Boylston's Church History
BOYLSTON'S CHURCH HISTORY
George. L. Wright, town clerk
As part of dedication of new edifice
The following is the full text of the historical address by Town Clerk George L. Wright of Boylston, delivered at the morning service in the Boylston Congregational church on Sunday, November 13, as a part of the dedicatory exercises of the new church edifice.
On the 17th and 24th days of October, 1852, at the conclusion of the 20th anniversary of his settlement over this church, Rev. William H. Sanford preached two sermons giving the history of the church up to that time.
For the first of these sermons he selected as his text these words from Deut. xxxii-7: Remember the days of old. Consider the years of many generations; ask thy father and he will show thee; thy elders and they will tell thee.
In the beginning of this sermon he said: There is a peculiar and deep interest in tracing ancient records, in studying the customs, the principles, the enjoyments, the sufferings and the trials of those who have lived before us. And your interest is greatly increased when our investigations relate to those who were our immediate ancestors, --those who once filled the same places which we now fill, who traveled over the same territory, who cultivated the same lands, and gained their sustenance from the same soil. As there is a perpetual change in the scenery which meets the eye as we change from place to place or in the habits and practices and notions of different communities as we mingle with different societies, so there is an unceasing variety in the conditions and customs of successive generations.
Within the past few weeks our mother town of Shrewsbury has observed with fitting ceremonies the 200th anniversary, not of her settlement but the organization of her town government for some of her settlers had been upon her soil for fully ten years before the first town meeting was held. Two hundred years seems a long period in the dim and distant future. Yet when we look over the records of the past and read the familiar names that have come down to us the story of the 200 and more years that have elapsed since the pioneers of Shrewsbury laid the foundations of this town seems but the story of yesterday and the tale of a day that has past.
How vastly different were the conditions that confronted the pioneer settlers from what we enjoy, what we now reap with affluence, ease and comfort, they acquired only by unceasing toil and hardship. The early New England settlers were a God-fearing people and they laid the foundations of their infant settlements upon the principles of religion, morality and good order, and these principles have been the controlling elements in the lives and characters of their descendants wherever they have gone.
The earliest settlement in Boylston that we know anything about was made in the extreme northwesterly past of the town, on the territory belonging to Lancaster about 1705, by the Sawyer family. The settlements in the other portions of the town derived from Shrewsbury were made about the same time as the settlements in the south part of that town and mainly by families from the same localities. Dea. John Keyes, who resided on the farm in the easterly part of Boylston long known as the John Bowers place and later as the Patrick Griffin and Leonard S. Stark farm, was probably one of the first, if not the very first settler in this part of Shrewsbury. He was born in Sudbury and shortly before 1700, settled in Lancaster where he married Sarah Prescott, a grand-daughter of John Prescott, the pioneer of Worcester county.
He was one of the proprietors of Shrewsbury and for a long series of years the proprietors' clerk; upon the gathering of the Shrewsbury church in 1723, he was one of its first deacons, an office in which he continued until the gathering of the church in the North Precinct in 1743 when he with his kinsman, Dea. Cyprian Keyes, who had been an associate deacon with him in the Shrewsbury church, and the latters brother, Dea. Jonathan Keyes, were made deacons of the new church November 29, 1743.
Deacon John Keyes was the first town clerk of Shrewsbury and the first civil magistrate in this part of the town.
As early as 1735 the population increased to such an extent that the people deemed themselves capable of assuming the powers and responsibilities of a separate town government and petitioned the General Court of the Province of the Massachusetts Bay that they might be set off from Shrewsbury and incorporated into a separate town by themselves.
Under the then existing laws each town was entitled to send a representative to the General Court and so as the number of towns increased, so also the number of representatives was likewise increased and this meant a stronger expression of the will of the people in the council halls of the province. Even at that early period the king was jealous of any encroachments upon his royal prerogative and so while the petition passed the General Court it was promptly vetoed by the royal governor, and an appeal was taken to the king's privy council in London where the veto was sustained.
Disappointed but not disheartened immediate steps were taken to become a precinct. This action met with no objections from the General Court or the governor and was approved, and on the 17th day of December, 1742, they were incorporated as the Second or North Precinct in Shrewsbury.
