The beginning, of this town and church was peculiar, as compared with other towns and churches in the vicinity. The territory was held by a board of trustees of what was known as "The Hopkins Donation"; and by purchase as well as by the Act of the Legislature, these trustees were owners in fee of the land, and virtually possessed municipal powers. They were de facto the town. This accounts for the fact that town organization was deferred for a period of eight years after the charter was granted.
As both the town and the church perpetuate the name of one who bore a conspicuous part in founding New England and giving character to her institutions, and as his benefaction was a prime element in our civil and ecclesiastical existence, it is manifestly proper to recite briefly the history of the man and his donation. His unselfish piety and large-hearted benevolence constitute an inheritance to be cherished by every citizen of Hopkinton.
Edward Hopkins was a "merchant of London, who came to America in 1637; settled at Hartford; was governor of Connecticut many years; returned to England in 1653, and died March, 1657. In his will, among other items of public charity, he bequeathed the sum of £500, "to be made over into New England, and conveyed into the hands of trustees . . . for the upholding and promoting the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ in those parts of the earth." This legacy was to be paid "within six months after the decease of my wife Ann." His widow died Dec. 17, 1698. The executor and residuary devisee being dead, a suit in the Court of Chancery was instituted; and March 19, 1712-13, it was decreed, with the consent of the Society for Propagating Christianity, that the legacy of £500, with interest amounting to £300, should be paid into the hands of trustees appointed by the Lord Chancellor, to be laid out in the purchase of lands, the rental of which should accrue to the benefit of Harvard College and the Grammar School at Cambridge.
July 20, 1715. The trustees petitioned the General Court for license to purchase of the Indian inhabitants of Natick, "a tract of waste land commonly known by the name of Magunkaquog." The petition was granted.
Natick, Sept. 24, 1715. The Indian proprietors met and "Voted, that the lands at Magunkook be sold to the trustees of Mr. Hopkins's legacy."
October 11, 1715. For the sum of £600 in bills of credit, a deed of warranty was executed by said Indians, of eight thousand acres of land lying between Sherborn, Mcndon, the Province lands, and Sudbury River.
Dec. 13, 1715. The trustees petitioned the General Court for the grant of a tract of country land lying westerly of Magunkaquog, and praying that the whole be incorporated into a township by the name of Hopkinton. Granted, on condition that the fee of the granted land should remain in the Province. This reservation precluded the trustees from giving valid deeds or leases; and Dec. 1, 1716, the restriction was removed. But there was still a question whether the trustees could legally give leases to run for more than twenty-one years, "they being college or school lands"; and Dec. 3, 1719, the General Court, by special Act, gave them power to execute leases for a term " not exceeding ninety-nine years."
Under these full powers the trustees proceeded to renew the leases already made, and to give other leases, all said leases to run for ninety-nine years from March 25,1723, at an annual rental of three pence an acre. These terms were changed by authority of the Legislature in 1742, to an annual charge of " one penny sterling per acre, till March 25,1823, and three pence per acre from that time forward forever." In 1832 the Commonwealth paid to the trustees 58,000, and the tenants paid §2,000; for which sum of $10,000, the said trustees executed full releases to all the tenants.
The gathering of a church in Hopkinton naturally waited on the settlement of land titles, a secure homestead being antecedent to permanent religious privileges.
According to the records, the first movement to secure church privileges was made in 1722, when a small sum was raised by subscription, and expended in payment for preaching.
May 21,1723. " At a meeting of the biger part of the Inhabitants of Hopkinton, 1. Voted, The Indevering for a minister to preach with us constantly on Sabath days. 2-Voted, To levi a tax of an half peny upon the acre upon all the lots that are either taken up or picked upon by gentlemen that they will take them, for the suport of a minister. 3. Voted, That they will every man bring in his propotion to said lax to .John How by the last day of June next insuing. 4. Voted, To have a contribution every Sabath, and that every man paper his money and write his name upon the paper, and set the sum that he puts in. 5. Voted, That Mr. Hustone and Mr. Wood shall receive said contrebution and take an account what it is, and deliver it to the aforesaid John How, and take care of said papers that none of them be lost. 6. Voted, That Mr. John Wood and John How take care that we are constantly provided with a minister to preach with us on Sabath days. 7. Voted, To meet at John How's house on Sabath days at present."
The dwelling-house of John How, where meetings were held, stood about seventy-five rods east of the present meeting-house, on the northerly side of the highway, known in later years as the Ephraim Reed place. It was a large square house, with gambrel roof and stone chimney.
This movement for securing regular church ordinances preceded by nearly a year the organization of the town; and as showing the prerogatives exercised by the trustees, it should be noticed that the call for a meeting of the freehold tenants and other inhabitants, to perfect their municipal organization, was issued by a committee of said board; and as showing the interest of said trustees in establishing the ordinances of the gospel, it should be stated that they proposed to give the sum of £100 to help defray the charge of settling a minister and building a meeting-house.
The inhabitants "took upon themselves the power of a town" March 25.1724.
The First Pastor. - Mr. Samuel Barrett, Jr., had been employed to preach some time in the year 1723, and a call to settle was given him by the inhabitants in the fall of that year. In less than a month after the town had perfected its organization, - i. e., April 20, 1724, - a meeting of the inhabitants was called, and " it was put to vote that all that were of the mind to ratify and confirm the former vote or choice of our minister, Rev. Mr. Samuel Barrett, should now manifest it by a vote, and it passed in the affirmative: " Voter1, To give Mr. Barrett thirty-five pounds a year for three years, and the cutting and carting his firewood; and afterwards seventy pounds per annum so long as he continues our minister, with what help we are in hopes the honorable trustees of said town will do for us in this respect." [The trustees granted £30 to Mr. Barrett " towards building his house upon his own land."] " Voted, To give Mr. Barrett £60 [afterwards raised to £100] towards liis settlement, in day labor, oxen's work, boards, shingles, clapboards, slit-work, or other materials needful for the building an house for him, and to pay it by the 1st of October next."
To this call Mr. Barrett replied: -
"The inhabitants of the town of Hopkinton, at a meeting of said town (according to the direction of the law), assembled April 20, 1724, and then voted me to be their minister in the gospel, and have delivered to me their choice, to which I answer (that depending on the grace of God for assistance) I am resolved to fulfil the work of my ministry among them, and depend that they will be disposed, as God shall encrease and enlarge them, to afford me a more honourable maintenance than at present they are capable of affording. But in the mean time I do thankfully accept of what they have offered for my support and for a gratuity or settlement.
"SAM'll. BARRETT, JUNr., Dated ye 16th of July, 1724."
1. "Historical Sketch", Manual of the First Congregational Church in Hopkinton, Mass., 1881, pages 18-21.
See AlsoHopkinton First Congregational Church Roster (1724-1881)