Northfield — Churches

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

      Tradition states that the earliest settlers in 1673 had a meeting-house, but where located or when erected cannot be said. Tradition further says that in the summer of 1673 Elder William Janes used to preach to the people on Sabbath under the Meeting Oak, which was one of a cluster of six yellow oaks that stood in the lower end of what is now Northfield village. This Meeting Oak outlasted its fellows, and met death by accidental fire in 1869.
      During the second settlement, in February, 1688, it was resolved to build a meeting-house, for which, and a proposed bridge over Mill Brook, £40 5s. were to be raised, but whether the meeting-house was built, no record gives assurance. Late in 1688, Rev. Warham Mather was sent from Northampton to Northfield "to be their minister for half a year," and that he served is made manifest by a petition which he sent to the General Court in 1691, saying that the people, of Northfield, supposing that Sir Edmund Andros (who had instructed Capt. Nicholson to send the petitioner to Northfield) would see him paid, had provided him only with provisions; and the £15 in money, which Capt. Nicholson had pledged him for his services, he begged the General Court to allow him. The court admitted the justness of the claim, but deferred its payment until 1700.
      After the permanent settlement of Northfield, it was resolved, in October, 1716, to build a house 16 feet long and 12 feet wide, for "the present accommodation of a minister," and an engagement was then made with James Whitmore, of Middletown, Conn., to preach half a year, for which he was to have £25 and subsistence for himself and horse.
      Previous to the year 1718, Sabbath services had been held in such houses as boasted the largest kitchens; but early in that year the town agreed to build a meeting-house "of the dimensions of the Sunderland meeting-house, viz., 45 feet long, 30 feet wide, and 18 feet between joints." This house was erected in the middle of the street, near the site of the present Unitarian Church in Northfield village, and, like the churches of those days, was furnished with slab forms instead of pews. Pews were not introduced into the church until 1753, and then only as individuals desired to build them for their own use.
      Mr. Whitmore's successor was Mr. Benjamin Doolittle, of Wallingford, Conn., who was engaged, November, 1717, to preach during the winter, and who, at the conclusion of that engagement, was permanently settled as minister about September, 1718, when, it is supposed, a church was also organized. Mr. Doolittle was to have for a settlement £100 in money, a dwelling-house, house-lot and pasture-lot, and a salary of £65 annually for the first six years, and £75 annually thereafter, besides an annual supply of firewood.
      For many years after Mr. Doolittle's settlement people were called to public worship by the beat of a drum, or by the hanging out of a flag at the meeting-house.
      Mr. Doolittle was a physician as well as a minister, and as a physician enjoyed a lucrative practice. Fault began to be found with him in 1736 by some of his congregation, on the ground that the pursuit of his profession as a physician interfered with his ministerial duties, and directly other exceptions began to be taken to him as to his religious views, and in the controversy that ensued the town was divided, a majority, however, taking sides with Mr. Doolittle. The main points in the controversy were touching the charges against him that he told the town "he would not lay by doctoring and chirurgery under £400 a year; that he refused to comply with the association's and the court's advice for a mutual council; his practice of doctoring and chirurgery, and acting as proprietor's clerk for Winchester, contrary to the town's mind."
      Mr. Doolittle steadily refused to unite in calling an ecclesiastical council to adjust the difficulty, and in his stand he was strongly supported by many inhabitants. The other side made many efforts to bring Mr. Doolittle into compliance with their wishes, but to no avail, and victory finally rested with the pastor, who, putting to vote after a Sunday service in February, 1741, the question as to whether he should be sustained, declared the vote in the affirmative, and that was an end of the controversy. Mr. Doolittle died suddenly, Jan. 9, 1749, in the fifty-fourth year of his age, and thirtieth of his ministry.
      "A Short Narrative of the Mischief Done by the French-and-Indian Enemy on the Western Frontiers of Massachusetts Bay from 1743 to 1748," published in 1750, was written by Mr. Doolittle. But three copies of the pamphlet are known to be in existence, and of these one is in the library of Harvard College.
      In the March following Mr. Doolittle's death, Mr. Isaac Lyman, of Northampton, was given a call to settle, but he declined, and Mr. John Hubbard, of Hatfield, was offered a call, with a settlement of £133 6s. 8d. and a salary of £66 13s., with yearly firewood. Mr. Hubbard accepted the call, and was ordained May, 1750.
