William L. (William Ladd) Chaffin.

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

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case, appoint some one to watch lest " good timber " should
be cut for firewood. Mr. Reed accepted the call of church and
parish in the following concise, sensible letter : —

2^0 the Church and Congregation in Easton :

Brethren, — Having taken into mature consideration the request of
the church, together with the concurring voice of the congregation, to
settle amongst you in the work of the ministry, I think it my duty to ac-
cept of your call. Desiring your prayers to God for me that I may be
faithful and successful in the great and important work, I am with re-
spect, brethren, your most obedient and humble servant,

William Reed.
Easton, Feb. 7, 1784.

We note the absence of all professions, promises, and verbal
extravagance in this brief letter. It was characteristic of Mr.
Reed, we shall find, to avoid circumlocution, to say no more
than he meant, and to go straight to his mark.

" Rev. William Reed, of Easton, was the son of William and Silence
(Nash) Reed of Abington, and was descended in the fifth generation
from William Reed born in 1605, who sailed from Gravesend in the
county of Kent, England, in the ' Assurance de Lo ' (of London) in
1635, who settled in Weymouth, Mass., and was made a freeman


Sept. 2, 1635. The direct descendants of this first William Reed who
came to this country were William, who married Esther Thompson of
Middleboro in 1675, a granddaughter of Francis Cook, one of the
' Mayflower ' company. Of their eight children, Jacob, the third son,
born in 1691, married Sarah Hersey, and their son William was the
Rev. William Reed, of Easton.

" He was born on June 8, 1755, and as it was Sunday he was carried
the same afternoon two miles on horseback to be baptized, in con-
formity wilh the custom of the times. Think of the poor little infant
wrapped in its swaddling clothes, its eyes hardly opened to the light of
the new world it had just entered, jolted over two miles of a country
road in the arms of a nurse, who sat on a pillion behind the father !
His boyhood and youth were spent in the usual labors of New Eng-
land farmers' sons of that day ; and being nurtured in a religious
home, and surrounded by the grave influences prevalent at that time,
he early became religiously disposed, and made every effort to obtain
a collegiate education, with a view of entering the Christian ministry.
His advantages were meagre in the imperfect winter schools of his
native town, and various circumstances prevented his entering on his
preparatory studies till the age of twenty-one. Still he struggled on.
It was probably at this time that he publicly connected himself with
the church, for we find the following curious ' Relation,' as it is
called, — a confession of his unworthiness and sin, and of his con-
viction that he had found the grace of God, which confession was
publicly made as a preliminary of joining the church." ^

The " relation " referred to above we shall give in full, be-
cause it illustrates a phase of church life and discipline which
was introduced by the Rev. Mr. Prentice soon after his settle-
ment here, and continued in use for many years. The writer
has seen many such "relations," and their similarity and confor-
mity to an established type make them appear formal and con-
ventional, wanting the individuality, sincerity, and fresh feeling
which the expression of religious experience ought to indicate.
The temptation to make a good statement of such experience
must often have led persons to express more than they really
felt, and opened the way to insincerity and hypocrisy. Mr.
Reed's "relation" is as follows: —

1 Quoted from a sketch of the Rev. William Reed, written by his grandson, Wil-
liam Howells Reed, to whom the writer is indebted for interesting personal details
in this chapter.


To the Rev. Pastor and Church of Christ in this place :

