Shattuck (1835) [2/3]


The people began to erect a meeting-house before the town was incorporated; but it was not completed till 1730. In October, 1729, £460 was raised to pay the expense. Committees

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were chosen the next and many subsequent years “to seat the meeting-house,” and were instructed, among other things, “to have respect to them that are 50 years of age and upward”; those under this age “to be seated according to their pay,” — “the front seat in the gallery to be equal to the third seat in the body-seats below.” Thirteen pews were built in 1733, and eight more in 1754. A bell was procured in 1753, weighing about 600 lbs. and the town “voted (by polling the assembly) to hang the bell about two rods and a half northward of the school-house, [*1] and as near to Mr. Benjamin Kidder’s wall as can be with conveniency; and to build a house, not less than 12 feet nor more than 16 feet square, and so high as to hang the mouth of the bell 16 feet high.”

A new meeting-house was erected in 1817. It is 58 feet long, 53 wide, and 30 feet posts, with a projection of 34 by 8 feet, and a spire. David Reed, Michael Crosby, John Merriam, Joshua Page, and Simeon Blodget, were the building committee; and Joshua Page and Levi Wilson, the builders. Cost estimated at $6,101. The lower floor has 56 pews, and the gallery 16, which were sold for $7,110.50, after reserving one for the minister. It was dedicated July 8, 1817; and the sermon, preached by the Rev. Mr. Stearns on the occasion, was printed. [*2] A timepiece was presented to the town by Mr. Jeremiah Fitch of Boston, and placed in the front gallery; and a new bell was procured from England, weighing 993 lbs.

Measures were taken soon after the incorporation of the town to obtain the regular enjoyment of public religious worship and ordinances, and William Hartwell and Job Lane chosen to carry these measures into effect. A candidate was employed; and January 22, 1730, was observed as a day of solemn fasting and prayer to God for direction in the choice of a minister, when the Rev. Messrs. John Hancock of Lexington, Samuel Ruggles of Billerica, and John Whiting of Concord were present to conduct the religious services. Feb. 11th, the town chose Mr. Nicholas Bowes, by 43 votes, to be their minister; and at the subsequent March meeting agreed to give him £90 the first year, and £100 and 25 cords of wood annually afterwards as a salary, so long as he should sustain the pastoral office; the money to be paid semiannually, and always to be in proportion to the then value of

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silver, which was 18 shillings per ounce. He was subsequently presented with 16 acres of land. These propositions were accepted, and he was ordained, July 15, 1730, when the church was organized. The churches in Lexington, Concord, Billerica, and Cambridge, by “their elders and messengers,” composed the council, of which the Rev. John Hancock was moderator. In the public religious exercises, the Rev. Mr. Appleton of Cambridge made the introductory prayer; the Rev. John Hancock preached from 2 Cor. xi. 28, and gave the charge; the Rev. John Whiting gave the right hand of fellowship; and the Rev. Samuel Ruggles made the last prayer.

While the church was making arrangements preliminary to its organization, it was agreed by a vote of 14 to 9, that “every person admitted to the church should give in a confession of their faith to be read in public”; and, by a vote of 15 to 7, not to call for a “handy vote” on their admission. The original covenant which follows, was adopted and signed by 24 individuals, — all the male members of the church at its formation.

“We, whose names are underwritten, sensibly acknowledging our unworthiness of such a favor and unfitness for such a business, yet apprehending ourselves to be called of God in a way of church communion, and to seek the settlement of all the gospel institutions among us, do therefore, in order thereto and for the better promotion thereof as much as in us lies, knowing how prone we are to backslide, abjuring all confidence in ourselves, [*3] and relying on the Lord Jesus Christ alone for help, covenant as follows. [*4]

“We believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by inspiration of God, and promise by the help of the Divine Spirit, to govern ourselves both as to faith and practice according to that perfect rule; and we also engage to walk together as a church of Christ, according to all those holy rules of the gospel respecting a particular church of Christ, so far as God hath or shall reveal his mind to us in that respect.

“We do accordingly recognise the covenant of grace, in which we professedly acknowledge ourselves devoted to the fear and service of the only true God, our Supreme Lord, and the Lord Jesus Christ, the High Priest, Prophet, and King of his church, unto whose conduct we submit ourselves, on whom alone we wait

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and hope for grace and glory, to whom we bind ourselves in an everlasting covenant never to be broken.

“We likewise give ourselves up one to another in the Lord, resolving by his help to treat each the other as fellow members of one body in brotherly love and holy watchfulness over one another for mutual edification; and to subject ourselves to all the holy administrations, appointed by him who is the Head of his church, dispensed according to the rules of the gospel, and to give our constant attendance on all the public ordinances of Christ’s institution, walking orderly as becomes saints.

