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The church was the center
of the colonial universe

See Meeting House Pump

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By Charles W. Brewster

Editors Note: C.W. Brewster was a Portsmouth columnist in the mid-1800's. This article includes his opinions and may not reflect current research or current values.

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The first Meeting-House -- Seating of the occupants -- Old Inhabitants -- Moody and Cranfield -- Rogers -- Emerson -- Scenes at the old Meeting-House.

THAT old town Meeting House, built in 1658, two centuries ago, on the rise of ground a few rods south of the south mill bridge, where Mr. Fitzgerald's house now stands, would be an object of much interest, could we again see it rise on its old site, and the parishioners of Rev. Joshua Moody again seeking seats in the sacred place, to them the nearest approach to heaven the earth afforded. But as the old house has departed, and its shadows on the memory are every year becoming less distinct, it will be the effort of this ramble to bring back and daguerreotype some impressions which may not only give it perpetuity, but also be a chronicle of the families of 1693 in this vicinity, and of the positions assigned to each individual in their only place of worship.

The Meeting House probably faced the bridge, and being between fifty and sixty feet in length, and not far from thirty feet in width,--its first story about eleven feet, and the second story about ten feet in height,--the roof on an angle of about forty-five degrees, being somewhat elevated, gave the structure, in comparison with everything around it, a rather imposing appearance.

Those who have seen the Billings house, which was removed in 1846 to give place to Congress Block, can form some idea of the old Meeting House--for that dwelling house was a part (probably half) of the old edifice. In 1738 a building occupied by Robert Macklin, the old baker who lived to the age of one hundred and fifteen years, was burnt on the site of the Billings house. Soon after a portion of the meeting house was removed to the spot, and was owned and occupied by John Newmarch, merchant, son of Rev. John Newmarch, of Kittery. In 1743, Paul March, who married a daughter of Mr. Newmarch, built the Bell Tavern, next west, which is still standing. [1859.]--Some of the original diamond glass windows remained in the Billings house until it was taken down, thirteen years ago. The panes were about four inches long and three wide, set in lead, and strengthened by small oak bars on the inside.

We have therefore a basis on which we can, in imagination, again erect the old edifice. Very fortunately we have been able to place our hand on a record which will at once give us a true idea of its occupants, and the mode of seating, nearly two centuries ago. Here is the curious and valuable document, verbatim, which having been written before any newspapers were published in America, has never before appeared in print:

"Whereas at a Generall Towne meeting held in Portsmouth the 3d of April, 1693, there was a vote passed impowering the Selectmen, together with Mr. Richard Martine, Capt. Walter Nele and Mr. Marke Hunking to be a comitte to regulate and order the seating of the people in the meeting house; also to order seats and Pews according to their discression, provided no charge acrue to the Towne thereby, wee whose names are hereto anexsed being the parties above-mentioned, and met togeather the day aboves'd, having well veied and considered of the order and power aforesaid, and finding it shuteable and convenient to have Pews round the said meeting house below, and the severall persons herein named desiring Pewes and ingaging to build them at their own charge and also to remove and compleat all the mens and womens seates below and build all the pews of one hith, and uniforme. Also to make a door by the womens stairs, to be done with all convenient speed. The persons names that are to have the Pews and do the work as afores'd, viz: Mr. Rich'd Waldron, Mr. George Jeffry, Mr. Wm. Partridge, Mr. Marke Hunking, Mr. John Knight, Mr. John Plaisted, Mr. Richard Jose, Mr. Langdon, Mr. George Snell, and John Pickerin, Sen'r, who are the persons that have ingaged to doe the work. It is also promised to them that the towne, nor none by their order, shall have liberty to build any Pew or Pews before them or either of their Pewes, but that all the seats shall be according to the draft on file; and if it should happen that any person that hath pews as afores'd, shall leave the Towne, the Towne shall reimburse such person what said Pew cost him and have the disposing of it to whome they shall see fitt. And whereas the allies round the meeting house before the pews and round the seats cannot be so compleat and uniform without cutting the corners of Major Vaughan's, and that seat where Mr. John Cutt sat, and the sd Vaughan as far as he is concerned, being free thereto, so it be done of the same sort of worke as now it is; which the persons aforenamed are also to doe at their own charge. Wee have also seated the inhabitants according to their places as per their names, at the ends of the severall seats, both in the galleries and below, the list whereof is next following our names and hands.


