The church affiliations of the first settlers were so diversified that it might be said each one had a different religion from his neighbor. Isaac Chase was a Quaker, Thomas West a Sabbatarian Baptist, Edward Cottle a Congregationalist probably, Samuel Tilton an Antipedobaptist and so on. It is evident that there could not be any important events relating to ecclesiastical affairs under such conditions, and it is probable that in the absence of a minister and meeting-house, each one acted as priest in his own household for the first half century after the settlement. Thomas West, who was a member of a congregation of his faith in Newport, may have acted as a lay preacher or missionary in this vicinity during his life. A Quaker traveler on a visit to Nantucket in 1704 had a dispute with one Thomas West on religious subjects and he records in his journal a 'paper' written by West in their controversy. [Journal of Thomas Story, p. 350-359. It is only surmise that this is our Thomas West.]
This faith was held by some of the Wests for two or three generations and was adopted by persons intermarrying with them. His grandson, Thomas West (20), a graduate of Harvard, 1730, was 'statedly employed to preach the Gospel to the Indians' here before 1745, and in contemporaneous documents is called a 'Preacher of the Gospel.' [Acts and Resolves of General Court, XIII, 508; Dukes Deeds, VII, 157.] It is not to be supposed that he exercised ministerial functions here solely for the Indians, and left a large body of English people without the 'benefit of clergy.' There is no violation of probabilities in assuming that a small meeting-house was built here by the contributions of the settlers of Homes Hole at this early date, or that services were held in a school-house. Nothing definite is known, however, on this subject, and we can only infer that traveling missionaries of various denominations came here from time to time, by chance or design, and supplied an irregular form of religious ' exercise ' to them. [In 1779 Mr. Damon, the pastor at West Tisbury, was granted liberty to preach one-fourth part of the year at some part of the Northward & Eastward part of this Town' (Tisbury Records, 231).]
Under the laws and customs of the times they were taxed for the support of the 'orthodox' ministry, and the meetinghouse at West Tisbury, which they could not attend because of the great distance and difficulties of traveling. This was borne by them for many years without protest, though the burden was growing more obnoxious to them at every assessment. Accordingly, after much consideration, they agreed, in 1780, to resist further collection of such taxes, and the townsmen of West Tisbury assembled in special session to deal with the crisis, on June 6, 1780, passed the following vote:
'Tisbuary ss: At A Town meeting Legally warn'd & held at the Townhouse in Tisbuary on Tuesday the 6th of June A D 1780 Deacon Stephen Luce being Moderator, and then it was put to Vote to See whether Said Town of Tisb'r would Chuse a Committee to Treat with the People of Homseshole to know what the Cause is that they Refuse Paying Taxes to the Ministree, and what would be Satisfactory to them and the Vote passed in the Affirmative and then it was put to Vote to See whether Mr Benjamin Burges & Ezra Athearn Should be Sd Committee and the Vote passed in the Afirmative, and Also it was Voted they Should Make report of their doeings at the next Town-meeting [Tisbury Records, 236. ]
Whatever came of this found no record in the town books, and it evidently was an unsuccessful effort at a compromise. The reason for this situation is to be found in the establishment that year of a new sect here, the Calvinistic Baptist, and its adoption by a large proportion of the residents of Homes Hole. The question at issue was not a theological one, butrelated to the more important one of church and state, the settlement of which involved the whole policy of public support for the clergy.
In the fall of 1782 they presented a verbal request to the town as follows: 'Requesting that they may be Exempted from Paying any Tax for the Support of the Presbeterian Ministers for the future in the Town of Tisbuary by Reason they are of the Baptist Perswasion.' [Ibid., 245.]
A town meeting was called for Sept. 25, 1782,
'and at Said Meeting James Athearn Esqr was chosen Moderator And then A Vote was Call'd to See Wheather Shobal Cottle Esqr Deacon Stephen Luce & Mr Ransfold Smith Should be a committee to hold A Conferance with the Inhabitants of Homseshole and Some Persons Adjacant Relative to the Above Request or Pettion and to make Report of their doeings at the Adjornment of this Meeting, and the Vote passed in the Affirmative and then Sd Town Meeting was Adjorn'd.' [Ibid.]
As a result of this conference the town at the adjourned meeting directed the Moderator to 'aquaint the Said Inhabitants of Homseshole that they Pettition this Town for their being Dismissed from Paying Ministeral Taxes (if they see cause).' The following petition was then prepared:
'To the Inhabitants of the Town of Tisbuary in the County of Dukes County in Legal Town-meeting to be assemble'd on Tuesday the 19th Day of October 1782. The Memorial of us whose Names are under writen being Inhabitants of that Part of Said Town Commonly Call'd Homseshole beg Leave to Represent that Notwithstanding our great Desire to Promote Religion and attend the Publick Worship of God at all Times must needs say that Considering our remote Scituation from the Meetinghouse or Place of Worship in Said Town and being Attended with Such Conspiscious Inconveniencies that need not be Enumerated, Desire that wee may be Released from paying any Part towards the support of the Gospel in Said Town Except among our Selves in Such a A Manner as will be most for our Religious profit Or otherwise releas us Agreeable to Justice & Equity as to you may Seem fit all which is Humbly Submitted [Tisbury Records, 245. ]
ISAAC DAGGETT NATHANIEL SKIFFE WILLIAM SMITH LEVI YOUNG ELIZABETH WEST JONATHAN RAYMOND GEORGE WEST JESSE LUCE CHARLES EDMONDSON JERUEL WEST PETER WEST
On Nov. 25, 1782, the town voted unanimously to release them in accordance with this petition, but it is evident that such an action was beyond the power of the town, and the good intentions were frustrated. [At a town meeting held November 25, 1792, this was reconsidered and it was voted 'that the former Vote be nul and Void and of no effect any more' (ibid. 288).] The collection of this tax went on for several more years. In July, 1790, the people of this settlement again started a movement to be made independent of Tisbury. They made the following request to accomplish this:
'That the Said Homseshole Should be Sett off as a Precinct, and after Due Consideration it was Movd and Seconded and put to Vote and passed in the Affirmative that it Should be Sett off for a Precinct as far to the Westward as the Line Called Savages Line and So continu'd the Same Course from the Sound to the Line of Edgartown to be Sett off from Said Tisbuary as a Seperate District, Provided they Support their own School and the Poor within the Same District and all other charges arising within the Same District, Except the Taxes due to the Commonwealth' [Tisbury Records, 276-7.]