“We do likewise acknowledge our posterity to be included with us in the gospel covenant; and, blessing God for such a favor, do promise to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord with the greatest care, [*5] and to acknowledge them in the covenant relation, according to the rules of the gospel.

“Furthermore we promise to be careful to our uttermost to procure the settlement and continuance of all the offices and officers appointed by Christ, the chief Shepherd for his church’s edification, and accordingly do our duty faithfully for their maintenance and encouragement, and to carry it towards them as becometh us.

“Finally we acknowledge and do promise to preserve communion with the faithful churches of Christ for the giving and receiving mutual council and assistance in all cases wherein it shall be needful. [*6]

“Now the good Lord be merciful unto us, and, as he hath put it into our hearts thus to devote ourselves to him, let him pity and pardon our frailties, humble us out of all carnal confidence, [*7] and keep it for ever upon our hearts to himself and to one another for his praise, and our eternal comfort, for Christ’s sake, to whom be glory for ever. Amen. — Nicholas Bowes, *Joseph French, *William Hartwell, Jonathan Bacon, *John Hartwell, *Nathaniel Merriam, Israel Putnam, Benjamin Kidder, *Daniel Davis, Samuel Fitch, Job Lane, *Josiah Fassett, John Lane, *Stephen Davis, *Richard Wheeler, Jacob Kendall, Christopher Page, *Daniel Cheever, Obed Abbot, Nathaniel Page, *David Taylor, *James Wheeler, *Eleazer Davis, Thomas Dinsmore.” *1

*1 Those marked with an asterisk were from Concord, the others probably mostly from Billerica. The church and town records of those towns give their genealogy.

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The sacrament was first administered September 6, 1730, and every two months afterwards, at which times collections were taken for the use of the church. November 12, 1730, being public thanksgiving, £7 were contributed. “A short time after, the good people of Concord contributed for the use of the church in Bedford £6.” Mr. Isaac Stearns, widows Sarah Bateman, and Eunice Taylor gave 10 shillings each. The last left a legacy of £5 more, and Deacon Merriam one of £6.

Among the peculiar customs which prevailed in the church from its first formation to the ordination of Mr. Stearns, was that of making public confession of particular offences committed by the members. These were drawn up in writing and read by the minister before the congregation. Frequent notices under different dates are specified in the church records, such as ” the confession of ——— for the sin of intemperance,” “for the breach of the seventh commandment,” or other sins as the case might be, “was read before the congregation.” This custom, though particularly revolting at the present day, was not peculiar to the church in Bedford. It prevailed to some extent in most of the colonial churches. But that a detail of one’s own crimes, given in minute particulars before the public, even if publicly known, tends to reform the heart of the confessor, or promote the good morals of the people, is a proposition to which few will now assent.

It does not appear that any special attention to religion prevailed during the ministry of Mr. Bowes, as was then the case in Concord and some other places; though the church received considerable yearly additions, and was in a flourishing state. Anterior to 1754, [*8] 161 individuals had belonged to the church; and allowing the original members to have been 50, the admissions would be 111. To this time there had been 83 marriages, 350 baptisms, and 173 deaths.

The Rev. Nicholas Bowes is said to have been born in England. He was graduated at Harvard College in 1725. After sustaining the pastoral office about 24 years, some circumstances occurred which induced him to consider his usefulness at an end, and to ask a dismission. This was granted by the church August 22, 1754, and by the town, September 2d. [*9] In 1755 he went as a chaplain in the Northern army at Fort Edward; but died at

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Brookfield [??] on his return home. He is represented to have been “a man respectable for his abilities and learning, and of sound evangelical sentiments.” Mr. Bowes married Lucy, sister of the Rev. Jonas Clark of Lexington, and aunt of Governor Hancock, and had William, Lucy, Nicholas, Elizabeth, Dorcas, Thomas, and Mary, one of whom married the Rev. Samuel Cook of West Cambridge. [*10]

The town voted, September 29, 1755, “that the church should proceed to the choice of a gospel minister”; and on the 17th of November, “to concur in the choice of Mr. Nathaniel Sherman by 38 yeas,” and agreed to give him £113 6s. 8d. as a settlement, and £53 6s. 8d. and 20 cords of wood as an annual salary. He was ordained February 18, 1756.

Some years after the settlement of the Rev. Mr. Sherman, a controversy arose concerning admitting persons to the privileges of baptism only, without admission to the communion, by assenting to the “half-way covenant.” November 6, 1765, the regulations for the admission of members were revised, and a vote was passed, “that there should be but one church covenant.” Candidates for admission to the communion were to be examined before the pastor only, who propounded them several days before admission, when he informed the church of “their knowledge, experience, and belief of religion.” Faith in Christ, repentance for sin, holiness, and a belief in the Assembly’s Catechism, were required of all candidates. If no objections were made, they were to be admitted without the vote of the church. The covenant was revised and adopted in a different form, principally effected by the influence of the pastor. Some of the alterations were unpopular with a majority of the church. In consequence of this controversy the affections of his people were alienated from Mr. Sherman. An ecclesiastical council was called December 5, 1766, who advised his dismission, which was accepted by the church, and concurred in by the town December 17th.

