Shutesbury — Churches
Extracted from "History of the Connecticut Valley in Massachusetts, Volume II," by Louis H. Everts, 1879.
As early as 1735 the proprietors resolved to build a meeting-house 40 feet long, 30 feet wide, and 20 feet stud, and to place the house as near the centre of the tract as might be. Capt. Jonas Houghton, Dr. Thomas Wells, and David Farrar were chosen a committee "to let out said meeting-house, and to oblige him or them that shall undertake to make and raise the frame thereof, and to finish the outside of said meeting-house, and to lay the floor, all workmanlike, and that on or before Oct. 27, 1738." Despite this action, the voting of £380 for the expense of building the house, and the awarding of the building contract to Mr. D. Dix, the scheme for some reason failed, and nothing was done toward furthering the enterprise until September, 1738.
At the last-named date it was resolved to make a change in the proposed location from the centre to "the Governor's Farm," near Jonathan Burt's; and it was further agreed to pay for the raising out of "the public stock." The building was probably completed early in 1739, for in June of that year it was voted to add 5 feet to the length and 5 feet to the width of the house, and to allow Mr. Dix £60 in addition to the contract price, provided he made the windows larger ac-cording to the proportions of the house. In 1740 steps were taken to procure preaching, and it was agreed to give to the preacher who would preach eight Sabbaths £2 10s. per Sabbath. The church building above referred to was erected very near the site now occupied by the Baptist Church at Shutesbury Centre.
In furtherance of the plan to obtain preaching, a committee was chosen "to manage the affair of hiring a man to supply the pulpit," and they were instructed to take the advice of the "Reverend Association of Ministers" of the county in the premises. It would appear that the church building was not furnished with pews until 1740. In that year Jonathan Burt was awarded the privilege of building "convenient pew at the left hand of the fore or south door, upon condition that he give some land on the back-side of the meeting-house for the use of the proprietors; said piece to be one and a half rods wide, and running the whole length of the four acres given by Gov. Belcher."
In March, 1742, it was voted to extend a call to Rev. Abram Hill, of Cambridge (a Harvard graduate), who had been supplying the preaching previously. After considerable bargaining touching the terms of his settlement, it was finally agreed that he should have a settlement of £87 10s., a salary of £40, and the minister's lot as it lay. In his letter of acceptance he said "he depended on their goodness that they would not let him suffer on any account." The church was organized as a Congregational Church in October, 1742, and at that time Mr. Hill was ordained. Meanwhile, the church building remained in an unfinished state, and, the matter being brought up at a proprietors' meeting in 1745, it was voted "not to finish the meeting-house." In 1749 a cushion was provided for the pulpit, a communion-service was purchased for £6, and £320 were appropriated to finish the lower part of the meeting-house and to build convenient seats. In 1752, Mr. Hill's salary was increased to £52, and it was voted to sell at auction places suitable for building pews. But this scheme fell through; and as various individuals subsequently built pews here and there, the body of the house must have presented a singular appearance. Further efforts were made in 1761 and 1763 to finish the meeting-house interior; but the building was never fully completed, and was torn down in 1820.
The records show that for some time previous to the organization of the town, in 1761, the proprietors failed to pay Mr. Hill's salary, and after the organization he endeavored to compel the town pay his back salary, —without avail, however. In 1765 the inhabitants of the North End (afterward set off to Wendell) were allowed to have Mr. Hill preach to them four Sabbaths in the year, and he continued to preach for them occasionally for several years thereafter. In that year (1765) the town ordered a church Bible from Cambridge, and allowed Ebenezer Crocker 6s. for transporting the same to the town. In 1767 the town petitioned Mr. Hill to ease them of the heavy tax they paid for his support, but it does not appear that Mr. Hill agreed to the petition.
Upon the breaking out of the Revolutionary war, in 1775, it was discovered that Mr. Hill was a strong royalist, and, a committee being chosen to discourse with him touching his conduct, they reported that they had been unable to turn him from his views, whereupon the town resolved to discontinue the payment of his salary, and requested him to resign. Mr. Hill not only declined to resign, but adhered with even more firmness to his political principles, and a committee was appointed to compel him to quit preaching, and, in the event of his refusal, to have the meeting-house shut up. Mr. Hill remained more obdurate than ever, and refused the town's request to have a church council called to act on his case. A committee was thereupon appointed (May, 1775) to prevent his further preaching, and to prevent his leaving the town; and in furtherance of the latter purpose he was for a time confined in the public pound, and forced to live on herrings thrown to him over the fence. Meanwhile, the town sought to obtain another preacher, end voted money for the purpose; but, several inhabitants protesting that Mr. Hill was still the minister, the purpose, as the records indicate, was not effected.
In this condition matters remained, Mr. Hill still holding out obdurately, and claiming that he had done nothing to warrant his dismissal, until 1778, when the town succeeded in assembling an ecclesiastical council composed of the pastors of neighboring churches, and, Mr. Hill's case being discussed, it was decided that his relations with the church of Shutesbury should be forfeited. Mr. Hill thereupon removed to Brookfield, and carried away the church records and Bible, which, although importuned to do so, he refused to return, and for this reason the early church records are unobtainable. For three years previous to his removal the town had withheld his salary, and for this he brought suit in 1778, and gained it. Mention may be made here that, previous to the engagement of Mr. Hill in 1742, Hobart Estabrook, of Mansfield, preached in 1739, and he was probably the first preacher the town had.
As before noted, the old meeting-house was taken down about 1820, and it was not until 1826 that another structure was erected, when, the town declining to undertake the task, the Baptists, Congregationalists, Unitarians, and Universalists combined and built the house now used by the Baptists, the Baptists becoming owners of half of it, and the other denominations of the remainder, each denomination to use it according to the proportion of proprietorship.
After Mr. Hill's dismissal in 1778, the Congregational Church enjoyed no regular preaching, and it continued to decline steadily in membership until 1806, when there was but one member left. In February of that year it was reorganized, but had no settled pastor until 1816, when Rev. John Taylor, of New Salem, was installed, and he continued to preach until 1822. From that period till 1848, when Rev. Ezra Newton was settled, the preaching was supplied by Revs. Silas Shores, Martyn Cushman, and Lot B. Sullivan. Mr. Newton was succeed 1850 by Rev. James Tisdale. The last settled pastor was Rev. Wm. Barrett, but for several years the church has had to depend upon periodical supply, which is the case at present. In 1836 the Congregationalists disposed of to the Baptists their interest in the Union meeting-house, and in that year erected the one now occupied by them at Shutesbury Centre.