The Rev. Elam Smalley Tells the Story of the Burnt Church

Here we have another recounting of the saga of the first Presbyterians in Worcester from a book in the Worcester Historical Museum Library’s collection:  The Worcester Pulpit.  Regarding its author Elam Smalley, we find the following:  

“The son of Ezra and Mary Smalley, was born at Dartmouth, Mass, Oct. 27, 1805. He graduated at Brown University, Providence, R. I. He studied Theology privately, and was licensed by the Mendon Congregational Association of Mass., and ordained by council according to Congregational usage, June 17, 1829, as colleague with Rev. Dr. Emmons, over the Church at Franklin, Mass. In 1838 he was pastor of the Union Church, Worcester, Mass., and in 1854 was installed pastor of the 2nd Presbyterian Church, Troy, N. Y., as successor of Rev. Charles Wadsworth. He was the author of several small volumes and pamphlets, and published, “The Worcester Pulpit,” in one volume, 12mo. He was a man of decided piety, and his churches were greatly blessed with revivals and conversions; he was affable and cheerful. He died July 30, 1858, of cancer of the stomach.”  

From THE WORCESTER PULPIT (pages 518-520)  copyright 1851,
Reverend Elam Smalley

Chapter XV.  Miscellaneous.  section 1. Scotch Presbyterian Church

“In the reign of James I., of England, a colony of Scots removed from Argyleshire, and formed a plantation in the northerly part of Ireland, near Londonderry. In their new locality they suffered much for conscience’ sake. Their oppressions at length became so severe, that many of them were induced to emigrate to a land where every man might worship God according to his own convictions of duty, without molestation from his neighbor. In 1718, about one hundred families arrived in Boston, and twenty others at Casco ; and these were soon followed by others, who were dispersed through the country.

A company of these emigrants, at an early date, took up their residence in Worcester. From their number a church was gathered, at about the same date of the formation of the First Church. At first they assembled for worship in the old garrison house, in the northerly part of the town.  Desiring a more commodious place, they made arrangements to erect a temple which should be sacred to the worship of Almighty God. But their troubles were not yet over. Oppressed on the other side of the water, they fled hitherward; arrived here, they found the same spirit of religious persecution, only in a different form. They were disposed to be peaceable ; but they wished to worship God in their own way. They attempted to “ build him a house.” Its site had been selected; the timbers had been cut and raised ; the building was in the progress of construction. But it was never completed. No winds beat upon it to overthrow it, no floods carried it away, no fire devoured, no earthquake swallowed it. ‘The inhabitants gathered tumultuously by night, and demolished the structure. Persons of consideration and respectability aided in the riotous work of violence, and the defenceless foreigners were compelled to submit to the wrong.’

The Rev. Edward Fitzgerald, from Londonderry, ministered to this church for several months.  The number of communicants is supposed to have been nearly equal to those of the Congregational Church; but they were poor, and the minister, unable to procure a proper maintenance, left the place, anterior to the settlement of Mr. Burr.  A union was at one time proposed between the two infant churches, and the Presbyterian clergyman had once been invited to ofliciate in the pulpit vacated by the recent dismission of Mr. Gardner. The request, however, was never repeated, and soon after he left. When Mr. Burr was ordained over the First Church, there was a tacit agreement, that if the Presbyterians would aid in his support, it should be their privilege, occasionally, to listen to teachers of their own denomination. For a season the two societies worshiped in the same house. But being disappointed in their expectations of seeing one of their own clergymen occasionally in the pulpit, the Presbyterians withdrew from a connection, in which the privileges all seemed to be on one side, and that not their own. The Rev. William Johnston was then installed as their pastor and teacher.

Obliged to contribute to the support of Mr. Burr, while heavily drawn upon to sustain their own minister, they appealed, in 1736, to the justice of their fellow townsmen for relief from a tax inconsistent with their religious privileges.  The appeal did not avail to secure the end asked for, but it called forth an answer from the body petitioned, which contains some curious and instructive items.*

Failing to obtain what they regarded as precious rights, many of the Presbyterian planters left the place. Some joined those of the same denomination who founded the town of Pelham, in the county of Hampshire. These enjoyed the ministrations of the Rev. Mr. Abercrombie.  Others went to Londonderry, N. H., where they could unite in worship congenial to their feelings. Others still emigrated to the State of New York, and found a home with the colony on the banks of the Unadilla. The Rev. Mr. Johnston became the pastor of the Presbyterians in Londonderry, in 1747. In 1753 he was dismissed from that place, because the people were not able to afford him a competent support. After his dismission, he accompanied a small colony to Unadilla, on the east side of the Susquehanna river. The unfortunate emigrants were destined to meet with trials wherever they went. In their new home the horrors of Indian warfare menaced them.  Unable to protect their property from the depredations of the savage, or to insure their personal safety, they abandoned the place and sought refuge in less exposed and more populous towns.”

* See this answer in full in Lincoln’s History, p. 193.

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