The all-wise God, whose ways are unsarchable and whose judge-
ments are past finding out, was pleased in his boundless mercy to
send forth his holy spirit and apprehend me while in a state of secur-
ity and guilt, and awaken me to a solemn concern for my immortal
soul. I was brought to see that I was a sinner by nature, that I came
into the world in a state of pollution and guilt, and that I had actually
broken the law of God in thought, word, and deed, ways and times
without number, and was thereby exposed to eternal death. I saw
that my feet stood in slippery places, and that I was in the utmost
danger every moment of sliding into the bottomless gulf of eternal
despair. The arrows of the Almighty so pierced my soul that I was
ready to cry out, A wounded spirit who can bear 1 Now my earnest
enquiry was, How shall I escape the wrath of an angry God, which I
saw revealed from heaven against all the workers of iniquity ? I was
ready to fly to the law for relief, but all in vain ; for I found that the
law required perfect obedience, and condemned for the least offence,
and demanded satisfaction for former violations which I saw impos-
sible for me ever to make ; therefore I was convinced that I could not
be saved by the deeds of the law. I was convinced that the strictest
outward morality would never entitle me to the favor of God, — it was
the heart and the whole heart that God required. I saw that it would
be just with God to cast me off forever, and that there was no pos-
sible way to escape but and through Jesus Christ. But my reluctant
unbelieving heart was unwilling to part with all for the pearl of great
price, till God by his almighty power humbled me to the very dust,
and brought me to lie at the foot of sovereign mercy ; then He who
is rich in mercy was pleased to send forth a ray of divine light and
illuminate my dark and benighted understanding, and give me to see
the beauty, excellency, and glory of God shining forth in the face of
Jesus Christ. I beheld Christ Jesus by an eye of [faith] to be an
all-sufficient glorious Saviour, and saw the infinite evil of sin, and be-
held Jesus, the Lord of glory, wounded for my transgressions and
bruised for mine iniquities. I saw that he had wrought a righteous-
ness every way answering the demands of a broken law, which was
sufficient to justify the vilest sinner in the sight of God, and was
offered freely to every one that would accept of it without money and
without price. Christ Jesus appeared to be the brightness of his
father's glory and the express Image of his person, the chief among
ten thousand, and the one altogether lovely ; and I hope and trust that
I was enabled by faith to receive him for my Prophet, Priest, and


King, and rest my soul upon his all-perfect righteousness. I trust
that 1 was brought to adopt the language of holy Job, and say, " I have
heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth thee ;
wherefore I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes." This I offer
to your consideration for admission into fellowship and communion
with this Church, desiring your reception of and prayers for me that I
may live and walk agreeable to the Gospel of Christ.

William Reed.

Instead of being the outpouring of hearts deeply stirred by
gratitude for the work of saving grace, these " relations " seem
more like studied rehearsals of the scheme of Calvinistic divin-
ity. But it was the rule of the church in Easton that such a
statement should be made, either orally or in writing.

Shortly after the battle of Lexington Mr. Reed enlisted as a
soldier in the Revolutionary War. He served in Captain Isaac
Wood's company of Middleborough men, being for several
months in the army about Boston. He also served for a few
days on several Rhode Island " alarms." At the expiration of
his first term of service, having realized enough from his pay to
procure the necessary books, he began his studies with his uncle,
the Rev. Solomon Reed, of Middleborough, entering Harvard
University in 1778, and graduating in 1782. He then spent a
year in teaching school and reading divinity, the theological
education of candidates for the ministry being at that time
very meagre and superficial as a rule. It consisted of a course
of reading for about a year, usually under the direction of a set-
tled clergyman ; candidates were then examined by an Asso-
ciation of ministers, who, if the examination was satisfactory,
approbated them, and recommended them to the work of the
ministry. The following is a copy of the certificate given to Mr.
Reed : —

We whose Names are underwritten do hereby Certify That Mr,
William Reed, late of Cambridge College, having Offered himself to
Examination relative to his Quallifications for the Work of the Gospel
Ministry, was accordingly Examined by us Members of an Associa-
tion in the County of Plymouth ; and it appears to us, upon strict
Enquiries made, & the Answers he returned. Together with the Rep-
resentation He then made of the Sense he had of God and The


Things of Religion, that he is Suitably Qualified for, and therefore
we can & do freely recommend him unto, the Work of the Gospel

John Shaw.

Solomon Reed.
Peres Fobes.

