Stearns (1880) [4/4]

The schools now demanded especial attention. Though the town had for some years been divided into five districts for school purposes, all children had a right to attend either or all of the schools when their own did not keep. [*1] From some unknown cause a bitter quarrel arose among children attending school in the east quarter. Master Gragg was a quiet man, and they rode roughly over his authority, and the several sections arrayed themselves violently against one another. [^1] On one side were the east-quarter boys, called by their enemies “shaberkins” and “sharks;” [*2] and on the opposite side were the north-quarter boys and the centre boys in unholy alliance, but nicknamed in their turn, from their locality, “north-quarter hogs” and “city pigs.” So the Hogs and the Pigs fought the Shaberkins and the Sharks. No day was without its battle, till the feud became almost as fierce among adults as among the young. The town took the matter in hand March 29, 1813, and the East District being at once isolated from all the rest, the warfare gradually ceased.

A few months later an incident occurred which for a moment threw the town into dire consternation. An order was received calling upon the militia to march at once for the defence of Boston. It was a beautiful September Sabbath morning. Fife and drum called, and soon the martial men and the people were on their way to the house of God. The old meeting-house was crowded. When the ring of grounded muskets ceased, all was silence. Then began the simple service; the song went up from faltering lips. The good pastor’s exhortation was tender, sympathetic, earnest, but bold to inspire with lofty and patriotic valor. Thus fortified, now came hasty farewells and the march. Who could have thought that all this solemn preparation should soon turn into mirthfulness? Yet such it did; a single day effected the change. Their call

[ p 249 ]

proved to be a mistake. It was intended for Bradford or some other town. The Bedford men remained in Boston but a day or two, and then obtained their discharge.

After this there was no general call for men from Bedford during the war; but a few men were drafted and several others voluntarily enlisted.

When peace had been declared, Bedford was found in a condition of sufficient prosperity to contemplate the erection of a new meeting-house. The frame for each side and end of the building was put together and ready to be raised into position, when early on a bright summer morning multitudes of people assembled, listened to a short address and a fervent prayer by the pastor, and then, catching hold of the timbers with their hands, or standing by with pike-poles ready to lift when needed, they awaited in silence the appearance of a first ray from the rising sun, till suddenly the prolonged shout of “Bear it up!” was echoed by the multitude, and in a moment the whole broadside was trembling in the air. In a few hours the heavy framework of the building was standing in its place, where it has remained without a sign of displacement for more than sixty years. [*3]

In June the meeting-house was dedicated with imposing ceremonies. The neighboring ministers were generally present, and the town was full of strangers come to witness the event. A sweet-toned bell was, through the agency of Mr. Jeremiah Fitch of Boston, imported from London, and a clock was placed on the front of the gallery. It was a gift from the same public-spirited gentleman.

In the spring of 1818 a large and very efficient Sabbath-school was established in the old school- house. Nearly all the children in the town attended.

Bedford might now fairly be said to be in a prosperous condition. Since the commencement of the century several houses had been built, and several had been remodelled or put in repair. The town had a small but increasing fund for the support of its ministry, and another for instruction in sacred music. The schools were in good condition, and this year they were each set off into separate districts. A town library, whose proprietors held a charter of incorporation by the General Court, was in successful operation. The relations between minister and people were of the most cordial and agreeable kind.

The business of the town was greatly on the increase; several firms were employing numbers of

men in the manufacture of women’s and children’s shoes; and many of the women and girls in all parts of the town found it convenient to increase their income by binding shoes.

In 1823 the town voted to open the Chelmsford road, so called. The Carlisle road, which was very reluctantly built, and which had cost the town much inconvenience and expense, was now in excellent repair, and had become an avenue for considerable travel through the place; and now, when the Chelmsford road was completed, Bedford village became a constant thoroughfare.

In 1825 the town sold the old school-house, and erected a new one entirely of brick. It was a neat structure, two stories high, with a school-room upon the lower, and a town-hall upon the second floor. It was adorned with a cupola and a tasteful weather-vane.

