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Chapter 6: ecclesiastical history.

The history of their church, in many of our earliest New England towns, was almost the history of their settlement. So early as 1634, our fathers procured a preacher, Mr. James Noyes, afterwards minister of Newbury. He was born in England in 1608, educated at Oxford, came to Boston in 1634, and “was immediately called to preach at Mistic, which he did for nearly one year. He was much beloved and respected,--a very holy and heavenly-minded man. He was a man of singular qualifications, a reaching and ready apprehension, and a most profound judgment. He was courageous in dangers, and still apt to believe the best, and made fair weather in a storm.”

After he left Medford, the inhabitants received religious instructions from Rev. Mr. Wilson and Rev. Mr. Phillips; for, in the tax for the support of these gentlemen, Medford paid its share assessed by the General Court. These preachers were paid by six towns, and doubtless considered Medford as belonging to their pastoral watch and Christian fold.

At this time, our fathers were troubled with the sect of the Antinomians, whose spiritual father was John Agricola, of Isleben. They were against the moral law, not only as a covenant of life, but as a rule of moral conduct. Mrs. Anne Hutchinson brought the controversy from England here in 1634. The Colonists went for the law, and were called Legalists. The heat on one side for the “covenant of grace,” and on the other for the “covenant of works,” caused political [201] as well as ecclesiastical trouble. Vane headed the Antinomians, and Winthrop the Legalists. The synod at Newton, Aug. 30, 1637, condemned the Antinomians; and they were banished.

The first inhabitants of Medford belonged to that class of hardy, intelligent, Christian adventurers called Puritans, who left their native England that they might here worship God and govern themselves according to the dictates of their own consciences, and here spread the truths of Christianity among the heathen. Nobler blood never flowed in human veins; and we may rejoice that we are descended from warrior-saints, who dared to lead where any dared to follow, whose souls were sanctified by Christian faith, whose union illustrated the natural rights of man, and whose characters were made invincible by a spiritual heroism. That such a people would faithfully provide for the worship which they had sacrificed their native homes to enjoy, is most natural. That our forefathers so felt and so acted, is undoubtedly true; as it is also true that their scanty means and divided condition postponed the settlement of a minister,--a failure of duty which drew upon them prosecutions and fines. We therefore find additional cause for lamentation over the loss of our early records, which would have explained the facts of their condition, and also proved to us how devotedly they attended public worship in the neighboring towns when they were not able to support a minister within their own borders. So soon as they could pay a clergyman,--yes, long before they could do it without extreme anxiety,--they made provision for their spiritual nurture and their growth in grace.

Johnson, in his “Wonder-working Providence,” says:--

It is as unnatural for a right New England man to live without an able ministry, as for a smith to work his iron without fire.

Their wakefulness and zeal are proved, in the surviving records, by their unanimity in causing each person to contribute his share; and their intelligence and justice appear in harmonizing differences which unhappily arose between them and one of their temporary teachers.

June 2, 1641: The General Court say:--

It is desired that the elders would make a catechism for the instruction of youth in the grounds of religion.

This catechism found its way into every family of our [202] plantation. Thus the ideas of a true theocracy and a true democracy were here early imparted.

The “plantation” agreed to hire a preacher, who should supply them for six months or a year, and to pay him by individual subscriptions, while they allowed him to reside wherever his other engagements required. Tutors from Harvard College were hired for this purpose.

Oct. 21, 1658, our fathers kept a fast, “on account of God's judgments; to wit, sickness in several families, unfavorable weather, and the appearance of that scourge, the Quakers.”

1660: At this time, the controversy about infant baptism afflicted our early Christians here; and Mr. Thomas Gould's case, in Charlestown, caused great stir at Medford.

Mr. John Hancock, grandfather of the patriot of 1775, who preached here in 1692, consented to remain in the plantation; and the town accordingly voted that “he shall be boarded at Mr. John Bradshaw's for the year ensuing, if he shall continue his ministry so long among us.” The usual price of board was five shillings per week. In November, 1693, Mr. Hancock's ministrations ceased, and the town voted to apply to the government of Harvard College to supply them with a minister for the winter. The town enjoyed, for a considerable time, the ministerial services of Mr. Benjamin Colman (H. C. 1692).