   WALTER NELE of the
   MARKE HUNKING, Committee.

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Pew Seating Plan (1693)

Here followeth the names of the persons seated below in those severall seats, viz:

With the Minister in the Pulpit.
Mr. John Fletcher, Mr. Samuel Keise,

In the seat under the Pulpit.
Serg't Moses, Henry Becke, Allexsander Whidden.

The front seat before the Minister.
1. Mr. Rich'd Martine.

2. Phillip Lewis, Lieut. Sloper, Capt. Nele. Mr. Morse,

3. John Partridge, S'r, Tho. Jackson, Sen'r, John Dennet. John Jackson, Sen'r, John Tucker,

4. Thomas Waycome, John Fabens, Leonard Weeks. John Sherborne, Plaines,

5. John Johnson, Sen'r, Francis Jones, John Westbrooke, S'r, John Banfield Rich'd Monson, Joseph Berry, Peter Ball, Daniel Westcoat,

6. Charles Allen, Sen'r, John Holmes, Hubertus Mattone, Richard Webber, Wm. Rackleife, Will. Walker. John Bowman, Nathan White,

7. Robert Lange, Thos. Lowrie, Henry Kirke, Lewis Williams, Robert Rowsely, John Bartlett. Will. Davis, Abr. Bartlett,

In the Men's Gallery fronting the Pulpit, viz:
1. Capt. Thos. Packer, Sam'l Rymes, Capt. Job Alcocke, Mr. Nicholas Follet, Mr. John Hunking, Mr. Rich'd Gerish, Mr. John Hatch, Mr. Phillip White, Mr. John Cutt. Mr. Edward Kenard,

2. Richard Waterhouse, James Lovett, Aron Moses, Marke Ayeres, Henry Sherborne, Thos. Deverson, Rober Almory, Thos. Becke, Mr. Pitman, Geo. Walker, John Ballard, John Sloper. Splan Lovewell, John Partridge, Jun'r,

3. Rober Hinxson, William Williams, John Savage, John Cate, Nathan Knight, Rich'd Dow, John Foss, Nath. Berry, John Walker, Robert Gosse, Samuel Jackson, John Dockum.

In the Men's Side Gallery.
1. Mr. Basain, William Partridge, Jun'r, Thos. Pickerin, Capt. Ick. Plaistead, Mr. Henry Crowne, John Snell, Wm. Hunkins, John Cotton, Mathew Nelson, Wm. Cotton, Mr. Aug's Bullard, Nich Bennet, Nathaniel Ayeres, Edw'd Ayeres, Jacob Lavers. Mr. Togood,

2. Abraham Lewis, Wm. Richards, John Brewster, Wm. Philbrooke, John Johnson, Jun'r, Benj'n Cotton, John Abbot, John Downing, Edward Cate, John Peverly, Sam'l Nele, Thomas Edmons, John Vrin, John Philbrooke, Allen Loyd. John Clarke,

3. Clem't Meserve, Jos. Alexsander, Elisha Bryer, John Hill, Jun'r, Richard Shortridge, Rob. Bryant, Edw'd Wells, Thos. Perkins, Michael Hickes, Peter Wells, Geo Kenistone, Wm. Willowbey, Edw'd Pavey, Daniel Allen, Thomas Lewis, Charles Allen, Jun'r, Thos. Avery, James Drew. Peter Babb, Sampson Babb,

Women seated below stairs as followeth, viz: Seat fronting the Pulpit.
1. Mrs. Moody, Mrs. Martine.

