Page images

tent christian. He fell a victim to the yellow fever, which prevailed in the city of New York during the summer of his death. Not daunted in the performance of his parochial duties, he was unremitting in his attention to the sick and dying, and he shrunk not from those scenes of affliction, from which so many of the best and the bravest recoiled with terror. He died August 26, 1798, at the age of 49 years. He was twice married, his first wife being the daughter of the Rev. Dr. Green, of Leicester, and the other, a lady from New York.

Dr. Foster was succeeded in the charge of the Leicester church by Mr. Isaac Beals ; whose successor was Mr. Nathan Dana; and his again was Mr. Peter Rogers, who became the pastor of a church in Leyden, Mass. after his removal from Leicester. Since Mr. Rogers' removal, the church has been supplied pretty constantly with preachers, though no one has been regularly ordained over it.* There are funds, in lands, to the amount of $1000, belonging to the society, and though called to struggle with difficulties, it has ever maintained a respectable standing. It had, in 1812, seventy eight communicants in the church, and, at present, there are about forty two. Mr. Harris at present officiates in this society as their pastor, though he has not been ordained. A part of this society were separated, about 1818, and formed a part of a Baptist society in the northeast part of Spencer, and to this circumstance may be referred, the diminished number of its members.

There has been a respectable society of Friends in this town for a great number of years. In 1732, eight persons filed their certificate with the Town Clerk that they belonged to that persuasion, who, either from a mistake in spelling, or to make an angry and execrable pun, calls them “ those people called Quackers.”+ As no records are preserved of the early history of this society, we have not been able to trace it any farther than to the uniting of the families of these eight persons into a society. They had a house of worship, which stood where the present meeting house of that people stands ; but when it was erected, we have not been

* Among those who supplied the pulpit, was the Rev. Mr. Hill, who is now a deservedly acceptable and popular preacher, in New Haven, Conn.

+ Among the original number of those prosessing themselves Friends, in this town, was Mr. Ralph Earle, many of whose descendants of the same dame, have belonged to this society, and been among the most respectable in habitants of the town. Indeed, most of the members of this society, in this town, have been distinguished for their enterprise and intelligence, and have ever formed an useful and respectable portion of the population of the town, distinguished for their probity, hospitality, and wealth.

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

able to learn. The society, having become numerous, and that house being old, and somewhat decayed, in 1791, they removed the old, and built the present meeting house, which, according to Whitney, is a very good house for their way of worship." It is situate in the north part of the town, about one and an half miles from the Congregational meeting house. The house is commodi, ous, and of good proportions, although destitute of any thing ornamental. The spot in which it stands is retired, and almost sur. rounded with forest trees; around it, repose in their s pameless graves,” the ashes of those who have died of the society. Though we do not profess any particular attachment to their way of wor: ship,” we know of but few spots more calculated to awaken serious reflections than this. A solemn stillness reigns around it, and it seems as if it might be one of those few places where the cares of the world do not intrude. The society consists, at present, of about one hundred and thirty members, not all of whom, however, belong to Leicester.

In 1823, an Episcopalian society was gathered and formed, in the south part of Leicester, embracing the manufacturing establishment there, and several families from Oxford North Gore, and from Charlton. Among the most active in forming this society were, Mr. Anderton, whose name we have before had occasion to mention, Samuel Hartwell, Esq. and family, Francis Wilby, an English gentleman, resident in Boston, and several other gentlemen, witb their families, who resided in the vicinity of the church.*

very neat church for the use of this society was erected, by private subscription, and was consecrated by Bishop Griswold, on the last Wednesday in May, 1824. The Rev. Joseph Muenscher had previously been employed by the society, and it was now put under his pastoral charge. He is the present rector of this church, which is in a flourishing state. This was the first Episcopal church ever formed in Worcester County, and has had difficulties and discouragements to encounter, such as usually attend the formation of a new society. The church is situated upon the south side of the Stafford turnpike, about fifty rods from French River, and the Leicester and Saxon factories. Mr. Muenscher is a native of Provi. dence, and was graduated at Brown University. He studied Theology at Andover, and was admitted to orders by Bishop Griswold,

Among the most active of these was Mr. Hezekiah Stone, who liberally gave the ground upon which the church is erected, besides conferring other acts of liberality.

[ocr errors]

in March, 1824, immediately after which, he took charge of the church in Leicester. His marriage with a daughter of the late Joseph Washburn, was, we believe, the first ever consummated in this county in Episcopal form.

Such are some of the outlines of the ecclesiastical bistory of the town of Leicester, which, though necessarily imperfect, are sufficient to show, that the inhabitants of the town have been highly favored, in general, in respect to the important interests of religious instruction. Many of their teachers have been eminent for their faithfulness and abilities; and, on the other hand, the people have generally shown a good degree of liberality in contributing to the support of their clergymen. The utmost harmony and good fellowship has uniformly prevailed among the different sects and societies in town, each extending to the others, that courtesy and confidence which become those professing the same faith, though differing, in some particulars, in their mode of worship and form of government. In the interchange of civilities, in the election of civil officers, and in almost all the relations of society and social life, no distinction is made between members of different societies. Each is left to worship God according to the dictates of his conscience, and the consequence has been, that the town has flourished and prospered, while many, possessing equal natural advantages, have been distracted by intestine divisions, and lost that elevated rank they might otherwise have held.

