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ITH the early settlers of Middleboro, in common with those in the other towns of the Old Colony, the religious life entered so largely into their thoughts, duties, and activities that any account of those times would be incomplete which did not consider with more or less detail their church history.
Their church organization and those who worshipped with its members included almost the entire population, and aside from the family, the church, its order, its care, and its teachings seems ever to have been foremost in their minds. It was here that they were strengthened in the faith and doctrines to which they adhered with such tenacity; here they were encouraged to meet manfully not only the duties but the perils and hardships attendant upon their frontier life; it was here at the weekly service on the Sabbath that they met their fellow citizens and learned the news of the day. The church meeting was the great social cord which bound them together. For more than one hundred years, the meeting-house of the First Church was generally the place for the transaction of all public business of the town.
In 1675 the General Court at Plymouth, by an ordinance, enacted that every township within the colony should have a house of worship and a church duly organized, with proper provision for the support of an ordained minister, who officiated over such church. So few were the families, and so far removed were they from each other, that no church was organized until December 26, 1694. Provision was made in 1675 for the support of the gospel, although the war prevented any action being taken until after the resettlement.1 Mr. Fuller had, how
1 "Whereas a committee was appointed and chosen by the proprietors of Middlebery the 18th. of May in Anno 1675 vis. — Mr. Constant Southworth, Left. ever, preached here before that time. Indian churches had been organized at Assawampsett, Nemasket, and Titicut. These were prosperous until the war, but afterwards seem to have been disbanded, and the members worshipped with other churches. Probably the majority of the early settlers were members of the church in Plymouth or in some of the neighboring towns from which they had come, and not a few of them were in the habit of attending public worship at Plymouth, taking their families with them.
In 1678 the inhabitants called Mr. Samuel Fuller to become their pastor, and the question of his accepting the call came before the church at Plymouth, of which he was a member, on the 19th of December.1 On the 16th of January, 1679, the church unanimously recommended that he should preach to
Morton, John Thompson, Joseph Warren and Isack Howland, who were impowered to meet together for some orders in reference to the prosecuting and supportation of some help to teach ... of God att Middlebery and to settle some course to procure means for the erecting of a meeting house there, and for building of bridges and setteling high ways in that town, they the said proprietors did at this meeting reestablish and confirm the said order and did ratify the said power and settle it on the forenamed persons to act as aforesaid." Early Records of Middleboro, p. 18.
1 "1678. December 19 : Our brother, Mr. Samuel Fuller being called to preach at Midlebury did aske counsell of the chh, which motion they tooke into serious consideration till the next chh-meeting, which was on Jan. 16: & then the chh. did unanimously advise & encourage him to attend preaching to them as oft as he could, but not yet to remove his family but waite awhile to see what further encouragement God might give for his more setled attendance upon that service there.
"1694. November 28: Divers of our brethren at Midlebury sent letters to us to desire our Counsell about their gathering a chh & calling a Teaching officer with them, the chh tooke it into consideration & after some time manifested to them our consent to & approbation of their motion. Then those brethren & those of other ches & some others who offered to joyne with them sent letters to desire our Pastor with other brethren to helpe them in carrying on that worke on Dec. 26: the chh chose Deac; Faunce, Deac; George Morton, Bro: Eliezer Churchel & Bro: Ephraim Morton to accompany the Pastor thither on that occasion, & voted, that if God carryed on the worke, that wee dismisse our members, namely, five brethren & 4 sisters to be of that chh; that Pastor & those chh-messengers went at the time appointed, the chh was gathered, & then Mr. Samuel Fuller was chosen & ordained to be their Teacher." Records of First Church, Plymouth, vol. i, deposited in Pilgrim Hall.
the inhabitants of Middleboro as often as convenient, but that he should not move his family there, but wait to see what further encouragement might be given him. for a permanent settlement. This service on the part of Mr. Fuller probably continued until the organization of the church. In 1680 he became a permanent resident of Middleboro, the town having provided a house-lot and twelve acres of land.
The first meeting-house stood on Plymouth Street, north of the Sturtevant house. It was probably built soon after the resettlement of the town, but its size and capacity are not known. It had no pews, and the congregation were seated on rude benches without backs. The records of the organization of the church were lost, but an authentic copy has come down to us :—
Middleborough, March 8, 1734. — A copy of the record of the First Church of Christ in Middleborough, which was written by Mr. Samuel Fuller, first pastor of that church.
THE COPY OF EBENEZER FULLER, IN 1734
I. Thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God hath led thee these forty years. Deut. 8: 2.
December 26, 1694 (O. S.). — A church of Christ was gathered at Middleborough, formerly called by the heathen Namassacut, a fishing place, as some say.
