THE JOURNAL OF THE MINISTER OF BEDFORD.
By Abram English Brown.
[ portrait sketch ]
Rev. Samuel Stearns.
It is a full century since Rev. Samuel Stearns began his life pastorate in the town of Bedford. [*1] He was an eminent scholar, young and energetic. He had natural predilections for the ministry, being son and grandson of noted clergymen of New England. The financial considerations for this life contract were a settlement fee of $850 and an annual salary of $333.33, together with twenty cords of wood delivered at his door annually. He was ordained to the work at Bedford in April, 1796; and after a full year of preparation, he brought his youthful bride to the parsonage. [*2] It was a colonial mansion of ample proportions, erected for the previous minister of the town. It stood in the midst of broad acres, and was really a farm house as well as parsonage. The bride, a daughter of Rev. Jonathan French of Andover, was well endowed with the qualities needful for the home and position, and met with a most cordial reception, on the part of the town. During the next twenty-one years, thirteen children were born to this honored couple, eleven
of whom reached maturity. These children were given all the educational advantage of the time and made most commendable records.
This brief statement of facts, with nothing more in the way of explanation, confronting the salaries of clergymen of the present day, would stand as a mystery. With all credit due this exemplary minister and his wife for industry, frugality and superior judgment, there remains something to be said for the people of the town, which may be found in their pastor’s journal. Taking this record as a sample of very many of that time, we are not at so great loss to know how the ministers met their demands. We can but be impressed that many people in the early years of the present century recognized the Jewish obligation to give a tenth of their income.
[ house photo ]
The old Bedford meeting house.
Rev. Mr. Stearns and his bride had no more than time to become familiar with the apartments of their new home when they were called upon by Dea-
[ p 435 ]
con Wright. It was in the regular order of things of the time, that this official should be the first caller upon the minister and his companion. The deacons were expected, like Aaron and Hur, to be ever ready to stay up the hands of the leader of the people. [*3] Deacon Wright was an official who served in more than one capacity in the church work. The town had voted to place the viol in his hands “for the purpose of assisting in taking lead in sacred music.” He did not come empty-handed on his first call, and was doubtless accompanied by Mrs. Wright. The Minister’s Journal gives credit to
“Dea. Wright for 1 cheese, 3 lbs. of Butter, 3 fowls, and sundry small articles,”
such of course as a good housekeeper knew must be wanted at the parsonage. On the same date, May 30, we see to the credit of Mr. Fassett,
“1 bushel rye and a cheese;”
also to Mr. Nathaniel Page,
“1 bushel rye meal and 1 bushel potatoes;”
on the same date we read:
“Col. Jones 4 fowls.”
Certainly the parsonage larder was well stocked at the outset, with seven fowls, two cheeses, two bushels of rye meal and one of potatoes, besides three pounds of butter and the small articles. These donors, besides the deacon, were the most “forehanded” men of the town, and Colonel Jones had the best house, and
the only one regarded as ample enough for the entertainment of the Council that assembled for the service of the ordination of Rev. Mr. Stearns. [*4][*5] Its being the only one of the town that contained a regular wine cellar may explain why it was selected for that great event.
[ house photo ]
A corner of the parsonage.
On the following day came Mr. Solomon Lane with
“1 spare rib of pork, Mr. William Page a bushel and a half of rye meal and the same quantity of Indian, and a bag of potatoes, Mr. Oliver Reed, 1 bushel corn and a large cheese.”
The first of these callers, Solomon Lane, was a cousin of the new minister, and not a little proud of the connection; he had been deferring the slaughter of the pig until the minister should bring his bride to town, and took the first opportunity to carry out his plan. On June 3 the record is:
“Capt. Webber, 1 cheese, Mr. Eleazer Davis 1 bushel of Indian meal, Mr. Moses Fitch 3 lbs. butter.”
Capt. Webber was the keeper of the Shawsheen house, where the people had congregated to discuss the promise of the new pastorate. [*6] The other callers of the day were heroes of the Revolution. Moses Fitch had one arm hanging useless at his side, telling of the battle of White Plains, where he had received a severe wound. Eleazer Davis could tell of his experience at Con-
[ p 436 ]
cord fight as lieutenant of the militia of the town.
