Bernardston — Churches

Extracted from "History of the Connecticut Valley in Massachusetts, Volume II," by Louis H. Everts, 1879.

      At a proprietors' meeting in June, 1739, a committee was chosen to see to the building of a meeting-house, which was to be 50 feet in length, 40 feet in breadth, and 23 feet between joints. This house was set up and framed in the fall of 1739, and, after some discussion, it was finally set upon lot No. 3, owned by Capt. Wells, on Huckle Hill, and on land now owned (1879) by P. L. Cushman. It is northeast of Bernardston village and a half-mile south of where J. B. Field lives. The house was finished in the summer of 1740, when £20 where appropriated to procure preaching for the ensuing winter. In September, 1741, it was agreed to engage Rev. John Norton, of Berlin, Conn., to settle in the ministry. As a settlement he was to have a seventieth part of the township, or an equal part of the township with each proprietor, the use of the ministry right during his abode in the ministry, and £200, of which latter one-half was to be in money, and one-half in labor or materials for building. His salary was to be £130 per annum for the first five years, and then to advance £5 yearly until it amounted to £170 (the bills to be equal to silver at 29s. per ounce), and his firewood brought to his door. Mr. Norton, accepting the call, was ordained in Deerfield, November, 1741, and at the same time a church was organized. In March, 1745, it was decided, owing to the distractions brought about by the Indian war, to abandon the efforts heretofore made in support of the ministry, and a committee was appointed to ascertain from Mr. Norton upon what terms he would consent "to remove from the work of the ministry in Falltown for the present." What the agreed terms were does not appear, but Mr. Norton relinquished his charge, and shortly thereafter was appointed to be chaplain at Fort Massachusetts, and was there subsequently captured by the Indians and taken a prisoner to Canada, whence he returned, and settled in Chatham, Conn.
      The prevalence of Indian troubles between 1745 and 1750 caused a partial abandonment of the township, and it was not until 1750 that anything more was done touching church matters, when the proprietors appointed a committee to procure some person to preach for them. There was, however, no settled preacher until 1761, when Rev. Job Wright, of Easthampton, was settled, with a salary of £66 13s. 4d. yearly, together with 40 cords of wood and a settlement of £133 6s. 8d. Incidental to the preparations for the ordination of Mr. Wright, in July, 1761, it was voted "to carry 3000 of boards to lay in the galleries of the meeting-house, so that the people may set with more convenience at the time of the ordination."
      In the latter part of 1764 the meeting-house was much out of repair, and during the winter of that year it was not used for worship, services being held at the houses of Joel Chapin and Hezekiah Chapin, who were paid 1s. 6d. each for every Sabbath their houses were so used. In the spring of 1767 the meeting-house had doubtless been repaired, but of pews there were probably none. The town voted "that any two persons,—that is, heads of families,—or any four young men that are agreed to set together, they belonging to this town, shall have liberty to build a pew in the meeting-house, but that they shall be entitled to that place no longer than the town shall give liberty." The meeting-house must have been in disfavor again in the winter of 1767, when Sabbath worship was held at the houses of Joel Chapin and Remembrance Sheldon. Previous to that time and for several years thereafter, there was a vast deal of discussion about repairing and moving the meeting-house to some location more convenient for those residing in the east part of the town. There was a great waste of words in the controversy, committees were appointed to name a location for the house, and their reports were subsequently rejected; all proposed plans met with sturdy opposition, and the meeting-house remained where it was, and in such bad condition that it was unfit for use in the winter season. These fruitless discussions about locating the meeting-house continued until 1772, when, a committee from neighboring towns being called in to choose a location, the vexed question was settled, and in December, 1772, the structure was moved bodily, by men alone, from Huckle Hill to a spot just south, near where Albert G. Chapin now lives. It took some time to make the meeting-house fit to meet in after its removal, and mean-while public worship was held at the houses of Deacon Sheldon, Samuel Connable, and Remembrance Sheldon.
      In December, 1773, it was voted "to fling up the plan the pews in the meeting-house were builded upon, and the seating, and go altogether upon a new plan, and that the pews shall be built the same for largeness every way as the pews in the Greenfield meeting-house." Those who chose to build pews were to have the use of them for one year, and the seating committee were enjoined to be governed in seating the house by the rule of age, estate, and qualification.
      In 1779 the meeting-house began to run to ruin again, and a committee was chosen "to nail on the boards that are come off; to nail up the windows, and ye windows in ye lower part to be made so as to slip up." In 1781 it was agreed that the people in the west part of the town should be relieved from the minister rate, and have preaching among themselves. In 1782, Rev. Mr. Wright, who had served the church twenty-one years, was dismissed at his own request, brought about by reason of the town's being largely in arrears to him, on salary. Mr. Wright continued, however, to reside in the town.
      Rev. Amasa Cook, of Hadley, was ordained December, 1783, as Mr. Wright's successor, and received a settlement of £140 and the promise of a salary of £60, which was to be increased £3 yearly until it reached £75.
      In 1791 the meeting-house was again moved, to the forks, just south of Mr. John Morey's place. Here it remained undisturbed until 1823, when, following the concentration of the town's settlement, it was removed to the site now occupied by the Unitarian Church in Bernardston village.
      Rev. Mr. Cook served the church until 1805, when he was dismissed by reason of certain alleged immoralities. His successor, Rev. Timothy F. Rogers, was ordained in 1809, and continued in the ministry until his death, in 1847. During Mr. Rogers' term of service the church became Unitarian, in obedience to his teachings, and as such has always remained since his time.
      The church was rebuilt in 1824, and in 1850 it was remodeled, repaired, and enlarged, as it now appears. Mr. Rogers' successors were Revs. Asarelah Bridge, Thomas Weston, William Hubbard, Mr. Renney, John B. Green, Charles Canfield, S. Barker, Henry F. Campbell, and Samuel B. Flagg, the latter being now in charge, 1879. This church has a fund of $6000, of which the income goes toward the support of the pastor. Its Sunday-school has a fund of $500, and the church owns also a fine parsonage, the former residence of Hon. H. W. Cushman. The funds and the parsonage were left to the church by Mr. Cushman upon his death, in 1863. The church structure is supplied with a fine pipe-organ purchased in 1871, at a cost of $1200.

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17 Jul 2005