William L. (William Ladd) Chaffin.

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

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Easton village, where he lived almost a hermit life in the little
house opposite Mr. Lackey's. There he died December 16,
1871, over eighty-six years old. His remains lie buried in the
Washington Street Cemetery, and over them stands, in spite of
his expressed desire for a cheaper memorial, a beautiful marble

The Rev. Joshua Randall, son of Timothy and Zerviah
(Bruce) Randall, was born in Easton, April 28, 1771, and was,
as this sketch will prove, one of the most marked characters the
town has produced. He married, July 25, 1792, Elizabeth,
daughter of George and Sarah (Stokes) Robbins. Her mother,
Sarah Stokes, was daughter of Isaac Stokes, of Easton ; her
father was a sea captain. Captain Robbins was away on a voyage
when his daughter was born, and as his wife died at the child's
birth, the little infant was sent to her Grandfather Stokes, at Eas-
ton. The Captain remained away for twelve years. When he
came to Easton to see his daughter for the first time, as he passed
the window of Mr. Stokes's house she happened to be looking
out of it, and he recognized her from her resemblance to her
mother. She lived with her grandfather until her marriage.

Joshua Randall became interested in Methodism quite early,
and decided to devote himself to the ministry. He lived in
Easton until after the death of Isaac Stokes, which occurred
April 19, 1796, soon after which he removed from Easton to
Sutton, Massachusetts, where he lived until about 1800, when
he went to Dixfield, Maine, taking with him his wife and four
children. He settled in what is now Wilton, going ten miles
from the settlement in Dixfield through an unbroken wilderness,
by marked trees, carrying his then youngest child, Eseck, in
his arms. He began the work of the itinerant ministry, and it
is concerning his ministerial and theological experience that we
are most interested. In 1808 he was "admitted on trial" to the
New England Methodist Conference. In 18 10 he was ordained
deacon, and in 181 1 ordained elder. He preached by appoint-
ment in different towns, in Maine and afterward in Vermont.


Joshua Randall believed it to be every one's serious duty to
test for himself by Scripture and reason the traditional opinions
he had inherited. He therefore entered into a careful and
thorough examination of the doctrines of Methodism ; and the
result of this examination was a view of the Atonement which
seemed to relieve it from the objections growing out of man's
sense of justice and goodness. His heart glowed with enthu-
siasm as the light of Scripture and reason revealed this new and
better way. Waiting, however, until he had carefully tested and
matured his opinions, he published them in a sermon entitled
"The Universality of the Atonement." In this sermon he
maintained that Christ made a full and complete atonement for
Adam's transgression, so that Adam's sin and guilt could no
longer be imputed to his posterity, and so that thenceforth all
men were born not under a curse, as had been commonly taught,
but in a justified state, and that they remained justified until
they had themselves sinned ; that therefore infants were saved,
as they could not consistently be under the old view ; that the
atonement was not made for the actual transgressions of men
under the new covenant of the gospel, but that " every man is to
stand or fall by his own personal obedience or disobedience,"
being under a covenant of forgiving grace which freely pardons
upon sincere repentance.

Such in brief is the theory, carefully thought out and strongly
and clearly stated by this born theologian. It is certainly re-
markable that a man of very limited education should be so
close, careful, and comprehensive a thinker as Mr. Randall
proved himself to be, and should have expressed himself in such
terse and vigorous language. This sermon was printed in
Windsor, Vermont, in December, 1821. He was immediately
suspected of heresy; and the Methodist Conference of 1822
appointed a committee to examine his sentiments, who soon
summoned him to meet a council of preachers in Gorham, at
the dwelHng-house of Elkanah Hardings, to answer to the
charge of disseminating, "directly or indirectly, in said sermon,
doctrines which are contrary to the articles of our religion;
that is, that Christ made no atonement for actual sins."-^ In

1 Quoted from the summons, which Mr. Randall printed in his " Defence," a
copy of which is in the hands of the writer.



his defence, Mr. Randall admits the truth of the charge of his
teaching that the atonement does not apply to actual sins under
the new covenant, reiterating the view that has already been
given. The decision of the Council was thus stated : —

" The Council, after examining his Sermon and Defence, are of
opinion that if he will engage not to disseminate said doctrine in
public or private, he may be borne with until the next Annual
Conference ; but if he do not so engage, he shall be suspended
from all official services in the Church until the next Annual