[ object photo ]
The minister’s chaise.
On June 5, we read:
“Mr. Lane, 3 codfish, Deacon Merriam, 15 lbs. of pork, Mr. Nat. Page, 1 bbl. vinegar, Mrs. Fitch, 1 Doz. Eggs.”
This is Deacon Merriam’s first call; but it was planting time, and he may well be excused now that he has brought a bountiful strip of pork, — salt pork in all probability, — for no well stocked house could be without that article of food. Mrs. Fitch, unquestionably was the next neighbor of the parsonage, wife of the Boston merchant, Jeremiah Fitch. She took her egg basket in hand and made an early morning call.
“June 7th. Mr. Bowers, 1 salmon, weight 11 lbs.”
What a treat! — and how convincing that in the earlier days our small rivers were stocked with that most delicious fish.
“June 8th, Mr. Samuel Hartwell, 1 pot apple sauce, 2 1/2 lbs. butter, and a cheese.”
Mr. Hartwell lived at the extreme south part of the town, where he conducted a model farm; but the family supplies afforded nothing more desirable in June than some of Mrs. Hartwell’s cider apple sauce, made in the previous autumn, and the very
suitable accompaniment of some of her best June butter, while the cheese, making the fourth left at the parsonage within the first nine days, was not so timely a selection.
[ object photo ]
Saddles belonging to the minister and his wife.
“June 9. Mr. Thomas Page, 1 bbl. cider.”
Haying time was near at hand, and a thorough farmer regarded a barrel of hard cider as indispensable at that season of the year.
“June 13. A roasting pig, Mrs. Abbott.”
It is a relief to find that the minister’s mother and sister had come to live at the parsonage; otherwise the best skilled housekeeper would pause in her sympathy for that bride, who would be called upon thus early to prepare a roast pig so that it would stand alone on the platter.
“June 16. Mrs. Oliver Reed, Jr., 2 lbs. butter, Mrs. Fitch 2 lbs. butter.”
“June 23. Mrs. Lane, 1 lb. butter, Mr. John Webber, 2 qts. wine; piece loaf sugar, and a jug.”
John Webber is the same as recorded “Capt. Webber;” he kept good things to drink at the Shawsheen house, and did not want to have anything better than his minister had.
“June 24. Mr. Fassett, a large leg of veal.”
This is the man who called on the first day, but could not content himself to eat or sell his veal until he had tithed it with the minister.
“June 27. Mr. Benjamin Bacon, 3 lbs. butter, Mr.
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Elijah Stearns, 2 lbs. butter.”
They were from opposite parts of the town; and the latter was a cousin of the new minister. Seventeen pounds of butter have been left during the first month of housekeeping. As June was the best month for “putting it down,” we may reasonably suppose that Mrs. Stearns had done her duty in that direction, and there was a stock in reserve for the less favorable season.
In just one month from the date of Deacon Wright’s first call, he appears again with
“1 loin veal.”
No matter how great the stock on hand, the lady of the parsonage was expected to smile her appreciation as well as express it in words.
July 4 had not then become so much of a holiday as in later years; but the minister was not forgotten, and he did not fail to record:
“Mr. David Page, 3 lbs. butter. Mrs. Fassett, a plum cake.”
This is the first time “King David” has called on the new minister. [*7] He was one who was not foremost in the adoption of anything new, and even a new minister was to be well tried, “summered and wintered,” before he was ready to accept him. Mr. David Page was one of the few of the town who clung to the continental costume; [*8] his bob wig, three cornered hat and short clothes were not exchanged for the republican costume, when King George III lost his grip on the colonies. [^1] While Mr. Page entertained nothing like Tory sentiments, he was known as King David,
because of his dress and determined ways of management among his townsmen. [^2] He insisted upon hanging his three-cornered hat upon a peg on a post in the meeting-house, regardless of a vote of the town to the contrary; and his habit of carrying skim-milk cheese to meeting for luncheon during sermon time, although to the annoyance of the families of the neighboring pews, was a habit that he practised to the end of his long life.
