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Brewster recalls the former
church amd its history

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By Charles W. Brewster

Editors Note: C.W. Brewster was a Portsmouth columnist in the mid-1800's. This article includes his opinions and may not reflect current research or current values.

Old North church - Rev. Dr. Buckminster - Last Service - Pew occupants in 1812 - The Vane's appeal.

IT was in the old North Church, and the time but a few weeks since, [March 1854,] that the afternoon service was closed with the hymn--"When I can read my title clear," sung in good spirit by the choir.

The deep sentiment no doubt was felt by many of those in attendance; but with some it had also the effect of bringing back the recollections of former years,--recollections which rise unbidden now that the walls of the old Church are so soon to be prostrated, and in their fall close from the view all that is left of the cherished associations of by-gone years.

It was to 1812 that we were carried back. Again the heavy pulpit with its sounding board, appeared on the west side of the church; (it was a meeting house then;) gallery above gallery again appeared, and the long spiral rod was extended from the chandelier to the almost dizzy height of the blue ceiling. The pews of the house again were divided off into their varied shapes and sizes. The place of the organ and its pipes was filled by human organs, and the place of the stoves and their pipes was a blank, for neither were permitted there.

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Enter and Exit Rev. Buckminster

There were three porches for entrance--on the north, south, and east. The latter opened to the broad aisle; and here the reverend pastor, Dr. Buckminster, always entered, decked in his canonicals, his robe and bands,--his tri-cornered hat in hand. He was the object of veneration for man and boy, maid and matron; none looked lightly upon him; all felt some personal relation to him, for scarcely one of his parish could not either say he officiated at my wedding or at my baptism.

It was at that season, the last of May, when nature was in its liveliest attire without, that the venerable and dignified pastor entered for the last time the house, and that pulpit which he had regularly filled for thirty-three years. There were evident signs of indisposition resting upon him, yet he went through the services in his accustomed fervent manner, and the reading of the closing hymn seemed a foreboding utterance of those great events which were soon to await him. The few now alive of those who heard, are witnesses to the deep feeling with which he read,

"When I can read my title clear,
To mansions in the skies;
I'll bid farewell to every fear,
And wipe my weeping eyes."
Nor will they soon forget the scene which another month presented, when the pulpit, the chandelier and the galleries were draped in black, and the deep feeling with which Rev. Dr. Parker uttered the sentiments of his own heart and those of the parishioners, on the loss of one who had enjoyed their mutual estimation. Many weeks did that drapery remain, but much longer did the people mourn their loss. He was the last pastor who has been called home. The four pastors who have since been settled, Messrs. Putnam, Holt, Clark and Moore, are now [in 1854] all living--showing but one death in a pastorate of seventy-five years. Rev. Edwin Holt died at Madison, Indiana, June 12, 1854, soon after this was written. Rev. Israel W. Putnam, D. D., died at Middleborough, Mass. Rev. Rufus W. Clark is settled at Albany, N.Y. Rev. Henry D. Moore removed to Portland, Me. Rev. Lyman Whiting was installed here Nov. 1, 1855, and in Dec. 1858, asked dismission, and removed to Brooklyn, N.Y.

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Who's Who in the Pew?

But as we cast our eyes around the church "as it was," and in imagination retrace the aisles and glance at the pews, how few of the persons who were present in 1812, or even of their families, are now to be found here. There are some interesting reminiscences of that day which should be recorded before they forever pass from remembrance.

The pulpit was on the centre of the west side of the house. We pass from it on the right and glance at the wall pews. First is that of Hon. William Whipple, a signer of the declaration of independence, which his widow then occupied. Washington and James Monroe have been seated here. Next that of Hon. Hunking Penhallow, for many years State Councillor. Hon. Isaac Waldron's came next; then Joseph Clark's; and in the south-west corner was Col. Eben Thompson's. The next on the south side was occupied by the venerable John McClintock, who looked to our young eyes like an old man then; but a further pilgrimage of forty-five years was then in store for him. Then came the pew of Madam Adams, which her son Timothy Farrar occupied. Then followed the pews of Jacob Cutter, James Rundlett and Daniel Webster. That of the latter distinguished statesman occupied the spot where the pulpit afterwards stood. Next was the pew of Mrs. Sargeant, then that of Colonel Joseph Whipple, and the spacious pew in the south-east corner was occupied by Gov. John Langdon. The next four on the east side were occupied by Nathaniel Dean, Capt. George F. Blunt, Capt. Nathaniel Folsom and Col. William Brewster. Passing the entrance to the middle aisle the other wall pews on the east side were occupied by the families of Jacob Sheafe, William Hill, Daniel R. Rogers and Joseph Akerman. A double pew in the north-east corner was occupied by Hon. John Goddard. Capt. William Rice and Peyton R. Freeman occupied the two next, on the north side. After passing the entrance by the bell porch, they were occupied by John Peirce, Stephen Pearse, Elisha Hill, James Winkley, Richard Hart and Oliver Briard. Richard Tibbets and Thomas G. Berry occupied the pew in the north-west corner; and the several pews extending thence to the pulpit were occupied by William Garland, Misses Slade, Madam Treadwell and Daniel Austin. This completes the circuit of the wall pews.

