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With Recollections from its First Pastor, Lucius Bolles, D. D.

SALEM, the largest town (they now call it a city) in the County of Essex, the North Eastern portion of Massachusetts, is remarkable for having been the place whence Roger Williams was banished "for sentiments tending to anabaptistry" -- as the reproachful language then employed intimated. It may seem strange to us at this day, that, for nearly 170 years after his banishment, no Baptist church was formed here. The sentiments and practices then prevalent in Massachusetts must be taken into account to solve the seeming mystery. The rigid, iron rule of uniformity, which the Congregationalists of those days endeavored to enforce, and the severe persecutions to which those who ventured to differ from "the standing order" or churches established by law, exposed themselves, and commonly experienced, go far to account for the late planting of Baptist interests in this part of our country.

There seem to have been but three Baptist churches formed in this county, previously to the beginning of this century. The first of these -- the church in Haverhill, formed in1765, met with no little opposition, and, the learned, amiable, and in every sense estimable Dr. Hezekiah Smith, their founder and first pastor, was grievously maltreated, so as to endanger his life in some instances in the early part of his labors in that town. Twenty years later, a small Baptist church was formed in Rowley (now Georgetown), about halfway from Haverhill to Salem; and some eight years later a branch of the church was set off in Danvers, adjoining Salem. Under the circumstances of opposition above mentioned, it is not perhaps very strange, that as late as the beginning of the year 1804, no church founded in the distinct principle of the baptism of believers only, had been constituted in that ancient town. Congregationalism had as exclusive ascendancy [sic] as could be desired; no less than six churches of that order being then, or shortly after, in existence there; which, with the moderately small church of St. Peter's (the Episcopal), divided the town among themselves. The separating line between the Unitarian and Trinitarian Congregationalists had not then been drawn, nor were any of them so fully imbued with the true evangelical, spirit, as the latter have generally become since.

About this time -- early in 1804 -- a little company of Baptists -- mostly members of the Danvers church -- began to meet together occasionally for prayer and conference. They numbered but ten or twelve, mostly females; they had no public room for the place of their assemblies; and indeed, so fearful did they seem of drawing to themselves the notice of their scornful and persecuting neighbors, that it may be questioned whether at that time they would not have shrunk from any greater publicity than an upper private room.

In that secluded spot, however, they were often favored with special manifestations of the Saviour's presence.

Two of the praying sisters who formed part of that little group, were Mrs. Michael Webb, and Mrs. Edward Russell. They knew that their proud-spirited husbands would exceedingly deprecate their attendance at such a place, and accordingly used to hie away by stealth almost, so as not to excite their displeasure.

It so happened that the latter was one evening hasting to the meeting -- supposing that her husband was in Boston -- when she suddenly met him in the streets. To his inquiry, "where are you going?" with some hesitation, after breathing a prayer to HIM who has all hearts in his hand, she frankly explained all. Judge of her surprise when he kindly offered to accompany her. With trembling steps and an anxious heart she led the way to where the humble company were gathered; and through the service, she was greatly perplexed, fearing that he would decidedly forbid her continued attendance. To her surprise, however, he said nothing; and the next morning, at an early hour, he hastened to Mr. Webb, and proposed that they two should immediately set on foot measures for erecting a more comely place of worship. He said, in substance -- "though you and I do not think much of these things, our wives are sincere, and they are too good to be treated so meanly as to have no better place for their meetings than the miserable room in which I last night saw them assembled." The proposal was at once assented to, and before many weeks had elapsed, a lot was purchased, and a moderate sized framed building erected for their accommodation. Thus wonderfully did the Lord interpose in their behalf.

They now needed some one to preach to them: and it was -- as good old Bunyan used to say -- their great mercy to light on such a man for their first pastor. A sketch of his previous history may as welt be given in this place.

Lucius Bolles; the sixth son of Rev. David and Susannah M. Bolles, was born in Ashford, Conn., September 25th, 1779. Two of his brothers and his father were Baptist ministers; and it may be presumed that he was early taught to fear the Lord. Till near the middle of his second year in college, however, he was a gay, pleasure-seeking youth, more than usually given to the reckless course of folly which too often characterize those who, like the prodigal, break from the restraints of parental care.

