GenMassachusetts-L ArchivesArchiver > GenMassachusetts > 2001-06 > 0993677026
Subject: [GM-L] Ashburnham, MA - Samuel Wilder & Pastor Cushing Part 2 of 2
Date: Wed, 27 Jun 2001 17:23:46 EDT
Subject: Wilder Family of Lancaster & Ashburnham, MA
And Pastor John Cushing of the church of Ashburnham.
Chronicles of a Bay State Family - by M. Lauder
&view=75">Bay State Family</A>
Source: Journals at Making of America
Part 2 of 2
And if the old building resembled a barn in appearance, it was also in Winter
as cold as a barn. After the difficult ascent in reaching it, there was
found within no huge stove for aching hands and feet. The only
protection the peope had against freezing, except the strong vitality of
their constitutions, was in their
sensible style of dress, with abundant wrappings, inclusive of thick woolen
mittens and large warm hoods with what was regarded as an essential in those
times - a small, square foot-stove filled with burning coals.
On a windy day there was sometimes a furious contest between the preacher's
voice and the rattling clap-
boards and windows, each being alternately in the ascendant. A tradition,
for the truth of which we can not
vouch, has come down to us, that in the extremest weather the considerate
parson would make an occasional significant pause among his lys, at which
signal the shivering congregation would enter upon a
round of clapping hands and stamping feet, thus warming themselves for a
fresh siege of attention.
When we recall the severity of those winters, what an idea do we get of the
ruggedness of these sturdy men
and women, who braved all weathers, riding two, four and sometimes six miles
in order to go to meeting! At a seasonable hour on Sunday morning the great
double sleigh ws brought round to the door. The foot-stove, glowing with
coals from the kitchen fire, having been set in, the elders fill up the
seats, while the children are tucked into the bottom of the sleigh. As the
last thing a large shovel is often added, in order that they may dig
themselves out of any drifts which may have blocked up their path. The
horses then start off with their load, the bells jingling merrily in the
clear, frosty air.
Thus from various directions the people all center toward one point. It is a
weary ride up that long half-mile hill, and the wintery winds blow fiercely,
piling up the snow in huge drifts. But they bravely dig and plow their way
through, alighting at some of the dwellings near the meeting-house, but
oftenest at the minister's to repenish their stoves with fresh coals. When
they enter the old building, they have no reason to complain of the want of
ventilation, for it is filled with a superabundance of clear oxygen, which
the worshipers receive without dilution. But the little heater in every pew
passes quietly from feet to feet, making its rounds more or less frequently,
according to the severity of the weather.
The prospect from "Meeting-House Hill" was one of the grandest and most
picturesque in the whole country. In the south the beautiful Wachuset lifted
its head, and on the west the Green Mountains stretched away in the distance,
while in other directions were seen the grand Monadnock and his "Little
Sister," and Great and Little Wotalie. A range of forests extended toward
the north and down in the valley
nestled a lovely little lake, on whose tranquil bosom slumbered several tiny
islands. Nothing can surpass the beauty of this broad landscape, especially
on a Summer's day when fleecy clouds floated dreamily in the
blue heavens and a soft haze lay on the distant mountains.
About a mile and a half from the place of worship stood the house of Captain,
or Deacon Samuel Wilder, the home of Thomas. Set back six or
eight rods from the main road, it was built on an eminence which commanded,
on the northwest, a view of Monadnock and on the south of Wachuset, while to
the south-west the land descended rapidly to a lovely dell among the hills.
It was a goodly site, with a charming grove on the back or north side, forty
or fifty rods from the house. On the east of this grove ran the road to the
village and Meeting-House Hill, the latter of which was in full view from Mr.
Wilder's premises. The house was a commodious two-story building, with four
rooms on each floor. It was approached by an open lane lined with stately
elms, while around it lingered the primeval forest. Shading the house in
front were four noble elms in the form of a square. Beneath one of these
trees was the old-fashioned well, with its great sweep leaning against the
sky, which added a most picturesque feature to the landscape.
Back of the house were some fine cherry trees, which, with the apple-orchard,
presented great attractions to
the children and visitors. Neighbors were not very near, but within a
quarter of a mile lived Lieutenant Ebenezer Munroe, one of the many claiming
to have fired the first gun at Lexington in the Revolutionary War.
This hospitable Wilder house was among the noted mansions of those days. And
though so well stocked
with children, there was always a spare corner for a stranger. Through its
various rooms, and about its pleasant grounds, toddled baby Thomas, examining
every thing and asking questions of every one.
