Joseph Dow's History of Hampton: Rev. John Cotton's Ministry, 1686-1710

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Mr. Cotton, Stated Supply

The death of the Rev. Seaborn Cotton left the people without a minister for the first time since the settlement of the town, a period of nearly forty-eight years. Having been so long favored with a faithful ministry, it cannot be supposed that they would now be content to remain very long destitute of the regular and constant ministration of the Word; which is true, though it was several years before they again had a settled pastor.

Soon after the late pastor's death--no records show how soon--efforts began to be made to find a suitable successor. The first preacher known to have been employed, was Mr. JOHN COTTON, the eldest son of the deceased pastor, a graduate of Harvard College, of the class of 1678, who, having been chosen a Fellow of the College, was living there at the time of his father's death. The same year he returned to Hampton, and was employed as a preacher. This fact does not appear from the town records, but is learned from other sources.

There is, however, in an entry on the records, made the next spring, an incidental mention of the seat at the desk, called Mr. Cotton's seat, implying that it was then occupied by him.

The record is in these words:

"Liberty was granted to Capt. Samuel Sherburne to build a seat for him and his wife and family, between the south door and the table, from the west side of the great post behind the south door of the meetinghouse, to the east side of the great post by the table, and so far forward as the two seats now come, provided he build it not so high as Mr. Cotton's seat is built."

[At the same meeting the following vote was passed:

"It is acted by vote, that if any man's Dog shall come into ye meetinghouse on Sabbath days, the owners of the sayd dogs shall pay a fine of one shilling a time, to be leuied by ye Constable by a warrent from a Justice of Peace."

"Their decents John Smith, taylor, John Smith, cooper, Abraham Cole, John Marston."]

While the people were destitute of a settled minister, they were not unmindful of the conduct and habits of the young. At a town meeting in the fall of 1687, the following vote was passed: "That the constables for the time being shall take special care that the youth be kept from playing on the Sabbath, and if any children shall be found disorderly, their parents and masters shall first be informed, and if they shall not take care of them, but suffer them again to be found disorderly, complaint shall then be made to authority."

The first votes of the town on record, for employing Mr. Cotton are of a later date (May 21, 1688), but at that time, as was shown in Chapter V, town meetings were seldom holden, and it is probable that measures were taken by the church, for supplying the pulpit, for there is evidence that the church held meetings for business prior to the earliest church records extant. The town votes, just alluded to, were not to secure the services of Mr. Cotton, as a candidate for settlement, but for inviting him to be inducted into the pastoral office by ordination. One of the votes was, "that Mr. Henry Green and William Fuller should treat with Mr. John Cotton, to know his mind whether he would be willing to settle here in the work of the ministry, and be ordained." The other vote is thus recorded: "The town did act by vote to show their approbation, that they were willing that Mr. Cotton should be called to office in this place by ordination."

The object here aimed at was not immediately attained. He still continued to supply the pulpit, but, for reasons not clearly stated, he did not consent to be ordained pastor of the church.

Mr. Cotton was married August 17, 1686, and immediately commenced housekeeping in Hampton, and labored here as a minister of the gospel till some time in the summer of 1690. This appears from some memoranda in the Diary of Henry Dow, where are noted the various articles "paid" by him to Mr. Cotton, at dates running from August 20, 1686, to April 30, 1690. On the third of April, 1688, he paid the balance that was due for that year, which would "be out the first of September next."

About this time the town directed the selectmen to ascertain what the inhabitants would "contribute yearly, and every year, towards Mr. John Cotton's comfortable maintenance, so long as he continue here in the work of the ministry."

Succeeded by Rev. John Pike

Two years afterward there was held a meeting of all the male inhabitants of the town, of twenty-one years of age, and upwards, "to consider of some way to procure a minister to settle among them for the future."

Whether Mr. Cotton had already suspended his preaching, or had signified his intention to do so at the close of his year, does not appear.

Those who attended that meeting first resolved: that they did earnestly desire to have a man settled among them in the work of the ministry. They then expressed a wish that Mr. John Pike should be the man, if he could be obtained. Mr. Nathaniel Weare, William Marston, Capt. Samuel Sherburne, Lieut. John Sanborn and Henry Dow were chosen to treat with Mr. Pike, to know his mind about settling here in the ministry.

Mr. Pike had been the pastor of the church in Dover, for many years, but was at this time staying in Portsmouth, having left Dover some time before on account of the ravages made by the Indians. In compliance with the request of the committee above named, he came to Hampton on the 24th of October following.

On the last day of April, 1691, at a meeting called "to act about settling a minister in the town," preference was again expressed for Mr. Pike, if he could "be cleared from Dover church." Henry Green, Nathaniel Weare and Henry Dow were appointed to treat with him and obtain his answer to their request. Mr. Pike assured them that he had a fair prospect of obtaining a dismission from Dover in the course of one month, and he told them that he had come to Hampton with an intent to settle, and did still so intend, if God should make a way for it, when he had received his dismission from Dover, and if the people in Hampton did then desire it.

The meeting was accordingly adjourned one month to receive Mr. Pike's answer, but the records do not show that any meeting was held at that time. Mr. Pike had undoubtedly informed the people of his failure to receive a dismission from the Dover church, and hence there was no occasion for them to assemble. He, however, remained here till the 4th of February, 1692, and then removed to Newbury, but afterward returned to Dover, and died there in 1710.

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