Sunderland — Churches
Extracted from "History of the Connecticut Valley in Massachusetts, Volume II," by Louis H. Everts, 1879.
The first evidence given of public attention to ecclesiastical matters was in November, 1715, when the proprietors resolved that "we will be at the cost of hiring a minister this winter, to dispense the Word to those that are removed hither, if one can be conveniently procured on reasonable terms." A committee was thereupon appointed "to seek after and procure a minister." No record indicates that a minister was procured at that time, and in November, 1716, it was voted "that Goodman Arms and Sergt. Isaac Hubbard do take a journey to ye President of ye College in Cambridge, with letters to him to advise where and whom they may obtain to be a minister in Swampfield at Lest for this winter half-year, our said Messengers to proceed accordingly, and if no success there, then to come home by way of Norwich to Mr. Willard or any other likely man in Connecticut, and if possible, to bring him home with them."
It was in November, 1716, also, that it was resolved to build a meeting-house "thirty foot wide and forty-five foot long, and in height eighteen foot betwixt joints." At a meeting held June 13, 1717, it was agreed "that all the proprietors of Swampfield shall appear early in the morning the next Tuesday to assist in raising the meeting-house, or else each man that absents himself to pay the sum of four shillings per day."
According to this, therefore, the first meeting-house was erected June 18, 1717. It stood in the Street, a little northeast of where the present Congregational Church in Sunderland village stands. Shortly after this date, Rev. Joseph Willard, of Norwich, Conn., who had doubtless been preaching at Swampfield previously, was offered a call to settle permanently, and he was ordained Jan. 1, 1718, and received for a settlement the gift of the minister-lot and £170 to build a house thereon.* His salary was to be £65 a year and his fire-wood. No mention is made of there being any difficulty between Mr. Willard and the town, but he retired in 1721, and removed to Rutland, Mass., where, in 1723, he was slain by Indians.
The task of seating the church to the satisfaction of everybody was a difficult one, and created no end of complaint and a vast deal of trouble. In 1722 it was voted "that the house be seated; that the (gallery) pews shall be esteamed in Dignity to be equall with the third seate in the Body of the House, and that the Rule which the seatters shall gow in by seatting shall gow by age, estate, and Qualifications." Until 1737 the sexes were always apart at the church services,—the women on one side the house, the men on the other.
The signal for calling people to church in 1734 was a flag, which was hung outside the meeting-house just before the holding of services. Widow Root was, in 1734, employed to "tend the Flagg," and received for her services that year £1 10s. The Widow Barrett performed this service in 1736, and in 1744 a contract was made with Samuel Clary, who agreed "to sweepe the meeting-house and blow the Conk-shell on the Sabbath for £2 10s. during that year." Later, Jonathan Graves was engaged to sweep the meeting-house and beat the drum each Sabbath.
In 1751 the town purchased a bell for the church, and to raise the purchase-money ordered the sale of "the Little Boggie Meadow." It was further voted "to sell as much land at Hunting Hills as will procure as much money as Little Boggie Meadow fetcheth, to be improved either to the building a Meeting-House or settling a Minister there." The bell was placed in the church-tower in 1754.
Rev. Wm. Rand began to preach in Sunderland in August, 1723, and in May, 1724, was ordained as Mr. Willard's sueeessor. He preached until 1746, when—there arising between him and the town's people differences touching the new religious sentiments created by the advent in New England of George Whitefield--he resigned and removed to Kingston, where be died in 1779.
* This lot is the first one north of the Congregational Church. The first minister's house was the one now occupied by E. A. Delano.
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