William L. (William Ladd) Chaffin.

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

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In March, 1754, "in hopes," he writes, "of easing things among
us, that we might go on quietly to ye administra'n and enjoy-
ment of all Gospel ordinances among us," two new elders are
chosen. They are Eliphalet Leonard and James Pratt, Jr. But
as his dear friend Elder Howard had died, so now early in July
"Elder Pratt Died, at Taunton, to the surprize and Greife of all
his freinds, especially chh & Pastor." In August a fast is ap-
pointed " to Intreat of Almighty God to show us why he is thus
contending with us."

Evidently Mr. Prentice's troubles continue and thicken about
him. He is obliged to have recourse to a lawsuit to get his
just pay of the town, and his winning the case causes much
bitter feeling among his townsmen. His own people, forced as
they are by law to pay taxes for the maintenance of the town
church, can give him but a meagre support, and some of them
are now lukewarm towards him. Besides, as we shall see in the
next chapter, the town has voted to call a pastor for the town
church, and the two factions are violently at war again. To the
renewed remonstrances of his church-members against his allow-
ing the dissenting Baptists to hold prayer-meetings at his house,
he replied that these persons were Christians, and that not only
would he not forbid them, but he would pray with them as fellow
Christians. Incensed at this, the church complain to the Pres-
bytery, and that august body is summoned to Easton, where,
November 12, 1754, they hold a session, and Mr. Prentice is
summoned before the elders and ministers. We have seen much
in him to criticise, but let us honor his courage and his devotion
to his convictions at this critical time. Knowing the danger of
his suspension from the ministry by these narrow-minded eccle-
siastics, he nevertheless defends his position : he will not deny
his sympathy and fellowship to those he thinks to be Christians,
merely because their opinions differ from his own. The Pres-
bytery give him the option of changing his course or being
suspended. Knowing he has done right, he will make no
acknowledgment of sorrow, and will promise no change of action.
He is accordingly suspended. Let us hear his story in his own
words : —


"Novl" 12, 1754. The Presbytery Mett at Easton According to ap-
point' And on Nov. 13, the Presbytery Clerk, V Order, Read a Vote
of Presbytery Concerning S. Prentice, Pastor of yf chh in Easton,
(which they gave him no Copy off), to this purpose, Viz., that Because
I had Reef a few of my fellow Creatures (and fellow Christians as far
as I know) into my House, & Suffer'^, them to Pray and talk about the
Scriptures, & Could not make any Acknowledgement there for to some
of my Brethren that were offended there att, nor to the Presbytery,
that he the s"! S. Prentice be Suspended from the Discharge of his
Publick Ministry Untill the Presbytery meet again, Next April.

" And because by s"^ Vote I was Deprived of y^ small Subsistance I
had among my People at Easton, I thot it Neccessary, for the Hon]" of
God and good of my famaly, to Remove with my famaly to Grafton ;
which accordingly was Done, April g^^, 1755.

" N. B. I have never heard a word from the Presbytery, Neither by
Letter Nor other wise. Nor they from me, from the Day of my Suspen-
sion to this Day; Viz., Sep'' 5, 1755."^

It is interesting to notice that the power which Mr. Prentice
invoked for aid against the town party proved his ultimate eccle-
siastical ruin in Easton. He had rebelled against the "broken
Congregational order," and he fell a victim to the stricter order
he had chosen as a substitute. Thus ended his troubled and
exciting career as minister in Easton.

One of Mr. Prentice's principal trials during the last year of
his ministry in Easton was the call by the town party of the
Rev. George Farrar as minister of the town church. The con-
troversy growing out of this call is reserved for another chapter,
because Mr. Prentice, being already in trouble with some of his
own people, does not take an active part in it, making no allu-
sion to it in his church record, and because also this contest
forms a distinct topic and extends in time long beyond his stay
in Easton. He was a man of marked intellectual and executive
ability. Most of the papers presented to the General Court by
his party are in his handwriting, are undoubtedly his compo-
sitions, and are skilfully drawn up. He had a deeply religious
nature ; and if he was sometimes betrayed into the use of in-
temperate language, he was nevertheless excellent and pious as a
man and minister. We cannot but admire his religious liber-

