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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Saturday, May 21, 2011

“Should Forget and Forgive Every Thing of a Political Nature”

Despite being voted out of the pulpit and reportedly shot at, the Rev. Samuel Dana never moved out of Groton during the Revolutionary War. He apparently accepted the political changes that followed. But he didn’t keep quiet on religious matters. In 1778 Dana even wrote a letter to the Groton church objecting to the ordination of Daniel Chaplin as his successor. There was also the issue of a bequest:

At a church meeting, July 5, 1782, the four deacons Farwell, Stone, Farnsworth, and Bancroft, with Israel Robert, Esq., were chosen trustees of the twenty pounds given by Jonathan Lawrence for the benefit of the ordained minister or ministers of Groton, with power to take and receive the same of Samuel Dana, the late pastor; if need be, to sue him upon his bond given therefor. Also to offer the same to Rev. Daniel Chaplin, if he will receive it, otherwise put it out upon interest, and pay over to said Chaplin the interest thereon.
The church records don’t mention that money again, suggesting that Dana turned it over as asked.

Later that year, a deeper dispute erupted. Josiah Sartell, who back in 1775 had been a member of the committee of correspondence who met with Dana, helped to found what the majority Congregationalists called “an irregular society.” Sartell and a number of other citizens had become…Presbyterians.

Presbyterianism seems to have spread to Groton from Londonderry, New Hampshire. Some adherents went over the state border for services, but Sartell and others asked Dana to preach to them in Groton. He reportedly did so for about a year and a half.

Caleb Butler’s history of Groton states:
In December, 1785, the Rev. Samuel Dana asked a dismission [as a member] from the church in Groton, and a recommendation to the church in Amherst, New Hampshire. He also communicated a letter addressed to the church in Groton, from the Presbyterian churches in Boston, Peterboro’ and others, informing, that they had taken the Presbyterian church in Groton under their care.

Whereupon, the church chose a committee to consider the application of Mr. Dana, and said letter, and also to consider what measures should be taken with other members of this church, who had partaken of the ordinances with Presbyterians. This committee afterwards reported in substance, that the church should forget and forgive every thing of a political nature where Mr. Dana had offended, while their pastor; but that his conduct since his dismission, in preaching and administering the ordinances to the Presbyterians, they could not forgive; but recommend, that a committee be chosen to confer with him on the subject, whenever he should come to Groton. Accordingly, a committee of ten were chosen for that purpose.
By then Dana was already settled in Amherst. Reportedly he was named executor for the will of a lawyer, took that man’s books into his house, and started studying. Soon he was practicing law himself. Eventually Dana became a probate judge for Hillsborough County, a state legislator, and a master in the local Freemasons lodge. When he died in 1798, Dana was buried with full Masonic honors, attended by members from Groton as well as other towns.

TOMORROW: The minister’s second son.


pilgrimchick said...

That is a very interesting detail about New Hampshire and Presbyterianism. I will have to check that out.

J. L. Bell said...

Controversies over Presbyterianism in New Hampshire were also part of the story of the Rev. John Morrison.