The Meeting Houses of Hampton
1638 - 1938
Rev. Herbert Walker
[Written for the Tercentenary of the Congregational Church, Hampton, N.H.]
The great difficulty in compiling a history of the Meeting Houses of the Hampton Congregational Church, the oldest in New Hampshire, having uninterrupted services for three centuries, makes Mr. Walker's study valuable. The list of deacons is incomplete, because there are no records available for some of the early years. It is included to honor the names of men, who were active in both town and church affairs. This brief story of the church buildings, through three hundred years, is presented with the hope that it may be of interest to all its readers.
The unique and most conspicuous building in the early New England community was the "Meeting House." In many towns it still retains that proud distinction. It is a most appropriate name; for the Meeting House was not only the place of worship -- it was the only place for public assembly for all the people.
In Hampton, there have been five successors to the first Meeting House of the First Congregational Church. When Reverend Stephen Bachiler , with his small band of hardy pioneers, came to these shores, their first concern, after securing shelter for their families, was the building of a Meeting House. The spot selected for it is now known as " Meeting House Green ," about half a mile from where the settlers had landed in their shallop.
It was a small rude structure with no pretension to architectural fitness or beauty. It had a bell, a gift from the pastor; and in the second town meeting, held in 1639, it was voted that one -- "Wm. Sanborne (with his consent) is appointed to ring the bell before the meetings on the Lord's dayes & other dayes, for which he is to receive six pence per lott of every one having a lott within the town." The first Meeting House served its purpose for only a few years.
The second Meeting House was built on "The Green." By vote of the town its dimensions were to be forty by twenty-two feet with studding thirteen feet high, and gift for the windows. There was to be a place for the bell, probably over the porch; for in 1641 at the town meeting "The Meeting House Porch was by vote appropriated as Watch House," against the Indians, "until another be gotten." It was several years in building. The funds were raised by a committee which was instructed to use all lawful means to compel contributions from those who refuse to pay voluntarily. In 1649, liberty was given to certain persons "to build a gallery at the west end of the meeting-house, provided that the foremost seats should be appropriated to them, for their own use, and as their own property."
There were no pews only simple, rough seats; and to prevent disorder a committee was appointed to direct the people what seat each one should occupy -- "All the men to set at the west end & all the women to sett at the east end."
The erection of the third Meeting House was commenced in 1675. The whole male population, about twenty years of age, was commandeered to build it. They worked in groups from the different sections of the town on different days. The work was done during the troublous years of the Indian wars, and many of the people were called away from home to defend the colony, and those who labored at home did so in constant fear of the enemy; so that slow progress was made in finishing this Meeting House. It was probably occupied for the first time in the year 1680, for at that time the selectmen were instructed to "take down the old Meeting House and dispose of it for the town's use, according to their best judgment."
It was during the time that the people worshiped in this Meeting HOuse that the famous silver beakers were purchased and used in the communion service. The money was raised by subscription, a total of thirty-eight pounds and eleven shillings (about $150.00) being secured. Deacon Samuel Dow was commissioned to go to Boston to make the purchase, and was allowed twenty shillings for his personal expenses in making the journey. Eight beakers were bought at first. They were made by the famous silversmith, John Cony. They are still in the possession of the First Congregational Church -- one of the two visible links that connect it with those early days.
The fourth Meeting House, and the last built on the site of the "Green," was proposed in the year 1718. The people were evidently dissatisfied with the architecture, or lack of it, of the former buildings; for they chose a committee to consider the matter and report at an adjourned meeting -- "what manner of house should be built." At the adjourned meeting, it was voted to build a house of specified dimensions, with a steeple at one end thereof, "from the beame upward, of convenient and suitable height." At a later meeting, it was decided to alter the dimensions so as to improve its proportions and make it "handsomer," -- sixty feet long and forty feet wide, and the studs twenty-eight feet high. Only one pew had been built when it was opened for worship in October 1719, and that lone pew was for the use of the minister's family. Other pews were added at different times. Again the town voted to sell the old Meeting House as "advantageously as they could" but this time "the proceeds to be for the benefit of ye Rever'd Mr. Nathaniel Gookin," the minister.
Due to the Presbyterian schism 1792-1807, the Congregational faction, being in the minority, found itself without a place of worship. For a time, services were held in Capt. Morris Hobbs' house; but very soon, as the house was too small, preparations were made to build the "Fifth Meeting House." With the people divided into two denominations, the task was difficult. There was constant controversy over the matter of a just division of the Church property between the Congregationalists and Presbyterians.
