The Church

Rev. Frank L. Garfield

The charter which Sir Ferdinando Gorges received from King Charles I in 1639 gave to the Lord Proprietor of the Province of Maine alsmost regal powers, in both political and ecclesiastical administration. This authority the sturdy royalist and ardent churchman proposed to use, for making his colony a center of royal and prelatical power in Puritan New England. His ambitious designs extended even to the supression of Puritanism in all the New England colonies. Nothing could have been further from his purpose, than the organization of a church of the Pilgrim faith and order in the settlement of Agamenticus, which he soon organized as the first city in America, giving it the name of Gorgeana. This city was designed by its founder to become the political and ecclesiastical capital of the province. But it came to pass that in 1652 the Massachusetts Bay Colony asserted its authority over the Province of Maine, and Puritan influence was soon dominant, the city of Gorgeana becoming the town of York. Previous to this event, Puritan divines had labored at times among the people, and the name of the pious and learned Mr. Thompson has come down to us, as one held in high esteem.

In 1649, after the death of Gorges, a Generall Courte was held in Gorgeana. A prominent member of this court was Edward Rishworth, a son-in-law of the Rev. John Wheelock, the Antinomian leader who was banished from Massachusetts in 1637 and fled with his followers to the northern wilderness, where he founded the town of Exeter, N.H. Forced to leave Exeter, the exiles made the first settlement of Wells, in the Province of Maine. From thence Wheelock, recanting, returned to Massachusetts, and Rishworth took up his abode in Gorgeana, which he represented in the above council. One act of this body decreed that, "all who are out of a Church way and be orthodox in judgement and not scandalous in life, shall have full liberty to gather themselves into a Church estate...and every Church hath Frie liberty of election and ordination of all her officers, provided they be able, pious, and orthodox." The passage of this act would seem to imply the proposed organization of a Congregational church. It seems probable that Rishworth, having obtained the enactment of this decree for the purpose, effected the organization of a Congregational church not long after 1649. He was very prominent in the community affairs. He was later chairman of the committee acting in behalf of the church, in calling a council to ordain the first minister. Such evidence as we possess seems to indicate Edward Rishworth as the man to whose influence the first organization of the church was most largely due.

This early organization evidently failed to maintain a very effective life, until Mr. Dummer came into the field as a leader in 1662, six years after his graduation from Harvard. The building of a new meeting-house in 1667 indicates pretty conclusively that Mr. Dummer's efforts had brought the organization up to an active condition at that time. Existing records of the First Church of Rowley, Mass., under date of September 12, 1671, include a statement of Mr. Dummer's refusal to become co-pastor of that church, because the needs of the York people and their love for him constrained him to remain with them. This situation implies a considerable period of service before 1671.

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