They then took measures to complete their precinct organization and at a precinct meeting held January 19, 1743, the first precinct officers were chosen about the same time they relinquished their rights in the meeting house in Shrewsbury for 32 pounds sterling, 10 shillings, to be paid when the precinct should have erected and covered a meeting house of their own. At the next precinct meeting, Feb. 7, 1743, 26, 8s, old tenor were granted to pay for preaching for eight days which included each Sabbath since they had been incorporated as a precinct, and then began to prepare for the erection of a meeting house and the settlement of a minister. 50 old tenor were granted for preaching in the future. It was voted that the center of the North Precinct in Shrewsbury, that is south of the Quinipoxet river or the most convenient spot to the center except it be westerly, be the spot to set the meeting house upon. Surveyors were employed to find the center of the precinct and on the 18th day of February 1743, the precinct voted to build a meeting house 45 feet long, 35 feet wide and 20 feet between the joints and that the house should be up and covered with shingles and rough boarded round the sides, by the first of the following June.
It is said that at the time of the ordination of the first minister in the following October, the house was still in an unfinished condition and had neither floor laid, doors, windows, nor pulpit but the next year it was nearly completed. This meeting house stood on the south common at the northeast angle of the old cemetery, and back of it was the noon or Sabba day house, where the people assembled between the services to eat their lunches and warm themselves. The church was gathered October 6, 1743. Rev. Job Cushing, the first minister of the Shrewsbury church, records the names of 13 brethren living in the North Precinct who petitioned for dismission from that church to form the new church; and Mr. Morse records these names and six others who signed the covenant. These with 16 women most of them the wives of these brethren, who also petitioned the Shrewsbury church for dismission and recommendation for the new church, may be considered the founders of this church.
The church and precinct made choice of Rev. Ebenezer Morse as their minister and he was ordained Oct. 26, 1743. He was the son of Hon. Joshua Morse of Medfield; he was graduated at Harvard college in 1737; he was a man of unusual ability and before his ordination studied law for a year or more with Hon. John Chandler of Worcester with a view of entering that profession. He afterward studied medicine and theology. As a physician he was skilful and after the custom of many of the ministers of his day practiced medicine in connection with his ministerial labors and after his dismission until his death. At the time of his ordination he was 25 years of age. After coming to the Shrewsbury North Precinct, he married Persis, daughter of Ensign John Bush, purchased a large tract of land of his father-in-law and built a house which stood about midway between the present brick house and the house on the place now owned and occupied by Dea. Calvin H. Andrews and there he resided until his death, January 3, 1802, at the age of 83 years and 9 months.
For nearly 50 (number not clear) years until the commencement of hostilities between Great Britain and the American colonies the relations between Dr. Morse and his people were harmonious. At the outbreak of affairs that led to the Revolution, he was found to be an unflinching royalist, and so outspoken in his political sentiments that his parishioners, most of whom were strong adherents to the colonial cause, resolved to endure him no longer as their minister and asked him to resign. This he refused to do, or even to join with them in calling an ecclesiastical council to (missing words here). He was called to an account by the town of Shrewsbury, disarmed and confined to the territorial limits of his parish. The church and precinct then adopted drastic measures and voted that he should no longer enter the pulpit as their minister and stationed guards at the pulpit stairs to see that he did not. Finally the church and precinct voted to call another council who advised them to reconsider their drastic vote dismissing him, and then after a protracted session formally dissolved the pastoral relations. He is supposed to have imbibed his strong royalist sentiments from his close intimacy and friendship with the Chandlers, Paines and other leading Tories of Worcester.
Dr. Morse was followed in the pastoral office by Rev. Eleazer Fairbanks, a native of Preston, Conn., and a graduate of Brown University in the class of 1775. He was ordained Mar. 27, 1777 and continued here until April 28, 1793, when he was dismissed after a pastorate of a little more than 16 years. After coming here he married Sarah, daughter of Dea. Ameriah Bigelow and about 1780 built the house which was afterwards the parsonage of Revs. Samuel Russell and William H. Sanford, and which is now the residence of Warren S. Young. During the ministry of Mr. Fairbanks important changes were made in the manner of conducting church music and Dr. Watts version of the Psalms and his hymns was introduced.
