William L. (William Ladd) Chaffin.

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

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preached more than half the time in Easton. Sometimes the
society engaged him for half the year, sometimes for three-
fourths, raising as much as they thought they could afford. In
1 8 14 they paid him $170 for his preaching one half the year.
He did not disdain to do humble work, — as for example, in 1818,
the society voted to pay Mr. Tinkham two dollars for washing
the meeting-house once and sweeping it four times for the en-
suing year! The great innovation of stoves was introduced in
1 8 19, two or three years earlier than by the more conservative
First Parish. In 1822, and for other years, to save the expense
of a sexton, Calvin Marshall and others volunteered to sweep the
meeting-house in turn. About this time there was quite a large
membership in this society from surrounding towns, there being
twenty-seven, for instance, from North Bridgewater.

The Rev. John Tinkham while settled here as local preacher
preached with considerable regularity in various towns in the
vicinity, sometimes however going to quite a distance. Under


his administration a class was formed in Stoughton, and eventu-
ally a church was organized there, and a meeting-house erected.
He died in Easton, greatly respected and beloved, January 24,
1824, and his remains lie in the Washington Street Cemetery,
near the site of the church where he labored, and of the home
where he so happily lived.

We have seen that Mr. Tinkham, after two years service as
minister here, the longest time then allowed in one place, was
made a local preacher. In 181 1 Artemas Stebbins was ap-
pointed to have charge of Easton and Mansfield. In 1812
Theophilus Smith had the same appointment. In 181 3 the
" Minutes " state that Francis Dane and J, F. Chamberlain
were sent to Mansfield ; and though Easton is not mentioned,
it was no doubt included in their charge, F'rom this time until
his death the pulpit appears to have been mainly supplied by
Mr. Tinkham, who, however, gave only a portion of his time to
preaching in Easton. There were a few irregular supplies also
for the same period.

In the June following Mr. Tinkham's death the Conference
(1824) appointed Charles Virgin to this post, with Hiram Walden
as colleague. They had both Easton and Stoughton under their
charge. Quite a revival occurred at this time. Mr. Virgin was
a very excitable man, just the man for the " protracted meetings "
of those days. These meetings were assisted by Murray Jay, a
powerful and magnetic exhorter and a stirring singer. He cre-
ated great interest and much increased the excitement. Stories
are told of gatherings in private houses where he was present,
when a strong mesmeric influence would overcome many, and
several would fall to the floor at once. Such abnormal magnetic
power seems to have no necessary connection either with morals
or religion, for persons of a low grade of morals sometimes pos-
sess it, and in their hands it is a dangerous instrument. It was
so in the case of Murray Jay. His character came under suspi-
cion, so much so that the church was led to dispense with his
services. He then endeavored to hold opposition meetings in
the open air, but with little success, and finally departed for New
Jersey. He was accompanied by a young lady of Stoughton, a
good singer, who went, under the promise of becoming his wife,
to assist him in his meetings. In two years she returned with


a little child, feeling very bitter against Jay, who was already,
as she had discovered, a married man.

Charles Virgin was returned to Easton in 1825. He paid the
natural penalty of indulging in extraordinary excitements, being
finally deposed from the ministry because of insanity. Mr.
Virgin was followed at Easton by Phineas Peck, who remained
here one year. He was succeeded by Ebenezer Blake, with
Elias Scott as colleague. This was at the time when there was
a strong anti-Masonic movement. Mr. Blake was known to have
once been a member of the Masonic order, and though he de-
clared he had not attended its meetings for twenty years, his for-
mer membership created disaffection, and he found it advisable
to leave town a few weeks before his second year was completed,
when for a few Sundays there was no preaching in the Metho-
dist church.