" Brother Randall refusing to so engage, is suspended from all offi-
cial services in the Church until the ensuing Annual Conference." ^

In 1824 Joshua Randall's case came up for definite action, and
he was " left without an appointment until he complies with the
order of the Conference." ^ But when he had once carefully and
conscientiously adopted opinions, Mr. Randall was very tena-
cious of them, and would neither deny nor suppress them. More-
over, he knew that Bishop Soule and other able preachers of the
Methodist body favored his views. He consequently appealed
to the General Conference. It met in Pittsburg, Ohio ; and Mr,
Randall saddled and bridled his spirited three-year old colt, and
actually travelled on horseback to Ohio in the hope of vindicat-
ing his favorite doctrine from the charge of heresy. This action
speaks well for the strength, resolution, and faith of this noble
son of Easton, of whose devotion to what he deemed the cause
of truth his native town may well be proud. The writer is
informed that after due consideration the General Conference,
unwilling to expel so evidently earnest, able, and consecrated a
preacher, "remanded him back to the New England Conference."
The result of this action was, however, equivalent to a dismissal,
since the latter Conference had voted to leave him without ap-
pointments until he renounced his views, which he would never
do until convinced that they were erroneous. It is unnecessary
to blame the Conference. It could do no less perhaps than dis-
countenance and dismiss him ; its creed was thought to be final,
and no radical divergence from it could be tolerated. Mr. Ran-

1 Quoted from Mr. Randall's printed " Defence."

2 Minutes of the New England Methodist Conference, 1824.



dall had to pay the penalty of originality and independence, and
became an outcast from the religious communion he devotedly

But it was not possible for a man like Joshua Randall to be
idle, and refrain from preaching the gospel as opportunity oc-
curred. Making his home upon his farm, he yet sought occa-
sions where he might preach and minister in the duties and
offices of religion. A sermon by Elder Benjamin Randall, the
founder of the Free-Will Baptists in New Hampshire, fell into
his hands, and he noticed a correspondence between its doctrine
and his own. He was drawn to this Free-Will Baptist Elder
also by a similarity of experience : both had advanced original
conceptions of Christian doctrine, and both had suffered the
penalty of exclusion. In 1828 he applied to the Free-Will
Baptist body for admission to their ranks as a preacher. A
committee was appointed at their second General Conference
held in October of that year at Sandwich, New Hampshire, " to
set with and examine the doctrine of Elder Joshua Randall as
contained in his pamphlets, and make report to the Confer-
ence." ^ By the " pamphlets " are meant his sermon originally
published in December, 1821, at Windsor, Vermont, and re-
published in 1824 and also in 1826, there being added to the
latter a Vindication, and other documents defending his views,
making a pamphlet of ninety-six pages ; there was also a sermon
on the doctrine of Election published in 1822. The committee
appointed "to set with" Elder Joshua Randall reported that
they could see nothing incorrect in his doctrine of the Atone-
ment.2 He was therefore admitted to the fellowship of the Free-
Will Baptists, remaining with them nearly seven years. About
this time the seventh General Conference of Free-Will Baptist
churches published a treatise on their faith. It was character-
istic of Mr. Randall that he should immediately subject this
treatise to a thorough examination, the result of which showed
him that he was not in harmony with the doctrine of the Atone-
ment therein stated. Unwilling to compromise his associates,
or to be himself compromised by a false position, he frankly
stated his disagreement, and manfully withdrew from the Free-

1 Minutes of the Second General Conference of Free-Will Baptists.

2 See "Morning Star," vol. iii. no 32, December 10, 1828.


Will Baptist Church in Wilton, and from the denomination itself,
— his dismissal from the church in Wilton, bearing date of
November ii, 1835, highly recommending him to any church to
which he might be disposed to apply.

But our veteran theologian was now sixty-four years old, and
though he lived nearly twenty years longer he did not feel like
continuing in the active ministry, especially as he found no
denomination wholly sympathizing with his own views. His
desire for a larger and freer fellowship is indicated by his pres-
ence at North Easton village in 1845 at the dedication of the
new Methodist Protestant meeting-house, at which time he took
part in the Conference held on that occasion, and seems to have
been admitted to the fellowship of that religious body. Making
his home in Wilton, Maine, he still preached occasionally until
the close of his life.

