History of the First Baptist Church of Swansea, Massachusetts
By Rev. Arial Fisher, Pastor
The Baptist Memorial and Monthly Record, 1845
Part I. - Embracing about 50 years
As this is the first Baptist Church formed in Massachusetts, and as the circumstances of its origin were in many respects peculiar, it seems desirable that its history should he imbodied and handed down to posterity. As this church has, as will be seen, a connexion with the Baptist church in Swansea, in the Principality of Wales, it will be necessary to go back to a period before the organization of that church.
It is supposed that there were many friends of Christ in Wales from the earliest times; but after the Reformation they greatly increased. About 200 years ago, the Lord raised up several men of great power, who preached with much success. These men were persecuted, being shut up in prison, fined, and in many other ways harassed and impeded in their holy work; but many people were turned to the Lord. About this time the Baptists began to form themselves into distinct churches. Before that they were mostly connected with others. Among the men whom the Lord raised up as his witnesses in Wales, was Rev. John Myles, the founder of this church. Mr. Myles began his ministry in the south part of Wales, about 1645; and became eminent in that country.* He appears to have preached, in various places with much success till 1649, when he was instrumental in raising up a church in Swansea, in South Wales. This took place during the first. year of the Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell. Whilst the government was in his hands, all dissenters were indulged m full enjoyment of liberty of conscience. The result of this liberty was, that religion prevailed. This church was greatly prospered, so that in 10 or 12 years, between 200 and 300 souls were added to it. There were several branches where worship was maintained. To meet the calls of the church, several ministers were raised up. A regular discipline was maintained, and a correspondence was carried on with churches in London, Dublin, and several other places. The letters addressed to the church in Swansea, are recorded in our book of church records. Mr. Myles, the pastor, had a high standing among the churches and ministers. The author of the History of the Welsh Baptists says, "He was one of the greatest advocates for close communion in the Principality in his times, and the leading minister of the Baptist denomination in Wales."+ He made special efforts to extend his views of the terms of communion with much success. A letter on this subject is said to he on the records of the Baptist church in Abergavenny. There is also another letter directed to that church still on the same records. "In 1651, he was sent as the representative of all the Baptist churches in Wales, to the Baptist Ministers' Meeting at Glaziers' Hall, London, with a letter, giving an account of the peace, union, and increase of the Baptist churches." From advice received there, many new churches were formed in Wales, greatly by his instrumentality. Under Cromwell he seems to have accepted a support from, government, and nis place was registered as thus supported. When after the death
* History of Welsh Baptists, p. 33.
+ Page 38.
of Cromwell, Charles II. ascended the throne, all ministers in the churches supported by public funds, were required to conform to the established religion. This was the Episcopal, and all others were in effect silenced. The result of this cruel order, made by one of the vilest kings that ever sat on a throne, drove 2000 of the best ministers out of their places, because they could not conscientiously conform. Among these nonconformist ministers was the founder of this church. As he was a conspicuous man he was probably more cruelly persecuted than some others, so that he came to the determination to leave his country, and fly to the new world. This was a time of terror, and ministers were obliged to fly where they could, while the churches were scattered. In this state of things, some of the church at Swansea came over with their pastor; and with them they brought their records. The names of those added from 1649 to 1660, are recorded in the book with their places of residence, and the time of their entering the church. There seems to be 48, who were members when the record began in 1650; these, or a part of them, were probably constituent members. Why these records should have been brought over cannot now be told. The number of members that came with Mr. Myles, was small, so that this church appears to be only a branch of that in Wales. These records might be of more use to the old church, as they contain much information in relation to its proceedings from 1649 to 1660.
Our venerable historian, Backus, says that extracts from these records were sent over to Mr. Thomas, of Leominster, for his use, and were in all probability used by him in his history of the Welsh Baptists.+ Of this, we of course, have no certain knowledge. It has been supposed that these records were written in Welsh, but I should think that could not be true. I can suppose no possible reason why these records should now be in English. Mr. Benedict says that these records were in Welsh, but as far as I can find, Backus does not say so, and the strong presumption is that they were originally written in English, probably by Mr. Myles.
Those persons who came over with Mr. M., were Nicholas Tanner, Obadiah Bowen, John Thomas and others: but one only of them is among the signers to the covenant of this church when it was first formed. Others of these names are found on the early records of the town. Some might at first have been scattered, who afterwards came into the church. The name of Thomas was long in this body as it was in the church at Swansea, in Wales. The act of Uniformity, which ejected Mr. M., passed in 1662, and Mr. Myles came to this country in 1663. Of the circumstances of his departure from Wales, or of his arrival in this country, we are in entire darkness. The first knowledge we have of him in America, finds him in Rehoboth. Here he found such as were either favorable to baptist sentiments, or were actually Baptists, besides those he brought with him. These materials he gathered together and constituted them into a church. This body was formed at the house of John Bulterworth, the number was seven, their names were John Myles, pastor, James Brown, Nicholas Tanner, Joseph Carpenter, John Butterworth, Eldad Kingsley, and Benjamin Alby. Although the sentiments of the Baptists had never been jwpular, yet they had long occupied the attention of men, and whenever they had not been actually crushed by the strong arm of power, they gained adherents. Under the government of Cromwell they had been permitted to enjoy that liberty of conscience for which they had long sighed - the result was that great numbers became favorable to their sentiments. This leaven found its way into New-England, and occasioned great uneasiness to the government and the churches.
