Granville, Mass. First Congregational Church - Disciplinary Cases

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During the colonial period, the local church often functioned as the legal authority in matters of morality. Parishioners were disciplined by the congregation in instances of intemperance (excessive drinking), adultery or fornication outside marriage, and other breaches of their duties as members of the Christian community. Punishment in such cases usually consisted of censure — a temporary restriction from attending services and participating in church business — until the guilty party made a formal confession or request for forgiveness.

  Full transcriptions of these documents are available.

 

Mehetabel Adams

Ms. Adams was accused by Mr. Seymour of being "quarrelsome" and generally unpleasant to several neighbors over the summer of 1820. After considering each incident, a committee of church members brokered a resolution between the two.

Complaint Seymour, Asa 1820 November
Confession Adams, Mehetabel 1820 December
Report Committee undated
Statement Seymour, Asa 1821 January 19
Statement Adams, Mehetabel 1821 January 21

 

James and Margaret Burt

The Burts had a contentious relationship to the church, particularly regarding what each side regarded as proper procedure for resolving their difficulties.

Complaint Burt, Margaret (Margrate / Margarit) 1761 November 24
Confession Warner, Samuel undated
Request for a church meeting Seaward, Ebenezer ; Spelman, John ; Strickland, John ; Coe, Samuel 1763 January 27
Request for a church meeting Moore / Mores / Morse, Marvin 1766 December 21 - 1767 January 5
Church meeting minutes Church Committee 1767
Advice of the Association committee Williams, Stephen undated
Request for reconciliation Burt, Margaret (Margarit) 1767 January 29
Complaint and response Coe, Samuel ; Church Committee 1767 December 2 - 1768 January 28
Confession Hitchcock, Luke 1768 February 3
Complaint Burt, Margaret 1771 January

 

Deborah Ellis

After delivering a child that did not survive under unclear circumstances, Mrs. Ellis was accused by Mr. Willcox of deception and improper conduct. She denied the charges and withdrew from the congregation. When Deborah and her husband William remained absent, despite repeated overtures by Rev. Cooley, the original matter was pursued further and Mrs. Ellis was excommunicated.

Testimony Willcox, Jeremiah undated
Response Ellis, Deborah undated
Letter to Capt. & Mrs. Ellis Cooley, Timothy undated
Testimony of Sharon Rose Cooley, Timothy 1802 November 27 & 28
Excommunication [Church Council] 1803 November 3
Copy of excommunication Cooley, Timothy 1803 November 3

 

Sarah Gibbins / Gibbons

Mr. Perkins petitioned the church for a trial of Mrs. Gibbins after she confessed privately to his family that she had spoken unkindly about them and other neighbors to Mrs. Church, and that she had spread a rumor about Mr. Perkins having stolen Rev. Smith's cheeses. She later made a written confession to the church admitting to all charges.

Testimony Perkins, Phineas 1766 April 9
Confession Gibbins, Sarah undated

 

Eli Gibbons

After repeated bad behavior "in speech and action", the church reached out to Mr. Gibbons and encouraged him to repent. Although he made a confession and asked for reconciliation in 1804, it seems that Mr. Gibbons's "unchristianlike walk" persisted for over a decade. He eventually came to feel unwelcome and stopped attending services, declaring that he would not return until formally invited to do so.

Admonition Cooley, Timothy undated
Advice against a new hearing Committee 1803 March 22
Confession Gibbons, Eli 1804 September 29
Complaint Coe, Oliver 1819 April 29
Complaint Coe, Oliver 1819 April 31
Confession Gibbons, Eli ; Seymour, Asa 1819 June 30
Letter to Oliver Coe Gibbons, Eli 1820
Letter to Timothy Cooley Gibbons, Eli undated

 

Luke Hitchcock

The church found itself in a protracted and contentious process when trying to choose a new deacon. The people most heavily involved included Luke Hitchcock, James Burt, and Samuel Coe. After Hitchcock was chosen, some church members were still uneasy with him serving in that office due to perceived flaws in his character.

Church meeting minutes (digest) Smith, Jedidiah 1757 January 20 - 1761 June 25
Committee meeting minutes Ballantine, John 1761 April 1
Complaint and response Spelman, John 1762 May 19
Complaint Burt, Margaret (Margarit) 1762 March 15
Church meeting minutes (digest) Smith, Jedidiah 1763 January 27 - April 21
Church meeting minutes (digest) various scribes 1765 October 20 - 1766 February 16
Church meeting minutes (digest) various scribes 1766 January 28 - February 2
Church meeting minutes (digest) various scribes 1769 March 27 - June 1
Church meeting minutes (digest) various scribes 1769 July 27 - 1771 February 11

 

Joseph Miller

In these two versions of Mr. Miller's confession, he admits to spreading unconfirmed rumors that "Mr. Gerard Pratt ... was the father of Lidiah Stiles' bastard child", and asks the church's forgiveness for his "breach of the Ninth Command[ment]" against lying.

