Minnie Douglas Bennett
for the occasion of the 125th Anniversary of the building of the present meetinghouse
Revisions and Additions by
Bruce J. Crowther
Richard J. Ross
Earle T. Stewart
For the celebration of the 300th Anniversary of the Church
The roots of the present are buried deep in the past, and nothing in the past is dead to those who cherish the bounteous fruits of the present. To make a timely record of history is good: to make a timeless record is far better. In this brief, historical summary concerning The Original Congregational Church of Wrentham, Massachusetts, an effort is made to focus attention on the salient facts of permanent worth. What is of importance is that each of us who enjoy the blessings of peace and happiness afforded by this Church, and by this community, should have an appreciation of the debt owed to the founders.
Being ended with the same courageous spirit of the first Pilgrims, with torch and axe they pushed the forest back. Inspired by the love of freedom, hope in the future and their unswerving faith in Almighty God, they endured poverty and privation. They built the firm foundation.
How can our debt to these God-loving, long-suffering pioneers be paid? The answers can only be found in an unyielding determination to guard this precious heritage of free workshop and democratic government from the dissidents and the destroyers. The past was theirs and we revere it; the present is ours, may we protect it!
For many years the Church and the Town were so closely associated that a brief outline of the formative years of the town is of interest.
Perhaps we shall never know how many centuries the Indians led their simple lives in this sparsely populated near-wilderness, known to them as Wollomonopoag. Their ancestors, like ours, had come from another continent. It is generally accepted that these Indians (as they were called much later) migrated from Asia, across the Bering Strait, to what is now known as North America. Gradually they moved on toward the Atlantic Ocean, pausing when they came upon attractive hunting and fishing grounds, such as were offered by this Wollomonopoag region. Traces of their civilization remain - a stone arrowhead here, a bone needle there, and occasional rock shelters that show signs of primitive occupancy.
When Dedham was founded, in 1635, the Indian lands in this area, unsurveyed and unexploited, were placed within its town limits. In 1647, two Dedhamites, John Dwight and Francis Chickering, reported the “discovery” of two ponds (now Lake Archer and Lake Pearl) some thirteen miles to the west. Apparently they also took note that there were some open fields, for two years later, owing to a scarcity of grass in Dedham, certain inhabitants went to Wollomonopoag to harvest grass for their cattle. It is believed that this was an amphibious sortie, the men reaching here by paddling up the southwesterly branch of the Charles River to Eagle Brook, then floating the grass downstream on log rafts.
At a meeting of the Dedham Selectmen on June 22, 1660, four townsmen, Lt. Fisher, Sgt. Fuller, Richard Wheeler and Ensign Fisher, were officially appointed to view the land as to its suitability for forming a plantation, and to report back. Their observations were so favorable that a Timothy Dwight and a Richard Ellis were commissioned to confer with the Indians who held the rights to Wollomonopoag, and endeavor to obtain approval for establishing a plantation. With the warning to “be persuasive, but very careful in your choice of words”, they undertook their delicate task.
Believing that satisfactory negotiations could be worked out, a General Town Meeting was called on March 27, 1661, to vote on the proposition: “Shall a plantation be set up at Wollomonopoag?” Following an affirmative vote, a special committee was charged with planning the first or essential needs of such a plantation. (It is gratifying to note that the first need listed was to set aside a plot of land for a meeting house.) It should be made clear that there never was an attempt or intent to confiscate these lands from the Indians, and that the lands were purchased for a fair price, “that we may avoid trouble from intrusion.” In 1662, Dwight and Ellis, reported that, with the help of a Captain Willett, they had been successful in getting the release of a piece of land six miles square with a title and deed signed by Sachem Philip. Captain Willett made the payment (41 pounds, 10 shillings and 8 pence) on behalf of the town of Dedham, with repayment to be made by the new settlers as quickly as possible. The oft-told tale that Philip sold the land for a shirt is not true. During negotiations, however, the Sachem did make a request for a Holland shirt to wear at a meeting of the court in Plymouth. His sartorial need was filled by the good people of Dedham.
On March 23, 1663, those men who had applied and been approved to become Wrentham’s first settlers, met to draw their lots in the newly acquired plantation. It took time before these pioneers could move their families from Dedham on a permanent basis. Land had to cleared and houses, however crude, had to be built. To Samuel Sheers went the honor of becoming the first resident, and his daughter, Mehitable, was the first white child to be born here, in 1668.
To be continued…