MARSTONS MILLS CHURCH HISTORY

MARSTONS MILLS CHURCH—BEGINNINGS

 

Before 1819 everyone in Marstons Mills belonged to the Congregational Church or the Baptist Church, except for a few dissident Quakers like Ralph Jones. But a wave of religious reform swept onto the Cape during the American Revolution, when a powerful Methodist preacher from Nova Scotia, Rev. William Black, was driven by a winter storm into Hyannis harbor in 1784. He came ashore and preached in the town of Barnstable.

 

Among those who were affected by the preaching was Dr. Jonas Whitman, who began holding the first Methodist meetings in his home in Scorton on west side of West Barnstable in Feb. 1812, with preaching by the Sandwich Methodist Rev. Aaron Lummis (pron. Loomis).

 

This “Great Marsh Class”, as the local group was called, built the first Methodist church in town on the east side of the Sandy Street cemetery in 1819. This building was cut in half in 1847 and moved two miles east to the side of Lothrop Cemetery where it still stands, much altered, as the Redfield House now a B&B.

 

Among the first Methodist converts were the Plains farmer Lewis Hamblin and his wife Abigail Crocker, and yeoman Eldred Baker, and his wife, Ruth. The Lewis Hamblin homestead was on the east side of Middle Pond near today’s Fuller farm.

 

Henry Hamblin’s history of the church says “an extensive revival” took place in 1819, the year of Henry Hazelton’s ministry, when a new class, or local group, of Methodists was gathered in Hamblin Plains, led by George W. Baker. This marked the beginning of the Marstons Mills church.

 

George Baker’s house was on the east side of what is now Hamblin Pond north of the Burgess House. As a layman he led the Plains class for more than 20 years. The history says he had “piculiar” gifts as an licensed Exhorter, who urged people to follow a life of Christ, admonished failings, and led prayer meetings.

 

The Plains class was served by Barnstable circuit preachers, for a year or two at most. Most notable was “Father” Edward T. Taylor, an orphan sailor boy who was imprisoned by the British in the War of 1812, after a tour on Cape Cod (here 1821-2), became the famous pastor of the Seamen’s Bethel in Boston’s North End.

 

Father Taylor was probably a welcome successor to Rev. Isaac Jennison, whose official biography admits that he was not a great preacher, but “had his peculiarities”, including an old-fashioned “great plainness of dress and worship” and a strong response to wrong that would answer a sword with a sword.

 

Father Taylor’s successor was assisted by an extraordinary 19-year-old, LaRoy Sunderland. A powerful orator, he preached temperance and abolition, starting the first Methodist antislavery society and editing its abolitionist newspaper, Zion’s Watchman. A delegate to the first world antislavery convention in London, but did not support William Lloyd Garrison’s effort to seat women. Sunderland’s hypnotic skills led him into leadership and editing journals of a series of psychic movements including mesmerism, spiritualism and phrenology, as well as whole food cause of Grahamism.

 

Marstons Mills was the school for such young ministers, for LaRoy Sunderland’s successor was George Sutherland (no relation), who became the classic Methodist circuit rider who preached four times during the week, three times on Sunday, often in barns and open fields, winning 200 converts in his first year.

 

In 1826 the Hamblin Plains Class met at Shubael Hamblin’s house, which still stands on the north end of Shubael Pond. In 1828 Rev. Warren Wilbur, a former Baptist, was appointed minister. When his wife, Betsy Alden, fell ill she was taken in by Shubael and his wife Rachel (Downs), but died in their care. The Methodist Conference estimated their expenses and offered to reimburse them, but appear to have been content to have Shubael be named as church Steward.

 

The first church building in Marstons Mills was opened in 1830. When Yarmouthport Methodists decided to build a bigger meetinghouse, they offered their building to the Plains class for $200. The old building had been built on the south side of Hallet Street behind the Thacher store. Two founders of the first meeting, Lewis Hamblin and Joseph Holway, moved the building over eight miles by oxen to its present site on Main Street. The land on which they placed it was a 40-square-rod plot given by Allen Marston and Ebenezer Scudder with the specific stipulation that it be for “a place of worship” “to preach and expound God’s hold word therein”.

 

The new meetinghouse saw a great revival of religious interest, with many new converts to Methodism. A camp meeting was held at Chequaquet Camp Ground in Centerville in 1830. The Marstons Mills church attracted many new families from the neighboring villages of Cotuit and Osterville. The Osterville class was led by the shipwright Oliver Hinckley, and Cotuit’s by Little River farmer Reuben Crocker.

 

To be continued.

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