During the same period in 1786 the Shrewsbury North Precinct became the town of Boynston. After leaving Boylston, Mr. Fairbanks preached at Wilmington, Vt., and finally removed to Palmyra, N.Y., where he died in 1821. The erection of a new meeting house was undertaken in 1792, the location of which became the cause of a long and bitter controversy. The town was again surveyed to find its geographical center and attempts were made to fix upon some spot that would be satisfactory to the inhabitants of all sections, but without success; town meeting followed town meeting, one of them having as many as 11 adjournments, and finally the matter was left out to a committee of referees from the towns of Lancaster, Bolton and Northboro, who decided on the spot now occupied by the Sawyer Memorial Library Building, and there the second meeting house was built and completed in 1793. The controversy which had arisen during the erection of this meeting house so embittered the people of the west section of the town that in 1795 they took measures to be incorporated either as a separate town, a district of a precinct. The legislature granting them the latter privilege, and in 1796 this portion of the town with parts of Holden and Sterling were incorporated as the Second Precinct in Boylston, Holden and Sterling; and a meeting house was erected on what is now West Boylston Common. In 1818, this precinct became the town of West Boylston.
Mr. Fairbanks was succeeded in the ministerial office by Rev. Hezekian Hooper, who was ordained March 9, 1794. He was a native of Bridgewater, Mass., and a graduate of Harvard College in 1789. His pastorate was of short duration. He was forced by sickness to retire from his charge and return to his father's home where he died December 2, 1795, at the age of 25 years, having been the minister of this church one year, nine months and 25 days. He is described as a young man of unusual talents and who gave great promise of success in the ministry.
June 7, 1797, Rev. Ward Cotton was ordained to the ministry and settled over this church and parish and he continued as the minister until June 22, 1825, when he was dismissed. His pastorate was characterized by a high degree of harmony, and whatever discord existed near its close was due mainly to the differences in theological opinions which ran through the Congregational churches of New England about 1825. Mr. Cotton did not claim to be a strict Calvinist, but inclined to the more liberal school of divines. After his dismission he remained a citizen of the town until his death Nov. 15, 1843, in the 74th year of his age.
He represented the town in the general court eight years; frequently served upon the school committee and as a civil magistrate. He was born in Plymouth, Mass; graduated at Harvard College in 1793. He was descended from a line of ministers long distinguished in the religious annals of New England, including the famous Rev. John Cotton, Boston; Rev. Drs. Increase and Cotton Mather and Rev. John Cotton, Jr., who was distinguished for his knowledge of the Indian tongue and who had the whole care of correcting and revising the second edition of John Eliot's Indian Bible.
During Mr. Cotton's ministry important changes were made in the church policy and discipline. The custom of receiving members on the "Half-Way Covenant" was discontinued about 1817. The Female Society for the Aid of Foreign Missions later known as the Ladies' Benevolent society was formed in October 1815 and the Sabbath school was instituted in 1818. Mr. Sanford said of Mr. Cotton; As a man he was amiable with strong sympathies for those who were in affliction. Obliging in his disposition, he took pleasure in conferring favors and never sought to give unnecessary pain and trouble to those around him.
Mr. Cotton was followed by Rev. Samuel Russell who was ordained July 21, 1826. He was born in Bow, N.H., and at the age of 15 years united with the church at Dunbarton, N.H. He graduated from Dartmouth College in 1821, and at the Andover Theological Seminary in 1824. He remained the pastor of this church nearly six years, when he was dismissed, and settled over the church in Norwich, Mass., where he preached two years until his health failed and consumption fastened its insidious grasp upon his system. He died January 27, 1835, at the age of 35 years.
Rev. Dr. John Todd of the Edward's church in Northampton, in his sermon preached at the funeral of Mr. Russell, said: Little need be said of the character of Mr. Russell. Those who knew him knew his worth. In his manners and appearances he was simple, unaffected and kind. His conversation was such as improved his friends. His disposition was naturally mild and amiable. His character was clear, sound and discriminating. As a husband, a friend, a pastor and a brother in the ministry he was respected and beloved.
