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“May 2, 1704. “ The differences between Mr. Woodbridge and several of the good people of Medford have been laid before our consideration, and they appear unto us to be of a very uncomfortable aspect.
“Our advice having been asked, whether it be proper to proceed unto an immediate settlement of a church state, whilst the present uneasiness and alienation of minds remain uncured, we cannot but declare that it seems to us not desirable. We could rejoice if we had a more hopeful prospect of a right understanding and good establishment in Medford.
" If it appears hopeless to the discerning Christians in the place (whereof we at this distance make not ourselves the judges), it seems better for them to study the best methods of parting as lovingly and speedily as they can, than, by continuing longer together, and carrying on a controversy, to produce exasperations that may defeat all other attempts to come at a desirable settlement.
“ INCREASE MATHER. “ SAMUEL WILLARD."
The advice of these gentlemen, so full of wisdom and love, did not suit Mr. Woodbridge. Difficulties thickened, and the church seemed to have fallen into a “place where two seas met."
June 19, 1704, the town voted that what they had done about Mr. Woodbridge's settlement be null and void. This does not seem to have altered materially the relations of the parties ; for, Dec. 19, 1704, the town directed the Selectmen to make “a rate of forty pounds, and thirteen cords of wood, for Mr. Woodbridge's salary.” What constituted a legal call of a minister, seems not to have been definitely understood. Some strenuously maintained that “it was not in the power of a town to dismiss their minister."
March 5, 1705, the town “voted that they would not proceed to settle Mr. Woodbridge as their minister.” After this, the reverend gentleman resorted to a new mode of operation, aided, no doubt, by his few earnest friends. The explanation of all may be found in the following vote of the town at the time :
Voted, “Whereas Mr. Woodbridge hath lately attempted the gathering a church in Medford, contrary to the respected advice of the elders in the neighborhood, though the whole procedure hath been highly irregular, and done without advice or respect of the inhabitants of the town, and without the countenance and concurrence of the neighbor churches; and, if he continues among us after
this manner, there will be a foundation laid for endless confusion and contention in this languishing town: for these and other such considerations, the town do declare themselves highly dissatisfied at Mr. Woodbridge's late irregular attempts and actions about gathering a church, and do protest against his going on in the offensive way he is in, and do forbid his preaching any more in their public meeting-house."
Mr. Woodbridge now appealed to the “General Sessions of Peace” at Charlestown. Their reply was, that “Mr. Woodbridge is not a settled minister in Medford.” Fourteen citizens immediately entered their protest against this decision. He next appealed to Governor Dudley and his Council ; and the result there was expressed in these words: “ That Mr. Woodbridge should not preach till he had made acknowledgments to the aggrieved parties.”
July, 1705 : A council of six churches was called, “to convince of, and testify against, those evils which have obstructed the quiet and regular settlement and enjoyment of all gospel ordinances in Medford.” Rev. Joseph Easterbrook, of Concord, was Moderator. The Council censured both Mr. Woodbridge and the town of Medford. One of the censures of Mr. Woodbridge was, that “the steps which he took towards gathering a church, as to the time and under the circumstances, were very unadvised, and obstructive to the regular settlement and enjoyment of all gospel ordinances in that town.”
We can imagine how much fireside conversation and deep feeling there must have been in the scattered farm-houses of Medford, while these unhappy differences had risen so high as to require the attention of the clergy, and even the interposition of the highest executive authority. Sadness and gloom settled upon the minds of our fathers. At such a time, they obeyed the dictates of a Christian prudence and a pious heart. They believed in prayer; and therefore, on the 6th December, 1706, the Selectmen appointed a town fast, that all the inhabitants, with one heart and one mind, should unite in asking God to heal these divisions, and restore to them a true gospel peace.
Cool and right-hearted, as full of valor as of wisdom, the town was still tolerant, and referred their case to the “Court of Sessions at Cambridge,” who appointed four persons to hear all the complaints on both sides, and then to recommend some mode of reconciliation, or to advise a peaceable separa
tion. After patient reviewal of the whole, they report, Nov. 28, 1707, that “the wound is incurable ;” and therefore advise a quiet withdrawal of Mr. Woodbridge, “ the town paying him forty pounds, in bills of credit, in full of all demands; also give him the strangers' money which has been collected during the last nine sabbaths; and, furthermore, to offer to purchase his real estate for two hundred and seventy pounds.' This decision, deemed by many as equitable and conciliatory, was somewhat modified by the highest tribunal, “the Great and General Court, held at Boston.” May 26, 1708, this court voted that Mr. Woodbridge is hereby declared to be no longer minister of Medford.” Also voted, at the same time," that this Court are directed speedily to procure and settle another minister; and that this Court do advise Mr. Woodbridge by no means to discourage the coming and settlement of another minister among them." The first of these votes pleased a majority of the town; the last displeased the whole; and forthwith our Medford fathers, in the true spirit of congregational liberty, came together and resolved thus : “ To petition the Court of Sessions that we may not have a minister imposed upon us ; but may have the liberty and privilege to choose our minister as other towns have, as the law directs."
