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
This post is part of The History of the Original Congregational Church of Wrentham series. Previous posts can be found here.
Samuel Man was the first minister to serve the plantation. He was the son of William and Mary (Jarrad) Man, who migrated from Kent, England, to Cambridge, Massachusetts. He was born on July 6, 1647, and was graduated from Harvard College in 1665. Following his graduation, he taught school in Dedham, and as early as 1666, he made occasional trips to the plantation to preach to the few who had already settled. In October, 1669, he was called to be the first minister. The five principles set forth in this call give clear evidence as to the sincerity and perception of these early inhabitants: (1) The right of competent subsistence for God’s prophet. (2) Industry, the law of God. (3) Productiveness through employment of the arts of husbandry. (4) The necessity of the ordinances of the Lord Jesus Christ for community welfare. (5) The discharge of duty to the pastor and the Church as a moral and civic necessity, Mr. Man accepted the call, but it was 1671 before he came here to live, and even then there was no house of worship and but seven families in the parish. His salary was provided by assessing each land owner a shilling and sixpence for each cow pastured on “the common land”. (At that time all the lands, outside the lots and around the lakes, were cow commons and herd walks.) A further assessment of 50 pounds sterling was effected to provide a suitable home for him. When the home was completed, two years after his arrival, Mr. Man promptly married Miss Esther Ware of Dedham.
At this time, 1673, the General Court was petitioned to incorporate the plantation into a separate town - because of its growth (to 16 families) and the yearning of these pioneers for independent recognition. The request was granted that same year and, because several of the families had their roots in Wrentham, Suffolk, England, Wrentham was selected as the official name. Wollomonopoag was gone forever, a picturesque name to be misspelled and mispronounced - but never to be forgotten.
All went fairly well for the next three years, but in 1675, a strife arose between the whites and the Indians, and the bloody and cruel King Philip’s War gripped New England. Trouble had been brewing for a number of years because of the conflict of two economic systems. The chief occupation of the Indians was hunting, which called for wide forests and scanty population; the main occupation of the colonists was agriculture, which demanded cleared areas and the sacrifice of the forest. Two such antagonistic economic systems could not long exist side-by-side - war was inevitable. When word came on March 30, 1676, that the Indians were as near as Medfield, burning, killing and destroying everything before them, Mr. Man and the inhabitants of Wrentham fled to Dedham for the safety afforded by a more populated area. When the Indians arrived in Wrentham they ransacked and burned every home but two; those they feared were infected with smallpox. Ten years of hard labor, loneliness, suffering and privation had gone for naught, or so it seemed.
After an absence of four years, the settlers returned to clear their overgrown fields, rebuild homes from ashes, and re-strengthen the bonds of religion and civic enterprise. Wrentham was again on the march forward. During the forced retrenchment to Dedham, Mr. Man had been preaching in the town of Milton, and the people there were very anxious to have him remain. However, he believed that a greater need existed in Wrentham, and he returned unselfishly to his first struggling flock.
The parish was in great need of a suitable place to worship, so, in 1682, with some financial assistance from Dedham, the first meetinghouse was built. It was 36 feet in length, 26 feet in width, with side studding 16 feet high, and a raised watchtower at one end was provided to keep watch. No carpets, draperies, or beautiful lights were found within its walls - no chimes or organ peal for their processional or recessional - rough hewn logs sheltered the pulpit and uncushioned planks served to seat the congregation - but to them it was God’s house, and they were free to worship there; for this they were grateful. The building stood directly across the street from the present church, and on the northwesterly side of Mr. Man’s home. Its original stone doorstep marks its location.
On every Sabbath two complete services were held, one in the morning and one in the early afternoon. Those coming to the services, and attendance was compulsory, brought their lunches, and in cold weather, their foot warmers. A few primitive shelters, called “noon houses”, were erected near the meetinghouse so the families could enjoy lunch together between services. After lunch, and before the second service, the building received its weekly cleaning.
To be continued…