The town now began to find rest from soldiers’ bills, and, after providing for a few back dues for public service, attention was turned to local concerns. The schools needed attention, the meeting- house required additional sittings, and to be put into better repair.
About this time a custom prevailed of reporting all persons who came to reside in town, or even
temporary visitors, to the town clerk, by whom their names were carefully recorded in the town’s book.
September 9, 1786, the town
“constituted and approved Lieut. John Merriam and Lieut. Timothy Jones to meet the committees from such towns as shall assemble to consult with the delegates that assembled at Concord on the twenty-third day of August last, at any town or towns they shall think proper to meet at in order to devise some salutary measures to quiet the minds of any body or bodies of people that shall attempt to oppose government in any unconstitutional manner whatever.” [^1]
The disquietude of mind here alluded to was the same which culminated in Shays’ Rebellion. This the town was ready to suppress by forcible measures, as will appear by the following vote:
“January 16, 1787, Voted to give the men that enlist to go to Worcester at the rate of forty-two shillings per month; and also voted to pay each man as part of the above 42/ twelve shillings in case they have marching orders, and the town to have the wages allowed by the state.”
The dangers of civil commotion being thus provided for, the town again gave attention to its private affairs. It reconsidered all the votes that had been passed relating to the schools and school-houses, and appointed a committee to divide the town into five districts.
A little later an event happened which greatly scandalized the whole town. It was communion day; the minister had long been noted for his eccentricities; the people had openly suggested a cause for some of them, and now they were sure such suggestions were right. The meeting-house doors were closed against the pastor in the afternoon. Some wag, seeing the condition of things, perpetrated the following, which he inscribed upon the meeting-house: — [*1]
“A wicked priest, a crooked people,
A cracked bell without a steeple.”
September 16, 1793, the town unanimously voted
“that the church refer their grievancy to a council, in case the Rev. Mr. Joseph Penniman doth not agree to have the relation in which he stands to the church and town dissolved.”
November 3, 1793, the council concurred with the church in the dismission of Rev. Mr. Penniman by a unanimous vote.
A demand was now made by the general government for soldiers, either for the contemplated
[ p 247 ]
war with England or France, the war with Western Indians, or the necessary movement to suppress the “Whiskey Rebellion.” In this matter Bedford was prompt, as she always has been, and voted, August 28, 1794,
“to give each soldier that shall voluntarily enlist the sum of eighteen shillings as a bounty, and to make them up eight dollars per month including the state pay, in case they are called upon to march, and for the time they are in actual service.”
The soldiers that enlisted were Moses Abbott, Jr., John Reed, Jr., Eleazer Davis, Jr., John Merriam, Jr., Job Webber, Asa Webber, William J. Lawrence, and William Kemp. The public schools, nevertheless, were not neglected. The town voted September 1, 1794, £65 for schools, to have the schools equally divided into five parts, that is, to have six weeks’ writing- school in each of the school-houses in the winter season, and two months’ reading-school in the summer season in each of the school-houses.
At the meeting above noted one article was “to see if the town will choose a committee to take an accurate plan of the town of Bedford, agreeable to a resolve of the great and General Court of this commonwealth,” and the town chose a committee of three for that purpose, — Captain John Webber, William Merriam, Thompson Bacon.
After the dismission of Mr. Penniman, a good many candidates had been heard, though no record is extant of their names. In September, 1795, Mr. Samuel Stearns preached to them, and December 28, 1795, the town concurred with the church in selecting him for the work of the gospel ministry. A committee, consisting of Deacon James Wright, William Merriam, Timothy Jones, Esq., Captain John Webber, and John Reed, Esq., waited upon the Rev. Mr. Stearns, communicated to him the vote of the town, and received in reply a letter from him accepting the office of pastor.
March 21, 1796, the town voted to accept the answer of Mr. Stearns, and ordered the same to be put upon the town records. The town appointed the ordination to take place on Wednesday the 27th of April.
Though Bedford has always held the reputation of a moral and virtuous town, she has sometimes had within her borders those who were willing to appropriate to their own use the effects of their neighbors. Tradition tells of one family so addicted to larceny that they would steal from one another for the very pleasure of theft. It also further says that one of these persons was brought to condign
punishment, and was publicly and legally whipped, being tied to an apple-tree in the little orchard between Minister Stearns’ mansion and that of Jeremiah Fitch. [*2] I am unable to give the date of the public whipping.
