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Part 10: Religion and Politics

Olde Boston

Boston, the seat of government for Massachusetts Bay Colony, looked much different in the 17th and 18th centuries than it does today. When Capt. James Parker represented Groton at the Great and General Court in 1693, the capital city still maintained its distinctive peninsular shape. Its three prominent heights – Beacon Hill, Copp’s Hill and Fort Hill – lent Boston one of its early name of Trimountaine, a name still recalled today as the derivation of Tremont Street.

Capt. James Parker, a native English Puritan, was one of the principal figures during the formative years of the town of Groton, which this year celebrates its 350th birthday. Previous installments of this series have followed Parker’s involvement in the first years of Groton’s history, the town’s burning in 1676, and the second attempt at settlement in the frontier town.

In the late 1680s, one of the more significant concerns for Capt. James Parker and the town of Groton was difficulty in retaining Gershom Hobart as the town’s settled minister. It seems from town records, that not all residents willingly paid their share of taxes for the minister’s services and upkeep.

Dr. Samuel Green in his Groton Historical Series points out that Hobart also complained about his financial situation during a previous assignment at Plymouth. Green notes that Hobart “was evidently a man of an unfortunate disposition,” and he concludes that “it is clear that his troubles at Groton were due rather to himself than to his parishioners.”

As 1685 neared its end, voters agreed “that m garshom Hubord have set him self at liberty from the sd Town as too any ingagement from him too them as thar ministr as also have fred the Toown from any in[gage]ment too him self by mr. Hubrds Refusing.”

Despite releasing Mr. Hobart from his duties to the town, Groton residents made it known “that the Town is yet Redi and willing to agre with him for the futr.” A year later, James Parker Jr. was hired by the town to sue John Page for the latter’s failure as constable to collect overdue religion taxes and pay them to the disgruntled preacher.

Disagreements over the payment of Hobart continued for another five or six years. By December 1691, Hobart was gone, and voters enacted a measure at a town meeting to “invite som meet parson to prach gods word to them with as much speed as may be.” A committee formed to “go down & fach up som meet parsan to preach to us” included brothers Josiah and James Parker Jr.

A couple of attempts were made at securing a new minister. In March 1692, a call went to a Mr. Hancock, who had yet to receive his ordination. Hancock was apparently either not accepted by the town or turned down the assignment. A couple of months later, the pulpit was offered to Samuel Carter, who accepted and moved to Groton with his family. Carter died unexpectedly the following year, leaving his wife, Eunice, a widow with eight children.

Thus, on Oct. 2, 1693, the town sent James Parker Jr. (Butler records this in error as “James Parker, senior”) and William Longley Sr. “to see for a minster to preach the worde of god to them.” This time their efforts were successful, but in a surprising manner. Barely a week later, on Oct. 9, the town voted to “call to be ther settled minnister” none other than the controversial Gershom Hobart.

Ironically, Hobart, Longley and Parker would all be linked in an unfortunate day in Groton’s history within another year.

In addition to being unsettled over their “settled” minister, Groton residents also developed unspecified objections to their representatives sent to the provincial General Court in Boston. Butler’s history notes, “The first mention of a representative in the records of Groton, is about the time the charter of William and Mary was received, in 1691.” Although their election is not recorded, later disbursements indicate the first two representatives were John Page and Nathaniel Lawrence.

By the winter of 1693, however, the residents expressed their displeasure with the service of these two men. On Feb. 6 of that year, “the inhabitanc being met together for to Consider of sum waye for to prevent futar unnessary charges did by vott declare that they would petishone unto the genaraill Court that ther representative might be relesed from attending the Seshone any more.”

In April, both Messrs. Lawrence and Page apparently settled their accounts with the town “for sarveing the town as a Representative at the two first sestione.”

Later on, Lawrence reconsidered the balance due to him, and the town found it necessary “to sequer the seleck men from any harm or dameidg that they shall meett with all in Respect of Decon nathanaell Lawranc in that he doth demand thirty 6 shillins in money for to be his dew for sarfing the said town as a representative and the town doo Refuse to paye the said money.” Jonah Prescott and James Parker Jr. were named to represent the town’s legal interests “if the said Lawranc should truble the seleck men or town.”

In May of that same year, the town voted “they would not send nor Choose any parson nor parsons for to Represent them at the great and genaraill Corte or assembly.” But by the fall, the town reconsidered their need for representation in Boston. On Oct. 30, “Capt. Jeams Parker was chousen to Represent the town at ye great and genereell assembly held at boston the eaight day of November.”

Residents of Groton were still falling back on the leadership of Captain Parker. He was 74 years old, but he was still their go-to guy.

“The Life and Legacy of Capt. James Parker” came about through writer Rudy VanVeghten’s search into his maternal ancestral roots. He has uncovered a significant amount of information about these ancestors and how they settled in Groton in the mid-17th century, with later generations eventually migrating north. This series is a capsule of what he discovered about one of Grotons’ — and one of his family’s — founding fathers. The entire series is posted on the Internet at http://home.comcast.net/~rvanveghten/parker.

Copyright © 2005 by Rudy VanVeghten. Used by permission.

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