The Rev. Nathaniel Sherman was born at Newton, March 5, 1724. His father, William Sherman, was son of Joseph, and grandson of Captain John Sherman, who came from Dedham, England, to Watertown, in 1634 or 1635. His brothers were William Sherman, Esq. of New Milford, the Hon. Roger Sherman of New Haven, Connecticut, and the Rev. Josiah Sherman

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of Woburn. He was graduated at Nassau Hall in 1753. During his ministry of about twelve years, 46 were admitted to the church. In the unhappy controversy, which resulted in Mr. Sherman’s dismission, nothing occurred that affected his religious character. After leaving Bedford he was installed at Mount Carmel, New Haven, Connecticut, where he preached many years, and then took a dismission, and removed to East Windsor, where he died July 18, 1797, aged 73 years. He married Lydia, daughter of Deacon Merriam of Bedford, March 1, 1759.

After Mr. Sherman’s dismission several meetings were held to agree on the terms of communion. April 4, 1768, it was voted, “that this church will have but one covenant, and therefore require the same qualifications in all; yet if any person can desire to enter into covenant and receive baptism for himself or children, and yet fears to approach the Lord’s table at present, he shall be received, he promising, (though he come not immediately to the Lord’s table) that he will submit himself to the watch and discipline of this church.” The other regulations of the church, though revised, were not materially varied from those already noticed. During the interval till the ordination of Mr. Sherman’s successor, 28 persons were baptized, and 7 joined the church in full communion.

On the 7th of September, 1767, the church chose the Rev. Josiah Thacher, a graduate of Nassau Hall in 1760, to be their minister, and the town agreed to give him £120 settlement, and £60 as his annual salary. But before the application could be regularly made to him, he received and accepted a call at Gorham.

February 18, 1768, the church made a second attempt to settle a minister, and chose unanimously (by 22 votes) the Rev. Joseph Willard. The town concurred, and voted the same salary as to Mr. Thacher, excepting that when he should be unable to supply the pulpit, he was to receive but £30. Before the terms of his settlement were finally agreed upon, he declined being considered a candidate. *1

*1 The Rev. Joseph Willard was a native of Grafton, was graduated at Harvard College in 1765, ordained at Mendon, April 19, 1769, dismissed December 14, 1782, and installed at Boxborough, November 2, 1785. He died in September, 1828, aged 86.

In the next attempt the church did not proceed with much harmony. A majority were in favor of Mr. John Emerson of

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Malden, but “for peace sake,” Mr. Asa Dunbar, “a young candidate newly begun to preach,” was employed for a month. At length, August 22, 1769, the church chose Mr. Emerson by 18 votes, and the town concurred, and voted him £133 settlement, and £66 13s. 4d. salary. “But there was such an opposition in the town against Mr. Emerson settling here (though without any charge against his character either in doctrine or morals), that he was constrained to give the church and town a denial.”

The next trial succeeded. Mr. Joseph Penniman was chosen, January 15, 1771, by 29 out of 31 votes, and the choice concurred in by the town. His salary was the same as was voted to Mr. Emerson. He was ordained May 22, 1771. The council consisted of the second church in Braintree, the second in Cambridge, the first in Woburn, and the churches in Billerica, Lincoln, Lexington, and Concord. The Rev. Mr. Sherman of Woburn made the first prayer; the Rev. Mr. Weld of Braintree preached from 2 Tim. ii. 2; the Rev. Mr. Cook of West Cambridge gave the charge; the Rev. Mr. Clark of Lexington made the last prayer; and the Rev. Mr. Lawrence gave the right hand of fellowship. The town voted, “that the day should be religiously observed agreeably to the solemnity of the occasion, that they were determined, as much as in them lay, to prevent all levity, profaneness, music, dancing, frolicking, and all other disorders.”

After about twenty years, during which 42 persons were admitted to full communion, and 190 baptized, objections were brought against Mr. Penniman, and referred to a council, consisting of the churches in Waltham, Chelsea, East Sudbury, [*11] Billerica, Weston, and Charlestown. It met October 29, 1793, and, after three days’ session, advised a separation. This was complied with by the church and town; and he was dismissed November 1, 1793.