During his ministry here the Evangelical churches of New England experienced one of the most powerful revivals of religion which had been felt since the time of Rev. George Whitefield. This revival was felt in the Boylston church and many were added to its membership.
On the 9th of August, 1832, the church and parish by a unanimous vote invited Rev. William H. Sanford to become their pastor, and accepting the call he was ordained on the 17th of the following October. Three years after assuming the pastorate the third meeting house was erected on land purchased by Aaron White, Esq., and Capt. Jason Abbott and was dedicated December 10, 1835. At the time of its erection only eight parish meetings were held for the purpose of transacting the business connected with it. When the first meeting house was built in 1743, 14 precinct meetings were needed for the completion of the building, and the erection of the second meeting house in 1792 was the cause of about 20 town meetings and the subsequent division of the church, precinct and town. During 21 years of Mr. Sanford's ministry he was one of the school committee of the town and in 1857 represented it in the General Court. He was an independent and fearless preacher, never hesitating to utter what he believed to be the truth. In his own declaration he said he did not shun to declare onto his people what he regarded as the whole counsel of God and kept back nothing which he thought would be profitable unto them. He never modified the doctrines which he advanced to suit any man's particular taste or to make them harmonize with any man's particular views. In his ministry he was greatly beloved by his people. He was born in Belchertown, Mass., graduated at Harvard College in the famous class of 1827, and studied theology with his father-in-law, Rev. Ethan Smith. Mr. Sanford resigned on account of ill health and was dismissed September 15, 1857. He died in Worcester November 27, 1879, at the age of 79 years and nine months.
After the close of Mr. Sanford's pastorate there was a period of temporary supply and Reve.William Murdock, Isaac G. Bliss, D.D., and Daniel Wright were acting pastors. October 17, 1861, Rev. Abel Hastings Ross was ordained and settled over the church and society. During his ministry the country passed through the throes of the Civil War and Mr. Ross was away from his parish for some time in the service of the U.S. Christian Commission. He was a native of Princeton in this county, a graduate of Oberlin College and a very able man. He was dismissed January 16, 1866, to accept a call at Springfield, Ohio. He was afterwards located at Port Huron, Michigan. He was very prominent in the ministry of the Congregational church. He received the degree of D.D., and for a time was Southworth Lecturer on Congregationalism at the Andover Theological Seminary, special lecturer on Church Policy in Oberlin College and finally moderator of the National Council of the Congregational church of the United States.
Rev. Andrew Bigelow, D.D., became the acting pastor of the church after Dr. Ross' dismission and remained until April, 1873. During his pastorate the interior of the church edifice was repaired and renovated and a fine pipe organ procured. Dr. Bigelow was a native of Boylston and a descendant of its earliest families. He graduated from Amherst College in 1838 in a class of 42 members, 19 of whom became ministers. He read theology with his brother, Rev. Jonathan Bigelow and Rev. Dr. Thomas Robbins. He was ordained and settled over the church in South Dartmouth in 1841 and was afterwards settled over the churches in Needham, West Hampton and Medfield, He received the degree of D.D., from Roanoke College, Va. At the close of his labors here he removed to Southboro, Mass., where he died September 28, 1882. In his last will he remembered this church with a bequest of $1,000. After the death of Dr. Bigelow, Mrs. Bigelow in writing of their life in Boylston while he was the pastor of this church, said: The uniform courtesy, and kindness extended to them in so many different forms for nearly seven years, rendered the relation between pastor and people one of peculiar interest; with heart and hand both united in labor for the welfare of Zion. Dr. Bigelow's great interest in the young people of the town and his untiring labors for their educational welfare as a member of the school committee are affectionately remembered.
From 1873 to October 1, 1877, the pulpit was supplied by Revs. W.H.S. Packard and Francis F. Williams. Mr. Williams lost his life in a fire which destroyed the Weeks House in Palmer, Mass., August 3, 1891. At the time of his death Mr. Williams had retired from the ministry.
The present parsonage was built in 1873.