May 13, 1695, the town gave Mr. Simon Bradstreet (H. C. 1693) an invitation to become their permanent pastor; and the record is as follows:--

Voted that Mr. Simon Bradstreet, for his — encouragement to settle amongst us in the work of the gospel ministry, shall have £ 40 in money, for annuity, with his housing and firewood.

This call was not accepted. There were, at this time, only thirty-three male inhabitants who paid taxes on estates. Fifteen shillings was the common price paid, per sabbath, to “occasional preachers.”

March 5, 1694: Voted that the former subscription for the support of the minister should be continued, and that the board of the minister should be five shillings per week; and, if any one refused to pay his share of this, then the Selectmen should “rate him according to his effects.” The town's rate was “one penny in the pound, and twelve pence per head.” [203]

Supporting the ministry by an equal tax on all property was the settled policy of our fathers, though there had been objectors to the plan. So early as 1643, “one Briscoe, of Watertown,” says Winthrop, “wrote a book against it, wherein, besides his arguments, which were naught, he cast reproach on the elders and officers. He was fined ten pounds, and one of the publishers forty shillings.”

Not successful in settling a minister, the town hired Mr. Benjamin Woodbridge, of Charlestown, to preach for six months; and, as his engagements in Charlestown did not allow him to reside in Medford, the town passed the following vote, Dec. 5, 1698:--

Voted that Cotton Tufts be chosen and appointed to agree with Mr. Joseph Squire for his horse for Mr. Woodbridge, riding from Charleston to Medford every Saturday, and from Medford to Charlestown every Monday; allowing said Squire two shillings per journey for said horse, going and coming, well-shod for said journey. Mr. Woodbridge also to ride said Squire's horse to meeting on the sabbath-days when there shall be occasion.

As the history of this gentleman's ministerial connection with the town of Medford will let us into some clear knowledge, not only of the taste and temper of our ancestors, but of their faith and wisdom, we shall here give a few details.

Mr. Woodbridge was the son of Rev. John Woodbridge, of Andover. He was ordained, March 18, 1670, over the “Presbyterian party” in Windsor, Conn. He left Windsor, and preached at Bristol, R. I. He left Bristol, and preached at Kittery, Maine. In 1691, he resided in Portsmouth, N. H. In 1698, lie began to officiate in Medford.

The subject of the church and the ministry being the paramount topic in our early times, we may not wonder if we find in it traditional enthusiasm and Protestant Popery. Our fathers found some ministers to be mere church-clocks, for ticking the seconds and striking the hours; but whether they found Mr. Woodbridge such a one, or a whip of fire, the following history will disclose.

He seemed to preach so acceptably, that movements were made to give him a call; and, March 28, 1698, the town voted that “Mr. Woodbridge, when legally settled amongst us in the work of the ministry, shall have forty pounds in money, fifteen cords of wood, and strangers' money, for [204] annuity.” “Strangers' money” meant the moneys paid by persons not legally ratable. The vote of March 28 was not meant to be a legal call, but only a preliminary feeler for both parties. Matters were not hastened; for not until Sept. 15, 1701, do we find two persons appointed by the town “to discourse with Mr. Woodbridge, and know his mind concerning settling in the town in the work of the ministry.” Dec. 15, 1701, the town voted to give thirty pounds to Mr. Woodbridge, as encouragement to settle in Medford, but upon the condition that “he remain during his natural life; but, if he saw cause to remove, then to return the said thirty pounds to the town again.”

Nov. 26, 1700, the town voted to build a parsonage; but, as some objections existed, it was deferred. The subject, however, was revived the next year, and a vote obtained for the erection; but, on the passage of this resolution, the records say, that “Mr. Ebenezer Brooks and Samuel Brooks did then enter their dissent against raising money for building a house for the minister.” After three attempts to get a satisfactory vote to build a house thirty-eight feet long and twenty-nine feet wide, the matter was indefinitely postponed.

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