[ object photo ]
Where the sermons were written.
July 16, we read:
“Mrs. Edward and Mrs. Elijah Stearns, 2 pigs, weight 40 lbs. Mr. J. Reed, Jr., a leg of bacon.”
The Stearns women were widows, cousins of the minister, and were conducting their farms as best they could, since the death of their husbands. They had put on their best bombazine gowns and black leghorn bonnets, and together called on the minister’s wife. In the course of conversation they had learned that the minister, “Cousin Stearns,” had not stocked up with pigs for the season’s growth and fatting, so they came to a conclusion each to take one from her last litter and stock the parsonage pen. The minister’s steelyards, sufficient for all donations thus far, were hardly equal to this trial; but Squire Stearns came along just as the parson was trying to decide what notch had been reached, and aided in suppressing the rebellious acts of the pigs until their weight was decided and they were duly installed as the parsonage pigs. “You’ll have your own bacon another
[ p 438 ]
season,” said Squire Stearns, espying the donation from Mr. Reed, Jr., just as he and the minister went to the sty to introduce the new occupants.
[ object photo ]
[[ Measuring scale. ]] [??]
The good people evidently got the impression that the parson’s wife had been overburdened with donations in the month of June; and there was a noticeable falling off in the month of July. In fact, so marked was the change that Mr. and Mrs. Stearns felt not a little anxious about the situation of things. But on July 30, they received “one cheese from Widow Lane,” and the assurance that all was well in the parish. In fact butter was not so much needed now that the minister had bought a cow, by the advice of the deacons, who thought it a great waste to have so much good spring clover go to seed as they saw in the parsonage lots. The wife of the parsonage was not obliged to skim and churn now that there were other members of the family; but she soon learned to conduct every department of the dairy, and the well made churn is yet to be seen, — a reminder of the sweet golden butter made by “our new minister’s wife.”
[ object photo ]
[[ Tricorne with box. ]] [??]
During the month of August,
appears the following:
“Mr. Thompson Bacon, 1/2 doz. pigeons, Mr. Hutchinson, 1 1/2 bushels corn and a half cheese, Mr. Page, 1 rake, Dea. Merriam, 4 lbs. salt pork, Dea. Wright, 5 lbs. pork and some sauce. Mr. Bacon, 1 bushel rye, and ————, 19 lbs., Esq. Jones, 1 quarter lamb and some green sauce, Esq. —— 1 loin lamb, Mr. Fassett, roasting piece of beef, Capt. Webber, salt pork and some green sauce, Widow Merriam, 6 lbs. tallow, Mr. Hartwell, piece salt pork and 10 pigeons.”
[ object photo ]
[[ Hanging device. ]] [??]
August was a busy month at the parsonage. The minister had no vacation and, being young and of little experience as pastor, had but a limited stock of sermons. He was obliged to prepare two long sermons for each Sabbath, besides attending to the duties of the farm; but he was not left alone as far as the latter duties were concerned. Mr. Page saw the need of a rake and made haste to leave one at the parsonage and to suggest its timely use. Peter Trott, a freed slave of the minister’s father and hired servant of Mr. Stearns, was quite well versed in farming and with such help as came in gratuitously from the people succeeded in making a very
[ p 439 ]
creditable showing during the first season.
Peter was skillful in the use of the musket, and his eyes sparkled from delight, when, having spied a woodchuck in the clover he made haste to the study door, to receive from the hand of Mr. Stearns, the fowling piece with an allowance of ammunition which the careful minister kept in his study closet.
