From Daniel T.V. Huntoon's
History of The Town of Canton, Massachusetts (1893)
THE ENGLISH CHURCH
The house which was consumed by fire at Canton on Sunday morning, Sept. 13, 1874, possessed a history totally different in its aspect and bearings from any other building in the town. Its history was almost complete a hundred years ago; its work was nearly accomplished before the breaking out of the Revolutionary War; and when that great political storm arose, the first mutterings of which were heard within the walls of Doty's tavern, growing in strength as it proceeded, it swept across the country like a tornado and overthrew in its irresistible progress very many of the early Episcopal churches then existing in the country. The Canton Church was among the first to fall. The reasons for its dismemberment were twofold: first, its own inherent weakness ; secondly, the unwillingness of most of its members to approve the popular measures taken by the mass of the inhabitants to procure a separation from the mother country, - in other words, they were Tories. Of course this assertion does not apply to all. There were individual members of the Episcopal Church in New England who were bold and outspoken in the cause of independence; but the communicants, as a body, deemed their allegiance to Great Britain paramount to any other political considerations. In this they were a peculiar people. No other sect gave the patriots of the Revolution so much trouble as the "church" people, and in no denomination were there so many Tories.
Nevertheless old things have passed away; old prejudices have worn off; and it is pleasant to recall some facts connected with the past long after the heat of the controversy and the battle are over. The animosities of our great-grand-fathers and great-grandmothers are buried with the dust that covers them. The dutiful servants of the king were in many cases driven from their homes and firesides, and sought in some more congenial clime a refuge where their opinions would be respected and their past sufferings looked upon with tenderness and sympathy.
Near the village of Ponkapoag stands a deserted burying-ground. It is very small, — not more than four and one half rods on the road ; and it runs back to the brow of the hill. You open the iron gate, enter, and stand within the enclosure known as the English Churchyard. The path, if path there ever was, has long since been choked with weeds; and the rank grass grows in profusion over the graves. The stones arc half covered with ivy and creeping vines, and you discern through moss-covered letters the well-known names of those who were once connected with the busy life of the old town.
One portion of this lot has been in use, or, as the old record has it, "improved for a burying ground," much longer than the rest. For nearly fifty years before the part nearest the public way was deeded as a site for the church, the back part, or the portion nearest the brow of the hill, had been owned by certain proprietors having no connection with the Church of England. Persons were interred here as early as 1705, and it is the oldest place of burial in Canton. When the church people came into possession of the adjoining lot, the two graveyards were merged, and hence here sleep side by side patriots and Tories; there is no division now. The stanch patriot, Capt. William Bent, long proprietor of the Eagle Inn, reposes in the same yard with Edward Taylor, the notorious and loud-mouthed Tory of Ponkapoag. The good old deacon of Dunbar's church lies near the warden of the English Church. Here in the northeast corner is a rough stone with no inscription, and not far away is a monument of modern workmanship with this inscription: —
" Near this spot lie the remains of Samuel Spare and wife who came from Devonshire, England, in 1735, and was the first settler of this name known in New-England. He was active in the church formerly near this lot. He died July 5, 1768, aged 85 years."
Directly north of this monument there is a slight depression; apparently no graves have been made here. Tradition points to this as the exact spot where stood "ye Englishe Churche."
The first attempt to gather an Episcopal church in Canton was undertaken by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts. The work was of a missionary nature. The Rev. Timothy Cutler, the first rector of Christ Church, Boston, was an authorized missionary of the society, and he was indefatigable in his exertions to build up churches throughout Massachusetts. Among others, the sister church, St. Paul's, then known as Christ's Church, Dedham, was founded by him in 1758. Mr. Cutler preached in Canton; and the tradition, erroneous though it is, that the fee-simple of the land on which the church stood was formerly in possession of Christ Church, Boston, would go far to establish the fact of Mr. Cutler's early connection with the enterprise.
