A “Distinct” Church in a Farming Community

The histories of the Mattapoisett Congregational Church and the town of Mattapoisett are intertwined, and can be traced back to a purchase of land from the Pilgrim colony at Plymouth. The purchase encompassed all lands on Buzzards Bay between Dartmouth, Middleboro and Agawam, and in 1686 was incorporated as Rochester, after a town in England. Our church was founded in 1736 when a group of nine men and seven women separated from the First Congregational Church of Rochester. This was in the time before our harbor became known for its shipbuilding industry—before the town of Mattapoisett existed. These first families—Hammonds, Dexters, Bools, Clarks and others – raised cattle and farmed land in the neighborhoods still known today as Hammondtown, Pine Island and the Neck. Travel to the town of Rochester, almost six miles inland, had always been arduous. The dirt road was swampy in springtime and frozen into deep ruts in the winter, and at the end of the journey a hard pew and an unheated meetinghouse awaited.

Early Women's Group in front of Parsonage, circa 1900.

As the farming communities toward the southeast grew, these brethren (as they were called in original church documents) decided to petition to become a “distinct” church (as opposed to a smaller chapel under the aegis of the mother church). On July 27, 1736 they received a brotherly “dismissal” from the Rochester church, and became the “Second Precinct of Rochester.” The land which fell within this Second Precinct had long been called “Mattapoisett,” meaning “place of resting,” by the original Native Americans. No doubt the new congregation felt it an apt name and kept it, and over 100 years later, the Second Precinct of Rochester followed suit, becoming officially incorporated as the Town of Mattapoisett in 1857.

That first congregation started by drawing up a covenant, and although there have been revisions throughout the past 275 years, our covenant is one of the foundations of the Mattapoisett Congregational Church to this day.

Picnic for Primary Department at Parsonage, August 1900.

The first two meeting houses were built on a hill near the intersection of Acushnet and River Roads, the second in the footprint of the first after it was damaged. These structures contained separate galleries for men and women, and like the church in Rochester, there was no heat. Musical instruments in the worship service were forbidden, and Sunday services were held from 10:30 to noon, and again from 1 p.m. until 2:30. There was no Sunday School. Early pastors’ salaries were often paid in cords of wood, barrels of corn, and the like, which made the life of a clergyman difficult.

Revolutionary War Years

One beloved early pastor, Rev. Lemuel Le Baron, served nearly 65 years, from 1772 to 1836. He was a staunch patriot during the time of the Revolutionary War. Times were hard for all then, and reportedly, for one of the war years during the reverend’s cash earnings amounted to only 20 cents. During this time the first choir was born when six male members of the congregation were asked to “sit in the 4th seat in the Meeting House and lead the church and congregation in singing God’s praises.” It was also during Rev. LeBaron’s tenure, that the church moved into its third meeting house after a gale destroyed the Hammondtown building. Upon his death, his successor, the Rev. Thomas Robbins eulogized “ … [LeBaron] possessed a happy talent for addressing children. Among his people he was a peace maker. In the War of the Revolution he fully shared the dangers, privations and toils of his people.”

A Growing Congregation in a Shipbuilding Town

Mattapoisett Congregational ChurchThis Rev. Robbins went on to begin the first “Sabbath School” at the Mattapoisett Congregational Church. By this time (1836) Mattapoisett’s economy centered around the shipyards on the harbor, which may be why the third meeting house was built closer to the harbor, at the corner of Route 6 and Acushnet Road (now called the Grange Apartments). The church, with 150 – 200 children in the Sabbath School, was rapidly outgrowing the building.

In 1842 architect and church deacon Solomon K. Eaton built our current meeting house in the style of Christopher Wren. The total cost was $6,200.00. Due to his sense of responsibility for the “great expenditure” to the community of building this meeting house, Rev. Robbins “relinquished all claim for salary for the year September 1843 to September 1844.” The interior decorations of the church have undergone changes over the years. One early style, dating from a redecoration in the 1890s, was more ornate than what we see inside today. The walls were overlaid with a texture made of hard plaster molded by hand into designs, then covered with oils. There was a Romanesque frieze and an arched alcove behind the pulpit. The simpler style with which we are familiar today dates from a renovation done in 1931 in anticipation of the 200th anniversary of the church.

An Expanding Community of Faith

The present parsonage only came into use as such in recent years. Prior to that, the house on the northeast corner of Hammond and Mechanic Streets served as parsonage. The wing housing Reynard Hall, the church offices, conference room, parlor and main Sunday school basement was added in between 1957 to 1961 under the leadership of Rev. Frederic E. Reynard. (The hall was not named after him until 1986.)

One distinct feature of Mattapoisett Village – often commented on by first-time visitors – is the hymn melodies that cascade from our steeple each day to mark the hours of noon and six p.m. The church acquired a carillon in 1974, and its gentle ringing has become interwoven in the fabric of everyday life in the town.

Did you know:

  • that a former pastor, the Rev. Charles Livingstone, was the brother of the explorer who discovered King Tutankhamen’s tomb in Egypt, Dr. David Livingstone?  In fact, after only a few short months as pastor, he left to join his brother, and was never heard from again.
  • that at one time there was a rule that children were not allowed to play on the lawn?
  • that lightning has struck our meeting house more than once?
  • that the White Gift pageant in its 40th consecutive year?
  • that, a few decades ago, one village resident requested the carillon play secular music, and supplied a tape with such songs as “Me and My Gal”?  The church respectfully declined the offer.
  • that Pastor Amy is our 28th pastor?

“250 Years, Mattapoisett Congregational Church, U.C.C.” booklet written on the occasion of the church’s 250th anniversary.  Copies available in the church office.