Greenfield — Ministers and Churches

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

      Before the incorporation of the town, Deerfield had made an appropriation to procure preaching at Green Brier for three months each year. Immediately after the first town-meeting measures were taken to form a separate church, and Aug. 16, 1753, was set apart as a day of prayer and fasting.
      Rev. Mr. Ashley, of Deerfield, Rev. Mr. Ashley, of Sunderland, and Rev. Mr. Abercrombie, of Pelham, were invited to assist in the work of the day, and to give their advice for some meet person to settle in the work of the ministry.
      1. In the following month a call was extended to Rev. Edward Billing or Billings. (He wrote it Billing. It is more commonly written Billings.)
      A church was organized in March, 1754, and Mr. Billings installed as pastor. He had been previously ordained at Belchertown. Twelve men became members of the "First Church of Christ," viz.: John Allen, Edward Allen, Joshua Wells, Daniel Graves, Benjamin Hastings, Jonathan Smead, Aaron Denio, Samuel Munn, John Cochrane, Thomas Nims, Daniel Nash, William Mitchell.
      The town voted a settlement of £600, old tenor, with a salary of £300 and his firewood. This custom of furnishing the minister firewood has come down almost to our own times, and was a source of constant annoyance.
      To this Mr. Billings was no exception, as we may judge by a vote, passed in 1758, that a committee provide Mr. Billings with wood this year, or hire him to git his own wood. His ministry was brief, and apparently not altogether a happy one.
      It was a time of theological strife not without bitterness. The power of Jonathan Edwards, one of the greatest intellects America has produced, was felt in all the region, and the little gathering of stalwart men and women on Sunday, in James Corse's best room, were deeply versed in the mysteries of free-will, foreordination, and the like.
      A controversy was carried on respecting these matters between Mr. Billings and Parson Ashley, of Deerfield, which was printed,—interesting, as showing what were the "open questions," in those days, but the reading of it now would be severe penance.
      Mr. Billings drops out of the record about 1760, but the precise time of his death is not known. He was buried in the old yard on the brow of the hill, near Mr. Osterhout's house, but no stone marks the spot. He lived at a place called Stocking Fort, on the Turner's Falls road, nearly opposite Snow's green-house. A part of the old house has been recently torn down. He had several children, and some of his grandchildren are still living among us.
      Did Joseph Severence march up and down Main Street Sunday morning beating his drum? or did he stand in front of James Corse's house? Who knows? Should we not like to get a glimpse at those sober, sedate, earnest men and women gathering together on Sunday morning for religious worship, the men carrying their trusty muskets to defend themselves against the savages, who might assail them at any moment? There were no fair-weather Christians in that little assembly. What sort of a house did James Corse offer for the assembled worshipers? Was it a log house? Without much question, it was. Nothing can be learned about the house. But the story of the famous old apple-tree that stood in the northeast corner of the garden must be told.
      It is something more than twenty years since the venerable tree yielded to the infirmities of age. It was believed that at the time of its death it was about one hundred years old. It started about the time the town was incorporated. At a foot above the ground it measured eighteen feet in circumference. At five or six feet from the surface the stem divided into three branches, one of which was nine feet in circumference and sixty feet high. One year it bore 140 bushels of apples.
      This story is told on the authority of Deacon C. J. J. Ingersoll, who lived in the Leavitt house.
      About the time of Mr. Billings' death or dismissal the work of building a meeting-house was entered upon. It was voted in 1760 "to build a meeting-house this year, forty-five feet long and thirty-five feet wide, upon the spot where the General Court had prefixed it, and to shingle, ruff-board, and glaze it, and lay the under floor, and to make the doors."
      By subsequent vote, the same year, the building was made fifty feet long by forty wide. It was evidently a great under-taking, and dragged heavily. I cannot learn when it was first occupied, but in 1769 it was voted to provide materials to finish the meeting-house. It had doubtless been used before this, but without pews or seats other than rude benches.
      In 1775 it was voted "to seat the meeting-house by age and estate, each man to model his estate as he sees fit; in his own family the first three shall have their first choice in the pews."