It is not worth while to enter into details of small things. One specimen, occurring at this time, derives its importance from the fact that our fathers enlisted such men as Chief Justice Sewall in their troubles. The fact is as follows :
“ To Mr. BENJAMIN WOODBRIDGE, per Lieut. STEPHEN WILLIS.
“ June 5, 1708. “ Sir, In your account of disbursements, given to the town of Medford, at their meeting, Dec. 19, 1705, your first article is, * The expenses upon land, house, fencing, &c., as appears from my book, £249. 88. 1d. Now, the Committee desire to see the particulars by which that sum rises ; and, to that end, that you would meet them, or some of them, upon 'Change, presently after the Artillery Sermon, next Monday, where we may agree of a place of recess for this purpose.
“Sir, your servant,
“ SAMUEL SEWALL."
So tenacious was the grasp of Mr. Woodbridge on the pulpit of Medford, and so devoted were some hearts to his
cause, that, after all which had happened, we find the town, Dec. 6, 1708, voting thus : “ That Mr. Woodbridge be invited to
preach three months on a free contribution.” This must have been nearly a tie vote, since thirteen members immediately enter their protest against it. This probably ended Mr. Woodbridge's connection with the church as its preacher ; for, in the next year, Mr. John Tufts is a favorite, and commended for settlement.
During the long and increasing dissension, which was now closed, it is apparent that the town took counsel of wisdom and charity. They wished to give Mr. Woodbridge every opportunity of righting himself before the community, the churches, and the government; they apprehended the worldly and spiritual equity of the case; and it is refreshing to read their vote upon it, in the following beautiful words:
“ The difference hath been as tenderly, carefully, and well managed as we could.”
It is observable also with what serpent-like wisdom and dove-like harmlessness their advisers managed the case. They did not consider the contending parties as acids and alkalies, but as friends who desired reconciliation. After such a religious dissension, a parish would not be likely to unite very soon in the choice of another minister, unless there was that enlarged spirit of Christian compromise which requires more profound thought and a more expansive tolerance than the education of our ancestors had led them to attain or to cherish.
Mr. Woodbridge died in Medford, Jan. 15, 1710, after a residence of nearly ten years, aged sixty-five; and, on the same day, with commendable promptitude and just liberality, the town voted ten pounds to defray the expenses of his funeral, — an act which proves that they would not let the sun go down upon their animosity.
“ Thursday, 19th, Mr. Woodbridge was buried. Mr. Parsons, of Malden, preached the funeral sermon. Bearers: President (of College); Mr. Hobart, of Newton ; Mr. Brattle; Mr. Bradstreet; Mr. Parsons ; Mr. Ruggles, of Billericay. By reason that it was lecture-day, and Mr. Colman preached, and the wind very high and blustering, not one Boston minister was there."
Mr. Woodbridge seems not to have lost his ministerial standing during his troubles in Medford; and we must leave to future disclosures some points which now appear equivocal.
It was now the object of the leading minds in the town to compose all differences as soon as possible; but they found that the waves lash the shore after the wind that has raised them has ceased to blow. Resolved to enjoy the regular ministrations of the word and ordinances, the town passed the following vote, Feb. 17, 1709:
" Whether the town will encourage the preaching of the word amongst us by a free contribution. Voted in the negative.”
This vote showed two points: first, that they would not make the support of public worship to depend on the caprice or selfishness of the people; and, second, that they resolved every one should pay according to his means.
April 11, 1711: “John Whitmore, sen., Samuel Brooks, and Stephen Hall, were chosen to see for a supply of preaching in Medford for the time aforesaid.”
Mr. John Tufts, son of Mr. Peter Tufts, of Medford, proved so acceptable, that the town gave him an invitation, Nov. 12, 1711, to settle on a salary of fifty pounds and strangers' money.
Mr. Tufts’s reply, under date of “Medford, Dec. 10, 1711," so reveals certain facts that we transcribe it here: “ To the Selectmen of Medford.
“Sirs, — I have considered of the invitation which you, by your town's order, acquainted me they had given me, and also of the offer they had made for my encouragement to settle with them in the work of the ministry, for which I give them thanks; and you may inform the town, I am not indisposed to serve the interests of Christ in this place, and should cheerfully undertake the dispensation and administration of the word and ordinances of God amongst them, but that the circumstances of the town at present are such that I cannot readily and so freely comply with their desire as is to be wished for ; but, however, if suitable means were speedily used, and proper attempts made, to satisfy those persons that are averse to my, or any other person's, settling in the work of the ministry in this place, and also if the town will allow me such a salary as I shall think sufficient for my maintenance, I know nothing to the contrary, but I may undertake the work of the ministry amongst them. My desire and prayer to the infinitely wise God for this people is, that he would incline and direct them to do that which will be most for God's glory and their own peace and happiness, both in this and in the world to come.
JOHN TUFTS." Mr. Tufts afterwards concluded not to settle; and the town resolved to hear candidates with reference to ordination.