivery


from Ante christian Tyranny & Oppression — Shall be the Last Sab-
ath we propose to attend the Publick Worship of God in the Tovvne
Meeting House, But thence forward to att? the Publick Worship and
Ordanances of the Gospel in the Presbyterian Meeting house in
Easton, For the Reasons following, Viz."

Then follow the special reasons, the substance of which has
already been given. The document thus concludes : —

"And the beholding the unhappy Jarrs and Contentions in this
chh and Town, Occasion f Specialy by the stating a place for the at-
tending Publick Worship, and a part of y? chh & Peoples, together
with the Conduct of some others (whom we should have Look^ for
better things from) in Manageing the Unhapy Strife Among us, has
been a Means of opening our Eyes, and Even of Constraining of us
to Search ' till we have seen good and sufficient reason to Conclude
upon the alteration of Our Disapline as in the foregoing account.

" More over Brethren, we would Now Enform you in the Bowels of
Jesus Christ that we are not Come into the foregoing Conclusions
from a Sismatical, Divisive Spirit, but purely from Necessity, and to
promote truth, peace, good order, and the advancement of the glori-
ous Kingdom of our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ among us
& Else where.

" Constantly Wishing & praying there for, and that We all might live
in Love, that the God of Love & peace might perpetually dwell among
us all, and that his glorious Kingdom may be advanc? every where,
that the Whole Earth may be full of his Glory. Amen." ^

This statement was read in church, November 5, 1752. Un-
der the date of the next day the following entry was made in the
town records by the town-clerk : —

"Yester Day Being Lords Day, mr prentes preacht the Last or
fare well sermon in the Towns meeting house, and sayd that we shuld
se his fase nor hear his voise nomore in that hous as menestor."

Mr. Prentice, as before stated, had given to his society some
land for their meeting-house to stand upon. Though the deed
was executed at a later date, it is desirable to print it here ; it
is as follows : —

1 Old Church Records.



To all people to whorae These presents shall Come, Greeting :
Know ye that I, Solomon Printice, of Easton, in ye County of Bristol,
in his majesties province of ye massachusetts Bay, in New England,
Clerk, for Divers Good Causes me moving There unto, more Especially
for ye Love and Good will I Bare too, and ye Desire I have for, ye
advancement of ye KingDom of Jesus Christ in ye Groath & flourish-
ing of ye Prispeterian Society which usually meet in Easton afforesd
for ye worship of God, with which I am fully Satisfied and Contented,
& thereof and of Every part & parcell Thereof Do Exonerate, acquit,
& Discharge unto Eliphelet Leonard, Gentleman, Benjamin Kinsely,
yeoman, James Pratt, Junr., mill Right, all of Easton, in y*"" County
afforesd, and George Hayward, yeoman, and John Kennedy, Both
of Bridgewater in y? County of Plymouth in ye province afforesd,
which five men above named was Chosen & Deputed by ye sd Pris-
beterian society, usually meeting in Easton afforesd, a Committe, or
Trustees, for this following purpose, have Given, Grantd, Bargained,
Sold, aliend, Conveyed, & Confirmed, and by these presents Do freely,
fully, and absolutely Give, Grant, Bargain, Sell, Aliene, Convey, and
Confirm unto ye said Eliphelet Leonard, Benjamin Kinsley, James
Pratt, Junr., George Hayward, and John Kenedy, The said Comitt,
or trustees, for said Prisbeterian society, and there Constituants,
and to all that are or hereafter may be members of said Prisbe-
terian Society, and shall act for & Bare there part in supporting said
Society and y^ worship of God There in, & to there heirs for Ever
and to no other, A Certain Tract or parcell of Land Situate, Lying,
and being in Easton afforesd, on which y^ meeting house in which
y^ said Prisbeterian Society now meet for ye publick worship of
God now stands, and adjoyning There unto. Containing about half
an acre, —

To have and to hold ye sd Granted & Bargained premises, with
all ye appurtenances, priviledges, & Commodities to y*" same belong-
ing or in any wise Appertaining to Them, ye sd Eliphelet Leonard,
Benj? Kinsley, James Pratt, Junr, George Hayward, and John Kenedy,
There heirs and assigns, for ye only use & Benefitt of ye Society
afforesd forEver.

