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[p. 62]

Ye olde Meting-House of Meadford.

by Moses W. Mann, West Medford.
[Continued from Vol. II, No. 2.]

THE seats in the pews were hinged, and turned up on edge as the people stood during the long prayer. This concluded, they were turned down again, and the result was like a fusillade of musketry all over the house.

Mr. Porter's pastorate was all too short, as he died after serving the church and town nine years, and was succeeded by the Rev. Ebenezer Turell in 1724.

He, like his predecessor, took unto himself a wife soon after coming to Medford. Still more room was needed for the accommodation of the people, and after much discussion the town built a new and much larger meeting-house just beyond the brook, and on August 21, 1727, worshipped in the subject of our sketch for the last time. The selectmen were directed to sell it, for the best advantage for the town. I find no report of their doings in the matter on the record; but upon the treasurer's book under date of January 4, 1729, is this item, ‘To Cash Recd of Benj. Willis for ye Old Meeting-house Omitted getting down before.

’ The receipts are entered on the right hand pages of the book, and the page being one of the earliest used, the right, or outer edge, is so frayed and worn that the amount paid by Mr. Willis is missing. An interesting matter in this connection is the date January 4, 729. As the town directed the selectmen on September 29, 1729, to sell it and Mr. Willis paid for it on January 4, it was in the eleventh month of the year, which then began with the first of March, instead of January. Another incident is that the entry is not in regular order, but is explained by the written note, ‘Omitted setting down before.’

Such are the facts gleaned from the ancient records of the town, their time-worn and discolored pages now carefully preserved between silk tissue.

In a careful reading of them, often requiring patient [p. 63] study, and diligent comparison of the quaint expression, and almost phonetic spelling, the writer felt as one becoming introduced to the men and people of the Medford of long ago. So long ago was it, that it is well to take a look beyond the strip of land bordering the river, ‘and extending back a mile in all places,’ that comprised the Medford of those days, making the thirty-one years ye olde meeting-house was used. A. D. 1693, William and Mary had been for five years the reigning sovereigns and the town meetings were called ‘in their majesties names.’ The witchcraft delusion at Salem had just run its length and subsided without thrusting its baleful presence and influence into Medford.

Beyond the sea in old England, John Bunyan, the immortal dreamer, and Richard Baxter, the voluminous writer, had but just passed away. The ‘Pilgrim's Progress’ of the one, and ‘Saint's Rest’ of the other were beginning to reach these shores.

John Dryden, the poet and translator of ‘Virgil,’ and John Locke, the mental philosopher of that age, were just completing their life work, while the great architect, Sir Christopher Wren, was in his prime.

But four years had passed since Sir Edmund Andros had been sent home to England, and one Medford man is credited with saying, ‘If Andros comes to Medford we'll treat him not with shad and alewives but with swordfish.’

Possibly if this ancient Medfordite could now return, he would find a different taste prevailing in the matter of a fish diet; and Parson Porter would find that potatoes (unknown in Medford when he came as minister) afforded more palatable and nourishing food if the roots were cooked, instead of balls that grew upon the vines. Andros' successor wasn't much more heartily welcomed, though the people were loyal to the king who had granted the new charter.

Less than nine years before, the general court in answer to the people's inquiry, had declared ‘that Meadford hath [p. 64] been and is a peculiar.’ Doubtful of their right, or perhaps too modest, no deputy had been sent till four years before the enterprise of building the meeting-house was inaugurated. With it as a central rallying point, the sixty year old town was waking to new life, for in the autumn of that year, it adopted ‘Town orders and bylaws.’ Of the houses that were standing in the Medford of 1696, we can be positively certain of but two that remain today—the Major Jonathan Wade house, and the Capt. Peter Tufts house, commonly called the Cradock House,—‘if this be treason’ (or heresy)‘make the most of it.’ There is a possibility that the old house recently removed a little from the corner of High Street and Hastings Lane (and now many times repaired and twice enlarged, and so taking a new lease of life), may have been the home of Dea. and Ensign John Bradshaw. All others that were contemporary with the old meetinghouse in its early years have yielded to the tooth of time, and possibly none that were built during its thirty-two years now remain. A few monarchs of the forest there are, and yet very few whose roots had then taken a firm grasp in Medford soil. The primeval forest has gone and danger threatens the newer growth. If we take the map of Medford, and trace a series of circles in quarter miles, from the site of the meeting-house, we shall find that the first passes through the site of the First Parish Church, where the third meeting-house was built, the Brooks and the Cummings Schools; the second, or halfmile, through the city farm, Hall road, Medford square, Cradock school, and West Medford R. R. station.

