William L. (William Ladd) Chaffin.

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

. (page 7 of 78)
Online LibraryWilliam L. (William Ladd) ChaffinHistory of the town of Easton, Massachusetts (Volume 3) → online text (page 7 of 78)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

dwelling-houses. This list is, undoubtedly, quite complete ; for
as the land belonged to the North-Purchase Company, their
books give the names of all the purchasers, and the deeds at
Taunton show to whom these purchasers sold any part of their

It is interesting to notice how many of these old names have
entirely disappeared from the town. Briggs, Manley, Cooper,
Kinsley, Hodge, Owen, Crossman, Whitman, Babbitt, Newland,
and Waters, — names once as familiar as household words, — no
longer remain, except as they are carved on the perishing tomb-
stones of our burying-grounds. Some of their descendants are
here, however, under other names.

It is also affecting to consider, that with very few exceptions
there is no sign to mark where the ashes of these our earliest
settlers rest. These exceptions are nearly all in the old cemetery
near the Green. There we may find the gravestones of Elder
William Pratt and his wife Elizabeth, Eliphalet Leonard and his
wife Ruth, Ephraim Randall and his wife Lydia, Edward Hay-
ward and his wife Hannah, John Dailey and his wife Mary, and
Elder Joseph Crossman. The gravestone of the Rev. Matthew
Short was removed from this place to the burying-ground at the
Centre ; this being done, no doubt, to rescue it from the dese-
cration from which the graves of our ancestors in the oldest
cemetery do not seem safe.




Origin of the Easton Church. — Its First Minister. — His Call,
AND THE Gift of Land to him. — His Previous Life. — Mis-
sionary Journey to South Carolina. — Second Journey. —
Final Return to New England. — Settles in Easton. — His
Remarkable Piety. — His Short Ministry and Death.

IN the year 1696 there were in the East End of the Taunton
North-Purchase seven faraihes. Six of them had come
from Weymouth and one from Braintree. They were piously
inclined, and began at once to consider what they should do
about attending public worship. They were within the bounds
of the town of Taunton; but the Taunton church was twelve miles
away, with a wilderness between it and them. Much the nearest
meeting was that at Bridgewater, the meeting-house standing
where the West Bridgewater Unitarian Church now stands, —
that society being in fact the lineal descendant of the old
Bridgewater church. These families therefore applied for per-
mission to attend the Sunday services there ; and the result was
the following vote, as shown by the Bridgewater town-records of
1696: "Thomas Randall, William Manly, and their neigiibors
allowed to come here to meeting, and to make a horse-bridge
over Cutting-Cove River." This bridge was over the stream
a few rods south of the road to Copeland and Hartwell's from
the Turnpike.

The families of this neighborhood continued to attend services
in Bridgewater until they were strong enough to found a church
of their own. After the Taunton North-Purchase was incorpo-
rated into the town of Norton, that part of the Purchase east of
the Bay road was not included within the Norton parish, and its
inhabitants neither attended meeting there nor had anything
to do with the support of its religious society. Besides, that
society was not organized until about the beginning of 1710, and



at that time the people at the East End (now Easton) began to
think that they could support a church of their own.

The foundation of the Easton church dates back certainly to
1 71 3. There were twenty-six families here then, some of them
possessed of what, for that time, was considered competent
means. They therefore decided to form a society. The lead-
ing spirit in this movement was Elder William Pratt, one of our
early settlers, — a man of exceptionally pious character, good
abilities, and prosperous estate. This chapter will be chiefly
devoted to him, — a distinction he deserves, as being the first
man called to minister to our religious society.

As early as 1699, the North-Purchase proprietors seem to have
had a foresight of the time when there would be two religious
societies within the limits of their territory, one at the west part
and one at the east ; for they voted that when land is laid out for
the ministry, it shall be in two lots, "half toward Bridgewater
and half toward Chartly Iron-works." The first clear light we
get concerning the date of the formation of a religious society at
the " East End of Taunton North-Purchase " is from the follow-
ing interesting document, dated September 11, 171 3, which is
of great historic interest to Easton : —