Before he was two years old another "wellspring of joy" was opened to the
family in the arrival of an infant
brother. This event brought particular delight to Thomas. And eagerly did
he watch for the visits of Dr. Lowe and his faithful nag, with the never
failing dispensary in the shape of saddle-bags. But his joy in the new comer
was of short duration.
When Milton Wilder, the baby, was only two or three weeks old, a great sorrow
shut down upon this pleasant home. It was on an early summer dawn that Mr.
Wilder, noticing an alarming change in the appearance of his wife, immediatly
called up his children. As Dr. Lowe lived within a few rods of the old
meeting house, Mrs. Wilder was unwilling to have him sent for at such a
distance. "I am dying," she said, "and can not spare any of you." As her
weeping family stood round her bed she gave them her farewell charges,
beginning with her husband. Coming to little Thomas, she laid her hand upon
his head and with a mother's yearning tenderness breathed her parting
benediction: "God be merciful to thee, my son!"
That dying mother's hand upon his head - O ! who can tell what influence was
there? Good angels hovered around the scene and the compassionate Savior
himself was present. From the subsequent history of that child, may we not
believe that his mother's prayer was registered in heaven?
The sudden removal of this mother in Israel cast a cloud over the whole
community. Says one in speaking of it: "I was a child of only eight years,
yet I well remember how deeply I shared in the general sorrow. The day of
Mrs. Wilder's funeral was one of the saddest of my life." On that day of
grief there was no bustle in the preparation of funeral apparel. The custom
of wearing deep mourning had become so universal that many who could ill
afford it were drawn into great extravagance and the court, which was then
accustomed to legislate on minor matters, had passed a law against this
excessive expenditure. So these motherless children simply wore a black
ribbon on their bonnets and hats, or tied around their waists.
There was a universal flocking to the funeral. And as hearses had not then
been introduced, the black coffin was placed on a bier and carried on men's
shoulders, with an occasional change of bearers. Up the long familiar hill
over which she had so oftened traveled, they slowly bear the cold form of
that loving mother, and kind friend and neighbor, followed by the train of
mourners, some on horseback and some on foot - past the old place of worship
which she had so constantly attended and where her numerous children had been
carried for baptism - through the open gates into the quiet "God's Acre"
lying in the shadow of those consecrated walls. There in that charming spot
beside her buried dear ones, they leave that cherished form, with the fair
landscape around, and the summer skies bent lovingly above it. But what a
return for the stricken family to that desolate home !
In his funeral sermon the next Sabbath, Dr. Cushing says of Mrs. Wilder:
"You are not to wonder if, by two year's residence in the house with her, my
acquaintance was more intimate than with others in town, and that I am most
sensibly penetrated with grief for the loss of a friend whom I have ever
found affectionate, sincere and faithful." "She had a comely, open
countenance, and was free and easy of access. She was a person of large
powers and abilities of mind, improved much by reading and conversation. She
was judicious and free from bigotry; her charity could embarce all who loved
the Lord Jesus, though they might differ from her about non-essentials. She
had the talent of making herself agreeable to the various sorts of company
she met with. "As a wife and parent she was most tender and affectionate,
abounding in endeavors for the present comfort and future welfare of her
family; her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he
praiseth her. "In her religious character she shone with distinguished
luster. Her love for God, the Savior and her Bible was supreme. For
un-dissembled piety, diffusive goodness, benevolence of heart, extensive
charity, freedom from bigotry, faithfulness in friendship, trust in
Providence, constancy and devoutness in the worship of God, she was truly
exemplary. She met the King of terrors, though his approach was sudden, with
serenity and fortitude - as a conquered enemy."
The people generally looked to their minister to furnish the epitaphs and Mr.
Cushing, without doubt, dictated the following which appears on the slate
head stone of Mrs. Wilder's grave:
"Here, in the dew of death, lies
not till ye heavens be no
Ye mortal part
Mrs. Dorothy Wilder
the amiable consort of Samuel
who suddenly expired July 28, 1790
41st year of
As a wife she was
as a mother, tender; as a friend,
faithful; as a
Even this monumental stone by the
time shall be consumed, but her
virtues shall live.
"The sweet remembrance of the just
sleep in dust."
The prattling Thomas Wilder was at an age to suffer much from the bereavement
of such a mother, if not in the actual sense of loss, yet in what, to a young
child, is no less hard to bear - a consciousness of somethig precious gone
out of his young life, and which was all the more painful because he knew no
way to express it. How many times must his little heart have ached for the
sight of that dear face now hidden in the grave!
