Church of Epsom
By J. M. Moses
The pastorate of Rev. John Tucke began September 23, 1761, and ended
June 18, 1774. His records were for many years lost. As late as
1823, the pastor and historian, Rev. Jonathan Curtiss, did not know
of their existence. They were recovered by the antiquarian, Samuel
G. Drake, and deposited with the New Hampshire Historical Society.
They seem to be complete, except that a little is gone from the
top of one page, which probably contained two or three entries of
admissions of members about 1768.
They begin as follows: "April 18, 1761, I went to Epsom to
preach. June 25, they gave me a call. August 14, they renewed the
call. August 17, I accepted the call. September 23, I was ordained.
My venerable father preached the sermon from 2 Timothy 2-1,* and
then gave me the most sacred charge. The Reverend Mr. Aaron Whittemore
gave me the right hand of fellowship."
The pastor thus ordained was a young man, barely twenty-one -years
of age, who had graduated from Harvard College in 1758. His father
was the Rev. John Tucke, for forty-one years pastor at Gosport,
Isles of Shoals. Mr. Whittemore was pastor at Pembroke.
That the town had been allowed to wait nearly thirty years after
its settlement before settling a minister, was no doubt due to its
recognized inability to support one. Those thirty years had been
a sad period of poverty and slow growth. Towns settled later made
much more rapid progress.
There is reason to think that the first twenty families, required
by the charter, were not permanently settled before 1750. The census
of 1767 found only forty married men under sixty, forty married
women, five men over sixty, and two widows. In 1773 the corresponding
numbers were fifty-three, fifty-three, one, and four. It is not
likely that the number of families in 1761 much exceeded thirty.
The meeting-house was not built until 1764, and there is no record
of a schoolhouse before 1765. We need not, however, suppose that
the people had lived thirty years without religious and secular
instruction. Still less can we impute mental and moral inferiority
to people who could rear families and build up a town under such
difficulties as they encountered.
Mr. Tucke was to have as a settlement one hundred acres of land,
as provided by the charter. His salary was to be thirty pounds sterling
a year the first two years, then thirty-five pounds, to be increased
to forty pounds when the number of families reached fifty; also
thirty cords of wood a year. Six hundred pounds, Old Tenor, in labor,
was voted to build a parsonage. He married, March 4, 1762; probably
about the time the parsonage was finished, Mary, daughter of Rev.
Samuel Parsons, pastor at Rye.
The church was organized September 23, 1761, its covenant being
signed by the following persons: Rev. John Tucke, John Blake and
wife Mary, Abraham, Isaac, Isaac, Jr., and Reuben Libby, Nathan
Marden, William Wallace, Margaret, wife of Reuben Sanborn, Sr.,
and Widow Sarah Nason. October 9 there were added the wives of the
two Isaac Libbys, and Joanna, daughter of Isaac, Sr. These fourteen
were regarded as the original members.
The records of the next twelve vears show additions as follows :
In 1761, John McClary and wife, Thomas Blake
and wife, George Wallace and wife, Ephraim Locke, and the wives
of Reuben Libby and Deacon Nathan Marden.
In 1762, Widow Love Wormwood and Elizabeth, wife of Reuben Sanborn,
Jr., then of Chichester.
In 1763, Samuel Blake and wife, John McGaffey and wife, Jonathan
Chapman and wife, Eunice, wife of Samuel Jackson, Mary, wife of
Thomas Bickford, and Nanny, wife of Richard Tripp.
In 1764, William Blake and wife, Sarah, Sarah Marden, and Hepzibah
September 7, probably 1765, Widow Agnes McClary.
December 5, 1766, John Worth and wife, Hannah, and Hannah, wife
of Samuel Davis, were received by dismission from churches at Hampton
Falls and Exeter.
In November, 1767, Nathaniel Morrill and wife and Jeremiah Eastman
and wife, from South Hampton and Kensington.
April 3, 1768, Anna, wife of John Cass, from Epping.
In 1769, Samuel Bickford and wife, Mercy, and Samuel Perkins of
In 1770, Joseph Worth and wife, Anna (dismissed from Hawke), Benjamin
Goodwin and wife, Lydia, Hannah, wife of Robert Mason of Deerfield,
and Enoch Robie of Deerfield.
