Bidwell Lore – A New Minister for Township #1

Welcome to week 63 of Bidwell Lore. This week we talk about the selection of Adonijah Bidwell as the new minister of Township #1

We learned in the last article that it took 13 years of struggles and effort—from 1737 to 1750—to make real progress toward completing the first meeting house in Township No. 1.  This was due to several factors: interruptions from the French and Indian War (King George’s War) in the middle 1740s; lack of consensus among the Proprietors about how much they should spend for the meeting house and other necessary improvements to the township; and apparent wrangling between two factions of Proprietors—those who actually lived here in the Hinterland and the absentee Proprietors still living in their homes near Watertown, Mass. 

Many of these issues seem finally to have been resolved at the Proprietors meeting of January 12, 1749/50 [1]. They voted to reinstate two of the members of the 1742 meeting house committee: John Brown and Isaac Gearfield and added Ephraim Thomas. They voted to finally complete the meeting house according to the 1742 plans: “…  Fort[y]h feet long and thirty five feet wide & of suitable height for one tier of Galleries…” but with a few changes: adding five feet to the length, making the final dimensions 45 feet by 35 feet [2], and adding seventeen windows six square each, to ten other windows of nine square each.

They also voted that “…the Proprietors Meeting shall be holden in sd Township No 1 for the future…” instead of in Watertown where all previous meetings had been conducted. This represented a seismic shift in decision-making for Township No. 1. The resident proprietors for the first time had the “home-field advantage.” 

At this same productive meeting, they voted to obtain their first full-time resident minister “as soon as may be with convenience.” Until this time, the Township No. 1 had relied upon ministers “supplied” by other towns, including Rev. John Sargeant.

Rev. John Sargeant ministered to the Mohicans in “Indian Town”—Stockbridge—for 15 years and died in 1749 at age 39.
(See previous articles about the Mohicans and Rev. Sargeant’s ministry.)

The proprietors of Township No. 1 voted on January 12, 1749/50 “…to settle a learned & orthodox minister…for carrying on preaching.” Each Proprietor was to pay eight pounds “old tenor” for this purpose. Upon settling, the minister would receive one hundred dollars in addition to Lot #25 already reserved for the first minister, and he would receive “one hundred & sixty dollars … for his annual salary.”  John Brewer, Thomas Slaton, and Ephraim Thomas were appointed to procure the minister.

The first meeting actually held in the township was on 25 May 1750 at the “House of Mr. John Brewer, Innholder.” 

Below is a posting of the warrant for the May 25, 1750 meeting, advertised in the Boston-Gazette, for notifying the “non-resident proprietors.”

Above is the John Brewer house and Inn, built ca. 1750.  Site of the first Proprietors’ Meeting actually held in Township No. 1.

At the May 1750 meeting, the committee reported “… that they had procured and implored Mr Adonijah Bidwell in said service for divers[e] months …” The meeting accordingly voted “to give Mr. Adonijah Bidwell a call to settle in the ministry of the Gospel…” Mr. Bidwell responded “… it was his desire to take a months time to consider of and give an answer to the Proprietors respecting his acceptance or refusal of said call.” 

In the meantime, Ephraim Williams, Thomas Orton, and John Jackson were appointed to consult with three of the ministers of neighboring churches “…respecting the settlement of Mr Bidwell in the Ministry…” 

Adonijah Bidwell was presumably known to the other ministers in the area since he grew up in Hartford, CT, the youngest of four children. His father, John, was a wealthy merchant and ship owner; unfortunately, John was lost at sea on a return voyage from the West Indies a few months before Adonijah was born in 1716. (see the Bidwell Lore from 5/5/20 for more information).

Adonijah attended Yale Divinity School, graduating in 1740 during a period of religious fervor known as “The Great Awakening.” After graduating, he taught school for several years in Connecticut and Massachusetts before he was ordained in 1744.  During the French and Indian Wars, Bidwell was commissioned as a military chaplain for the Connecticut fleet and participated in the historic 1745 Louisbourg (Nova Scotia) expedition as part of King George’s War.  His diary account of the expedition has been published.  (Several earlier Bidwell Lore articles recount this part of his history, here, here and here.)

After his service during the war, Rev. Bidwell returned to Connecticut, serving as minister in Simsbury. He then served as interim pastor for the Dutch Reformed Church in Kinderhook, NY, for 29 weeks during 1749. 

On 27 June 1750, the Proprietors held a meeting to receive the favorable recommendation by the neighboring three ministers—Jonathan Hubbard (Sheffield), Thomas Strong (New Marlborough), and Samuel Hopkins (north parish of Sheffield, now Great Barrington)—and to hear Mr. Bidwell’s answer to their call: “[he] has declared his acceptance thereof to settle with them in the work and service of the Gospel Ministry.” Rev. Bidwell was 34 years old and unmarried, and apparently ready for a lifetime commitment. 

On September 20, 1750, Adonijah Bidwell formally accepted the appointment as the First Settled Gospel Minister of Township No. 1.  The ordination of Adonijah Bidwell as the township’s minister was held on Wednesday, October 3, 1750, and presided over by Benjamin Cotton, minister from the Church in Hartford, CT—Adonijah Bidwell’s home town—and by the neighboring town’s ministers, Jonathan Hubbard and Thomas Strong, and with “messengers” Ebenezer Mix and Deacons James Dewey, Nath’l Harmon, and Jonah Pixley.

The Church of Christ in Township No. 1 was actually formed a week before Adonijah Bidwell’s ordination. On September 25, 1750, the new church’s Covenant was signed by eight men: Adonijah Bidwell, Pastor, John Chadwick, Ephraim Thomas, William Hale, Deacon, John Jackson, Deacon, Jabez Davis, Deacon, Thomas Orton, Deacon, and David Everest.  

Rev. Adonijah Bidwell served as minister of the Church and Township for the entire second half of his life. During his 34 years of ministry in the township, his handwritten Church Records show the following: 101 people were inducted into membership of the church, 378 children and adults were baptized, 165 couples were married, and 244 people died, including two of Rev. Bidwell’s three wives. He delivered thousands of sermons (which he wrote in a difficult-to-translate shorthand). 

Above is a sample of Rev. Adonijah Bidwell’s Sermon notes written in his unique shorthand.

Rev. Bidwell presided over countless meetings, raised a family of four children, bought and sold land, participated in the War of Independence, sold beef to the army, acted as Town Clerk for the newly incorporated (in 1762) Town of Tyringham, and later fought with the Town of Tyringham for his minister’s salary. (More about that squabble in a later article.)
This was a turbulent and productive period in the history of our towns, our state, and our new nation, and Adonijah Bidwell participated in every aspect of this foundation—religious, social, and economic. The year 1750 marked the turning point of the settlement of Township No. 1: the first Proprietors’ meetings were actually held within the township, the Meeting House was finally being finished, the Church was founded, and Adonijah Bidwell was settled as its first minister. 
Next week, we’ll explore the Meeting House.

[1] Until 1752, the British Colonies used the Julian Calendar, and the new year began on March 25.  To clarify the year, writers used dual dates – e.g. January 12, 1749/50 – for the period between January 1 and March 25. 

[2] This vote to add a five foot extension raises interesting questions: why did they feel the need to add another five feet? Since the existing timber frame had already been built 40’ long x 30’ wide, how would the extra 5’ of length be added? Was the old frame so degraded that they were going to start over with a new longer frame? Were they going to add a small annex on one end of the existing frame? Did the extension on one end make the building façade asymmetrical? We don’t know the answers to these questions.  But we’ll delve into some of the issues in the next article.