The Official Story
Chapter 1

The New Minister

The town records reveal that Hallowell's choice of a new minister in 1786 was controversial. They also reveal that Judge North and Martha's husband were both involved. Take a look at the Hallowell 1785 and 1786 town records. You can see that Joseph North was chosen to be on the committee appointed by the town in May 1785 to "procure preaching," and that the town selectmen (including Martha's husband Ephraim) were chosen for this committee less than one year later. Why is evidence about church business found in the town records? Because the minister's salary was paid with town taxes -- so the choice of a new minister was up to the town meeting. (The separation of church and state evolved over the next hundred years.)

In the tumultuous years after the American Revolution, new religious beliefs and new religious sects (Baptists, Methodists, Unitarians, Universalists, and others) proliferated throughout New England, especially in frontier settlements. If you compare these maps of the churches in mid-Maine in the year 1790, in 1800, and in 1810 you can see how many new churches sprang up in the backcountry in just twenty years. This led to fights over which minister to hire with taxpayers' money. Conflicts erupted all over New England. In fact, two of the five ministers who participated in the ordination of Hallowell's new minister were deposed within five years. Religious controversy was in the air.

The town records also reveal that two candidates for the Hallowell job had already been turned down when Isaac Foster arrived from Connecticut, as a job candidate, to preach in April. On May 8, the town meeting voted to offer the young pastor a job; the vote was 57 to 4.

We can read the letter of acceptance Foster wrote. In it, he writes, "Permit me, my Brethren, to rely on your candor while I faithfully improve the talent God has given me for your spiritual good." All seemed well.

Did Martha say anything about hiring the new minister?

Indictment for an Assault
But the town clerk, Henry Sewall, mounted an attack against the young minister...

Table of Contents

Hallowell Town Records (Transcription by John Sewall)
Town of Hallowell Officials
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folio 58 (May 8, 1786 meeting)


  years from the time of ordination.
     Then voted, and chose Benjamin Pettingill esq. Capt. Henry Sewall, Daniel Cony, Capt. Enoch Page & Mr. Nathaniel Hearsey, as a Committee to wait upon Mr. Isaac Foster, and acquaint him him with the vote of this meeting.
  Then dissolved the meeting. Sam Bullen, Moderator
Extract from the Minutes, Attest. D. Cony, Town Clerk.

     To the Church and people of God in Hallowell.
Hon., and beloved,
     It having pleased God, the great disposer of all events, to incline this Church &People to invite me to settle with them in the work of the Gospel Ministry, after seeking to him for direction in so important an enterprise and using every means for the investigation of truth; taking under consideration the union which at present subsists, with the generosity that appears among you. I view it my duty and do hereby signify my acceptance of your Call to settle among you in the work of the Gospel Ministry. Sensible of my own insufficiency for these things, and the great need I stand in of Divine teaching and support, I entreat your pious and fervent prayers for me, who am willing to become your servant for Chirst's sake. Should so near a connection take place in a course of Providence, permit me, my Brethren, to rely on your candor, while I faithfully improve the talent God has given me for your spiritual good; and trust you will watch over me in the Lord as becometh saints.

  I am, Hon., and beloved, your friend,
and humble servant,
Isaac Foster.
  Hallowell, Augt. 5. A.D.1786.
     To the Church & People of Hallowell.
  Lincoln ss. The Selectmen of the town of Hallowell, to Mr. Benjamin Brown, Constable of said town, Greeting.
     In the name of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, you are required forthwith to notify and warn all the inhabitants of the town of Hallowell, qualified by law to vote in town affairs, to meet at the meeting house, on Monday the twenty-ninth