Have you ever wondered, I mean really thought about, what daily life was like in colonial America? School children have been taught for hundreds of years about the Mayflower Puritans and if someone is said to have puritanical views, we understand what is being implied.
By the 1700s, religious beliefs had been softened somewhat from the early days of Plymouth. Some amount of religious dissension was tolerated, but it’s hard to grasp the hold that the local church had over the every day lives of its community.
While researching my Blackmer mystery, looking into the history of Wareham, Massachusetts became a necessity. One resource that I turned to was Records of the First Church of Wareham, Mass. 1739-1891. The First Church was the Congregational Church and it remains an active community today.
The Blackmer entries confirmed my earlier findings, but that’s not what caught my eye. The notes of a church meeting held 9 April 1760 forever captured the bumpy times of the Bumpus, mostly called Bump in the church notes, family.
First, there was Joseph Bump who “has of late been publickly convicted of stealing before a Justice Peace by his own confession tho he has solemnly declared his innocence to our pastor.” The church deacons voted to suspend him from “special ordinances” until he “gave Christian satisfaction.”
Second on the agenda was “our brother John Bump Jnr.” who “has for a considerable time (we think near two years) absented himself from the Lord’s Table, without giving his reasons therefor. . .” The deacons voted that Mr. Bump had to give his reasons, in writing, to the church pastor before the next Sacramental Lecture Day.
At the 21 May 1760 meeting, John Bump requested “to bear with him longer, that he may get his difficulty removed, for he was loath to make them publick.”
More time was voted to him, but at the 2 July meeting, it was decided that Deacons William Blackmer and Gershom Morse were to visit John Bump and his brother Samuel, as John was “offended at ye conduct of his brother. . . .who he looked upon, had wronged him, by taking and keeping possession of some land and meadow, that belonged to him.”
On 13 August, the deacons gave their report, stating that all attempts to reconcile John and Samuel failed. John finally aired his grievances to “my Rev. Pastor and brethren of this Chh. Whereas I am required to give in my reasons why I have withdrawn from ye Lords Table for some time past I would now say. It is because I am offended at ye conduct of my brother Samuel Bump, who has (as I think) delt (sic) very unchristianlike by me. My father gave him a deed some time ago, of some land and meadow, upon condition that he should not record sd. deed, nor take possession of any of ye premises therein contained, till after his decease (only that it may be sure to him then.)
John curiously added “And also many other grievances wh. I cant prove and so I forbare (sic) to mention them.”
Samuel Bump did not keep his promise, recording the deed and taking possession of the land, going so far as to fence it off. John, in turn, was obligated to care for his father until the end of his life and was to be able to use the land and meadow to provide that care.
The promissory note signed by Samuel Bump stated, Whereas I the subscriber having this day received by deed of gift from my Hond. Father John Bump some land & meadow &c. I do hereby promise not to enter upon and take possession of any of ye premises till after my fathers decease, but that he shall and may use and improve it as he now does, notwithstanding sd. deed. As witness my hand this 20 day of Sepr. 1750. And also I do promise to stand by and take up satisfied with my fathers will wh bears date ye 11 day of Sepr. A.D. 1749.
Samuel clearly violated the terms of his note and the church committee voted to suspend him from the church.
By 24 September, the church committee was still reviewing the issue of the Bump brothers. The final decision was that both brothers had to bear some of the blame for what had transpired.
Samuel Bumpus, wrote a confession and an apology of sorts:
Whereas this Chh. has suspended me from their holy communion, on the account of my taking possession of some land & meadow belonging to my Father, contrary to a promissory note which I gave him under my hand in writing, as complained of by my brother, John bump, I would now say that had I done so without having leave from my father so to do, before I took possession; I had been guilty of what is laid in against me, as the Chh. has voted. But I can, and must say (my conscience bearing me witness) that I had his free consent to take possession before I ever did; altho I cant make it appear so plain to the Chh. as I would. I would therefore pay the Chh. to extend their charity so far towards me, as to think that I am clear from the charge; tho it may at present, upon the view of things, appear otherwise to them, and so to restore me again to their Christian charity and communion. And I hope my future life and conversation will always be agreeable to the gospel.
This statement was witnessed by Deacon William Blackmer and Joseph Edwards and signed by Samuel Bumpus.
The church committee voted to restore Samuel Bumpus’s membership and participation in the church and the Pastor Thacher gave his consent.
Today, lawsuits are still filed to maintain the separation of church and state, but in 1760 Massachusetts, the church was a such complete part of daily life that it was mediating family feuds.
What is even more amazing to me is that during this same period of time, these sorts of family tiffs were being decided by the County Chancery Courts in Virginia, even though both colonies were founded mainly by British subjects.
These church minutes were a very interesting read!
If you want to learn more about American folkways, a terrific book is Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America by David Hackett Fischer. Mr. Fischer examines four different immigrant groups to the colonies – the Puritans, cavaliers and indentured servants to Virginia, the Quakers and the Scots-Irish – and the traditions they brought with them that formed the basis for our society today. It’s available online for less than $12.