The people knew that there was no barrel of salt pork in the minister’s cellar as in each of theirs; hence they frequently tithed a layer as they started a new one, took it to the parsonage, and while the minister was engaged in weighing the donation, stepped out to the pen to make predictions for the next year’s supply. A piece of spring lamb of home raising was acceptable at any door, and was doubly welcome when accompanied with mint and other “green sauce;” but it was an occasion for regret that the two “Squires” should have killed their lambs in the same week, for it necessitated one kind of diet at the parsonage longer than was desirable. “Widow Merriam” knew that a gift of “6 lbs. tallow” did not sound as well as something more fanciful, but she was a very practical woman and, not wanting to go to the parsonage “empty-handed,” took along a cake of tallow, “well rendered, and all ready to run or dip either,” said Mrs. Hartwell, as she entered the side door of the minister’s house, and ceremoniously passed to the hands of Mrs. Stearns her tithing of best tallow from the previous winter’s killing, not failing to add: “My cow
had sixty pounds of rough tallow, besides the kidneys.” This thrifty widow gave a little advice as to running candles, and offered to lend her moulds if needed. Mr. Thompson Bacon and Mr. Hartwell were famous for trapping the wild pigeons, so plentiful in this locality in spring and fall; but the season of these gifts would almost lead to the conclusion that their donations were some of domestic raising. They were none the less welcome, and no better pigeon pie ever graced a parsonage table than the one of which Rev. Samuel Stearns partook when, descending from his study, he dismissed his theological enigmas, and sat down to his own table.
[ object print ]
Mrs. Stearns’ band-box. [^3]
From September to Thanksgiving week was a period of commendable activity in the little town, as far as donations were concerned. Haying
[ p 440 ]
season was over, and the weather was more favorable for keeping family supplies. The record is as follows:
“Esq. Reed, a quarter of lamb; Mr. N. Page, a quarter of lamb; Esq. Jones, a leg of lamb, apples and cabbages; Dea. Davis, 1 doz. pigeons, 1 cheese and some apples; Mr. Benjamin Bacon, 6 lbs. beef; Widow Lane, 2 lbs. butter; Mrs. Fitch, 1 lb. butter; Mr. O. Reed, 1 quarter pork; Esq. Jones, 1/2 bushel onions; Mr. Samuel Hartwell, 1 bbl. cider; Dea. Davis, 1 bbl. cider and a bushel apples; Mr. Lane, 1 lb. butter; Mrs. Fitch, 2 lbs. butter; Mr. John Lane, a piece of fresh pork; Mr. David Page, 3 lbs. butter; Capt. Page, 6 lbs. salt pork; Solomon Lane, 1 lb. butter; David Page, Jr., 40 lbs. beef; Mr. Page, 3 lbs. beef; Mr. Moses Abbott, Jr., 1 quarter lamb; Oliver Reed, 1 quarter lamb; Thomas Page, 1 quarter lamb; Esq. Reed, 1 quarter lamb; Edward Stearns, 6 lbs. beef; Mr. Fitch, 7 or 8 cabbages; Dea. Merriam, 6 lbs. of pork and a leg of lamb; Capt. Page, 8 lbs. beef and 6 lbs. butter; Dea. Wright, 5 lbs. butter, and 1 doz. cabbages; Mr. John Reed, 3 lbs. butter, 8 lbs. pork, 2 doz. cabbages; Mr. Oliver
Reed, Jr., 1 bbl. cider and 4 lbs. butter; Capt. Webber, 7 lbs. pork; Mr. Ball, 1 doz. cabbages.”
[ object photo ]
[[ Butter churn. ]]
During this period of nearly twelve weeks it appears that about the equivalent of two whole lambs was left at the parsonage door, besides of other meat 63 lbs. of beef, 1 doz. pigeons, with salt and fresh pork in liberal quantities. [^4] Mrs. Stearns was not making fall butter, hence the good people brought twenty-eight pounds from their supply. Three barrels of cider and six dozen cabbages were donated, besides various small articles. But this was not intended for a Thanksgiving supply.