October 1, 1877 Rev. Henry S. Kimball became the acting pastor of the church and remained here until April 1882. During that time the church debt was paid, largely through the efforts of Joseph Avery White of Framingham, Thomas White of Brooklyn, N.Y., John B. Gough and family and Rev. Dr. D.O. Mears and others of Piedmont church of Worcester. During the four years of Mr. Kimball's ministry nearly 50 persons united with the church and the Sabbath school was nearly doubled in numbers. Mr. Kimball was a native of Candia, N.H., and received his education at Pinkerton Academy and New Hampton Institute. It was his intention to have pursued a collegiate course at Dartmouth but his health would not allow it. He fitted himself for the ministry at the Methodist Biblical School in Concord, N.H., now the theological department of Boston University, and at the New Hampton Biblical Institute. He held pastorates in Sutton, Lakeport, Rochester and Troy, N.H., Killingly, Conn., and Lynn, Hyannis and Boylston, Mass., and for several years had charge of the Little Wanderers' Home in Boston.
Rev. Nathaniel S. Moore supplied the pulpit during the year 1882.
April 29, 1884, Rev. Israel Ainsworth was installed and settled as the pastor and remained until September 21, 1887 when he was dismissed to accept a call to the Second Congregational church in Peabody, Mass., where he remained until 1891. He was then settled over the church in Rockport, Mass., until 1907, and then at Beachmont, Revere, Mass., until his death which occurred very suddenly January 24, 1927 while on his way to attend a ministers' meeting in Boston. He was born in Lougborough, Leicestershire, England, and came to this country in 1870. (He served for a time as an assistant secretary of the Boston Young Men's Christian Association and afterwards as general secretary of the Association at Nashua, N.H. He was ordained to the ministry at New Boston, N.H., in 1880, and came from there to Boylston.)
In December 1887, Rev. Austin Dodge became the acting pastor and remained until 1891. He was a graduate of Amherst College in the class of 1861, and of the Andover Theological seminary in 1866. January 1, 1892, Rev. C. F. Lewis came and remained that year. He was followed by Rev. Daniel E. Burtner, D.D., who continued as the pastor until April 1898. During his pastorate, extensive repairs were made to the meeting house. A new and larger organ was built and installed, new pews and memorial windows were placed in the church. At the termination of his labors here, Dr. Burtner accepted a call to a church near Boston, now located at Medford.
Rev. Samuel B. Cooper Ph.D., became the acting pastor in 1898, and continued as such about four years when he resigned to become the pastor of the First Congregational church at North Brookfield, Mass., where he remained several years. He is now located in Pennsylvania. He is a native of England and an able man.
Rev. George S. Dodge began his long pastorate here in 1902, and terminated it in 1917; he was a son of Rev. John Dodge of Harvard and there a large portion of his boyhood and youth was spent. Fitting himself for the ministry he was ordained at Hebron, Conn., and preached for several years in that state, returning to Massachusetts, he was pastor of the church in Rutland for many years and then at the Emanuel Congregational church in Worcester. After closing his labors here, was made pastor emeritus of this church and returned to Rutland to reside, and served as the chaplain of the state institutions located there until his death Feb. 28, 1923.
During Mr. Dodge's pastorate the incorporation of the church and the consolidation of the church and parish organizations was effected in 1910 and the chapel at Morningdale was built and a flourishing Sabbath school organized. Mr. Dodge was honored and beloved by the Boylston people. As a townsman and pastor he ever labored unceasingly for the best interests of both church and town and his pastorate was characterized by an unusual degree of harmony and peace. He was followed by Rev. William G. Poor who remained about one year and then became pastor of the Congregational church at Upton, Mass., where he now remains.
Rev. George H. Reese came in December 1919, and remained until the Fall of 1925. He is now located at Central Village, Plainville, Conn.
Rev. Frederick W. Manning, S.T.D. the present pastor came in the Fall of 1926, a graduate of Colorado college and Andover Theological seminary. The interval between the close of Mr. Reese's labors and the advent of Mr. Manning being filled mainly by the Rev. Herman P. Fisher of Westboro.
During the Winter of 1902-03, the steeple of the meeting house was blown off during a severe gale, and a modern one was erected to replace it and a clock was placed there by the town at a cost of $500.
