« PreviousContinue »
REV. SYLVANUS CONANT,
MINISTER OF THE FIRST CHURCH IN MIDDLEBOROUGH,
So sleep the souls, and leave to groan,
When sin and death have done their worst,
Which waits to clothe their wasting dust.
Rev. Joseph Barker1 lived in the Conant house during his ministry. He was a profound student, an able preacher, and a man of large influence throughout the town and county. At the one hundredth anniversary of the organization of the church, he preached a commemorative sermon. A volume of his sermons, published at the time, is still extant, which indicates his scholarship and ability. While faithful in the dis
1 Among his papers was the following letter to his daughter, which gives a picture of one phase of his life : —
Washington, Jan. 5th, 1800. My Dear Elizabeth: — Last Sabbath being new year's day, I preached for the first time for Mr. Bolch, to a respectible and attentive audience from Eph. 2:7.
On Monday we had clear cold weather. This day attended levee at the President's. A very large collection was there; English, Scotch, Irish, French, Spanish, Italian, German, Indian, Whigs, Tories, Federalists, Republicans; men, women, old ladies and young ladies. We all stood about and walked about to see and speak to one another. I had considerable talk with one of our red sisters, she is the lady of Cherokee Sachem who is here; she can talk some English though her husband cannot. She is dressed well in English habit with silk gown, &c. She appears to be a sensible woman and intelligent. She tells me that they spin and weave, make their own clothes, keep cows, make butter and cheese and attend to agriculture and all the employments of civilized life; that they have schools for their children and the gospel preached among them sometimes by missionaries.
Now, this great change in their habits has been effected by divine blessing attending the means used by Mr. Jefferson. All the missionaries ever sent there by the French and English have never done so much good as Jefferson has done since he has been President of the United States, and yet he is called an enemy to religion. I heartily wish all enemies of religion had as much humanity, benevolence, wisdom, moderation and firmness as that one man whom Federalists and Tories are wishing to destroy ; but his character will shine upon the page of history, while those of his vile calumniators will not.
I am your affectionate Father,
charge of his duties as a minister of this church, he was, from the beginning, deeply interested in the public events of the day, and was elected, in 1805 and 1808, by a large majority to represent southeastern Massachusetts in the Ninth and Tenth Congress. While a member of the national House of Representatives, he was highly esteemed for his learning and his broad, statesmanlike views upon the great questions then before the nation. He served upon prominent committees, and took an important part in the debate upon the resolution prohibiting the importation of slaves into the country.
Rev. William Eaton lived in the house formerly occupied by Ira Bryant. The other clergymen settled over this church have resided at the Upper or Lower Green.
About one mile to the east of the church on Plympton Road was the farm of John Nelson, one of the first settlers of the town.1 When Mr. Nelson went to Lakeville, he sold this farm to John Bennett. In 1824 Major Thomas Bennett, then the owner, while ploughing the ground where this first log house stood, came upon an Indian grave, in which were a knife, tomahawk, pipe, and other implements. There is no doubt that these belonged to the Indian who was shot from the fort and taken to Mr. Nelson's house, where he died.
John Bennett was the son of Peter Bennett of Bristol, England, from which place he emigrated in 1665. He was a weaver by trade, and on account of some domestic trouble, at the death of his mother he moved to this country, at the age of twenty-three. He settled at Jamestown, Va., then went to Beverly, Mass., where he became a landholder. From there he moved at the time of the Salem witchcraft, probably to escape annoyance from that delusion, and after spending a year in Weymouth, he came to Middleboro in 1687. He lived near the Cox sawmill, then built a house between that formerly occupied by Elijah Shaw 1 See chapter on Early Settlers.
and the sawmill, and afterwards purchased1 a farm owned by John Nelson, where he built a house on the site of the one which had been burned by the Indians after the death of their comrade. He took the oath of fidelity in 1689, and was selectman of Middleboro in 1692, 1693, 1695, 1697, and 1698. He was elected town clerk, March 28, 1693, which office he held for about thirteen years. He was a proprietor in the Twentysix Men's Purchase at the running of the bounds in 1696, and owned lots in the Sixteen Shilling Purchase, and four lots in the South Purchase, of which he was clerk in 1689.2 He married Deborah Grover of Beverly, in 1671. She died March 22, 1718, aged seventy, and was buried in the grave with her husband.
