This sketch of the history of the churches and ministers of York as it relates to the First Church and its true child, the Second Church, in the Scotland or Upper Parish, is already familiar to many present, so that for such hearers there is nothing new to be said. But, for those who are strangers to our history there may be special interest in the "twice told tale."
That the early history of the First Church and Parish of York was of unusual interest is indicated by the traditions that have come down to us from the days when York was the leading town in the "Province of Maine." The ecclesiastical history begins at a somewhat later date than the story of the town. But an old record says that "The people of this town were probably supplied with preaching from the earliest settlement of the place. It cannot be supposed that a people who had been always accustomed to religious privileges, and some of whom had left their native land for conscience's sake, would be long without the stated administration of the Word of God, and the ordinances of the gospel."
It was probably the intention of Gorges and his associates to establish the Church of England here, for, in the words of the charter given by the King, it was declared that "Our will and pleasure is that the religion now professed in the Church of England and ecclesiastical government now used in the same, shall be ever hereafter professed, and with as much convenient speed as may be, settled and established in and throughout the province." But, no Episcopal church appears to have been established in York, although some of its clergy are mentioned as having officiated here. The first minister known to have been resident here was Rev. Shubael Dummer, an ancestor of one now on this platform (Rev. Frank Sewall, D. D.). Mr. Dummer was a native of Newbury, Mass., and a graduate of Harvard.
He was ordained to the ministry in this town. He performed the unusual service of preaching his own ordination sermon from the text, Psalm 80: 14: "Return, O Lord, and visit this vine." It is naturally inferred that, according to the general custom, the organization of the church preceded the ordination of the pastor, so that this church, notwithstanding the loss of the early records, reasonably assumes its organization to have been not later than 1673, thus making it the oldest ecclesiastical organization in the State of Maine.
Rev. Mr. Dummer is described as "a very serious, godly man," and he continued his service as minister to the people of York until that sad morning, January 25, 1692, when the settlement was surprised by hostile Indians, some fifty of the inhabitants killed, and one hundred carried into captivity, among the latter, the wife of Mr. Dummer. The minister himself was shot and killed just as he was mounting his horse near his house, which, tradition says, was near the "roaring rock."
After the tragic death of the first minister, for a period of five years there was "little or no preaching in York." The people were disheartened, and reduced in numbers and resources in consequence of the Indian invasion.
In writing of this period, Rev. Rufus M. Sawyer, a former pastor of this church, says that "The restraints of religion were very much removed, and levity and wickedness rapidly spread.
"A few, indeed, refined in the furnace of afflidlion, walked near God, while the majority, forgetting the faithful instructions of their deceased pastor, treated religion lightly, and lived as though they were made for no higher purpose than to eat, drink, and be merry."
It was at this time that a young man appeared on the scene, who was destined to spend a long life in York, and to wield an influence never to be forgotten.
This young man was Samuel Moody, also a native of Newbury, Mass., like Mr. Dummer, his predecessor, and like him also, a graduate of Harvard College.
Samuel Moody was only twenty-three years old when he came to preach as a candidate to the people of York in May, 1698 - and it was two years later before he was ordained as pastor. Young Moody came here in a true missionary spirit, recognizing the poverty of his new parish. He settled with- out a stipulated salary, disposed to live a life of faith in God, and in his parishoners. Yet he did think it worth his while to appeal to the legislature of Massachusetts for assistance. This appeal was granted to the extent of twelve pound ster- ling, or sixty dollars of our money.
A rare combination of courage, faith, and love is implied in the willingness of this young minister, and his bride, Hannah Sewall, of Newbury, only daughter of John Sewall, to settle in this frontier parish which from that time onward for nearly fifty years was never so free from peril of Indian attack that men dared to leave their arms behind them when they went to church.
The meeting-house first used stood below the dwelling of William Lunt and this side the residence of W. T. Keen.
Later, the second house was erected, and was the original building from which the house in which we are now assembled has been successively remodelled.
It was erected during the lifetime of Father Moody. A rare combination of qualities belonged to Samuel Moody, making him loved, respected and even feared by his people. Samuel Moody was distinguished for his unselfishness, his own interests seem to have been among the last things he ever considered.