In the following May the town met and passed this vote on the subject:
'That the Select Men of Tisbuary be Impowr'd to give an Order on the Treasurer of Tisbuary to Pay the Several Persons Taxed to the Ministers Tax in Tisbuary Living to the Eastward of Teshmoo Spring So Called that are Inhabitants in Said Districts of homseshole Taxed in the Rate bills David Look Constable of Tisbuary for the year 1790 has to Colect, May the 18th AD 1791 [Tisbury Records, 282.]
But this did not meet the desires of the people here, the repayment of taxes, as they wished for separation, and having failed to obtain satisfaction at home, they preferred a petition, in 1793, to the General Court asking for the establishment of Homes Hole as the East Parish of Tisbury. [This petition cannot be found in the Massachusetts archives.] James Athearn, Joseph Athearn and William Case were chosen as 'Sutable Persons as a Comitte to Respond to the Pettition of the Inhabatantsof Homes hole.' [Town Records, 290. The answer of this committee cannot be found.] Nothing came of their request at this time and the residents of Tisbury made them the following offer: 'That the Inhabitants of Homeshole ... have for the future Such part of the preaching by the Settled minester in Tisbury, Carried on in homes hole in proportion to the taxes they may pay towards the minesters Sallery in S'd Town.'
Samuel Look and Thomas Cottle, who were the leaders of this movement, joined in a petition to the County Court for relief from the ministerial tax. The petition is dated Oct. 28, 1794, and recites that they 'have been Induced to join with the Inhabitants of homses hole to build a meeting house where we can attend with our families,' and that they paid more at Homes Hole than they are taxed for in Tisbury for the support of Mr. Asarelah Morse, the minister. Having petitioned the selectmen without result, they now pray the Court for relief. [Dukes County Court Files.] Ezekiel Luce was appointed to answer this before the Court. Further consultations and efforts at a peaceful conclusion of the controversey were in order, and the following record of a meeting held on Dec. 22, 1794, brings the issue forward:
'Voted by the Voters then present that Ezekiel Luce Benjamin allen Cornelus Dunham on the part of the town of Tisbury westward of Savages line and Samuel Look Thomas Cottle John Homes on the part of Said town Eastward of Said line be a Committe to meet at Some time and place by them to be agreead upon in order to Settle any disputes Subsisting or that may arise with regard to Minestearil Taxes in Said town and in Case the Said Committe Should not agree they are to Call in the assistance of Mr Matthew Mayhew J'unr of Chillmark the Determination of them or the major part of them to be for the future regulation of minesteril Taxes upon both Sides of the before discribed line as well as any other disputes with regard to back taxes.' [Tisbury Records, 294.]
This committee, or a majority of them, for Cornelius Dunham and John Holmes did not sign it, made a report to the town on Jan. 12, 1795, and after reciting a preamble respecting the general character of the dispute, make the following recommendations:
'haveing a real desier that peace truth & Equity may at this and all times take place. We hereby agree to the following articuals hereafter named Viz that the taxes of all those persons to the East of the aforsaid Saveges line have there taxes remitted in the bills in which they have been taxed to pay to the Rev'd Mr Morses Sallery as far back as the year of our Lord 1787 this intends no more then those persons who are now living between the aforsaid Saveges line and Cuteshmoo Spring and So on the west Side of the pond to the Sound and no more.
'And we further agree that the people on the East Side of the aforsaid Saveges line forthwith petition the general Court that they may be Sett off as a precinct or parish and that the town Join with them in this petition.' [Ibid., 296.]
Nothing was done about the petition for a year, and on Jan. 6, 1796, Nathan Smith, Benjamin Allen and Elijah Look, Jr., were appointed a committee to 'Join a Committe of the inhabatants of homes hole . . . in prefering a petition to the General Court that said Inhabitants might be incorporated into precinct or parish.' This was done, and the law creating the East Parish of Tisbury, from the inhabitants living east of Savage's Line, was passed that year by the General Court.
The need of a house of worship for this settlement became urgent after the organization of the Baptist society in 1780, but there was nearly an equal number of adherents of the ancient Congregational society established in West Tisbury, and it was impracticable to build a meeting- house for the use of any particular denomination by general taxation. Therefore the expedient was devised of erecting one by voluntary contributions from members of all varieties of belief, which should be open to all ministers and sects in an equitable division of time. Those who gave towards its construction became thereby shareholders in its management, and the building came to be known as the 'Proprietors' Meeting House.' It was probably erected in 1788, as on Jan. 3 of that year, Peter West for the sum of œ9 sold a tract of land to John Holmes, Jonathan Manter, Isaac Daggett, Samuel Look, and Abraham Chase, 'as a committee for the proprietors of a meeting house to be built at Holmes Hole.' This committee represented the Baptists and Congregationalists, and the proportion of proprietors was about two thirds of the first-named sect and the rest of the orthodox church, or those without religious preference. The occupancy of the building was divided in that proportion. The clergyman at West Tisbury held services for his third of the time in consideration of the payment of the ministerial tax, but after its abolition this incentive was lost, and the 'orthodox' element gradually dwindled to the vanishing point. Parson Thaxter of Edgartown also held services here after this time, giving regular 'lectures.'