On the 4th of July, 1826, Bedford celebrated the semi-centennial anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. A procession was formed at the west end of the street, which proceeded at once to the meeting-house, where prayer was offered, the Declaration of Independence was read, and an oration was delivered by the minister’s oldest son, Samuel H. Stearns, a graduate of Harvard, and afterwards pastor of the Boston Old South Church.

Every department of life seemed to indicate prosperity. The young people sought improvement by means of their debating society, their social library, and their neighborhood gatherings. This pleasant state of things continued till about 1832, when an event occurred which shook the social fabric of the town to its very foundations, and from which it has scarcely recovered to the present day. It was a rupture between the minister and a portion of his people. All through Middlesex County, and in some other parts of the state, a divergence of opinion had been taking place among the members of societies who had hitherto worshipped together. The difference was in doctrines and measures. The pastor adhered to the old standards of faith, and some of his people had embraced the new. A series of religious meetings had been held, and many converts had been the result. This brought into active opposition all the discontented elements in the town. The minister was requested by the parish to ask a dismissal; while a majority of his pewholders adhered to him. A council was called, which failed definitely to settle the controversy by its award. A new society grew out of the rupture. Mr. Stearns, considering his relations

[ p 250 ]

with the old organization dissolved by the action of the council, accepted the call of the new to become its minister, while the old still claimed him. A thousand dollars formerly loaned him by his society so long as he should supply its pulpit was the great obstacle to an amicable adjustment. The council’s decision having awarded this sum to Mr. Stearns, an appeal was had to the law, and while the controversy was still unsettled, Mr. Stearns died. The court ignored the council, but a jury decided that the minister had virtually supplied the pulpit till his death. [*4]

The land for the new meeting-house was presented by Mr. Jeremiah Fitch, the same who had imported the bell and given a clock and a Bible to the First Parish.

After the separation, the First Parish for a considerable time employed the Rev. Mr. Davis as a stated supply till the settlement of the Rev. Joshua Chandler, a graduate of Harvard, formerly settled over a church in Swanzey, N.H. [*5] His successors were Rev. George W. Woodward, Rev. William Cushing, stated supply, and Rev. George W. Webster, who was regularly settled. After Mr. Webster, Rev. Jason Whitman, minister of Lexington, supplied the pulpit half of each Sabbath for several years till his death. Then followed an interregnum of about twelve years, after which a similar arrangement was made with the Rev. Grindall Reynolds of the First Parish in Concord, and he continues their minister. Besides the church edifice, which has been twice partially remodelled to suit the times, this society inherits all the funds and church property formerly belonging to the town.

Shortly after the death of Mr. Stearns, the new society met for the purpose of calling Rev. Jonathan F. Stearns, a son of their former pastor; but he had already accepted another call. A call was next given to the Rev. D. Talcott Smith (now Rev. D. Smith Talcott, D.D., of Bangor Theological Seminary), but he declined. The Rev. Jonathan Leavitt (Amherst College, 1825) was called, and after supplying the pulpit a year was settled. In 1840 Mr. Leavitt removed, and was settled over the Richmond Street Church in Providence, Rhode Island. His successors were the Rev. S. Hopkins Emery, Rev. Oren Sikes, Rev. J. H. Patrick, now of West Newton, Rev. W. J. Batt, now of Stoneham, Rev. George Lewis, Rev. Edward Chase, Rev. Otis Crawford, and Rev. George E. Lovejoy, the present minister. This society is out of debt, — owns its commodious meeting-house and parsonage-

house. Its elegant communion service was the gift of the late widow Hannah Reed.