It was during his absence from the University, in one of the vacations, that he was powerfully wrought on by the Holy Spirit, and brought to deep repentance. His sorrows seem to have been of a most pungent character, and we shall not soon forget his description of a single scene. He was passing a night beneath the roof of a pious and venerable relative -- Deacon John Bolles, of Hartford; and at the close of the evening, perhaps during family worship, his anguish of soul became indescribably great. He struggled to conceal his emotions, and betook himself to his chamber. The horrors of a guilty conscience still followed him, and after having in vain attempted to sleep, he at length became so fully impressed with a sense of his vileness in God's sight, that a terrible presentiment possessed him that the judgments of the Almighty would mark him out for signal. punishment. The idea that the earth would swallow him up, or the thunderbolts of God's wrath would smite him, actually constrained him to hasten from the dwelling, lest its innocent inmates -- unconscious of what a wretch was their guest -- should on his account be involved in the common destruction.

For a long time he walked the streets in unutterable agony, till at length, knowing that the chill damps of night should not longer be endured, and feeling the same repugnance as before to involve the innocent in what seemed his own impending doom, he cast around for some other shelter. "I will go to the stable, will lie down -- if God spare we till morning -- in the manger. The stable! -- the manger!" -- he again involuntarily repeated to himself. "Why, Jesus was born in a stable, and cradled in a manger -- His name was called Jesus -- Saviour, because he should save his people from their sins. Then why not save me!" He burst into tears, fell upon his knees, and for the first time, as he supposes, offered up the prayer of penitence and faith. Henceforth he was a new creature. He soon united with the Baptist church in Hartford; and on returning to college, great was the wonder excited among his associates, to find him, who had left them the gayest of the gay, so suddenly become a man of prayer. From this time his heart was fixed, and the great purpose of his life, was to glorify God, by proclaiming his gospel to men.

Accordingly, on graduating at Brown University, in 1801, he became the theological pupil, and the partial assistant of that most eminent divine of his day, the Rev. Dr. Stillman, of Boston -- and had enjoyed the superior advantages which this position furnished him for nearly three years, when the call of the little feeble flock in Salem reached him. His kind and partial preceptor dissuaded him from accepting the invitation -- as some said -- because he designed him. for his own permanent associate and successor, -- or more disinterestedly, as we may charitably believe, because he thought the prospects of success there so disheartening. He knew there were scarcely any Baptists in the place, and far better than his youthful pupil, he understood the nature and extent of environing difficulties with which he would there find himself surrounded. It was well for Salem that these timid, though kindly intended counsels, did not prevail. He who had just felt himself redeemed from destruction, by the Almighty arm and precious blood of an infinite Saviour, was not now in a state of mind to confer with flesh and blood; but finding a little company of pious souls, who greatly needed, and with tearful importunity sought his aid, he yielded himself to their wishes.

He began preaching in the small unfinished wood edifice, in April, 1804. By December of that year, the number of baptized members had increased to twenty-four, including himself, and early the following month they were publicly recognized as a church, and he was ordained their pastor. Attractive by his youthfulness, his pious ardor, and then -- much more than at a later period when severe disease had greatly enfeebled his powers -- by the graces of natural, energetic, polished oratory, it is not strange that he soon won his way to a commanding elevation in the public estimate; he rapidly drew around him a congregation, which so thronged and overfilled the house they had just reared, that the plan was at once set on foot of erecting, of durable materials, the plain, but commodious and tasteful church edifice which they now occupy. It was opened for public service in January, 1806. The number of communicants was more than doubled the first year, and a large degree of general prosperity seemed to attend the enterprize.

The path before the youthful church and pastor, was still, however, encompassed with great difficulties. Their early success awakened envy, and the spirit of captiousness soon evinced itself on the part of their ecclesiastical neighbors, who, too fully imbued with the prevalent disposition of the times, looked on every Baptist church as an intruder, or in some sense a supplanter of their own rights. How much prudence on the part of both minister and people, combined with untiring industry, and pious, persevering enterprize, were requisite year after year, to overcome all this opposition, and with the divine blessing, secure the enlarged measure of prosperity here witnessed, it is very difficult, in our greatly altered circumstances, for us now to conceive. The blessing from' on high was amply bestowed on them. Cheering revivals were frequent in their early history; during one of which, in 1809, no less than one hundred and thirty were added to them in about eight months.