      Voted "that one year's age shall be equal to £3 of estate, and that no minor shall be seated for any estate."
      A plan of the meeting-house and of the seats occupied is an interesting document, and quite illustrative of the early days. The old church was a very plain, barn-like structure, facing the south, with the pulpit on the north side. It contained 29 pews, all large and high-walled. As many as eight or ten families occupied one pew. In one larger than the others, at the right of the pulpit, reserved for the old people, eighteen heads of families were seated; in the pew on the opposite side of the pulpit nine families were accommodated, or, rather, the heads of families, for the younger members were turned into the galleries, where two venerable tithingmen sat, each with a long pole, to keep the youngsters in order.
      All the affairs of the parish were regulated in town-meeting. At one town-meeting it was voted that the intermission should be half an hour.
      2. In August, 1761, it was voted in town-meeting to give Mr. Roger Newton a call to settle in the ministry. It was also voted to give him £130 6s. 8d. as a settlement, and £66 13s. 4d. as salary, and to increase it £1 6s. 8d. a year till it amounts to "80. Voted that Mr. Newton shall have fifty loads of wood yearly. In Mr. Newton's letter of acceptance of the call he says, "Depending upon your catholic sentiments in regard to them who differ from you about terms of communion, that there be no contention, provided no scandalously ignorant or immoral persons are admitted to your communion, and that all persons of competent knowledge and sober lives be allowed to come who think it their duty to come to the ordinance of the Lord's table, it is upon this proposal I accept your invitation." He was ordained Nov. 18, 1761. Mr. Newton was born in Durham, Conn., May 23, 1737, graduated at Yale in 1758, and remained in office here till his death, Dec. 10, 1816,—a period of fifty-five years.
      Mr. Newton lived in a house now standing in Newton Court, and which in his day stood on the site of the court-house. For fifty-two years he was the sole pastor of the town, when its population was at least half what it now is. For these degenerate days it takes eight ministers to look after the morals of the town. It may be a question if they are looked after any better than in the good days of Dr. Newton.
      Mr. David Willard, in his history of Greenfield, writing of Dr. Newton, in 1838, says, "His moderation of manner, conciseness and perspicuity of style, the sound sense of his sermons, and their particular brevity in cold weather, as well as the dignified and venerable form of the good man, are still fresh in the memory of many.
      "Consummate prudence, caution, and shrewdness were distinguishing traits of his character. His prayers in public worship had much of sameness and formality. They were seldom varied, except on particular occasions."
      Mr. Newton was not an enthusiastic patriot through the Revolutionary war. It is thought that he was too much influenced by his neighbor, Parson Ashley, of Deerfield, to have great zeal in the cause of the colonies. Patriotism with him was not easily dissevered from loyalty to the king and government of the mother-country.
      Mr. Newton did not find his path one of roses in all those fifty-five years. The matter of the wood gave him trouble, as it did his predecessor. In 1783 the town voted "that three-fourths of a cord is a middling load of wood, agreeable to a vote of the town, with Mr. Newton." So his fifty loads became thirty-seven and a half cords. That was all Mr. Newton could burn in a year at the town's expense. In this matter of the wood a good story is told of Dr. Newton. One day a farmer drove up with one of those middling loads of wood, sled length,—that is, eight feet long. Mr. Newton saw at a glance that it was loaded very loosely, with large spaces between the sticks. He wanted to give the farmer a hint that the load was not as large as it seemed. So, going behind the sled and peering through the load, he quietly remarked, An excellent pair of cattle you have there, sir." He had a good look at them.