On Monday, February 4, 1924 at about 12 o'clock noon the meeting house was discovered to be on fire. The conflagation had made such headway that it was impossible to save the structure or any of its contents; help was called from Worcester and Clinton and the efforts were confined to saving the adjoining property and the fire was brought under control without destroying any other buildings. Fortunately the large pulpit Bible given to the church by Ward Nicholas Boylston in 1799 and which was not in use at the time had been placed sometime before in the town record vault at the Sawyer Memorial Library building; and the silver gold lined chalice given by Mr. Boylston at the same time the Bible was given, was away from the structure at the time of the fire and both were thus saved. Steps were at once taken to rebuild the meeting house. The congregation in the meantime and until the completion of the vestry worshiped in the town hall. The town clock has been replaced by another clock at a cost of $1000. With heart and hand the people of the church and town labored for the rebuilding and restoration of the church edifice. Work began on the present building April 19, 1924 and to the untiring efforts of the church and people of this town and their friends elsewhere many of whom were directly interested in the church and town and especially to Mr. and Mrs. George F. Fuller whose unceasing interest and generosity has ever been manifest, is the church indebted for this beautiful and stately structure. The organ is a gift from Mr. and Mrs. Fuller as a memorial to Mrs. Fuller's father and mother, Montraville, Jr., and Abbie Davis Flagg, both of whom were long members of the choir and ever connected with the activities of the church and town. This family has long been associated with this church. Deacon Abijah Flagg was one of the deacons of the church from 1829 to 1837 and the president of the first temperance society formed in this town, his son, Montraville Flagg, Sr., was in my boyhood one of the leading members of the church and parish.
The pulpit and its furniture is a gift of Mrs. William N. Davenport of Marlboro and Mrs. Andrew G. Stanhope of Worcester in memory of their father and mother, Deacon Lyman P. Kendall and Mrs. Eliza L. Kendall.
At the time of the laying of the cornerstone of the town hall, built in 1830. Mrs. Cotton wrote a paper containing an account of the town at that time which was placed in the cornerstone of that building. Mr. Cotton closed this paper with a prayer: That God in His Providence might save that structure from the consuming to elements and likewise may we today with all true devotion pray that God in his infinite goodness will save this structure now completed and dedicated to his service safe from the devouring elements and secure to the coming generation as a fitting temple of the living God.
During the long period of the existence of this church it has furnished at least nine young men to the ministry. Three of them were sons of Andrew Bigelow, Sr.. Twelve of the daughters of families connected with the church have married ministers.
Time will not allow for any extended or individual notice of the men and women who have composed the laity of the church; but of the women there is at least one of whom a passing notice should be given, one, who after she became connected with the church unceasingly devoted her life to its service, and who in my early boyhood was most affectionately referred by the then older members of the church, to as its Mother of Israel, Mary Avery, wife of Aaron White, Esq., and daughter of Rev. Joseph and Mary (Allen) Avery. Mrs. White's father was the pastor of the church in Holden from 1774 until his death in 1824, and she was herself, on her mother's side a grand-niece of Gov. Samuel Adams, the Revolutionary patriot. It is said that Mrs. White kept a dairy for many years in which she faithfully recorded the daily events in the life of the church and town.
The wives of the Boylston ministers have always held a remarkably strong place in the hearts of the people of the church and town and especially of the children and young people.
The distinguished Rev. Dr. Theodore Cuyler wrote an article about 1856, which was published in the New York Observer, and widely copied throughout the country, entitled, "The Model Parsonage" in which he made particular mention of the parsonage of Rev. William H. Sanford in Boylston.
The first person baptized after the gathering of the church was Mary Keyes daughter of Eli Keyes, Oct. 30, 1743. The oldest members of the church when Mr. Sanford began his settlement in 1832, was Lieut. Elijah Ball, a Revolutionary pensioner, who died in 1834 at the age of 87, after a church membership of 57 years, and the oldest member of the church when he closed his pastorate in 1857, was Elijah Ball, Jr., who died in 1859 at the age of 88 years and after a church membership of 65 years. The oldest member of the church at the time of the town's centennial in 1886 was the latter's son Ezra Ball who died April 2, 1891 at the great age of almost 96 years. The oldest person at any time upon the rolls of the church was Mrs. Lois Eames Wood, who was a member at the time of her death a few years ago at the great age of 101 years. Mrs. Maria M. Barnes, Mrs. Harriet A. Walker and Mrs. Martha Warner were at the time of the dedication of this church one week ago, the oldest persons belonging to the church.