2. Mrs. John Partridge, Mrs. Dennet, Mrs. Keise. Mrs Hannah Jackson, Mrs. Morse,

3. Mrs. Tucker, Mrs. Waycome, John Johnson's wife, John Westbroke's wife, Goody Monson, Mrs. Togood. John Faben's wife,

4. Goody Ham, Goody Banfield, Goody Baker, Widow Fabens, Goody Seward, Goody Webber. Goody Rackleife,

5. Goody Goss, Goody Savage, Peter Ball's wife, Lewis Williams' wife, Goody Bowman, Nath. White's wife. Goody Brooking,

6. Goody Allen, Wm. Davis's wife, John Hill's wife, Thos. Jones' wife, Rob. Lange's wife, John Homes' wife.

7. Hen. Kirke's wife, John Bartlet's wife, Goody Rousely, Goody Ackerman, Joseph Berry's wife, Goody Dore. Wm. Walker's wife,

In the first seat between the Pulpit and Maj. Vaughan's pew. The widdow Hunking, Widdow Brewster, Mrs. Fletcher. Mr. Phil. Lewis his wife,

The next.
Goody Waterhouse, Mr. John Jackson's wife, Widdow Jackson. Mr. Sloper's wife,

In the Women's seat in the Gallery.
1. Mrs. Parker, Mrs. Clarke, widdow, Mrs. Hall, The widdow Light, Mrs. Mary Hunking, Mrs. Kennard, Mrs. Ursula Cutt, Capt. Plaistead's wife, Mrs. Jane Gerish, Mrs. Hatch, Mrs. Rymes, Thos. Pickerin's wife, Mrs. White, Mrs. Mary Hoddy, Mrs. Elizabeth Hoddy. Mrs. Pitman, Mrs. Allcock,

2. Mrs. Hopley, Nath. Ayeres' wife, Mrs. Levett, Wm. Cotton's wife, Mathew Nelson's wife, John Sherborne's wife, Hen. Sherborn's wife, John Cotton's wife, Widdow Allkins, Jacob Savers' wife, John Brewster's wife, Thos. Deverson's wife, Widdow Jane Haines, The widdow Mary Haynes, Mr. Bennet's wife.

3. The widdow Widden, John Partridge's wife,Jr. Samuel Widden's wife, Samuel Niles' wife, Abr. Lewis' wife, Wm. Richard's wife, Aron Moses' wife, John Peverly's wife, Geo. Walker's wife, John Clarke's wife, Thos. Becke's wife, Allen Loyd's wife, Wm. Philbrooke's wife, Geo. Huntris' wife, Widdow Barnwell, John Philbrooke's wife, Mrs. Crowne, The widdow Mary Lewis.

4. Widdow Beck, Edw'd Cateife, John Vrin's wife, Thos. Edmond's wife, Elisha Bryer's wife, Benj'n Cotton's wife, Splan Lovewell's wife, Clem't Meserve's wife, Michal Hicke's wife, John Savage's wife, Peter Wells' wife, Abr. Bartlett's wife, Edw'd Wells' wife, John Downing's wife, Nathan Knight's wife. John Jackson, Junr.'s wife

The 5th seat being the back seat is left for young persons about 14 years of age, unmarried

The room over the women's staires is for the persons under named to sit in, viz: Robert Hinxson's wife, Rich'd Shortridge's wife, Rob. Bryant's wife, Nath. Berry's wife, Jas. Howard's wife, Edw'd Fox's wife, John Foss,Junr.'s wife, John Dockum's wife, Christop'r Keniston's wife, James Kenist's wife, Wm. Willowbes' wife, Alias Gerish. Goody Pomry,

In the seat where Major Stileman's daughter satt. Mrs. Follet, Sarah Famsy till further order. Elizabeth Plaisted's widow, Wm. Partridge's wife.