A new method of raising the necessary funds must be found, since the town, having built the first four Meeting Houses (and the last still standing and in use by more than half the people), could not build another. So before the new Congregational Meeting House was erected, it was arranged to sell the pews in the newly proposed House to the highest bidders from a plan drawn up by a committee appointed for that purpose. With the money thus secured, the "Fifth Meeting House" was built. It was the first Meeting owned by the First Congregational Society, Incorporated in the year 1796. This building still stands, and is now owned by the Town of Hampton and is used as the Town Hall. [Editor: The Town Hall burned on March 19, 1949 at 5:24 A.M., caused by faulty furnace , was razed and never rebuilt. Cause: Faulty furnace. The "Hampton Town Hall" sign was salvaged and is on display in the Tuck Museum.]
In this Meeting House was a fine octagonal pulpit. When the Town took over the building for its own purposes, the old pulpit was taken out, discarded, dumped on the wood-pile, and then taken down to the beach and abandoned on Boar's Head. Some devoted friends of the church rescued it from so ignoble a fate, and had it reclaimed and placed it in the Chapel as a relic and reminder of the past. It now occupies an honorable and useful place again in the remodeled "Sixth Meeting House," and is used as "the desk" from which the word of God is preached -- a second visible link with the days and personalities of the long past.
The present and sixth building was erected in 1844. It stands opposite the Town Hall. During the present decade it has been remodeled. A chancel has been added; and a new Austin Organ installed. There is a new kitchen with enlarge dining room and a modern heating plant. These improvements, together with the Webster Memorial Chapel, make a Meeting House plant worthy to conserve the three hundred years of history, and serve well the religious needs of the future.
It is recorded of this building, that, when it was proposed to insure it against fire, it was voted that "we trust the safe-keeping of this house to the kind Providence of God." He was true to that trust for a long time; but last November when the fire broke out and threatened to destroy our beloved church, we were deeply grateful that the Society had added Fire Insurance to its trust in a "Kind Providence."
It is worthy of note also that we have the first record of a musical instrument being used in this Meeting House. One " Daniel Hobbs was appointed to have charge of the double bass-viol recently purchased by subscription."
Other Meeting Houses have been built in the old Town of Hampton by the Methodists, Baptists and the Adventist denominations. Sometimes we wonder whether we have not too many churches; yet we are proud of the fact that they are all in use on the Lord's Day; that there is a growing spirit of fellowship; that all these places of worship are well kept and in good repair.
On the Beach also, the people of Hampton have provided that both the Catholic and Protestant summer visitors shall have a worthy "Meeting House" in which to worship God after the manner of their fathers; for though in "differing phrase we pray," the "Meeting Houses" of Hampton bear witness that the "Faith of the Fathers is living still."
MINISTERS OF THE FIRST CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH
|William Pidgin (Pres.)||1796-1807|
|Erasmus D. Eldridge||1838-1849|
|Solomon P. Fay||1849-1854|
|James B. Thorndike||1864-1865|
|John Webster Dodge||1865-1868|
|F. D. Chandler||1873-1875|
|John S. Batchelder||1875-1878|
|William H. Cutler||1878-1883|
|W. Walcott Fay||1884-1886|
|John A. Ross||1887-1902|
|Edgar Warren (Interim)||1903-1905|
|George P. Rowell||1905-1908|
|J. Selden Strong||1913-1914|
|George W. Clark||1919-1923|
|Floyd G. Kinsley||1938-1952|
|William G. McInnes||1953-1961|
|Howard S. Danner, Jr.||1962-1966|
|Donald J. Rankin||1967-1976|
|James C. Barclay||1976-1983|
|Richard P. Don||1983-1985|
|Steven R. Bowden||1985-1989|
|Dwight E. Mexcur||1990-1996|
DEACONS OF HAMPTON CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH
|Christopher Hussey |
John Dearborn, son of Henry
John Dearborn, son of John
Josiah Moulton, Jr.
Amos Towle, Jr.
John A. Towle
|Morris Hobbs |
David B. Elkins
Josiah J. Dearborn
Henry J. Perkins
Myron W. Cole
Rev. B. Franklin Perkins
Alvin S. True
Simeon A. Shaw
Edgar W. Howe
John C. Blake
Oliver H. Godfrey
John F. Marston
Oliver W. Hobbs
Warren E. Clark
G. Sumner Fall
Dean B. Merrill
Rev. Edgar Warren