Joseph Dow's History of Hampton: The Interwoven Pastorates / Father and Founder of the Town

Back to previous chapter -- Forward to next section -- Return to Table of Contents Rev. Stephen Bachiler, 1638-1641
Rev. Timothy Dalton, 1639-1661
Rev. John Wheelwright, 1647-1656
Rev. Seaborn Cotton, 1657-1686

Father and Founder of the Town

A careful investigation will make it apparent, that the motives which led to the settlement of Hampton were not merely, nor mainly, of a mercenary character. The adventurers, who, in 1623, settled on the banks of the Piscataqua, may have gone thither, as has been said of them, to fish and to trade. It is equally true that the early inhabitants of this town engaged in fishing and in farming, if not in trade; but with the latter, these employments were resorted to for a livelihood, while their chief aim was to secure higher objects than the accumulation of wealth. In a word, they were PURITANS, of a kindred spirit with the Pilgrims of the Mayflower. They loved the ordinances of religion, and sought here to enjoy religious freedom and the rights of conscience which had been denied them in the land of their birth.

The practice of the first settlers of the town was in accordance with their professed principles. They brought with them the ordinances of the gospel; for it is a matter of record, that when the grant for a plantation was made by the General Court, some of the grantees were already "united together by church government." They also brought with them a pastor, Rev. Stephen Bachiler, who may justly be regarded as the father and founder of the town.

Mr. Bachiler was born in England about the year 1561, but at what place, is not known. It is also doubtful where he was educated; very possibly, at Cambridge, where many, with whom he appears to have been intimate, were known to have been. If the historians of Lynn are correct, he was of (so called) gentle blood; for Newhall, in his edition of Lewis' History of that town states, that, in Morgan's "Sphere of Gentry" (1661) is figured the coat-of-arms of Rev. Stephen Bachiler, as follows: "Vert, a plough if fesse, and in base, the sun rising, or." This gives a possible clew to the interpretation of a letter written by him, in 1643, to the church in Boston, which will be noted presently.

Mr. Bachiler received orders in the established church; but being a reformer, and having the courage of his convictions, he refused to conform to some of the ceremonials of that church, and therefore "suffered much at the hands of the bishops." He became a Dissenter, and as a Dissenter went, with friends and followers, to Holland. Now, if the historian may be permitted to "read between the lines" of the letter, above mentioned, this would be the story of what immediately followed: A company was formed, of which Mr. Bachiler was the acknowledged leader, called, in his honor, The Company of the Plough, intending to come to New England in 1630, and settle in New Town (Cambridge), Mr. Bachiler to "sit down with them," "not as a Planter only but as a Pastor also." The church was organized and began its existence in Holland; and plans were so far perfected, that a ship was chartered and freighted; but "upon the disaster which happened to the goods of the company, by the false dealing of those entrusted by us with the Plough's ship and our goods therein," perhaps instigated by the persecuting bishops, all was lost and the emigration delayed. And so it happened, that the pastor's family returned to England, while his daughter Theodate and her husband, Christopher Hussey, both young and ardent, crossed the ocean to prepare a resting-place for her aged father and his church. This they found, as they fondly hoped, in Saugus (Lynn).

The above narrative, though not infallible history, is highly probable; but what follows is matter of record. Accompanied by some of his family, Mr. Bachiler sailed from London on the 9th of March, 1632, in the William and Francis, and arrived at Boston on the 5th of June. He went immediately to Lynn, where his son-in-law, Christopher Hussey, was already resident. There he began his ministry in New England, his church, organized in Holland, uniting with others, previously at Lynn, without asking permission, and without ceremony.

Now it must be premised, that many of the Puritans, persecuted in England, fled to these western shores, where they became in turn persecutors, as intolerant as their enemies across the sea. The ministers and magistrates formed a religious aristocracy, bigoted and domineering. Mr. Bachiler, a liberal Puritan, zealous for popular rights, and possibly too independent in maintaining them, soon became odious to this persecuting power. They sought a quarrel against him, and found it in the manner of establishing his church. And now the magistrates of the colony required him "to forbeare exercising his guifts as a pastr or teacher publiquely," in Massachusetts, "unless it be to those hee brought with him; for his contempt of authority, & till some scandles be removed." The term scandal has been wrongly supposed to imply immoral conduct in Mr. Bachiler. It was probably nothing more than petty quarrels, growing partly out of his partiality, in baptizing his own grandson before another child, born a week earlier. This injunction was openly and strongly condemned by the liberal party, which was no inconsiderable one in the colony, and, five months later, the magistrates felt compelled to rescind it, though it does not appear that the victim had, in the meantime, made any acknowledgement of faults, to prepare the way for such an act.