This church, as is stated by a historian of those days, rapidly rose to a distinguished rank among her sister communities, and often excited the astonishment of surrounding, older churches, by their spirited exertions and surprising acts of munificence in promoting the cause of Zion. It is particularly mentioned to their credit, that in one year -- probably 1812 -- they contributed for charitable and missionary purposes, about $1,200. At that period, this was reckoned princely liberality; and even now, it is feared, many churches need to be provoked to emulate it. The same memorable year, when Judson and his associates were ordained, and sailed for India from Salem, there was formed here the earliest Baptist Foreign Missionary Society in America. The Salem Bible Translation and Foreign Missionary Society, has that honor; and though it embraced a few from the neighboring towns, its origin is traceable to this church, and its chief supporters and officers have been found here. Some years, its offerings have amounted to one thousand dollars or more for this Heaven-approved object.

Three neighboring churches were in a great measure formed from this, viz: the Baptist church in Marblehead, in 1810. That in Lynn, in 1816; and the second in Salem, in 1820. It was just after the dismission of between thirty and forty members for this last mentioned purpose, reducing the actual membership of the First Church to a little over three hundred, that Dr.(1) Bolles resigned the perquisites and duties of pastor of the church. Two reasons conspired to induce this result. In the first place, his own failing strength -- which after a very severe illness he suffered some years before, never seemed to be entirely recovered -- rendered it very difficult, and at times impossible, for him to discharge all the active duties of his office. In the next place, the wants of our Foreign Mission Board, which had just then been removed to Boston, and who needed his entire services as their Corresponding Secretary, seemed to him and to his most judicious brethren to render it proper that he should resign. To him and to the church too, this was no ordinary trial. He had been with, them at all seasons, in joy and sorrow, in prosperity and adversity, from their origin till this time; they had been united, prosperous, and happy; and to sunder such ties, to dissolve the bonds which had so long united them, cost both pastor and people an unusual struggle. The pain was mitigated to both, by the thought that he would still dwell among them, and as nominal senior pastor, he would be enabled, by his counsel and care and love, to promote their best interests.

An associate pastor, the Rev. Rufus Babcock, jr., of Poughkeepsie, N. Y., was publicly recognized in August, 1826 -- and the same day, the Rev. George Leonard was ordained as pastor of the Second Baptist Church in Salem. The following years were fraught with unwonted happiness and success to both ministers and people. Dr. Bolles, residing still in the midst of those whom he had so long been accustomed to feed, to guide and counsel, and cherishing for both churches, and their comparatively inexperienced pastors, a fatherly and affectionate solicitude, was enabled in many ways; essentially to aid them, and help forward the advancing interests of the cause. The evil forebodings of those who had predicted jealousies and alienation, because of this new and three-fold relation, were all happily proved groundless, and a season of more delightful harmony was never witnessed than those happy years exhibited.

It would unduly extend this sketch, to dwell on subsequent events with as great particularity. A few summary notes of the progress of the church, and some of its official and other changes, must suffice.

In the autumn of 1833, the junior pastor was elected to the presidency of Waterville College; and after once promptly declining the overture, when subsequently it was pressed on him under circumstances which seemed to involve the existence of the institution, it was at last with many regrets accepted and he finally left this field of labor in the following winter, having served the church seven and a half years. Concurrent circumstances, with the divine favor, had made them years of larger prosperity than usual, even for this favored church.

In August, 1834, the Rev. John Wayland, recently Professor of Rhetoric in Hamilton College, N. Y., was settled as the sole pastor of the church -- Dr. Bolles having removed his family to Boston, and resigned the nominal office of senior pastor. Mr. Wayland retained his, place for seven years, highly esteemed for talents and learning, and was succeeded, early in the year 1842, by the present incumbent, the Rev. T. D. Anderson, of Washington City, in whom the affections and confidence of the church and society seem most happily united, while his labors are largely blest.

