William L. (William Ladd) Chaffin.

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mistake. He served thirty-two weeks and three days,^ but
where he served is uncertain. There was very little active
service rendered this year ; the French power in America was

In Captain Abel Keen's company were the following from
Easton : ^ —

Name. Enlisted. Discharged.

William Keith March 27 November 20

Luke Keith ,,27 ,, 20

Edward Kingman ,,27 ,, i

Edmund Andrews ,,27 ,, i

At the same date Thomas Drake enlisted under Capt. Josiah
Dunbar, and was discharged November 18.* In the company of
Capt. Timothy Hammant there were in 1762^ —

Name. Enlisted. Discharged.

Samuel Drake March 24 November r

Thomas Fling ,,24 ,, 19

Ebenezer Hayden ,,24 ,, 19

And the Easton records of enlistments very appropriately end
with the notice of the re-enlistment, the next day after being
mustered out of service, of our diminutive John Mears, who
served under Captain Hammant until June 3, 1763, being the

^ State Archives, Muster Rolls, vol. xcix. p. 187. 2 ibid., p. 190.

8 Ibid., pp. 197, 225. * Ibid., p. 237. ^ ibid., p. 204.



last Easton soldier to leave the service.^ He will be known in
later years, after serving through the Revolutionary War, as
" General Mears," though he never aspired to an office higher
than that of a drummer.

Easton shared with other towns in New England in taking
care of the French inhabitants who were so cruelly expatriated
from Nova Scotia, This painful episode of the French and In-
dian War is familiar to most of our readers.^ The French pro-
vince of Acadia in Nova Scotia was occupied by the English in
1755. The French inhabitants, refusing to take the oath of al-
legiance to England, were banished from their homes and scat-
tered through the colonies, — men, women, and children. Their
houses also were burned and their farms laid waste. Francis
Parkman, the historian, has recently (1885) endeavored to ex-
plain this transaction on the ground that it was considered
a military necessity. He does not, however, distinctly defend
it as such, but is inclined to think that the same end might
have been gained by holding some of the principal men as
hostages. But in whatever light historians may view it, we
cannot help thinking it a cruel act. By it seven thousand
peaceable people were torn from the homes they loved, and
scattered far and wide. Many of them were quartered in New
England towns, the Government allowing the towns pay for
their support. Easton had its share, being paid at various
times considerable sums, — at one time over two hundred and
fifty pounds, — to keep these unfortunate people from starva-
tion. Some of them died here, and were buried in now un-
known graves. The town took pity on the wretched fugitives
that were quartered here; and in town-meetings voted to pay
for house-rent, firewood, etc., for those who were then commonly
called the " Neutral French."

Those who would read a touching and beautiful account of this
sad event will find it in Longfellow's " Evangeline," which is
founded upon it. We must content ourselves here with the
following extract, where he describes the embarkation : —

1 State Archives, Muster Rolls, vol. xcix. p. 273.

2 See Higginson's Young Folks' History of the United States, p. 152. Also Ban-
croft's United States, vol. iv. pp. 193-206, for a full and interesting account of the



" Busily plied the freighted boats, and in the confusion
Wives were torn from their husbands, and mothers, too late, saw their children
Left on the land, extending their arms, with wildest entreaties.

On the falling tide the freighted vessels departed,
Bearing a nation, with all its household gods, into exile, —
Exile without an end, and without an example in story.
Far asunder, on separate coasts, the Acadians landed ;
Scattered were they like flakes of snow, when the wind from the northeast
Strikes aslant through the fogs that darken the Banks of Newfoundland.
P'riendless, homeless, hopeless, they wandered from city to city,
From the cold lakes of the North to sultry Southern savannas, —

Friends they sought and homes ; and many despairing, heart-broken,
Asked of the earth but a grave, and no longer a friend nor a fireside."





Opposition to the Ministerial Tax. — Growing Dissent from the
Established Congregationalism. — Liberty and License. —
Fanaticism thrives, and Immorality puts on the Livery of
Heaven. — The Baptist Society organized. — The Rev. Eben-
EZER Stearns. — The Baptists dispute the Town's Right to col-
lect the Ministerial tax from them, and win their case. —
The Rev. Eseck Carr, Minister and Cooper. — The Baptist
Meeting-House. — Decline and Death of the Society.