      His salary suffered much from the depreciation of the currency. He was tried by painful domestic afflictions. His diary is rather a sad recital of personal grievances. The tone of the diary gives one the impression that the people were not all saints in his day, and that the minister, even in those good old times, did not always live in clover, though in some cases they consulted his ease. In 1773 the town "voted to return thanks to Mr. David Wells for the gift of a cushion for Mr. Newton to lean on." Rev. Dr. Chandler gave a temperance address about 1850, in which he read from an account kept by Jerome Ripley with his minister fifty years before. On one page of the account are 39 entries, of which 21 were for liquors; on another page, 11, and another, 13, for the same articles." This account," says Dr. Chandler," is that of a venerable clergyman, a man of staid, sober character, of exemplary piety, and particularly temperate in his habits,—yes, I say particularly temperate; and probably the bills of nearly every minister of that day, if they could be obtained, would show like entries. It is a curious illustration of the times. The liquor was bought in small quantities, not for the doctor's use alone, but to meet the demands of an ever-pressing hospitality." He was buried in the old yard south of Mr. Osterhout's house. A handsome marble stone marks the spot,—the sole representative of the old-fashioned minister, serving the whole town, settled for life, identified with all the joys and sorrows of the town for more than half a century. He had eight children. His son, Roger Newton, Jr., graduated at Yale, and was a tutor there at the time of his death, at the age of twenty-seven years.
      He was a young man of brilliant. promise. Very tender and pathetic are the references of the father in his diary to the death of this favorite son.
      3. Rev. Gamaliel S. Olds, a native of Marlboro', Vt., a graduate of Williams College, where he was a professor for a while, was ordained as colleague with Dr. Newton, in 1813. The first council that was called for his ordination dissolved without accomplishing its purpose. Some of the members refused to sit with Rev. Samuel Willard, of Deerfield, who was regarded as unsound in faith. Mr. Willard declined to leave the council, and so it was dissolved. Another council of orthodox sentiments was convened, and he was ordained. His pastorate closed just before Dr. Newton's death, in 1816. Mr. Olds died at Circleville, Ohio, June 13, 1848, in the seventy-first year of his age.
      4. Rev. Sylvester Woodbridge was the fourth pastor, settled April 23, 1817; a graduate of Williams in 1813; dismissed in April, 1823. The church was without a pastor for nine years.
      5. Rev. Amariah Chandler, D.D., was installed in 1832. He continued in the service of the church till his death, Oct. 20, 1864. Dr. Chandler was one of the noted characters of the town. He was respected and esteemed by the whole community. In 1853 he was a delegate to the State convention for the revision of the constitution. His ministry was thirty-two years.
      6. Rev. D. H. Rogan was installed associate pastor March 31, 1863; dismissed Sept. 27, 1865.
      7. Rev. E. S. Potter was acting pastor from Dec. 1, 1865, to March 31, 1868.
      8. Rev. A. G. Loomis, acting pastor from April 1, 1868, to April 1, 1869. 9. Rev. Elijah Cutler, from June 1, 1869, to April 1, 1871.
      10. Rev. W. S. Kimball was installed pastor March 7, 1872, and dismissed Oct. 4, 1875.
      11. Rev. Mr. Belden was acting pastor for 1876.
      12. Rev. W. Newell, acting pastor, April 1, 1877.
      As the population increased on the south border of the town, in what had always been the main street, the people found it a hardship to go to church at the old territorial centre, where the First Church had been built. As this edifice had become inadequate to the wants of the town, the question of rebuilding began to be agitated, and with it the question of location, which gave rise to bitter controversy, resulting in the formation of the Second Congregational Church in January, 1817. The first meeting-house of this church was built of brick in 1819, remodeled in 1843, and again in 1851; torn down in 1870, and a commodious, attractive stone building erected in its place. Its pastors have been,
      1. Rev. Charles Jenkins (Williams, 1813), ordained May 19, 1820; dismissed in July, 1824.
      2. Rev. William Fowler (Yale, 1816), settled in 1825; dismissed in 1827.
      3. Rev. Caleb S. Henry, D.D. (Dartmouth, 1825), ordained January, 1829; dismissed 1831.
      4. Rev. Thomas Bellows (Dartmouth, 1827), ordained March 12, 1833; dismissed Sept. 2, 1834.
      5. Rev. Samuel Washburn; educated for the Bar, but early turned his attention to the ministry; ordained Aug. 2, 1837; dismissed Nov. 23, 1841.
      6. Rev. L. L. Langstroth (Yale, 1831), installed Dec. 20, 1843; dismissed Feb. 15, 1848.
      7. Rev. Geo. C. Partridge (Amherst, 1833), installed May 18, 1848; dismissed in May, 1854.
      8. Rev. P. C. Headley, March, 1857; dismissed March, 1861.
      9. Rev. Artemas Deane, September, 1861; dismissed January, 1866.
      10. Rev. S. H. Lee, March, 1867; dismissed March, 1872.
      11. Rev. F. A. Warfield, May, 1873; dismissed January, 1876.
      12. Rev. W. A. McGinley, January, 1878.