Fur there more, I ye said Solomon Prentice, for my selfe, my heirs,
Excer & admr. Do Covenant & Engage ye above Devised premises to
them, — the said Eliphelet Leonard, Benj!' Kinsley, James Pratt, Jun^,
George Hayward, & John Kennedy, there heirs and assigns, — as only
for ye use and Benefitt of the Society afforsd, against ye Lawfull Claims


or Demands of any person or persons what so Ever, for Ever here
after to warrant, Serve, & Defend by there presents. In witnes where-
unto, I ye sd Solomon Prentice have here-unto Set my hand & Seal,
This Twenty Second Day of October, annoque Domini, One Thousand
Seven hundred and fifty Three, And in ye Twenty Seventh year of
his present majesties Reign.

Signed, sealed, & Delivered SOLOMON PrentiCE.

in presence of

David Dunbar,

John Turner.^

After their public declaration of principles Mr. Prentice's
church worshipped in their own unfinished meeting-house, sit-
uated on the Green. Several of the members lived over the
town line, in Bridgewater. The rules and usages of the church
are made to conform to the Presbyterian order. Meetings are
held at private houses, in different parts of the town, for instruc-
tion in the catechism. Four elders are chosen ; namely, Dea.
Robert Randall, Nathaniel Perry, Henry Howard, and Samuel
Hartwell. Mr. Hartwell lived across the Bridgewater line. Mr.
Perry lived in the extreme westerly part of the town ; but he was
a pious church-member who was greatly interested in the earnest
religious spirit of his minister, and notwithstanding that he lived
so far away he attended the East meeting-house, and cast in his
lot with the Presbyterians. We find that Mr. Prentice enjoyed
his new associations under the Presbyterian order of things, that
he went to other towns and preached to the quickening of their
congregations, and awakened new religious interest among his
own people ; but, alas ! the clouds were thickening over his de-
voted head. March 17, 1753, he records this melancholy obser-
vation : " There then followed a most distresing & Dying time
in Easton." It is probable that this refers to the social animosi-
ties not yet ended, and to the religious decline naturally conse-
quent upon the three years of discord through which they had
passed. Mr. Prentice was certainly having a hard time of it.
The town had just refused to pay his salary for six months,
from April, 1752, which was really due him, as during that time
he had preached in the town meeting-house. In addition to
this, the town chose a committee to begin an action against

1 Bristol County Deeds, book xli. p. 44.


him "for his Breach of covenant or contract," and to recover
damages for the same. Deprived of his salary, for which he
was obliged to sue the town, his own people forced by law to
pay taxes for the town church from which they had separated,
sued at law for a breach of contract, coldly shunned by some
and insulted by others, — we can easily understand the sorrow
and bitterness of his heart as he wrote the words, " There then
followed a most distresing & Dying time in Easton." Soon
afterward one of his best friends and supporters died, as we
see by the record : —

"July 31. Dear Bror Henry Howard, lately chosen an Elder in
this chh, Died, to the great Loss of his Famaly, Pastor, and chh.
Lord Sanctifie itt to us all, and prepare us all for thy Holy Pleasure."

But other and greater troubles are in store for the unfortunate
minister. One can bear opposition and ill treatment in the
world, if he is sure of hearty sympathy at home. But, alas for
Mr. Prentice ! his wife was wholly at variance with him upon
the one subject that interested him more than all others, — that
of religion. She had a mind and will of her own, over both of
which this strong-willed husband had no control. She had con-
victions as decided as his, which were formed after careful study ;
and no domestic considerations, public scandal, or regard for
her husband's standing and influence could make her swerve
from following those convictions to their ultimate results. Her
maiden name was Sarah Sartell. She was daughter of Nathaniel
and Sarah Sartell, who had come to this country from England
or Scotland, about 1719. Mr. Sartell was a man of considerable
wealth, and he determined to give his daughter the best possible
education. He therefore sent her to England, where she was
educated in a convent. Besides the ordinary studies then pur-
sued, she became skilful at embroidery. " Some of her needle-
work embroidery is still preserved in the hands of her descend-
ants, the colors as fresh as they ever were."^ She was decidedly
religious in her nature, took much interest in theological ques-
tions, and was a careful student of the Bible, being able it is said
to quote any part of it. What an excellent helpmeet for a min-
ister, provided that, like a dutiful wife, she has no opinions of her
1 N. E. Historical and Genealogical Register, vol. vi. p. 274.