WE have seen that compulsory payment of taxes to sup-
port the church caused discontent in Easton, and was
met by resistance on the part of some. This practical union of
Church and State v^^as felt to be repugnant to religious liberty.
It was especially oppressive to those who had come to believe
that the doctrines and usages of the established Congregational
churches were not in harmony with the Gospel, and who ac-
cepted a different faith and polity. They were compelled to aid
in supporting two churches, — their own, and another to which
they were conscientiously opposed. This unjust though legal
compulsion bred indifference, dissent, scepticism, and infidelity
much faster than a liberal policy would have done.

Some time previous to 1750, much dissatisfaction with the
ministry and churches of New England had been created by
the new impulse, excitement, and intellectual activity that re-
sulted from the preaching of Whitefield. He and his followers
thought that the New England churches were but half alive, that
many of their ministers were unconverted men, that the " half-
way covenant" was a concession to the Devil, and that a stricter
church discipline was needed. Those who adopted these views
were called by the rather indefinite term of " New Lights."
Sometimes they remained in the Congregational church. The


reader of this history will remember that Mr. Prentice, when he
first came to Easton, was strongly in sympathy with them. He
immediately agitated the question in church meetings, whether
or not the " Infant Seed of real Believers only, or ye Seed of all
who professed their faith in Christ and were visibly holy," were
the proper subjects of baptism. Evidently he favored the bap-
tism only of the children of communicants; but his church did
not. The " half-way covenant " meant acknowledging belief in
Christ and being correct in outward life. It did not necessarily
imply conversion ; it did not admit to the sacrament of the
Lord's Supper; it was a formal arrangement merely, but was
necessary in order to secure baptism for children. This was
one of the things that caused dissent on the part of many earn-
est Christians. They declared that persons were admitted too
easily into church membership, and proposed particular exami-
nation of candidates. Mr. Prentice took this ground, and in-
duced his church to require a public account, either in writing
or by word of mouth, of God's dealings with their souls before
admission. This was the origin of the custom that held good
for many years in Easton. For awhile Mr. Prentice did not
carry his dissent any further. Others declared against paying
the minister a salary : he was not ready to take this ground.
His wife was an open dissenter before this time, and she found
plenty of sympathy. In the west part of the town, espe-
cially, there were persons who had joined a dissenting church
in Norton. This dissenting church was organized in 1747. It
was founded upon the principles already indicated, requiring
particular examination of those wishing to become communi-
cants, urging strict church discipline, opposing salaried min-
isters and the half-way covenant. Among the Easton people
that belonged to it were several Babbitts, Aliens, Finneys,
Benaijah Smith, Peter Sullard and wife, Silence Hewett, Daniel
Niles, and a few others. When Seth Babbitt and wife were
called to account in 1749 for absenting themselves from the
Easton church, they merely replied that " the Lord had called
them out, and they could not help going out." Brother Benaijah
Smith, when examined for the same thing, quoted " some texts
of Scripture which had been impressed upon his mind." The
persons above named, with others not named, became a seed of



dissent in Easton, and the troubled times beginning in 1750
proved a fruitful opportunity for their cause.

No church was organized at once, for it was not yet evident
into what form of dissent their movement would crystallize. But
meetings were held at private houses, at which any one might
exhort and pray and expound the Scriptures. Any converted
man might even perform the sacrament of baptism. In this free
range of thought and expression, — in times, too, when ignorance
was far more general than now, — fanaticism was to be expected.
Every one ventilated his new-found notion, and always discovered
plenty of texts to support it. Common-sense was ruled out of
court. No matter how extravagant an opinion was broached, it
was a sufficient answer to an objector to reply, " The Bible says
so " ! In the hands of such persons the Bible became an instru-
ment that would give forth any tune the performer chose to draw
out of it. The sublime teachings of Jesus were travestied in the
absurd conceits of ignorant interpreters. Some of them main-
tained that they were " already immortal." Could they not quote,
" He that believeth on me shall never die," and did not they be-
lieve .-* John Finney and Ebenezer Ward and others, living in
Easton but belonging still to the Baptist church of Norton, were
called to account as persons " who were erupt in princabls and
practes," and "many of their minds appeared greatly intangled."
They made fanatical claims for themselves as specially inspired.
Three meetings were held concerning them. They were labored
with and admonished; and as they continued "more cropt in
their principles," communion was withdrawn from them.^ The
records of the early Baptist church at Norton have an amusing
illustration of the extent to which these follies could go. A
brother in the church complained of a sister church-member for
"breaking fellowship with them, and joining with the world,"
because in going to and from meeting she preferred the com-
pany of her husband who was not a church-member, to that
of the aforesaid complainant who was ! Will it be believed
that several church meetings, with delegates summoned even
from Middleborough, were needed to settle this momentous
question .'' Such was the fact. The brother aforesaid was
finally admonished, however, and suspended.^