" To all Christian people to whom all these presents shall come :
Thomas Pratt, John Phillips, Thomas Randall, Israel Randell, &
Ephraim Randell, all of Taunton North-Purchase, in the County of
Bristol in New england, send Greeting in our Lord God Everlasting.
Forasmuch as Mr. William Pratt late of Weymouth hath been moved
to accept of the Call of the East Society of sd North Purchase to come
& preach the word of God among them, and we being willing accord-
ing to our severall abilities to give Encouragement to so pious a work :
Know ye, therefore, that we the Sd Thomas Pratt, John Phillips,
Thomas Randell, Israel Randell, and Ephraim Randell, for ourselves
and for our Severall and Respective heirs, executors, & administrators,
have given and granted, and by these presents do fully, freely. Clearly,
& absolutely give and grant with the sd William Pratt, his heirs &
assigns, Twenty-Two acres of Land, to be taken out of the second &
third Divisions of Land in said North Purchase of each of us Above
named, his severall proportion as followeth ; To wit, of Thomas Pratt
Seven acres, of John Phillips five acres, of Thomas Randall five acres,
of Israel Randell Two acres & a half, and of Ephraim Randell Two


acres & a half, the said Land being now Lotted and Bounded out to
the sd William Pratt in sd North purchase in a place commonly called
by the Name of Chestnut Orchard, on the Northeast side of Daniel
Owen's Land, — To Have and To Hold," ^ etc.

This document assumes the existence of the religious society,
and proves that it was organized at least twelve years prior to
the incorporation of the town, — that is, as early as 1713. It was
probably organized at just this time, under the lead and with
reference to the settlement of Mr. Pratt. William Pratt was
not a minister, but was a ruling elder. A ruling elder might
assist a minister, or, in case of need, might carry on the work of
the ministry. Thus from the Bridgewater records of 1678 we
find that " Mr. Keith being sick. Elder Brett was chosen to
assist him in carrying on the work of the ministry between this
and May next,"

A ruling elder might also with propriety be ordained as a min-
ister. It is certain that Elder Pratt was invited to settle as a
minister; whether or not any ordination took place there is no
means of determining. It is quite evident that the support of
Mr. Pratt was entirely voluntary. There was then no organized
precinct or town which could form a legal parish and compel the
payment of ministerial rates. But the expenses were small, and
Mr. Pratt was a man of means, and of such exemplary piety
and interest in religious things that he would be satisfied with
such moderate support as the voluntary gifts of his people
would afford.

Who was this Elder William Pratt who was chosen to minister
to our early Easton fathers in the infant days of their church ,''
He has left behind him the data from which particulars of great
interest are to be gathered. The form in which these data
were preserved is a curious combination of almanac and note-
book bound in leather, after the manner of a pocket-book. This
precious relic is now in the possession of Joshua E. Crane, of
Bridgewater, a lineal descendant of Elder Pratt. It is about two
hundred years old, but is in a good state of preservation, and has
afforded the materials for a biography of its early owner which
is sufficient for the purposes of this History.

1 Bristol County deeds, Book x.xv. p. 50.


William Pratt was the son of Thomas Pratt, of Weymouth,
who was " Slayne by the Indians in the Sudbury fight, April 19,
1676." William was born March 6, 1659. October 26, 1680,
he married Elizabeth Baker, of Dorchester, and about the middle
of April, 1690, he moved from Weymouth to that place. He
was a pious member of the church there, and when in 1695 a
new church was organized to carry the gospel to South Carolina,
Mr. Pratt joined the expedition and took a prominent part in
the missionary enterprise. A teacher, Mr. Joseph Lord, was
chosen pastor of this missionary church, and in December, 1695,
they started on their voyage to Charleston. The narrative of
this voyage deserves to be published in full ; as it is an account
of the first missionary enterprise undertaken outside of New
England by any of our old churches, and it intimately concerns
the pious elder who first ministered to the early settlers of
Easton in religious things. It is so quaint in its expression
that an exact copy is here given : —

" On Dec. the 3, 1695, we the Church that was gathered in order to
Caring ye gospel ordinancis to South Carolina, at this time sum of us
went into a long bote to go on bord the Brigantine frindship of boston
in new ingland, in order to our passing to Carolina ; but raising ye
vessel at first, we by reason of ye strength of the wind could not come
up with here again, but were constrained to endure ye cold 3 or 4 hours
before we could get at any land, til at length we got to Dorchester
Neck, & from there returned to boston all in safty.

