Eliot was the youngest son of the Rev. Andrew Eliot (1718-1778), a later minister of the New North Meeting. And the family clearly put some of the blame for the split on one of the ministers at the Old North Meeting:
The difficulties at the new north [meeting-house] were more owing to Cotton Mather & his influence than to any others. Increase [Mather] was in his dotage. He [Cotton] was afraid of [Rev. Peter] Thachers popular talents, joined & directed the opposition & thought to get them into his parish. if he had thought of their building another meeting house, he would have been quiet.Instead, the group that split off from the New North formed a new congregation and built the New Brick Meeting-House, attracting some members from the Mathers’ church.
Eliot had other critical things to say about Cotton Mather in his marginal notes. On page 18 he wrote:
No greater enemy to the quakers existed. In his account of the witchcraft of John Goodman’s children, He says, that shewing them a bible or carrying them into his study, would instantly bring them out of their fits, the sight of a book of quakerism or the [Anglican] book of common prayer would throw them into horrid convulsions.An Irish woman was hanged in Boston in 1688 on the testimony of the Goodman children.
Eliot recorded even juicier gossip about some of Boston’s other pre-Revolutionary ministers which I don’t recall seeing elsewhere. On page 23 and then page 41 he wrote about what the Rev. Samuel Checkley (1695-1769) of the New South Meeting was known for:
for eating; he was the largest man in Boston, & his mouth was always full, & his jaw going when not preaching. My father used to say, he hated to preach after Checkley, on acct of the cracking of raisin seeds under his feet with which the floor of the pulpit was always covered. While the people were singing, he was chomping plumbs. . . .Checkley’s daughter Elizabeth became the first wife of Samuel Adams.
Checkley lost his popularity more from his gourmandising disposition than any other way. he laid out all his money in tidbits, cakes, Raisins, oysters, &c. & ran in debt for other things. To such a degree that his parish chose a committee to get from him a schedule of his debts, which they paid. But he was ashamed to note the debt he owed in small shops for gingerbread &c. Those creditors became noisy, & another committee was chosen to receive & pay all such claims.
And about the Rev. Ebenezer Pemberton (1705-1777), minister of the New Brick Church starting in 1754:
So high did his vanity carry him that when asked by Mr. Eliot to exchange, he observed that his people would consent to hear no other parson. His popularity burned out. But the parish dwindled more from his being a violent Tory, & the Bosom friend of Gov [Thomas] Hutchinson, who was one of his parish. Many people would not worship at the New Brick because of that circumstance.Thus, in 1777 the shrinking New Brick Meeting had a building but no pastor while the Old North Meeting had no building but a popular pastor—the Rev. John Lathrop (1740-1816). They worked out the obvious solution, thus starting to reverse the splits of the early decades.
TOMORROW: A few more tidbits from Dr. Eliot’s notes.
[The photograph above, courtesy of the Boston Public Library’s Flickr stream, shows the house in the North End where Dr. Ephraim Eliot grew up. It was originally built by the Rev. Increase Mather after the fire mentioned yesterday.]