1 See records of the Norton Baptist Church.


Such things illustrate the crudity and absurdity attending the
peculiar conditions of that time. This was bad enough. But
unfortunately these follies sometimes developed into immoralities.
What was to be expected from those who could answer, when
called to account for their conduct, that " the truly converted
man could not sin, but that everything he did was done by the
will of God"? Such a theory afforded convenient justification
for any evil actions, and there was occasion to employ it for that
purpose. The writer of this history had heard long ago a tradi-
tion concerning social immoralities practised in Easton under the
cloak of a pretended faith, — a tradition too gross in its details
to be repeated here. Distrusting this tradition at first, he has
been obliged in the end to credit it, because it has received
undoubted corroboration from a historian whose authority on
this point cannot reasonably be questioned. The Rev. Isaac
Backus, in his " History of the Baptist Church in America,"
makes the following statement concerning the Baptist church
in Norton:^ —

"Some of the members, especially they who lived in Easton, had run
into the most delusive notions that could be conceived of, — even so
far as to forsake their lawful wives and husbands, and to take others ;
and they got so far as to declare themselves perfect and immortal, or
that the resurrection was past already, — as some did in the Apostolic

The Rev. Mr. Backus was a Baptist minister of Middlebor-
ough, and was contemporary with the facts noticed. He was
frequently called for services to the Norton church, was present
at the ordination of the first Baptist minister of Easton in 1762,
and had therefore abundant means of information relative to the
facts of the case. Moreover, as they pertained to the religious
body of which he was a member, he was not likely to overstate
their evil. His statement confirms, and is confirmed by, the
tradition referred to ; and it is further supported by various allu-
sions in the old records of the Dissenting Church at Norton,
and of its successor, the Baptist Church.

This episode in the history of Easton is a most unpleasant
one to record. But let it not be misunderstood. The customs

1 See Backus's History of the Baptist Church, vol. iii. p. 160. (New Edition.)




and practices here alluded to were not general, but were confined
to a few fanatical, low-minded persons. If some of them were
honestly duped, the rest were basely hypocritical. Their mis-
conduct was not the result of their faith : it was rooted in per-
verted passions; and the claim of its being sanctioned or allowed
by religion was the shallowest pretence. But if any one doubts
that progress in morals and religion has been made in town
since that time, let him reflect that such a pretence on the part
of even the smallest number of persons not actually lunatics
would be impossible to-day.

We have thus far in this chapter been considering the pecu-
liar conditions and elements that preceded the formation of the
Baptist church in Easton. It is but justice to say that that
church is not responsible for the most objectionable of those
conditions and elements. And we would again remind the reader
that the principal cause out of which this dissenting church
grew, was good and noble. It was a protest against compulsory
taxation for the support of religion, — a religion sometimes op-
posed to the honest conviction of the unwilling tax-payer, who
had many provocations of intolerance and injustice; for even
in Easton this tax was extorted by imprisonment. Though
some fanaticism very naturally accompanied the origin of this
church, there were also much genuine faith and perhaps a
more earnest piety than the " Standing Order " of churches
could boast of.