The Rev. Joshua Randall was a vigorous and telling preacher,
a hard and successful worker in the organization of new societies,
riding far and near and preaching by day and night. He had
an astonishing memory, quoting whole chapters of the Bible at
once, and, what is more remarkable, being able to give chapter
and verse of any passage repeated to him ; and he knew the
Methodist hymn-book almost by heart. He was very social and
companionable, and his house was a home where ministers of all
denominations were welcome, Orthodox and Universalists some-
times meeting together there.

Mr. Randall had seven children, of whom two, Barron and
Rachel, were born in Easton ; two, Joshua L. and Eseck, were
born in Sutton ; and the remaining three, George Robbins, Eliza-
beth, and Isaac, in Wilton. All five of these sons taught school ;
two of them, Joshua and Isaac, were college graduates, and be-
came successful lawyers. Barron, the only son native to Easton,
became a noted surveyor, was often chosen as referee in impor-
tant disputes, and did a large amount of probate business, being
frequently engaged in the execution of wills and settlement of
estates. The father's vigor of mind and strength of character
descended to his children, and were in fact the richest bequest
that he could leave them. His independence and liberalism
found a further development in the children, some of whom were
pronounced supporters of what is called the Liberal theology.


The only remaining son, Isaac, now nearly seventy-eight years
old, resides at Dixfield, Maine, and is one of the principal sup-
porters of the Unitarian Church in that place.

June 19, 1846, Elizabeth the wife of Joshua Randall died. A
few years afterward he married Mrs. Margaret, widow of Jason
Hall, of Wilton, whose farm was adjoining his own. He himself
died February 13, 1853, aged eighty-one years, nine months, and
sixteen days. On his tombstone is the appropriate inscription,
"Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every

The Rev. David Reed, son of the Rev. William and Olive
(Pool) Reed, was born in Easton, February 6, 1790.^ Under
the happy influences of his home his mind developed, and until
he was fifteen years of age he pursued his studies of Latin and
Greek under the care of his father. These studies were con-
tinued in his preparation for college with his uncle, the Rev.
David Gurney, of Titicut ; and he entered Brown University,
where he graduated in 1809, the youngest man in his class, with
its highest honors. His father had died in 1809, and with a
large family of younger brothers dependent upon him he as-
sumed the charge of the Bridgewater Academy, at the same
time pursuing a course of theological study with the Rev. Dr.
Sanger. In 1813, encouraged by the Rev. Dr. Kirkland, he
went to Cambridge as a resident graduate, and was licensed to
preach in 1814, his first sermon being delivered from his father's
pulpit in Easton. He afterward supplied pulpits at Wayland,
Sterling, Lunenberg, and Salem, Mass., and at Bennington,
N. H., and although never regularly ordained as a clergy-
man, during the five years which followed he supplied various
pulpits throughout New England. During the years from 18 15
to 1820, while residing in Boston, with the temporary absences
noted above, he formed a close intimacy with the leaders who
were engaged in revolt from the old Orthodox creeds, in the
well known Unitarian controversy. Channing, Ware, Kirkland,
Norton, and Everett were his friends. These noble companion-
ships and precious intimacies had a lasting influence upon him.

1 This sketch of the Rev. David Reed is contributed by his son, William
Howell Reed, of Boston.




During these years of preaching in Boston and in many New
England parishes, few men had better opportunity to study the
drift of religious opinion and to notice the extent of the revolt
from Calvinism than Mr. Reed, and this suggested to him the
need of a journal that should be the organ of the Liberal faith ;
and in 1821, in pursuance of this thought, he established the
" Christian Register." The enterprise began without any visible
constituency, and a support from it seemed precarious enough ;
but with an enthusiasm that never was quenched, and a per-
severance that never quailed, he carried it forward through half
a century of tireless labor and sacrifice. The history of the
"Christian Register " for fifty years was his history. His life
and thought went into it ; and the reputation it made in its fear-
less discussion of the highest themes, always conducted with
candor, courtesy, and with a gentle spirit, was due to the impress
of his own mild temper upon it. Its motto was, " Liberty, Holi-
ness, Love ; " and this well characterized the spirit of the paper
during his long connection with it.