This Proprietors' meeting-house was located on the highway, on what is now the northwest corner of Main and Spring streets. The architectural features comprised a simple building with four straight walls, unpainted, and a pitched roof, without steeple, belfry or blinds. Three doors opened on Main street and within could be seen a gallery above, high-back box pews below, over which the tithing man would prod his long stick to curb the mischievous pranks of youth or arouse the aged from their slumbers. A sounding board formed a resonant background for the preacher in the tall pulpit. [In 1819 a wood stove was installed, and the pipe led out through one of the side windows.] A traveler who visited this place in 1807 called it ' a small neat church.' [Kendall 'Travels,' II, 201.]
For about half a century this meeting-house served its purpose as a shelter for all kinds of theology and its expounders. In 1832 the Methodists withdrew and built their own meeting-house and the control of this one fell into the hands of the Baptists by heritage and possession. It lasted until 1837, when it was no longer fit for occupancy and was taken down to make way for another.[The last town meeting was held in it in May, 1837, and in November of that year the school-house was used for that purpose.]
The earliest schism from the orthodox body on the Vineyard comprised persons who had adopted the doctrines of the Baptist religion, or, as it was then called, the Anabaptist. Peter Folger is supposed to have held this belief, and about 1675 he joined the Baptist church in Newport, though this was after he had become a resident of Nantucket. [Backus Church History of New England, III, 167. It is said by the same authority that the Indians became converted to this creed by Folger's preaching.] It is stated by a religious historian 'that Baptist ministers had preached among the English on the Vineyard at times ever since 1753,' but there is no record of these persons, times nor places. [Ibid, III, 167. They were probably itinerant missionaries.] The beginning of this denomination as an organized religious association, in definite numbers, is thus described by the same writer:
'By afflictive providence and private means of grace four persons near Holmes' Hole were awakened to a sense of their sin and danger, and in the Spring of 1780 they experienced a happy deliverance of soul. And no sooner was light granted to them than they endeavored to hold the same forth to others, which brought them to set up religious meetings and a number were hopefully converted by these means. [A document dated June 10, 1780, certifies that the subscribers 'are of the minds to have a Baptist minister to preach the Gospel to us,' and it is signed by Jonathan Manter, Zephaniah Chase, Abraham Chase, Levi Young, Timothy Chase Ephraim Norton, George Hillman, James Winslow, David Merry, Andrew Newcomb, Shubael Butler, Benjamin Benson and Malachi Baxter. These may be reckoned as the earliest Baptists in this town.] And about the last of June they sent for Elder Lewis of Freetown, who went over in July, and preached and baptized a number of them. He did the like in August and October, as Elder Hunt also did in November, and by particular request I [Isaac Backus] met them there in December when a careful inquiry was made into their sentiments and news and the order of the gospel, with the solemn nature of the Christian profession was publicly laid open and inculcated. After which on December 21, 1780 we saw fifty persons solemnly sign covenant together, to whom six more were added on the 24th, and all of them sweetly communed together at the Lord's table. The high sheriff of the county [Major Peter Norton  1718-1792.] was a leading member of this church which contained some persons of every rank among them.' [Backus Church History, II, 375. He adds: 'The husband of one of them was born among the Portuguese and was now newly returned from a distressing captivlty in England.' This probably refers to Joseph Dias, who married Sarah Manter .]
The new religion prospered rapidly, and soon had increased to about eighty members. No regular preacher was employed, although an effort was made to hire one. [A minister named Dodge was called in 1781, but declined 'as he is not willing to settle over any church for the present.' ] Elders, Hunt and Burroughs and other missionaries continued to make periodical visits during the first years of the establishment of the sect, and efforts to secure a settled minister were renewed whenever an opportunity seemed to offer. 'When we have no preacher' say these zealous adherents of the new creed in 1791, 'and the weather permits, we still assemble and worship God by singing reading and praying.' [Address to the selectmen of Tisbury signed by John Manchester and thirty-three others.] This situation continued for the ensuing decade, and notwithstanding these discouragements the society grew and flourished. Incorporation was determined upon by those of the Baptist faith from all parts of the Vineyard, to settle the question of taxes for ministerial support.
In 1803, John Davis and seventy-five others addressed a petition to the General Court, praying for incorporation as the Baptist Society of Tisbury. The town of Tisbury at its April meeting instructed the selectmen [Ezekiel Luce, William Athearn and Rufus Spalding] and Benjamin Allen 'to consult and draw a remonstrance to a petition Sent by a number of the Inhabitants of Tisbury, Chilmark & Edgartown praying to be incorporated into a religious baptiss Society,' but a year after (1804) the town reversed itself and instructed its representative to the General Court to 'aid and assist to have the Said incorporation established and enacted into a law.' [Tisbury Records, 318, 322] This was accomplished June 20th that same year. [An act to incorporate a number of persons in the towns of Edgartown, Chilmark and Tisbury, into a religious society by the name of the First Baptist Society in Tisbury.]
