Dighton Community Church
Compiled by Marion B. Walkden
For the Dighton Community Church
Bicentennial Service and
Carillon Bell Dedication held
October 26, 1975
Considerable material in this brief history was taken from the writings and historical research work of Helen A. Lane, our revered church member, town and church historian, and author of the “History of Dighton Massachusetts.”
Credit is also given to the late Rev. George L. Thompson, Minister from 1925 to 1936. He, too, authored pamphlets dealing with the church history.
THE DIGHTON COMMUNITY CHURCH
Rugged, chaste and imposing, the Dighton Community Church has stood since the days when King George the Third of England was the ruler of the land. The first church in Dighton was built beside the old Indian Trail leading from Montaup, or Mount Hope, to Cohannet in Taunton and on to Plymouth. This trail in Dighton is now Elm Street. In 1767 this meeting house began to show its age, fifty years, and a quarrel arose about where a new church should be built. Then one dark night the old building burned to the ground, probably set on fire by persons who wished to see the dispute brought to a close.
Feeling grew to an intense pitch. Finally the selectmen of Attleboro were requested to draw five names from their jury box, and the men thus chosen were asked to ride to Dighton and choose an appropriate site for a church. The choice lay between the Lower Four Corners, the Upper Four Corners, now Segreganset, and the neighborhood near what is now the Brick Church. Down the committee rode on horseback, stayed over night at Mr. Brown’s Tavern, looked over the sites, listened to everyone, and gravely chose a place that no one favored. It was near a cart path that ran through an area called Buck Plain, somewhere near the center of the town.
All residents joined in building the new meeting house on Buck Plain. It was used as a church some forty years and as a town meeting house one hundred years. But many people were unhappy about its location.
The growing seaport of what is now Dighton Village had a number of prominent men who had progressive views. By wise cutting of the forests, building ships, and using them for the West Indian trade, they had become comfortably well off. In the year 1769 they organized what was known as the Pedo Baptist Congregational Society. It was often called the Church of the Lower Four Corners. Later it became the Dighton Unitarian Church, and at present is called the Dighton Community Church. But legally it is still the Pedo Baptist Congregational Society. This name indicates that the people who organized it favored baptizing children. At that time a theological controversy shook New England as to whether children who had not “experienced conversion” might lawfully be baptized.
The site of the church which they built was part of the very large Indian cornfield which lay west of the trail from Mt. Hope to Taunton and Plymouth. From the west end of the church cemetery the ancient Council Oak can be seen across the field. Under its wide-spreading branches Indian leaders met and camped. The sachem Philip, it is said, often visited this tree. This old white oak must have reached great size before the church was built.
We know that the church building had been completed sufficiently for use by the spring of 1770, for a committee from Dighton was sent to present a petition to the General Court which stated that they had a meeting house already built and in use. Later a legislative committee confirmed this after visiting Dighton. The new society was therefore granted relief from taxes paid to support the church on Buck Plain.
The new meeting house had no tower or steeple. It was unfinished. During the Revolutionary War it was used as a barrack for patriot soldiers and sometimes even as a sheep pen.
Ezra Stiles, first settled minister of the church, was later made president of Yale College. Driven out by the British in 1777, he arrived in Dighton with his family and several of his former Newport congregation. Among them was William Ellery, singer of the Declaration of Independence. Ezra as minister of the half finished church at Lower Four Corners was paid about three hundred dollars, house, and wood. While minister of the Dighton Church, Ezra Stiles received on July 13th a copy of the Declaration of Independence to be read to the congregation. It was brought to him by Mr. Channing, father of the famous preachers. Among Rev. Stiles’ many friends were Benjamin Franklin, Robert J. Payne, General Stark, John Adams, President Langdon of Harvard, and many leaders of the Revolutionary War period. He was a descendant of Oliver Wendell Holmes.
William Ellery and Ezra Stiles shared a house, now north of the church, which was the property of Rufus Whitmarsh, and important town official, who had given the land on which the church is built.
William Ellery is remembered in Dighton for riding on horseback to every meeting of the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. He is also said to have planted the tulip tree still growing in the corner lot now owned by the church. He was the grandfather of William Ellery Channing, the great preacher, and Richard Henry Dana, author of “Two Years Before the Mast.”
There were several men active in the Revolutionary War who were part of our Dighton church congregation. Colonel Sylvester Richmond, who gave the woodland in West Dighton to the church, once received the sword of the French commander at Cape Breton. John Richmond, according to records, served at the Battle of Bunker Hill.
