Joseph Dow's History of Hampton: The Indenture of 1803

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The Indenture of 1803

Terms of settlement were at length agreed upon, and on the 24th of March, 1803, an indenture was made between the two parties, by which all their disputes were to be ended. The property that had been the object of controversy was the parsonage house, with the outbuildings; the home parsonage, so called, containing somewhat more than fifty acres, and several other tracts of land situated in Hampton and North Hampton, containing by estimation 174 acres; and besides these, United States 6 per cent. stocks to the amount of $4,570, with the income accruing therefrom since May 1, 1794.

The indenture now made was based on the assumption that this property belonged equally to the two contending parties. It provided that the parsonage house and out-buildings, the garden and orchard connected therewith and containing about one acre, which were now occupied and improved by Rev. Mr. Appleton, should continue to be held by the Congregational society for the use of their minister, so long as Rev. Mr. Pidgin should remain as minister of the town, and afterward be held jointly and equally by both parties forever; and that the remainder of the home parsonage should be held jointly and equally by the two parties for the use of their respective ministers, and by these ministers should be jointly and equally possessed and occupied, so long as Rev. Mr. Pidgin should remain a settled minister in the town, and afterward should be jointly and equally occupied by the parties until a further and different agreement should be made concerning it.

It was provided that all the other parsonage lands should forever be held in trust by the town for the following uses, to wit: "That the said town, by their selectmen or other agents shall annually lease and to farm let the same for the town for one year, for so much money as can be obtained for the same, at a public auction for that purpose, to be annually notified and had in said town; the rents to be paid within one year from the time of leasing said land annually, and secured by good and sufficient promissory notes -- one-half the amount of which shall be made payable to the said Congregational Society for their own use. Which said half part of said notes shall annually, on request be delivered by said town to the selectmen om lawful agents of said society, to be by them disposed of as said society shall direct; and the other half of said notes for said rents shall be for the use of said town."

It was also agreed that the interest of the funded stock should be received by the town, and one-half thereof be paid to the society in quarterly payments; and, as a portion of the principal of that stock would, by law, be paid annually, that the sums so received by the town, together with such part of time principal as had been received since 1794, should be loaned on good security, and one-half the interest arising therefrom be annually paid over to the society; that the town should keep an exact account or statement in writing, showing to whom and in what manner the amount of said principal should he loaned; and would at all reasonable times, on request, exhibit and show the same to said society or their selectmen or agents.

It was further stipulated that no part of the principal already received, or that might afterward be received from the funded stock, should ever he alienated or disposed of otherwise than by being loaned for interest as aforesaid, except by the joint consent of town and society.

It was further agreed that each of the parties should indemnify and save harmless the other party and its minister from all claims for the possession of any part of the parsonage lands or funded stock, and from all damages, losses or costs accruing to the other party in consequence of such demands om suits.

This indenture was drawn up with great care by Jeremiah Mason, Esq., of Portsmouth, who had been employed as counsel for time society, and was signed by the committees of the two parties, appointed and empowered to make a settlement of their difficulties, about four years previous to the date of the indenture, viz.: Simon Nudd, Benjamin Shaw, James Moulton, James Leavitt, Elisha S. Marston and Jonathan Marston, Jr., on the part of the town, and Christopher Toppan, Joseph Dow, Daniel Lamprey, Jr., Abner Page, Joseph Towle, Jr., and Levi Batchelder on the part of the society.

The following letter, addressed to the author by Edmund Toppan, Esq., in 1838, explains more fully the course of these two lawsuits:

DEAR SIR: -- In the years 1797-8-9 I passed several days at Ipswich and Salem, in examining and taking minutes from the ancient records of the town of Hampton and other town in New Hampshire, formerly constituting in part the county of Norfolk. . . . . . My search was made in consequence of the famous Hampton religious suits. I was then a student-at-law in the office of Theo. Parsons, at Newburyport, who was counsel for the Congregational Society vs. the town of Hampton. I recollect perfectly well that I procured a copy of the incorporation of the town of Hampton, of the original deed of the Rev. Timothy Dalton to the town of Hampton, and his last will, and of several other papers then thought to be of importance.

I attended, I believe, every trial in the Superior court, of the Hampton actions, viz: Hampton vs. Martha Thayer; and Jesse Appleton (for the Congregational Society) vs. Hampton. The deed of Mr. Dalton was formerly considered, by persons who had never seen it, to be a deed of gift, and by some, to the church only. But in the trials of the Hampton actions Judges Olcott, Farrar, Wingate and Newcomb invariably charged the juries that the premises in Dalton's deed were purchased by the town of Hampton for the use of the ministry. Judge Livermore, on the other hand, that the premises were sold to the town absolutely, as in a common modern deed of warranty, and that the town of Hampton could do as it pleased with the premises -- and in one charge said, "even buy dead horses with it," if a majority of legal voters thought proper.