On April 22, 1754, a good pious soul, Jonathan Kenney by name, of Stoughton, "in consideration of promoting the honor of Almighty God, and in the interest of the Church of England as by law established, and for the better accommodation of the professors of that holy religion," deeded to the " Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, incorporated by a royal charter, and to their successors forever," the plat of ground upon which the church formerly stood, to be used " for a situation for a church for the worship of God according to the laws and usages of the Church of England by law established, and for a cemetery or burying place for the dead." This deed was signed and sealed in the presence of Ebenezer Miller, among others, which leads us to believe that whatever advice or encouragement Dr. Cutler might have given, far greater credit belongs to the Rev. Ebenezer Miller, D. D., of Braintree, who, if not the framer and designer of the work, supplemented and encouraged it, and during his life was its warm and zealous friend, aiding it by his wise counsels and defending it with his vigorous and powerful logic from the assaults of its enemies and the machinations of its foes.
The building of the church was begun soon after the passing of the deed of the land, and was completed about 1758. Previous to its erection, the church people, who desired to worship God in their own way, were obliged to go over rough roads either to Boston or Braintree, thereby making themselves liable to arrest by the tithing-man for going to a meeting " not allowed by law."
Dr. Ebenezer Miller was the second son of Samuel Miller, of Milton. He was born on Milton Hill in 1703, was fitted for college by the Rev. Peter Thacher, — the good old parson of his native town, — and graduated at Harvard College in 1722. He began the study of divinity immediately after leaving college, and was anxious to become a minister of the Church of England. The vicinity of Braintree, now Quincy, to his home gave him the advantages of an acquaintance with the churchmen of that place; and when he saw that here, in the very spot where the first missionary labor in Massachusetts Bay had been begun by the Venerable Society, nearly a quarter of a century before, the work was failing, he was easily induced by his brethren to proceed to England and to procure ordination, there being at that time no bishop in America. He accordingly went to England, and in due time was ordained as deacon and priest by Edmund, Lord Bishop of London. The same year, 1727, he received the degree of Master of Arts, and in 1747 that of Doctor in Theology, from the Oxford University. While in London he was chaplain to the Duke of Bolton. Several members of the church in Braintree wrote to General Nicholson during the latter part of the year 1726, and represented that they had met with many hardships from their independent neighbors and from the government. They desired that the Rev. Mr. Miller might be sent over as soon as possible, and, until he came, they saw no prospect of relief from their sufferings. They said, " He is well beloved in these parts, and we believe that if he will come back to us we shall have a numerous congregation." Mr. Miller accordingly went to Braintree and settled there, and continued preaching to the people until his death, which occurred in February, 1763.
He was well educated and well versed in the history and doctrines of his church, and not afraid to meet, in public polemic discussion, Parson Dunbar of the First Church, who accused him of having been sent by his superiors to " foment disturbances " and " cause divisions " among the churches of New England, and "by promoting Episcopacy to increase the political influence of the Crown." We have every reason to believe that Mr. Miller was well qualified to build up a poor and tottering church in the wilds of America. His death was a great loss to the little congregation at Canton. Being geographically nearer them than any other ordained clergyman, he divided his parochial labors between them and the worshippers at Dedham; and when he died, Feb. 11, 1763, St. Paul's also suffered. " He feared God and honored the king."
After the death of the Rev. Mr. Miller, the Rev. Henry Caner, D. D., rector of King's Chapel, Boston, became interested in the Canton Church. At this time the church was very small, consisting of only eighteen families; but Mr. Caner was so pleased with the appearance of the congregation and their worth and honesty, that he did all in his power to assist them, and highly recommended them to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, as deserving of its aid and compassion.
In 1764 Edward Wentworth and Samuel Spare were elected wardens; the latter, as appears from the inscription upon the monument, was the first of the name in New England, but subsequent investigations have shown that he was here as early as 1728. He removed to Canton from Boston in 1738, and erected, in 1758, a house on Green Lodge Street, and removed to Cherry Hill, owning the place where the old milestone reads, "Thirteen miles to Boston, 1786. John Spare." He was born in 1683, and died July 5, 1768. " He assisted," says Mr. Winslow, in a funeral sermon preached at the English Church, " in laying the foundation of this building." In his will he gave the interest of £13 6s. 8d. for the use of the English Church in this town forever. His son John was one of the wardens of the church in 1767, and a constant attendant upon its services until its dissolution, when he became a worshipper at St. Paul's, Dedham.
In 1765 the number of the families in Canton in the church " profession," amounted to about twenty, the communicants eighteen. In Dedham and its neighborhood there were not more than ten families that belonged to the church, and only eleven communicants. Statistically, then, it would appear that the Canton mission wras in advance of that in Dedham.