December the 5 we set sail in ye aforesaid vessell to go on our
voyage, & haveing a moderate & strong gale on ye Sabath evening,
which was the 8 Day of ye month & ye 4th day of our being upon ye sea,
we were in ye latitude of ye capes of Virginia. this evening ye wind
begun to bluster being at norwest, & ye day foloing blew hard, continu-
ally increasing its strength, so yt on monday ye 9th day of the month
in ye evening we were fain to lie by, i. e. take in all ye sails except ye
main Course, which being reafed was left to give vesel sum way as well
as to stedy her, the helm being lashed to leward. So we continued
til tusday night ; & about midnight ye wind was risen so high that ye
vessel had like to have sunk, by reson that ye small sail was enough
then to run her under water, & had lik to have don it, but ye seamen
made way for ye vessel to rise by furling ye mainsail & bearing up be-
fore ye wind, we were fain to scud thus, excepting sumtimes when
ye wind abated, as by fits for a short time it did ; at which times we lay


by as before all ye next day & part of ye day following ; either on
wedensday or thursday we agreed to set apart friday to seek ye lord
by fasting & prayer, & to beg of him prosperous winds & weather. . . .
on thursday about noon ye wind began to fall & ye sun to shine out,
which it had not don so as that there mit be any observasion after our
going out before ; so yt on frid?y we could with sum comfort cary on ye
work of ye day. on Saturday, ye loth day of our voyage, we found yt
we were geten allmost as far southward as the latitude 31°, & wanted
much westing, for ye northwest wind had driven us southestward. on
Sabbath day, which was ye 15 day of ye month, we were so favered
with wind as that we went with great spead on our course. On Mun-
day & so forward ye wind often shifted, yet not so as to hindr our go-
ing on in our desired course, tho we could not go wth so much speed
as we desired, thursday morning, being ye 19th day of ye month, we
came in sight of the land of Carolina, but were by a disappointment
hindered from geting in yt day; but the next day we got in thro divine
goodness, being the 20th day of december.

when we cam to ye town our vessel fired 3 guns, & the peepel to
welcom us to the land fired about 9 guns, which was more the usial ; &
when we came to an ancor, being in ye evening, many of ye peepel be-
ing worthy gentelmen came on bord us & bid us welcom to Carolina,
& invited many of us ashore & to ther housis. I was among the rest
kindly entertained that night. I keept in Charlestoun about a week,
& then was caried by water up to mr. normans. increce Sum-ner & I
war kindly reseved & entertained by the lady Extel,' & the two other
men war indevering to get into faviour with ye lady & other neigh-
bors & to obtain the land at ashly rever,^ & that we mit not obtain
it ; yet they could not prevail, for as soun as we came, the lady &
others of ye neighbors did more hily esstem of us then of other, as
they told us, & reioysed at our coming, tho ther was no more of
ye church then increce Sumner & I ; & after we had discorsed
secretly with them thay war not only very kind to us, but allso used
all menes & took great pains to obtain our setteling upon ashly rever,
& that we shuld indever to perswad our pastr & the church to settel

our minister was at this time up at landgrave Morttons, & sum of
the church & others of the church at Charlestoun. our minister &
church war strongly perswaded by ye Lieut-general blak & many others
to go to new london to settel, & upon yt acount wer perswaded to go
to landgrave mortons, wh was near this place.

1 Lady Axtell. 2 Ashley River.


about a week after, we went by land to Charlestoun, & war carved by-
water up to landgrave mortons. We, many of us together, went to vew
the land at newlondon ; after two days we returned to landgrave mort-
tons. mr. lord cald me aside, & I had much discors with him ; & when
he heard what I had to say consarning ashly rever & consarning new-
london, mr. lord was wholy of my mind, & willing to tak up at upon
thos condishons that we discorsed about, at ashly rever, which con-
dishons war keept privet, between to or 3 of us. when I sought arn-
estly to god for wisdom & counsel god was grasious to me, for
which I have great caus to prais his name, as well as for many other
signel marsys. we keept sumthings secrit from others, which was
greatly for our benefit, we came from there to mr. curtesis, & from
there to mr. gilbosons. we were very kindly entertained at every plase
wher we came ; but where we came we herd of sum of thos that came
from newingland that had ben giltey of gros miscareyis, wh was a
trobel to us. but mr. gilboson cald me aside & had much discors with
me ; afterward he told me he was very glad yt I came to Carolina, &
that he had seen me & had opertunity to discors with me. he told me
he was much discureged to see ye 11 carey ^ of those yt came from
newingland ; but afterward he was beter satisfied, & told me he did
think ther was a great diferenc betwen the parsons ^ that cam from
newingland; tho many did manifest their dislik of bad parsons yt came
from newingland, yet thay wer glad of ye coming of good parsons, we
tarried their 2 or 3 days, being kindly entertained ; & when we came
away thay gave us provission for our voyag doun to charlstoun, & wer
very kind to us. from there we came to governor blakes, wher we wer
kindly entertained, & we dind with them ; & after sum discors with
governor blak we came to Mrs. bamers, where we lodge all night, be-
ing very kindly entreated ; next day peppel being very kind, we had
a comfortable voyag doun to Charlestoun, being the 14th of Janir.
The i6th of January was ye eleksion day at Charlstoun ; after this mr.
lord & sume of ye church came up to ashly rever, & upon ye sabath
after, being ye 26th day of Janry, mr. lord precht at mr. normans hous
upon that text in 8 rom i vers, ther was many that cam to hear, of
the neighbors round about, & gave diligent atension.

