Sunday, May 10, 2015

Third Time's A Charm

 Beginning in 1663, the town of Topsfield, Massachusetts had a bit of difficulty with its ministers. Following the retirement of William Perkins, the town hired Thomas Gilbert. Gilbert seemed to have good qualifications and had recently arrived from England. However, his grandiose words and dramatic style of preaching shook up the stoic Puritans.

The town officials reported him to the Essex County Court which ordered him to appear at the General Court in Boston. In May 1666, he was given only a reprimand and had to pay a small fine. Gilbert appeared unrepentant and prayed that "the necks of all who opposed the ministers of the Gospel should be broken."

In 1670, Thomas Gilbert was back in court with quite a few townsfolk complaining about his drinking. The charges included witnesses to slurred speech, stumbling about after consuming too much communion wine, and fleeing his church when parishioners started to giggle because his singing was so garbled. Sarah Gould testified:
"I did [see]his eyes grow very dim and he did sink down in his chair leaning back...and presently we heard him vomit." 

Mimicking Martin Luther's protest, the minister nailed his defense to the meetinghouse door. He and his wife claimed that he suffered from
"chronic distemper" caused by fasting, rainyweather, and overwork. He would not let go of his grudge against Sarah for her testimony. He sued her for slander and her husband countersued the minister on her behalf. John Gould went so far as to say that he would like to cut out Gilbert's tongue. Thomas Gilbert responded by suing John Gould for assault. The judges seem to have been sick and tired of all the antics and suggested that Gilbert leave public life and called for him to behave "more soberly and Christianlike." By 1672, he had either resigned or been fired.
"chronic distemper" brought on by fasting, rainy

Jeremiah Hobart (also spelled Hubbard) was the next minister hired in Topsfield. His background included preaching at Wells, Maine, and Lynn and Beverly, Massachusetts. By 1678, Hobart began to come into conflict with town officials.

Thomas Baker was in court for "unseemly carriage and laughing in time of public worship." Evidently he took umbrage at Hobart's assertion that good Christians did not care about acquiring "lands and great farms." Hobart came into conflict with town officials over his compensation and soon harsh words were flying between Hobart and Baker over this issue. Baker sued for slander and Hobart was forced to make a public apology in the court. The disputes with the town were compounded by the reports of several women, who were caring for Hobart's wife, claiming Hobart made sexual advances towards them.

When the town refused to accede to Hobart's compensation demands, he threatened that the town "would never have a quiet town meeting until they gave him half the parsonage." He railed against the selectmen and said "I wish the parsonage were afire and some of them in it." This led to the dismissal of Hobart in September 1680.

This brings us to the third minister, Rev. Joseph Capen. He was a Harvard graduate, was ordained in 1684, and stayed on the job for the next forty-four years!

Rev. Joseph Capen was the son of John & Mary (Bass) Capen. He married Priscilla Appleton in 1684. He is my 8th great granduncle and his parents are my 9th great grandparents.

John & Mary (Bass) Capen
James & Hannah (Lawrence) Capen
James & Elizabeth (Call) Capen
James & Sarah (Pinson) Capen - yes, three James in a row
Thomas & Mary (Wyman) Capen
Thomas & Mary (Abbott) Capen - yes, two Thomas & Mary couples
Timothy & Sarah K. (Abbott) Capen
Edward Abbott & Mary Jane (Abbott) Capen - a bit of Abbott intermarriage in this line...
Edward Mellen & Fannie May (Capen) Carter
Thomas Richard Carter - my grandfather

Adapted from Diane Rapaport's column: Turbulent Topsfield: A Tale of Two Ministers, published in American Ancestors Magazine, Winter 2010.

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