From Daniel T.V. Huntoon's 

History of The Town of Canton, Massachusetts (1893)


The First Minister

Joseph Morse, the first settled minister of the "New Grant," or Dorchester Village, was born at Medfield, May 25, 1671, and was the son of Joseph and Priscilla (Colburn) Morse. He was graduated at Harvard College in 1695. After leaving college, he went to Providence, and while engaged in teaching school there, fell in love with and married Miss Amity Harris of that place. In 1701 he went to Watertown Precinct, where he also taught school, and gathered a congregation, who built him a meeting-house ; and on July 6, 1702, a call was extended to him to settle over them. But difficulties subsequently arose which could not be settled; the church was not organized, and he was not ordained. He however continued to preach to them until 1706, when a council of churches, held on March 6, "advise that after a month Mr. Joseph Morse cease to preach at Watertown farms." In January, 1707, he came to the "New Village," now Canton, and remained preaching here amid all the discouragements of the times for ten years and nine months. At the expiration of that time, a council was held, at which the churches in Dorchester, Milton, Dedham, and the two churches at Braintree were represented. A covenant consisting of eight articles was agreed upon and signed by twenty persons, ten of whom were connected with the neighboring churches, and ten non-communicants, whom the council on the 26th day of the preceding June, 1717, had examined and approbated, in order that they might be ready to form a part of the church organization. The following are their names, the first ten were the members of neighboring churches: Joseph Morse, Richard Smith, Peter Lyon, Samuel Andrews, Joseph Esty, Isaac Stearns, Benjamin Blackman, Joseph Hewins, George Talbot, John Withington, Benjamin Esty, Thomas Spurr, Joseph Topliff, Robert Pelton, John Wentworth, David Stone, Benjamin Gill, William Wheeler, Edward Bailey, Samuel Hartwell.

The brethren that belonged to Milton Church before the ordination, - namely, Samuel Pitcher, Richard Smith, Peter Lyon, and George Talbot, - not having obtained their dismission from Milton Church before the ordination day, were not "actually and personally in signing the covenant," and in being of the foundation on that day; but soon after, November 12, they obtained their dismissal. They then signed the covenant, and came up in full with the rest of their brethren, except Samuel Pitcher, whom the Lord removed by death, Nov. 23, 1717, the day after the first church meeting. "John Withington, being ill at the time of the ordination, signed the covenant."

On the 30th of October, 1717, the Rev. Joseph Morse was ordained as pastor of the church in Dorchester Village.[1] His record reads : "God, in and by His wonderful Providence and favor, did arrive and bring His people into this South Precinct of Dorchester to church gathering and ordination, on the thirtieth day of October, 1717." The Rev. John Danforth, of Dorchester, preached the sermon from Heb. xiii. 17: "Obey them that have the rule over you and submit yourselves, for they watch for your souls as they that must give account." Mr. Danforth gave the charge, and Rev. Joseph Belcher, of Dedham, the right hand of fellowship ; the latter also managed the votes. Mr. Peter Thacher, of Milton, was invited to be present, but had not returned from Connecticut. His church, however, was represented by delegates. The following ministers imposed hands, - Messrs. Danforth, Belcher, Niles, and Marsh.

At the time of his ordination. Mr. Morse was in the forty-seventh year of his age. Aside from the encouragement he had received from the people who were interested and believed in the church, the inhabitants had taken steps to assist him pecuniarily, as will be seen by the following abstract of a portion of the precinct records :

At a Precinct meeting legally warned in Dorchester, April the 20th, 1716, Samuel Andrews, Moderator, the same day it was voted that the inhabitants of said Precinct would give to Mr. Joseph Morse forty pounds, annually, so long as he shall uphold and perform the work of the ministry among them. The same clay it was voted that there should be fifteen pounds raised by Rate upon the inhabitants and Rateable Estates within this Precinct, and laid out upon the Meeting House, as far as that would go towards the finishing of it.

Five pounds more Rate were voted to defray the necessary charges of said Precinct. A committee, consisting of John Fenno and Richard Hixson, were chosen to receive the money that was granted for the Meeting House, and for other necessary charges arising within said Precinct, and to hire workmen to do the work about the Meeting House, and pay them for their work.  At a Precinct meeting held July 11, 1716, Joseph Hewins, Moderator, the same day was voted that there should be four shillings levied upon the poll in the Minister's Rate this present year. The same day it was voted in the affirmative that the assessors receive and pay Mr. Morse his salerey, and that the constable should make up his accounts with them.

While matters had without doubt gone on smoothly during the decade before the church organization was perfected, the very fact of organization seems to have brought trouble to the pastor and the flock. Scarcely two months had elapsed after the people had been exhorted to obey them that had the rule over them, when a disposition was manifested by two members of the church to create a disturbance; or possibly other members of the church were desirous of testing the strength of the new organization. Brother Peter Lyon was accused of making certain rash and imprudent speeches, and finding fault with the manner in which the brethren approbated by the reverend elders had been received into the church without making "formal relations."

At the first meeting held after the ordination, Nov. 22, 1717, it was voted that the church should keep a book, and record therein all the regular church acts and votes for the future.

Committees were also chosen to assist the minister about his firewood, to raise a contribution for the Lord's Table, and to ask Dorchester Church to give something for the same purpose. Dec. 10, 1717, .3 3s. 1d. having been received, it was devoted to the purposes above mentioned.