the Second day of feburary being sabath day, mr. lord precht at
ashly rever upon yt text i pet 3. 18. most of ye neightbors came to
hear ; all ye next neighbrs & severall parsons came about 10 miles to
hear, the sacriment of ye lord's supper was administered yt day & 2
decons chosen, at this time ther was great Joy among the good pepel,

1 111 carriage. 2 Persons.


tho I have sumtims ben il & afraid of sicknes or of on ^ treble or other
yt would Happen ; yet god hath ben verygrasious to me, & hath heard
my request from time to time & helped me & shoed me great marsy ; &
when I was ready to be discuraged, many times god incureed me again
and delivered out of my trobles.

the first day of feburary being the last day of yt week, & the sacri-
ment to be administred, & many of us wer to come away on second
day morning to Charlstoun to com to newingland, — we got apart
sum time in ye afternoon to pray unto god, & there was much of the
spirit of good brething in that ordinenc.

& when we took our leave of our Christian frinds ther was weeping
eyes at our departuer, & we had many a blessing from them."

Mr. Pratt, as above stated, returned to New England in Feb-
ruary, 1696. At the beginning of the next year he took his
family to South Carolina. The following is his account of the
voyage : —

" When I came from newengland to South Carolina with my family,
we came out of boston the 8th day of Janeuery in the year 1696-7, &
we sat sail from nantasket for Carolina the nth day, the 2nd day of
the week, the 15th day of the month. The 6 day of the week it began
to be stormmy, wind and Rain, & the 16 day being the 7th day of the
week it began in the morning to be very violent, & wee shept in abun-
denc of water ; at that time we lost the bolsplit,^ & it continued very
stormy. We then Sat to praying, espesially on Saterday night ; but on
the Saboth we had sum mettegasion, but afterward it gru mor stormmy
again & much rain, & on the 4th day of the week being the 20th day
of the month about midnight our mast fel doun. But in all these trobles
ther was much of marsy mixed with it, for altho the wind was very high
& stormy yet it was fair for us, & that we sumtims sum metigasion, es-
pesially after earnest prayer ; allso that when our mast fel doun it fel
Right along about the medel of the vesell toward the stern, & did not
break the pumps but fel Just by it ; the mast being so exceding
heavy, falen over the sid of the vesel we mit have ben all lost.

On the 6th day of the week, 22nd day of the month, we with the free
consent of the master & mat & marchant, we all of us together keept
a solum day of fasting & prayer ; & on the next day we had calm
weather & a comfortable opertunity to get up an other smal mast,
which was a great help to us ; we had allso a fair wind, & on the saboth
day we had a fresh gal & fair, & had much caus to prais god ; and on
1 He means one. - Probably this word means bowsprit.



munday the wind was fair, but somuch of a calm that ther was oper-
tunity to lenkthon our mast & mak it beter for sailing ; after this much
calm wether but fair winds, until we cam in sight of the land.

But god haveing a design to try & prove us furder, & to sho his pour
& faithfullnes, & to mak us to pris marsys the mor, cased a violent storm
to wris, & driveing us from land again for about a fortnite, but on the
23rd of feburary brought us all safe to land, for which we promised to
prais his holy name."