Mr. Bachiler remained pastor of the church at Lynn till about the close of 1635. The church at that time had been considerably enlarged, and a controversy had arisen between him and a majority of the members. The grounds of this controversy are not stated; but as Mr. Bachiler was an old man, it is possible that his church may have been desirous of obtaining a younger or a more popular minister. The account given by Governor Winthrop seems to afford some ground for this supposition. Mr. Bachiler asked a dismission for himself, and his first members, six or seven in number, who had come from England with him; and the church granted it, supposing that they would leave the town, for so, it was reported, Mr. Bachiler had intimated. On being dismissed, however, he and his brethren immediately renewed their old covenant, intending to raise another church there. At this "the most and chief of the town" were offended, for, as Governor Winthrop says, "it would cross their intentions of calling Mr. Peter or some other minister." They then complained to the magistrates, by whom he was forbidden "to proceed in any such church way until the cause were considered by the other ministers, etc." But Mr. Bachiler refused to desist, probably regarding the course of the magistrates as an unjustifiable interference with his affairs; and this independence, both in thinking and acting, may give a clew to the difficulties that arose from time to time between him and the government. In this case, the magistrates "sent for him, and upon his delay, day after day, the marshal was sent" to convey him to Boston. Being thus taken into custody, he submitted to the civil authority and gave a "promise to remove out ot the town within three months." He was thereupon discharged.

This account of Mr. Bachiler's connection with the church and people of Lynn is given, partly for the purpose of showing that some of the charges made against him may not have been well founded, having originated in the enmity of those who made them; and partly, because here, in the renewal of the church covenant at Lynn, near the close of the year 1635, we find the organization of the Hampton church.

From Lynn, Mr. Bachiler removed to Ipswich. In 1637, he had his company undertook to form a settlement at Matakeese [Yarmouth] on Cape Cod. Governor Winthrop says that he was then "about seventy-six years of age; yet he went thither on foot in a very hard season," the distance from Ipswich being nearly one hundred miles. This enterprise was relinquished on account of the poverty of the company, and the difficulties that they had to encounter. In 1638, Mr. Bachiler and some or all of his company were at Newbury, and in the fall of that year settled at Winnacunnet.

According to tradition, a Meeting-house was built by those who formed the settlement, as soon as they had provided log-cabins for themselves. Like their houses, it was undoubtedly made of logs, but of its form and dimensions, we have no knowledge. It was built on the Green--near where the Academy afterwards stood--a site occupied by a succession of meeting-houses, till the early part of the present century. The people were called together for public worship, by the ringing of a bell, [In some towns a drum, and in others a conch supplied the place of a bell.] as appears from the following vote, passed at the second town-meeting, November 27, 1639: "Wm Samborne (wth his consent) is appointed to ring the bell before the meetings on the Lord's dayes & other dayes, for which he is to have 6d pr lott of eury one having a lott wth in the town." The bell, which was a present from the pastor, [Town records] frame was probably hung on a frame in the open air, or suspended from some tree, till another house was built, which was furnished with a tower.