Saint James (Episcopal) Church

      Saint James (Episcopal) Church was organized in 1812. The first church edifice was erected in 1816, and the second, a substantial building of stone, was consecrated May 10, 1849.       1. Rev. Titus Strong, D.D., became rector in 1815, and died June 11, 1855, after a faithful ministry of more than forty-one years.
      2. Rev. William Flint, D.D., was rector from July 11, 1855, till his death, April 12, 1859.
      3. Rev. S. Russell Jones was rector from Dec. 12, 1859, till 1863.
      4. Rev. Peter V. Finch filled the rectorship very faithfully from 1864 till October, 1871.
      5. Rev. Julius H. Waterbury was rector from 1872 to 1874.
      6. Rev. Samuel Hollingsworth, D.D., became rector in 1875.

The Third Congregational Society (Unitarian)

      The Third Congregational Society (Unitarian) was organized in 1825. The first pastor was Rev. Winthrop Bailey, who was installed in October, 1825, and died March 16, 1835. Rev. John Parkman (Harvard, 1832) was ordained Oct. 11, 1837; dismissed 1839. From this time the pulpit was supplied at irregular intervals by Rev. Frederick W. Holland, Rev. C. Nightingale, Rev. Mellish T. Motte, Rev. D. H. Ranney, and others, till 1855, when services were suspended, and the organization was lost.
      In 1858, Rev. J. F. Moors (Harvard, 1842), then pastor at Deerfield, began to hold services in the church, and in 1860 the society was reorganized. In April of that year Mr. Moors was installed pastor.
      A small church edifice was built in 1837. It was enlarged in 1861, and again in 1867.

The Baptist Church

      The Baptist Church was organized Feb. 4, 1852. The house of worship was built in 1855-56. The first pastor was Rev. J. H. Seaver. He was succeeded by Rev. W. F. Nelson, Rev. W. W. Ames, Rev. Geo. Colesworthy, Rev. O. Tracy, Rev. S. Remington, Rev. D. M. Crane, Rev. C. M. Smith, Rev. A. H. Ball, Rev. A. J. Lyon, and Rev. J. Shepardson.

A Methodist Church

      A Methodist Church was organized in 1835, with 75 members. A small building was put up for public worship in the east part of Main Street, which was afterward sold and removed, and is now known as "Davis' Block." The society bought in 1849, and have since occupied, the building formerly used by the Episcopal Society. Their preachers have been Revs. Paul Townsend, R. Ransom, L. C. Collins, C. Barnes, T. B. Bigelow, T. Marcy, J. Mudge, R. Kellen, S. Marcy, J. Nichols, D. Ames, J. Paulson, L. Fish, and others.

The Roman Catholics

      The Roman Catholics have a large and flourishing congregation. A church edifice was erected on Main Street for the use of this society in 1868. The pastors have been Fathers Robinson, McManus, and Hennebury. The German population have had preaching in their own language during most of the time for several years.

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