This religious colony selected a spot on the Ashley River in
South Carolina, in the midst of an unbroken wilderness, twenty
miles from the dwelling of any whites, and called the place Dor-
chester, after the town from which they came. Here they made
their settlement, and built a church after the New England
model. The old church building is now in ruins. The Rev.
E. C. L. Browne, now of Charleston, South Carolina, has visited
the interesting settlement and the site of this old church, and
has written of it as follows : —

" A few dilapidated dwellings remain : and of the brick church the
tower alone stands, two courses high ; its woodwork all decayed, its
doors and windows shown, but destroyed in their outlines by the bricks
having fallen away. Visiting it last summer, I rode my horse through
its crumbling doorway and vestibule into what was once the body
of the church, making my way, with some sense of desecration and a
good deal of difficulty, through the tangle of tropical vines and full-
grown trees that stand and lift their heads to heaven where once a
pilgrim congregation stood and prayed. The foundations and outline
of the edifice could be distinctly traced ; and all around were the fallen
stones and broken tombs of the old churchyard. A few rods distant
the concrete walls of the' old fort stand on the banks of the Ashley,
which, narrow, sluggish, and dark with the overarching trees, flows
quietly by."^

The society that worshipped here moved to Medway, Georgia,
about 1752, where it still exists, retaining its Congregational
form. It took the lead against British oppression in 1776,
when Georgia was a doubtful State ; and it opposed Secession
in 1 86 1, but was swept into line by the overwhelming pressure
brought to bear upon it.

1 Unitarian Review, vol. xxii. p. 263 (1884).


It must already have been noticed that Mr. Pratt was very ac-
tive and influential in this planting of a Congregational church
in South Carolina. Not only his narrative proves this, but we
find him, December i6, 1697, " ordained as a ruling elder of the
Church of Christ in South Carolina." The climate not agreeing
with him, he returned to Weymouth. December 19, 1705, he
removed to Bridgewater. It is not probable that he lived there
long, for when he moves to the North Purchase he is spoken of
invariably as " of Weymouth." The precise date of his moving
here is probably June, 171 1. At that time he purchased twenty-
eight acres of land of John Phillips, mostly on the "westerly
side of Saw-mill River, and bounded southerly by land of William
Manley, — land with housing thereon." This was just south of
John Phillips's house, and must have been very near, but a little
west of, Morse's factory. He bought, in 171 3, James Harris's
house and fifty-nine acres of land, the house being back of
where William C. Howard now lives. The deed before quoted,
wherein he is called to the ministry, gives him twenty-two acres
of land at Chestnut Orchard, — a locality that has kept its
ancient name, being north of South Easton village, and includ-
ing the Nathan Willis place. The deed is dated September
II, 1 71 3. But the gift was made at least three months earlier ;
for in June this land, with sixteen acres more not named in the
deed, of which Abiah Whitman and George Hall and his wife
gave a part, was surveyed and laid out to the Elder. Eight
acres of this land were at Tusseky Meadow, which is the low
meadow-land northwest of Stone-House Hill. As the sur-
vey of this land was made in June, Elder Pratt's invitation to
become the minister must have somewhat preceded this date.
The absence of records prevents our knowing whether or not he
was ordained, and gives us no details about his ministry. But
there is no reason to doubt, that, since he accepted the gift of
land, he also comphed with the condition of the gift, — the ac-
ceptance of the call as pastor. He must have been a most pious
and faithful one. His account of the two voyages given above
evinces an unsurpassed faith. He does not doubt that the fierce
storm and wind are sent with special reference to the little band
of believers who are to plant a Christian church in the wilder-
ness ; he does not doubt, that, because on Wednesday they


agreed " to set apart Friday to seek ye lord by fasting & prayer,
& to beg of him prosperous winds & weather," therefore, " on
Thursday about noon ye wind began to fall & ye sun to shine
out." What could exceed the faith that could put upon a violent
storm that delays them two weeks the interpretation he gives in
the concluding sentence of his narrative of the second voyage ?
Thus also from his note-book we have several instances where
he believes rain is sent as special answer to the prayers of the
church. For instance : " The 20th day of Jun. the Church of
Christ at dorchester [South Carolina] keep a day of fasting &
prayer to seek unto god for rain. The next day it pleased god
to send great showers of rain, & much refreshed the earth &
revived the corn."

His intensely religious spirit, and his inward dealings with
God are shown in such experiences as the following: —

'■^ A fast in secret. — the 28th day of august, in the year 1699,
I keept a day of fasting & prayer in secret, alltho at the begin-

Online LibraryWilliam L. (William Ladd) ChaffinHistory of the town of Easton, Massachusetts (Volume 3) → online text (page 7 of 78)