Friday, June 13, 2014

Ousting The Loyalist Preacher

Let me start by saying that this post has absolutely nothing to do with Kalamazoo. While working to source my Goff/Goffe line (that ended up in Cass county) I spent some time browsing the New Hampshire Town Records at Family Search. In searching for vital records in Bedford around the time of the American Revolution, I happened upon the case of John Houston. In the first entry I noticed, the town had decided to withhold his salary until he came to his sense. I was intrigued.

It seems that as of April 12, 1775 Bedford had no problem with the Rev. John Houston. At the annual town meeting on this day they voted to choose someone to collect the rates (taxes) to pay for his preaching for the coming year. [1]

Then, after the shot heard round the world, everything changed. 

Wash drawing by Francois Godefroy of the Battle of Lexington from Journee de Lexington.  Held by the Library of Congress. 

April 20, 1775:
The town received an urgent letter (grammar and spelling preserved):
“To the select men of Bedford – Gentlemen
This moment the meloncholy Intelligence has been Received of Hostilities being Commenced between ye troops Under the Command of General Gage and our Brethen of the Massachusetts Bay.
The Importance of our Exerting ourselves at this Critical Moment has caused the Provincial Committee to meet at Exeter and you are Requested instantly to Choose and hasten forward there a Delegate or Delegates to Join the Committee and aid them In Consulting Measures for our safty. In great hast I am by order of the Committee your Humble Servant. J. Wentworth” [2]

Note: The Battles of Lexington and Concord were fought on April 19th, 1775

May 2, 1775:
The town of Bedford raised the matter “Relating to the Rev'd. John Houston in thoss troublesome times as we apprehend his praying and preaching to be Calculated to Intimidate the minds of his hearers and to weaken their hands in defence of their Just Rights and Liberties as there seems a plan to be Laid by Parliment to destroy both.” [3]

I find it ironic that the warrant to inform all of the freeholders of a town meeting in which the selectmen set forth the item about John Houston's preaching was recorded “in his Majesty's Name” and after the orders of business had been listed, the selectmen of the town indicated the above items were given under their “hands and seal at Bedford this 2nd day of May in the 15th year of his Majesty's Reign Anno Domini 1775.” [3] Not surprisingly, this was the last time the meeting entries were recorded in this manner.

May 16, 1775:
“Voted that what Mr. John Houston give in is not Satisfactory to this Body.
Voted that the Meeting House doors be Shut against Mr. John Houston until the_ he Comes to a Sence of his Duty and behave himself to the Satisfaction of the town and that he Shall have no Salary from the town until he behaves himself as above.” [4]

June 15, 1775:
“Whereas we find that the Rev. Mr. John Houston after a great deal of Tenderness and pains taken with him both in publick and in privat toward him Relating to his Speeches frequently made both in Publick and private against the Rights and Priviliges of America and his Vindicating the King and Parliment their Present proceeding against the Americans and having not been able hitherto to bring him to a Sense of his Error and he has thereby Rendered him Self Despised to people in general and to us in particular and that he has Endeavoured to Intimadate us against maintening the Just Rights of america therefore we think it not our Duty as men or Christians to have him Preach any longer with us as our Minister. Therefore voted that he (viz) the Rev. Mr. John Houston preach no more in Bedford until the last day of March Next and that he have thirty Six Sabath days more to his own use and Dispossal (viz) from the 16th of May last to the last day of March Next More than the nine Sabath days Voted to His own use and Dispossal at our last March meeting and that the Town be freed from paying him anything for the Said thirty Six Sabath days.” [5]
The vote was unanimous. [5]

September 19, 1775
The town voted to treat with John Houston and to apply to the Presbytery to get him dismissed and to see if Mr. Houston himself would also petition the Presbytery asking to be dismissed. [6]

March 27, 1776:
“The town took in to Consideration Mr. John Houston Conduct as being Inimical to this Country for which he was tried by the Commitees of three Neighbouri-- towns and found Guilty as also a former Vote of this town Setting him aside from preaching to us as our Minister on the Same account till he made proper acknowledgment for his faults and Returned to his Duty – Wherefore Voted Unanimously to allow the Said Mr. John Houston the whole of his time to himself for this year for the above Reason and the town free from his Charge on Said account.” [7]

March 27, 1778:
The town appointed a committee to “treat with the Presbytery” or to create their own to put Mr. Houston on trial and see if they will dismiss him. [8]

March 8, 1779:
“To see if the town will vote to defray the cost that has already arisen by the selectmen and commettee of safty of going to Exeter against Mr. John Houston's taking the Oath of Fidelity.” [9] The town voted to pay some of these costs. [10]

May 1, 1780:
“Voted no to pay Capt. Samll [Samuel] Patton the money that he disbursted when the committees mett concerning Mr. John Houston when it was thought he was inical to the country as mentioned in the third article in the warrant.” [11]

I don't know how the case ultimately ended, or even if it did. It had already dragged on for five years and frankly, as I had found what I was looking for on my Goffe family, I stopped paging through the records to chase a man I care nothing about. The time I spend on genealogy is precious and I would rather use it to cross something off my family history to-do list. I did, however, want to share what I did find on John Houston because while it is only telling us about a few little towns in New Hampshire, this story makes it quite clear how this little settlement in the woods felt when it was time to choose sides in the American Revolution.

  1. "New Hampshire, Town Clerk, Vital and Town Records, 1636-1947," digital images, FamilySearch ( accessed 14 Jun 2014), Hillsborough > Bedford > Town records 1770-1794 vol 3 > image 72, page 133.
  2. "New Hampshire, . . . 1636-1947," FamilySearch, image 73, page 135.
  3. "New Hampshire, . . . 1636-1947," FamilySearch, image 74, page 136.
  4. "New Hampshire, . . . 1636-1947," FamilySearch, image 75, page 138.
  5. "New Hampshire, . . . 1636-1947," FamilySearch, image 76-77, page 141-142.
  6. "New Hampshire, . . . 1636-1947," FamilySearch, image 79, page 144.
  7. "New Hampshire, . . . 1636-1947," FamilySearch, image 783-84, page 153-154.
  8. "New Hampshire, . . . 1636-1947," FamilySearch, image 107, page 200.
  9. "New Hampshire, . . . 1636-1947," FamilySearch, image 123, page 232.
  10. "New Hampshire, . . . 1636-1947," FamilySearch, image 125, page 236.
  11. "New Hampshire, . . . 1636-1947," FamilySearch, image 150, page 286.

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