MiDDLEBOROUGH, April l8, 1 783. '

Mr. Reed must have preached at Easton very soon after this
date, as he had a call from the church three months afterward.
He was ordained April 21, 1784. Extensive preparations were
made for the service of ordination. As many as ten churches
were invited to be present, — including the church ministered
to by Mr. Reed's uncle in Middleborough, the four churches in
Bridgewater, and the churches in Abington, Mansfield, Norton,
Taunton, and Raynham. The Rev. Silas Brett, who had left
his charge at Freetown to become a citizen of Easton, provided
good cheer for the council, to the amount of forty-five dollars.
The meeting-house had been allowed to get shabby, and now a
decided effort was made to have it put in good order. The
windows were carefully repaired, and Jedediah Willis was ap-
pointed to provide a new covering for the pulpit cushion.
People came from far and near on this great day, many of the
men being on horseback, with their wives on pillions behind
them. They drive to the "horse-block," where the women dis-
mount. This horse-block was about seven feet long and three
feet wide, and six or eight inches thick. It was a large slab of
stone raised about three feet from the ground, and supported by
brick-work. At one end were a few steps by which ladies might
mount the block or descend from it. Years afterward this slab
of stone became the door-step at Daniel Reed's store, just west
of the church. In 1828, by formal vote, the parish relinquished
all right to it.

The meeting-house is unpainted, bare and weather-stained
upon the outside. We may enter it by either of three doors, for
there is one on the east, one on the south, and another on the
west side of the building. The angular pulpit was on the north
side, and had a sounding-board suspended over it, held by an
iron rod. There was no belfry at the time, and no porch ; these
were not built until ten years later, at which time a bell was also


provided. There were the old, square, high-backed pews. The
deacons' pew was by the side of the pulpit, and when occupied
it helped to give dignity and solemnity to the scene. The front
seats of the centre aisle were for old persons, and others who
were hard of hearing. The "women's seats" were on one side,
the " men's seats " on the other, these being the common seats,
and not including the family box-pews. On one side of the
square pews the seats were hung upon hinges, so that as the
people rose " in prayer time " the seats could be turned up and
make more room for standing. "And we can imagine the
clatter and bang of these rough board seats as they were
slammed down, not always softly we may be sure, by mischiev-
ous urchins who liked the reverberations, which sounded like
the irregular firing of musketry, as each seat fell in its place." ^
The church had a low gallery, which was entered on one side
by " men's stairs" and on the other by " women's stairs," the
seats on one side being for men, and on the other for women.
It was never heated, was sometimes freezing cold, and even the
foot-stove appears to have been an innovation of a later time.
Apparently, at this time instrumental music had not fought its
way into the service of our sanctuary in Easton, for the church
has its " tuners" to sound the key-note of the hymns, and to lead
in the singing. At this date, April, 1784, Robert Drake, Jr., and
two others are the tuners, — and very proud no doubt they are
of their part in the ordination service of the new minister.

Were it possible for us to go back one century and look in
upon the large audience that gathered in the church of our
fathers, we should be especially struck by the imposing and
reverend appearance of the half score of clergymen who were
seated there, with their white wigs and quaint old costumes.
But what would interest us most would be the appearance of the
minister, and of the young lady who is soon to be his bride.
Curiously enough, the record of the costumes they wore that
day has been carefully preserved. Mr. Reed has on a light-blue
mixed coat, black lasting vest with skirts and pockets in it, and
small clothes of the same, white linen stockings, and silver knee
and shoe buckles, white wig, and, when out of doors, a cocked
hat. It was the same suit he had worn at his graduation the
1 William Howells Reed's statement.


year before. But curiosity is on tiptoe to see the young lady,
Miss Olive Pool, who was soon to be the minister's wife. She
dismounts from the pillion of her father's horse at the horse-
block, and the staid matrons shake their heads gravely as they
catch sight of the slight form of this girl, seventeen years old.
She comes in shyly no doubt, with happy face and sparkling
eyes, in her scarlet silk dress "trailing half a yard," open in
front, with gauze handkerchief, white petticoat, and embroidered
apron with strings tied in front, and with high-heeled shoes.
She had worn the same dress at his graduation, and it is worth
telling how she got it, because it will also tell us how she got
her husband.