The Rev. Edward Winslow succeeded the Rev. Mr. Miller at Braintree in 1764, and the mantle of the latter fell upon him. He was dissatisfied at the small congregations which greeted him at Dedham and Canton on Sundays, and devised a plan by which he could secure a good audience. He preached alternately at both places. The distance was not great, and the attendance, especially in Dedham, was mortifying small. He therefore advised the members of the two churches to unite and attend together as one congregation. This proposition was readily consented to, and immediately put in practice, and by this device a good congregation was obtained in both churches. Services were held in each place once a month, as long as good weather permitted; but during the winter months the traveling was so bad that service was entirely discontinued. The salary the worthy man received was barely enough to pay his expenses; but he had every reason to believe that the numbers of the congregation would increase, and hoped that their abilities and dispositions to continue a regular service would enlarge correspondingly.
When the Revolution broke out, Mr. Winslow, not being able with safety to pray for the king, and unable conscientiously to forbear to pray for him, resigned his charge at Braintree, and removed to New York; on his return from a funeral, while ascending the steps of his house, he fell down and died. His remains were buried beneath the altar of St. George's Church.
In 1767, through the influence of Mr. Winslow, a lay reader was procured for the two towns. This was the Rev. William Clark. He was born in Danvers, August 2, 1740, O. S., and received his degree at Harvard in 1759. His father, the Rev. Peter Clark, was a Congregationalist clergyman; and young Clark studied for the ministry in the same denomination. On July 19, 1767, having conformed to the Church of England, and become a candidate for Holy Orders, he performed divine service in Canton for the first time, but his residence was still in Dedham. Mr. Winslow occasionally preached. Mr. Clark officiated alternately in Dedham and Canton until Oct. 23, 1768, when he sailed for England. In London, December 17, he subscribed to the Articles, the following day was ordained to the office of deacon by the Bishop of London, and on the 21st of the same month he was ordained priest. He was appointed by the Venerable Society to go to Dedham; thence he came to Canton to reside, Nov. 29, 1770. This young gentleman entered upon his labors under great difficulties. In the first place, he was only twenty-seven years of age; he had recently offered himself as a candidate for Holy Orders; and here his first labor in the Episcopal Church was to begin. To this youth and want of experience was added a physical infirmity. He was very deaf, so deaf that it was believed to be impossible to cure him.
He came up to his work manfully. "He bore," says one who knew him, "an amiable character, both in respect to his piety and abilities; " and he had need of both, for his predecessor had left him as a legacy an old quarrel with Parson Dunbar, who had exhibited an unfriendly temper toward the English Church, for which Mr. Winslow says he had long been remarkable. Mr. Dunbar had taken exceptions to the number Mr. Winslow had reported as belonging to his church; and the latter was obliged to make out a certificate, and with his wardens attest the exact number of those professing his faith. We may believe Mr. Winslow when he says that "it had been his endeavor to lead his members to cultivate a friendly, as well as cautious temper toward their Dissenting neighbors, but he had not succeeded; " and the burden descended on Mr. Clark. His people were obliged to pay rates to support preaching at the Congregational church in the same proportion as if they had attended that worship. From one reason and another, his congregation began to drop away. On June 24, 1771, he moved his household goods back to the parsonage in Dedham, but continued to preach here until the 13th of December, 1772. On that day he preached what he supposed at the time to be his farewell sermon; but the Venerable Society in London disapproved of his suspending his usual attendance upon the church in Canton, and he continued to preach here one Sunday in a month, and as late as 1775, administered the sacrament after three years' intermission. In 1773 the Canton Church was disconnected from the church in Dedham, and three years after, on the nth of June, 1776, it being the festival of Saint Barnabas, the members of the Stoughton Church met for the last time, and having been reminded of their duties by their pastor, elected Mr. John Spare and Mr. Henry Crane to
serve them as wardens until the following Easter. The following extracts from a letter written by Mr. Clark in April, 1774, to the society in London, will throw additional light upon the closing years of his work in Canton: —
"And now I am able to acquaint the society that I have used myutmost endeavor to bring the Stoughton people +0 their usual attendance on my ministry in the church there, according to command laid on me to attend my duty there. I have visited several, and wrote to them all in the most condescending and constraining terms, offering my services there as usual, if they would but attend their duty and drop all matters of contention, though I have not received a farthing of their ministerial taxes for more than two years past. I think I might in justice have insisted on their making payment; but as I have never made any difference about that in all my converse with that people, I have not thought it proper to begin now.