[ object photo ]
[[ Spinning wheel. ]]
During the week of that autumn festival the people of the town discharged their obligations in a most becoming manner, and the minister did not fail to make due record of each parcel left at his door:
“Mr. Stearns, 1 bushel beets; Mr. Fassett, 5 lbs. butter, 1 cheese, and 2 doz. candles; Mr. Hartwell, some apples; Mr. Ball, 3 lbs. butter; Mr. Bowers, 1 leg pork, 15 lbs.; Mr. Lane, 7 lbs. pork and 14 candles; Mr. Samuel Lane, Jr., 9 lbs. beef; Mr. Hill, 6 3/4 lbs. beef; Capt. Webber, 6 lbs. butter, Capt. Page, 1 goose; Mr. Moses Fitch, 1 goose; Mr. Moses
[ p 441 ]
Abbott, 1 goose; Col. Jones, 10 lbs. beef; Mr. Bacon, 8 lbs. beef, Mr. Henry Abbott, 2 qts. brandy; Dea. Wright, a large sparerib.”
How busy must the good women of the parsonage have been kept in answering calls, receiving and storing away the packages, and listening to the merits of each! Capt. Page, Mr. Fitch and Mr. Abbott, the latter two of the same locality, had watched their flocks of geese for weeks, and carefully branded the best as “the minister’s Thanksgiving share.” In fact, they had forewarned the clergyman what to expect.
This pastor was faithful in his parochial calls when there was no especial occasion for his presence, and was sure on a Monday morning to appear at each home from which on the Sunday previous there had been sent to the pulpit a note for prayers. These calls were fully appreciated, and often the minister’s saddle bags were well filled, in addition to the donations left at his door; or if accompanied by his good wife, and the parsonage chaise, their means of conveyance, the box under the seat was well stocked. His opinion was authority on all subjects with very many of the people, some regarding him as having a range of vision beyond this life.
With such tangible evidence of regard and affection as the minister was ever receiving, and particularly on Thanksgiving, he could not do otherwise than his best when on Thanksgiving day he discussed secular themes from the pulpit, a thing which custom did not allow on other days. A sermon of a full hour satisfied the people that they had their money’s worth, and they separated in haste to their several homes to partake of genuine New England Thanksgiving feasts.
From Thanksgiving to April the parsonage was not neglected, and we can read between the lines the gratitude of the minister, while we trace that which his pen has recorded:
“Dea. Davis, a large hand of pork and a bag of apples; [*9] Mr. Samuel Hartwell, 1 tur-
key” (regretfully not fat enough for Thanksgiving); “Mr. L. Lane, 1 bushel rye meal; Mr. J. Webber, 1/2 bushel rye meal” (best when it is newly ground); “Mr. Nathan Fitch, 15 3/4 lbs. pork; Capt. Page, 7 1/2 lbs. beef; Mr. Hutchinson, 8 lbs. beef; Mr. Fassett, 7 1/2 lbs. beef; Mr. Davis, 14 1/2 lbs. pork and 3 fowls; Mr. Converse and Mr. Glezen, 2 bushels rye; [*10] Esq. Reed, 20 3/4 lbs. pork; Mr. Glezen, 12 lbs. pork; [*10] Mr. Wright, 10 lbs. pork; Mr. Fitch, veal, 15 lbs.; Mr. O. Reed, pork; Mr. Page, a quarter pork; Mrs. Fitch, 1 lb. butter.”
The season for pig killing in the town was a trying one for the digestion of the members of the family at the parsonage. But the daily rides on horseback were helpful to the minister, and occasionally he was accompanied by his good wife, who from her youth had been accustomed to the pillion. As the spring approached and Mr. Fitch slaughtered his early calf, there was a most agreeable change in diet, from pork to veal, at the parsonage.
The winter months were pleasantly anticipated by the young men, for then came the wood-cutting at the parsonage. This afforded them an opportunity to show their appreciation of their minister, before they had set up homes for themselves, when they were expected to share their income with the pastor. The wood, twenty cords, a part of the annual salary paid by the town, was supplied by the one who at vendue had agreed to furnish it at the lowest price. [*11] When piled in the yard it was officially surveyed, and the announcement of the “wood cutting” was made in public. It was the one occasion of the year, remembered and talked of by all who participated. The hard fisted, broad shouldered young men came up from every farm. They had neither saw buck nor hand saw, for these were not in common use, but some brought the great cross-cut saw that required two, one at each end, and each was supplied with an axe freshly ground and ready for the minister’s service. What competition was there,
[ p 442 ]
and how rapidly the great logs were put into pieces of the right size for the hearth!