Mr. Samuel Pool lived in a house that was on the boundary line
between Abington and Bridgewater. He had several daughters
who were acquaintances of Mr. Reed, he having taught in the
district school which they attended. He invited the oldest
daughter to attend his graduation at Cambridge ; she declined.
He then asked her sister next of age ; she did not care to go.
He was not to be put off in this way, and he invited Olive, then
only sixteen years of age, twelve years younger than himself.
Much surprised, and as much pleased, she said she would like to
go if she had any dress fit to wear on such an occasion. Mr.
Reed would not allow this deficiency to stand in the way, and so
he bought the material himself, and took the young lady with it
to his sisters at Abington, and they made it up for her. How
much sometimes hangs on how little ! It was doubtless the
declining this invitation by the older sisters that made Olive Pool
the wife of William Reed. Be that as it may, one month after
the ordination at Easton, May 20, 1784, they became husband
and wife, and moved to Easton on the 8th of June following. It
may seem strange that Mrs. Reed did not join the church until
1800, but such is the fact. She evidently meant to be sure of
her calling and election before taking that important step.

Mr. Reed bought the place opposite the almshouse, and
moved into a house a little west of the large square house he
soon afterward built. The well that belonged to the old house
may still be seen. The new house was built probably in 1786,
as William, Jr., born in 1787, was the first child born there.
This house, somewhat enlarged from what it was in those days,


is still standing, its interior in many respects the same. There
was the grand old kitchen, the living room of the house, with
its large chimney, its deep fire-place, and the blackened crane
from which hung the utensils used for cooking. There was the
huge back-log, ablaze with cheerful warmth. There was the
great pantry stored with the good things made by the careful
and hospitable housewife. There in the long winter evenings
might be heard the hum of the spinning-wheel and the flying
shuttles of the loom, — sounds of industry often prolonged late
into the night. From the low trundle-bed the children, if wake-
ful, might see the deft and loving hands of the dear mother
working patiently in the still hours, that they, in their rough but
strong and neat homespun, might go tidy to school. It was not
unusual for one of her boys to tell her in the evening that he had
worn out his mittens and needed a new pair, and to wake up in
the morning and find the new pair knit and ready for him to put
on. One of her sons returned at one time from a distant school,
and within twenty-four hours she spun and wove three yards of
cotton cloth, and made a shirt for him to take away. In the
midst of such cares came the first sorrow to the young mother,
in the loss of the little daughter Olive, in the month of August,
1 793 > the child being' seventeen months old. The little coffin
was placed upon a round table out in the open air near the grave,
which was under a walnut tree not far from the house. It was
a very impressive scene, as the clergymen in their white wigs
stood there reverently conducting the service, and the moaning
of the bereaved mother mingled with the rustling of the leaves,
the songs of birds, and all the varied sounds of Nature. The
interesting picture of Mrs. Reed here presented is from a da-
guerrotype taken late in life. It gives the impression of serenity
and strength, traits conspicuous in her character.

In the parish and church things go quietly and peacefully on.
There is at first a lack of religious interest. The church meet-
ings are few, and not well attended. It is easy to understand
the disappointment of the excellent minister when he had to re-
cord, as he sometimes did, " The meeting was dismissed, owing
to the small number present." In 1784 Matthew Hay ward is
chosen deacon, and some years later Joseph Drake and Abijah
Reed are chosen to the same office, Matthew Hayward having

Mrs. Olive Reed.


moved away. It is refreshing to note that at this time church
discipline means something, and that dishonesty, intemperance,
slander, etc., unless repented of, are sufficient grounds for open
rebuke and even expulsion. As an example we give the follow-
ing case of discipline, the Willis named being Captain Jedediah,
who leaves no descendants here to be troubled by this record.
It was voted at church meeting, August 20, 1792, —

"i. That the conduct of Capt. Jedediah Willis towards Abijah
Knapp, a member of the church in Taunton, was unchristian, in
calling hira a Rascal, & ordering him out of his house in an abrupt

" 2. We have such strong suspicions, from circumstancial evedence,
that said Willis has given himself up to excessive drinking of Spiritous
Liquor, that we are unwilling to commune with him at the Lord's Table.

"3. That he has been guilty of slander in declaring openly & re-
peatedly that the Pastor of the church of Christ in Easton had told
him thirty Devilish Lies.

"For which offences, Voted unanimously that he, the said Willis, be
suspended from our Communion and from all church privileges, till he
make a publick confession to church and congregation."