1 Old Church Records.


ality, which welcomed to his sympathy sincere Christians who
were condemned as heretics by the dominant orthodoxy. It
must be admitted, however, that his conduct in the great con-
tention that has been described was not a consistent one. He
began by favoring the location of the meeting-house at the
Centre, and ended by refusing to preach in it : his defence was
that it was his duty to obey the instructions of his church rather
than the vote of the town. Concerning the real merits of this
memorable controversy opinions should be cautiously formed, as
we are not in possession of all the facts. There is no doubt,
however, that, on the main question of the location of the meet-
ing-house, the East End and North End party were in the
wrong : and this was the root of the whole trouble. As to the
manner of conducting this affair, very little can be said to
the credit of either party.

Mr. Prentice made his home in Grafton after leaving Easton ;
but he preached for a short time in Bellingham and other places,
and for a longer time at Hull. He went to Hull in the spring of
1758 and remained four years, having re-established his Congre-
gational church relations. He went back to his home and his
farm in Grafton in 1772. May 22, 1773, "he fell asleep in
expectation of a glorious immortality." Mrs. Prentice died
August 28, 1792, at her son John's house in Ward, now Auburn,
and her remains were buried by the side of her husband's grave
in the old burying-ground at Grafton.

Mr. Prentice had a family of ten children. Eight of them
were born in Grafton, and two of them — the second Solomon, and
Mary — were born in Easton. It is interesting to know that
one of these children, Nathaniel Prentice, was the grandfather
of Gen. Nathaniel Prentice Banks. General Banks's grand-
mother was Martha Howard, a daughter of Joshua Howard,
who in 1 77 1 made more cider, paid a larger tax, and was more
of a farmer than any other man in Easton. Joshua Howard
was of the party opposed to Mr. Prentice, and it was at his
house — a large house on the site of which Mr. Finley now lives —
that the councils adverse to the minister met. Nathaniel Pren-
tice taught school in Easton one term in 1752, at the age of
seventeen years ; and for this service his father received the sum
of one pound, six shillings, lawful money, besides his board.


Perhaps Martha was one of his scholars. They were both of the
same age, were not estranged by the quarrel that divided their
fathers, kept each other in loving remembrance for three years
after Nathaniel left town, and were married October 13, 1757,

Henry, the third son of Solomon Prentice, enlisted in the
French and Indian War. In July, 1760, he was taken sick at
Crown Point, where he remained an invalid until October 20 ;
he was then brought home to Grafton with considerable diffi-
culty and expense, and it was two months after his arrival be-
fore he was able to dispense with a nurse. He was barely
eighteen years old then. His father petitioned to the General
Court for an allowance to be made on account of this trouble
and expense, and the Court granted him four pounds, fifteen

Solomon Prentice, Jr., the only son of Mr, Prentice who was
born in Easton, finally moved to Edenton, N. C, and died
there ; and Mary, the only daughter born in Easton, married
Amos Binney, of Hull, May 31, 1770, and became the maternal
ancestor of a somewhat distinguished family.

Mr. Prentice's suspension from the ministry in Easton did not
cause the Presbyterian society to disband. It remained under
the care of the Presbytery, and soon gathered strength for an-
other vigorous struggle with the town church. This forms the
third and closing campaign in that memorable ecclesiastical
conflict, whose evil results show how much religion sometimes
suffers in the house of its friends.





Attempts of the Town to get Preaching "without Money and
WITHOUT Price." — The New Candidate. — Birth and Ances-
try. — His Courting. — The Church Conflict deepens. — Pres-
byterians and Baptists protest against the Ordination. —
They Appeal to the General Court, but without Avail. —
They must pay to support a Church and Minister they do
not believe in. — Death of Mr. Farrar. — The Presbyterians
give up the Contest. — Religion at a Discount in Easton.