The old fashioned ordination was a very important and imposing occasion when Mr. Cotton was ordained in 1797, 13 other churches were called to assist in the services and 10 marshals were necessary to preserve the proper decorum in and around meeting house and at the same time of Mr. Russell's ordination 12 churches were invited and there were 14 marshals headed by three captains and three lieutenants of the local militia. At Mr. Cotton's ordination 20, was granted to pay for the refreshments and entertainment of the ordaining council and at Mr. Rusell's ordination $50 was appropriated for the same purpose, and upon this latter occasion $25 was granted to the choir to expend for music.
The ancient records of the Shrewsbury North Precinct, covering the entire period of its existence from 1742 to 1786, are in good condition and are now deposited in the town record vault with the records of the town of Boylston. The ancient record of the church from the date of its formation in 1743 until the close of Dr. Morse's pastorate was kept by him after the custom of the early New England churches and at the completion of his ministry he refused to transmit it to the church and retained the volume. It remained in the Morse family for many years and repeated efforts of the church to recover it failed. Then all trace of whereabouts was lost, until a few years ago, when it was discovered in Canada by the New England Historic-Genealogical society who obtained it and is now in their custody. The society published in their magazine about three years ago a full transcript of the baptisms, marriages and deaths contained in this record. The volume of the church records beginning with Mr. Fairbanks' ministry and continuing to the close of Mr. Russell's settlement is also missing and was probably consumed in the fire that destroyed the Deacon Brigham house in 1892. I examined the volume before it was lost and made extracts from it including a complete transcript of the baptisms, marriages and deaths and my manuscript copy is now in the town record vault. The record of the church dating from Mr. Sanford's settlement are now in the custody of the church clerk.
I have among my historical papers a copy of a list of the members of this church prepared by Mr. Fairbanks during his ministry and another list made by Mr. Cotton in 1797, when he began his settlement. I have also copies of the floor and gallery plans of the meeting houses erected in 1792 and 1835, showing the names of the pew owners at the time those houses were built and another plan of the latter house made about 1863 and from this last plan I recall the names and faces of men and women who in my early boyhood constituted the active membership of this church, all of them long since gone to their final reward. In those days nearly every family in town was represented in the congregation each Sabbath.
During the existence of the church 26 persons have served in the office of deacon. The earliest deacons that I have any recollection of were Deas. Simeon Partridge and Henry H. Brigham who were long associated together. Dea. Levi Moore served out nearly or about 55 years, and Deas. Brigham and Walker more that 40 years each. Dea. Brigham was the parish clerk for half a century.
There is no complete list of the superintendents of the Sabbath school as no records were kept of the school until within my memory. David T. Moore, was the first one to propose that a record of the Sabbath school be kept and presented it a book for the purpose. Dea. Henry H. Brigham served as the superintendent for a long time. I have heard him say that he served for 12 consecutive years and never missed a single Sabbath in his attendance during that time. The first superintendent that I have any recollection of was Horace Kendall.
This church has had a part in the three most important eras of church music that have characterized the New England churches. The first was the period of Psalm singing when the only books used were the Bay Psalm book and its corrected editions, and when the words were deaconed out to the congregation and sung line by line. The second period began about the time of the Revolution and extended to the middle of the 19th century. This era saw the giving away of the old Bay Psalm Book to Tate and Brady and then to Dr. Watt's version of the Psalms and hymns and this in turn to the 'Select Hymns' by Worcester which was long in use in the Boylston church. This era was the beginning of church choirs.