Ezra Allen Eleazer Dunham Jonathan Manter Joseph Allen Shubael Dunham Jonathan Manter, Jr. Joseph Athearn Cornelius Dunham Theophilus Mayhew Jonathan Athearn Abijah Gray Jonathan Merry Belcher Athearn Freeman Gray William Merry Francis Chase John Gray William Merry, Jr. Hugh Cathcart Abijah Hammett Stephen New Jonathan Cathcart John Hancock Samuel Norris Abraham Chase Ephraim Harding Darius Norton Joseph Chase Elijah Hillman Samuel Norton Nicholas Chase Jethro Hillman Isaac Norton Joseph Chase, Jr. John Holmes Base Norton Lot Cottle Benjamin Luce Obed Norton Samuel Daggett Matthew Luce Peter Norton Silas Daggett Isaac Luce Henry Norton John Davis Silas Luce Henry C. Norton Benjamin Davis Paul Luce Archelaus Pease Rufus Davis Bernard Luce David Reynolds William Davis David Luce Prince Rogers Meletiah Davis Elisha Luce Silas Rogers Dennis Davis Warren Luce William Rotch Henry Davis Jesse Luce David Smith Zadock Davis Jesse Luce, Jr. Manter Smith Cornelius Davis Thomas Manter Jonathan Tilton William Downes Peter Manter Benjamin Trask Beriah Weeks
Of these about thirty resided in the present limits of Tisbury, and the entire list shows what an extensive schism had been made in the Congregational society.
On Feb. 20, 1804, Ezra Kendall was called to the pastorate and accepted, and the society at last secured their first settled minister. He was characterized by Parson Thaxter as 'a man of small education, warm temperament and great zeal,' but he lasted only a short five months. He was succeeded, after an intermission of two years, by Abisha Samson of Providence, who was ordained in June, 1806, and his term of service was very successful. During this term he received permission to engage in business to eke out his scanty income, and in 1811 resigned because 'his preaching was not profitable,' according to his letter requesting dismissal. For the next ten years a succession of Elders, Bartlett Pease (398), Samuel Nelson, Simeon Coombs, Samuel Abbott, and Simeon Crowell supplied the pulpit without formal settlement. In 1820 Rev. William Hubbard became pastor and remained five years, serving both the newly organized independent branches at Edgartown and West Tisbury. It is probable that the pastors at Edgartown, Henry Marchant (1826- 7) and William Bowen (1828-9), with the assistance of Jesse Pease (397) supplied this pulpit until 1830, when Rev. Seth M. Ewer was settled as fourth pastor. [A townsman living contemporaneously thus characterizes this clergyman:-'The Baptist minister employed here is Mr. Seth Ewer, a man of about 50 years of age. Very resolute and determined in whatever he undertakes, but is not generally well received by the people. Should not think him to be a man of very extensive information, or much of a scholar, but has a great degree of confidence and a faculty of showing what he has to the best advantage. His sermons, though usually long, are for the most part meagre and uninstructive and often quite irksome to hear on account of the emphasis put upon almost every word, which is altogether misplaced. He has now been here almost two years, and on the whole should fear that little good had been effected by him, as that society has appeared to be on the wane ever since he came among us, besides some members of the church are so much disaffected toward him that they will not hear or support him.' (Diary Dr. L. M Yale, January 6, 1833)] He remained three years and was followed by Rev. Flavel Shurtleff (1833-4) for five months, and David Pease (1836-7) for ten months.
The old 'Proprietors'' house of worship had passed into the hands of this denomination, and for about fifty-two years altogether, as previously related, had served its purpose, until beyond repair. In 1837, at a cost of about $4,500, the first Baptist meeting-house intended for that use was built on the site occupied by the older structure. It was a building somewhat different in style from those heretofore constructed on the Vineyard for religious worship, and a view of it, drawn from contemporary sketches and descriptions, is here shown.
This building underwent considerable remodeling, stores were constructed underneath, the auditorium and a vestry were added.
It survived for forty-three years, and was destroyed in the great fire of Aug. 11, 1883, the only denomination in town to suffer in that conflagration.
Rev. James C. Boomer was ordained and settled on April 13, 1838, and was the first pastor who gave all his time and service to this parish, as the other towns were all independently organized at this date. He remained five years, and his successors since then have been as follows: B. F. Hedden, 1843-9; J. C. Kenney, 1849-50; Wm. Stowe, 1850-4; Stephen A. Thomas, 1854-9; Justus Aldrich, 1860; Wm. Leach, Wm. Fray, J. L. A. Fish (records imperfect); J. W. Savage, 1866-8; H. B. Marshall, 1868-70; Geo. L. Lewis, 1870-1; Chas. A. Cook, 1872-4; J. W. Fuhrmann, 1874-6; Geo. L. Lewis, 1876-9; J. Coker, 1879-82; [The one hundredth anniversary of this church was celebrated during Rev. Mr Coker's pastorate, December 15, 1882, and he delivered an historical address which was published as 'Historical address delivered on the one hundredeth anniversary of the Baptist Church, Vineyard Haven, Mass., by Rev. J. Coker, pastor' 8vo paper cover, pp. 14, Press of E. H. Manter, Vineyard Haven, Mass., 1882.] J. P. Farrar, 1883-7; J. E. Hamilton, 1888-92; J. E. Locke, 1892-3; Alfred Fairbrother, 1893-1901 M. E. Fish, 1901-3; Albert E. Hylan, 1903 (present incumbent).