There was an attempt to form a Baptist church at Weymouth, in 1639; but the design was defeated by the interference of the magistrates, and those who were concerned in the attempt were scattered. As Rehoboth was settled from Weymouth this leaven might have been extended there, as higher notions of religious liberty prevailed in that town from the very beginning, than in most other places. Mr. John Brown, a principal man in town and an Assistant in the Plymouth Colony, was utterly opposed to all coercion in matters of religion. It seems that Mr. Newman, the first Congregationalist minister, though on the whole a good man, wai somewhat irascible and rather domineering. Such a temper was little fitted to smother the fire that of itself was just ready to burst forth. Some of his disciplinary proceedings were unpleasant to
* History of the Baptists, Vol. I, p. 424.
+ Backus's Church History, Vol. 3, p. 143.
Obadiah Holmes and eight others, who withdrew and set up a meeting by themselves, in 1649. At first they might not have thought of becommg Baptists, but, being separated from those about them, and being contiguous to Providence, they were led to become such, and soon were baptized and became members of Mr. Clarke's church at Newport. Mr. Newmau and his church then excommunicated them. (See History of Rehoboth, p. 205. - Benedict, vol. 1, p. 425; also Backus, pp. 352, 354.)
The proceedings of these dissenters drew upon them the dipleasure of the prevailing denomination and the government. Under this displeasure the concern was crushed, but left an influence which is felt to this day. It was in 1651, that Mr. Clarke, of Newport, and Mr. Holmes, with Mr. Crandal, were taken up for preaching and worshipping God with some of their brethren in Lynn, and were condemned by the Court at Boston to suffer the penally of finesor whippings. On this sentence Obadiah Holmes received thirty lashes with a three-corded whip, inflicted to the utmost severity. (See Benedict, vol. 1, pp. 364, 380. History of Rehoboth, pp. 206-207. Backus, vol. 1.)
Soon after this, Mr. Holmes went from Rehoboth to Newport, aml became pastor of the First Baptist Church, as successor to Mr. Clarke, in 1652. Several of those who had associated with him in Rehoboth went with him to Newport. He lived to be 76 years old, and died Oct. 16, 1682, and was buried in his own field, leaving eight children that were highly respectable and useful in life. (See Benedict as above, History of Rehoboth, p. 207. - Bayles' History of Plymouth Colony). Those who remained, it appears were ready to receive Mr. Myles and his brethren. Of the seven who were constituent members of this church, Nicholas Tanner only came with Mr. Myles, the rest, for aught that appears to the contrary, were in Rehoboth when he arrived. James Brown was son to John Brown, a man conspicuous in his day. The son as well as the father, was many years an Assistant in the Plymouth Colony, and was highly useful in various circumstances. The place of John Butterworth's residence at the time the church was formed at it, is supposed to have been near the cove in Seekonk. As soon as it was known that this body was organized, and were maintaining the ordinances of religion, "the orthodox churches of the colony solicited the Court to interpose its influence against them, and the members of this little church were fined, each five pounds for setting up a public meeting without the knowledge and approbation of the Court, to the disturbance of the peace of the place; ordered to desist from their meeting for the space of a month, and advised to remove their meeting to some other place where they might not prejudice any other church." (Benedict, vol. 1, p. 425.)