THE final separation of the East and North End party from
the town church took place November 5, 1752. For the
rest of this year and throughout the next, the town raised money
for the supply of the pulpit. The Rev. Samuel Vesey, of Hull,
and the Rev. Mr. Vinal supplied for some time. Having got what
preaching from them it could, the town refused to pay them for
it. Joshua Howard took pity on Mr. Vesey and advanced him
his pay, which he afterwards recovered of the town by a law-
suit. Mr. Vinal, after long waiting in vain for his money, sued
the town and received his just dues. Such transactions do not
reflect much honor upon the town ; but an understanding of the
exact facts of the case will modify our censure, and show to
whom the blame belongs. The town was nearly evenly divided
between the contesting parties. It was only by a small majority
that the town-church party could get a vote to have preaching
at all in the church at the Centre ; but while they would thus
vote and thereby gain their way, when it came to voting money
for this purpose, a few of their number through indifference
would absent themselves, or decline to vote, and thus lose to the
town-church party its small majority. The Presbyterians voted
against such appropriations as a matter of conscience as well as
personal interest ; most of the town-church party voted for them


for the same and other reasons ; and the failure to pay is there-
fore to be charged upon the indifferent few, who cared Httle or
nothing for the reHgious interests of the town.

On the 20th day of January, 1754, a young man, twenty-three
years of age, preached in Easton as a candidate for settlement.
His name was George Farrar ; and as he was the next minister
of Easton, it is well to learn something about his antecedents.
Two old interleaved almanacs which he kept as note-books
furnish us with most of the desired information, some of it of a
curious kind.

George Farrar the third, the son of George Farrar, Jr., and
Mary Barrett, his wife, was born in Lincoln (then a part of Con-
cord), Mass., November 23, 1730. He graduated at Harvard
University in 175 1. There was no Divinity School then con-
nected with the College, and young men usually prepared for the
pulpit by studying divinity with some minister, frequently teach-
ing school at the same time. For most of the time between his
graduation and his beginning to preach, Mr. Farrar taught
school at Dighton, Mass. He does not appear to have lived in
the minister's family, as he boarded at different places, usually
about six weeks at each, and his study of divinity may have con-
sisted almost wholly of the reading of theological books, perhaps
under the direction of some clergyman.

One thing is sure, — George Farrar had good ministerial
blood in his veins, for he was a descendant of Dr. Robert Farrar,
Bishop of St. David's in England, who on March 30, 1555, in
the reign of Queen Mary, bore witness to his faith by a bloody
martyrdom. The first of the family to come to this country was
Jacob Farrar, who was born in England about 1642, came to
Lancaster, Mass., about 1658, and was killed by the Indians in
King Philip's War, August 22, 1675. His son George, grand-
father of George Farrar, of Easton, was born August 16, 1670,
was taken to Concord, Mass., when six years old, soon after his
father's death, and brought up by a farmer, a Mr. Globe. When
twenty-one years of age he had a quarter of a dollar in his pocket
as his capital wherewith to start in life. He called his associ-
ates together and spent this quarter on a " treat," saying that he
meant "to begin the world square," September 9, 1692, he
married Mary Howe; he died May 15, 1760. His son, George



Farrar, Jr., was born February 16, 1705, and lived in that part
of Concord which is now Lincohi. He married Mary Barrett of
Concord, she being born April 6, 1706.

March 11, 1753, George Farrar the third joined the church at
Dighton, and made in his note-book the following record there-
of : " Martii undecimo publice renunciavi Diabolum & omnia
opera Iniquitatis, & fui admissus in Ecclesiam Christi in Digh-
ton." Mr. Farrar, it seems, was very susceptible to the charms
of the other sex, and his note-book of 1753 contains an account
of his visits to various young ladies. He appears to have been
interested in three different ones in rapid succession, but finally
transferred his attentions to a fourth, of whom he became a most
constant and faithful lover, visiting her thirty-seven times in the
space of ten months. He has made a record in Latin of the
date and number of each visit, and he leaves us no room to
doubt either the fervor of his affection or the enjoyment of his
visits. These records present a curious study to the antiquarian,
for whose interest the first one is given here: "Feb. i. I went
to Berkly to the marriage of Jonath" Babbett and Eliz'^ Talbut,
et vexi mecum HI T' sororem nupte, et pernoctavi cum ilia
magna cum voluptate." The explanation of this record may be
found by reference to the then customary method of courting,
which, however opposed to the good judgment and taste of the
present time, was once considered proper and admissible. That
courting was not out of order on Fast Day in the olden time,
appears from this note by Mr. Farrar: "April 19 was a public
fast thro' the Provence, et nocte visi octavo meam bene am-t-m."
It is interesting to note the changes of his feeling as time went
on and courting became an old story. At first his lady is vieam
procain, " my lady love ; " then meam bene amatain, " my dearly
beloved," as on Fast Day. But these terms of endearment grad-
ually drop out of the record, and after awhile he makes a busi-
ness-like statement like this: November ye 12, visi 37 mo, —
"Nov. 12, I visited for the 37th time." What happened then
we do not know, but henceforth he has another "procam meam."
Her name is Sarah Dean, daughter of Nathan and Elizabeth
(Nicholson) Dean, of Norton. She became an orphan when
about three years old, and was then taken into the family of the
Rev. Joseph Avery, where Mr. Farrar became acquainted with



