Deerfield — Ministers And Churches

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

      The first preaching at Pocomptuck of which we have any knowledge was by Rev. Samuel Mather, in 1673. He was a son of Timothy, of Dorchester, born in 1651. He graduated at Harvard University in 1671, and was a classmate of Judge Sewall. On the breaking up of the settlement he retired to Hatfield, to his uncle, Rev. Hope Atherton, the minister there. Eleazer Mather, the Northampton pastor, was another uncle. With such surroundings, the young minister was anxious to cast his lot again in his first field of labor, and expected offers to go elsewhere, hoping to return and build up a church at Pocomptuck with the returning settlers. So many obstacles, however, intervened that in 1680 he went to Branford, Conn., and three or four years later settled at Windsor. He was a trustee of Yale College, 1700-24. He died in 1728.
      Feb. 21, 1684, Rev. Noadiah Russell, a Harvard graduate of 1681, was invited to preach here. The result of this invitation is not known. Rev. John Williams came about the middle of June, 1686.

      "The Inhabitants of Deerfield, to Encourage Mr. John Williams to settle amongst them to dispense the blessed word of Truth unto them, have made propositions unto him as followeth: That they will give him 16 cow-commons of meadow-land, with a home-lott that lieth on Meeting hone hill; that they will build him a hous 42 foot long, 20 foot wide, with a lentoo on the back side of the house, and finish sd house; to fence his home-lott, and within two years after this agreement to build him a tarn, and to break up his plowing land. For a yearly salary, to give him 60 pounds a year for the first, and four or five years after this agreement to add to his salary, and make it 80 pounds."

      This offer was accepted, and Mr. Williams commenced his eventful career in this valley Dec. 17, 1686. Another grant of land was voted Jan. 5, 1687. The committee for the plantation consented to the above grants, "on the condition Mr. Williams settle among them." After preaching about two years a church was formed, and Mr. Williams was ordained Oct. 17, 1688. He had married, the year before, Eunice, the daughter of Eleazer Mather, of Northampton, a second cousin of the first minister, Mr. Mather.
      John Williams was a son of Samuel, of Roxbury, born 1664. He was a graduate of Harvard University in 1683, and came to this town at the age of twenty-two years. His cousin and classmate, William Williams, was settled minister at Hatfield about 1687. Mr. Williams shared the dangers and the responsibilities of the new town through the Revolution of 1688 and the Indian hostilities which followed, taking an active part in its political affairs. Oct. 21, 1703, having a hint of impending danger from Albany friends, Mr. Williams, writing to Gov. Dudley, asking aid in their great distress and poverty, says:

      "I abated them of my salary for several years together, tho' they never asked it of me, and now their children must suffer for want of clothing, or the country consider them, and I abate them what they are to pay me. I never found the people unwilling to do when they had the ability; yet they have often done above their ability."

      This is a touching picture of the character and condition of pastor and people at this critical juncture. In the destruction of the town, four months later, his wife and two children were killed, and himself and five children taken captive and carried to Canada. In his "Redeemed Captive," published soon after his return, may be found a detailed account of the terrible winter's march to Canada and his tedious captivity. On his return, November, 1706, the town sent a committee to invite him to re-settle with them, and in January, 1707, voted to build him a house "as big as Ens. John Sheldon's; a back room as big as may be thought convenient." Sept. 10, 1707, Mr. Williams married Mrs. Abigail Bissell, a cousin of his first wife. By her he had five children, having had eleven by Eunice, his first wife. Mr. Williams died June 12, 1729. A contemporary speaks of his death as a "fall of one of the pillars of the land;" of him, as "one who taught by example as well as by preaching; an ardent lover of New England, its religious principles, its ecclesiastical and civil rights and liberties;" and says, "A grievous breach was made upon Deerfield." He was a man of fervor, piety, and zeal; a firm believer in the supernatural, often taking note of events as occurring in direct answer to prayer. He left a library of 520 books and pamphlets, in English, Latin, and French.

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