Through life, he was accustomed to speake with deep emotion of this early
bereavement. That dying mother's hand upon his head he never forgot. Mr
Wilder married for his second wife the widow Abigail
Fairbanks of Sterling, and older sister of Dorothy, his first wife. She is
spoken of as an excellent woman, cheerful, active and industrious. The world
is so full of predudices against step - mothers and sometimes not without
reason, that is is pleasant to record instances of those who fill that
difficult and delicate position happily and to the satisfaction of all.
Coming into a large family, nine of her sister's children being at home, Mrs.
Wilder found heself burdened with many cares. But she faithfully discharged
her various duties, proving a great blessing to the bereaved household. To
the three helpless little ones, Abel, Thomas and Milton Wilder, she was a
most kind and tender mother. In later years Abel Wilder paid her this hearty
tribute: "Among many women who have done virtuously, she excelled them all."
In those primitive times it was customary to take the wee folk to Church, or
to "Meeting," as it was called, from their babyhood. And in the same old
edifice where the lambs were thus early gatherered, "the swallow found a nest
for herself, even thine altars, O Lord of Hosts." There, in the summer
season, Tommy Wilder with the other children, used to amuse himself by
watching these sanctuary-loving birds as they sailed in circles round their
nests amoung the unpainted beams and rafters.
Another pleasant expedient for whiling away the long service-time, and one
which the elders sometimes participated, was the smelling of pink posies, a
species of the fine arts which, with many other primitive fashions, has
unfortunately gone by. The pink posy was made up on Sunday morning and after
A substantial wooden stick was placed as the center, and camomile flowers
were tied on the top; then red pinks were treaded on a string, and wound
round and round the stick, til a perfect and most frangrant cone was
produced. By way of variety, a spring of caraway or a bunch of roses was
indulged in; but a berry of any kind was not so much as to be thought of.
While Thomas was still a small boy this primeval meeting house was leveled
and another built on the same beautiful site. In the new edifice the seats
were hung so as to be raised and let down, giving the congregation an
opportunity, while standing in prayer, to lean against the sides of the pews.
This was regarded as a wonderful improvement. And wonderful indeed it
proved - the sequel to the prayer being a rapid series of terrible slams all
over the house, the noise extending to a great distance, and resembling the
successive report of pistols.
A few of the more careful sort took pains to line the supporters to their
seats with listing, so that the sound might be somewhat deadened. But in
spite of this, and the cautions to the children, frequently administered, "to
let down their seats easy," the noise was frightful to anybody with nerves.
Indeed, falling suddenly on the ears of strangers, they would think the
meeting house itself was coming down.
There was not a single cushion or carpet in this place of worship. In what
contrast to even this new and improved meeting house is the present church at
the foot of the hill, with its luxurious cushions and carpents and its large
stoves in the vestibule, as well as in the body of the house ! And what a
contrast does the present fashionably dressed congregation exhibit to that of
the former days, when the women wore checked aprons to meeting, taking their
babies with them! It ought to be stated, however, that the minister's the
deacon's and the doctor's wives, wore white aprons, though of homespun.
But with all the hardships they endured the people attended worship far more
constantly than they do in these days of convenience and comfort. And the
little flock were of one heart and one mind and listened with unfailing
interest to all words that fell from the lips of their faithful pastor.
The old fashion of lining out the hymns prevailed for a time in Ashburnham,
as elsewhere; but, as soon as books could be obtained, Mr. Cushing's musical
taste led him to lay that mode away. He was himself a singer, and played the
bass-viol, accompanying it with his own powerful voice. Nor did he rest till
a singing teacher was procured and something of a choir formed. He made
frequent suggestions for its benefit and sang in the pulpit with great
animation. On one occasion, having given out the hymns "Behold the wretch
whose lust and winde have wasted his estate," he proposed that the choir
should sing three verses and then in the fourth verse, "He said, and hastened
to his home," change it for St. Martin's. The effect was most inspiring.
There are modern choirs which would rebel at such suggestions as a sort of
dictation. But in those days the people abounded in reverence for their
minister; indeed, his word was a kind of law to them. And the children were
not in the smallest danger of being devoured by bears for any lack of respect
to God's prophets. The approach of the clergyman to the sanctuary was a
signal for all standing at the door to take off their hats, he also removing
his, and bowing as he passed through them. Nor was this courtesy, so wanting
in these latter days, confined to the Lord's house; for no one kept on his
hat when speaking to his minister, or even passing him in the street.
The badge of a tithing man's office, whose only remuneration was the
satisfaction of enfording order, was a long staff, with which he would thump
emphatically at the disorderly boys. If that proved insufficient he would go
to the gallery, where they were in the habit of sitting and, with a strong
hand, take them to his own conspicuous pew, where they were soon awed into
by Meta Lauder
Caleb Wilder of Lancaster</A>
Transcribed by Janice Farnsworth