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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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Groton Seeks a New Minister

By April 1775, as described yesterday, the Patriot majority in Groton and their Loyalist minister, the Rev. Samuel Dana, were at a stalemate. Dana refused to call a meeting of the church members, where they could dismiss him. The congregation apparently felt they couldn’t call a meeting on their own authority, at least in part because Dana said he wouldn’t show up.

According to historian Caleb Butler, local tradition held that at some point, probably after war began at Lexington and Concord, “the inhabitants were so enraged, that they shot bullets into Mr. Dana’s house, to the great danger of his life and the lives of his family.” Nevertheless, the minister didn’t leave town and seek the protection of the British army in Boston.

Groton’s town leaders sought a replacement. On 5 May, the Rev. Dr. Samuel Cooper (shown here), a Patriot who had slipped out of Boston to Weston just before the war, received a visit from Dr. Oliver Prescott of Groton. The physician “propos’d my Supplying their Pulpit.”

Cooper was apparently reluctant, perhaps because Groton was far from the political action in Watertown and Cambridge. He suggested that his host, the Rev. Samuel Woodward, should handle the Groton job while he filled in for Woodward. But the Weston minister didn’t agree.

As I discussed back here, on Saturday, 13 May, Cooper heard that Concord’s minister, the Rev. William Emerson, “was to supply Groton,” so he promised to preach the next day at Concord, no doubt happy to escape the long trip. Instead, both men showed up at Concord’s meeting-house, and the Groton congregation was presumably left waiting.

On 21 May, Cooper wrote that he preached at Concord and “Mr. Emerson for me at Groton,” indicating that he felt some responsibility to serve that town. On Saturday, 27 May, he finally set out “in my Chaise for Groton,” stopping along the way at Acton, Littleton, and the house of a man named Rogers for coffee. The next day, Cooper wrote, he:
Pch’d all day at Groton; spoke with Mr. Dana after Service a.m. din’d at Dr. Prescot’s baptiz’d a child P. M. Slept and Horse kept at Dr. Prescot’s.
The Groton church record notes that Cooper did something else as well:
Rev. Dr. Cooper, of Boston, preached, and was desired by the deacons and some of the brethren of the church to appoint a church meeting, to be held at the public meeting-house on the next Monday.
Cooper issued that call for a meeting, breaking the stalemate. Between then and 18 October, he preached in Groton on six Sundays, and received £60 Old Tenor. The congregation might have thought that money well spent because they got to fix their Dana problem.

TOMORROW: Class conflict over dealing with Dana.

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