Rev. Josiah Webster, Pastor
Rev. Josiah Webster
Portrait Contributed as a Token of Esteem,
by Former Parishioners and Their Descendants
[The portrait of Mr. Webster here given is from a small
painting on ivory, executed in 1807.
The date had long been unknown till the painting
was taken from its case for reproduction in this work.]
In accordance with the report of this committee, it was voted to give Mr. Webster the improvement of the home parsonage -- except the pasturing of one cow during the life of Elizabeth Lane -- the buildings and fences to be kept in repair by the town, and also an annual salary of five hundred twenty-five dollars "during his being a minister" of the church and town.
Owing to the peculiar circumstances of the people at this time it seemed proper that the church should await the action of the town before giving a call to any man to settle in the ministry. The town now asked the church to concur in the call to Mr. Webster. This was done, without delay and without opposition.
The votes of the church and of the town having been communicated to Rev. Mr. Webster, he soon after gave his answer accepting the call, as follows:
"To the church and people of the town of Hampton:
Dearly beloved brethren & friends,
Your call for me to settle with you in the gospel ministry has been deliberately & prayerfully considered. At once to relieve your minds, I tender to you an affirmative answer.
When I contemplate the scene of trials through which you have passed; when I consider the providence of God, so conspicuous in your present union; when I reflect upon the state of our moral establishments, and at the same time glance a thought to the great day of final retribution, I dare not give a negative.
Being unacquainted with the expense of living in this region, I am unable to judge of the competency of your appropriations for my support. But I rejoice to say, that I am ready to make the experiment. It is with pleasure that I affirm my entire willingness to trust your benevolence for what may be competent and honorable.
But, beloved, most of all, let me trust, & let me not be disappointed, in having your prayers for that divine aid without which I can do of peace, order, grace and all consolation ever dwell among you & grant you every needed blessing; which shall ever be the prayer of your very affectionate friend & very humble servant in the work of our Lord Jesus Christ,
Mr. Webster's answer was communicated to the town at an adjourned meeting on the 9th of May. The time appointed for the installation was Wednesday, the 8th of June following.
One week later, at a church meeting, Colonel Toppan, Deacons Lamprey, Garland and Fogg, and Mr. William Lane were chosen to unite with the pastor elect, in calling an ecclesiastical council. Invitations were sent to thirteen churches in the county of Rockingham and eight in the county of Essex, Mass. On the day appointed for the installation, twenty of the churches invited were represented in the council, of which it is recorded that the "proceedings were harmonious" . . . and "the installation took place." For the public services, the parts were assigned as follows: introductory prayer, Rev. Joseph Buckminster, D.D., of Portsmouth; sermon, Rev. Samuel Worcester, of Salem, Mass.; inducting prayer, Rev. Elihu Thayer, D.D., of Kingston; charge, Rev. Stephen Peabody, of Atkinson; right hand of fellowship, Rev. Jacob Abbot, of Hampton Falls; concluding prayer, Rev. Moses Dow, of Beverly, Mass.
About three months after the installation, the church passed the following vote : "That all persons in this town, of good moral character, who have had baptism for their children heretofore shall still enjoy the privilege, though they may not be in full communion." The intention of the church does not appear to have been to perpetuate the practice here noticed; but to restrict it to those who had already enjoyed it.
The next month the church chose a standing committee of six men, "to assist the pastor in any affairs relating to the advancement of the spiritual welfare of this church and congregation, and to inspect the conduct and morals of professing christians; likewise to attend the pastor in catechizing children or young people." The religious state of the community at that time was not encouraging. Church discipline had been greatly neglected, Arminian views in theology were prevailing to a considerable extent, and there was much hostility to the old Puritan faith. It was under such circumstances that the church committee were chosen. They visited and conversed with delinquent members and labored earnestly to reclaim them. In some cases, they were successful; in others, their efforts failed entirely and from several members, the church withdrew fellowship.
No marked change in church and community was at once apparent, but a gradual improvement was in progress. In 1809 there were some conversions and a few persons united with the church. A few also were received the next year; but the whole number of admissions during the first ten years and ten months of Mr. Webster's pastorate was only thirty. Through all these years, the pastor continued to preach the gospel with great plainness, and to labor assiduously for the spiritual welfare of the people of his charge. Nor did he labor in vain. The Sunday-school, established in August, 1818, continues to the present, a potent factor in the work of our several churches. In 1819 a general religious interest pervaded the town. during which, thirty-four persons were received into the church; again, in 1823 there was more than ordinary interest, as the result of which, eleven were added; but the most powerful revival during Mr. Webster's ministry was in the fall of 1826, and the winter and spring following. As the fruits of this awakening, fifty members were added to the church in 1827. There was also a revival in 1832, which resulted in the addition of nearly twenty more. During his ministry in Hampton, Mr. Webster received one hundred seventy persons to the full communion of the church.