      In August, 1761, it was resolved to build a new meeting-house, and, some difference of opinion arising touching its place of location, a disinterested committee was called in, and a site selected north of the old house. There was some dissatisfaction with this location, and at a town-meeting called in May, 1763, it was voted to set the house on the west side of the street (near where the present Unitarian Church stands). Two barrels of New England rum and four gallons of West India rum were used at the raising, and the church was provided with a steeple as well as a bell. The house was, however, not finished until 1767, and not painted until 1789.
      Previous to 1770 it was the custom in church for the deacon to "line the psalm" for the singers, but in January of that year the town voted "that hereafter the singers shall sing altogether, without the deacon's reading the psalm, line by line, except at the Lord's table." The training of singers for the church service began then to be a town concern, and, late in 1770, Seth Hastings was hired as a singing-master.
      The ministry of Mr. Hubbard was unmarked by any important incident, save the controversy which arose between him and his people upon the breaking out of the Revolutionary war. Previous to that time, according to the general custom, Mr. Hubbard included in his prayers a petition for the divine blessing upon the king of Great Britain; and this he continued to invoke after the battle of Lexington, to the great indignation of many members of his congregation. He was publicly reproved at a Sabbath service by Deacon Samuel Smith, and forbidden to recite the obnoxious prayer. The pastor resented this dictation, and, declining to submit to it, raised a storm about his ears that resulted in the calling of a church council in 1779 to pass upon the merits of the controversy; but while the council was deliberating, the trouble was adjusted by Mr. Hubbard and his people, upon the basis of his pledge to pray thereafter for the prosperity of the American arms.
      After a ministry of upward of forty-four years, Mr. Hubbard died November, 1794. His successor was Rev. Samuel C. Allen, who was ordained November, 1795, and dismissed in January, 1798, after which he studied law and became quite successful at the Bar.
      The next settled minister was Rev. Thos. Mason, who was ordained November, 1799, and continued to be the pastor until February, 1830. In 1801 the church received the gift of an organ from Samuel Smith, From the date of Mr. Mason's settlement the church became Unitarian in doctrine, and has thus remained to the present day. Shortly before Mr. Mason's dismissal 56 members of his church withdrew and formed a second Unitarian Church, for which Rev. Samuel Presbury preached from February, 1828, to September, 1829. Upon the retirement of Mr. Mason, the members of the second church, relinquishing their organization, returned to the first church in 1830, and in that year Rev. Geo. W. Hosmer was installed, and preached until July, 1836.
      Meanwhile, in 1833, the old meeting-house was replaced, near the same site, by is new one, which was built by Wm. Pomeroy, and given to the town in exchange for the old house, on condition that the money received for the sale of pews (about $5000) should constitute a permanent fund, whose income should be devoted to parish expenses. This latter house was destroyed by fire in 1871, and was succeeded by the present imposing edifice, built in 1872, at a cost of $7000. In the latter year, Mr. Williams Allen, of New York, presented the church with a bell, and the town supplied the church-tower with a fine clock. In 1836, Wm. Pomeroy deeded certain lands, mortgages, etc., to the church as a permanent fund, which amounts now to upward of $5000.
      Mr. Hosmer's successors as pastors have been Revs. O. C. Everett, Wm. C. Tenney, John Murray, Chas. Noyes, Jabez T. Sunderland, and S. B. Putnam, the latter the pastor in January, 1879.

The Second Congregational Church

      The Second Congregational Church was organized November, 1825, with 30 members, and after worshiping in Union Hall, Northfield village, until 1829, built the present church edifice, which was remodeled in 1849. The first pastor was Rev. Eli Moody, and succeeding him were Revs. Bancroft Fowler, Horatio J. Lombard, Nathaniel Richardson, Luther Farnum, Willard Jones, Isaac Perry, and Theodore J. Clark, pastor in January, 1879.

A Methodist Church

      A Methodist Church was organized in 1810, and enjoyed regular preaching supply until 1844, when it withdrew from the Conference.
      A branch of the Baptist Church of Leverett and Montague was organized at Northfield Farms in 1829, and dissolved in 1846.
      It may be appropriate, in connection with this church chapter, to note that Moody, the famous revivalist, was born in Northfield.

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19 Jul 2005