Deerfield — Ministers And Churches

Extracted from "History of the Connecticut Valley in Massachusetts, Volume II," by Louis H. Everts, 1879.

      Rev. Benjamin Pierpont, of New Haven, graduated at Yale College in 1726; approbated to preach by the New Haven Association about 1728, and was preaching as a candidate as early as Aug. 11, 1729; and on the 26th was hired for three months. Meanwhile, Rev. Mr. Williams, of Hatfield, was using his influence against Pierpont as an immoral man. In spite of this, a call was given him to settle, by a vote of 36 to 14, on the 25th of January, 1730, and the candidate was to continue preaching until arrangements could be made for a settlement. Mr. Williams continued his charges against Mr. Pierpont, and more were estranged from him, and protested at the March meeting against the settlement. In October, with a vote of thanks, Pierpont left town, and is not afterward heard of.
      Rev. John Warren, who graduated at Harvard College in 1725, after preaching a few months, received a unanimous call May 6, 1731. The people took his refusal much to heart, and in July earnest efforts were vainly made to induce him to reconsider his reply, and in August voted "to make further tryal for recovering" Mr. Warren, and "to alter the propositions made last spring," which was sent August 26th, by Capt. Jona. Wells.
      James Chandler, who graduated at Harvard College in 1728, was the next candidate. Nov. 3, 1734, "chose the worthy Mr. James Chandler to be their pastor and teacher, by a great majority." He also declined. Discouraged with Harvard ministers, in December Deacon Samuel Childs was sent to Connecticut for a candidate.
      Rev. Jonathan Ashley, son of Jonathan, of Westfield, was born Nov. 11, 1712. He graduated at Yale College in 1730. He married Dorothy, daughter of Rev. William Williams, of Hatfield. After preaching about three months Mr. Ashley received a call to settle, April 7, 1732, and was ordained Nov. 8, 1732. His settlement was £300, 10 acres of land, the liberty of the commons, firewood, and the use of the town-lot, with an annual salary of £130; the settlement and the salary to be paid in bills of public credit at 18s. the ounce. Almost from the first the question of salary was a troublesome one; the currency was fluctuating, and Boston brokers were often appealed to to determine its value, compared with silver. Controversy and contention grew up, finally causing much bitterness of feeling. Troubles also existed about the rent of the town-lot, and especially about his firewood. In April or May, 1780, a council of ministers was convened to settle these affairs. Benjamin Trumbull, the historian, was the advocate of the people. The scope of the council has not been determined. Their labors must have been prolonged and arduous, for they consumed "half a quire of paper and 9 quarts of rum." We are also in the dark about the result of this council. It appears, however, from the action of the town June 19, 1780, that the pastoral relation of Mr. Ashley to the town was dissolved. At that date the town chose a committee of three "to hire a minister of the gospel to preach in this town, with discretionary power to hire one for as long a time as they think proper." Mr. Ashley did not long survive this action; he died Aug. 28, 1780.
      Mr. Ashley was tall, of a commanding presence, with a strong intellect, and scholarly; in theological and biblical knowledge surpassed by none in the valley, save Jonathan Edwards, of Northampton. The latter describes Ashley, who was his cousin, as "a young gentleman of liberal education and notable abilities; a fluent speaker; a man of lax principles in religion, falling in, in some essential things, with the Arminians, and is very bold and open in it." He was "bold and open" in everything he did. He was opposed to Edwards in the great controversy concerning church membership, and active in procuring his dismission from Northampton, and was largely instrumental in the dismissal of Rev. Edward Billings, an adherent of the Edwards party, from Belchertown. It was a terrible blow to him when Mr. Billings, taking the bull by the horns, gathered a church and congregation from Mr. Ashley's own flock, in 1754.
      In the Revolution, Mr. Ashley continued loyal to England. He had publicly prayed for the king weekly for forty years in good faith, and he could not logically or conscientiously turn against him. After the adoption of the State constitution he was called upon to read a proclamation with the usual ending, "God save the Commonwealth!" Drawing himself up to his full height, he added, "And the king too, or we are an undone people!" His Toryism was pronounced and offensive. He taught that a fearful doom awaited the rebels who fell at Bunker Hill, and the incensed hearers nailed up the pulpit-door.

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