her.^ He married her June 2, 1756 ; and about two months later,
she not then being of age, he was appointed her guardian, — a
rather singular relationship to subsist between a man and his wife.

Having taught school about two years at Dighton, reading
theology meanwhile, he on December 16, 1753, tried his hand
for the first time at preaching, — giving a sermon from the text,
"Love not the world," etc., ist Epistle of John, ii., 15. He
soon gained confidence enough to preach as a candidate, and
came to Easton for that purpose January 20, 1754, as already
stated. Having preached fourteen Sundays on trial, the town
voted, April 22, 1754, to concur with the church in giving him
a call. This was of course the " church " of the town party,
they claiming that the other church members, though a majority,
had " gone out from " the real historic " Church of Christ in
Easton." The sum of ^106 13^-. 8d was voted "for his Inco-
rigement for his seteling ; " and he was also to be allowed the
" Leberty of his giting his firewood of from the Menesteral
Land." His salary was to be s£s3 6i". 8d. Mr. Farrar had
received a little private " Incorigement " prior to this call ; for
he gratefully records the fact that on April 5 Edward Hayward,
Esq., presented him with a pair of gloves, and James Dean gave
him " a pistoreine," a gift of seventeen cents !

This call of Mr. Farrar was the occasion of a new and exciting
conflict between the Presbyterian and the town church. Three
weeks after the call. May 13, 1754, Eliphalet Leonard and forty-
seven other men addressed a vigorous and spicy letter to the
newly called minister, — a letter not at all calculated to flatter
the young man's vanity, or to promise him peace and quietness
in his work. " Fearing thro your youth and unacquaintedness
with men," they sarcastically write, "you might be inveigled by
flattery & smooth tongues to engage yourself to them through
inadvertency, we fear there is danger of being committed to your
watch & care," etc. They entreat of him "by no means to
think of settling in the work of the ministry in Easton, for the
following reasons among others which may be mentioned att
another time if these are not effectual : " —

" I. Because, from the Little we have known or heard of your publick
performances and private Conduct, We dont look upon you by any
1 See Clarke's History of Norton, p. 370.



means Capable off or Qualified for the great & most Solemn work of
the Gospel ministry in this place.

" 2. We cant but look upon you to be a man full of a party spirit, or
you would have taken some oppertunity to have visited some of us
since you have been in Easton.

" 3. Because we have a minister already settled among us whom we
Love & Value, whose ministry we sitt under.

" 4. Because we hope the Rod of the wicked will not alwaie Rest on
the Lott of the Righteous ; and if ever Justice should take place, and
all those that have a right by Law to act in Town affairs & no others
be allowed, you may depend upon it beforehand you '11 have no sup-
port granted by the Town ; and in the meantime you must not look to
have any support from us, or any of us, more than what comes by the
force of the Law.

"These things. Dear Sr., we look upon our Duty out of tenderness
to your selfe, our selves & children, to lay before you to consider of ;
and if these dont prove available to your Refusing to take the care &
oversight of our souls and the souls of our children (which we shall
persist in refusing to committ to your care as a minister), we trust we
shall have an Oppertunity to show you more to our minds at some
other time in this important affair.

" While we Subscribe yours, concern*? for you, ourselves and chil-
dren." 1

Forty-eight men signed their names to this paper.
There is another protest presented to him by seven men who
are dissenting Baptists. It is as follows : —

To Mr. George Farrar :

We, the Subscribers dwellers in Easton, haveing heard the Town
have given you a call to settle among them in the way and manner as
they have, — We the Subscribers bear our open & joint publick testi-
mony against any Ministers being maintained by Rate, which we ap-
prehend contrary to ye Gospel of the meek and Lowly Jesus, And
if these reasons herein given are not sufficient to Discourage you from
settling here, We hope we shall have further oppertunity to give you
such reasons as Will.