We have already seen that the Baptist movement then just
developing was greatly reinforced in 1750 by Mrs. Prentice's
openly declaring for it, and by her midwinter immersion at the
hands of an unordained layman. Under date of December 30,
1750, Mr. Prentice made record concerning Rebecca, the wife
of Elijah Randall : " She lately turn"^. Anna Baptist, Renoun-
cing her Infant Bap., & was Dip^ by Peter Sullard, a poor lay-
man, without any license thereunto." It will be remembered
that after Mr. Prentice became a Presbyterian, he allowed the
Baptists to hold meetings in his house. His well-known good
opinion of them tended to foster the movement. In March,
1762, Benaijah Smith and Daniel Niles were dismissed from the
Baptist church in Norton and "recommended to the Baptist
Bretherin in Easton, in order for the building up of a church



there." ^ Between March 20 and July the church was organ-
ized, and in July they called Ebenezar Starns (Stearns) to settle
as their pastor, or elder. The account of his ordination was
copied into the Easton town records, and is as follows : —

A council of three churches of Christ of the Baptist Denomination,
— viz., the first in Middleborough, present Isaak Backus, Pastor, Dea-
con Nathan Shaw and Elezer Snow, Delegats ; the Church in Norton,
present William Carpenter, Pastor, Deacon Gershom Camble and
Deacon Jabez Brigs, Delegates ; the second in Middleborough, present
Ebenezer Hinds, Pastor, Deacon William Smith, delegate, — convened
at Easton at the caul of the Baptis Church of Christ there, for the or-
dination of Ebenezer Starns to the office of Pastor over them. The
councel met at the house of Ebenezer Philips on the 21" of July in-
stant, 1762, and after solom prayer to God they embodyed together
and chose Elder Backus Moderator, & Elder Hinds Scribe. And then
we proceeded to inquire into their coming into a Church state, and
satisfaction was gained ; Secondly, their calling of Ebenezer Starns
to be their pastor; 3'^ his answer; 4'^ his quallifications for the work.
And satisfaction being gained in all points that they in a good measure
acted agreeable to the ruls of the Gospel, we proceded to the pub-
blick work ; & Elder Hinds prayed and preached a sermon from
Coloshons 2^ 5, & then their articles of faith and Church Covenant
ware pubblickly read, and the Church manifested openly their abid-
ing in their choice of Mr. Starns for their pastor, and Mr. Starns
likewise his accepting of that work, and then we went on. Elder
Bacus prayed while we laid hands on Mr. Starns, and then gave him
his charge, and Elder Carpenter gave the right hand of fellowship
and made the last prayer. The whole was transacted with decency
and divine solemnity.

Ebenezer Hinds, Scribe.

A true coppy. Examined by Ebenezer Hinds, Scribe.

Matthew Hayward, To7vn Clark}

The ordination as well as the council was held at the house
of Ebenezer Phillips, who lived nearly on the site of the house
of John Dickerman. On the old map this is the place marked
"John Phillips, Jr.," Ebenezer being the son of John.

The first we hear of this Ebenezer Stearns in Easton is the
following: —

1 Norton Baptist Church Records. 2 Town Records, vol. ii. pp. 17, 18.


Bristol ss. To the Constable or Constables of the Town of Easton
witlim the said County, or to either of the7n, — Greeting :

Whereas Ebenez"^ Starns, whose last residence as we are informed
was at the town of Douglass (before he came to this place), came to
sojourn and dwell in the said town of Easton on or about the tenth
day of August, annoque Dominie 1761, not having approbation there-
fore, — These are therefore in his Majesty's name to will and require
you forthwith to warn the said Ebenezer Starns to depart & leave the
town of Easton, and not to intrude himself on the inhabitants of said
town. Given under our hands & seals this 31" day of May in the
2^ year of his Majesty's reign, 1762.

Daniel Williams, \ s,i,,i„,,„
Robert Randall, \ of
James Dean, ) Easton}

The above was the customary legal form of warning that pre-
vented a new resident from becoming a town charge. It appears
that Mr. Stearns took up his residence in Easton, in August,

1 76 1. In 1750 he was a resident of Douglas, being a surveyor
of highways in that town. He was the son of Isaac and Elizabeth
Stearns, of Lexington, where he was born. His father removed
to Stoughton about 1716, being among the first settlers of that
town ; was deacon of the Church of Canton (then Stoughton),
and died about 1740. Ebenezer married, September 19, 1734,
Thankful Clapp, of Walpole, where he bought real estate, and
where he appears to have lived for a time. He probably also
lived several years in Stoughton again before going to Doug-
las, as he was taxed there in 1739, 1748, and 1749. From
Douglas he came to Easton, as already stated. He did not
remain here long. His name does not appear upon the tax-
list of 1767, the oldest list that has been preserved, and it is
at this date that his successor in the Baptist ministry ap-
pears in town. For his second wife he married, August 12,

1762, Jean, the daughter of Joshua and Mary Phillips, of Eas-
ton. "About 1770 he moved to Maine and settled on Sheepscot
River, afterwards of Whitefield." 2 He seems to have had nine

^ Records of Bristol County Court of Sessions (at Taunton), vol. for 1 746-1767,
pp. 271, 272.