On the 5th day of January, 1718, the celebration of the Lord's Supper took place; and through the goodness and mercy of God the church all sat down at the Lord's Table in peace and unity. Although "many clouds came over us, yet the Lord appeared our deliverer, ... to whom be glory and praise forever. Amen."

The first child baptized after the ordination was David, son of Shubael and Damaris Wentworth, on Jan. 19, 1718.

At the fifth meeting of the church, held on February 14, the same year, it was decided upon mature consideration that the administration of the Lord's Supper should take place once in six weeks. The question also came up at this time whether those persons who made application to the pastor to join the church in full communion, or only to own the covenant in order to enjoy the rights of baptism, should have their cases "propounded" to the church first, and then to the congregation, or to both at the same time; and with rather unusual liberality for those days, it was decided that they should be propounded, in general, to the church and congregation together. Upon this occasion, two covenants were prepared, one called "an abbreviation of our cov't," designed for those persons to engage in who desired to be received into full communion; the other, "a brief draft of ye cov't," designed for the signature of those persons "who are desirous to fall under ye watch and care of ye church," and who desired "yt y ordinance of baptism may be administered to them and theirs according to ye order of ye Gospel of Jesus Christ."

They are as follows. The first, -

"You doe here, in ye presence of ye Almighty God and his people, solemnly take and chase ye Lord Jehovah to be your God, promising and covenanting with his help to fear him and cleave to him in love and to serve him in truth with all your heart, giving up yourself and your seed after you in covt with God and this Church to be the Lord's Intirely, and to be att his Direction and Disposal in all things, y' you may have and hold communion with him and this chh as a member of Christ's mysticall Body, according to his Revealed will, to your lives' end.

"You doe also take ye Holy Scriptures to be your Rule of life to walk by, whereby you may discern yc mind of Christ, endeavoring to live in ye faithful improvement of all opportunities to worship God, according to all his Gospel Institutions. Taking ye great Imanuel, ye Son of God, to be your Savior and Redeemer in all his offices, promising to afford your attendance upon ye public dispensation of God's Word, ye Administration of ye Ordinances of Jesus Christ, especially ye of ye Lord's Supper, as God in his Holy providence shall give you opportunity.

"You also engage, with ye Lord's help, by virtue of Christ's Death, to mortifie all sin and disorderly or vile and sinful affections, and to abstain from all sin, especially from scandalous sins, as ye Lord shall help you, ye you may not depart from ye living God, But ye you may live a life of Holiness, and obedience to ye Revealed will of God.

"You promise you will peaceably submit yourself to ye Holy Discipline appointed by Jesus Christ in his church, and you doe now offer yourself up to ye Care, Government, and watch of this church, obeying ye yt have ye rule over you in ye Lord. Of ye integrity of your Heart herein you call God,  ye searcher of all hearts, to wittnesse, beseeching him to enable you to keep this Covenant inviolably to God's glory and your own spiritual good and edification, and where you shall fail in observing and keeping it, you begg ye Lord's forgiveness and pardon and healing, for ye sake of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen."

The second, -

"You doe now take and avouch ye Great Jehovah to be your God, and ye Lord Jesus Christ to be your Great high priest, prophet, and King. You give up yourself and yours to Jesus Christ, to be instructed, pardoned, justiyed, sanctiyed, comforted, and eternally saved by him.

"You also promise to walk according to ye holy scriptures, Endeavoring as far as God shall enable you, to abstain from all sin, and to walk in ye ways of Holiness and Obedience to God, and in y' observation of all Duty both towards God and man, as is expected and Required of you by ye word of God, or in ye gospel of Jesus Christ.

"You now promise to walk in ye Regular observation of all such Holy Ordinances as you are now capable off, or shall be capable off hereafter.

"You also covt and promise to submit to ye watch, government, and care and discipline of this church or of Jesus Christ in it."

At the same meeting it was proposed whether or no the church should proceed to "ye election or chusing of a person or persons to serve as Deacons in ye said church. It was concluded in ye affirmative."

"It was voted yt two persons should be chosen as deacons in sd church.

"As to the method of choosing the persons it was agreed and voted that ' every man should chuse and vote for himself whom God should direct and incline his heart, without any Nomination, and ye That brother that hath y most votes should be the first Deacon, and so in like manner we will vote all over a second time, and he ye hath ye most votes in ye second voting, be ye second Deacon. In this way ye chh voted very peaceably; and in ye first voting, the vote fell on Brother Joseph Hewins; and in ye second voting, ye vote fell on Brother Benjamin Blackmail, who accordingly took ye weighty matter into consideration.' "

It was also voted "that ye Deacons should dispose of ye fragments at ye Lord's Table, either by bestowing them upon ye minister," or in any other way in which they should see fit.

At the sixth church meeting, which was held May 15, 1718, the two gentlemen who had been appointed to serve as deacons accepted the position, believing that in the hearty vote they had received " there was much of the voice of God." At said meeting,

" It was agreed upon to set apart a day for fasting and prayer by s'1 Chh, and to hold it in public in ye Meeting House, for to seek the Lord's favor and the smiles of His Countenance to rest on this Chh and Congregation, and that Religion and trevv Godliness might be advanced, and ye peace thereof and prosperity of both Chh and Congregation might be continued and enlarged by God Almighty."

1 See Appendix VIII.


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