This was the day for the store keeper’s annual donation; and he never failed to make his record, by sending a full gallon of his best rum. This was well seasoned by the addition of a few fixings at the hand of the minister, and freely distributed by Peter Trott, the black man, who occupied a very important position on all public days, such as that of the wood cutting. No sooner were the axes set at work than the frying pan was brought into service by the minister’s wife or one of his helpers, and rye pan cakes were made ready for early lunch. These with cheese from various homes, and some perchance of Mrs. Stearns’ own manufacture, found ready market as Peter made his rounds among the busy workers. The approving smile of the minister was helpful, and the day was one of rare and pleasant memories.
April and May were busy months with the farmers; but the parsonage larder was not forgotten — as we may conclude from the record:
“Capt. Page, 1 leg veal, John Reed, Jr., 5 lbs. pork, Mr. S. Hartwell, 1 doz. sausages, a cheese, and 2 lbs. butter, Deacon Davis, 1 lb. butter, 7 lbs. pork, doz. eggs, Mr. B. Bacon, 1 lb. butter, and cheese, Esq. Reed, 1 cheese, Mr. Wright, 10 lbs. pork, Stephen Lane, leg of pork, S. Hartwell, pork, 15 lbs., Moses Abbott, pork, Capt. Webber, butter, 12 veal, Esq. Reed, a day’s work, oxen and plough, and a half a day’s work of himself.”
The minister, on this, his second spring at the parsonage, had concluded to break up some ground and go into farming in a more creditable
manner. For this work an ox-team was needed, and no one was better equipped for this service than his neighbor, “Esq. Reed.” The service was duly appreciated by the pastor, and entered in his journal with other donations.
But the minister did not always depend upon his parishioners for an ox-team. He soon began to raise his own cattle, and the training of steers was a part of the pastime of Peter, an expert in that line of husbandry.
Following the record of Mr. Reed’s donation is that of
“Moses Abbott, Jr., a quantity of sauce, Oliver Reed, 1 bushel rye, Wm. Page, 1 quarter of veal, 17 lbs., Mr. Wright, a spare rib of pork, Esq. Reed, 10 lbs. of pork and a calf harslet, Esq. Reed, 1 day’s work of oxen, Mr. John Reed, Jr., 1 day’s work with himself and cart.”
We may infer that the Reed family succeeded in starting a garden for the minister so that he no longer needed the contributions of “green sauce.” But he was not allowed to want for anything during his forty years of service in Bedford, although time wrought many changes during the ministry. People began to do more of their own thinking on all themes, especially that of theology, and assumed the right of deciding for themselves on many questions previously left for the minister to settle. Traditions of the old time life in parsonage and parish linger with the descendants of minister and people, while the customs long gone by are brought vividly to mind by treasures that once had a place in study, parlor, kitchen or dairy, or on the farm when the minister and his wife did their part most faithfully and maintained their dignity to the end of life.
- A. E. Brown’s “The journal of the minister of Bedford” (December 1898)
in The New England Magazine: Vol 19 (pp 434-442)
- George III ∨ George III.
- Tory ∨ tory
- Stearns’ ∨ Stearns’s
- 1 doz. ∨ 1 doz
Punctuation of fractional amounts silently standardized throughout.
- Brown’s History of the town of Bedford (1891)
- “Samuel Stearns”: b. 1770 – d. 1834 (BHB) II: pp 37-38
- “the parsonage”: Domine Manse: 110 Great Road
- cf. KJV’s Exodus 17: 8-12
- “forehanded”: well-to-do
- “the best house”: the Colonel Timothy Jones House: 231 Concord Road
- “the Shawsheen house”: the Shawsheen House–Danforth Inn: 137 Shawsheen Road
- “King David”: David Page: b. 1740 – d. 1819 (BHB) II: p 26
- “continental costume”: European style of dress
- “hand of pork”: pork shoulder
- “Glezen”: [ evidently ] Gleason
- “vendue”: public auction