Captain John Clouston was in command of the “Privateer Freedom.” His cruising ground was the British Channel where he took many prizes, rendering great service to the American cause. When Lafayette rode through Dighton on his ride from Newport to Boston to secure help from the French fleet, he stayed at Captain Clouston’s house, now the home of the Charles Harris family. He was later captured and put in a British prison for years which ruined his health.
Nathaniel and Thomas Rose enlisted in the Revolutionary War army and navy. Thomas was captured and sent to Dartmouth Prison in England where the news of Cornwall’s capture was brought into the prison on a piece of paper baked into a loaf of bread. Later they managed to reach home.
Colonel Thomas Church came to Dighton from Seconet on much the same route that the weary Rose brothers had taken. He was a descendant of the celebrated warrior Benjamin Church. He was active in town affairs and was Colonel of a Rhode Island regiment.
Ebenezer Stetson, a sexton of the church, was sergeant of Marines on a private armed ship named the Viper. He was so badly wounded that his leg had to be amputated. Years later he is remembered as he stood in the church with the stump of one leg resting on a chair while he pulled lustily on the bell rope of the Revere bell.
Perhaps the richest man in the Town of Dighton in the early days was Elkanah Andrews who built Muddy Cove Bridge in 1772. He helped to raise considerable money to carry on the war. Two of his sons served in the Continental Army. He had owned several slaves who must have sat in the slave pews still to be seen at the church. One of his servants named Neot, town records show, was freed so that he could fight in the war. He enlisted for three years. Later Mr. Andrews freed all of his slaves but they stayed on as servants as long as they lived.
Other slaves in Dighton enlisted for the war. One was Prince, servant of John Pierce. He really distinguished himself as the strong man who broke down the door where the British Colonel Prescott was staying in Newport. He bashed his head against it.
Caesar, Thomas Church’s servant, was also freed and enlisted for the war’s duration. One of the Baylies brothers, Dr. William or Thomas Sargent, must have had a slave who had already been freed and enlisted for the duration of the war. He was a blacksmith by the name of London Baylies.
Honor needs to be given to these black men who fought through the whole war. Many residents of the town had service records of just a few days as they went on alarms to nearby Rhode Island.
At the March town meeting in 1781, the people voted for Dighton’s Emancipation Proclamation freeing the slaves in town and promising that in case they should be incapable of supporting themselves that the town would consider them in the same manner as they do white inhabitants in like circumstances and do equally well by them.
Another famous man born in Dighton who was a hero of the Revolutionary War was Commodore Silas Talbot. He had left town to go on a ship when twelve years old. At that time the meeting hose at Lower Four Corners was not built, but Silas Talbot’s brothers and sisters, cousins, nieces and nephews were for many years a source of strength to what is now the Community Church. Commodore Talbot was engaged in the siege of Boston and distinguished himself in New York. The Constitution or Old Ironsides was Commodore Talbot’s flagship. Her anchor was cast in Hodijah Baylies’s foundry at Westville and brought to Dighton by a team of oxen. A book has been written about Commodore Silas Talbot.
Seth Talbot, another member of the family, was captain of the Bristol Country companies. Colonel John Hathaway, who was in command of another one of the companies, is said to have also been a member of the church of the Lowe Four Corners.
Hodijah Baylies, one of the members of the distinguished Baylies family of the church and Dighton, graduated from Harvard College. In the War of the Revolution he was a Major in the Continental Army. He was aid-de-camp to Major General Lincoln from the years 1777 to 1781 and in 1782 to General Washington. He was with Washington during the siege of Charleston and also at the capture of York Town. His service continued into first term as president. As a reward for his service, Washington in 1789 appointed Hodijah Baylies collector of the port of Dighton which then included all of Bristol County west of New Bedford. He served as collector for twenty years, renowned for his fine courage and for his many acts of kindness to the townspeople.
During the years just before the fighting began at Lexington, Concord, and Bunker Hill, two representatives were elected to attend the Provincial Congress which met at Salem, Charlestown, or Cambridge. They were Col. Elnathan Walker from the Buck Plain Meeting House and Dr. William Baylies fo the church of the Lower Four Corners, the present community church.
Dr. William Baylies, a 1760 Harvard graduate, was a man of fine mental endowments and held many positions requiring high intelligence and sound judgment.