That Dalton's deed was a deed of sale, &c., and not of gift, was proved by the deed itself; and by Dalton's will, afterwards executed, in which he bequeathed the very consideration money of the deed, due from the town of Hampton; and by other circumstances proved by the town records.

All the lands in Hampton reserved as town rights, ministerial rights, and by different appellations, commonly known as parsonage lands, were considered as appropriated to the use of the ministry by a majority of the judges.

Verdicts were given in some of the actions in favor of the Congregational society for an undivided moiety, &c., agreeably to the opinion of the court, but no final judgment was rendered in any action. All actions and causes of action between the parties were at last submitted to the determination of Judges Minot, Sewall and Dawes, of Massachusetts, as referees. A hearing was had before them at Boston, but the sudden death of Judge Minot prevented there being a report made. The papers were consequently returned into court. But the parties were given to understand that a report, if made, would have been in conformity with the opinion of the court. Therefore the parties withdrew all the actions but one and made a settlement by deed. The action not settled, which was for cost in the suits, etc., was referred to Governor Langdon, Judge Hale, &c., who reported that the Congregational Society should recover of the town one thousand dollars.

Thus ended these famous suits.

  Yours &c.,
  E. TOPPAN.

By time foregoing settlement of the claims of the two churches and parishes, to the ministerial funds and parsonage property, one of the chief sources of contention was removed, or, at least, temporarily closed. The manifestations of unkind feelings between members of the two churches and congregations were now not so frequent or so strongly marked. It should not, however, he inferred that perfect harmony was immediately restored. The disaffection was too deeply rooted, and had been too long cherished, to be eradicated at once.

The Presbyterians, as we have seen, had an advantage in point of numbers. enabling them to determine what measures should be adopted in town meeting; and it need occasion no surprise if in some cases they were not quite impartial in the exercise of their power.

We institute no comparison as to the religious character and the moral worth of the members of the two churches and congregations, either separately or in the aggregate. Virtue and piety were not the exclusive property of either party. Each church was strongly attached to its pastor. Mr. Appleton was a man of unblemished character. Here he was invulnerable. If his opponents, in the heat of excitement, sometimes hurled at him the shafts of calumny, they always fell harmless at his feet. Though very young at the time of his settlement, he was ever remarkable for his prudence. It was well said of him that be was "wise as a serpent and harmless as a dove." Hiss simplicity and purity of character in many cases won the affection of individuals who had been unrelenting in their opposition to his church and society.

Mr. Pidgin also, in the troubles which arose after a few years, was declared by his people to have had an "established reputation for piety and good morals, even from his youth, as far as we have been able to gather." He took an active interest in public affairs and held his people together, so that, even after an acknowledged lapse from morality, they desired "to have the near connection of minister and people yet continued" It was thought expedient, however, that the way should be prepared for his retiring from the pastorate. Mr. Pidgin probably asked for a dismission, but this appears of record only by inference from the warrant of the selectmen to call a meeting of the Presbyterian portion of the legal voters of the town, "to see if they will be of the mind to comply with the request of the Rev. William Pidgin to dismiss him from being any longer a minister of the town of Hampton."

The meeting was holden April 20, 1807, when it was voted not to dismiss him at that time, but to continue him in office on terms proposed by Mr. Pidgin himself, namely that either party to the contract might dissolve the relation between them at will, by giving seasonable notice: This meeting seems to have been called chiefly to pave the way for an easy dissolution of the pastoral relation, for, at a legal meeting of the society on the 6th of July, 1807, called "to consider the affair relative to the dismission of our pastor, the Rev. William Pidgin, from his pastoral relation to this Presbyterian church and society," it was voted "to dismiss him from being any longer our pastor."

A committee was chosen to provide for a session of the presbytery in this place at the expense of the town, and to ask counsel and assistance of them in the destitute condition of the society. Col. Benjamin Shaw, James Leavitt, Esq., and Lieut. Philip Towle constituted the committee. It was also voted that this committee should be empowered to supply the pulpit under direction of the presbytery until some other agreement should be made.

Rev. William Pidgin was born at Newburyport, Mass., March 1, 1771, and graduated at Dartmouth College in 1794. After his dismission from the Presbyterian church here he was settled at Minot, in the State of Maine, February 11, 1811, where he remained a little more than eight years and was dismissed from his pastoral charge August 14, 1819. He afterwards removed to Portland, Me, where he died, in 1848. [see Genealogies -- Pidgin.]

After the termination of the lawsuits for the recovery of a part of the parsonage property and the ministerial funds, nothing occurred for several years to interrupt the harmony or check the prosperity of the Congregational church and society.

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