The Congregational Church in Recent Years
After Mr. Webster's death, in March 1837, the church remained without a pastor for nearly a year. In February following, the church and society, with great unanimity, invited MR. ERASMUS D. ELDREDGE to become their pastor. The invitation was accepted, and Mr. Eldredge was ordained April 4, 1838. The sermon was preached by Rev. Luther F. Dimmick, of Newburyport; and the other principal parts in the service were: ordaining prayer by Rev. Samuel W. Clark, of Greenland; charge by Rev. Jonathan French, of North Hampton; and right hand of fellowship by Rev. Sereno T. Abbott, of Seabrook and Hampton Falls.
The old meeting-house, which was then and still continues to be owned by the town, was now somewhat out of repair; and in February, 1843, after long agitation of the subject, the society decided to build a new one, which should be their property, subject to their own control. Samuel D. Taylor, Obed S. Hobbs, David Knowles, Thomas Ward and Josiah Dow were chosen a building committee. A site had already been purchased, nearly opposite the old house, and as soon as practicable after spring opened, the work was begun.
At the annual meeting of the society that year, Joseph Dow, Thomas Ward and James Perkins, Jr. were chosen a committee, to prepare a code of by-laws, which was adopted. The name, selectmen, for the executive board of the society, had been changed to wardens, the previous year. According to the new code, the time of the annual meeting was fixed for the fourth Monday in March, the date which has ever since prevailed.
On Thursday, January 4, 1844, the new church was dedicated; and the same day, the pews were sold by auction. The next year a part of the basement was finished for a vestry. In 1846 Daniel Hobbs was appointed "to have charge of the musical instrument belong to the society . . . . the double bass-viol, recently bought by subscription." In 1849, somebody, evidently, objected to insurance, for we find this curious record:
"Voted, to insure the meeting-house.
Voted, that we trust the safe-keeping of this house to the kind Providence of God."
Severe illness in 1847, compelled Mr. Eldredge to suspend his labors for six months. In two years more, it had become evident that his weakened lungs could no longer bear exposure to the sea air. Reluctantly he asked a dismission; reluctantly it was granted -- and the happy connection of eleven years was severed by a council, convened on the 7th of May, 1849. During his pastorate, several revival seasons were enjoyed and there were a considerable number of additions to the church.
Rev. Erasmus Darwin Eldredge was a son of Dr. Micah and Mrs. Sally (Buttrick) Eldredge, of Dunstable, Mass., where he was born March 10, 1804. He was graduated from Amherst College in 1829, and studied theology at Andover, with the class of 1833. He married Isabella Tappan Hill, daughter of Dea. John Burley Hill, of Portsmouth, where she was born August 20, 1812. Their infant son, John B. H., died the day of Mr. Eldredge's ordination, keen sorrow and disappointment thus mingling with, and for a time overpowering the joy of establishing the first home and entering the first pastorate. A daughter and a son were born in Hampton, and another son, the only survivor of the family, after they went away.
Soon after leaving Hampton, Mr. Eldredge was settled at Salisbury in this state, where he remained till 1854. Subsequently, he had charge of a female seminary in Monticello, Ga. He taught also in Milledgeville and preached in Perry, in that state. In 1861 he returned to New Hampshire and preached for a year in Alton; but removed to Kensington in 1864, bought a farm, and was pastor there eleven years, as long as he was able to preach. There Mrs. Eldredge died, May 1, 1873, loved, honored and sincerely mourned.
Soon after her death, Mr. Eldredge removed to his daughter's home in Georgia, and died at Athens, in that state, April 18, 1876. His remains were brought to Hampton for interment, where they rest beside those of his wife and his first born. On his gravestone is this just tribute to his worth. He "labored as a faithful, beloved and successful minister of the Gospel for 38 years." [See Genealogies -- Eldredge.]
Four months after the dismission of Mr. Eldredge, namely, on the 6th of September, 1849, his successor in the pastoral office, REV. SOLOMON P. FAY, was ordained, Rev. John M. Steele, of Winchester, Mass., preaching the sermon.
Within the next three years, fourteen acres of the parsonage land were sold. In 1851 the barn was burned, and the house narrowly escaped.
During this prosperous ministry of five years, thirty-four members were admitted to the church. August 29, 1854, Mr. Fay was dismissed, to accept a call to Dayton, O. He still occasionally visits the scene of his first pastorate, where he is ever a welcome guest. [See Genealogies -- Fay.]
The church was then without a pastor for a year; but on the 31st of October, 1855, REV. JOHN COLBY, then recently graduated, was ordained, Rev. Dr. Cleveland, of Lowell, Mass., preaching the sermon. The same year, the meeting-house was frescoed, at a cost of two hundred fifty dollars. In the great revival that overspread the country in the winter of 1857-8, all of the churches participated.
Mr. Colby brought grief to the people, in the autumn of 1863, by asking a dismission, in order that he might accept an invitation to enter the army as a chaplain. A people loyal to the government could not say nay, and Mr. Colby was dismissed by council, November 18th. It so happened, however, that the regiment he expected to join was not mustered, and other duties awaited him. [See Genealogies -- Colby.]
After a temporary supply, of one year, by REV. JAMES B. THORNTON, a pastor was again found in REV. JOHN WEBSTER DODGE, who had been settled for a time in Gardiner, Me., where he was ordained December 6, 1860. Professor Smyth, of Andover Theological Seminary, preached at his installation in Hampton, October 19, 1865. In 1867 a new pipe organ was procured at an expense of eleven hundred dollars, and the church was recarpeted. After a successful pastorate, during which twenty-five persons united with the church. Mr. Dodge was dismissed, Nov. 18, 1868, to accept a call to the pastorate of the Congregational church in Yarmouth, Mass., where he was installed December 30, 1868, and where he remained till the autumn of 1861, when on account of impaired health, he retired, and removed to Newburyport.