In 1771, Moses Locke and wife, Mary, and James Gray and wife, Jane.
October 3, 1773, Mary, wife of John Worth, Jr.
There is a list of members, without date, which includes the following
names, not mentioned above. Andrew McClary, Samuel Marston, Joseph
Chapman, Elizabeth Sanborn, John Worth, Jr., John Mason, Jonathan
Leavitt and wife, James Marden and wife, and the wife of a William
The last is in a list of members that had moved away, which has
the following names: William Wallace and wife, Reuben Libby and
wife, Widow Wormwood, Widow Nason, and William Blake and wife. Only
one member is reported as deceased: Anne Libby. To this should be
added, at least, the names of Abraham Libby and Samuel Bickford.
There are records of seventy-two members. They may not have been
all; as it is plain that Hr. Tucke failed to enter some admissions,
as well as other facts, that he intended to record. The records
are not free from mistakes in names of women and children.
Besides the members in full communion, the following twenty-six
are-recorded as received into the baptismal covenant relations:
James Wood and wife, Mary; Andrew McClary and wife, Elizabeth; Eliphalet
San-born and wife, Margaret; Samuel Moses and wife, Bridget; William
Moses, Jenny Moses, Jeremiah Prescott and wife, Jenny; Abraham Wallace
; Ithiel Clifford; Josiah Sanborn; Simeon Chapman and wife, Mary;
Edmund Rand and wife, Abigail; Ebenezer Wallace and wife, Sarah;
Edmund Leavitt and wife, Mehetabel; Daniel Page and wife Mary (of
Deerfield), and Betty, wife of Benjamin Hill, later of Northwood.
These were not all, as children of others were baptized.
There are records of one hundred and sixty-seven baptisms of children,
and among them, of the following three adults: Mr. Tucke's servant,
Abraham; Phebe, a young woman, about twenty, no surname given; and
Samuel Blake's man-servant, who seems not to have had even a first
name.* The infant baptisms were printed in the Boston Transcript
January 23 and February 11, 1907. It was evidently a large proportion
of the town's people that became connected with the church; though
the lists include quite a number from Chichester and Deerfield,
where churches had not yet been established. From Mr. Tucke's antecedents,
and evident success in a pioneer community, there is every presumption
that he was a man of ability and personal worth; and, . although
his pastorate ended in a storm, there is no reason to think his
faults were greater than are common to both clergy and laity. There
is not enough preserved, in records or tradition, to give us much
acquaintance with his personal peculiarities.
By the latter part of 1773, some of the leading citizens had become
seriously disaffected; among them, Capt. Andrew McClary, Doctor
Williams and Jeremiah Prescott, who made formal complaint. Ephraim
Locke, also had " grievances," quite a number, it would
seem, as a meeting was appointed to settle "some" of them.
A change of pastor had become expedient.
Had the church been free to act, this might have been effected without
scandal. But the consent of a council was necessary; and, as in
a divorce case, there must be charges.
January 3, 1774, the town voted to call a council '' to settle the
difficulties subsisting between the Rev. John Tucke and the inhabitants
of Epsom.'' Six weeks later a church meeting, thinly attended because
of a snowstorm, voted the same.
The council met March 15, and reported March 18. The report fills
four finely written pages of the town records. As twelve men had
spent three days investigating complaints against Mr. Tucke, we
should be well informed of his faults.
No serious charge was sustained. In some small business transactions
he had taken liberties, apparently not complained of at the time.
In general, he was not disposed to over-reach, as "it evidently
appears to us that Mr. Tucke did not take the advantage when he
had fair opportunities, and freely offered to pay in divers instances
what persons knew of no claim to."
As to discharge of pastoral duties, the only serious criticism made
by the council was the following: '' We think Mr. Tucke chargeable
with neglect of duty in not visiting Mr. Ward when desired; and
we can't but censure his hard speeches with regard to some of the
church and people."