2 See Bond's History of Watertown, p. 460.


The Baptist Society soon began to have trouble in the
matter of tax-paying. Its expenses were very light, and one
might belong to it without contributing much to its support.
If uniting with it would exempt from taxation for the support
of the Congregational church, there was a temptation to be-
come a member for that reason alone. As a matter of fact,
many claimed to be Baptists at a later time for no other
reason than to escape compulsory taxation for the support
of worship. In 1728 a law was passed exempting Baptists
from taxation for the "Standing Order" of churches: but as
it exempted the persons only, and not the property of Baptists,
it did not avail much. Other laws were passed subsequently
for the same purpose ; but they were so clogged with diffi-
cult conditions that they did not afford much relief, and hard
legal fighting was needed to prevent the exactions of town

Fortunately, Easton Baptists had among their number some
persons who would not easily yield to injustice; and of these a
committee was formed, consisting of Ebenezer Phillips, Benjamin
Harvey, Daniel Niles, and Samuel Phillips, Jr., to assist in the
defence of the resisting tax-payers. They made out a list of the
taxable members of their society, presented it to the assessors
July 19, 1764, and demanded exemption, not only as a matter of
justice, but as a point of law. The demand was refused ; the
town would not exempt " those who stile themselves Baptis,
Except those Persons zvJio have been Baptised by Eviertion!' On
merely nominal Baptists the tax was levied. James Stacey de-
termined to contest the right, and he refused to pay the tax.
He was seized, April 8, 1765, by Seth Pratt, constable, and im-
prisoned for twenty-four hours, "until he paid the tax, and also
paid two shillings and eight pence to the constable for arresting
and imprisoning him." Mr. Stacey, backed by his friends,
brought an action in the court of Common Pleas against Tim-
othy Randall, Silas Kinsley, and Henry Howard, assessors of
Easton for 1764, because " they illegally, arbitrarily, & without
possible cause or reason assessed & rated the plaintiff to said
ministerial rate, I'^^s. Sd." He claimed that in showing the list of
Anabaptists to the assessors, the law had been complied with,
and they were exempted by law ; and that " there never was




any just cause or legal foundation for assessing the plaintif as
aforesaid; and that the said Timothy, Silas, and Henery full well
knew the same ; and that their doings aforesaid were illegal and
arbitrary, whereby the plaintif suffered greatly in his estate,
liberty, & peace of mind, to the damage of the said James
as he saith the sum of Thirty pounds." The town voted to
have the assessors defend themselves against this " professor of
antepedo Baptis princabel." But the Court awarded him £4,
i^s. and costs. The town appealed to the Superior Court.
But subsequently better counsels prevailed ; a committee was
appointed, the following report was presented, and a settlement
made: —

We the Subscribers, being chosen a commety by The Town of
Easton to treat with a commety that ware chosen by the annabaptis
Society in this Town in order to come into an agreement amacably to
prevent any further proses in law in regard of an action that James
Stacey of this Town brought against the assesors, &c., and after vari-
ous reraonstranses on both sides the following agreement was entred
into, viz. : —

ily. That the baptis remit to the Town one third of the legal cost
that has arose on their part on account of sd action. 2ly. The Baptis
renounce all pretention to any damage brought against the assesors
at the last inferior Court at Taunton. 3]y. That those persons that
have been distrest for their rates that ware of the Baptis Society in the
last assesment shall have their money returned to them again ; and
foinally, for the futer, that all such persons that obtain a surtifi-
cate from under the hand of three of the princabel members of the
anabaptis church in this Town shall not be rated to the menestiral
tax, &c. It is to be understood that James Stacey's rates is to be
paid back by the Town. Done at Easton this third day of Octo-

Online LibraryWilliam L. (William Ladd) ChaffinHistory of the town of Easton, Massachusetts (Volume 3) → online text (page 17 of 78)