Ecclesiastical History of Hallowell, Maine

Category: Kennebec County Published: Sunday, 09 February 2014 Written by Carol Eddleman Print Email
ECCLESIASTICAL.  The Congregational or standing order, as it was called, was the first church established in Hallowell. This was March 1, 1791, with twelve members.  A church edifice called the “Old South” was erected on the spot where the granite church now stands, just before the separation of Augusta from Hallowell.  The committee to build the church consisted of Moses Sewall, Robert Randall and Jason Livermore.  Mr. Livermore was the architect and builder.  This has always been the leading religious society in town.  A few years ago, the church edifice, which was of wood, was burned, and the present fine granite building was erected.  Among its ministers have been: Eliphalet Gillett, George Sheppard, Eli Thurston, Americus Fuller, Mr. Rogers, Horatio Q. Butterfield, Mr. White and Edward Chase, the present incumbent.
Mr. Gillett, the first pastor, was ordained August 12, 1795, and dismissed May 12, 1827.  He was a man of distinguished ability and many of his discourses were printed in pamphlet form.  His successor, Rev. George Sheppard, was ordained March 5, 1828.  The first deacons were: Obadiah Harris, Henry Sewall, James Gow and Ebenezer Dole, and the latter was also treasurer.  Samuel K. Gilman was the first scribe.  The twelve original members were: Benjamin Pettengill, Obadiah Harris, Henry Sewall, James Gow, Samuel Babcock, Jeremiah Babcock, Jonathan Davenport, William McMasters, Jason Livermore, Shubael Hinckley, Molly Page and Keziah McMasters.  In 1835 the whole number admitted had been 332, and the number of members in good standing at that time was 207.
The first Methodist sermon preached in the Kennebec valley was delivered in the Academy building in Hallowell, October 13, 1793, by Rev. Jesse Lee, of Virginia.  Mr. Lee went to Farmington, but returned to Hallowell, and preached here again on the 20th.  In 1800 Epaphras Kibby preached by invitation, at Hallowell, in the school house, on the east side of the river.  At this meeting, twin brothers, Melville B. and Gershom F. Cox, were presented for baptism, and both became ministers.  The “new lights,” as they were called, met with much opposition, and the school house where they held their meetings was often assaulted by those of the baser sort.  Hallowell circuit was set off from the circuit of Readfield, in 1802.  In 1810, largely through the influence of Sullivan Kendall, Peter Clark, John Haskell, Gershom F. Cox and a few others, a small chapel was built on Academy street, on the lot occupied afterward by the Thomas Hovey house.  In 1826 measures were taken to build a house of worship, a lot was secured where the church now stands, and in November of this year, the church was dedicated.  There have been various improvements since that time.  Among the pastors here have been: Zachariah Gibson, S. Hillman, John Atwell and Henry Butler.  The preachers of this denomination have been: Melville B. Cox, who became the first foreign missionary of the denomination and who died in Liberia in 1833; his brother, Gershom F. Cox; Comfort L. Haskell, Leonard H. Bean, Isaac Lord and Josiah Bean.
The first regular effort to found a Baptist church in Hallowell was made by Rev. Henry Kendall, of Litchfield.  Meetings were held in private houses, and then in a school house, but this was soon refused him.  Meetings were then held in an old building standing where the soldiers’ monument now is and then at the “Democratic Reading Room,” at Niles’ Corner.  A church was organized in 1807, with three members, but in September of the same year, it numbered twenty-one.  James Hinckley was the first deacon.  They built a church on Winthrop street, which was burned, and then they purchased the Unitarian church edifice.  Some of the pastors of this church have been: John Robinson, Winthrop Morse, Daniel Cheesman, Henry Fitz, Arthur Drinkwater and S. Adlam.
The Unitarians formed a church here in 1823, when Rev. Stevens Everett came and preached in the academy for about a year, and a society was formed.  This society embraced many of the wealthiest men in the place, and soon they set about building a church edifice.  This was the same building now owned by the Baptist society, but it has been much modified.  Mr. Everett was succeeded after a few years by Rev. Henry A. Miles.  The society was now in the zenith of its prosperity, and its meetings were fully attended. Then came Rev. Jonathan Cole, who had a long pastorship, but during this period great changes took place.  The society was thinned by death and by removals from town, and after Rev. Mr. Squires had occupied the pulpit for a year, and others for short periods, the meetings were suspended, and finally the church edifice was sold to the Baptists.
The Free Baptists early formed a society here and later built a church edifice on Academy street.  The society flourished for a time, then ran down, and their church was sold and changed to a dwelling house.  After a few years interest in the society was revived and another building was put up, and meetings have been occasionally held there. The society has never been very prosperous.
A Universalist society was organized here, but the date is not known.  Among the early ministers were Rev. Nathaniel Gunnison and Rev. Darius Forbes.  They have a good church edifice, erected in 1843, and sustain preaching a large part of the time.  For a few years past they have united either with Augusta or Gardiner in the support of preaching.
The Church of the Sacred Heart (Roman Catholic) was until recently a mission dependent upon St. Mary’s.  It is now an independent parish, with Rev. John P. Nelligan, pastor.  Dependent upon this is the Catholic mission at Togus, which has formerly been supplied by Father McCarthy, of St. Joseph’s, at Gardiner.
(Source: Illustrated History of Kennebec County, Maine: eds.: Kingsbury, Deyo, H. W. Blake & Co., 1892: Chapter 19, Hallowell, Me., pp. 488b-516.)
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