Rev. Bachiler -- An Unorthodox Founder

Hampton 350

1638 -- 1988

Rockingham County Newspaper -- July 8, 1988

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[The following articles are courtesy of
Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]

By Bruce E. Ingmire

Contributing Writer

The Congregational Church
The Congregational Church of Hampton,
founded in 1638 by Rev. Stephen Bachiler
and his followers.

Probably the most colorful of the ecclesiastics that arrived in New England in the 17th century, Stephen Bachiler, the founder of Hampton, was a tolerant minister who consistently threatened Puritan attempts to establish an orthodox point of view.

Bachiler was over 70 when he arrived in New England. After moving from Lynn to Yarmouth on Cape Cod, and then to Newbury on Cape Ann, Bachiler finally settled in what is now known as Hampton, where he came under the criticism of his more conservative Puritan assistant, Timothy Dalton. Work of men like Bachiler, though, left the precedent for individuality that New Hampshire came to cherish.


Bachiler's life is replete with the mythology of his longevity and episodes of marital infidelity involving his third wife. The truth of some of the events of his life, though, has been lost.

The vehemence of the fight in Hampton over his ministry, however, may well be the source of some of the mythology. Bachiler's assistant, the teacher Dalton, fought hard to discredit the aging minister, and any modern historian must carefully review the story to distill the facts.

Dedham, Mass., Dalton's previous home, was the site of an early town split that reveals strong contention and disagreement. Ministers like Dalton and their enthusiastic supporters were just as likely as anyone to circulate rumors to discredit opposition. Bachiler is important in the history of New Hampshire because, like John Wheelwright and Thomas Walford, he was another banished Bay Colony settler who journeyed north.

The history of their early New Hampshire settlements shows that democratically organized towns could flourish without orthodox or even consistent views. It was the early survival of these communities despite their diversity and dissension that demonstrated multiple religious values and political ideas could exist in a single community. It was this development that led to the concept of the separation of church and state, but this realization came too late for early settlers like Bachiler when men like Dalton still assumed there was one Puritan view in Massachusetts.

There were seven settlers with the name Bachiler who arrived in the colonies. In the mode of the day, most English families varied the spelling of their surname from village to village to distinguish each family, just as in each Irish fishing village a unique knitting stitch was developed to identify the home of drowned seamen whose bodies washed ashore. The spelling of surnames was similarly varied to help in identification. A man by the name of Alexander Batchelder, for instance, settled in Portsmouth but was not related to Stephen. Later, as spelling of names became standardized, the descendants of Stephen adopted the Batchelder spelling of the other family.

Born in 1561

Bachiler was born 1561 in Hampshire, or Hants, England, where he witnessed the rise of the Puritan movement. Some studies of the period represent the ecclesiastical upheaval of the era as Puritan versus Episcopacy. However, throughout England there were numerous Protestant sects, including the Fifth Monarchists, Ranters, Quakers, Family of Love Members, Separatists (known to Americans as the Pilgrims) and Baptists. Bachiler attended St. John's of Oxford and was influenced by many ideas from the numerous sects.

Bachiler has been called a "familist." Familism was one of the Elizabethan sects that was also political. Familists believed in prelapsarianism — that is, there was an Eden on Earth before Adam's fall. They also advocated holding property in common, as the Shakers would choose to do two centuries later. Familists accepted itinerant ministers and individual interpretation of the Bible.

After Elizabeth I's death in 1603, James I tried to establish order in his realm by insisting on orthodoxy. One of the earliest ministers to lose his living under this program was Bachiler, who was widely known as a non-conformist.

The Puritans were insistent upon an orthodox point of religious view, and neither individual interpretation nor itinerant ministers fit into the Puritan scheme. The Puritans evolved a strong clericalism during the entire 17th century. Late in his life, Bachiler adopted the idea of the settled ministry, as shown in Hampton. This is the Puritan approach to the ministry; he obviously rejected the notion of an itinerant ministry for what may have been practical considerations.

Separate But Involved

Puritans in New Hampshire took a mixed approach to land ownership, with privately maintained homes but commonly held fields. Eventually, New Englanders promoted the private ownership of all lands. Whatever his earlier views, Bachiler came to favor private ownership in New England. These variations from Familism attest to Bachiler's independent spirit in taking religious positions and seeking realistic solutions to daily existence.

New England ministers, advocated a separation of church and state because they did not want to be threatened by political leaders, but they exercised their right as voters and participants to interfere in politics in the name of morality.

Bachiler may have been in favor such separation, but his participation in the local politics of Hampton may have aided his downfall.

Coming To America

In England in the 1620s, Bachiler had become involved with another group, this one called the Plough Company. The Plough Company emphasized husbandry and may have been influenced by the Diggers, a radical sect which advocated common ownership of all lands. A contingent of this group sailed in 1631 to North America with the intention of settling on what today is Cape Elizabeth, Maine. The group did not maintain the settlement.

Bachiler apparently planned to join that community but decided to cross the ocean after that first settlement failed. After his arrival in Charlestown, daughter Theodate Hussey joined her fellow Congregationals in calling him to Saugus as their settled minister. Bachiler became the source of controversy there because of questions revolving around the gathering of the church. On Oct. 3, 1632, he was admonished by the General Court but on May 6 1635, he became a free man.
By 1638, he finally arranged to go farther north and start the colony of Hampton. A few hardy souls were already settled there. Some had erected a trading house two years earlier in preparation of the impending move. Others had come earlier that year and settled to the west with John Wheelwright (in Exeter). Some 15 families started Hampton, and from the beginning there were disagreements about title to the land.

Timothy Dalton arrived within the first year of settlement. Insistent upon the Bay Colony prerogatives, Dalton constantly jousted with the aging Bachiler. The recorded disagreements revolved around Bachiler's personal conduct and not religious content. Rumors persisted that the octogenarian was involved with a female parishioner. This story has been taken for fact, yet no one ever stepped forward to make the specific charges or admit guilt. Bachiler apparently admitted considering such a dalliance, but insisted that it had never occurred.

That the woman never stepped forward suggests that these were trumped up charges. Unfortunately, in the nearby town of Dover, ministers Knowles and Larkham had been caught dallying with maids, so that the suspicious settlers were of a mind to suspect the worst of their enthusiastic ministers.


By 1641, events in England had made the union of New Hampshire and Massachusetts inevitable. Bachiler was again unable to escape from the orthodoxy of Boston- centered ecclesiastics. He was called to Exeter and Casco, but ensuing controversy precluded his acceptance of the positions. Bachiler sued in court to end the rumors and seek remedies from his precarious position. The resolution of these trials is unclear, but Bachiler retired to Portsmouth.

When he was 92, he became involved with a scurrilous woman, Mary Beadle. She became pregnant and Bachiler married her. Later she had a child by George Rogers, with whom she was accused of living. Court orders swirled and Bachiler soon left the colony. It was later reported by Mary Beadle Bachiler that the old man married once again when he returned to England. He died, at age 100, a few years later outside of London.

Unfortunately, the last episode gave credibility to the earlier rumors. However, the importance of Bachiler's life is not his escapades but that his life is representative of the independent Massachusetts settler who was drawn north in search of individual expression.

Portsmouth historian Bruce Ingmire's book, "Visual History of the Seacoast," will be published by Downing Company of Virginia. His article, "Goody Cole — The Witch Of Hampton," appears on Page 18 of this section.

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