Upon this order and advice, Mr. Myles and his church removed to New-Meadow Neck, a place south of Rehoboth, which is now Barrington. This place was not then embraced in any town. At first it is probable that they only removed their meeting, as permission was afterward given to Mr. Myles to purchase land and reside in Rehoboth, (See Bayles' History of Plymouth Colony) and at last some of the members owned property in that town. They appear to have erected a meeting housse not long after they began to hold meetings without the bounds of Rehoboth. This house stood a few rods south of the south line of Rehoboth, on the road leading to the house of the late Mr. Squire Allen, about 15 or 20 rods from the main road leading from Warren to Seekonk and Providence. This site of the first meeting house of this church is about three miles from Warren north-west; about 2 1/2 [?] miles from the present meeting house about west. The house that stood on this spot was, in all probability small and cheap, and was placed there so as to get out of Rehoboth. From its location as it appears now, no one would think it ever had been or would be the place for a meeting house. It seems probable that after the meeting house was located, the members of the church and others friendly to the interest located themselves in the same neighborhood: and this probability is strengthened by the fact that there are the appearances of cellars in several places in this vicinity now entirely vacated. Mr. Myles' house was about a mile and a half north east, near Myles' Bridge, at what is now Barneyville. It has been supposed that the first meeting house of this church was located at Kelly's bridge opposite Warren. So Mr. Backus and others have stated it, but I have reasons for believing they were wholly mistaken about it. The light which has led me to state what I have above, is derived from a manuscript book owned by the Hon. Levi Haile, of Warren, which gives a full record of the proceedings of the town for about fifty years from its incorporation,
with many notes not found in the town records, of great value. The proceedings are also much more full. By these records, it appears that from 1675 to 1680, the question was agitated whether the meeting house should be removed to Kelly's Bridge or Ferry, as it then was. A vote was passed at one time to do it, but without any reconsideration of that vote, about 1679, a vote was passed to erect a new meeting house at the lower end of New Meadow Neck, which vote was curried into effect. After having ascertained that these movements had been made, I found that a tradition existed amongst some of the people of this place that a meeting house once stood somewhere in the neighborhood where I have located it. At length I found a man who showed me the very spot that had been pointed out to him by an uncle long since dead, where a meeting house once stood. This to my mind settled the question where the first meeting house of this church was built. This spot is now near the west end of Swansea. As this was the first Baptist meeting house of the first Baptist church in Massachusetts, I have beeti careful to find out and give the true history of it. This house was probably erected before the grant of a town.
In the year 1667, the Plymouth Court, according to the encouragement previously given, granted to the first founders of this church, with others, a grant of a town to be called Swansea.
It is proper here to insert the original, grant as contained in the first book of town records, page 2d.A true copy of the grant of this Township of New Swansea, lying on Record at the Court of New Plymouth.The entries above are a copy taken out of the Court Records at Plymouth
Whereas, Liberty hath been formerly granted by the Court of the Jurisdiction, of New Plymouth, unto Captain Thomas Willet and his neighbors of Wonnanoiset, to become a Township there if they should see good, and that lately the said Capt. Willet, and Mr. Myles, and others their neighbors have requested of the Court that they may be a Township there or near there about, and likewise to have granted unto them such parcels of land as might be accommodate thereunto not disposed of to other townships; this Court have framed unto them all such lands that lyeth between the salt water bay and covering Taunton River, viz, all the land between the salt water and river, and the bounds of Taunton and Rehoboth not prejudicing any man's particular interest, and forasmuch as Rehoboth hath meadow land within the line of Wonnanoiset and Wannamoiset hath lands within the line of Rehoboth, lying near the south line of Rehoboth; if the two Townships cannot agree about them amongst themselves the Court reserves it within their power to determine any such controversy.
1667} The Court hath appointed Capt. Thomas Willett, Mr. Paine, Sen., Mr. Brown, John Allen, and John Butterworth, to have the trust of admittance of Town inhabitants in said Town, and to have the disposal of the land therein, and ordering the other affairs of said Town.
The Court do allow and approve that the Township granted unto Capt. Thomas Willett, and others his neighbors at Wannamoiset, and parts adjacent, shall henceforth be called and: known by the name of Swansea.
NATHANIAL CLARKE, Sect'y
In 1645, Mr. John Brown had purchased Wannamoiset Neck, which had been laid off to him and his heirs. At the time of the grant of this town, Mr. Brown was dead, but his son James and others who were heirs, were alive and had possession of that part of the new town. The rest was under the supervision of a committee. At the head of this committee was Capt. Willett.
In commencing the business of the newly granted town, the following things were settled as a foundation on which to act, as found, in town records, 1st vol. p. 3 and 4."Whereas, Capt. Thomas Wiliett, shortly after the grant of this township made the three following proposals unto those who were with him, by the Court at Plymouth empowered for the admission of inhabitants, and of granting of lots, viz.
"1. That no erroneous person be admitted into the township as an inhabitant, or sojourner.
"2. That no man of any evil behavior, as contentious persons, &c, be admitted.
"3. That none may be admitted thtt may become a charge to the place."
"The church here gathered and assembling, did thereupon make the following address unto, the said Capt. Willett, and his associates, the trustees aforesaid.
"We being engaged with you, (according
to our capacity) in the carrying on of & township, according tp the grant given us by the Honored Court, and desiring to lay such a foundation thereof as may effectually tend to God's glory, our future peace and comfort, and the real benefit of such as shall hereafter join with us herein, as also to prevent all future jealousies and causes of dissatisfaction or disturbance in so good a work, do in relation to the three proposals made by our much honored Capt. Willett, humbly present to your serious consideration (before we further proceed therein) that the said proposals may be consented to and subscribed by all and every town man under the following explications.