During the first twenty years of the church's history, there were added to it, as stated on the authority of the first pastor, Dr. Bolles, 512, or an average of twenty-five per year. In the next period of seven years, 343 were added, averaging forty-nine per year. In the next period of seven years, 119 were added, or an annual average of seventeen. In the last seven years, 170 additions, averaging twenty-four a year. The whole number of additions, including the twenty-four original constituents, is 1,168, who have belonged to this church, in the forty-one years of its existence.

Of these, 112 have died in full fellowship within the last twenty years; probably 200 in al1 have thus died. Nearly twice as many more have been dismissed to other churches.

Twelve individual in all have held the office of Deacon in this church: four of these are now incumbents, and two have at a comparatively recent period died in office.

Twelve have also been called into the ministry, or more than an average of one to each hundred members ever connected with the church.

Only one -- the late Mrs. Sarah Boardman Judson -- has personally engaged in the work of Foreign Missions.

The first pastor, after serving the church with so much fidelity and success for twenty-one years and a half, held the office of Corresponding Secretary of the Baptist Board of Foreign Missions over sixteen years, with great advantage to that important cause, and died in peace, January 5th, 1844, in the sixty-fifth year of his age.

The following brief, but beautiful and just tribute to his worth, is from the pen of Professor James Upham, of New Hampton Theological Institution, -- the son of the present senior Deacon of this church, -- whose childhood and youth were passed under the ministry of him whose worth it commemorates.


Professor Upham, describing the advantages afforded young men preparing for the ministry, before the formation of theological schools, in their association with other pastors, thus speaks of Dr. Bolles:

"Of such was the pupil of Stillman -- the pious, the practical, the tender-hearted Bolles, to whom our denomination owes so much as Secretary of our Board of Missions, and hardly less as an efficient pastor. Cheerful without levity, and grave without gloom; keenly susceptible to emotion himself, and able to lay a strong hand on the emotive principle of others, yet never guilty of sentimental weakness, nor liable to peril his native good sense, by a rash plunge into the swollen torrent of feeling; well educated, but with none of the pedantry of learning; thoughtful, but not profound; eloquent with that sort of resistless persuasiveness, the power of which is as much in the manner of saying as in the thing said -- the eloquence of attitude, and gesture, and look, and tone, and tears -- the earnest contact of heart with heart -- but as unskilled as a child in the tricks of oratory; mighty in the pulpit, but no less mighty out of it; whether in the vestry, by the fireside, in the chamber of the sick, or in the house of death, he was a workman that needed not to be ashamed -- an apostle, if not to others, yet to the loving people of his own loved charge. In those days, when the name of Baptist was wont to be spoken with a sneer, he gathered, and moulded [sic], and trained a church such as Paul himself might have been proud of, the fame of which was spread abroad, 'not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place.'

"Associated with some of the most hallowed recollections of my childhood and youth, manhood but confirmed me in the estimation of his worth; and if multitude of years may give me wisdom, by correcting the illusions of fancy, and subjecting sentiment to judgment, yet, I doubt not that memory will still hold fast the now sainted Bolles as my beau ideal of a Christian Pastor."

The view given of the character and usefulness of Dr. Bolles would be culpably inadequate were no distinct notice taken of his efforts in the cause of liberal and ministerial education. He saw the denomination deficiency in this respect when he entered on the stage of action; and his vigorous, persevering endeavors were put forth to aid in its supply. We have only space to enumerate some of the happy results. As a member of the corporation of Brown University for many years, he exerted a salutary and commanding inflnence in reforming and improving that institution.

He was one of the originators, the steadfast, liberal friend and Trustee of Waterville College, till his death.

He greatly assisted in procuring the Cornish Legacy of $20,000 for the Baptist Education Society; by the aid of which, in a great degree, Newton Theological Institution was brought into existence, and for many years largely sustained. Of this Seminary also -- as well as the two above mentioned -- he was a Trustee till removed by death.

In fine, it is not easy to estimate the amount of benign influence which has radiated from the one church, and its first pastor. May many other churches and pastors emulate so good an example.


1. The honorary degree of D.D. was conferred on him at Union College, in 1824.


[From The Baptist Memorial and Monthly Record, September, 1846, pp. 269-277. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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