Following the loss of the old house of worship, the Society occupied Association hall until another church home should be prepared for them. On May 30, 1884, a building committee consisting of Lorenzo D. Smith, John F. Robinson, Bayes F. Norton, Mrs. Myra W. Wade, and the pastor, was chosen, and funds solicited and collected for the purpose. A new site was purchased on the corner of William and Spring streets, on which were erected a handsome church building and parsonage. They were completed in 1885 at the cost of $6,500, and dedicated the same year.
The story of the foundation of Methodism in this town is a part of the annals of its beginning upon the Vineyard, for the pioneers of this new sect did not confine their labors to any one locality. This town, however, has the distinction of being the place where the doctrines of Wesley were first expounded. Rev. Jesse Lee, the founder of Methodism in New England, preached his first sermon on the Vineyard in 1795 in the Proprietors' meeting-house on Main street. His journal makes this reference to the event:
'Tuesday February 3, 1795. I prevailed with them [the captain and crew of the packet] to land me on the Vineyard I then walked to Mr. I. Daggett's tavern at the head of the harbor at Holmes' Hole. I was kindly received and gladly entertained. The next day I gave them a sermon in the meeting house. We had a small congregation and not much life. At night I preached again with more freedom and faith than in the morning, and the word seemed to make some impression on the minds of the hearers; perhaps I am the first Methodist preacher who has visited this place for the express purpose of preaching, and even now I have visited the place sooner than I intended. [Stevens, Memorials of Methodism, I, 328.]
Two years later, 1797-8, Joshua Hall came as the first stationed missionary. [The conference year began at that time in June or July, and the pastorates are to be reckoned on that basis.] He had previously been engaged in this work at Sandwich, Mass., with great success, and at the close of his term here he was able to report as the result of turning over this virgin soil on the Vineyard, hitherto unbroken, thirteen members of his 'class.' [Rev. George Pickering, the presiding elder of this district visited Homes Hole in his official capacity during Hall's pastorate.] The next was Joseph Snelling, 1798-9, also from Sandwich in turn, and he adopted the nautical style of preaching to the people, which was so successfully followed in later years by 'Father' Taylor. One of his hearers said to him: 'If you had been preaching in Vermont perhaps they would not have understood you; but this is the preaching we can understand.' He reported twenty-four members at the close of this conference year. [This number probably includes all the Methodists in his jurisdiction on the Vineyard. It is not possible to say how many are to be credited to this town.] His successor was Epaphras Kibby, who came from New Rochelle, New York, but he did not long remain, as the presiding elder transferred him before the close of the year. He was the last assignment for a decade.
The ' converts' were either unconverted or had gradually drifted back to older moorings, and by 1810 the sect was almost extinct. Two women only remained as evidence of the faith at that date. Erastus Otis, stationed at Falmouth, made frequent visits here and kept the dying embers from total extinguishment. William Hinman, 1811-12; Edward Hyde, 1812-13; William Frost, 1813-14; John W. Hardy, 1814-15, Benjamin Hazelton, 1815-16, followed as general missionaries, but records are wanting to show the nature or results of their labors. Evidently it was all foundation work, as it was not till 1816-17, during the assignment of Shipley W. Wilson, that the first 'class' was organized in this town. [During his stay here Wilson wooed and won Miss Rebecca Mayhew (665) daughter of Deacon William Mayhew, against the strenuous opposition of her parents. Religious sentiment in those days was militant.] The members of it were Edmund Crowell and wife, Mrs. Sarah Parsons, Mrs. Polly Hillman, Mrs. Annie Claghorn, Hannah Hammett, and two sisters, Betsey and Cynthia Grinnell. The 'class leader' was Hiram Chase, a hatter, who had come from Sandwich to follow his trade. Thomas M. Tucker followed, 1817-18, and Mr. Wilson had a second pastorale immediately after. Eleazer Steele served here with considerable success, 1819-20-21, and then came 'Reformation [John] Adams,' famous for his revival work. His two years' labor, 1821-2-3, was a continuous round of personal pleadings week days and collective exhortations on Sundays. The results were a great numerical increase of converts, and a tribute to his zealous methods. [His Autobiography, edited by his son, published in 1847, gives minute details of his life here during this first pastorate, and the second five years later, pp. 92-164 and 202-284. It is a picture of conditions on the Vineyard eighty-five years ago.] When he left the Vineyard, a farewell ode composed by him expressing his sentiments of regret at parting, contained this verse:
'At Holmes' Hole theres some grown cold
Oh Lord revive them down the Neck;
The harbour round with blessings crown
With power the devil's kingdom shake!'
Frederick Upham succeeded this flaming sword, 1823-4, and after him came the world- famous Edward T. Taylor, known in the annals of this denomination and in Boston, where he ended his unique career, as 'Father' Taylor. His pastorate, 1824-5, left its deep impression upon the people of the town and island, as it did elsewhere in the later stages of his noted career. He was then about thirty years old and the atmosphere of the place well suited his idealism, and he readily adapted his preaching to this environment. The sea and its language, the deck and its manners, the forecastle and its sentiment, gave him constant inspiration, and he became the 'sailors' preacher ' [See Life of Father Taylor by Gilbert Haven, pp. 96-100.] on this sea girt isle. He held services on vessels in the harbor, and on one of these occasions uttered the oft-quoted aspiration which has been paraphrased in verse, expressive of his love of the ocean:
'I do not want to be buried in the ground when I die. But bury me rather in the deep blue sea where the coral rocks shall be my pillow, and the seaweeds shall be my winding sheet, and where the waves of the ocean shall sing my requiem for ever and ever.'