"That the first proposal relating to nonadmission of erroneous persons may be only understood under the explications following, viz: of such as hold damnable heresies inconsistent with the faith of the gospel, as to deny the Trinity or any person therein, the Deity, or sinless humanity of Christ, or the union of both natures in him, or his full satisfaction to the divine justice by his active and passive obedience for all his elect, or his resurrection, ascension to heaven, intercession, or his second personable coming to judgment; or else to deny the truth or divine authority of any part of the canonical scriptures, or the resurrection ot the dead, or to maintain any merit of works, consubstantiation, transubstantiation, giving divine adoration to any creature or any other anti-christian doctrine, thereby directly opposing the priestly prophetical or kingly office of Christ, or any part thereof; or
"Secondly, such as hold such opinions as are inconsistent with the well-being of the place, as to deny the magistrates power to punish evil doers as well as to encourage these that do well; or to deny the first day of the week to be observed by divine institution as the Lord's or Christian Sabbath, or to deny the giving of honor to whom honor is due, or to offer those civil respects that are usually performed according to the laudable custom of our nation, each to other as bowing the knee, or body &c. Or else to deny the office, use, or authority of the ministry or a comfortable maintenance to be due to them from such as partake of their teaching, or to speak reproachfully of any of the churches of Christ in the country, or or any such other churches as are of the same common faith: with us and them.
"We desire also that it may be understood, and declared, that this, is not understood of any holding any opinion different from others in any disputable point yet in controversy among the godly learned, the belief of these not essentially necessary to salvation, such as pedo-baptism, anti-pedobaptism, church discipline or the like; but that the minister or ministers of the said town may take their liberty to baptize infants or grown persons as the Lord shall persuade their consciences! and so also the inhabitants to take the liberty to bring thfeir children to baptism or forbear.
"That the second proposal relating to the non-reception of any of evil behavior, such as contentious persons, &c. may be only understood of those truly so called and not of those who are different in judgment in the particulars last mentioned, and may be therefore accounted contentious by some, though they are in all fundamentals of faith, orthodox in judgment, and excepting common infirmities blameless in conversation.
"That the proposal relating to the non-admission of such as may become a charge to the town, be only understood so as that it may not hinder any godly man from coming among us whilst there is accommodation that may satisfy him if some responsible townsman will be bound to save the town harmless.
"These humble tenders of our desires we hope you will without offence receive, excusing us herein, considering that God's glory, the future peace and well-being, not only of us and of our posterity who shall settle here, but also of those several good and peaceably minded, men whom you all already know are liked, though with very inconsiderable outward accomodation to come among us, are very much concerned herein. Our humble prayers both for ourselves and you is that our God.would be pleased to cause us to aim more and more at his glory, and less to our own earthly concernment, that so we may improve the favors that hath been handed to us by our honored nursing fathers to the advancement of the glory of God, the interest of our Lord Jesns Christ, and to the common benefit both of the Township and Colony, wherein he hath providentially disposed of us to serve our generation.
"Your brethren to serve you in Christ.
"Signed in behalf and in the name of
the church meeting at Swansea, by
JOHN MYLES, Pastor,
These explications made by the church were agreed to by Capt. Willett and his associates, as trustees, and unanimously adopted with the three proposals, themselves by the town, in Feb. 20, 1669, and became the foundation on which the town was established. To that document fifty-five put their names as found in the Town Records, vol. 1, page 5th - Thomas Willett and John Myles stood first.
This church was so intimately connected with the founding of this town that the above documents seemed an indispensable part of its history. Several of the persons concerned in the founding of this town of Swansea were not Baptists, although the greatest number of them were. Mr. John Brown, who was the first owner of Wannamoiset Neck it is probable was not a Baptist; but he was a man of great liberality for his day. He came over from Leyden to Plymouth about 1633 or 4, or perhaps earlier, from there he soon came to Rehoboth, and was of great use to the town and colony. He discharged the duties of several important offices in both with great wisdom, integrity, and success. He was possessed of much land and other property. He died at Wannnmoiset in 1662, having the name of an able and a good man, greatly lamented. He was father to James Brown, an important man both in church and state in Swansea. - (History of Rehoboth, pp. 52, 53.) Capt. Thos. Willett was not a Baptist, but he too was far more liberal in his feelings than many of the time in which he lived. He was one of the most important men in the settlement. He was also a principal man of Plymouth Colony, and the first English Mayor of the city of New-York, so he was one of the last of the Leyden company who came to this country, having arrived about 1629. He was then 18 or 19 years old, and had heen bred a merchant. As the greater part of his life had been spent in Holland, he had acquired an intimate knowledge of the manners and customs and language of the Dutch; a ciruumstance which made him so acceptable to the Dutch of New York. On his arrival at Plymouth, he was sent to Kennebeck to superintend their business as agent. There he continued six or seven years, when he came back to Plymouth and married, when it is thought he resided for a time from 1641 to 1646, at Dorchester, near Huston, where some of his children were born. Afterwards he lived in Plymouth, and in 1647 became successor to Miles Standish in the command of the military company at Plymouth. In 1651 he was elected one of the Governor's Assistants, and was annually continued in that office till 1665, when the pressure of other duties obliged him to decline, and James Brown, of Swansea, was chosen his successor. In February, 1660, we find Mr. W. an inhabitant of Rehoboth; and obtaining liberty of the town to take up large tracts of land in its vicinity. Under the power of the Colony he did take up and purchase of Alexander, the elder son of King Massasoit, Rehoboth and Taunton. North Purchase, now composing several towns.