Mr. Reed retired from all active pursuits in 1870, and died on
the 8th of June of that year in his eighty-first year. In those sa-
cred years which bring threescore and ten up to fourscore, one
saw in him a rounded life, the Christian gentleman, so truly gentle
and so simply Christian. Always ready to maintain his opinions,
always tolerant of his neighbor's, more careless of controversy as
he grew older, and more single and simple in the definitions of
his faith, his was a life which made those who knew him sure of
the value of that faith and hope which can make old age, even
after storms, so' serene and brave.

May 2, 1836, David Reed married Mary Ann, daughter of
Capt. Howell Williams, of Brooklyn, Conn. They had three
children, of whom William Howell alone survives.

The Rev. William Reed, " son of the Rev. William, of Eas-
ton, was born December 12, 1787. He graduated at Brown
University in 18 10. In November, 1812, he married Betsy
Drake, daughter of Bethuel Drake, of Easton. Their children
were (i) William Gurney, born in Plymouth, September 25,
1813 ; (2) Lieuphemia Eustatia, born in Easton, September 13,
1815 ; (3) Charles Henry, born in Milton, February 5, 18 18.


His wife died in Milton, August 9, 1821. He married for his
second wife Abigail, widow of Calvin Howe, of Boston, in No-
vember, 1822. On leaving college he spent several years as a
teacher, first in Plymouth and then in charge of the Milton
Academy, being popular and successful in both places. He
afterward completed a course of study at the Divinity School,
Cambridge, and preached for several years, but never took per-
manent charge of a parish. In middle life he settled on the
homestead of his father in Easton, where for many years he
held the commission and performed the duties of a justice of
the peace." ^

The Rev. Nathan P. Selee, son of John and Catherine
(Pierce) Selee, was born in Easton, September 25, 1829. He
graduated at the Wesleyan University in the class of 1856,
and studied theology at the Methodist Bibhcal Institute, Con-
cord, N. H. He had however been licensed to preach before
he went to college, and when only twenty years old. He
was ordained in 1854 by Bishop Morris, preached one year at
Amherst, N. H., and two years each in the towns of Truro,
Hanson, and East Harwich, all in Massachusetts, when he
was compelled by ill health to give up active ministerial work.
Mr. Selee then turned his attention to the manufacture of hair-
dye, tooth-wash, lung compound, etc., in which he has gained
a business success. He is located at Melrose, Mass. Mr. Selee
married in 1856 Annie Maria Case, of South Manchester, Conn.,
and they have had six children, three of whom are living. His
daughter Lucy is a graduate of Boston University, and teaches
Latin in the Maiden High School. His wife, after having had
six children, studied medicine in the Medical School of the
Boston University, from which she graduated ; she has now a
large medical practice in Melrose. Mr. Selee taught several
terms of school in Easton, Sharon, and Mansfield.

The Rev. Luther Harris Sheldon, son of the Rev. Dr.
Luther and Sarah J. (Harris) Sheldon, was born in Easton, No-
vember 22, 181 5, and was educated at Middlebury College,
graduating there in 1839. He studied divinity at the Andover
1 From the History of the Reed Family, p. 329.



Theological Seminary, graduating in the class of 1842. He
preached for a time in Washington, D. C. July 24, 1844, he mar-
ried Sarah H. Flagg, of Andover, and August i following he was
settled in Townsend, Mass., remaining a pastor thereabout twelve
years. He was next settled over the Evangelical Church and
Society in Westborough, Mass., where he remained over eleven
years. During the last year of the war he went to labor among
the sick and wounded soldiers in the Army of the Potomac.

In March, 1867, Mr, Sheldon was invited by the trustees of the
State Reform School of New Jersey to inaugurate and superin-
tend a school for criminal boys in Jamesburg ; the school began
in July. A new and interesting feature in it was the keeping of
these vagrant and criminal boys upon an open farm of six hun-
dred acres, without any of the usual prison restraints. They
were to be held, if possible, by kind and watchful parental inter-
est. There was only one other school of the kind in the United
States ; that being at Lancaster, Ohio. Doubtful as the experi-
ment was at first considered, it has proved one of the most
successful schools from the start ; and the principles of its man-
agement have been introduced into most of the reform schools
founded since, the idea of a well ordered family being the con-
trolling thought. After serving seven years in this position,
Mr. Sheldon preached with great acceptance for nearly two years
in the pulpit of the Evangelical Church of Easton, so long oc-
cupied by his father. He was then called to the superintend-
ency of the State Reform School at Westborough, Mass., where
he remained about three years. Since that time he has made
his home in Andover, Mass.