"My offers above mentioned have been treated with neglect and contempt. Those few whom I have represented as better disposed to peace and good order, yet refuse to attend in that church, as they say it gives greater occasion of obloquy to those without, because the schismatically and refractory behaviour of their brethren in withdrawing becomes more open and notorious. But they promise they will attend on my ministry at Dedham, as often as they possibly can; nor, upon the whole, is it practicable, in the present situation of things, for me to resume my duty at' Stoughton, as the church doors are shut against me, and the keys in the hands of the disaffected members? who meet together at a private house, and have set up a Reader of their own, being equally disaffected to the Rev. Mr. Winslow, whose church is next nearest, as to mine.
" In a few words, then, this difference began in a dispute between two of my Parishioners, there being the misapplication of a trifling sum of money, committed from one to the other for a public use. As I certainly knew which was in the wrong, I spoke of it with the most honest and upright design, in hopes my word would have put an end to the dispute (as it certainly ought to have done) ; instead of that, I undesignedly and quite unexpectedly offended the person against whom my evidence went, who from that time forward has treated me with great abuse and malignity, and the first time I had opportunity to discourse with him I endeavoured with meekness to convince him that he had been mistaken, as he is generally known to be a very forgetful man, but he flatly gave me the Lie, and treated me with reviling language, which I pass over.
"This man soon got a number to join him ; and the enemies of our church around us, who are very numerous, were busy to foment the difference, and so the contest began, and proceeded from one thing to another which would be very mortifying to mention. . . .
"I wish never to have anything more to say upon so disagreeable a subject. . . .
In the year 1767, I was called to officiate among them as a Reader and a candidate for Holy orders, where I continued till the middle of October, 1768, when I sailed for England, in which time I saw the great need they had of a resident minister; their unanimous importunity prevailed with me to pass by better offers. I collected money for my expenses to England from my own little patrimonial estate, with which I paid the whole expense of my voyage and residence in London, without a farthing's assistance except the Royal Bounty and one moidure from a person unknown. In London, being the winter season, I was obliged to stay just five months, when, soon after my ordination, I was seized with the small-pox and brought to death's door, which was very distressing as well as very expensive to me. I recovered and returned home in June, 1769, the whole ex
pense of my voyage being about £80 of my own personal property : and though my people received me kindly, I soon found I had all the malevolence of fanatical bigotry to encounter (and indeed a young man must have much courage who enters on a new mission in this country), but I carefully avoided the shafts of mine enemies. But they soon found means to warp the affections of some of my people, and laid the foundation of some private grievances, in which few know how great and unjust a sufferer I have been. In short, I met with some striking instances of ingratitude and unkindness from those whom I had most obliged. I have continued here now almost five years. My income is small, — scarcely able to procure for me the necessaries of life."
From this it appears that the closing years of Mr. Clark's ministry were fraught with anxiety and trouble. He endeavored conscientiously to discharge his duty through many hardships and trials. Twice he came over from Dedham and found no one to join with him in the service.
Many a bitter cold morning he waited for over an hour alone in the church, before any one came who would unite with him in the exercises; sometimes he read the service with one, sometimes two, three, or four persons, seldom more than five or six; and yet he lived farther from the church than any of his parishioners. Still he worked on, and endeavored by frequent visits, meetings, conferences, and discourses to heal the difficulties that had arisen, but in vain. Added to the troubles within his own parish, came the political agitation; and many, though thoroughly respecting Mr. Clark personally, were displeased with the Toryism of the Church of England, of which he was the very embodiment and representative. He was at heart a stanch Royalist. He prayed " that God may open the eyes of an infatuated and deluded people before it be too late, that they may see how nearly their happiness is connected with a subjection to the King and Parliament of Great Britain."