Entering the middle aisle from the east, we see on our right the pews of Capt. William Furber, Peter Wilson, John P. Lord, Edward Cutts, (his was lined with bright scarlet cloth,) John Langdon, Jr., Benjamin Penhallow, John B. Hill, Portsmouth Female Asylum, and on the corner in front of the pulpit, was Edward Parry's. Following the aisle around north to the starting point, we find those of Isaac Smith, Langley Boardman, John F. Parrott, Aaron Lakeman, Benjanim Akerman, John Hill, Robert Yeaton, Sarah Gregory, Jeremiah Dennett, James Hill and Simeon Stiles. In the centre of the northern pit pews were those of Enoch M. Clark, Mrs. Greenleaf, John Bowles, Amos Tappan, Nathaniel T. Moulton, J. Plumer Dennett, Ammi R. Hall and Daniel Pinkham.

Beginning again at the east entrance of the middle aisle, we pass around the south pit pews occupied as follows:--by John Penhallow, Rev. Dr. Buckminster's family, John Melcher, William and Theodore Chase, Edward J. Long, Henry Ladd, Samuel Chauncy, William Vaughan, the sexton, Mr. McIntire, Charles Peirce, John Salter, Mrs. Spence, Job Harris, Elisha Whidden, John Gouch, Tobias Walker, William Neil, Josiah Folsom, Hannah Leigh. In the centre of these were the pews of Joseph Bass, Nathaniel Fernald, R. Cutts Shannon, Nathaniel Brown and Samuel Brewster. The latter pew was regularly occupied by the same family from the erection of the house in 1712 to the change of 1837.

The gallery pews were also taken up by old standard parishioners. Among these we recollect the pews of John March, Daniel Davis, George Fernald, Nathaniel Jackson, John Nelson, John Staples, William Whidden, William Furber, Robert Holmes, Ebenezer Rowe, Nathaniel Dennett, Timothy Ham, Robert Ham, Barnet Akerman, George Tetherly, William Moses, Mark Adams, George Walker, George Hart, Nehemiah Green, Thomas Peirce, John Reding, sen., Timothy Ham, Jr., and Samuel Akerman.

Among the regular occupants of pews in the gallery was Richard Fitzgerald. He once said to us that his parents told him that he first went to meeting with them in April, 1774. He was present on the day when the services were last performed in the church, in April, 1854, in his gallery seat, from which he was scarcely ever absent of a Sabbath,--thus completing eighty years' attendance.

There were but few regular occupants of the upper gallery except the inmates of the almshouse, and a full representation from all the colored population of Portsmouth.

The three deacons, Amos Tappan, Job harris and A. R. Hall, took their seats in front of the pulpit, facing the audience. No boy smiled when he passed a deacon in those days. A fixture, almost as stationary as the minister, was the sexton, William Vaughan. For twenty-five years he was in regular attendance in that capacity. The heavy bell he could manage like a plaything, while some men of double his strength could with difficulty set it. Order was a requisite he could never dispense with, and if boys were seen to behave rudely in meeting, the sharp countenance of the old gentleman was upon them, and if not at once quiet, his firm hand was found marching them to the pulpit stairs.

There rise before us such a host of early recollections of the spirits of the past, that we must break short our story that they may be quietly allayed. It is not strange that the contemplated demolition of the only thing on earth in which they held a common property should have disturbed their repose. But old things must pass away and all things become new.

When the old North church was built in 1712, it was symmetrical in form, the steeple being in the centre of the front. An enlargement on the west side was afterwards made. The Vane bore the date of 1732, when it was put up. It was not gilded until 1796. When destined to come down in 1854, the Vane is thus personified, to enable it to tell its story. Hardened by long exposure, tenacious of life to the last, the man of the spire whirls around with every breeze. He sees in the garden a few rods to the north-west, an aged oak of two centuries, which is the only visible object older than himself. Listen to his appeal.

Click her to read Brewster's Poem
"Vane of the Old North Church"

Text scanned courtesy of The Brewster Family Network
Copy of Rambles courtesy Peter E. Randall
History Hypertext project by
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