In 1 79 1 the town petitioned the General Court to pass an Act
to incorporate the parish in Easton. It was allowed; and on
February 4, 1792, there was passed "An Act to establish and
incorporate a Religious Society in the Town of Easton in the
County of Bristol, by the name of the Congregational Parish of
Easton." By this Act those who usually attended or should
attend services with the Congregational society in Easton, and
who should cause their names to be registered with the clerk
of said society, were constituted a distinct corporation, with
power to hold meetings, levy and collect taxes, and transact such
business as other parishes of the Commonwealth might transact.
One effect of this Act was to take the parish business out of town-
meetings, and to have it managed only by those who were prop-
erly members of the parish. This was a very great gain, saving
as it did much wrangling and embarrassment consequent upon
the business of the parish being shared in by so many who had
no real interest in its affairs. It also enabled the parish in its
corporate capacity to hold property the income of which should


not exceed ;!^I50, and provided that until the annual income of
such property was sufficient to support a public teacher, no part
of it should be "applied or used for any other purpose than to
increase the principal fund or estate." The strongest motive
for incorporating the parish was doubtless to enable its mem-
bers to secure for the sole use of the Congregational society the
property originally designed for its use. A sentiment adverse
to this had been developing. The Baptists, the rising Metho-
dist Society, and others maintained, that, as the ministerial lands
had been originally voted to the whole town as a parish, now
that the town was divided into several parishes there should be
an equitable division of the property among all of them. This
proposition seemed plausible and just. But the question in-
volved was no new one ; it had been discussed and definitely
acted upon many years before. In 1753, when the Presbyterian
society was organized under Mr. Prentice, an attempt was made
to secure a part of this property for the use of this society. But
the Taunton North-Purchase Company settled the question au-
thoritatively in a meeting held April 2, 1753. After defining
the boundaries of the ministerial lands granted by said company
in 1684, the proprietors voted as follows : —

"And whereas our predecessors who voted and set said land appart
for the ministry were of, and belonged to, those Churches which were
then called and known by the name of Congregational Churches, and
we apprehend it was their design and intent that the above mentioned
lands shall be improved for the maintaining of the ministers of those
Churches which shall be of those principles : Therefore we now vote
that the whole of the abovesaid lands shall be improved for the main-
taining of the ministers of the several Congregational Churches which
belong to the said towns above mentioned, and be improved for that
end only." ^

It was therefore just that this property should be used for the
Congregational society alone, and by having it vested in the
corporation now organized it would be no longer in danger of
division or misappropriation.

1 Taunton North-Purchase Book of Votes, p. 86. The " said towns above men-
tioned " were Norton and Easton.


This Act did not exempt all persons except members of this
parish from taxation for the support of worship. Those who
were connected with other religious organizations were thus
exempted by a vote of the parish ; but those who were con-
nected with none were not exempted. The Act abolishing com-
pulsory taxation for the support of worship, and making such
support entirely voluntary was not passed until 1832. It is prob-
able, however, that before that date it had long been a dead letter,
and that even in 1793 and afterward the law, which must have
been increasingly odious, was not very rigidly enforced.

The Act of incorporation referred to provided for the choice
of five trustees besides the minister, who should receive, hold,
and manage the parish funds. These trustees were to be
chosen annually. The Act was amended in 18 10, after the
death of Rev. Mr. Reed, by repealing so much of it as required
that the minister of the society should be one of the trustees.
The first board of trustees was the Rev. William Reed, Matthew
Hayward, Abiel Mitchell, Samuel Guild, Abisha Leach, and
Elijah Hayward. But when the first meeting was held for
organization of the corporation, John Howard and Edward
Williams were chosen trustees in place of Matthew Hayward
and Samuel Guild. Elijah Howard was elected clerk and
treasurer. A parish record was begun, which still exists in
perfect order, and is in the possession of the Congregational
(Unitarian) Parish of Easton.

Online LibraryWilliam L. (William Ladd) ChaffinHistory of the town of Easton, Massachusetts (Volume 3) → online text (page 25 of 78)