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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Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Stoneham Meeting and the Rev. John Carnes

The Congregational Library recently announced that it had added the church records of two more Massachusetts towns—Brockton and Stoneham—to its “Hidden Histories” digital collection.

The description of the Stoneham materials says:
The town of Stoneham, previously known as Charlestown End, was incorporated in 1725. A vote in 1726 provided for the building of a 1,440-square-foot meetinghouse. First Church itself was not founded until July 1729. Their first pastor was Rev. James Osgood who was called in October 1728, and ordained and installed in September 1729. Osgood served until his death in 1746 and was replaced by Rev. John Carnes, who was dismissed from his position in 1757.

John Searl succeeded John Carnes in 1758/59, followed by the ordination of John Cleaveland in 1785. Cleaveland’s ministry began amicably and he continued in the town and church's favor until the death of his wife in 1793. After his wife’s death, Cleaveland married Elizabeth Evans, his housekeeper, which created tensions in the town. While the church chose to support Cleaveland, the town did not, and both Cleaveland and the church building itself were targets of the town’s ire. An ecclesiastical council called late September 1794 dissolved Cleaveland’s relationship with the town and church.
Despite distractions, my eye was caught by the name of the Rev. John Carnes. A few years back, I named him as Gen. George Washington’s first paid spy. However, that was nearly twenty years after Carnes’s contentious tenure at Stoneham.

Alas, the early volume of church records digitized in this collection—the one document that covers Carnes’s period as minister—doesn’t appear to mention his conflict with the congregation at all. Nor the decision to build a parsonage for him, shown above.

William B. Stevens’s 1891 town history quotes a letter from Carnes to the meeting on 17 May 1750:
I have year after year desired you to consider me with regard to my Salary, but notwithstanding this, and notwithstanding I have sunk by ye fall several Hundred Pounds, I have never had since my ordination but a poor pitiful consideration of £50 Old Ternor.

Whatever you think of it, gentlemen, you have been guilty of great Injustice & oppression and have withheld from your minister more than is meet, not considering what you read, Prov. 11, 24, 25, which Verses run thus. There is that scattereth and yet Increaseth, and there is yt witholdeth more than is meet but it tendeth to poverty. The liberal soul shall be made fat; and he yt watereth shall be watered also himself.

You have never made good your contract with your minister, and was it not for some of his good Friends in this Town and other Places, he must have suffered. Time has been when I have had no corn nor meal in my House & when I have wanted many other necessaries and havent had one Forty shillings in ye World, nor yet Thirty shillings, and when I have been obliged to live by borrowing; and this is ye case now.

But I shall say no more about my circumstances and your Injustice and oppression. What I desire of you now is that you would at this meeting act like honest men and make good your contract that you would make such an addition to my Salary for the present year as that I may be able to subsist. I desire nothing that is unreasonable, make good what you first voted me and I shall be easy. I remain your friend and servant, John Carnes.

P. S. Gentlemen—Please to send me word before your meeting is over what you have done, yt I may send you a Line or two in order to let you know I am easy with what you done or not; for if I cant get a Support by the ministry I must pursue something else; must betake myself to some other business and will immediately do it.
Carnes lasted seven more years at Stoneham before asking to be dismissed. He published a newspaper essay about the conflict, prompting a town meeting vote to respond. Despite that friction, Carnes secured another pulpit at Rehoboth—but that lasted even less time. Finally he opened a shop in Boston, his last career before becoming a spy.

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