In 1777, while Mr. Clark was residing in Dedham, his affairs seemed to have reached a crisis. His church had
been used as a storehouse, and his little flock scattered far and wide. His name appeared on the town records as one unfriendly to the common cause. Two Loyalist refugees about this time came to him in sore distress, and begged that he would inform them where they could find a safe retreat. In reply to their importunities, he gave them a letter of recommendation, addressed to certain parties out of the country. For this he was carried by force to Boston, and arraigned before the Revolutionary tribunal then sitting there. He was denied the right of counsel. The tribunal was about to acquit him, but before doing so, desired him to acknowledge the independence of America, which he absolutely refused to do; for, he says, it is "contrary to my King, my Country, and my God." For this he was condemned and sentenced to be confined on board the guard ship. His health was very much impaired by this imprisonment. His voice was so affected that he could hardly be understood. His hearing had not improved from his youth forward; and this speechless, deaf, and decrepit man, released and banished, sought in Ireland and England a refuge and a home, — a pitiable object of charity to all refugees whom he met. He returned to Nova Scotia in 1786, and in March, 1795, to his native State. He died in Quincy in 1815, and is buried in the churchyard there, where a monument with a Latin inscription marks his final resting-place.
Mr. Clark was the last clergyman that officiated at Trinity Church in the town of Canton. For some years after his expatriation the parish organization connected with the church may have smouldered. Mr. Joseph Aspinwall, one of the founders and a steadfast friend of the church, was present at a convention of Episcopalians held in Boston in September, 1785, and the record shows that he was " deputy from Stoughton." Whether he represented a constituency or went of his own will, is a matter which probably will always remain in doubt. This old gentleman had been at the formation of the Dedham Church in 1733, and his posterity through the generations have been true to the faith of their fathers. He lived on a road that formerly led from the old ford to Ponkapoag. West of Adam Mackintosh's, the cellar of his house was seen by the Canton Historical Society on their Fast Day walk of 1876. He died Nov. 24, 1787, in the eighty-ninth year of his age. There are none in Canton to-day, descended from the original church people, who hold the faith of their ancestors.
One could hardly realize that in the little church that formerly stood near this spot the following prayer was read :
" Lord bless our Most Gracious Sovereign, King George, and all the Royal Family, the Princes, Lords, and Nobility of the Realm! Endow them with Thy Holy Spirit; enrich them with Thy Heavenly grace ! Bless all the Bishops, Pastors, and Teachers of Thy flock, and to all Thy people give thine Heavenly Grace, especially to this congregation here present! "
After the close of the Revolution the church building remained unused for many years. It was fast going to decay; the simple style of its architecture rendered it easily convertible into a house, and, the frame and timbers being sound, it was purchased by Mr. Adam Blackman in 1796, carried across the road into the valley, and set down by Aunt Katy's Brook, where it remained until it was consumed by fire. Verily, as the Welsh say, " It is easier to burn a house than to build one."
And so the curtain drops: the old regime has passed away; the end of the colonial period is reached. The names of Aspinwall, Kingsbury, Taylor, Kenney, Spare, Curtis, Liscom, and Crehore are unknown among us to-day, save on the tablets of mouldering gravestones. More than a century has passed. The picturesque cocked hat has been superseded by the stove-pipe monstrosity; the graceful knee-breeches have given place to pantaloons; silver shoe-buckles are now only found in the collection of the antiquary; the coins they dropped into the contribution-box, stamped with the fat face of the Brunswicker, serve only to complete the collection of the numismatist; the red cross of Saint George has given place to the stars and stripes; and finally in our own day the English Church, changed and transformed, has gone with the rest. We see the child at the font, the bride at the altar; we see the little band of worshippers, and strive to recall their faded images. From the mist of the past, their responses sound thin and distant as they reach us through the intervening years ;^and the prayer for his " Gracious Majesty George III." comes down to us in such faint whispers that we almost doubt whether it was ever a reality.
On the 29th of May, 1848, the service of the Episcopal Church was read over the body of the last of the members of the old church, — Mrs. Joshua Kingsbury, who died at the age of ninety, surviving her husband nearly twenty years. She resided in a small house on the Packeen road; and the writer well remembers a visit paid to her a few months before her death.
On the nth of June, 1876, just one hundred years from the last meeting of the members of the English Church, the descendants gathered together, and listened to a rehearsal of this story. A portrait of the Rev. William Clark, brought by his son, in the seventy-eighth year of his age, adorned the front of the pulpit; after Mr. Huntoon's historical address, remarks were made by the Rev. W. H. Savary, Dr. John Spare, and Hon. Charles H. French.
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