David Culver, 1825-6, and John Adams, 1826-7, followed in succession. In this second pastorate of 'Reformation Adams' the first known camp-meeting held on the Vineyard occurred in July and August, 1827, in a grove near the West Chop lighthouse. Of this event the preacher speaks as follows:
'To prepare the ground for camp meeting has required labor and fatigue. July 28, 1827 I preached on the camp ground. About 150 were present, and we had the shout of a King in the Camp. August 1, 1827 our camp meeting commenced and more than twenty preachers were present, and not far from thirty tents were on the ground. The people came from different islands, and many from the Cape, New Bedford and Boston. All parts of the Vineyard were represented. Good order was generally observed. In the first part of the meeting but few were converted, but the meeting grew more powerful and interesting, and it was hoped that more than forty experienced religion, while many backsliders were reclaimed, old professors quickened young converts strengthened and imperfect believers sanctified to God. Our meetings continued a week and we had a solemn parting. We think the meeting will prove a blessing for years to come.' [Life of Rev. John Adams, 280.]
Following Adams came William Barstow, 1828-9, who was assisted by Caleb Lamb; Hezekiah Thatcher, 1829-30; Thomas G. Brown, 1830-2. During Mr. Brown's pastorate a Sunday school was organized, and the church, in 1830, numbered thirty-five members.
As already stated, the services of this denomination had been held hitherto in the Proprietors' meeting-house in rotation with the Baptist and others, but during the succeeding pastorale of Louis Janson (1832-3), a movement for a separate house of worship was consummated. [A contemporary thus characterizes the preacher:-'The Methodist Minister that is now occupied here is Mr. Louis Janson, an Englishman by birth, young, say 27 or 28, active, possessed of some natural talent, but not a very thorough education and his sermons are mostly addressed to the passions of his hearers, without being very instructive and this is true of most of the preachers of that denomination, that I have heard. There has been, however, a good deal of religious excitement under his preaching and a number give good evidence of having met with a saving change and have united with the class, which I understand to be a state of probation for six months previous to joining the church, during which time if they walk orderly they are afterward admitted, but if not, rejected. ' (Diary of Leroy M. Yale, M. D., January 6, 1833.) During Mr. Janson's term the Seamen's Prayermeeting was inaugurated, and for twenty-five years it continued its meetings on the first Thursday of every month. They were non-sectarian, and sailors at sea who had attended it were expected to remember the time and hold like services wherever they might be. Mr. Janson in 1836 became an Episcopal clergyman.] It had been talked about for some time, but an incident associated with the joint occupancy of the Union meeting-house precipitated the result. Members of all creeds were accustomed to attend services conducted by the others, if they desired. On one Sunday, at a Baptist service, when the communion was to be celebrated, the invitation to partake of the Lord's Supper was given in such a manner as to leave no doubt that none but Baptists would be welcome. This was the cause, according to tradition, of the efforts immediately begun to build a Methodist meeting-house where they would be independent. In the movement Capt. William Daggett was a leading spirit and liberal contributor, and others lent services, if they were unable to give funds. As a preliminary to perfecting their independency and the right to hold property for religious uses, the members were incorporated March 7, 1833, as the 'First Methodist Episcopal Society in Tisbury.' The building was completed at a cost of nearly $2,000 in July following, and dedicated July 11, that year. It is still standing on Church street, known for years as Capawock hall, and now occupied as a Masonic Temple, the property of that order.
Mark Staple, 1833-5; Aaron Josselyn, 1835-6; Joseph B. Brown, 1836-7; [During Mr. Brown's pastorale Charles Weeks was licensed as 'exhorter,' a position he occupied in this society for half a century.] Abram Holloway, 1837-8; Mark Staple (second time), 1838-9; Onesiphorous Robbins, 1839-41; [A parsonage costing about $900 was built during Mr. Robbins' term.] Henry H. Smith, 1841-2; [45 were baptized and 43 'probationers' received in this year.] J. G. Goodrich, 1842-4; Nathan Paine, 1844-5; and A. B. Wheeler, 1845-7. During the terms of these ministers the society prospered greatly in numbers, and increased its influence in the community.
As a result of the growth of the membership, the old building which had been in use but twelve years was found to be too small to accommodate the congregation, and the building of a new house of worship was determined upon by the society. A lot of land opposite the existing meeting-house, on the northeast corner of William and Church streets was donated by Captain William Daggett, and a larger and more pretentious structure built thereon and dedicated Nov. 13, 1845, with appropriate ceremonies. This new house had cost $6,500, and was surmounted by a tower which now carries a clock. A pipe organ, costing $1,200, was installed in 1865, to replace a small instrument worked by hand. The building has had a few additions and trivial changes inside and out and remains today substantially as originally designed.
Samuel W. Coggeshall, 1847-9; Micah J. Talbot, 1849-51; George W. Stearns, 1851-3; William H. Stetson, 1853-4; Franklin Gavitt, 1854-6; William Leonard, 1856-8; Alonzo Latham, 1858-60; Francis A. Loomis, 1860-2; M. P. Alderman, 1862-4; William V. Morrison, 1864-5; John N. Collier, 1865-6; John F. Sheffield, 1866-7; Edward Edson, 1867-70; Philo I Hawkes, 1870-2; James O. Thompson, 1872-4; J. D. King, I 1874-5; Eben Tirrell, Jr., 1875-7; A. L. Dearing, 1877-8; I George H. Butler, 1878-80; W. F. Steele, 1880-2; W. I. Ward, 1882-5; Shepherd F. Harriman, 1885-7; George A Grant, 1887-9; Samuel L. Beale, 1890; Richard E. Schuh, 1891-2; Samuel F. Johnson, 1893-6; John E. Duxbury, 1897; William D. Wilkinson, 1898-1900; William H. Butler, 1901-2; John Bearse, 1903-4; Samuel J. Rook, 1905-7.