For many years a prominent occupation in the town was the manufacture of shoes. It was started in 1805 by John Hosmer and Jonathan Bacon. Several firms became engaged; among them Benjamin and Zebedee Simonds, the Hon. Reuben Bacon, and Chamberlin and Billings. Two or three hundred persons were employed, and there were sold annually more than ninety thousand pairs of shoes. But the introduction of machinery elsewhere caused the manufacture to decline, till it has now almost ceased. For a time the decline of this business was compensated by the introduction of a paper-mill in the east part of the town. While this establishment was in the full tide of success, the population increased to nearly one thousand. But the mill was at length destroyed by fire, and never rebuilt. More than one hundred persons left the place, and all business except agriculture was found to languish. Farming is now the principal business of Bedford. The town, however, did not lose its public spirit. A new and more commodious town-hall was built. It was dedicated with formal ceremonies. Mr. John F. Gleason read an appropriate poem, and Mr. Josiah A. Stearns delivered the dedicatory address. Speeches were made by several persons, among them Mr. Charles Lane of Boston, who presented the town with an elegant clock. This was the same Mr. Lane whose life was so tragically ended at Dorchester. [*6]

When the War of Rebellion commenced, the town proved itself true to its traditionary patriotism. It was lavish in voting bounties. The young men were prompt to enlist. The women and girls were zealous in preparing lint and articles of comfort for the sick or wounded, which they sent forward through the various Christian and sanitary commissions. [*7] Some of them even gave personal service as nurses in the camp. About sixteen hundred dollars were earned and contributed by the ladies to erect a monument in the beautiful Shawshine Cemetery, to perpetuate the memory of fourteen soldiers of Bedford who yielded up life for their country. In various ways not less than five thousand dollars were contributed to the war by this little town. Every year since the strife ceased the soldiers’ graves have been decorated with pious care.

Since the establishment of the Middlesex Central Railroad the village has taken a new start. Several houses have been erected, and it is still

[ p 251 ]

growing. The people find themselves situated only ten minutes’ ride from the patriotic towns of Lexington and Concord, and eight trains daily each way transport them to and from Boston. The narrow-gauge railroad, though a mechanical success, has proved a pecuniary failure, yet there is some hope that it may erelong again come into operation.

About a mile and a half from the village some valuable mineral springs were discovered a few years since. A commodious hotel has been erected on the spot. [*8] The house is well kept, and visitors find themselves almost as well environed with rural

scenery and seclusion as they would be at the White Mountains.

From the churches of Bedford have gone forth no fewer than fourteen ministers; and the town has furnished about the same number of college graduates, among them a trustee of Princeton College, [*9] a professor of St. James College, Md., [??] a pastor of the Old South Church of Boston, [*10] a president of Amherst College, [*11] and a chancellor of the University of Nashville, Tenn. [*12] The town has also furnished a large number of teachers, and has been well represented in the legal and medical professions. *1

*1 This sketch of Bedford is condensed from the author’s materials for a larger history now in course of preparation. — Ed. [*13]


  • Josiah A. Stearns’ “Bedford” (1880)
    in Drake’s History of Middlesex County: Vol I (pp 248-251)


  1. Gragg ∨ Grag



  1. “did not keep”: were not being run
  2. Seemingly, no other recorded instances of “shaberkins” exist–
    save for instances in later works that quote this very passage.
  3. “the building”: now First Parish: 75 Great Road
  4. cf. “Samuel Stearns and the Unitarian controversy” (1868)
    in The Congregational quarterly: Volume X (pp 245-275)
  5. “stated supply”: acting minister
  6. “Mr. Charles Lane, living on Hancock Street, Ward 16, was shot and killed in his own doorway by some unknown assassin.” (Police) p 106 i
  7. “lint”: linen gauze
  8. “A commodious hotel”: the Bedford Springs Hotel
    “In 1897 the owner . . . evidently replaced the Springs Hotel with the Sweetwater Hotel, which was likely the largest commercial building constructed in Bedford in its time.” (HPN) p 15
    That later hotel was demolished in 1913. (HPN) p 15
  9. “a trustee”: Jonathan F. Stearns: b. 1808 – d. 1889 (BHB) II: p 37
  10. “a pastor”: Samuel H. Stearns: b. 1801 – d. 1837 (BHB) II: p 37
  11. “a president”: William A. Stearns: b. 1805 – d. 1876 (BHB) II: p 37
  12. “a chancellor”: Eben S. Stearns: b. 1819 – d. 1887 (BHB) II: p 38
  13. Josiah Stearns died just three years after the publication of this short history. Brown says he “was spending his leisure hours on [a longer work] when his health failed”. (BHB) II: p 41

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