Confession Miller, Joseph 1769 February 27
Confession Miller, Joseph undated

 

Joseph More(s) / Morse

Mr. More was called before the church to face accusations that he had expressed to several neighbors a belief that "many things recorded in ... the Bible were not given by divine inspiration" and that "it has many contradictions in it". He was further accused of neglecting his family's prayers in the home. After he admitted to all the charges but expressed no remorse, he was forbidden from attending worship services unless he repented.

Complaint unknown undated
Invitation to Joseph More Dickinson, Richard 1793 May 25
Admonition Bradford, William 1792 June 1

 

Phineas Pratt

Mr. Pratt was denied admission to the church, despite his written dismission and recommendation from his prior congregation in Worcester, on the grounds of his opinion about procedures for addressing private grievances between individuals outside the formal discipline process. They were advised by a nearby church to admit him and try to change his views.

Complaint against the church Pratt, Phineas 1764 December 27
Advice from West Parish Church in Suffield Williams, Stephen 1765 July 11

 

Justus Rose

The sole remaining document in this case is a second admonition sent to Mr. Rose after he refused to renounce his belief in "the doctrine of universal salvation", which the church council held to be dangerous to the congregation's spiritual health.

Admonition Cooley, Timothy 1814

 

Separatists

During the 1760s, a small group of members found themselves in such disagreement with the doctrine and governance of the church that they decided to stop attending services and providing financial support. Although the remaining members attempted to make amends, the decision was eventually made to cut ties. At least one of the "Separates" later asked to return.

Concerns about the Separates Seaward, Ebenezer ; Miller, Joseph Jr. ; Rose, Justus ; Rose, John ; Spelman, Aaron ; How, Ephraim ; Spelman, Oliver ; Spelman, Stephen ; Spelman, Charles ; Sweatman, Joseph undated
Concerns about the fracturing church Spelman, Aaron ; Spelman, Stephen ; Rose, Deborah ; Rose, Kezia undated (circa 1763)
First Admonition unsigned undated
Second Admonition unsigned undated
Letter to the Separates Smith, Jedidiah 1762 November 19 - December 29
Decision to excommunicate the Separates unsigned 1763 May 15
Request for advice Dunham, Jabez ; Seaward, Ebenezer 1769 August 24
Confession Gillet, Natha[niel] undated

 

John Spelman

This case involves a complicated financial matter involving Sgt. Spelman, Lt. Dan Robinson, the widow Hannah Austen of Durham, and a Mrs. Smith. The committee's judgment also includes testimony from Sgt. John Hambleton and George Pynchon, and it focuses more on the ethics of making and breaking promises than on the actual money that may have been owed.

Complaint Robinson, Dan 1762 August 24
Judgment Church Committee ; Smith, Jedidiah (moderator) 1762 October 6

 

Mary Stone

Mrs. Stone was admonished very solicitously by a committee of her fellow members for her extended absence from worship and communion services, "expressing irreverence for the Redeemer", and denying the divine inspiration of some parts of scripture.

Admonition unknown undated

 

Joseph Sweetman

Mr. Sweetman seems to have been a habitual liar. His confessions from 1761 admit to an incident when he claimed to have paid his rates (taxes) in Chelmsford in order to avoid paying them to Granville. The complaints against him from 1769 involve his denial of accusations that he had cheated his neighbor out of logs the two were intended to share evenly.

Confession Sweetman, Joseph (redacted) undated
Confession Sweetman, Joseph 1761 April 9
Confession Sweetman, Joseph 1761 September 28
Complaint Robinson, Timothy 1769 May 1
Complaint Seaward, Ebenezer 1769 May 1

 

John Tibbals

Mr. Tibbals seems to have been a bit of a scoundrel. In the first document, he seeks advice from the church committee on whether he should make a formal confession for a rumored sexual indiscretion with a Mary Rose that may lack sufficient proof for a court case. In the second, he and his wife ask forgiveness of the church for their repeated breach of the Seventh Commandment against fornication.

Request for advice Tibbals, John undated
Confession Tibbals, John (and his wife) undated

 

George Troop

Mr. Rose recounts an incident at the home of Mr. Stow in which Mr. Troop claimed to feel that "the Holy Ghost was there".

Testimony Rose, David undated

 

Bethia Walker

Mr. Rose and Mr. Seaward made formal complaints to the church after Mr. Rose's repeated attempts to privately chastise Mrs. Walker for not attending family prayers in her own home were rebuffed.

Testimony Rose, Daniel ; Seaward, Enos 1758 September 5

 

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