John Finney. Joseph Jones.

Eben^ Jones. John Asten.

Peter Soulard. Josiah Allen.

Simeon Babbitt." ^

^ State Papers, vol. xiii. pp. 72S, 729. 2 ibid., p. 730.



In the sarcastic references of the first of these communica-
tions, and in the peremptory tone of both, one may find a spirit
quite as "contrary to ye Gospel of the meek and Lowly Jesus"
as that implied in a minister " being maintained by Rate."

Just at this stage of the contention things came to a stand-
still for awhile. Mr. Farrar, young as he was, had sufficient
discretion to pause and await the issue of the new contest that
was gathering. Without accepting his call at once, he con-
tinued to preach in Easton until the middle of August. His
delay in accepting caused a temporary quiet. The Presby-
terians began to think their bold tone had intimidated him,
and nothing further was done in the matter through the year
1754. Mr. Farrar preached at Winchester, New Hampshire,
for about three months, and then on November 24 returned to
Easton. He had carefully deliberated upon the matter of his
call, and on January 18, 1755, he sent to the town and church
the following acceptance: —

To the CJmt'ch of Christ and Congregation in Easton :

Honored and Beloved, — Having taken under serious considera-
tion your call given me to settle with you in the sacred ministry among
you, I hereby manifest my acceptation of your invitation upon the
terms therein proposed.

George Farrar.
Easton, January ye 18th, 1755.

There is a town-meeting February 20 to make arrangements
for the ordination. At this meeting the opposing parties are
quite evenly balanced. A committee is chosen " to provide for
the Council " that must meet to ordain the new minister. But
when the question of raising money for the needful expenses
is broached, the opposition prevails ; the proposal to raise forty
pounds in money for that purpose is voted down, as also that to
raise twenty-five pounds. Hoping to do better at another meet-
ing, the town party procure an adjournment. But the Presby-
terians are on the alert, and at the adjourned meeting, March 3,
they drum up their forces and prevent the raising of any money
for the object named. Notwithstanding this, the town party are
determined to ordain their minister. Benjamin Williams agrees
to advance the money to provide for the entertainment of the



council, and to run his risk of collecting it of the town. The
council accordingly is called, and meets March 26. The Pres-
byterian party send a committee to it with a long, spirited, and
well written remonstrance against the ordination of Mr. Farrar.
They argue that the rest of the church have no right to put a
minister over them whom they will be called upon to support, —
"no more right," they say, "to choose our spiritual food than our
bodily food." They claim to be a majority of the church, and
insist that the others are the " separatists." " We are of a
different persuasion," they remonstrate ; "and hence the gross
injustice of settling over us, & making us pay for, a man we do
not want and whose doctrines we do not believe." Upon this
point they argue in quite stirring and eloquent language, for in
this they had the plainest justice on their side. It was cer-
tainly unjust to compel them to pay taxes to support a church
in whose doctrines and polity they did not believe, especially
when they were already contributing to the support of their
own church and minister. This was in the days when Church
and State were practically one in New England ; and in Easton,
as in other places, there were numerous instances of persons
who were to some degree victims of this legalized ecclesiastical
tyranny. Hanging and banishment for religious reasons were
not practised in Plymouth Colony, but persons were often forced
to support the established churches to which they were consci-
entiously opposed or in which they had no interest. This was
the case with our Easton Presbyterians. They were supporting
their own church, and yet they were by law forced to help sup-
port another that was repugnant to them. They confess to the
council that the civil law will compel them to do this, but they
beg that the council "will not sanction such flagrant injustice &
infamous oppression, even if the action would be upheld by the
civil lavv,"i This paper is headed by Eliphalet Leonard and
signed by over sixty others, including most of the residents of
the east and northeast parts of the town.

But what was the council to do ? There was no minister set-
tled over either church at this time. Mr. Prentice, though he
was a resident, was under ecclesiastical suspension, and did not
officiate as minister even to his own church. The town church

Online LibraryWilliam L. (William Ladd) ChaffinHistory of the town of Easton, Massachusetts (Volume 3) → online text (page 14 of 78)