On the surrender of New York to the English under Col. Nichols, in August, 1664, by the Dutch Governor, Stuyvesant, Capt. W. attended the Commissioners of Appeals, Nichols, Carr, Cartwright, and Maverick, to that city, and rendered them great service, by his acquaintance with the customs, usages, and language of the Dutch, in organizing the new government. He performed his duties here to the entire satisfaction of all concerned; and his services were so highly appreciated, and he rendered himself so popular with the people, that after the organization of the government, he was elected the first English Mayor of the city of New-York. He was elected a second time to that office, and chosen umpire to determine the disputed boundary between New-York and New-Haven. While Capt. W. was at New-York, he retained his standing in Rehoboth, to which place he returned before 1667. In this year his name appears the first on the list of individuals to whom liberty was granted to become a township by the name of Swansea, and Mr. Myles the next, and they have been considered the fathers of the town. He continued to reside on his farm in Swansea during the remaining part of his life.
Capt. Willett married Mary Brown, supposed to be daughter of Mr. John Brown the elder, and sister of James Brown, one of the first members of this church, July 6, 1636. He had eight children, who were respectable in life. Several of his descendants have distinguished themselves in the history of their county.
Capt. Willet died in Swansea, Aug. 4, 1674, at the age of sixty-three. He was buried at the head of Bullock's Cove, in what is now Seekonk, where a rough stone still stands to mark the spot, on which is
legible the following brief and rudely carved inscription.
Here lyeth the body of the worthy THOMAS WILLETT, Esq,.
who died Aug. ye iv. in ye lxivth year of his age.
Who was ye first Mayor of New-York,
and twice did sustain ye place.
N. B. This inscription is in the old English letter.
The grant of this town of Swansea that the Baptists might have a resting place, shows that Plymouth Colony was much more liberal or tolerant than the Massachusetts. It was an era to Baptists in this new world, they had to be sure a footing in Rhode Island, but they had been kept out of all the other New England Colonies. We now find our fathers of this church with their pastor, Mr. Myles, free from oppression. On the incorporation of the town, the church entered into a covenant with each other, as appears by the covenant itself on record. Whether they had a covenant before is not known. In the above covenant they accommodated themselves to their circumstances. As has already been said, Mr. Myles in Wales was a strong advocate for what is called close or restricted communion, but, in this covenant, that doctrine is treated as very bad. It appears that in early times, our fathers were satisfied if they could but live and were willing to go with pedobaptists if they would let them. In Swansea a few, as is probable, were found who were kind towards them.
Either the church did not keep records up to 1717, or they are not in our book of records and are mislaid or lost, so that for that period we must feel our way as we can.* The names of the first members of the church are afterward found in the Town Records as occupying important offices, showing that they were among the principal men in the town. Nicholas Tanner was in active business 30 or 40 years. James Brown was long active as a deputy, selectman, townsman, &c. in the town, and several years an Assistant in the Colony; John Butterworth was, as appears from town records, Deacon, and much employed; so was Benjamin Alby, and Eldad Kingsley, who was the ancestor of all of that name in this quarter, and tradition says he was the first man killed in King Philip's Indian War, while he was going from meeting on a day of fasting in reference to the fears of that war. At the time of the incorporation of the Town, New-Meadow Neck, embracing the Lands on Palmer's River, was, as is highly probable, the most important part of the town. There was at that time, or soon after, settlements at Wannamoiset Neck, New-Meadow Neck. Kickamuit, and Mattapoiset, or as it is now called, Gardner's Neck.