In the spring of 1639, Mr. Timothy Dalton was associated with Mr. Bachiler in the work of the ministry, the latter holding the office of PASTOR, and the former, that of TEACHER. The great age of the pastor was probably the reason for employing another minister. But the connection was not an harmonious one. Both of the ministers were orthodox in sentiment, but they differed widely in practice, Mr. Bachiler being open and independent, and Mr. Dalton, in accord with the magistrates and elders. Mr. Bachiler was charged with immorality, but whether justly or unjustly is "not proven." He was excommunicated in 1641, and restored to the church in 1643, but not to the pastoral office. That he committed some imprudences is admitted; but as to anything worse, it is likelier that the old persecutions followed him. He himself, in the letter before mentioned, to the church in Boston, complains bitterly of Mr. Dalton, in the following words: "I see not how I can depart hence till I have (or (I mean) God for me) cleared and vindicated the cause and wrongs I have suffered of the church I live yet in: that is from the Teacher (indeed) who hath don all and ben the cause of all the dishonour that hath aecrew'd to God, shame to my selfe and griefe to all God's people, by his irregular proceedings and abuse of the power of the church in his hand, by the major parte cleaveing to him, being his countrymen and acquaintance in old England. . . . . . . The Teacher's act of his excommunication, and the impulsive cause (even wrath and revenge) and also the manner of all his proceeding throughout to the very end; and lastly his keeping me still under bonds." Probably there was much hot temper on both sides. Each minister had partisans and friends in the town and in the church; but the larger number favored the teacher. Mr. Bachiler still remained in Hampton, and the difficulties and distractions among the inhabitants appear to have increased. Petitions and remonstrances in relation to these difficulties were sent to the General Court at the May session, in 1644. The Court appointed a committee with full power to hear and determine all matters in dispute among the people, but the action of the committee is not known.

About this time some of the people of Exeter proposed to form a new church and invite Mr. Bachiler to become their pastor, though he was then more than four-score years of age. For this purpose, they appointed a day, and gave notice thereof to the magistrates and churches. At this juncture, the General Court interfered: "Whereas it appears to this Crt, that some of the inhabitants of Excetter do intend shortly to gather a church & call contentions wch are amonge the inhabitants there are judged by this Cort to bee such as for the prsent they cannot comfortably & wth apprbation prceed in so wighty & sacred affaires, it is therefore ordered, that direction shall be forthwth sent to the said inhabitants to deferr the gathering of any church, or other such prceeding untill this Cort or the Cort at Ipswich (upon further satisfaction of their reconciliation & fitness) shall give alowance thereunto." To this order, the people of Exeter submitted, and did not proceed to gather a church.

Had the charges affecting the moral and christian character of Mr. Bachiler bee substantiated, we can hardly suppose, that the people of Exeter, a town adjoining Hampton, should be unacquainted with the fact, or that, knowing the fact, they would still invite him to become their minister. It is also worthy of notice, that in the order of the court, not the slightest allusion is made to any unfitness for the sacred office, on the part of Mr. Bachiler. The order is based entirely on the divisions among the people of Exeter.

Mr. Bachiler did not much longer remain in Hampton. His house and most of the contents having been destroyed by fire, he removed to Strawberry Bank (Portsmouth) where he lived from 1647 to 1650, and probably somewhat later. During this time he sued the town of Hampton for "wages" due for his services, and obtained a verdict in his favor; for it appears from the Records of the Norfolk Courts that the town sent a petition to the General Court "concerning Mr. Bachiler's executyon."

Concerning Mr. Bachiler's domestic relations in all these years, we know absolutely nothing. His wife, Helena, died, whether before or after his removal from Hampton is not certain; and he married, probably about 1648, his third wife, Mary, a widow (with children), who from mercenary motives, inveigled him into the marriage, in his extreme old age. But she proved to be a disreputable woman, and he separated from her. His old enemy, the civil power, ordered him to live with her, and fined him for not publishing his intention of marriage. Weary and disheartened, he could endure no more; and (probably in 1655), escorted by his grandson, Stephen Sanborn, returned to England.

Not even yet was the tongue of calumny silenced; for his bad wife sued for a divorce, in 1657, in order that she might be free to marry again, should opportunity offer, alleging that she was "credibly informed" that he had married a fourth wife in England. On no stronger testimony does this assertion rest.

"The ancient Stephen Bachiler, of Hampton, New Hampshire, died at Hackney, a Village and Parish in Middlesex, two miles from London, in 1660, in the one hundredth year of his age." [Gen. Reg. XII: 272.] [Later research proved this statement to be incorrect. The Rev. Bachiler was buried on 31 October 1656 in the Allhallows Staining Church cemetery, in London, England. -- N.H. Genealogical Record, 8:1, (1991)]

It is difficult to form a just estimate of Mr. Bachiler's character. Much of our information concerning him comes through the records of the acts of the magistrates and the General Court, or the writings of Governor Winthrop, with whom he was no favorite. His refusal to bow to unreasonable mandates made him enemies in high places, and his misfortunes followed as a natural sequence. But that he was a good and useful man, there can be no reasonable doubt.

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