Rev. John W. Dodge, son of Moses and Susan (Webster) Dodge, of Newburyport, was born in that city, October 16, 1836; was graduated at Amherst College, 1857; Andover Theological Seminary, 1860; married, November 7, 1860, Mary Harris Toy, of Simsbury, Conn. They have children: 1, Mary Webster, baptized in Hampton, August, 1866; 2, George Toy; 3, Susan Webster.
REV. JAMES McLEAN, from Menasha, Wis., was the next pastor. He came in the autumn of 1869, and, having preached as stated supply for a year, was installed, December 15, 1870. In the spring of 1871, the estate dedicated to the use of the ministry since the settlement of the town was forsaken and sold, and a new parsonage bought, nearer the church; but this being found unsuitable was in turn sold after a few months, and a vacant lot purchased, with a view to building. Mr. McLean was dismissed January 30, 1872.
From this time, there was no installed pastor for twelve years. REV. F. D. CHANDLER was employed nearly two years; REV. JOHN S. BATCHELDER [see Genealogies -- Batchelder (38)], three years; REV. WILLIAM H. CUTLER, four and a half years; and transient preachers filled up the interval. Meanwhile, the Congregational society, instead of building a parsonage, bought Deacon Willcutt's homestead, adjoining their vacant lot, in 1878, and this house they have since remodeled. The same year the Sabbath afternoon church service was omitted during the summer months, which was but a prelude to omitting it altogether. The old box stoves which had long done service in heating the church, were exchanged for a furnace, in 1881, and the next year the church was repaired and frescoed.
REV. WALCOTT FAY, the next pastor, son of Rev. Barnabas Maynard and Mrs. Louis Mills Fay, was born in Flint, Mich.; studied at Williams and Oberlin Colleges, but did not complete the course, on account of illness; pursued theology at Yale and Bangor, graduating from the latter in 1883. He came to Hampton from Oxford, Me., where he had been preaching for a few months, and was ordained pastor of this church, February 20, 1884, Rev. S. P. Fay, of Dorchester, Mass., former pastor, preaching the sermon. The day had been dark and lowering; but during the ordination service the sun burst forth and shone full on the young pastor's head -- bright omen of prosperous days to come. On the 31st of August following, in presence of an audience, crowded to the aisles, Mr. Fay preached the last sermon before his summer vacation; and, at the close, was married to Mrs. Sallie (Rawson) Cox, of Arlington, Mass., Rev. S. P. Fay, by special license, performing the ceremony.
In October of that year, Joseph Dow resigned the office of clerk of the church, to which he was elected in October, 1863, and John Willcutt was chosen in his stead. Afterward, the pastor became clerk.
Mr. Fay's pastorate was a harmonious one, but it was short. He was dismissed, at his own request, November 16, 1886; and, a month later, was installed pastor of the Central Square Congregational church, in Bridgewater, Mass. Another remove was effected, in October, 1888, to his present pastorate, in Westborough, Mass. His son, Dexter Rawson, was born in Bridgewater.
After Mr. Fay's removal, no effort was made to formally install a successor in Hampton, till the present year, 1892, when REV. JOHN A. ROSS, the acting pastor, who began his ministrations in July, 1887, was cordially invited to settle. The installation took 0place on the 14th of June; Rev. Cyrus Richardson, D. D. of Nashua, preaching the sermon. The affairs of church and society move prosperously on.
Mr. Ross was born in Lunenburg, N. S.; graduated from the Free Church College, now merged in Dalhousie College, Halifax, N. S., in 1851; from the Free Church Divinity Hall, Halifax, in 1854; and was a resident at Andover Theological Seminary, in 1859. He married Louisa Todd, of St. Stephen, N. B.; practised law for a short time, in Boston; was acting pastor at New Gloucester, Me., from 1860 to 1864; supplied the church in Marion, Ia., 1864 to 1866, and was its pastor, 1866 to 1873; was pastor of the North Church, Belfast, Me., 1873 to 1886; and came to Hampton after a short residence in Boston. Mr. and Mrs. Ross have a son, William T., civil engineer, in Brewster, N.Y.; a daughter, Ellen A., married in Hampton, September 3, 1889, to Eugene S. Campbell, telegraph operator here, now of Wilmington, Mass.; and a younger son, John A., who lives with his parents.
David S. Brown, for twenty years clerk of the Congregational society, retired from office in March, 1887, and John F. Marston was chosen clerk.
A notable event within the present pastorate, was the two hundred fiftieth anniversary of the Congregational church in this town, celebrated August 19, 1888, the Sabbath following the town celebration.[Chap.XXXIII.] All the Hampton churches, together with the Congregational churches within the ancient limits of the town, were invited, and the house was filled to its utmost capacity. Rev. Mr. Ross preached an historical sermon, and the ex-pastors, Rev. Messrs. Fay, Colby, Dodge and Fay, the only survivors who have ever been installed here by a council, made short addresses.
[Note. The senior deacon, Joseph Dow, elected February 26, 1857, died on the 16th of December, 1889. Josiah J. Dearborn is his successor in office; and Jeremiah Locke has been chosen to relieve the present senior deacon, James Perkins, from active duty, when he shall so desire. --ED.]
The Woman's Missionary Society, connected at first directly, and now through the New Hampshire Branch, with the Woman's Board of Missions, was organized in 1871; and has, with its mission circles of young people, contributed an aggregate of about thirteen hundred thirty dollars, for foreign missionary work. A home missionary department was added in 1890.
A young People's Society of Christian Endeavor has been an active element in the church since 1888.