The principal Baptist families were settled on New Meadows neck. Mr. Myles' house was just back of the present residence of Mr. Eleaza Smith. Deac. Butterworth, Nicholas Tanner, Benjamin Alby, and Eldad Kingsley were settled not far from him. The meeting house in which our fathers first worshipped, was in that quarter. Soon after the organization of the town, it was proposed to Mr. M. that he should keep a school, for which he should receive forty pounds a year, provided he had nothing for his ministerial services except the collections. (See Baylies' History of Plymouth Colony, Art. Swansea.) He kept the school for a time, and received collections at stated times. The school was probably kept in the diflerent neighborhoods in town, as this arrangement was observed long after, as appears by the Town Records. (See Town Records, Vol. 1, p. 25.) This, however, did not long continue, as some did not care about a school, and others thought that it was wrong or useless to do any thing for the minister. Mr Myles seems to have been next in importance to Capt. Willett, and was reckoned in the first rank. From this standing, he had several portions of lands assigned to him. Whether he paid for these lands, cannot, as I suppose, be now known; though I am inclined to think he did. There were also lots laid out for pastors and teachers of the first rank. How Mr. Myles was supported after leaving the school, is not now known. Something was probably done for him, but not much. But whether this was by subscription, or by collection, or from the town treasury, is beyond our knowledge. The last is not however, likely. Whether the church increased, or remained stationary, or diminished, is a question which will not be likely to bo answered.
* Backus says these records were destroyed by Dea. Richard Harding, as he was interested with the proprietors in retaining the Pastor's and Teachers' lands.
In June, 1675, the Indian war commenced by disturbances from the Indians under king Philip, of Mount Hope. While the people were gone to meeting, on the 20th of the month, several provoking things were done, and in one case, an Indian was so insolent in taking things in a house without liberty, as to provoke the man to fire upon him and wound him. A messenger was, immediately, sent to Governor Winslow, at Plymouth, advising him of their danger. The governor made the most speedy preparation to afford protection for the unprotected inhabitants of Swansea, and this region. Several companies were called out and ordered on almost at once. A request was also immediately sent to Boston, for aid, which was at once responded to. In the meantime, the people were requested by the governor of Plymouth colony, to observe the next Thursday asa day of fasting and prayer. While this church were observing the fast, the Indians were preparing to attack them on their return; fired upon them, and killed one and wounded others; and while two men were on their way for a surgeon, they were fired upon and killed. The same day six were killed at Mattapoiset, now Gardners neck.* According to tradition, the first killed on his way from meeting was Eldad Kingsley. By this time the people in Swansea and Rehoboth were collected in garrisoned houses. About this time, the forces from Plymouth and Massachusetts had reached Swansea, and entrenched themselves at Mr. Myles' house, June 28; but as they reached there before night, twelve men, unwilling to lose any time, went over Myles' bridge, which was less than one quarter of a mile, to make observation, when they found eight or ten Indians, who fired upon them, and killed Wm. Hammond, and wounded corporal Belcher, killing his horse under him. This was a melancholy affair; but they brought away the dead and wounded with them, re-crossed the river, and fortified themselves with the army in the garrison house for the night. Next day they went on towards Mount Hope, over the bridge, and at Kickamuit they found the heads of eight Englishmen that the Indians had murdered, set upon poles by the side of the way. These they took down and buried. They went on to Mount Hope, but Philip had fled to the east side of Taunton river. Thus it will be seen that this town, and this church first felt the calamities of that war which spread such devastation over much of New England. It is said that one half of Swansea was burned. (History Rehoboth, pp. 85, 86. Church His. of Ph. War, edited by S. J. Drake, p. 34.) This war was, of course, a painful period. Mr. James Brown is said to have been very active in this war, and to have been very useful. Notwithstanding Swansea was so much affected by this war, I do not find in the Town Records a syllable respecting it.
Mr. Myles was obliged to have a great part in it, as his house was made a garrison. It appears that he was at expense, or that he advanced money, as money was afterwards refunded or paid, to him by the town.
Although we have nothing to enlighten us in relation to the particular state and progress of the church at this period,. yet from the nature of the case, all must have been gloomy. Mr. Myles preached much of three years previous to 1679 at Boston, to good effect, and for a time there was a prospect of his removing there. This was a time of trial to our brethren at Boston, and Mr. M. was the means, with others, of increasing that church, so that they were on the point of becoming two bands. (See Winch. Hist. Dis., p. 16, and Backus.) It is probable that he had little for his support, as an enemy represents that he was starved to leave Swansea for Boston. Whether this church was supplied in Mr. Myles' absence is doubtful. About this time there was a question by the town whether the meeting house should be removed, and a vote was passed to remove it to the lower end of New Meadow neck, or what is now Tyler's Point.. This vote seems, however, never to have been carried into effect. (See the Haile Records, p. 28.) An acre of land was granted on the west side of Tyler's Point, to build a house for Mr. M., and John Allen, John Butterworth, and Hugh Cole were appointed a committee to hire a carpenter to build the house. (See H. Records, pp. 28, 29.)