He was a member of the Provincial Congress in 1775. During the Revolution he was often in the councils of the state. In 1784 while in the Senate, he was appointed Registrar of Probate for Bristol County and a judge of the Common Plea. He was a member of the State Convention that ratified the Constitution and was an elector of the president and vice-president.
He had wide outside interests. He was a charter member of the Medical, Historical, Agricultural, and Humane Societies of Massachusetts and belonged to the Academy of Arts. His father, Nicholas Baylies, had formed an important iron foundry at Westville. Dr. William had a large family and his two sons were educated at Rev. Gushee’s School in Dighton. They both became distinguished men.
Dr. William was also a good business man and with his son Frances and a partner, he conducted a store on the Taunton River near his home which was stocked with goods that were brought up the river from the South, from West Indies, and South America. Dighton at the time was noted for shipbuilding and shipping. This flourishing business continued until the coming of the steamboat and railroad.
Dr. Baylies was instrumental in building the first Berkley Bridge which was a toll bridge owned by a corporation. During the War for Independence, he served on nearly every important committee. He was a wise counselor in town affairs and a skillful physician and merchant.
Dr. Baylies’s son, William Jr., became a lawyer in West Bridgewater. One of his pupils was the poet William Cullen Bryant. When William died, the poet wrote a long and beautifully worded epitaph for his gravestone. If you are a good climber, it would be worth your effort to climb the hill in our old Dighton town cemetery to read his epitaph.
Thomas Sargeant Baylies was the brother of Dr. William and Hodijah Baylies. He lived in North Dighton where the Raytheon Company was located. He was both a farmer and an iron Manufacturer.
Thomas was a man of great influence in town affairs, was representative to the General Court for three years, and a selectman for a number of years.
The stories listed here are only part of those of the hearty workers for independence from the church at the Lower Four Corners, but time and space at present forbids giving others the honor they deserve. The same could be said of other parishioners too numerous to mention here whose contributions to the church life throughout its history after the Revolutionary War were also very substantial.
Repairs had been made and finishing touches added to the meeting hose after the Revolutionary War. It was completed in 1798. The horse mounting block had been place by the road, and the stone wall with “convenient stepping stones” was built at a parish “bee”. In 1821 the Revere bell was purchased. A delegation from Dighton went to the bell foundry in Canton to see the metal poured into the mold, and, as the metal ran, threw fifty silver dollars into the stream to give it a richer tone. When the bell was ready, two yoke of oxen were sent to draw it from Canton to Dighton. It was hung in a small shed in the church yard where it was rung every evening at nine o’clock. In 1827 the tower and steeple were constructed in the church yard and then raised by ship’s tackle. The corner posts of the tower are gigantic uprights, hand hewn, twelve inches square and sixty feet long. The Revere bell was moved to the belfry and is still in use.
The completion of the church in 1798 and the additions in 1821 and 1827 were made possible by the gift from Sylvester Richmond of a wood lot in the west part of the town near the present Dighton-Rehoboth High School. Timber worth two thousand dollars was immediately sold. Six hundred dollars completed the building and the remainder was reserved as a ministerial fund. After selling timber from this lot several times, the Society sold the land partly to the Regional High School and partly to the New England Power Company.
In 1861 the church was “modernized”. Many parish members were disappointed at the result, but voted to accept the work.
In 1870 an English Georgian era organ was obtained. It had been used in Harvard College Chapel. In 1949 the case of the old Georgian organ was used to enclose a new organ, a Hutchings pipe organ. A set of Deagan chimes was installed then as the gift of Dr. and Mrs. Arnold Wordell in memory of all children. Now in 1975, Verdin Carillons have been given to the church by Rev. and Mrs. Edward A. Robbins, Sr. in memory of John Joseph Mascolo, father of our pastor’s wife.
Not to be forgotten in the church history are ministers who have served through the years. Many of them came as young men and left to render further service in larger towns and cities where they left their impact on the communities. We are justly proud of them.
No more faithful man ever served as pastor than Rev. Abraham Gushee who was born in 1775 and died eighty-six years later. He was a Brown University graduate and accepted his pastorate of the Second Congregational Society, now the Dighton Community Church, and was ordained in 1803. The church became Unitarian during his pastorate. It is known legally as the Pedo Baptist Congregational Society, Inc. It became the Community Church in 1971.