The first record we find of any separate body of singers otherwise called the choir in this church was during the ministry of Mr. Fairbanks. This period also witnessed the introduction of 'Singing Schools.' The first reference found of a singing school in Boylston is upon the church records under date of September 16, 1806 when it was voted to grant $60 to pay for a singing school, and thereafter singing schools were frequently held during the Winter months for a period of more than 70 years. This was also the era of the introduction of instrumental music in the churches. The third and present period has witnessed the giving away of stringed instruments to organs and the introduction of quartets and trained singers.
It is said that the first instrument used in this church after the giving up of the stringed instruments was an old-fashioned melodeon manufactured about 1845. This instrument was a portable affair, carried in a trunk or case to and from the church by the player each Sabbath.
The most prominent of the choristers of this church was Caleb S. Crossman, afterwards a well known professor of music in the West. John B. Gough acted for a time in this capacity and John A. Wood and Charles I. Longley were long the choir leaders.
Mr. Gough and his family during their long residence at 'Hillside' were among the staunchest supporters of the church. The pulpit Bible in use at the time the church was burned and which was consumed in that fire, was given by him.
During his residence here he had many distinguished guests at his home, among them many clergymen of international fame who occupied the pulpit of the Boylston church from time to time; notably Rev. Dr. Edward N. Kirk of Boston with whose church Mr. Gough was first connected. Dr. Kirk frequently preached here and formed a pleasant acquaintance with many of the Boylston people.
At the time of the town's centennial in 1886, Rev. William A. Houghton, of Berlin, in speaking of the Boylston families and ministers, said Mr. Sanford was too modest for a man of his abilities. He was a classical scholar. Harvard College committed to him her students and gave him the authority of the Faculty. Dr. Bigelow honored his town and calling. As a personal friend none knew him but to cherish his company and counsel. His benevolence made many hearts glad; and, who, that has known, shall ever forget the world's most famous orator John B. Gough, of Boylston.
For 184 years this church has been the beacon light and guiding star of this community, leading the people to higher and nobler lives and bringing the kingdom of God nearer to the hearts of men.
During this long period it has witnessed many changes in the affairs of the people; established under a kingly government it witnessed the great struggle that led to America's independence; it saw the establishment of the Commonwealth and of the Republic and has bourne witness to every event in the history of that republic thus far. It has seen the development of the nation from feeble beginnings to the mightiest empire on the face of the earth.
The record of this church is without spot or blemish. Its founders labored amid hardship and privation to establish and build up a faith pure and undefiled and in the same Christian spirit its record has continued to the present time. Its future will, I believe, be serene as God has been with the fathers so he will be with the children to the latest generations.
Its ministers have been able and wise men who have labored zealously for the intellectual and spiritual growth and good of this community. They have never hesitated to proclaim from its pulpit the doctrines of everlasting truth. This church has cause to remember their ministrations with gratitude. Faithful servants of God, their record is on high. Devoted men and women have worshipped at its altar, with what devotion and self-sacrifice they served the church, words can never tell. Their memory is precious.
In a community having but one church, the affairs of the church and community are inseparably connected; the life of the one is essentially the life of the other. These fathers and mothers in Israel to this church, have likewise been towers of strength to this town.
Change marks all human events. The finest works of man perish and pass away. The ivy clings to the crumbling walls. The stones fall from their places and mingle with the dust. Kingdoms and empires rise and fall. The founders of these perishable things likewise share the same fate and pass away. But the church of God is without change and will endure forever.
Great God, within this temple gate,
Long may a reverent people wait
And as in old, They name was named,
May still Thy truths be here proclaimed.
Where once the songs of faith and trust
Arose from lips now silent in the dust,
May still They anthems here arise
Like holy incense to the skies.
Lord, on this ancient church of thine,
Still let Thy face serenely shine;
Grant to it thy unction from above,
That with faith, and holiness, and love
More and more, as the years roll by
Souls may here be fitted for the sky.
Give strength its flock to follow
The path where once the fathers trod,
That they, with them may labor
For truth and right and God,
'Till all united working
For the world's life and health,
Build here on earth, Thy Kingdom,
A Christian Commonwealth.
The holy Church of God!
The same in ages past,
The same in years to come,
A fortress sure, a strong defense
And for eternal home.
Transcribed by Pauline Lavallee 6/1/2000