While Mr. Myles was at Boston, Mr. John Allen, and Mr. John Brown were chosen to draw up a letter in the behalf of church and town, to be sent to Mr. John Myles, pastor of the church, and minister pf the town, manifesting our desires of his return to us. Thomas Easterbrook was chosen to convey the town's letter to Mr. Myles, at Boston." - (Haile Records, p. 36.)
* Hub. Nar. p. 59, and Huch. Vol. 1, p. 5, as quoted by History of Rehoboth, p. 83.
Roger Kinnicut is paid for the frame of Mr. M's house, (p. 35.) It appears that the plan of removing the first meeting house was abandoned, as, at a meeting legally warned, and the "Town being met together this, 30th day of September, 1679, it is voted and ordered that a meeting hotise of forty feet in length, and twenty-two feet in breadth, aad sixteen foot between joints, be forthwith built, and a committee be chosen for the letting out of said work, and finishing the same, viz: John Allen, Hugh Cole, William Ingraham." (Haile Records, p. 41.) "March 29, 1680, it was voted that the meeting house be set up at the lower end of New Meadow neck, and that the committee for said house appoint the individual place." Oct. 9th, 1681 - "That the committee first chosen for the building and finishing the meeting house, take care for the completing the same." (Haile Rec, p. 50.) The house for Mr. M. was built before the new meeting house, as in l679, 25th, Feb., "It is voted aad ordered that Mr. John Myles shall have the house built for him, to indemnify him for debts due him in the time of the Indian war, in full of his demands against them, and accepted by him." (See above, p. 42.) From the above record it appears that the place of public meeting was changed from its first place to the lower end of New Meadow neck, and that the minister went there too. It would seem that the town and the church recovered from the shock produced by the Indian war, and that the prospects of the church in 1680 and onward, were promising. There was then no other meeting in the town, embracing Warren, Barrington and Somerset. The population in the whole had doubtless become considerable, as their troublesome neighbors, the Indians, were gone. The place of the meeting house at Kelley's bridge was more central than any other point in the town, and was then called the place of trade. Near that spot the town of Warren has risen up.
In 1683, Feb. 3, Mr. Myles closed his labors on earth. He appears to have been a man of talents, and of respectable education. As a preacher he was more than ordinary, and in the very trying circumstances in which he was placed, he evinced that he was able to meet and overcome the difficulties of this life. He left a character that will be honored as long as Palmer River shall run. His ministry was thirty-eight years; his age is not known, but he was probably between sixty and seventy years old. It is presumed that no man knows where his body was laid, but likely in the grave yard nigh where his meeting house stood. I have been over the graves there, but no remembrance of him was to be seen. His wife was Ann Humphrey, but that is all we know of her. He had three children, John, Susannah, and Samuel, and probably more. John was a grown man when Swansea was founded. He had, as is probable, sons that had lands in Rehoboth (See Hist. of R., p. 129.) Of the daughter we know only the name. Samuel, as appears by his will and otherwise, was in college at Cambridge, at the time of his father's death. In 1684, he graduated and went to England, and after becoming A. M. at Oxford, he took Episcopal orders, and came back to America, and settled as minister of Kings Chapel, Boston, in 1689, and died 1729.
Mr. Myles was so much esteemed that he preached part of the time for the Congregationalists in Rehohoth, notwithstanding the opposition to the Baptists at that time. (Hist. of Rehob., pp. 61, 62.) Mr. M. was once carried before the magistrate, when he presented to him Job 19-25, on which he was dismissed. Although we cannot speak with certainty, yet it is probable he was possessed of a pretty good property. From the death.of Mr. Myles, thirty-four more years passed without records, and less of the history of this church is known, than during the life of Mr. M. But what can be found we will proceed to lay before our readers.
It would be interesting to know how large the church was in 1680, and who they were, but that we cannot know. The next that we know of the church, is, that in a little more than two years, Captain Samuel Luther was ordained their pastor. His ordination took place, July 22, 1685, by the assistance of Elders Emblen and Hull, of Boston. The names of some of the first member are on the Town Records for several years after the ordination of Elder Luther, especially Nicholas Tanner. They were evidently men of great stamina. Elder Luther's name is on the Town Records, and Proprietors Records from the incorporation of the town; and indeed his name is on the Rehoboth Records before that. In Swansea he sustained nearly every office the town or the proprietors had to bestow. He was called Sergeant for some time,'and afterwards Captain. He was many years Selectman,
Townsman, Moderator, and on the most important committees on many subjects. Several years he was Deputy to the Legislature.
In the settlement of the Shawwomet and North purchase lands, he seems to have been principal. This, as appears, was a complicated business. After he became pastor of the church, his name is not frequently found on the Town Records, but it is in some important concerns. His long continuance in public business shows that he was capable of doing business, and that he was able to exert a great and permanent influence over men's minds. It is likely, though that is not known, that he was active in religious meetings and affairs. There is a strong presumption that he was a preacher at the death of Mr. Myles, and labored for the church till his ordination, as well as after. It was not usual in early times, so far as I know, to ordain ministers so soon as now. He continued the pastor for near thirty-two years, and died Dec. 20th, 1716, aged 80, and was buried at Kickamuit burying grouud, where a stone is erected over his remains.
