The original charter of Monadnock Number Six stipulated founding a successful town in accordance with the king’s requirements. The charter contained requirements to establish and support of religion and education. Three of the grantors’ shares in the town, a total of six one hundred acre lots, were reserved “free from charge, one for the first settled minister one for the ministry and one for the school forever.” One lot from each of these shares was to be in the center of the new town where a “convenient meeting house” would be built. The meetinghouse was to serve as a place of worship and for public meetings. Breed Batchellor laid out ten acres of common land for this purpose in the original layout of the town.
In support of the requirement to establish religion, the town hired and paid for the minister and erected a meetinghouse to serve as the site of both civic and religious life of the town. While not all town residents were church members, the minister’s salary was paid by the town, leaving both church membership and town residents with a joint responsibility for choosing or dismissing ministers. The Congregational Church in the form of a Venerable Council of local ministers played a role as well, approving ministers as suitable or not. Town financial support began to change when other denominations began to hold services in Nelson and ceased shortly after the Toleration Act (1819) passed by New Hampshire required that churches be privately supported.
The process of finding a minister for Monadnock Number Six began in a proprietors’ meeting held March 29, 1773 at the home of Nathaniel Breed, where it was voted to raise money to hire a preacher. The hiring process was interesting. A committee was chosen to offer a trial preaching period to prospective preachers after which an offer of full employment could be made and accepted.
In the meantime a minister was necessary for the vital social functioning of the new community. Early on, the Reverend Joseph Farrar from the church in Dublin filled in. The Reverend Farrar presided over the marriage of Deliverance, daughter of Dr. Nathaniel and Ann Breed, to Lieutenant Abijah Brown in Packersfield on October 28, 1772. Reverend Farrar returned to baptize another Breed daughter, Anne, in the new meetinghouse in July 1773. This was also the occasion of the preaching of the first sermon in Monadnock Number Six, and probably served as the building’s dedication as well.
A committee composed of Eleazur Twitchell, Amos Skinner and James Bancroft was charged with finding a Gospel Minister. In 1774 James Treadway was induced to come for a trial in which he was to “supply the desk” five Sabbaths after which he was asked to serve an additional five. He must have done well for on August 16, 1774 the town voted to “call James Treadway.” Their proposal included land and a salary of 30 pounds per year increasing by 5 pounds per year until it reached 60 pounds. Twelve acres of the land would be cleared at town expense. There must have been a bit of negotiating as a subsequent meeting voted to give Treadway four Sabbaths off every year. Treadway turned them down.
The town returned to hiring preachers on a temporary basis. One of those hired was undoubtedly Solomon Reed. In the Spring of 1779, Dr. Nathaniel Breed was paid 27 pounds 19 shillings and 6 pence to board the minister 12 weeks and 6 days and the town voted to raise 200 pounds to support the ministry that year. These numbers make it seem as though poor Mr. Treadway had been offered too little, but this was a time of raging inflation caused by the financing for the Revolutionary War. In 1779 it required 2400 pounds in continental money to buy 100 pounds in gold. A year and a half later 12,000 pounds Continental was the equal of 100 in gold. In any case Mr. Reed declined the full time position.
These must have been very difficult years. Men were away in the Continental Army. The fledgling United States was battling economic hard times. The absence of a minister could have been an even more important rent in the social fabric. Babies not promptly baptized might be liable to hell; illegitimacy was not a realistic social option so the availability of marriage was vital to young couples. Who could face death without the services of an ordained man of God?
Poor Packersfield finally brought the process to a successful conclusion. A town meeting in October 1780 “voted to give the Rev Mr. Jacob Foster a call to settle in this town in the work of the ministry by twenty-seven votes only two in the negative.” Foster agreed to “supply the desk.”
According to Robert F. Lawrence in his The New Hampshire Churches; Comprising the Histories of the Congregational and Presbyterian Churches of the State, Foster was a 1754 graduate of Harvard and had been settled as a minister before. “He is said to have been in sentiment a moderate Calvinist, and a man of good natural and acquired abilities, and to have sustained honorably his ministerial office. During his ministry twenty-seven were added to the church.” Indeed Foster had quite a career before settling in Packersfield. After Harvard he kept school in three Massachusetts towns before accepting a call to the First Congregational Church of South Berwick, Massachusetts, now Maine.
Again there were negotiations. Jacob Foster was to get one of the ministerial lots providing he gave up any right to the other lot. The town would “clear up and seed eighteen acres of land”, six acres in each of his first three years. They went so far as to specify that the land would be seeded with two pounds of “hard grass” and one pound of clover per acre. He was to get a salary based on the number of families in town and free firewood. Subsequently the town was to supply their minister with 25 cords of firewood per year. The following is from the official town records:
“Voted to give Mr. Foster 55 pounds and 20 cords of wood delivered to his door yearly until the town has 70 families. Then to give him 60 pounds and 20 cords of wood per year until the town has 90 families. Then to give him 65 pounds and 20 cords of wood per year until the town has 100 families. Then to give him 70 pounds and 0 cords of wood per year.
“That the above salary be equal to money in the year 1774
“That he has liberty to be absent three Sabbaths per year. That the salary be stated in Indian Corn at 2 shillings per bushel, rye at 3 shillings and 8 pence per bushel and grass fed beef at 2 pence half penny per pound and other articles in like proportion.”
In these inflationary times, the Reverend Foster’s salary was carefully protected from inflation by stating that he be paid an amount specified in pre-war currency. The mechanism of preserving that value was specified by equating a 1774-pound in terms of common commodities it could purchase, just as commodities are used today as an inflation hedge.
Jacob Foster’s installation was held on the last day of January 1781 and must have been a grand ceremony. Packersfield assembled an “Eclesiastical Councell” [sic] composed of the ministers of nine churches: The Church of Hollis, The Church of New Ipswich, the South Church in Portsmouth, the North Church in Berwick, the Church in Greenland, the Church in Washington, the Church in Dublin, the Church in Keene, the Church in Wilton. The town raised three hundred pounds for the expenses and paid “Dr. Breed four hundred pounds for entertaining said Councell” The small, unheated Packersfield meeting house at twenty-five by thirty feet must have been warm that January day with so many people in attendance.
Two months later Foster added to the 18 acres the town had provided and cleared by acquiring land between the old town common, Center Pond and Center Pond Road. Later he would acquire 150 additional acres south of the Merriconn Farm.
Sources: Nelson Town Records; Deeds of land: Cheshire County Registry of Deeds; A History of Nelson New Hampshire 1767-1967, Parke H. Struthers, editor; Robert F. Lawrence; The New Hampshire Churches; Comprising the Histories of the Congregational and Presbyterian Churches of the State; The Old Village on the Hill-top ,Rev. Edwin Noah Hardy, Ph.D. unpublished; no date.