CIVIL HISTORY.-We feel no inconsiderable reluctance to attempt the civil history of this town, for the records have been found so imperfect, and the traditionary accounts so vague, that we are aware of our inability to do any thing like justice to the subject, and that it must be extremely imperfect, even in relation to those portions that are the most interesting and important. But we have been able to glean enough from its records and the recol. lection of some of its aged inhabitants to furnish to a more patient and successful laborer a clue, by which to guide his future investigations.

According to the Massachusetts Register, annually published in Boston, the town of Leicester is the fifth incorporated, in what is now the County of Worcester, and was incorporated, agreeably with the record we have before copied, in 1713. Whitney incorrectly places this event in 1720, or 1721.

As early as 1721, the town had begun to exercise the powers of an incorporated town, by choosing all the officers belonging to

[ocr errors]

such a town, and was, moreover, represented in the General Court of the Province, though no record of any choice is to be found until the next year, when the same men who represented them the year before were again chosen.*

The first Corn Mill in town was erected in 1722, and as an inducement to build it, the town voted that it should forever be exempt from taxation. It stood, as is believed, on the north side of the great post road, about half a mile from the meeting house.

Although quite a number of town meetings were held, and their transactions recorded, previous to 1724, we do not find his Majesty's name made use of, in any way, previous to that time, when a meeting was first called in his Majesty's name.” This, however, was rather the result of accident, or imperfect records, than from any want of loyalty, or from the preponderance of republican feelings ; since, at that day, loyalty and patriotism were convertible terms, and even at a later day, some of the leading men in town were distinguished for their loyalty.t

We have not been able to ascertain to what extent the inhabitants of the town suffered from the depredations of the Indians. They undoubtedly shared in the horrors of the wars which the natives carried on against the people of the province. In 1726, the town was

The Hon. John Minsie was the person elected. He was a leading man in town and appears to have been very respectable and influential. He removed from Roxbury to Leicester, and is usually stiled Judge Minsie in the records of the town. When or where he held that office, we have not been able to ascertain. He resided upon a tract of 500 acres, which he owned, around the Henshaw Pond, and was long remembered for having introduced the “ White Weed,” principally, we believe, on account of its beauty.

# Among these, we would name with respect, the Hon. Thomas Steel, Esq. a native of Boston, who removed to Leicester and built a dwelling house about half a mile east of the meeting house which is yet standing (called the Southgate house.) He was liberally educated, and graduated at Cambridge, in 1730, and stands upon the catalogue of that year, when each student's name was arranged according to his relative rank in life, the fourth in order ; the first being the famous Peter Oliver, to whom the province afterwards owed so much of its difficulties and distress. Mr. Steel, was bred a merchant, and pureued that business till his removal from Boston to Leicester, where he also kept a store. He was, from 1756 to 1774, an associate judge of the Court of Common Pleas in Worcester County, and always remained firm in his loyalty to the King. It is noticable, that the most spirited resolutions of the town against the aggressions of the mother country, previous to 1770, are recorded in the town records in his hand writing-a kind of involuntary treason that he dare not refuse to commit. He was wealthy when he first came to this town; but owing to misfortunes, his wealth became very much reduced. His influence, until the revolution, was, deservedly great; for he was a man of intelligence and integrity. He was several times chosen to represent the town, in the General Court, and successively held most of the responsible offices.

at the expense of erecting a garrison, as it was called, around the house of Mr. Parsons, to protect them from the attacks of the savages. This was a little north east of the meeting house. There were other garrisons, for the same purpose, erected in other parts of the town. One of these, was near the dwelling house, belonging to the Henshaw family, near the Henshaw pond, and its outlines may be traced now. The house occupied by John King, Esq. in the south part of Leicester, upon the Oxford road, was also, as is believed, a garrison house, and marks of musket balls are yet said to be visible in parts of it, which can be referred only to the times of the Indian wars. Another garrison was near Mr. Jonah Earle's dwelling house.

The town seems to have been troubled in its fiscal concerns for some time after its settlement. The inhabitants, immediately upon their removing here, assumed the expenses of schools and the support of a minister, which, together with the necessary highways they were compelled to make, rendered their expenses burdensome; especially, as much of the land in town became, in the course of years, either the property of a few individuals in town, or of those, who, residing out of it, were exempt from the burdens of the resident proprietors. They lived too, at a time when false notions of wealth and public economy prevailed. An upbealthy, and almost worthless currency, bad inundated the state, and the general complaint of a scarcity of money prevailed throughout the province. The inhabitants of this town, in common with the majority of the people of the province, were deceived into an opinion that the difficulties under which all were laboring might be removed by new emissions of paper money, which must ever be worthless, when it ceases to be the representative of real wealth, and so redeemable that its nominal, may become its actual value, at the will of the holder. In 1727, an emission of £60,000 in paper money, was made by the Legislature, and loaned to the people of the province, the interest arising from which was to go towards the support of government. This town appointed trustees to receive its proportion of this grant and to loan it to the inhabitants, so that no one should have more than ten, nor less than five pounds.

The question as to the value of the currency, from time to time, in the early history of New England, though interesting and important in a historical point of view is attended with too much labor and difficulty and would occupy too much time for us to attempt to settle. Its fluctuations were so frequent, and its depreciation often


[ocr errors]


« PreviousContinue »