In 1829 Lewis Bates, familiarly known as Father Bates,
was appointed for this station. The revivals increased the
church membership. The Methodist " Minutes of Conferences"
report for that year one hundred and eighty-four members for
Easton and Stoughton, and this number was still further in-
creased by a powerful revival which occurred under Father
Bates's ministry, extending even to Northwest Bridgewater, now
Brockton Heights. In the latter place a class was formed. At
the close of the first year of his ministry the church was found
to be too small to accommodate the large congregations that
assembled, and a new church was talked of. The old one was
moved back from the street, and the new one was erected on its
site in 1830, and was dedicated in October, the dedication ser-
mon being preached by George Pickering. Father Bates made
the dedicatory prayer, and a full choir, assisted by a band of
twelve pieces, made the occasion glorious. The Easton Metho-
dists were very proud of their new church. The Northwest
Bridsrewater Methodists also built a house of their own about
the same time. During this year Sandford Benton was made
colleague with Father Bates, who was returned for the second

In the same year the Sunday-school of this church was first
organized. James Dickerman was appointed superintendent, an
office his son of the same name fills to-day, as for many years he


has done. The society had been in existence for about forty
years without a Sunday-school.

Father Bates was a man of mark. He had great force of
character, was physically very powerful, and had good natural
talents. He made it his boast that he was not educated. He
had a contempt for an educated minister who came from an "old
Gospel shop," as he styled a divinity school. He claimed to be
a " self-made man," and he certainly succeeded in doing a better
piece of work than many people who make such a claim. But
he was largely such a man as God made him, — a fact which
" self-made men" sometimes forget. If the divinity school could
have had a hand at finishing him, he would have been none the
worse for it.

It was not long before the new meeting-house became the
occasion of serious trouble. In order to raise funds to build it,
application for aid had been made to some of the village people
who were Universalists and Unitarians. Among these were
Oakes Ames and John Bisbee. They and others responded
liberally to this application, with the understanding that they
should be allowed occasionally to have preachers of their own
faith occupy the pulpit of the new church, provided this were not
done at any time that would interfere with the regular services.
For a time this was permitted, and Universalist preachers some-
times held services there. But, naturally enough, a strong oppo-
sition was soon developed against the preaching of what the
regular worshippers regarded as most dangerous doctrine, im-
perilling the soul's salvation. The wonder is that they should
originally have granted any such permission. Vigorous attempts
were now made to prevent Universalist preaching in the pulpit.
On one occasion the church-door was padlocked after the regular
service, so as to prevent holding the Universalist service that
had been announced for the evening. The padlock was however
torn off and thrown under the church, where it was discovered
years afterward. Locks were then screwed on the doors, but
were easily removed with screw-drivers. The locks were then
riveted on, but the rivets were cut or drilled out, and the locks
demolished. Thomas Whittemore, a noted Universalist minister,
was on one occasion announced to preach. The doors were
fastened again, and his opponents stood on guard outside ; but a



stout stick broke the fastenings, the doors were forced, and the
crowd entered. One of the church-members, a tall, strong man,
blockaded the approach to the pulpit ; but the preacher sprang
lightly by him, reached the pulpit, and proceeded with his ser-
vice without further molestation. Such contentions, however,
soon became tiresome to both sides. The consent of the leading
subscribers was finally obtained, and the church deeded to the
Conference. This of course closed its doors to Universalism.

In 183 1 John Lovejoy was appointed for this station, with
D. S. King as colleague. Lemuel Harlow succeeded in 1832,
followed in 1833 by Warren Emerson, after whom Mr. Harlow
was returned for another year. In 1835 came Thomas Stetson.
In 1836 Amos Binney received the appointment, and retained it
for two years. The spiritual interest at this time is reported to
have been at a low ebb. Judged by the accepted Methodist
standard of success, the church membership, no progress had
been made for twenty-five years. In 181 1 the " Minutes " re-
ported ninety-seven members for Stoughton and Easton, and in
1836 the number was but ninety. In 1829 the number reported
for these towns was one hundred and eighty-four, and even this
number was increased, as we have seen, by the revival under
Father Bates. But seven years later, as just stated, there were
only ninety members, — a loss of ninety-four. In 1838, how-
ever, this number was increased to one hundred and twenty-nine.
These great fluctuations in the number of church-members pre-
sent an interesting study, and are calculated to make serious
persons thoughtful. They are to be explained by the revival
system. Extraordinary excitement would temporarily impress
large numbers, who would pass through various phases of feel-
ing, and believe themselves converted. Then the parable of the
sower would be illustrated. Abundant seed would be sown, and
would even take root ; but much of it would be in shallow
ground, or among thorns, or by the wayside, and after periods
of unnatural interest there would follow a reaction, a correspond-
ing depression. Such proved to be the case after Father
Bates's meetings. There were many " backsliders," who, as a
rule, were harmed by their experience. The number of church-
members declined, and a time of spiritual dearth and insensibility