Mr. Sheldon is a preacher of more than average ability, earn-
est, practical, and sympathetic, very decided in his convictions,
but free from narrowness. His warm social feelings, clear-sighted
common-sense and wise tact make him an admirable pastor.
He has three children, two sons and a daughter.

The Rev. Simeon Williams^ was born in Easton in 1743.

He graduated at New Jersey College in 1765, and was ordained

at South Weymouth, Mass., October 26, 1768, as the second

pastor of the Second Church in Weymouth, his first and only

1 See Historical Sketch of the town of Weymouth, p. 179.


pastorate. He was minister there over half a century, and died
there May 31, 1 8 19. Mr. WilHams was married in the autumn
of 1770 to Mrs. Anna Crocker, of Eastham, Mass., by whom he
had seven children ; she died August 10, 1823, aged seventy-
four years. A monument perpetuates his memory, and on it is
the following inscription : —

" Though earthly shepherds dwell in dust,

The aged and the young ;
The watchful eye in darkness closed,

And mute the instructive tongue, —
The eternal Shepherd still survives.

New comfort to impart ;
His eyes still guide us, and Ilis voice

Still animates our heart."

The Rev. Bradford Willis, son of Thomas and Hannah
(Dean) Willis, was born in Easton, June 8, 1802. His father
was four times married, had twenty-one children, and was de-
scended from Dea. John Willis, of Duxbury, then of Bridge-
water. Bradford secured enough of an education to become a
schoolmaster, and after that a Methodist minister ; not much
education, however, was required for either in his time. He did
not preach long, for he died quite young ; and his name does not
appear upon the " Minutes of the Methodist New England
Conference. "

The Rev. Martin Wyman Willis, son of Thomas and Fran-
ces Willis, was born in Easton, December i, 1821. He was
half-brother to Bradford, who has just been mentioned. His
mother removed to Boston in his infancy, taking her children
with her. Martin was educated in the public schools and in the
Chauncy Hall School at Boston, graduated from the Harvard Di-
vinity school in 1843, and was ordained in Walpole, N. H., over
the Unitarian society there, December 6 of the same year. After
a ministry of five years in Walpole, he preached for some years
in Petersham, Mass., and in Bath, Maine. In 1853 he had a
unanimous call to settle in Nashua, N. H., which call he ac-
cepted, remaining there nine years. The writer heard Mr.
Willis preach on exchange in Concord, N. H., about 1854, and
remembers him as an acceptable and popular preacher.


Upon the breaking out of the Rebellion Mr. Willis accepted
the position of chaplain, and was with the expedition of Sherman
to Hilton Head. He was however disabled by sickness, granted
a furlough, and afterward honorably discharged. Subsequently
he settled as pastor of the Unitarian Church in Ouincy, Illinois,
where he was elected Grand Orator of the Masonic Lodge of
Illinois. After four years of service in Ouincy, he was ap-
pointed by the Governor of Missouri as Commissioner of Im-
migration for that State, his office being to encourage the filling
of the waste places of Missouri, rent and desolated by the war,
with loyal Northern people. This he aided in doing by writing
for the press and by lecturing through the Northern States.

In 1866 he removed to St. Louis, where he has since contri-
buted to leading journals and devoted himself to literature. In
1857 he received from Harvard College the degree of Master of
Arts. In 1884 the St. Louis University conferred upon him the
degree of Doctor of Philosophy, and in 1886 that of Doctor of
Laws. Perhaps no Easton name can claim a longer appendage
of alphabetical symbols than that of the Rev. Martin Willis,
A.M., Ph.D., LL.D. He is vice-president of the Post Graduate
Society of the St. Louis University, — a society of about seventy
gentlemen, who are devoting themselves to the study of phi-
losophy, science, philology, and history.

June I, 1845, Mr. Willis married Miss Hannah Ann Mason,
of Chichester, N. H. They have sons and daughters comfort-
ably settled in life. Of his wife, himself, and family, Mr. Willis
writes as follows : —

" For forty years she has won the love of all who knew her. With
a wonderfully even temper and a rare common-sense, she has brought
up to honor and usefulness an excellent family. Mr. Willis has won
recognition both East and West as a man of letters and varied cul-

Online LibraryWilliam L. (William Ladd) ChaffinHistory of the town of Easton, Massachusetts (Volume 3) → online text (page 65 of 78)