As for that seat where Capt. Fryer sat, Lieut. Redford and his wife are there placed till further order.

The back seats in the men's galleries is left for younge persons about 14 years old.

As for boys under that age they are to sit in the men's allyes, and the girls in the women's allyes. And also that no boys be suffered to sit on the staires or above staires, and that no younge men or younge women offer to crowde into any seat where either the men or women are seated.

And whereas there is parte of the back seats in the women's gallery built uniforme, if there be any young women that will advance for building sd. back seat in the same forme the wbole length hence to the stares, they may have liberty. And also young men that will advance for macking the two back seats in the men's galleries as uniforme, they may have the same liberty."

The term goody is probably applied to maiden ladies in the above.

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Repairs & History

The meeting-house was thirteen years without shutters. In 1671, it was agreed with John Pickering, for thirty shillings to make shutters for the windows, "to draw backwards and forwards; and in case it be too little, then the said Pickering shall have something more."

In 1672 it was "voted that Nehemiah Partridge and five or six more people have free liberty to build a payre of stayres up to the westward beame within the meeting-house, and a pew upon the beam, at theyr own charge; and the pew shall be to theyr owne use, and the stayres are not to be discommodious to the meeting-house."

1680-Town agreed with Nich. Bond "for to look after the demeanor of the boyes at meeting" at twenty shillings per annum.

In 1692, "it was proposed to the town whither William Wacker (Walker) should pay for the bell, whom he carlessly crackt. It was voted in the negative, because he was poor. It was voted that the selectmen take care to provide a bell, and as for the hanging of him as they may judge most convenient." Whether the latter "him" refers to the bell or the man who "crackt" it, the record does not plainly show.

It should be understood that the committee of ten had pews for themselves and their families, in which the man and his wife and children were permitted to sit together. There appears to have been one or two other pews previously erected, for the official dignitaries. We do not learn that Gov. Cranfield often occupied either of these pews.

It was in 1684, when George Jaffrey (not Janvrin, as reported in Adams's Annals,) had been subjected to ecclesiastical investigation for false swearing, after Cranfield had stopped legal proceeditigs, that the irritated Governor gave notice to Moody that he should appear at this place of worship on the next Lord's day, and dictated to him the mode in which the sacrament should be administered to him and his associates. Moody would not be dictated, and was imprisoned for three months at Newcastle. Being forbidden to preach here he went to Boston, and was absent for eight years. He had just been re-established in his labors here when in 1693 the above seating was made. His ministry closed by death on the 4th of July, 1697, at the age of sixty-four years. It is recorded that he probably wrote more sermons in the same number of years than any other man--in thirty years he wrote four thousand and seventy sermons, or two and a half each week. In those days sermons generally occupied an hour. He was succeeded by Rev. N. Rogers, in 1699, who removed from the old house to the North church in 1713 Rev. Mr. Emerson continued the services at the old church as soon as vacated, and from that day the North and South parishes took the names which they still hold, although their churches for more than thirty years have been but a few rods apart.

There is subject enough in the history for a lively indulgence of the imagination, but we will leave the reader to trace out the worshippers as they travel afoot, or the goodman and his wife as they dismount from the old horse at the door--he with his buckled shoes and knee bands--she dressed in all the simplicity and modesty of the times; the one followed by his boys seeking their seats in the aisle on one side,--and the goodwife with her girls filing off in an opposite direction. Imagine the niche where those just entered their teens were seated; and the terror Nich. Bond excited in the bare legged boys in their small clothes, when he pointed to the cage just by the door--an array of all the wolves' heads that had been taken off during the last week being visible between them and the cage. We might speak of the guns sometimes left in the porch,--but the length of this ramble warns us to close.

Text scanned courtesy of The Brewster Family Network
Copy of Rambles courtesy Peter E. Randall
History Hypertext project by
Design © 1999

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