Willing to live without a stipulated salary, he was equally willing to give away what he received to anybody whose need seemed greater. Many stories are told illustrating this feature of his character. His good wife seems to have appreciated her husband's virtues, or perhaps as she may have sometimes thought to herself, his failings, for it is said that on one occasion she took pains, when Mr. Moody was about leaving home for a journey, to tie his his purse securely in his handkerchief, tying several hard knots, so that the good man might have time to think while untying them. But the outcome was disappointing to Mrs. Moody, for finding the knots hard, the husband lost his patience, and bestowed handkerchief, purse, and all upon a poor beggar, saying, "The Lord must have meant that you should have it all."
On another occasion the good minister saw two geese flying overhead, and the larder being low, he told the Lord that if He would give him both geese he would give the best one to a poor neighbor. Both birds came down, one was fat, the other lean, but true to his word, in spite of his thrifty wife's remonstrance, he sent the fat goose straightway to his poor neighbor.
At still another time, a cold frosty morning, a poor woman appeared at the door barefooted, and begged for shoes. Mr. Moody promptly gave her a pair belonging to his wife, which proved to be the only pair she had. When the good lady became aware of her loss, the husband sought to appease her wrath by saying that the Lord would send another pair before night. And as though to justify the simple faith of the good man, in the course of the forenoon a neighbor came in bringing a pair of shoes which he explained were too small for his wife, and perhaps they would be acceptable to Mrs. Moody, whose feet they fitted. These stories, and many like them, illustrate the freedom from worldly care which characterized this good man.
The parishioners were not insensible to the self-denials of their pastor. They built him a house and hired a man to manage the farm. At one time it is said that a negro was purchased by the parish to do this work. But for only a brief period did the First Parish of York appear in the role of slaveholder.
Father Moody appreciated the thoughtfulness of his parishioners but he steadily repelled any suggestions looking toward the payment of a regular salary. In one of his sermons he said that for twenty years he had been supported in a way most pleasing to him, and had been under no need of spending one hour in the week in care for the world.
When he became an old man, an article was inserted in a warrant for parish meeting "to see if the parish would settle a salary upon Mr. Moody." Whereupon he attended the meeting, and opposed the article when it was brought up.
His friends told him that he was now an old man, and received only a poor support, and what little he did get came from his best friends, and that it operated very unequally in the parish. To all this Father Moody replied, "Who are my best friends?" And not waiting for an answer he named a number of persons, saying, "Are not these my best friends ?" It was assented to. "Well, are not these the best livers in town?" They were certainly well off, and he replied, "Yea, and they always will be so while they lay themselves out for the support of the gospel."
It is a disappointment that no picture of Mr. Moody exists, and that there is not even a description of his personal appearance. In the current number of the New England magazine, in an article on York, there is a silhouette of Hannah Sewall, the first wife of Rev. Samuel Moody, but I have seen nothing of the kind relating to Mr. Moody. Yet we have such a clear portrait of the mental, moral, and spiritual qualities of Samuel Moody that we can well spare the physical likeness, and feel that we know the real man.
That he was capable of preaching a strong discourse, like many another "Colonial parson," is evident from a printed sermon still extant. The subject is suggestive, being, "The Doleful State of the Damned - Especially Such as go to Hell from Under the Gospel."
Such sermons from Mr. Moody bear witness to his stern sense of duty. But this stern sense of duty was coupled, as we have seen, with the utmost human charity and love for his fellow men.
He was in practical relations a bold and fearless preacher.
At one time when a wealthy parishioner had held on to his large stock of corn in a time of great scarcity, in hopes of raising the price, Mr. Moody preached from these words, "He that withholdeth corn, the people shall curse him, but blessing shall be upon the head of him that selleth it." While the pastor was preaching this sermon, the offending parishioner faced him with a look of stolid indifference. Mr. Moody grew warmer, as he went on with his discourse, until finally he lost all patience, and calling his parishioner by name he cried, "Colonel I , Colonel I , you know I mean you. Why don't you hang your head?"
Another day the same parishioner's wife came sweeping into the church in a new hooped dress, then very fashionable, and Mr. Moody cried from the pulpit, "Here she comes - here she comes - gallant and top-gallant, rigged most beautifully, and sailing most majestically, but she has a leak, that will sink her to hell." Yet in the face of such direct attack he was not asked to read his resignation.
Ministers and people were very forbearing toward each other in those days.