The first meetings of a religious society organized under the Congregationalist denomination were held about 1825, in the small one story building, occupied for a long time after as an undertaker's establishment, and since 1903 by Sea Coast Defense Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution. The building was then used as a school during week days, and on Sunday for religious purposes. This school-house for years after was known as the 'Chapel.' It had a small cupola, within which was suspended a triangle that called the people to worship, and the scholars to struggle with the rudimentary R's. It continued to do this double duty until 1844, when members of the society felt that they should outgrow its temporary shell, and build a larger edifice devoted exclusively to their uses.
Nathan Mayhew, the school-teacher, was one of the prime movers in the establishment of the Congregational church, and became one of its Deacons. [He lived in the house owned and occupied by the late Capt. James L. Smith on Main street.]
Another associate with the late Deacon Mayhew was Dr. Leroy M. Yale, and from his diary the following notes of the beginning of this society are taken:
'In 1844, after much deliberation, Mr. James L. Barrows, Nathan Mayhew and myself formed the design of organizing a Congregational Church in this place and we obtained the services of Rev. Wm. Gould of Fairhaven who commenced preaching in a small school house and after a few weeks, a small church of ten members was organized, which was soon increased by the addition of five or six more. Having thus made a beginning and not having a suitable house for worship, we determined on building a meeting house and in the course of that season erected one at a cost of nearly five thousand dollars, in which we have since held our meetings having settled as our first minister Rev. Samuel S. Tappan, who is still with us. This step, viz, the organization of the church and building of the meeting house has called out the most violent opposition by the Baptists and Methodists, so much so that they, or individuals of the Baptist society have advanced money to the amount of 3 or 4 hundred dollars to set up a physician in opposition to me and the Methodists have built them a new house, which they did not previously design.' [Kindly furnished to the author by Dr. Leroy Milton Yale of New York city, son of the elder Dr. Yale, and a native of Vineyard Haven]
Rev. Mr. Tappan remained until 1849, and was succeeded by William Fyvie, who remained one year (1850) only. The next and last settled minister was William H. Sturtevant, who held the pastorale until 1859, when he accepted a call to the West Tisbury church and the society gradually dissolved. The church building was occupied by the Universalists, and they were in turn followed by the Unitarians, but it was abandoned for church worship about 1866, and used for secular purposes as a public hall, and by the town for a town hall. It is now known as Association hall, from its former ownership by a number of shareholders. It now contains the town offices and fire apparatus.
Seamen's Chapel. - In 1867 Rev. Daniel Waldo Stevens was sent to Homes Hole by the American Unitarian Association as a missionary. He was a Harvard graduate, class of 1846, of the Divinity school in 1848, and from 1850 to 1862 was settled in Mansfield, Mass. For a number of years he had been doing unattached mission work for the association, and when he came to Homes Hole he saw an opportunity to serve the multitudes of seafaring men who came annually into the harbor as a port of call. A man of strong intellect, unconventional in his methods, and full of enthusiasm, he soon had established a chapel and reading room for sailors, on a commanding bluff midway to the head of the harbor. Through the aid of friends and the support of this denomination, he maintained a unique establishment where he dwelt and ministered to 'Jack' at all times for nearly twenty-four years. In this way he was quite as well known to mariners on the coast as the famous 'Father' Taylor, who had in earlier years carried on the same work at this place. His rooms were a veritable museum of curios, interesting and valuable, for he was a collector of historical and natural relics and knew their worth, and a splendid collection of stone implements made by the aborigines, was one of the important portions of this treasure house. [This collection of Indian implements was removed from the Vineyard by his son after the death of Dr. Stevens, and was placed on deposit with the Bristol, R. I. Historical Society. It is a matter of great regret that this unique collection was not donated to a local museum.] The author recalls this venerable man in the last years of his ministry, when after acting as sexton and ringing his own bell on Sunday morning he would continue the service, somewhat short of breath from his exertion. He was at his beloved chapel until his last sickness put an end to his labors. He died Oct. 1, 1891, aged 71 years, having been born Jan. 18, 1820, at Marlboro, Mass. [An excellent account of his life and work appeared in the Christian Register Oct. 15, 1898.] After his death the building passed into private hands, and has been remodeled into a summer residence.
Church of the Unity. - The residents who had attended Dr. Stevens' services for a considerable time desired to continue the skeleton organization that had existed in his day, but for a number of years the project of reviving his work languished. The matter was finally taken up by an association of Unitarians, called the Channing Conference. A neat building was erected by it on the West Chop road, on a picturesque knoll in the grove, in 1896, and in 1898 the 'Vineyard Haven Unitarian Society' was organized to maintain services therein. Since that date a regular ministerial supply has been had, beginning with W. C. Litchfield, 1898-1903; W. H. Johnson, 1905-07; I. P. Quimby, 1907 (present incumbent). The meeting-house is generally known as the Stevens Memorial Chapel.
On Dec. 25, 1862, the first public service of this church was held at Capawock Hall by the Rev. John West of New York, and as a result of the interest manifested, that clergyman was appointed missionary for Martha's Vineyard. Services were held for several years, but were discontinued owing to the ill health of Mr. West.