The condition of the country had now become truly exciting; war with France was in the minds of many inevitable. Bedford resolved to be ready. The town voted on the 5th of November, 1798,
“that the selectmen be directed to show out to the officers, out of the town’s stock, as much powder and ball, and as many flints as the law requires for each soldier of said company on their inspection days, and also that the selectmen be directed to furnish each soldier on muster days with sixteen cartridges out of said town stock.”
There was a custom at this time to prevent those who were in danger of becoming a public charge from obtaining a foothold as citizens. This was done by exempting them from public taxes, or otherwise warning them out of town.
The death of Washington gave occasion for an imposing ceremony. The town met on the 6th of February and considered the subject; then continued the meeting to the 10th of February, when they agreed upon a method to testify their affectionate regard for the memory of General George Washington on the 22d of February, and to make necessary arrangements and provisions therefor. Rev. Samuel Stearns delivered a discourse on the occasion of the funeral solemnities. [??]
When Mr. Stearns was settled, the town gave him a choice for yearly salary of $333.33 1/3 in money, or the same amount in beef, pork, rye, and Indian corn. After he had given his answer to the church and parish on the Sabbath, and before he had replied to the town, he was told that some were dissatisfied with the stipulation because it might lead to misunderstandings and disputes in fixing the value of articles year by year. In his reply to the town he accepted the definite sum with this condition: “Resting assured that the town will not willingly see me suffer by reason of the depreciation of the currency hereafter.” The currency did depreciate, and the minister sold off land from the place which he had just bought at the value of a hundred dollars a year, and applied the proceeds to his living. After going in debt for about five hundred dollars he was absolutely compelled to present his case to the town. Notwithstanding the liberality with which the town responded, the pastor’s salary was not adequate to
[ p 248 ]
his wants, and he supplemented it not only by receiving into his family suspended students from Harvard, but by establishing a young ladies’ school in the parish. He hired a room in the tavern then kept by Jeremiah Fitch, and continued the school for three years. Mrs. Jonathan Lane, now more than ninety years of age, is the only one of the pupils known to be still alive. [*3]
Though the town had based their pastor’s salary upon the stipulated value of beef, pork, rye, and Indian corn, it still proved inadequate to his comfortable support. April 4, 1808, the town voted
“to add the sum of three hundred dollars to his salary: fifty dollars of which to be paid at each semi-annual payment for three years if he doth continue to be pastor of the town; if not, then to be paid in the same proportion for a shorter time; they also recommend that the town add two cords of wood to each year above expressed.”
The matter of arrears of salary did, however, eventually lead to contention and bitterness, which presented a chief obstacle to an amicable separation between the pastor and the people.
In 1807 a war with Great Britain seemed imminent, and on the 27th of August we find Bedford passing the following vote:
“Voted, to make up to the soldiers that may voluntarily turn out in defence of our country, fourteen dollars per month as wages, if called into actual service. Voted, to give the men ordered to be discharged from Captain Lane’s company if they shall voluntarily turn out, three dollars per man, as an encouragement to the same, whether they march or not.”
Further provision was also made for the soldiers. December 27 the town “granted to Captain Lane’s soldiers who should enlist in the defence of our country for the term of six months, $13 per month as wages during the time they are in actual service.”
The warrant for a town-meeting March 5, 1810, gives an idea of the basis of suffrage at that time. It is issued to “the free holders and other votable inhabitants of said town qualified to vote in town meetings, namely, such as pay, to one single tax besides the poll or polls, a sum equal to two thirds of a single poll tax.” At this meeting Daize Skelton contracted to build a hearse-house, which stood for many years in the southwest corner of the old graveyard. [^2] Here were kept the hearse and the bier and the pall. Here was stored the old cracked bell. Here also were kept the town’s stock of powder and other military paraphernalia. It was
a great event for the boys, a few days before every annual muster, to watch the soldiers as they prepared the cartridges for the occasion.
In 1812 the property qualification is declared to be a “freehold income of ten dollars or other property valued at $200.” Few matters of interest signalize the town-meetings of 1812. In March the usual officers were chosen, and Thompson Bacon, a prominent republican, was sent representative. Castilio Hosmer was permitted to move the pound upon his own land, and the structure still remains as the foundation of the old John Bacon shoemaker’s shop.
- Josiah A. Stearns’ “Bedford” (1880)
in Drake’s History of Middlesex County: Vol I (pp 246-248)
- to consult ∨ for to consult
- Daize ∨ “Daiz
- Brown’s History of the town of Bedford (1891)
- “wag”: mischievous person
- “condign”: well-deserved
- “Mrs. Jonathan Lane”: Ruhamah (Page) Lane: d. 1882 (BHB) II: p 22