Mr. Tucke humbly acknowledged himself guilty of the '' faults and
follies" of which the council had convicted him, and asked
the forgiveness of church and people, promising reparation to any
that had been wronged. Thereupon the council advised the continuance
of his pastorate for three months, in the hope that the discontent
would subside, giving the town permission to dismiss him after that
The council also gave good advice to the people, deploring the "heat
and passion" shown by Mr. Tucke's accusers, and their efforts
to "magnify small and trivial matters" into grave crimes,
and regretting "that many have forsaken the house, and some
the table, of the Lord, and (as some express it in your articles
of charge), wandered among devouring wolves."
June 18 the town voted to dismiss Mr. Tucke, and "that the
meetinghouse' shall be shut up till the town sees cause to open
said house again." One almost wonders if they did not nail
up the door.
Thus Mr. Tucke's ministry closed under a cloud. His life went out
a few years later, under circumstances of unusual sadness. He died
at Salem, New York, February 9, 1777, probably of smallpox, while
on his way to join the Revolutionary army as chaplain, leaving a
widow, and at least six children.
The census of 1790 found Widow Mary Tucke in Epsom, as head of a
family of five: two males over sixteen and three females. The homestead
was sold February 15, 1797, to Simon Ames Heath, the deed being
signed by the following heirs: Samuel Rand of Rye and wife Polly
(Tucke), Samuel J. Tucke of Boston and wife Judith (Gardiner), Simeon
Drake of Pittsfield and wife Love (Tucke), and Joseph, Richard and
Abigail Tucke of Boston. October 3, 1797, the widow, then of Pittsfield,
deeded her interest in the same.
We may imagine that Mr. Tucke's dismissal and sudden death left
the people divided in sympathies. Whether from this cause, or from
the burdens of the Revolutionary War, it was nearly ten years before
another pastor was settled. Then came the thirty years' pastorate
of the Rev. Ebenezer Haseltine (beginning January 21, 1784, and
ending November 10, 1813), who had the good fortune to die in office,
and have his virtues proclaimed in his funeral sermon, instead of
his faults, in the report of a council. His gravestone declares
him "An Israelite, indeed, in whom was no guile." He left,
however, a smaller number of church members than were left by Mr.
Tucke. Perhaps Mr. Tucke caught them with guile.
It is greatly to be. regretted that Mr. Haseltine's records are
lost. It is hoped they are in existence, and may yet find their
way to companionship with those of Mr. Tucke in the Historical Library.
A memorial stone marks the site of the first church. The cemetery,
in the rear, is at least one hundred and fifty years old, and contains
many hundred graves. At least two hundred and fifty may be counted
that are marked with only common fieldstones, uninscribed.
The oldest inscribed stone, on which only a few letters are now
traceable, is among the McClary graves, near the south wall, and
is probably that of that the first Andrew McClary. Near by are the
graves of the Sanborns, Eliphalet and others; and near them, those
of Samuel Blake and wife Sarah. He "died Aug. 19, 1801, aged
83 years. One of the first settlers of Epsom." Sarah "died
June 27, 1804, aged 68 years."
Their gravestones, and many others, have pious sentiments and tributes
of affection, in prose and verse. That of Col. Daniel Cilley (1768-1842),
has the following interesting profession of faith: "He died
in the full belief of the universal salvation of all mankind.''
Among the Locke graves we find a rough stone lettered as follows:
"E. L. B. P. 10, 1730. D. M. 7, 1798"; and at the left
of it another, lettered "E. L. J. B. M. 5, 1761. D. F. 7, 1771."
These are supposed to be the graves of Ephraim Locke and a son,
Among the Bickford graves is a rough stone, with letters now only
partly legible. We can trace the letters "M.B.B. ... D .."
This is evidently the grave of Widow Mercy Bickford, who died at
great age in April, 1824. The uninscribed grave beside it is doubtless
that of her husband, Samuel Bickford, who died in April or May 1773.
These were probably the earliest settlers that now have descendants
in town bearing the family name. One of them is the venerable Benjamin
Bickford, who has lately passed his ninetieth birthday.
* II Timothy 2:1. 'o Thou therefore, my son, be strong in
the grace that is in Christ Jesus."
* As regards slavery In Epsom the census of 1767 found no slaves
there.That of 1773 found two.