Father Moody's style of preaching, as evident from such anecdotes as those just mentioned, was very direct and in marked contrast to the carefully written discourses of his son-in-law. Rev. Joseph Emerson, of Malden, Mass., who, by the way, was the ancestor of the Emersons of York. The people of York had a great admiration for Mr. Emerson's sermons. This was known to Father Moody and he thought he would imitate Mr. Emerson's method.
One trial was sufticient for Mr. Moody. Before he had proceeded far in reading his sermon he stopped, and looked around upon his hearers, and said, "Emerson must be Emerson and Moody must be Moody - I feel as if my head was in a bag. You call Moody a rambling preacher, and it is true enough, but he is just fit to catch up rambling sinners. You are all run away from the Lord." And then he proceeded in his accustomed way of preaching.
But, in spite of such eccentricities, and perhaps in part because of them, and because of his rugged strength, Mr. Moody had a wide fame. He was always a welcome preacher in Boston.
In Providence, also, he was instrumental in forming the First Congregational Church, and the people there wanted him to become their pastor, but York could not spare him.
Father Moody was a friend of Whitefield and gladly welcomed the great preacher when he came to York. Mr. Moody's gift in prayer was regarded as remarkable.
It was believed that one of his prayers was instrumental in obtaining the destruction of the French fleet in 1746.
Colonel Dummer Sewall, of Bath, but a native of York, said of this prayer, "Yes, I recall it, though I was quite young. I remember the consternation that was depidled on almost every countenance. But we had recourse to prayer. The Church in York appointed a day for the purpose. On that occasion Father Moody, in praying against the fleet, brought to view the expression made use of in the Scriptures with regard to Sennacherib, "Put a hook in his nose, and a bridle in his lips, turn him back again by the way that he came, that he shall not shoot an arrow here, nor cast up a bank, but by the way that he came, cause him to return." By and by the old gentleman waxed warm and raised his hands and voice and cried out, "Good Lord, if there is no other way of defeating their enterprise, send a storm upon them, and sink them in the deep."
It was afterward discovered that not far from the time of this prayer a tremendous storm burst upon the enemy's fleet and occasioned its destruction.
Father Moody was of heroic mould, and when seventy years old, only two years before his death, he went with the American army as chaplain in the Cape Breton expedition that resulted in the capture of Louisburg from the French. After the capture of the place, Sir William Pepperrell gave a dinner, and Father Moody was invited to return thanks, although many were afraid that he would consume too much time in asking the blessing, so that the dinner would get cold, and the British officers invited become offended.
But, to the surprise and delight of all, Father Moody delivered himself of this brief and appropriate grace, "O Lord, we have so many things to thank thee for that time will be infinitely too short to do it. We must therefore leave it for the work of eternity. Bless our food and fellowship on this joyful occasion, for Christ's sake. Amen."
The old minister returned in health from this expedition, and resumed his labors with his people, but his work was nearly over, and two years later, in 1747, he fell asleep, while he rested in the arms of his son Joseph, the first minister of the second or "Scotland" parish.
I have given a great deal of time to the Rev. Samuel Moody, and I might easily have devoted all the time allowed me this evening to a sketch of him and his work, as there is more material concerning him than of any other man in the pastoral succession here. And the work accomplished by Father Moody deserves especial mention, because of its achievements, and because of his own wide fame. Samuel Moody came to a weakened and discouraged settlement and to a feeble church. When he died he left a prosperous community and a church of over three hundred members, the largest then existing in Maine.
He saw powerful rivivals during his ministry, and he welcomed them. But he also recognized the fact that religion is more than an emotion, and he earnestly sought to develop strong Christian characters among his people. His success was great if we are to measure it simply by the change which transformed what has been described as a largely irreligious community into one where it was rare to find a family where prayer was not observed. The appreciation in which Rev. Samuel Moody was held is summed up in the well-known epitaph on his tombstone as he sleeps in "God's Acre" across the way, "Here lies the body of the Rev. Samuel Moody, A. M. The zealous, faithful, and successful pastor of the First Church of Christ, in York. Was born in Newbury, January 4th, 1675. Graduated 1697. Came hither May i6th, 1698. Ordained in December, 1700, and died here November 13th, 1747. For his further charadler, read the 2d Corinthians, 3rd chapter and first six verses." Before turning from the story of Mr. Moody it should be said that he was the ancestor of many who are still resident in York bearing the Moody name, and of many of other names, and also that he was the spiritual father of a much larger number.