own and submissively accepts those of her husband ! With no
misgivings on that score, Mr. Prentice, October 6, 1732, made
her his wife. What mutual studies, what comparison of ideas,
what discussions they may have had at home, we cannot say ;
but we know that in less than a year after he began his ministry
in Easton, she had declared against the government and doc-
trines of the Congregational Church, at that time very dear to
him. This appears in his record in the church book of the
baptism of his son Solomon. It is as follows : —

" Solomon Prentice, Son of Solomon & Sarah Prentice. Ipsa Dis-
sentiente de constitutione & dissaplina Ecclessiarum Nov. Anglarum.
. . . Aug: 14, 1748."^

It must have been particularly trying in those days for the
minister to have his wife an open dissenter from the church
order and belief that he was doing his best to uphold. But
something far more mortifying was in store for Mr. Prentice.
Various causes were working to create opposition to the estab-
lished order of things in religious matters. People were tired of
being compelled to support a form of faith and worship with
which they had no sympathy. There was also — partly as a re-
sult of Whitefield's influence — considerable fermenting going on
in the religious opinions and feelings of the time. There were
sometimes extravagant and fanatical manifestations of a dissent-
ing spirit. The phase it took here (to be more particularly
described in another chapter) was what was then called " Ana-
baptism." This term simply means rebaptism, — its advocates
maintaining that infant baptism was unscriptural and of no
avail. Many other beliefs connected themselves with this, and
the Anabaptists in Easton affirmed that any converted man,
though unlicensed and unordained, might preach and baptize, etc.
Rational as this idea seems to be in itself, it nevertheless opened
the way for much fanaticism, and was particularly obnoxious to
the upholders of the New England orthodoxy. What then, but
the defection of the minister himself, could have caused greater
excitement than his wife's adoption of Anabaptist opinions and
her rebaptism by an unordained layman ? The story is told, and

1 " She is a dissenter from the constitution and doctrine of the New England
churches." — Baptis7nal records in the Old Church Book,


his disgust and intense indignation expressed, in the following
significant record of his daughter's baptism : —

Mary Prentice, Daughter of Solomon & Sarah Prentice. Ipsa

Anna baptista ; Immersa Indignissimo Laico, Viz., ,

Decemb' 5, 1750, absente marito. Aug' 25. 1751.-^

It will be observed that he wisely omitted the name of the
layman who had immersed his wife. He was too angry and dis-
gusted to be present at the ceremony. Bitter cup indeed for
the minister to drink ! — his wife deserting his church, and, cul-
tivated lady as she is, led into the water and immersed " indig-
nissimo laico," — immersed in midwinter too ! What greater
tribulation can he have ? We need no evidence to convince us
that his parish are indignant, and that his wife is talked about in
angry fashion. She is too much in earnest, however, in her
religious consecration to be much disturbed by it all. Mr.
Prentice had his way about the baptism of his daughter, for it
was done against his wife's newly adopted principles ; but she
will have influence enough with him to induce him to allow her
fellow Baptists to hold meetings in his house, — and this will be
the cause of his ecclesiastical undoing in the town of Easton.

How long these meetings were held in Mr. Prentice's house
cannot now be told ; but when it became known that he allowed
the heretical Baptists to meet for prayer and exhortation beneath
his roof, and was even known to speak of them with respect as
" fellow Christians," some of his own friends remonstrated with
him. But he could see nothing wrong in his course, and regarded
them as narrow and bigoted. In retaliation for his conduct he
is forbidden by his church to celebrate the sacrament of the
Lord's Supper, as we see by this record: "Our Sac' to be
25 Novr, but it was put By Because I Rec'^ and entain'! some
Strangers into my house & heart that I am apt to think are
Sev'f of the Most high God. On which account our peace and
unity seems to be strangely broken." It is evident from this
record that Mr. Prentice was liberal in his religious sympathies.
His elders and some of his people, though dissenters themselves,

1 " She is an Anabaptist. She was immersed by a most despicable layman,

namely , December 5, 1750, her husband being absent." — Baptismal

records of the Old Church Book.


believed in drawing the line at Presbyterianism. For nearly a
year he is not allowed to hold the sacrament of Communion,

Online LibraryWilliam L. (William Ladd) ChaffinHistory of the town of Easton, Massachusetts (Volume 3) → online text (page 13 of 78)