J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Rev. Samuel Dana: “not allowed to enter the meeting-house”

In early 1775, the Rev. Samuel Dana (1739-1798) had been the minister in Groton for nearly fourteen years. But in his thinking he was a Loyalist. Caleb Butler’s 1848 town history states:
On a Sabbath in March, 1775, he preached a sermon which gave great offence to the people, who were generally inclined to unwavering resistance. . . . This was called the windy sermon, from the circumstance that it was on a very windy day, and while being delivered one of the horse stables was blown down.
As a result, according to Butler, Dana “was not allowed to enter the meeting-house on the next Sabbath.”

On 21 March the Groton church members met “to transact any matters they may judge proper, to put an end to the unhappy differences subsisting among us.” However, according to the official record—set down by Dana—they adjourned “after a few hours spent in saying but little, and doing nothing.” On the 27th, he wrote:
Church met, had a long conference, but they refusing to make any formal charges against the pastor, and the pastor refusing to make any confessions, till he should first know what would be satisfactory; the meeting was finally dissolved without any vote being called, except to try their minds with regard to deferring the sacrament for the present, and dissolve the meeting, both which passed in the affirmative.
The record was then taken over by someone else, who reported:
After the church meeting, on the 27th of March, 1775, was dissolved, they could not obtain another meeting by the appointment of their late pastor, notwithstanding they had informed him of a great many of their grievances, and repeatedly desired him to call a church meeting, both by verbal and written requests, one of which was signed by a great majority of said church, but received for answer, that he would not call a church meeting, nor attend one of their calling; saying, You may do as you please; I must do as I can.
That spring Groton’s Patriot leaders tried to get every householder in town to pledge not to import goods from Britain or have anything to do with anyone who did. As of 12 April, Dana and three other men were the only inhabitants who refused to sign.

That was the stalemate in Groton when the war began.

TOMORROW: And of course a war makes it so much easier to resolve disagreements peacefully.

(Photograph of Groton’s 1755 meetinghouse as it looks today by James Walsh, via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.)

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