This is merely a statement of facts based upon the figures
of the Conference " Minutes," and is not offered as a criticism
by the writer, though the facts themselves deserve attentive

In 1839 John Bailey had the appointment for Easton and
Stoughton, In 1839 ^^^ 1840 Nathan Payne was the preacher,
and he was followed by Edward Lyons, who will be remembered
for peculiarities not altogether ministerial. Under the last two
men there were revivals which considerably increased the church
membership. At this time a parsonage was bought. It was the
house which, though remodelled, is now owned by Jonathan A.
Keith, and is not far north of the meeting-house.

In 1842 Joel Steel was appointed for Easton. This was at
the time of the great Second Adventist excitement, then com-
monly known as Millerism. Mr. Steel took strong ground
against this doctrine, and it did not affect many in his church.
The revivals of one and two years before were followed by a
period of depression, and the society passed through discourag-
ing vicissitudes, not being fortunate in some of its preachers, and
losing some of its influential members by a division that occurred
in 1843, which will be considered in its proper place.

The next appointment after Mr. Steel was William Holmes ;
but the more Mr. Holmes preached, the stronger the conviction
grew in the minds of his hearers that he had mistaken his call-
ing, — an impression they contrived to impart to him in so
unequivocal a manner as to lead to his departure before the year
was out. Stephen Palmer, a local preacher, was hired to fill out
the year, and on the last day that he tried to preach made a most
embarrassing failure. But his failure at preaching was as noth-
ing to his failure to practise, and it will be as well to drop him
here and forget him.

In 1844 Mr. Fisk was appointed for Easton ; and he was fol-
lowed by Nathaniel Bemis, whom, however, the society refused
to receive, exercising upon this and some other occasions, not-
withstanding their denominational rules, a sort of veto power
upon the appointing authorities, — a power they could enforce
by cutting off supplies. Various occupants filled the pulpit
during 1845, among whom Mr. Worcester will be remembered
for the scolding: and scathing: sermon with which he shook off



the dust of his feet against the people. A new bell was pur-
chased during the year 1845.

For about eleven years after this time the church had almost
no connection with the Conference. During these eleven years,
according to the records of the Washington Street Society, " the
church experienced rather turbulent times." There was a steady
decline of interest. James Hall, an English Methodist preacher,
was engaged, and occupied the pulpit until 1849. During this
time he joined the Wesleyan Methodists. In 1849 John B.
Clough took charge for a year, and he was followed by Lorenzo
White. In 185 1 Paul Townsend, an old retired minister who
lived in West Bridgewater, preached here, and continued to con-
duct Sunday services for about three years. In March, 1856,
the Rev. Mr. Sheldon, who in 1855 had retired from the active
ministry of the Congregational Society at Easton Centre, was
engaged to preach in this Methodist church, and did so until
the autumn, when the keeper of the church records says : " The
life of the Society became so nearly extinct that the house was
closed for the winter." During this year Gurdon Stone, Avery
Stone, and Joel Randall dissolved their connection with the so-
ciety, though Avery Stone continued to act with it.

In the spring of 1857 another rally was made, and the Confer-
ence was applied to for a preacher. The result was the appoint-
ment of John B. Hunt, who proved to be a very efficient minister.
By his efforts a great revival began, which added many mem-
bers to the church and placed it in a better condition than it had
enjoyed for many years. This was for Easton the last of the
great revivals that used to thrill whole communities, and which
were carried on amidst excitements such as would astonish the
young people of this generation. For this reason, we propose as
clearly and truthfully as possible to describe it.

