Troubles of a Medford churchman.
In these recent tercentenary days much has been said of the Puritan
sacrifice and struggle for religious liberty.
Some of the speakers have seemed to forget that there was a difference between the Pilgrims of Plymouth
and the Puritans of Boston
in their ideas of toleration.
The one had been tolerated in Holland
, the other would tolerate none dissenting from their views, and early became dominant in New England
How fared it with the Baptists, the Quakers, or those who held to the liturgical worship of the Church of England?
In the colony's history what they endured is unpleasant to read.
's history little is written or known.
made no specific local mention thereof, but Mr. Usher
alludes to one case of clash between a Medford churchman and an officer of the law. His story is quoted quite fully by Mr. Hollis
, the chronicler of Grace Church (Register, Vol.
V, p. 25). Of this [p. 51]
case we have never seen any other account in American print, and are left in doubt as to its final outcome.
2, p. 314, 315, 316) contain a list of one hundred and twelve names, rated (i.e
., assessed) the sum of ‘One hundred Pounds being ye Ministers Rate for ye year 1732.’
This list was committed to the constable the third of July for collection and payment by him to the treasurer by the fifteenth of October next ensuing.
, who two years before had erected a substantial house just out from the market-place, ‘on the way to Blanchard
was the constable, and the minister whose salary he was thus to collect was Ebenezer Turell
But there was one
man in Medford
that refused to pay his rate because he was of the English Church.
The tax list of that time is divided into three classifications.
Space forbids its entire reproduction, but here are four of its names:—
We do not quite understand how the first (above named) was only assessed a ‘head’ or poll tax, or how the latter, a resident, nothing for his head.
But he had some ‘faculty,’ as Constable Sprague
found when he presented that Medford
tax bill so long ago. Upon persistent refusal to pay toward the salary of Parson Turell
, the said Matthew Ellis
was by Constable Sprague
speedily lodged ‘in His Majesty's gaol.’
How long he remained in durance vile we may not say, but on paying the tax and added costs he was released.
Then he took up the battle for religious freedom by bringing an action in court against Sprague
‘for assaulting, beating, wounding and imprisoning him, and detaining him in prison till he paid Sprague
a fine of [p. 52]
At a subsequent town meeting Andrew Hall was chosen constable, and the record says (page 328) ‘payed for not serving five pounds,’ and Joseph Thompson
was chosen and qualified.
On the twenty-eighth of November, 1733, the selectmen directed him to warn a town meeting to be held on December 4, 1733, at 1 P. M.
To know what method they will take with respect to sute in the Law Commenced against Richard Sprague the last years Constable by Matthew Ellis of Medford.
It appears (by the Massachusetts Archives
) that Ellis
lost his case in the Inferior Court on December 11, and appealed to the Superior Court.
The town meeting alluded to had adjourned to December 18 at 12 o'clock. It was then
Put to Vote, whether the Town will reamburst Richard Sprague his Reasonable charges in managing the Law Sute commenced against him by Matthew Ellis, he bringing in a just account to the Town thereof.
Voted in the affirmative.
Benj. Willis Town Clk.
Thus it appears that the fight was on, and reinforcements were coming to the aid of Sprague
, erstwhile constable of Medford
The fame of the case spread, and in other towns men elected constables were shy of accepting office because of Sprague
At the Superior Court, on January 29 and July 30, 1734, Ellis
fared no better, but ‘was cast,’ i.e
., judgment was against him. But he had good fighting qualities, and appealed to the king for a hearing.
selectmen hearing of this called a meeting
to know the mind of the town. . . and chuse some sutable to assist in that affair. . . or see what the town shall see meet to do.
Seven persons were chosen, but farther than that we find nothing in Medford
The conflict was next in the Provincial legislature, but there was ‘a long-name society’ across the water which evidently had a part in it, as it continued for several years.
From ‘Historical Papers,’ page 317 (New England
Historical and Genealogical Society, Boston
) we reproduce—
We quote also the following from the Massachusetts Archives
From Province Laws, p. 210, Chap.
194 (first Session).
A petition of Richard Sprague, late constable of Medford in county of Middlesex.
Showing that in the year 1733 Mathew Ellis of that Town was assessed Forty shillings as a part of a Tax for the support of the Minister there which the said Ellis Refusing to pay, the Memorialist, Agreeably to his Warrant, Committed him to his Majesty's Goal in said County; whereupon the said Ellis brought his Action of assault Against the Memorialist, charging his damage at three hundred pounds Sterling; in which Action he was Cast in the Infr and Superiour Court; Upon which he Claimed his Appeal to his Majesty in Council, which the judges thought him not Entitled to; But upon their denial the said Ellis, Applying to his Majesty, Obtained his Order in Council for the hearing of his Appeal; and the Memorialist is Accordingly Notified to Answer it; And for as much as the Memorialist has done nothing in this Affair but in obedience to the Laws of this Province: Therefore praying that he may be freed from any further Trouble and Charge in the Affair or otherwise Relieved.
the Comtee on the petition of Richard Sprague Reported the draught of a letter to Mr Agent Wilks on that Subject which was read and accepted in both Houses and signed by the Governour.
[Passed Jan. 3, 1736.]
Page 526 (second Session).
We are informed that ‘the [original] petition of Richard Sprague
is not found in the Archives,’ and that on July 1, 1737, [p. 55]
Order on the recommendation of the Committee that the appeal be admitted on the usual security, and that Ellis be allowed copies of the proceeding under the Seal of the Province, on paying the usual fees.
July 30, 1737.
Ellis's petition for an early hearing referred to the Committee for Appeals.
Aug. 14, 1737.
Committee appointed Feb. 25 to hear the appeal.
As on May 6, 1737, Ellis
is styled as ‘late of Medford
, husbandman,’ it is presumable that he had then removed.
Though he was taxed for real estate
, we have been unable to find where in Medford
We find that in 1733-34
John Whitmore, Jonathan Hall and Jona Bradshaw be Depeud [deputed?] to vew the Highways by Matthew Ellises and make Report to the Town what they Judg Mr. Ellis should have allowed him for moving Som Large Rocks in the Country Road nearby his house in sd. Town and Report be made at the adjournment of this meeting.
The meeting was adjourned to seven o'clock of that evening at the house of John Bradshaw
We look in vain for the committee's report, and greatly fear the pious deacons on the committee allowed their distate for their churchman's non-conformity to warp their judgment in the large rocks matter.
They might at least have reported.
We have been unable to find trace of Ellis
at the Registry of Deeds, and thus to fix his location, nor do we know how long he lived in Medford
From the meagre data we conclude that he did two good things— improvement of the highway, and (in the courage of his convictions) helped along the coming of the enjoyment of religious liberty in Medford