The three-quarter mile radius reaches the Brooks Farm building, the site of the Wheeler mill just above Menotomy river, the end of Woburn street at Playstead road, the old mill site on Whitmore brook and also the one on Meeting-house brook, Gravelly brook at Forest street, the Everett school and the Royall House.

One mile is just beyond Wear bridge, the farther corner of Oak Grove, Bear meadow, Earl avenue and Fulton [p. 65] street at the Fellsway, Park street, Mystic park and Tufts College. One and a quarter miles would reach the old Powder House in Somerville, and one and a half the so-called Cradock House. With the latter exception, the spot selected for its building was central then.

‘Ye olde meeting-house of Meadford,’ occupies a peculiar place in the history of the peculiar town, in the fact that the town, by taxation, supported public worship within its walls for seventeen years before the gathering of a church. For almost the average length of a human life it served its purpose, convening the sovereign people in their civil capacity in the town meeting, and the exercise of religious freedom of worship.

No matter how acrimonious the debates may have been, or what the difference of opinion was on the town's business affairs, the Sabbath worship was observed. If this could be before the church was organized, how much more must the meeting-house have stood for afterward.

And when the time came to leave it for the new and larger, we may well think that in the hearts of some, especially of the older people, arose the remembrance of former days. It has come to be a custom to inveigh against the Puritans, and to consider them as cold and austere. We do well to remember the circumstances under which they came to these shores; the persecutions they endured and finally fled from; to remember that they established the civil and religious liberty we enjoy and not to allow the present time to degenerate into civil and religious license.

I find no record of theological differences in the old meeting-house. The Quaker or Baptist may have been there, but that time was long before the Universalist, Unitarian, or Methodist-Episcopal. The churches of England and of Rome, the ancient Medfordites would have none of. This is evident in the fact that, in the acts of worship and observation of times, everything was diametrically opposite. Even the Holy Scriptures were unread in the meeting-house, and not until 1755 was [p. 66] there a Bible upon the pulpit. No lights gleamed or candles flickered from its windows on Sunday night, for the Sabbath began at sunset on Saturday. One Medford man is credited with having ‘a poor opinion of religion got by candle light.’

The records say of a town meeting, ‘Adjourned to meet at Stephen Willis' on December 6 at about sunsetting.’

From twelve to fifteen shillings a year paid for the care of the house, and sometimes the deacon was the caretaker.

The duties were sweeping, shutting the casements (possibly there were shutters on the windows, as glass was expensive), and removing the snow from before the doors. Since that day, thirty houses for public worship have been erected within the limits of Medford, and eighteen are now in use as such. Two of the thirty (the second and third built by the town while there was but the one church), were demolished when outgrown.

Three have been destroyed by fire; one is now beyond the limits of Medford, owing to change of boundary, while one has been moved into its borders. Five have become devoted to business and residential use, leaving eighteen in present service, with one homeless society about to rebuild. One is the college church. Therefore, to eighteen organized bodies has increased the gathering at John Bradshaw's house on that winter day one hundred and ninety-five years ago.

Could Rev. Mr. Woodbridge ride from Charlestown to Medford on horseback, as of yore, he would not have to alight and open the gate across the road near Marble brook ere he could proceed.

Mr. Aaron Warner would find his old parish somewhat changed on doctrinal points, but ready to welcome him, and possibly he might not be pleased with the chiming bells and liturgical service across the ‘country road,’ as he would call High street. Parson Turell would look in vain for his old home, only demolished in recent years. [p. 67] Perchance he might wonder if this was really Meadford. But we may do well, if we of this year of grace, 1906, serve our day and generation, in church and state, in religious and civil duty, as did the men and women who in 1696 built and worshipped in ‘Ye olde first meting-house of Meadford.’

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