The house was built with a single room in front, and a porch projecting from one end, facing the highway. It was low in the ceiling, with large oak beams crossing overhead; the sills and sleepers rested on the ground. The door was filled with largeheaded nails for protection against the Indians. This house, famous as the birthplace of several generations of Middleboro's citizens, was taken down in the early part of the last century. It had been visited by Peregrine White, the first child born to the pilgrims in this country, and was the home of Nehemiah Bennett and his wife Mercy. From him many facts relating to
the early history of the town were obtained by the Massachusetts Historical Society, and published among their collections, and it is to him and his wife that we are indebted for much which would probably have been lost had it not been for their interest in local affairs.
Mercy Bennett was born in 1699, and died in 1799. She was a woman of unusual intelligence, and retained her mental faculties until the time of her death. In the great snowstorm of 1717, she with two other girls walked to Plymouth and back the same day to attend public service.
Upon the eastern corner of the Lower Green and facing
1 There is a discrepancy as to the date of this purchase. General E. W. Peirce says 1687; Eddy Note-Book, 1691.
2 Early Records of Middleboro, p. 114.
Plymouth Street stood the famous Sproat Tavern, taken down in the year 1898. For many years it was the only inn in this part of the town, and for more than two centuries was justly celebrated for its generous hospitality.
One writer of New England history says, " Religion was an ever present thought and influence in their lives, but they possessed another trait — with them neighborliness was as ever present, as sincere as their godliness — hence the establishment of the ordinary for the entertainment of travellers, the mutual comfort of the settlers." All through the country, licenses to keep taverns were granted on the condition that they be near the meeting-house, and inn-keepers were obliged to clear their houses during the church service. Orderly conduct was required and drunkenness was frowned upon, yet liquor was freely used by minister and layman alike. As early as 1646 the General Court passed a law by which landlords were forbidden "to suffer anyone to be di uncken or to stay drinking in his house above an hour at one tyme " 1 under penalty of five shillings. The use of tobacco was considered much more degrading than indulgence in intoxicating drinks. Newspapers were not common, but at the tavern one could usually be found, and here men and women gathered to read and discuss the news of the day and all items of interest. The tavern was so situated that the arrival of the stage-coach was an
1 Laws of Plymouth Colony, p. 50.
event of daily interest,—bringing visitors, or travellers on the way from Plymouth to Taunton and New Bedford. In the French and Indian War, the men of the town came here to enlist. In the Revolutionary War, it was the rendezvous for military men, and here the patriots of the town assembled to discuss the stirring events of the times. From this tavern, after the drill upon the Green, the companies of Middleboro men marched to join the army in the different parts of the country. The spot is still pointed out where stood the famous liberty pole,1 with the scale, showing the required height of the soldier. The prominent men of the colony, as well as distinguished noblemen from England, on their way to visit Oliver Hall, have stopped here. Probably at few inns in the colony were more illustrious men entertained than in this noted hostelry. It was the rendezvous of the men who marched to Plymouth in the War of 1812, and for a generation after, training day was observed on this "Green" each year."
This famous old house was built by James Soule in the year 1700, and soon after was occupied by the well-known family of Littles. Originally, it was only one half as large as when taken down, the northeastern part having been built first. From the second story was hung the sign, which is still preserved, and which is said to have been the first on any tavern to publicly express the sentiments of liberty, then creating so much excitement throughout the country. It was particularly daring on the part of Colonel Sproat, the proprietor of this old inn, to thus advocate the cause of independence in oppo
1 In a letter of Dr. Peter Oliver, Jr., under date of October 27, 1774. he writes: "The week before last our Sons of Lyberty here, put up a Lyberty Pole on the Green. Our Minister grac'd the solemnity with his presence, and made a prayer under the Pole, and an harangue upon Lyberty. It was a day sat apart for the Officers of the Company to resign their offices. Mr. Conant took the pikes, and gave them to the new Officers: he has rendered himself very ridiculous to many of his friends.
"Ere this reaches, you will receive the News-Papers, which will give you an insight of our present troubles and difficulties. The Judge (Chief Justice Peter Oliver,) has been in Boston these 8 or 10 weeks, to save his life; and Madam has been there these 3 weeks, and are both going to winter there." Diary and Letters of Thomas Hutchinson, vol. i, p. 264.