To originate and promote this revival, strong preachers were
engaged, who addressed the feelings, appealing to hopes and
fears. They selected such themes as the dread certainty of
death, the awfulness of hell, the amazing love of Jesus bleeding
upon the cross for the salvation of guilty sinners ; and with
flowing tears, violent gestures, and excited tones, preached with
thrilling effect. From every part of the house responses of
"Amen," "Glory," and similar ejaculations, mingled with groans



and sighs, gradually wrought up the feehngs of the listeners.
Stirring hymns were sung with kindling effect ; loud and frenzied
appeals for mercy, as of those who were on the brink of an abyss
that might at any moment open to receive them, were heard.
And when this was over, or even while it was in progress, earnest
Christians, themselves deeply moved, appealed to friends as they
passed from pew to pew, urging them to flee from the impending
doom and accept the gracious call that would open to them the
gates of heaven. The effect was often indescribable. Sometimes
persons were actually prostrated upon the floor in the intensity
of their feelings ; it was only strong natures that could resist
the influence. Many who went to scoff, would soon be seen
kneeling at the altar to pray. At one of the very meetings
we are speaking of, a woman prayed so loud and long as to be
too exhausted to rise from her knees. Serious results some-
times followed with sensitive natures. While Mr. Collier, of
Cocheset, whose piercing black eyes seemed to threaten judg-
ment to come, was preaching, a man was seized with a nervous
spasm, his head thrown back, his limbs rigid, his face like death
itself. He was supported by friends on either side, who were
forced to stretch him out at full length upon a seat or the floor.
Many of the audience were terrified and left the house ; but the
preacher, accustomed to such scenes, perhaps elated with this
evidence of his power as an exhorter, made the house ring with
his shouts of "Glory" and "Hallelujah." Similar results oc-
curred here and in South Easton village several times. Tempo-
rary and even permanent insanity was not wholly unexampled.
The entire work of conviction, repentance, and conversion was
supposed to be compressed into an hour. Services sometimes
began at nine o'clock in the forenoon, and with little intermission
lasted until nine o'clock in the evening. We have already seen,
by the testimony of the Rev. Joseph Snelling, that at Oliver
Howard's, in 1800, the meeting lasted until three o'clock in the
morning. These " four days' meetings," as they were called,
sometimes lasted several weeks.

All this is a simple statement of facts. They are not men-
tioned for the sake of criticism. No criticism could be so telling
now as the statement of the facts themselves ; but truth to his-
tory demands that such a record be made as a picture of the


times. Great good was sometimes done to hardened natures
that could not otherwise be aroused ; but many who rose on
the flood-tide of feeling were carried back on the ebbing current
and settled into their ordinary state of feeling. The number of
"backsliders" was usually proportioned to the urgency and ex-
citement of the revival that awakened them.

There was one frequent accompaniment of such meetings that
was painful to those earnestly participating in them, and dis-
graceful to those causing it ; we refer to the rowdyish attempts to
disturb these religious exercises. Young fellows often attended
them solely to make disturbance. Copious quantities of dry
beans were brought in their pockets and snapped singly or
thrown by handfuls among the audience, or even at the preachers
themselves. Their shouts and cat-calls added to the confu-
sion, and altogether their disorderly conduct sorely vexed the
brethren. Round bits of steel were punched out, polished,
blasphemously marked, and dropped into the contribution-box.
On one occasion several of these persons pretended to be under
conviction, went forward for prayers, and were said to have
passed a bottle of drink about while on their knees. Unruly
fellows upon the outside sometimes added to the disturbance.
All manner of derisive shouting was heard. At one time a team
was driven so that it grated horribly against the side of the
church. At another, wood was piled against the doors so as to
prevent any one from coming out, and then the bell was rung
furiously. Some of these disturbers were once arrested and
taken before Justice Selee, but nothing was done to punish
them ; it was difficult to make out a case against them. Happily
these things are of the past. Religious meetings are so con-
ducted now as to give no provocation for such gross misconduct,
and if it should be attempted it would not be tolerated to-day.

John B. Hunt, during whose ministry the great revival oc-
curred, died while in service here, in October, 1858, and his
remains were buried in the cemetery on the corner opposite the
church where he preached. The pulpit was supplied by different
persons during the rest of the year.

The society records furnish us with one incident of this year
which deserves to be noted here. In December, 1858, a subscrip-
tion paper was circulated which was prefaced as follows : —


" We the undersigned agree to pay the sum set opposite our names
for the purpose of buying a pew to enlarge the free pew, so we can
warm ourselves without being in danger of scorching our clothes."

