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, September 17, 2017

The Difficult Career of the Rev. John Cleaveland, Jr.

John Cleaveland was born in the part of Ipswich that’s now Essex in 1750. He was the son and namesake of the town minister.

John, Jr., apparently grew up expecting to study at Yale, where his father had graduated five years before his birth. But that didn’t work out.

Mortimer Blake’s A Centurial History of the Mendon Association of Congregational Ministers (1853) said Cleaveland had a younger brother and “the father being unable to support both in college, decided to treat both alike, and give them the best education he could.”

However, Yale’s library catalogue says there were three younger brothers, two becoming doctors and one dying young, as well as three sisters. And John Cleaveland, Jr., was “debarred by his health from completing his education” at that college.

For whatever reason, the younger John Cleaveland never graduated from Yale. Indeed, he may never have entered. In 1773 he married a woman named Abigail Adams in his father’s home town of Canterbury, Connecticut. Two years later John joined Col. Moses Little’s regiment of the Continental Army, for which his father was chaplain.

After the war, John, Jr., studied theology on his own. Finally in 1785, at the age of thirty-five, he was ordained in Stoneham. His tenure there was peaceful until June 1793, when Abigail Cleaveland died.

Or more precisely, the Rev. Mr. Cleaveland’s tenure was peaceful until January 1794, when he married Elizabeth Evans, his young housekeeper. Even in a society that wanted ministers to be married, some people thought six months was too soon. What’s more, there were doubts about the new Mrs. Cleaveland’s faith. “She was not pious,” Blake wrote. “This marriage with a non-professor, troubled some pious minds at Stoneham.”

Most important church members stood by their pastor. Their opponents therefore resorted to unorthodox means of showing their disapproval. According to William B. Stevens’s 1891 History of Stoneham:
At one time they nailed up the door of the minister’s pew, at another, covered the seat and chairs and the seat of the pulpit with tar. Not content with these indignities against the pastor, some one vented the general spite by inflicting an injury upon his horse, probably by cutting off his tail.

The church stood by him, but the town voted to lock and fasten up the meeting-house against him, so that for a time public worship was held at the house of Deacon Edward Bucknam. They refused to raise his salary, requested him to relinquish his ministry and leave the town, declined to furnish any reason, and rejected his proposition to call a council…
TOMORROW: Can this marriage be saved?

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