Images de page

in the meeting-houses built by the towns, a proportionate number of Sabbaths, according to the taxes paid by them and the rights they had in the house. In these disputes Mr. Ballou never interfered, for he never claimed to be a judge of human law. When permission had been gained from the selectmen, or any other competent authority, he was not to be intimidated from entering the house, even if the opposers threatened to lay hands upon him, or to bring suits at law against him.



As an illustration of what we have said, we here proceed to relate an event which occurred in 1819, in Atkinson, N. H., a small town on the southern border of that state, and adjoining Haverhill, Mass. Mr. Ballou had preached there once, while he lived in Portsmouth, in November, 1811, from 1 Timothy 2: 1-4. Unquestionably, a doctrinal sermon. The brethren there had no doubt that they had the same rights in the meetinghouse that any other class of the citizens had, and they asked the liberty to enjoy them. At a town-meeting, it had been decided by a proper vote that the house should be opened to the several denominations of Christians; and a committee had been appointed to apportion the Sabbaths to each sect, according to its claims. The Sabbaths being thus determined upon, the Universalists wrote to Mr. Ballou, and he agreed to visit them on the last Sabbath in May, 1819, the most lovely season of the year. In the mean time the venerable Congregational pastor, Rev. Stephen Peabody, was drawing towards the close of his

earthly career; and, in fact, he died on the week previous to Mr. Ballou's expected visit. He was buried upon Thursday; the meeting-house was arrayed in mourning drapery; and, as was customary, one of the Congregationalist clergymen of the vicinity was to have been present on the next Sabbath to preach an appropriate discourse. The Universalists regretted that their appointment interfered with the services on the Sabbath after the funeral of the clergyman; and they therefore said to one of the deacons of the church that, under the circumstances, they would give up the meeting-house for the next Sunday, if they could be permitted to use the academy, of which the deacon referred to had the control. He refused the academy, and said further, "We are as willing you should occupy the meeting-house on the next Sunday as any Sunday in the year, for we do not mean you shall occupy it at all." it at all." It then became a question, not of courtesy and Christian sympathy, but of right; and the Universalists took measures to secure the house.

In the mean time, the leaders of the Orthodox party in Atkinson addressed to Mr. Ballou the following letter, which they sent him by mail to Boston, and which he received before he started for Atkinson:


"Atkinson, May 22, 1819.

"SIR: By a notification posted up at the meeting-house in this town, on the 9th instant, it appears that you are expected to preach in that house on the last Sunday of the present month. "We take the liberty to state to you the following circumstances for your consideration. The house was built for a Congregational meeting-house, and the Congregational society has worshipped in

it undisturbed on the Sabbath for nearly fifty years, from its building to the present time. We have no acquaintance with you, but we hope you cherish the feelings of a gentleman; and we know it does not comport with the dignity of such feelings to disturb a society in their worship so long established.

"The committee who assumed to assign the meeting-house to the Universalists in this town acted under a kind of vote of the town. This vote we consider nugatory, and of no effect. It is within the recollection of persons now living that the house was built by voluntary contribution, and the pews sold to discharge the expense; and by the records of the town it appears that the town refused to accept of it as the property of the corporation. It will suggest itself to you whether the pew-owners have not a right paramount to the town. The vote was nugatory, also, for want of an object in the warning which the statute requires. The assignment was nugatory, as it was voted that the committee should consist of six; three only acted in the assignment.

"The principal part of the Congregational society have had a meeting since the said notice, and passed the following resolves, namely:


Resolved, That the Congregational society of Atkinson have a just and legal right to the use and occupancy of the meetinghouse in said town, on the Sabbath, or Lord's day, for public worship, without any let or hindrance whatever.

"Resolved, That it is the duty of this society to meet as usual at the meeting-house for public worship on the Sabbath.

"Resolved, That whatever person or persons shall disturb or molest this society in their public worship on the Sabbath shall be considered and dealt with as disturbers of the peace, and of the public worship of God.'

“The undersigned were appointed a committee to carry the last resolve into effect.

"We have deemed it proper to give you this information, having been informed you made particular inquiry of your employer, as though you did not wish to interfere. When you see the feelings and views of the society in Atkinson, as before stated, we cannot believe you will interfere in a case so delicately circumstanced.

But, should you think otherwise, and any unpleasant consequences should result to you, or your friends here, from your leaving your people in Boston, and coming here to preach in this meeting-house, you will have the candor to acknowledge you were apprized of the existing difficulties previous to your coming.

"We are respectfully your humble servants,



"P. S.-May 25th. Since writing the above, namely, on Sunday last, the Rev. Stephen Peabody died. His obsequies will be attended on Thursday next. The desk will be clothed in mourning, and will doubtless, as usual, be supplied on many succeeding Sabbaths by the association to which he belonged."


Notwithstanding the reception of this letter a day or two before Mr. Ballou was to start for Atkinson, he resolved to go, and inquire more fully into the circumstances after his arrival. He decided, on hearing the facts, that the Universalists had done all that could be reasonably asked of them; and, if they occupied the meeting-house on the Sunday after the funeral of the clergyman, it would be because their opponents compelled them to do so, by refusing them the use of the academy. It was announced to the deacons on Saturday, by one of the fathers of the town, a Universalist, that he had the key of the meeting-house, and that Mr. Ballou would preach therein on the next day. In consequence of reports of violence, a watch was placed inside the house, for Saturday night, with instructions to ascertain who came to break open the doors. This was done because a window had been forced and all the doors thrown open

on Saturday afternoon; but they were at once closed again, and barred. At daybreak on Sunday a person came with an apparent intent to make an entry; but, on being called by name from within, he desisted. The doors remained closed until nearly meeting-time, when Mr. Ballou entered and took his place in the pulpit; and then the people immediately filled the house in every part. The Rev. Isaac Brown, of Londonderry (the oldest minister in the Congregationalist Association), with two of the Orthodox committee, came in just as Mr. Ballou commenced the services; and the clergyman ascended the stairs to the pulpit-door. Waiting till Mr. Ballou had concluded the reading of the chapter, Mr. Brown said, "Sir, do you expect to render divine service here to-day?" Mr. Ballou replied, "I do, sir."-"By what authority?" To which Mr. Ballou said, "I have my authority, sir, from the selectmen of Atkinson." Mr. Brown then remarked, "O, I must inquire of the committee how I must proceed." Messrs. Vose and Peabody (the committee of the Orthodox part of the parish the latter the son of the deceased clergyman) consulted together, when Mr. Vose looked up to the pulpit and said, "Mr. Brown, as we are disturbed, we will withdraw and go to the academy."

[ocr errors]

Mr. Ballou, continued his services through the day without any further molestation, much to the strengthening and comfort of his brethren. He disliked contention as deeply as any man; but, when the path before him was in his judgment the path of duty, no man could frighten him. The attendance through the day was immense and his sermons were remembered through all

« PrécédentContinuer »