Rev. Gushee ran a fashionable boarding school on Elm Street. It’s now the home of the Gordon James family. To it came sons of distinguished families such as the DeWolfs from Bristol, the Ames of Easton, the Sanfords of Boston, and the Baylies of Taunton. He still faithfully served as pastor for over fifty-seven years.
Upstairs in the church a small study honors Abraham Gushee’s memory. In the room is the desk he used for many years. It was given to the church by the Gushee descendants and Mr. Gordon James restored it to its original beauty. Mr. Donald F. Barrows, also a Gushee descendant, added another gift of a treasured antique globe which Rev. Gushee often used.
On Memorial Day in 1962, when the Gushee Study was dedicated, a service was held at Abraham Gushee’s grave and the Revere bell in the church tolled fifty-seven times in memory of his fifty-seven years of ministry to the church.
Years after the pastorate of Rev. Gushee, the church in 1890 gratefully received as a gift the Smith Memorial Hall, a strong, very well built building which is used by the church for meetings, suppers, and social events.
The plaque on the inside wall of the hall reads:
“To the Unitarian Church in the Town of Dighton
the birthplace she loved so well
The husband and children of Ann Maria Smith
Honor to her beautiful character, her liberal
Faith and her pure life.”
The Smiths also presented the church a house which stood on the corner of Pleasant and Main Street.
In recent years some of the church members worked diligently to refurbish the Ladies’ Parlor there. Now the Women’s Alliance enjoys the spacious attractive room where they hold their monthly meetings and the large fireplace is again holding a blazing fire.
At Christmas time the hall rings again with the sounds of happy children as they enjoy a dinner with their families and the church congregation. Then they present a Christmas program and after that accept gifts from Santa found under the large Christmas tree they’ve decorated. It ends with the singing of Christmas carols. It’s an enjoyable old fashioned Christmas in the old fashioned hall which we still enjoy.
Our beautiful edifice with its sanctuary with box pews and Tulip Pulpit s well suited for a church so historically oriented. Its reputation as one of the most beautiful colonial churches in New England is due to the generosity of Mrs. Walter C. Baylies who in 1930 renovated it in honor of her husband’s ancestors who had worshiped there. As far as possible, the features of the original building were restored.
The plaque in the church vestibule reads:
“Restored in A.D. 1930
Charlotte Upham Baylies
Wife of Walter Cabot Baylies
Great grandson of
Major Hodijah Baylies
Who was a member of this
Church and Aid-de-camp
to General Washington
during the Revolution.”
Mrs. Baylies also gave the church the beautiful old Baylies homestead.
Both young and old are proud of their old restored church and they work together to keep it in good repair and to practice the Christian principles which they have been taught there. Many young people who took part in church life have been helped in recent years to further their education because of the Standish Memorial Scholarship exemplifying that “it is more blessed to give than to receive.” It was the gift of Mrs. Mary Standish Perry Miller, Mrs. Delight Standish Jones, and Miss Clara Standish, all members of the church.
The church’s influence reaches out into the community for miles around through its annual Day Lily Show which has been held for the last thirty years. Our 1769 historical colonial church provides a charming background for the profusion of flower arrangements in bright exotic colors, and it gives enjoyment to more than a thousand people who visit it each year.
Our Dighton Community Church holds a worship service each Sunday at 10:30 A.M. The Sunday School meets at the same time church is held.
We of the Dighton Community Church believe in the highest virtues of human life as taught and lived in the life of Jesus of Nazareth. We strive in our own lives to practice the love, kind-ness, and patience exemplified in his life and our worship in church is to reaffirm those commitments we have made to one another.
The people of the Dighton Community Church are justly proud of their historical heritage and are very grateful to those who so generously embellished it with material gifts. May our purposes and objectives of the future sustain the achievements of the past.
In 1985 new gutters were put on the church. A new roof went on in 1988. The Ludwig Schulze's Family in memory of the Baylies Family gave a gift of money in 1987 which led to the painting of the outside of the church in 1988. In 1989 the inside of the church was painted. All brass fixtures were removed, polished, and replaced to add a shining touch. The front door Colonial lamp was repaired. The Sunday School planted gardens at the entrance of the church. These have been added to and lovingly cared for by Carl Carpo.
Mr. & Mrs. Richmond J. Tripp presented a new American flag to the church at the Memorial Day Service in honor of Scouting .
The marble plaque was brought up to date with past ministers’ names. The church has had a thorough cleaning from attic to furnace room. During July 1989 the floor in the sanctuary was refinished.
Revised by Caroline Tripp 10-1-89