The Rev. Joseph Penniman was born in Braintree, and graduated at Harvard College in 1765. After his dismission he removed to Harvard, where he died. Though possessed of respectable talents, he was very eccentric in his manners and public performances. His prayers were more like a familiar conversation with a fellow being than an address to Deity. Many of his ex-

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pressions, more marked than the following, [*12] are still recollected by its people. On a certain occasion, when a plentiful rain had come after a drought, he said, “We prayed, O Lord, for rain, but we do not wish thou shouldest leave the bottles of heaven unstopped.” [*13] Soon after the 19th of April, 1775, he is said to have used the expression, — “We pray thee to send the British soldiers where they will do some good; for thou knowest, O Lord, that we have no use for them about here!”

December 5, 1793, was kept as a fast by the church and town. The Rev. Messrs. Litchfield, Cummings, Ripley, Marrett, and Clark assisted in the public religious services on the occasion. The Rev. Samuel Stearns was chosen December 17, 1795, by the church, and December 28th by the town; having preached his first sermon in Bedford the 13th of the previous September. He was ordained April 27, 1796. The churches in Lexington, Billerica, second in Woburn, Concord, Lincoln, Carlisle, second in Andover, Epping, Chelmsford, and the Rev. Drs. Willard and Tappan of Cambridge, composed the council. The Rev. Mr. Stearns of Lincoln made the first prayer; the Rev. Mr. French of Andover preached from Isaiah xlix. 5; the Rev. Mr. Marrett of Woburn made the ordaining prayer; the Rev. Mr. Clark of Lexington gave the charge; the Rev. Mr. Cummings of Billerica gave the right hand of fellowship; and the Rev. Dr. Tappan made the closing prayer. The town agreed to give the Rev. Mr. Stearns $850 settlement, and $333.33 salary to be stated on the following articles: — corn 666 mills, [*15] and rye 833 mills per bushel; beef $4.166 per hundred weight, [*14] and pork 55 mills per pound; one quarter of the salary in each of the above articles. In 1811 a new contract was made, and the salary fixed at $560 and 20 cords of wood annually.

The confession of faith and the covenant were revised in 1798, and printed in 1821. [*16] The church then contained 105 members, of whom 40 were males and 65 females. In 1829 there were 140.

The Rev. Samuel Stearns, son of the Rev. Josiah Stearns, was born at Epping, New Hampshire, April 8, 1770, and graduated at Harvard College in 1794. His ministry has generally been remarkably peaceful and happy. It is only within the last two years that the town gave any decided indications towards a

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division of the religious society, after the example of many of her neighbours. In 1832 this division was made, [*17] and a new meeting house erected for Mr. Stearns. [*18]

Name.Time of Birth.Election.Death.Age.
Israel Putnam,——————Aug. 4, 1730.Nov. 12, 1760.62
Nathaniel Merriam,Dec. 10, 1672.Aug. 4, 1730.Dec. 11, 1738.66
Job Lane,June 20, 1689.Feb. 11, 1739.Aug. 9, 1762.74
Benjamin Bacon,Dec. 6, 1713. [^1]Feb. 19, 1759.Oct. 1, 1791.78
Stephen Davis,Nov. 6, 1715.Dec. 29, 1760.July 22, 1787.72
James Wright,born in Woburn.Sept. 1, 1785.Dec. 24, 1818.73
William Merriam,——————May 16, 1796.removed from office.
Moses Fitch,March 3, 1775.June 10, 1805.Oct. 12, 1825.71
Michael Crosby,born in Billerica.July 15, 1817.——————
Zebedee Simonds,born in Woburn.Jan. 1826.Sept. 20, 1826.40
Amos Hartwell,——————Nov. 21, 1826.——————
Succession of the Deacons.



  • Dec. 6, ∨ Dec. 6.



  1. “two rods and a half”: ~12.5 meters
  2. “the sermon”: Discourse delivered at Bedford (1817) [ no scan ]
    Rev. Stearns preached from Genesis 28:17. (NEC) pp 159-161
  3. “abjuring”: renouncing
  4. “covenant”: pledge (to do)
  5. “admonition”: counsel
  6. “communion”: fellowship
  7. “carnal”: worldly
  8. “Anterior to”: Before
  9. cf. Brown’s History of the town of Bedford (1891) p 12
  10. “West Cambridge” became Arlington in 1867.
  11. “East Sudbury” became Wayland in 1835.
  12. “marked”: noteworthy
  13. “unstopped”: uncorked
  14. “mills”: tenths of a cent
  15. “hundred weight” (i.e., “hundredweight”): hundred pounds
  16. cf. The confession of faith, and covenant (1843) [ poor scan ]
  17. cf. “Samuel Stearns and the Unitarian controversy” (1868)
    in The Congregational quarterly: Volume X (pp 245-275)
  18. “a new meeting house”: now First Parish: 75 Great Road

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