The persons and their names that entered into church fellowship, some of them members of Plymouth church before, being dismissed from Plymouth for that intent; some of them members of other churches dwelling here then, and some that were never in church fellowship before that time, whose names are as followeth : —
Samuel Fuller and his wife, John Bennet and his wife,
Jonathan Morse and his wife, Abiel Wood and his wife,
Samuel Wood, Isaac Billington,
Samuel Eaton, Samuel Cutburt,
Jacob Tomson and his wife, John Cob, Jun.,
Hester Tinkham, The Widow Deborah Harden,
Wetbrah Bumpas, Ebenezer Tinkham, — his wife,
Not being present by reason of sickness in their family, yet after owning the covenant of the rest, being in the esteem of the rest, it is as well as if she were present at that assembly.
Ebenezer Tinkham, Isaac Billington, Jacob Tomson; these then baptized.
Soon after were baptized the children of John Cob in their infancy: John, Martha, Patience. Also Lidia Bumpas, the daughter of Weibra Bumpas.
II. In order to the gathering to a church, it pleased God, who hath the hearts of all men in his hands, to move upon the hearts of sundry of those to desire a church may be gathered in this place, — to desire and seek it of God; and Divine Providence made way for it.
Letters were sent for ministers and brethren to assist in the work, namely: to Plymouth, Sandwich and Barnstable: and the Elders sent Mr. John Cotton, Mr. Rouland Cotton, Mr. Jonathan Russell, and brethren to assist them. Mr. Samuel Fuller, then ordained to be a Teacher to that church; who had lived there and preached the word amongst them, whose preaching God had made beneficial to divers of them, and made choice of by mutual consent. God can, and oft doth, out of the mouth of babes and sucklings ordain praise.
John Bennet, Sen., our brother, ordained Deacon, — Deacon in the church of Middleborough, March 10, being the second Sabbath in that month, and chosen by a full consent to that office some considerable time before; who formerly dwelt at Beverly; whom God in the way of his providence sent to dwell in Middleborough to be serviceable there in church and town.
The articles of christian faith and covenant,1 similar to those of the church at Plymouth, were first printed in 1722, and reprinted in 1771, with some changes. They were in accord with the teachings of the venerable John Robinson, pastor of the Pilgrim Church in Leyden.
As this was for many years the only church in town, and was so prominent in the thought of the people, it may be of interest to cite some of the features of its polity. Any number of christian believers could organize themselves into a church for
1 These articles of faith and covenant are published in the History of the First Church of Christ, in Middleborough.
What is known as the "half-way covenant " was in force for more than fifty years after the organization of this church, and has made it difficult to determine the question of full membership in most of the old churches of the Old Colony. It is very probable that the records of the church, coming to us in the way that has been noted, do not give the membership of all who, during the first thirteen years of its organization, were members. Ibid. p. 79.
There were later about one hundred admitted under this covenant.
Those who entered into the half-way covenant had the privilege of baptism for their children without being members of the church. The phraseology, although in different churches slightly changed, was in substance as follows : —
"I take God the Father to be my chief est good and highest end. I take God the Son to be my only Lord and Savior. I take God the Holy Spirit to be my Sanctifier, Teacher, Guide and Lawgiver. I take the people of God to be my people in all conditions. I likewise devote and dedicate unto the Lord my whole self, all I am, all I have and all I can do. And in all this I do deliberately, promptly, successfully and forever."
worship and for discipline, although they held that no church ought to consist of more members than could conveniently meet together for worship. They had the power of self-government, independence, open communion, and free toleration; the majority ruled in all matters. They had a right to choose their pastor and church officers, and to maintain discipline by vote of the church, but in all of these matters the advice of neighboring churches was asked in council. All of the officers and members were equal in respect to their rights and privileges; no pastor or elder could control or embarrass the action of the church over which he ministered. They communed with churches of other denominations in good standing, and dismissed their members to the other churches when desired. The doctrine and polity of this church was the same authoritatively embodied in what is called the Cambridge Platform, and in a later period in the Saybrook Platform.
MINISTRY OF REV. SAMUEL FULLER, 1694-95
Mr. Fuller was born in 1624, and died August 17, 1695; he was called to preach in 1678, and was ordained December, 26,
Upon the death of Rev. Samuel Fuller, after a ministry of a little more than seven months, Mr. Isaac Cushman2 of Plymouth received a unanimous
wards became the minister of the church at Plympton. Mr. Clapp and Mr. Cutting were invited to supply the pulpit, but for different reasons declined. In August, I 696, Mr. Thomas Palmer was engaged to preach one quarter of a year, for which he was paid a salary of thirteen pounds. This was the beginning of the most unfortunate ministry in the history of this church. In October the town voted him a yearly salary
1 For a sketch of the life of Mr. Fuller, see chapter on The Green.
2 See chapter on Early Purchases.
MINISTRY OF REV. THOMAS PALMER, 1702-08
call to the pastorate, which was not accepted, and he after