Bidwell Lore – The Meeting House and the Minister, Continued

Last week, we followed the efforts of the Proprietors—both the residents in Township No. 1 and the non-resident landowners who still lived in and near Watertown—who were trying to do what they needed to do to fulfill their dream for a City on the Hill: finish building their Meeting House on the hill, engage a Minister, complete laying out the town, building the roads…

By 1745, the “Indian War Scare” continued to disrupt the Proprietors’ meetings. A meeting scheduled for 19 October 1745 had the following agenda items:

“1. To determine whether the said Proprietors will speedily proceed to cover & finish the frame set up in sd Township some years since for a meeting House or whether the sd Proprietors will proceed to build a Meeting house wholly new & to do all that may be necessary in order thereto. 
“2. to determine whether they will grant money in order to support preaching in sd township.
“3. to know the minds of the Proprietors whether they will proceed any further in fortifying said Township, and grant money for sd use….

Agenda item 1 is particularly interesting: should the Proprietors spend money to finish building the Meeting House that had been started and stopped several times, or should they start all over? This meeting was adjourned several times and was not actually held until 21 May 1746. 

An illustration of a timber frame building construction
Illustration of a Timber Frame Building. This is similar to how the Meeting House would have been constructed. source: The Plymouth Colony Archive Project.

At the 21 May 1746 meeting, the Proprietors dealt with many practical aspects of improving the settlement. They voted to lay out the undivided portion of the township into additional “After Division” lots to be distributed to the Proprietors “unless the Indian War prevent…; voted that each Propr. Pay 15 shillings for the lotting work.” They also voted to appoint committees to lay out roads and to “view the place near Twelve Mile Pond [Lake Garfield] where Mr John Brewer desires liberty to build a dam for the convenience of the Mills and to make report to the Prop[rietor]s.” [1]

The May 1746 meeting continued with several votes about the Meeting House that seem to reflect the division among the Proprietors and results in another new Committee: 
14. Put to vote whether they will clear & improve any part of the Ministry lot. [note: this presumably refers to Lot 25, which was reserved for the first Minister.]  Past in the negative.
“18. Put to vote whether they will give orders to the Committee for building the Meeting house to proceed in sd business.  Past in the negative.
“19. Voted that they will chuse a new Comitte & finish the Meeting House in said Township.
“20. Voted that Mr John Brown, Capt Samuel Livermore, Messrs John Walker, Joshua Warren, jr and Thos Slaton be a Committee for finishing the Meeting house.
“21. Voted that the above Committee proceed to board & shingle the roof and close the outside with boards as soon as may be with convenience.
“22. Voted that each Proprietor pay into the Treasury five shillings of the last emission to be improved in finishing the Meeting House in sd Township.

Despite the last vote and a renewed resolve to complete the Meeting House (frugally), the apparent discord among the Proprietors continued for several more years. After years of work in fits and starts and substantial monies spent, the Meeting House was still far from finished or usable. The Proprietors had not made any progress on engaging a minister. And the Meetings were still being held in the Watertown area. This seems to have been a bone of contention.

The agenda for the meeting of January 12, 1749/50 included the following items that seem to reprise many of the issues voted at the 1745/46 meeting and seek to come to a final resolution:

“5. To determine whether the said Proprietors will speedily proceed to cover and finish the frame set up in sd Township some years since for a meeting House or whether the sd Proprietors will build a Meeting house wholly new & to do all that may be necessary in order thereto. 
“6. To know the mind of the Proprietors whether they will make any further grant of money for carrying on preaching in sd township.
“7. To determine whether the Proprietors will proceed as soon as conveniently may be to settle a learned & orthodox minister in sd Township and to do what may be necessary to encourage such a person to settle in the Ministry there.
“8. The grant such sums of money as may be necessary for the making & repairing convenient roads in sd Township and also to chuse a committee to lay out in sd Township such roads or highways as may be thot[thought] necessary to be laid out. …
“14. To determine whether the said proprs will chuse a new Comitee for calling of meetings as also a new Proprs Clerk & Proprs Treasurer and further to determine whether the meetings of sd Proprs shall be holden in sd Township No. 1 for the future.”

The meeting of 12 January 1749/50 seems to have been the culminating meeting. They voted to discharge the 1746 meeting house committee and to reinstate most of the members of the previous committee. They then voted—again—to finally complete the meeting house according to the 1742 plans with a few changes, obtain the services of a minister, and to begin holding the Proprietors’ Meetings at Township No. 1 instead of in or near Watertown as they had for the previous 13 years since the Township was chartered:

“– Voted that ye Comitte last chosen for finishing the Meeting House (viz) Mr John Brown, Capt Saml Livermore, Messrs John Walker, Joshua Warren & Thos Slaton be dismissed from any further service in sd affair.
— Voted that the Committee first chosen for building the Meeting House (viz) Messrs John Brewer, John Brown and Isaac Gearfield forthwith or as soon as may be with convenience proceed in building & finishing said Meeting house agreeable to the vote of the Proprs at their meeting on the 14 day of December 1742 conforming to such alterations as the Proprs shall hereafter agree upon (viz) five feet in the length of the house also add to seventeen windows six square each, to ten other windows of nine square each.
— Voted & chose Mr Ephraim Thomas to join with the Comitte for building the meeting house above said.
— Voted that Capt John Brown be discharged from any other further service in building the Meeting aforesaid & c.
— Voted  granted the sum of eight pound old Tenor to be paid by each Propr on right in order for carrying on preaching in sd Township. 
— Voted that they will proceed as soon as may be with convenience to settle a learned & orthodox Minister in sd Township.
— Voted that the Proprs would grant to such orthodox Minister upon his settling in sd Township one hundred dollars or an equivalent thereto in other passable money to be added to the lot or right laid out for the first settled minister in sd Township.
— Voted that the Proprs will give to such orthodox minister as shall setlle in sd Township in the work of the Ministry there one hundred & sixty Dollars or an equivalent thereto in passable money fir his annual Salary.
— Voted that Messrs John Brewer, Thos Slaton, & Ephraim Thomas be a Comitee to procure one or more persons to preach in sd Township in order for settlement.”

In what may have been an effort toward reconciliation, the discharged members of the 1746 Meeting House Committee were entrusted with the important duty of procuring the Minister. At this momentous meeting, the committee also voted to approve the lay out of the After Division Lots, to audit the Proprietors Accounts, and elect new officers: Clerk, Mr Thos Orton;  Treasurer, Mr Ephraim Thomas; Assessors, Thos Orton, John Chadwick, Isaac Garfield. And they voted that “the Proprietors Meeting shall be holden in sd Township No 1 for the future.

After more than a decade of struggles and hardship, Township No. 1 was coming together. On October 3, 1750, Adonijah Bidwell was ordained as the first minister of Township No. 1. 

Next week, we’ll fill in the details about Rev. Bidwell’s appointment.

[1] At the meeting of 12 Jan 1749/50, the Committee reported on the proposed dam site on 12 Mile Pond “…having viewed the premises [we] are of the opinion that it will flood considerable quantity of the unappropriated lands which we think will be prejudicial to sd Proprs.”