In the summer of 1866 services were held by the Rev. Benjamin Gifford, who baptized five persons. During the following winter services were held monthly by the Rev. Hiram Carleton of the Church of the Messiah at Woods Hole, with which parish this Mission had been incorporated. The removal or death of many of the communicants caused the services to be discontinued, except such as were held in private houses, as the membership was not large at this time. In this pioneer work the late Mrs. Ellen Louisa Richardson, who was one of the earliest members of the 'Summer colony,' was a conspicuous leader. She was a devout and devoted member of the church in another part of the state, and brought with her the zeal to carry on the mission work for her church in her adopted home. Services were again held in Association hall in the summer of 1881, the Rev. Benjamin Gifford, the Rev. John J. Roberts, D. D. and the Rev. Arthur B. Conger. During the summer of 1882 services were held in Association hall by the Rev. Thos. G. Addison, D. D. the Rev. F. S. Harraden, the Rev. Samuel Edwards and the Rev. J. S. Beers. As a result of this renewed interest in the church a meeting was held July 17, 1882, and an Association formed for the purpose of raising money to build a chapel. Gen. Benjamin Alvord, U.S.A., was chosen Chairman; Col. Asa B. Carey U.S.A. and Laura, his wife, gave a lot of land, 50 x 100 feet, on Main street, opposite the Grove Hall house, on which to build the edifice. On Sept. 25, 1882, another meeting was held, at which articles of association and by-laws recommended by the Diocesan Convention of Massachusetts were adopted, and a permanent organization known as Grace Episcopal Church Congregation was formed. Dr. W. D. Stewart, U.S. Marine Hospital Service, was elected warden, Mr. Thos. H. Tuckerman was elected treasurer, and Miss Martha W. Daggett, secretary. It was announced by the treasurer that the sum of $1000 had been subscribed. A building committee consisting of Dr. W. D. Stewart, Mr. T. H. Tuckerman, and Mr. H. W. McLellan was appointed.
On Tuesday, Sept. 26, 1882, the corner-stone of Grace Church was laid by the Rev. John J. Roberts, D.D., of New York. During its construction cottage services were held at the residence of Mr. Thos. Tuckerman, from Oct. 1, 1882, to June 3, 1883, by Dr. R. A. Ottiwell, lay reader. The Church was opened for divine service June 3, 1883, and on Friday, June 15, the building was duly consecrated by the Rt. Rev. Benjamin H. Paddock, D.D., Bishop of Massachusetts, assisted by the Revs. E. M. Gushee, B. R. Gifford, and John S. Beers. At this service a class of four persons was confirmed, and Holy Communion administered to fifty persons.
The records show that after this the following clergymen conducted the services in the next few years; the Rev. John J. Roberts, D.D., the Rev. H. H. Neales, the Rev. Jno. S. Beers, the Rev. Wm. S. Chase, the Rev. Jos. Dinsey, and in October, 1894, the Rev. Wm. Cleveland Hicks was appointed the first permanent resident clergyman in charge of the church. The Rev. Mr. Hicks resigned in September, 1898, to accept a call to St. Agnes' Church, New York. During the rectorate of Rev. Mr. Hicks the church building was moved from its original site on Main street to the corner of William and Woodlawn streets. The Rev. H. S. Habersham succeeded to the charge March, 1899, and served until September, 1900. The Rev. Harland H. Ryder was appointed to the charge in May, 1902, and resigned in January, 1904. Various clergymen and lay readers continued the services until Oct. 1, 1906, when the Rev. Wm. Doane Manross was appointed to the charge, and is the present Rector. The whole island of Martha's Vineyard is now incorporated into one parish, and the rector of Grace Church, Vineyard Haven, has charge of all matters within the jurisdiction of the Episcopal church.
The church building was remodeled in 1901 by the addition of transepts and lengthening the chancel end of the nave, making the whole of cruciform shape. The enlarged church was dedicated on the tenth Sunday after Trinity of that year by the Arch-Deacon of New Bedford, the Rev. Samuel G. Babcock, assisted by a former rector, Rev. William C. Hicks. There were seven memorial gifts, one of which, a beautiful chancel window by Tiffany, was the gift of the family of Ellen Louisa Richardson and George Morey Richardson. It is the finest piece of stained glass work on the Vineyard, and represents, in life size, the risen Christ, in white vestments, coming forth from a garden of green and tinted foliage, with raised hand and finger pointing upward, as bearing an Easter message to his flock. Soft blue sky and distant hills in faint atmospheric haze complete a picture of singular impressiveness. The bell, prayer desk and chancel chairs were presented by Judge and Mrs. William H. Arnoux, in memory of their deceased children. The altar cross of polished and ornamented brass is a memorial to Rev. Henry Huntley Neales. An oaken font, a replica of the ancient stone font in the church of St. John the Baptist, Tisbury, England, in which was baptized (1593) Governor Thomas Mayhew, was presented by the family of the author of this history as a memorial to a deceased relative, Mrs. Hester Nash Myers, a devoted communicant of the church. A representation of it may be seen in Vol. I, p. 116, of this work. The communion rail, of moulded oak and ornamental brass standards, is a memorial to Emily Norwood de Forest Hicks and Lucy Cleveland Hicks, and the altar, of beautiful Gothic construction with carved columns and traceried panels, is a memorial to Emma Sheldon Strahan. In addition to these memorials, two mural tablets adorn the walls, one to Gen. Benjamin Alvord, U.S.A., and the other to Surgeon W. D. Stewart, both identified with the early foundations of this parish.
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