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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Friday, August 21, 2009

Woburn Splits into Parishes and Factions

As I described yesterday, in 1736 Jonathan and Esther Poole of Woburn were reportedly hoping their nineteen-year-old daughter would marry the first meeting’s junior minister, the Rev. Edward Jackson. (The thumbnail here shows what’s left of the gravestone of the couple’s son Eleazar, born in 1734, courtesy of yeoldewoburn.net.)

Instead, the younger Esther Poole preferred a younger Harvard graduate, Joseph Burbeen (1712-1794). In October 1736 they eloped to Hampton Falls, New Hampshire, and got married there. According to a descendant writing about 1830, the Pooles were at first upset at their daughter and Burbeen, but then reconciled themselves to the match.

Meanwhile, resentment was growing between Jackson and the ailing minister he’d been hired to assist, the Rev. John Fox. The older man refused to leave his pulpit or the town-supplied parsonage, despite often being unable to preach because of poor health and encroaching blindness. When the town was slow to pay him in the 1730s, he petitioned the Massachusetts General Court and filed a lawsuit, winning a judgment of over £164.

The expense of two ministers actually helped to split up Woburn. The new town of Wilmington broke off in 1730, and some of its citizens asked for refunds of what they’d just been taxed for Jackson’s salary. (Woburn refused.) Soon afterward, another part of town officially became a “second precinct,” with its own meeting-house and minister; this section eventually became Burlington.

That left the old part of Woburn paying both Fox and Jackson, and they were feuding. There’s no sign of a theological difference between the two men. Rather, both had quirks that made them tough to work with. Families started to take sides. The Pooles, after their daughter’s marriage, ended up in the anti-Jackson camp—which was awkward since they were still Jackson’s landlords.

One night in October 1744, the junior minister was hosting the Rev. Ebenezer Wyman of Union, Connecticut, who was a Woburn native and had taught school there a decade earlier. Between eleven and twelve in the evening, according to a later legal complaint, Poole threw Jackson and his guest out of the house “with out hat or Coat” even though “the Night was Cold and the Latter part Stormy.” Wyman was an avid hunter, so he probably fared all right; but he died fifteen months later of pleurisy from hunting too long that winter.

In the summer of 1745, Jonathan Poole, his in-laws, and other prominent citizens took steps to leave Fox and Jackson’s parish and set up a third Woburn meeting-house. That fall, Poole also gave Jackson an invoice for “six years board due from him.” Jackson retaliated by sending Poole a bill of his own, listing food, liquor, laundry, tobacco, pipes, “fresh sowering,” candles, and cash, totaling over £150. Reportedly a magistrate refused to let the minister enter that document in court, saying it would amount to perjury. But a higher court accepted it, making Poole liable for a large sum plus legal costs.

Poole and his friends retaliated by having Jackson’s outlandish accounting published in 1750. Their anonymous pamphlet concluded: “You may possibly think the above affair alone was sufficient for our withdrawal from such a spiritual guide.” Jackson, they hinted, was a liar with extravagant tastes.

Thus, the Rev. Mr. Jackson had plenty of critics and enemies in Woburn when folks started hearing whispers that Kezia Hincher had named him as the father of her child.

TOMORROW: The Cotton brothers spread the rumor.

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