Twenty-seven ladies subscribed, and the space about the
stove was thereby enlarged. When it is remembered that this
was at the time when hoopskirts had attained a circumference
which would be incredible now were the dimensions to be given,
we can appreciate the desire of the twenty-seven ladies to en-
large the standing-room around the stove, and thereby lessen
the "danger of scorching our clothes."

In the spring of 1859 Lewis B. Bates received the Confer-
ence appointment to Easton. It was during the ministry of Mr.
Bates that the division of the society occurred. The account of
this division will be more appropriately given when we treat
of the history of the Methodist Society in North Easton village,
as this society originated in the division alluded to. Passing
that interesting episode by therefore for the present, it is suffi-
cient to state here that Mr. Bates, by order of the bishop, ceased
preaching at the Washington Street church soon after his ap-
pointment in i860. He was succeeded by the Rev. Mr. Spilsted,
who was followed in 1861 by the Rev. Franklin Gavitt. The
Rev. Abel Allton was appointed for 1862, and the Rev. H. S.
Smith in 1863, the latter serving for three years. In 1866 this
church united with the Northwest Bridgewater church, and
the Conference sent the Rev. Freeman R3'der for that year,
and the Rev. J. B. Washburn in 1868, each of them serving for
two years. The interest of the religious services in the Wash-
ington Street church was increased in 1866 by the purchase of
an organ.

In the year 1870 the church stood alone again, and it was
served for three years with singular devotion by the Rev. Elisha
Dunham. Mr. Dunham is now a minister in the Orthodox
Congregational communion. The church was very fortunate
also in its next minister, the Rev. M. M. Kugler, a man whose
spiritual face was the index of a consecrated heart. He re-
mained two years, from 1873 to 1875. The Rev. S. Hamilton
Day was appointed in 1875, and was returned for a second year.
He married a daughter of James Dickerman. The Rev. J. H.



Nelson was sent in 1877, and the Rev. M. F. Colburn came in
1878. In the year 1879 i^ ^^^s deemed advisable to unite with
the North Easton village church in supporting a pastor, who
should preach half the time in each church and have the care of
both parishes. The ministers under this arrangement have been
the Rev. S. E. Evans, in 1879, ^^^^ has since joined the Ortho-
dox Congregationalists ; the Rev. William Kirkby, a genial and
friendly man who served for two years, and left many friends be-
hind him ; the Rev. J. S. Thomas, who also remained two years ;
and, in 1884, the Rev. Merrick Ransom, who is now serving for
the third year, and who when he leaves will carry away with
him the respect and good-will of all who know him. In the
spring of 1885 it was deemed advisable to discontinue regular
services in the Washington Street church ; and they have not
yet been resumed.





Mr. Luther Sheldon receives a Call. — His Youth and Educa-
tion. — Kindness of the Parish to their Minister. — Diver-
gence OF Theological Opinions among the Parishioners. — Mr.
Sheldon ceases to exchange with Neighboring "Liberal"
Ministers. — The Parish requests him to continue Fraternal
Relations with Them. — He fails to respond to the Request.

— An Ex-parte Council summoned by the Parish. — The Par-
ish EXCLUDES Him from His Pulpit. — Mr. Sheldon's Friends
organize and begin to build a Meeting-House. — An Exciting
Controversy. — Lawsuits. — Mr. Sheldon re-enters his Pulpit.

— Various attempts at Agreement. — A Settlement finally

DURING the year following Rev. Mr. Reed's death, August
13, 18 ro, the church and parish extended a call to Mr.
Luther Sheldon. They offered him a salary of four hundred
and fifty dollars, and agreed to give him five cords of wood an-
nually until he became "a housekeeper," when it was to be in-
creased to twelve cords ; and it was to be cut and corded for him
in the woods. Mr. Sheldon accepted the call in a well written
letter, in which, however, he regrets the short acquaintance they
have had, remarks upon the evils likely to result from precipi-

Online LibraryWilliam L. (William Ladd) ChaffinHistory of the town of Easton, Massachusetts (Volume 3) → online text (page 31 of 78)