His residence was in that part of the town, though he had land laid off to him in several other places. At the commencement of his ministry, the meeting house was at the lower end of New Meadow neck, and the people from all parts of this then great town, met there. But some time during his ministry, at what exact time is not yet known, that part of the town which is now Harrington, set up a meeting for themselves, probably about 1700. There is a tradition that there was some agreement about ttiis separation, and the people in that part of the town took the Congregatonalist form of religion. During his ministry the meeting house was removed from Kelly's bridge to the corner, as it is called, between Captain Cornell's tavern house, and the road that goes north to Rehoboth. This removal was probably about the time of the separation from Harrington. There is evidence from the Haile Records that the meeting house was removed before 1701, but how much before, I have not been uble to ascertain. (Haile Records, 125.) About 1690 another Baptist church was formed in the easterly part of the town, which of course diverted those in that quarter from this church. The terms of communion in that church were more restricted than in this, which, perhaps, was the cause of the setting up of that church. It is presumed that a portion of Rehoboth north of the meeting house, as removed, attended this meeting before the change of location. Whether Elder Luther received much from the people, or supported himself, we cannot tell. It is likely that he received something from the people, and furnished what was wanted from his own resources, as all the ministers of this church have done. In 1704, Mr.Ephraim Wheaton, who resided at Rehoboth, remote from the meeting house N. W., and several miles from Elder Luther, was settled as his colleague. In l683, the town was warned by the Court of Sessions that they must have a minister, or be prosecuted. After some hesitation, to avoid trouble, the town voted and chose Elder Samuel Luther for the minister of Swansea. (Town Rec.Vol. 1st, p. 19.) The church seems to have been prosperous to a considerable extent, during the whole of Elder Luther's ministry. In this time it is supposed that all the first members left the stage, men of whom the world were not worthy.
It is handed down by tradition that the present meeting house of this church was erected on the spot where it now stands, the year after Elder Luther's death, that is, in 1717. It is a singular fact that there is no existing record of its being built. In the year 1718, the records of the church begin. By these it appears that in 1723, an order was passed by the church for raising money to complete the payment for building the meeting house. (See Church Records, p. 224 )
By this it is evident that the house had been then recently built; and as they were then often long in finishing what they hail begun, it is likely that 1717 was the year in which it was erected. It is not probable that there is another meeting house in this county that is so old, nor a Baptist meeting house in America. It is 41 1/2 feet long and 33 feet wide, about 22 feel between joints, with wide galleries on three sides. Originally it was seated below and above. It was not plastered till 1802, aml was open to the roof. The timber of which it is built, is strong, massy oak, strongly braced. Till 1802 there was no porch, the stairs went up at the corners, opposite the pulpit, inside. There were three I doors, or rather six. as they were all double. Whether the house was accommodated with a fire at first or not is not known, but as long ago as the memory of those now alive extends, there was a place on the women's side for burning coal to
accommodate them in 1764. Afterwards, perhaps sixty years ago, another place for the same purpose was prepared on the men's side. Had the house been tight, the people must all have been suffocated, but as it was the air was rendered tolerable.
Wilh these remarks respecting the meeting house, we will go back to the time of the death of Elder Luther.
As we have no records previous to that time we cannot tell how large the church was, but we have found on the records as incidentally inseried, 58 names, 47 of which are men. From the number known it is conjectured that the whole number was near 200. Most of them were in Swansea, and that part of Rehoboth that lies north and northerly from our present place of worship. It is to be understood, however, that Swansea, after Barrington was set off as a town, embraced most or all of Warren and Somerset. As has been said, Elder Luther lived at Kickamuit, which is now the easterly part of Warren, and there, there is reason to believe, many of the members resided. It is likely that nearly half of the members were in Rehoboth. That part which is now Oak Swamp, was evidently connected with this church for worship, and much of that part lying on Palmer's Rirer on towards Orlean's Factory. But as there was no other Baptist church or meeting far and wide, all of this denomination within forty or fifty miles in alll directions in Massachusetts, came here to join. There were some it is known from Middleborough and Bellingham before 1718, afterwards from Haverhill and Taunton, and it is likely from many other places.
[End of Part I]
History of the First Baptist Church of Swansea, Massachusetts
By Rev. Arial Fisher, Pastor
Part II - Embracing about 60 years
[From The Baptist Memorial and Monthly Record, 1845, pp. 225-234; 264-280. Meeting-house picture from the magazine. Document from Google Books. - Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
More Massachusetts Baptist History
Baptist History Homepage